If you’ve ever tried to record yourself or someone else talking via your in-camera microphones or with a mic in the hotshoe of your camera you will appreciate that neither of those two methods deliver the quality we are used to hearing on a TV show. On a basic level there is one principle reason your distant mutterings don’t resonate with clarity and a full range of tones, and that is that microphones on the camera are just not close enough to where the sound is coming from. The closer you put the microphone to the mouth of the speaker the more likely it is to pick up the intended voice without the distractions of all the other ambient sounds in the environment, whether that’s traffic, the chatter of by-standers, the rustling leaves, the hum of the air conditioner or just the echo of the target voice in the room.
The three wireless microphone systems under the spotlight here are designed to solve exactly that problem by getting their pick-ups as close to the source as possible, but without creating the dramatic visual distraction a normal mic would if it appeared in-shot right by the mouth of your subject. These three systems consist of two small TX (transmitter) microphones that can be placed close to the mouth, which send the audio wirelessly to a RX receiver plugged into your camera. The audio is then recorded onto the video file in the same way audio from a normal mic plugged into the camera would be. Having two mics in these kits allows a conversation to take place, or for a voice to be recorded on one mic and some environmental sounds captured by the other for some background scene-setting.
Rode is clearly the better known brand within this little group, and commands the higher price. In fact, the Rode Wireless Go ll kit is actually the same price as the Saramonic Blink 500 Pro B2 kit but Saramonic includes two wired lavaliere microphones that cost $160/£120 when bought separately from Rode, as well as a TRS cable for using the system with your phone – which would cost a further $15/£11. The third brand here is Sycno, with its G2 A2 kit. Again Synco offers a pair of lav mics as well as the TRS cable but manages to bring the kit in for $100/£100 less than the other two. But Rode has to be better because it costs more – right?
What you get in the kit
The Rode Wireless Go ll kit consists of the two transmitters, a receiver, three fluffy windshields (one spare), three USB-C charging cables, a receiver-to-camera cable and a soft fold-over pouch to hold it all. In fact, the pouch isn’t really big enough to hold the kit comfortably, and the metal cable ends are forced much too close to the smooth glossy surfaces of the microphone units.
The Saramonic Blink 500 Pro B2 kit comes in a very neat hard case that doubles as a charging station. The case has its own 3000mAh battery built-in and every time we drop the transmitters or the receiver into their places in it they automatically begin charging. The case itself is charged via a USB-C port, while each of the TX/RX units has its own USB charging port. As neat and impressive as the case is, there’s no room in it for the cables that come in the kit, or the two lav mics either – and few of us will have the necessary qualifications to re-insert them into their original packaging box successfully once they are out.
Synco also gives us a case for the TX and RX units, but does leave space for the two lav mics, camera and TRS cables, and the two fluffy wind shields in a netted area in the top of the semi-hard container. Metal ends are still a little too close for comfort to the TX and RX unit screens however. One of the coolest things about this kit is the three-way USB-C charging cable that allows all three TX/RX units to be charged from a single USB power source. It needs to be a powerful one obviously to feed all three units at the same time, but this is very handy indeed.
RX controllers and displays
Each of the control units offers a different degree of information. The Saramonic RX is probably the more comprehensive while the Rode is the clearer of the three. Both offer battery status for themselves as well as the TX units, we get an indication of signal strength, and all three allow us to alter the recording levels of the TX units.
The Synco RX only tells us about its own battery level, not that of the TX units that might be a long way from the camera – and which could go down without us noticing if we aren’t monitoring the audio constantly. This RX unit also has a much dimmer display than that of the other two manufacturers which makes it, and the TX units, more difficult to read when in use outside on a bright day. Only the Saramonic RX unit doesn’t report some form of graphic feedback regarding the audio levels being experienced at each TX unit, but each of the TX units has its own levels display.
I thought the operating range would be a critical element of specification, but actually each of the kits has a greater range than most of us will need on a day-to-day basis. Rode says its Wireless Go ll will allow us 650ft/200m between the transmitter and the receiver, while Synco claims 500ft/150m and Saramonic says 328ft/100m. These distances are of course Line Of Sight – so the transmitter and receivers need to be able to see each other clearly. That sounds okay, but if you have someone with their back to you and the TX unit is clipped to a collar near their mouth you will face problems. That’s why the inclusion of the lav mics is important – so the TX unit can be on the back of the speaker’s belt and the lav mic wired close to the mouth. That way we can hear people facing the other way, if you are doing an over-the-shoulder interview shot.
In tests I found the not-in-the-line-of-sight performances of these units is directly related to the line-of-sight distance claims, so the Rode performed best, followed by the Synco units and then the Saramonic. The Saramonic Blink 500 units began to experience problems by the 50ft/15m mark (before the first time the speakers turn to face the camera as in the video above), while the Synco G2 managed a little further before the audio begin to intermittently cut out – about 100ft/30m. The Saramonic system cut out completely by 160ft/50m, while the Synco kits went the whole distance to 328ft/100m with some signal getting through. I was able to walk over 250ft/75m with the Rode Wireless Go ll TX on my shirt and my back to the RX, and it still keep a good clear signal. It is the superior performer in this department by a very long way.
All managed perfectly at the 328ft/100m mark when the TX and RX units were facing each other.
I had hoped to record using all three units simultaneously via three cameras, but found that the Saramonic Blink 500 could not perform in front of its fellows. When in close proximity to the Rode and Synco units doing their job the Saramonic units would not talk to each other. I could get a clear signal when I removed the RX unit and brought it within a few feet of the TX, but back on the camera next to the others it got shy.
I asked Saramonic about this and was told that ideally RX units need to be kept a foot apart, but in my tests the cameras were much further apart than this and the Saramonic system wouldn’t work. Granted most people won’t be recording with three wireless mic system at the same time, but some may well need to make recordings when other photographers are doing the same in the vicinity, so there is potential for issues in certain situations.
I also found the Synco G2 interferes more than the other two units with recording with the Zoom H6. I plugged each kit into the X/Y capsule on the Zoom recorder and could avoid interference by careful positioning with the Rode and Saramonic RX units, but couldn’t with the Synco. No doubt this would be solved by the use of a longer cable than that supplied, to put more distance between the devices.
The three kits offer much the same features as each other for the most part, but the Rode and Saramonic kits offer a few extras that the others don’t. All the transmitters offer a mic socket to allow lav mics to be attached, but the Saramonic Blink 500 has a feature that allows this to be switch to a line-in port so other audio devices can be fed into the system.
Rode offers users access to its Rode Central desktop and mobile software that greatly enhances the features its Wireless Go system provides. Via the software each TX unit can be set to record internally, so high quality audio will always be achieved whether the signal to the RX unit is good or not. Two quality levels are available, and up to 40 hours can be saved to the TX. The Rode system also offers a ‘safety’ channel that records the same audio at two different levels. Should something loud suddenly happen the -20dB lower level recording can be used, as it will be more likely to have recorded the sound cleanly. You can have the safety channel on when recording in Mono mode, but not in Stereo.
Plugging the kit into Rode Central also allows us finer recording levels (10 steps instead of three), and this gives us access to new firmware – something not mentioned by the other two brands. Rode Central initially was only for desktop computers, which meant switching the settings while out and about was an issue. The new mobile version solves that, and makes the features much more accessible.
Each of the three kits is very easy to use. You slide the RX unit into the hotshoe, or clip it somewhere handy, and plug the supplied cable into the camera’s mic port. You then clip the TX units onto the shirt of your subjects and switch them all on. The TX and RX units connect automatically, and you’re ready to go.
Switching between Mono and Stereo modes is simple in all three cases, and controlling the levels is also easy – though perhaps more long-winded on the Saramonic RX than on the others. Of the three the Synco kit is probably the most straightforward to use as the RX offers individual dedicated buttons for each action, so turning the levels up just requires pressing the marked button. The units offer fewer features, but are definitely simpler to use for it.
The Mute button is reasonably easy to press by accident on all three units, though the Saramonic allows us to disable the mute button entirely. The Rode RX unit lets us mute individual TX units remotely to avoid disturbance during recording.
One seemingly small area in which the Rode TX units stand out is in the design of their wind shields. An inconsequential matter surely, but those on the Saramonic units are so prone to falling off it is quite amazing, and the Synco ones are only just better. In putting one back on again an inexperienced hand can easily press the mute button on the TX too, doubling the frustration all round. Those on the Rode units have a small bayonet fitting that we press into place and twist – and then they stay in place until we take them off again. No rude words needed!
I didn’t measure battery life in a scientific way, but all managed to keep going for a long time. The Synco mics seemed to need charging more often, and it was hard to keep track of how long the Saramonic units last as they get charged every time you put them away.
Each of the systems allows us to record in Mono or Stereo modes. In Mono both microphones record to the same channel and both voices appear in each ear of your headphones. In Stereo mode each microphone reports separately, and one voice appears in the left ear and the other in the right.
In some conditions it is very hard to tell the difference between the audio quality of the three systems, but when it counts there are characteristics that separate them reasonably clearly. They are all, though, pretty good, and even the ‘worse’ of the three will serve you well in most situations.
One clear difference is the level at which they record. The Rode mic consistently recorded a louder signal, and the Synco the quietest. Each was set to its middle setting for general recording, but I also turned them all the way up to check for individual noise production. Although I recorded using three different cameras for parts of the test, I also used each set on the same camera on a number of occasions to ensure they were each being treated equally.
To match levels in DaVinci Resolve the Synco audio needed to be boosted the most, and this inevitably brings out the background noise a little more. Having said that though, in my silence tests there is little to choose between the noise of the Synco G2 and the Saramonic systems, but the Rode Wireless Go ll clearly produces a cleaner signal.
Each of the microphone systems performs better when used with a lav mic, especially when it comes to eliminating environmental disturbances – Rode users will probably need to invest, as lav mics don’t come with this kit. Having the mics closer to the mouth meant less amplification was needed to record and in post-production, so all produced a cleaner signal and some very good audio indeed. It is in the quiet environments the differences can be detected most clearly, and in those the Rode Wireless Go ll stands out.
I suppose it’s no surprise the Rode Wireless Go ll comes out on top in this comparison, given that it costs more than the other two kits. You get less in terms of the accessories, but you also get a more flexible system that offers more options as well as, most importantly, a more powerful and reliable connection between TX and RX units. Windshields that don’t fall off also go a long way towards justifying the extra money, as does Rode Central, internal recording and the option for a safety channel. The pouch isn’t great, and will be even more full once you add the lav mics you will inevitably need, so perhaps users should keep the soft pouch for the TX, RX units and the wind shields, and find somewhere else for the cables.
It’s difficult to choose between the Saramonic and the Synco kits for second place, as they offer different propositions. The Saramonic Blink 500 is slightly more featured than the Synco G2 kit, but at the same time I found the signal less reliable—which is quite difficult to ignore. The Saramonic charging case is a big draw and very handy indeed, and does beat the very cool three-way USB cable that comes with the Synco G2 kit. And the G2 screens are more difficult to read outside. At the same time though, the G2 units perform just as well as the Saramonic Blink 500 units when recording, and for a significant saving. Ultimately, whether you go with one will depend on which feature set is more important to your workflow.
|Rode Wireless Go ll||Saramonic Blink 500 Pro B2||Synco G2 A2|
|Range, line of sight||650ft/200m||328ft/100m||500ft/150m|
|Charging||Via USB-C||4hrs in case/USB||1.5hr via USB-C|
|Gain control||0dB to –30dB in 3dB steps||0-6 levels||6 levels|
|Low pass filter||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Max SPL||100dB at 1kHz||120dB at 1kHz||135dB at 1kHz|
|Weight||TX: 30g, RX: 32g||32g||39g|