Smartphones and lavalier mics are the perfect partnership for simplicity, flexibility, and portability.
Nowadays, most people have their phone on them wherever they go. So if you’re using it as a recording device, that’s one less thing to carry around, and one less thing to forget.
Lavalier, or “lav” mics (the kind you see used on TV that pin to the presenters’ clothing) are really easy to keep with you at all times too. They take up no more room in your bag or pocket than a set of earbuds.
Using lav mics and your phone means a quick and simple setup. No mic stands, boom arms, pop shields, and constant worrying about an inexperienced guest’s mic technique.
In fact, when you’re in conversation with someone who isn’t used to recording, lav mics are so unobtrusive that they’ll relax a lot quicker. This leads to much more natural and flowing interviews.
Using a Lavalier Mic With Your Phone
There are loads of different lavalier mics on the market, but only a select few will work with your smartphone.
An easy way to tell if one will work is to look at its plug. If it has two little bands around it, then it’s a TRS plug (tip-ring-sleeve) and won’t work.
If it has three little bands around it though, as seen in the illustration, then it’s a TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve), and should work.
This is basically because we plug a smartphone lav into the device’s headphone jack, which is predominantly an output.
Having that extra ring on the plug means that it can act as both an input and an output at the same time.
That’s why you can talk through the mic on the default set of earbuds you probably got with your phone – because it’ll be a TRRS plug on there.
Rode have an adapter – the Rode SC4 – which lets you turn a TRS plug into a TRRS, so you can use non-smartphone lavs into your phone this way.
This is a handy option in a pinch, but if the lav you’re using isn’t battery powered, you can end up with a very weak signal in your recording.
So in this post, we’re going to deal with models specifically designed to plug directly into your phone.
Smartphone Lavaliers Compared
I want to compare 3 models of varying prices. They are…
The BOYA BY-M1 Smartphone & Digital Camera Lavalier
Price – $20/£15
So this is definitely the budget option out of the three models.
It has a 6m (236″) long cable, which can be a curse or a blessing, depending on whichever way you look at it.
This mic is the only one out of the three which requires its own battery – an LR44 cell.
Again, having the battery can be a pro or a con. It means that the signal is stronger than the other two, so you can turn your gain down a lot lower.
However, this also makes it pretty unsuitable for using the BY-M1 alongside one of the other kinds of smartphone lav. As smartphone recordings are single-channel and don’t split the tracks, the differences in sound levels could be problematic and lead to the BY-M1 side clipping.
If you were using two lav mics via a splitter (we’ll cover this shortly) then you’d either want them to both be BY-M1s, or none at all.
With the BY-M1, there’s also no way to gauge the life left in your battery which is slightly frustrating.
As well as being a smartphone lavalier, you can plug the BOYA-M1 directly into your DLSR camera too. There’s a switch on the capsule to alternate between the two settings depending on the device you’re plugged into.
The Rode SmartLav + Smartphone Lavalier
Price – $74/£43
The Rode Smartlav + is perhaps the best known of all smartphone lavalier mics.
The original Rode Smartlav was a decent model, but had a very high level of hiss present under its recordings.
The Smartlav + was a huge improvement on its predecessor and really brought that noisefloor down to an acceptable level.
The Smartlav + is powered by your phone, so doesn’t need its own battery. This means you’ll need to turn the gain up a little higher than if you were using a self-powered mic like the BY-M1.
The Smartlav’s cable is the shorter of the three, with a length of 115cm (45″). This can be a little awkward if you’re recording a video on your phone whilst using the mic.
You’d also need to use the Rode SC4 adapter in order to record with the Smartlav + into anything other than your smartphone.
The Shure MVL Smartphone Lavalier
Price – $69/£50
Shure are a legendary microphone manufacturer. Traditionally a major player in the analogue mic world, they’ve released a handful of USB and smartphone models in recent years as the digital media world continues to grow.
The Shure MVL is their take on the smartphone lavalier, and it’s pretty similar to the Rode Smartlav + in many ways.
It’s also a ‘plug in and play’ with no battery requirements.
The Shure MVL’s cable length is 50″ (127cm), making it slightly longer than the Rode Smartlav +, though both fall miles short of the BOYA BY-M1 on this front.
And, just like the Smartlav +, you’d need to use the Rode SC4 adapter in order to record with the MVL into anything other than your phone.
Using 2 Smartphone Lavaliers at the Same Time
Lavalier mics are very much solo mics, so if you’re doing an interview or co-hosted show, you’ll need to use two.
The problem is, your phone only has one headphone jack – that means you’re also going to need a splitter.
Again, Rode are in the lead of this front with their SC6 adapter, which makes it really easy to plug in two lav mics, as well as a set of headphones.
Obviously Rode will have designed the SC6 for use with their Smartlavs, but it works with any other TRRS mic too, such as the MVL or the BY-M1.
You can mix and match your mics here, but for a more consistent sound level, I’d recommend using two of the same here if you can.
The SC6 splitter currently costs $23 on Amazon.com and £13 on Amazon UK.
Comparing Sound Samples
Here’s all 3 clips running one after the other, the BOYA BY-M1, the Rode Smartlav +, and the Shure MVL.
These clips were recorded with the Shure MOTIV app on my iPhone 5.
The Smartlav + and MVL sound samples were recorded with the gain set to 100%, whilst the BY-M1 was recorded at 77%.
If you’re podcasting with your smartphone, be sure to download a recording app that lets you set your gain manually. Otherwise you can end up with clipped and lower quality audio.
All three were then normalised to -3dB in Adobe Audition. No cleaning, EQ, or any other post-processing was applied.
The samples were recorded in the office, rather than the studio. As lavs are often an on-the-go option, you’ll rarely record in properly sound-dampened conditions.
So I’ve hopefully given you enough info to make your own mind up on which lavalier you’d prefer to use with your smartphone. But what’s my own thoughts?
Well, I think they’re all pretty decent options. But there are a few things that I’d consider, if I was in the market for one (or two).
The BOYA BY-M1 has the clear advantage of being noticeably cheaper than the other two. It also has a cable length that’ll lend itself well to any video you want to record, and you don’t need an adapter to plug it straight into your DSLR.
That said, the BY-M1 has a slightly lower sound quality than the other two, in my opinion.
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