Need a microphone to capture soft voices in living room setting
July 15, 2019 4:10 PM   Subscribe

I need to do video recordings in a living room type setting where people are talking. The problem is that when voices get quiet, the recordings on my iPhone can't play back with enough volume. Already tried and failed to boost the playback volume. So, either I need to buy a better microphone for my iPhone or I need to buy a new camera with a microphone that is sufficient.

Imagine 3-4 people sitting in chairs in a living room type setting. I need to be able to hear everyone and get video of just the 2 key players. People are dispersed around the room enough that I need at 120* sound coverage, 180* would be even better. Chairs can be as much as 8ft away from the camera although I might be able to place a wireless mic somewhat closer. Recording devices can be visible but should be unobtrusive. No central coffee table. No individual mics. Absolutely not going to ask people to speak louder.

The sound I get is usually (but not always) good enough when I listen with headphones. From time to time I need to share it with others, either via videoconference or by sending it to them on usb stick. Invariably, despite having tried a number of things, it fails more often than not.

I've tried various options already to up the volume - (i) playing it back through a speaker (doesn't work when sharing later via zoom or copying it for someone else to listen to (ii) playing it back via VLC with volume at max (iii) importing to iMovie and upping the volume to max (I was very excited about that one but it hasn't been reliable) (iv) an inexpensive omnidirectional conference mic which made no difference at all. So I think I really need to spend money on getting better input.

I currently have an iPhone 6 which has been dedicated to these recordings. I also could use an iPhone 10 and MacBook Air which I already own. I am also willing to buy a video camera if that would solve the problem.

Most microphones seemed to be designed to be used up close or at least very directionally. I have people speaking from about 120* - 160* angle. I considered a conference speakerphone like this which I could place a little closer to some of the key speakers instead of off in the corner since it is wireless. Would that work with the camera app on my iPhone? Will it pick up soft voices at a distance?

If you think I need a camera, do you have any recommendation or suggestions as which camera guide might lead me in the right direction?

Thank you! I had a disaster trying to share some material today and I am so frustrated and feed up. Help!!!
posted by metahawk to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Four lapel mics and a multi-track recorder.
posted by noloveforned at 4:18 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]

If the problem is just getting high enough levels and not background noise, a somewhat cheaper (and less certain to work) option than multiple mics would be to get a cheap, handheld digital audio recorder with either built-in mics or a single external mic. The worst audio recorder will probably perform better than the best consumer video camera or SLR/video hybrid with built-in mics.

I've used cheap, palm-top tascam recorders and built-in mics with surprisingly good results. (And cheap m-audio recorders with both built in and external mics with very mixed results.) It looks like there are some new players in the few hundred dollar range (e.g., Zoom) since I last payed attention. isn't a bad place to find genuinely independent reviews.
posted by eotvos at 4:31 PM on July 15

Seconding an audio recorder. I've used an Olympus WS-801 ($80) for this purpose and it's pretty amazing how well it records. Of course that doesn't give you sync sound, so hopefully someone will come up with an external mic for you.

Some googling just now leads me to the Zoom IQ6 and IQ7, which are NOT really directional and should work great with your iPhone. Did you consider those already?
posted by intermod at 8:51 PM on July 15

If I use an audio recorder, how do I synch it up with the video? Is it as simple as importing both into iMovie or is there something tricky to make sure it doesn't look like it's been dubbed. I need something simple and unobtrusive.
posted by metahawk at 10:32 PM on July 15

If I use an audio recorder, how do I synch it up with the video?

Create a synch point - this would be a clapper board in a film/tv production but could just be a loud clap once all the mics/cameras are going. This will create a ‘spike’ in the audio wave file which you can use to match up the audio and video when you’ve got everything in an editor.
posted by brilliantmistake at 3:15 AM on July 16

I couldn't imagine using a clapboard for this application so I ended up with a bluetooth wireless conference style microphone. It seems just enough better than the built-in mic to do the job, especially since I can locate microphone closer to the interviewees without having to move the camera.
posted by metahawk at 10:23 PM on August 1

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