Choosing the best lavalier microphones for any given situation can be a daunting task, especially if you aren’t a professional sound mixer or audio engineer. One of the most practical microphones to consider is the humble lavalier, which is used in so many scenarios that one could say lavs are for anyone who needs to mike up talent to appear on camera for almost any scenario.
Since lavalier microphones are very small, they’re easy to hide on talent and are an effective way to obtain great sound when talent is moving or stationary. In terms of how and where they’re used, these small, dynamic mics are usually placed on talent, often hidden in wardrobe or in hair for narrative purposes, although for nonfiction projects, they can remain visible.
They’re also used to ensure the production’s audio is captured. For instance, even when a boom microphone is deployed with a boom operator, the lavalier mic can still serve as a backup. And when talent is shown in larger, wider shots where a microphone boom would be visible on camera, the lavalier often becomes the only way to mike talent.
In many ways, these mics are used because they just work and work well in a variety of situations, whether it’s in television, theater or public speaking applications. What’s more, they allow for hands-free operation.
For these reasons and more, I’ve compiled my list of the top five most popular and desirable lavalier microphones.
1. The Classic Industry Standard: Tram TR-50B
The Tram TR-50B is a modern classic, which is why you’ll find it in use in many different venues and types of productions. It certainly sounds good, although with its very slight honky-sounding mid-range, it’s not as smooth as some higher-end lavs. However, the TR-50 comes with some really nice mounting accessories and a particularly nice case. It’s also reliable.
The company says the Tram TR50 miniature professional lavalier microphone answers the needs of even the most demanding sound recording engineer, with its extended frequency response range and omni-directional characteristics designed to satisfy the most stringent requirements in all professional audio fields, particularly film and TV production.
The TR50 is available with a variety of connectors—Micro-Mini, Lemo (4, 6 or 8 pin), Mini Switchcraft (3, 4 or 5 pin), Sony, Sennheiser, etc.—for direct attachment to any wireless microphone transmitter.
In addition to its use with wireless transmitters, the TR-50 can be used as a low-impedance, hard-wired microphone with the TR-79 power supply. It has 12/48v phantom powering (in addition to internal powering), which is available on all TR-50*PS microphones and TR-79+ positive bias power supplies.
The TR79 power supply provides a balanced transformer output to an XLR connector and uses an Eveready 357 battery.
Here are some notable tech specs:
- Manufacturer description of polar pattern: Electret condenser lavalier microphone
- Relative size: Physically looks identical to OST801/802, medium rectangular size
- Weight: N/A
Dimensions: .18 inches x .30 inches x .55 inches
- Extras: Cable Holder with Vampire Pins (*CH), Clip on Holder with Vampire Pins (*COH), Tie Bar with Alligator Clip (*TB), Tie Tac (*TT), Windscreen (*WS), Tape Down (*TD), Carrying Case (*CC), Cable Reel (*CR)
- Cosmetics: Distinctive black, matte, rectangular shape and available in four colors: black, gray, white and tan
- Fit and finish: Smooth black metallic finish with beveled edges
2. The Budget Workhorse: Oscar Sound Tech 801/802
I’ve used these lavs for years, and they’re an exceptional value. And while they’re not the absolute best-sounding lavalier money can buy, they’re still quite good, with transparent sound while also being very well built.
The OST 801 has a slight high-frequency boost for being placed under wardrobe, while the OST 802 has a flatter response for use above wardrobe.
When using these mics as a lavalier, you should attach the microphone about 6 inches below the chin. (You should also anticipate movements that may cause the microphone to rub against or be covered by clothing in order to position the microphone to avoid it.)
But I should point out that there’s a rather unique aspect for buying this mic: Because Oscar SoundTech is a small, boutique audio company, you can’t order its microphones directly from its website, and its microphones are not carried by the major retailers like Amazon, B&H Photo or Adorama. Instead, you’ll need to send the owner an email so he can then send back to you the most current price list. Then, you can email him your order, at which point he sends you an invoice, which can be paid via PayPal, Venmo or sending him a check.
But if you can deal with this rather involved purchasing experience, you’ll gain a very good lavalier microphone for a very low price. In fact, most other professional lavalier microphones cost at least double the price of the OST mics, which have a crisp, detailed sound without being too thin. Plus, the handling and cable noise are well controlled.
Here are some notable tech specs:
- Manufacturer description of element: Miniature electret condenser microphone
- Polar pattern: Omni-directional
- Relative size: Average
- Weight: Microphone .02 ounces, power module 3.6 ounces (less cable and accessories)
- Dimensions: .18 inches x .30 inches x .54 inches
- Extras: Large variety of accessories available. Supports most universal connector types. Compatible with Lectrosonic, Sony, Shure and Sennheiser wireless transmitters. Other manufacturers can also be special ordered.
- Cosmetics: Nice low-reflectance matte black finish, also available in black, white, tan and gray, features a strong, shielded 5-foot cable
- Fit and finish: High-quality feel for relatively low-cost lavalier
3. The Smallest Lavalier Of Them All: Countryman B6
I have quite a bit of experience shooting with this microphone, having owned one for a number of years, and I’ve found it to be extremely easy to use and to rig because of its very small size. Plus, it sounds great and works well.
The Countryman B6 is also popular with pro sound mixers for certain situations where small size is an advantage in hiding the mic—for instance, in hair or wigs. To be fair, while the overall sound is excellent, the thin cable is susceptible to cable-handling noise, if you don’t know how to rig cables correctly.
The company says that it measures 1/10 inch in diameter but still outperforms microphones of many times its size. The B6 also features replaceable protective caps that can change their color and frequency response to match your application. And according to the manufacturer, it’s built to withstand perspiration, makeup and even survive an overnight soak in your favorite cola beverage. The outer screen in the B6’s replaceable caps stops makeup and sweat before they enter the mic element. If it clogs, you can simply remove the cap for cleaning or replacement.
Here are some notable tech specs:
- Manufacturer description of polar pattern: Omni-directional lavalier
- Relative size: Smallest lavalier on the market
- Weight: .002 ounces
- Dimensions:1 inches x 0.15 inches
- Extras: Protective carrying case, tie clip, belt clip, windscreen and set of three protective caps
- Cosmetics: So tiny it must be seen to be believed
- Fit and Finish: Very nice look, microscopic size. Cable is microscopic as well.
4. The Pro Sound Mixer’s Choice: Sanken COS-11
What makes this microphone extremely popular with professional sound mixers as well as one of the most-used microphones in television is its quality plus a few simple, unique features. The Sanken does not include as many mounting accessories as some of the other mics tested, but it sounds great with a rich, full sound that some of the competition lacks. Plus, it’s available in multiple colors besides black and includes a longer-than-usual cable between the capsule and the power supply.
Also, the COS-11 maintains frequency response and polar pattern even in adverse recording conditions. The company says Sanken was the first to utilize an original vertical placement of the diaphragm for a much greater effective area within an extremely small casing.
Here are some notable tech specs:
- Manufacturer description of polar pattern: Omni-directional pre-polarized condenser
- Relative size: Medium to small diameter, long-length microphone
- Weight: .02 ounces
- Dimensions: .15 inches x .63 inches
- Extras: WS-11 windscreen, RM-11 rubber mount and HC-11 holder clip
- Cosmetics: Available in black, beige, gray, white. Nice baked-enamel finish.
Price: $414 (48v, BP), $314 (PT)
5. The High-End Lav From The Lowlands Of Denmark: DPA 4061
A number of sound mixers I’ve spoken to over the years really like DPA as a brand. That said, I was personally impressed with the functionality of the 4061 and DPA’s micro-dot connector cables. I also found its sound very transparent, and was, quite frankly, blown away by how natural and smooth the 4061 sounded.
The company says the DPA 4061 is a pre-polarized omni-directional Miniature Condenser Microphone with a 5.4mm vertical diaphragm, specially designed for maximum performance under the often difficult conditions when mounted directly on the human body.
The company says it pays special attention to the mic’s design to deal with the humidity problems that often occur in theatrical applications. A double vent protection system, together with water-resistant materials inside the microphone, makes it more than difficult for moisture to cause the miniature microphone to fail. Also, the noise floor of the DPA 4061 is 26 dB(A) re. 20 µPa, and, if powered correctly, the company says the microphone will be able to handle sound pressure levels up to 144 dB SPL before clipping occurs. There is a wide range of connection adapters to connect it with most professional wireless systems available.
- Manufacturer description of microphone: Pre-polarized condenser element with vertical diaphragm
- Relative size: On the small side
- Weight: .26 ounces, including cable and micro-dot connector
- Dimensions: .5 inches
- Extras: Protective carrying case, one high-boost and one soft-boost miniature grid
- Cosmetics: Brown version tested; also available in black, beige and white
- Fit and finish: Nice, very high quality
- Additional accessories: DAK 4060—ENG Type Accessory kit ($109); DAK 4071-F—Film/Hidden Mic Accessory kit ($125); and DAD 6001-BC—XLR Adaptor ($107)
3 Tips For Trying Out Recommended Mics
I’m confident that one of these five mics will suit most production needs. But here are three tips to help you narrow down the choices and find just the right model:
- Try renting several lavs: I am a big advocate for renting expensive professional gear before buying it. Do your research and narrow down to what you feel are your top two choices. Then, rent them and listen to them carefully. Try using them on both male and female voices to hear what they sound like.
- Consider how you’re using lavalier mics: Remember that lavs are excellent for use in noisier environments. And because the lavalier is placed on talent, usually on their chest, very close to the talent’s mouth, lavalier microphones tend to have a “close-miked” sound that reduces background noise when compared to a shotgun or cardioid placed on a boom located a foot or two above talent’s head. But test them to see if how you’re using them works for your production.
- Whenever possible, go wired: Keep in mind that any of these lavaliers can be wired with connections to all brands of wireless transmitters if you need to use them wirelessly. But I’d suggest that you never use wireless microphones if you can use a wired microphone instead—for example, when conducting a sit-down interview. That’s because cables sound better than the most expensive wireless system. So avoid wireless lavalier systems unless the talent is moving or you’re shooting in a location where you cannot run an XLR cable.