Choosing a discreet mic for sit-down interviews in public

I have this fanciful idea of doing an interview podcast, as an excuse to meet some of the nice people I interact with almost daily on Twitter. That’s the sort of thing I like listening to, so why not go and make some of my own? I’m still a while away from building up the confidence to actually do that, but at some point I’ll need some recording gear to capture those conversations, so I thought about what sort of rig I’d carry with me to these, still hypothetical interviews.

Over to the Rode website I go, to see what mics would suit this situation. My first thought was to get two Rode Reporter mics and have myself and the person being interviewed hold them. It’d sound great, but would look stupid in a cafe or something, with two people just holding these pretty big mics. Nor can I trust the person I’m interviewing to hold the mic properly so it all sounds ok.

I’ve always been keen to try a boundary/PZM mic for this sort of thing though. The AKG CBL99 or PZM185 or similar would be very cool as all you I’d need to do is throw this low profile mic on the middle of a table and that’s it. I’d worry about background noise though and I don’t really know how they sound as there’s bugger all reviews or samples online from these sorts of mics.

Maybe two little Rode M5 pencil mics then? Kinda like mini shotgun mics. Matched pair of em doesn’t cost much, but it’d still be weird with these two mics on a table in public, even if they are small. Plus I’d need to buy some sort of XLR recorder like a Tascam DR-40 and that would cost at least $300.

Lavalier mics are relatively discrete, which is great as everyone I’d be interviewing isn’t used to hanging around microphones. The less stuff they see, they less they feel as if they’re in an interview that strangers will hear and the more it feels like just a chat with little old me, the more comfortable they’ll be and the more interesting the interview will get.

I can’t afford the Rode Lavalier (~$199ea and more on top for XLR adaptors) so that leaves the SmartLav+. I got two of them, plus the Rode SC6 dual adaptor, for only $124.20 all up in an eBay sale. Perfect – as I’m not keen to spend much, just in case the podcast series doesn’t take off (extremely likely). No XLR recorder needed either, it just plugs straight into my iPhone or iPad via the headphone socket. Here’s an unboxing vid:

Here’s another vid of it used for interviews with the SC6:

Rode’s Rec app, whilst a bit dated (I hope they update it soon), gets the job done nicely. I left all the settings as default and disabled the iOS processing option. Here’s another video of someone tweaking the Rode Rec settings if you want more info on that stuff:

So how’s the SmartLav+ sound? I recorded an entire episode of the Reckoner podcast with it taped to my t-shirt, whilst using my Rode Podcaster mic at the same time. Here’s a 30 second clip from the podcast from each mic. The only editing done is using iZotope RX6’s loudness setting with the USA Public Radio preset on each file:

SmartLav+Audio Player

00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

PodcasterAudio Player

00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

Obviously, the Podcaster sounds better, but I’m impressed with the quality of the SmartLav+ considering it was only $52! I’m not 100% rapt in the sound (I’d like it a bit warmer and less harsh), but I think the SmartLav+ will be fine for candidly recording conversations without having to spend a lot of money at the start of something that might not end doing being a long term thing.

Here’s the full setup including non-marking tape designed to stick to clothes without damage:

Now to figure out who to interview!

Anthony Agius

The Sizzle is curated by Anthony "@decryption" Agius, who has been hanging around the tech scene in Australia like a bad smell for over a decade.

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