Can I make this lavallier work with a PC, or should I get something else
August 13, 2020 10:08 PM   Subscribe

I bought this wireless lavalier mic specifically for use with a computer and/or iPad. I bought it in a rush and I now see it says "Not compatible with phones, computers, and Apple products." Can I make it work, or should I return it and get a different model? If so, any suggestions for a different wireless clip-on mic?

Use case: this is for improved audio for live and recorded videos in a home office/ classroom setting. Usual distance from computer (PC) or iPad won't be more than 3 feet, but will often be turning to write on a whiteboard, which muffles audio.

Ideal: a way to make this (FIFINE 20-Channel UHF Wireless Lavalier Lapel Microphone System with Bodypack Transmitter, Mini XLR Female Lapel Mic and Portable Receiver, Quarter Inch Output. Perfect for Live Performance-K037) work with a PC in short order.

Plan B: replace this with a different wireless lavaliere mic, but which one?

Plan C: replace this with a wired mic, but which one? Not ideal, as it's more likely that turning to and from the computer/ camera will result in getting tangled with the wire.
posted by filthy light thief to Technology (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can probably make it work with adapters, but I don't know how good the quality will be. First you need to adapt the quarter inch mic output to a 3.55mm input, using something like this adapter that Amazon suggested on that microphone page. You should then be able to plug this into your PC. However there's a very good chance it won't sound particularly good, it depends on how good the analog mic input is on your PC.

You need an extra adapter for an iPad because it has a special combination headphone/microhphone port. Something like this adapter. Make sure you get one that says it works on iPhone/iPad, as the general "mobile phone" adapters do not work. I also don't know if whatever iPad software you're using will work properly with an external mic. Also this is going to pretty awkward hanging off of the ipad as you'll have two adapters and the quite hefty receiver so I don't know if this is actually a good idea. If you have a laptop with bluetooth support, then I would just get a bluetooth mic instead
posted by JZig at 10:26 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

A $40 wireless mic is not going to be very good, no matter what. That's just too cheap to get a reliable decent mic let alone a wireless one. The products at that price point are mass produced with no attention to QA.

It might work better than your built in mic. If your computer has a 3.5mm in, all you need is a 1/4 inch to 3.5mm adapter.
posted by Candleman at 10:31 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have similar microphones attached to a pc via a small audio mixer such as this
posted by kenchie at 10:49 PM on August 13, 2020

JZig has a point re: adaptors.

From the Amazon page it looks like your mic might have come with an adaptor from 1/4" to 3.5mm? It would be the little dongle labeled "for camera." If you have that you can try it, but it still might not work. (Here's a previous question with some explanations on why it might not work.) If it doesn't, then yeah you're into kind of a nightmare of adaptor to adaptor to adaptor at which point doing the return for a different lav mic meant for computer use is probably your best bet.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:51 AM on August 14, 2020

A $40 wireless mic is not going to be very good, no matter what.

It could very well be perfectly adequate.

It looks like it comes with an adapter labelled “for camera.” As long as you don’t need to listen via headphones as you’re recording, you could also try for starters plugging that in to your Mac/iPad’s headphone jack (which is also its microphone jack, as mentioned).

Might not work, but can’t hurt and worth a shot.
posted by STFUDonnie at 4:54 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ah, beat me to it!
posted by STFUDonnie at 4:54 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I posted late at night and didn't include all the relevant details.

Yes, this includes an adapter that fits the 1/4" jack on a PC or iPad, but neither recognize the mic as a mic. I think the laptop thinks it's only headphones, not even with a mic included.

I'm not looking for pro studio quality, or even hobby audio recording quality. This would be used with virtual live teaching, so there'll be audio compression that will make this less than perfect quality. Getting a $100 mixing board seems quite excessive, so my ranked preference is getting 1) a different adapter, or 2) a different mic, preferably wireless. I'm not set at the $40 pricepoint, but I'd like to stay below $100 if possible.

Thanks, all!
posted by filthy light thief at 6:57 AM on August 14, 2020

Yes, this includes an adapter that fits the 1/4" jack on a PC or iPad, but neither recognize the mic as a mic. I think the laptop thinks it's only headphones, not even with a mic included

Yup, that's what's happening.

3.5mm plugs that incorporate a mic have 4 connections (3 little black bands.) Unfortunately there are at least 2 different "standards" of which connector is for microphone or headphone or ground, and then different devices can do different things if you use a plug with fewer than 4 conductors. So it was worth a shot, but now you know that to use your existing mic you'd need to adapt from 2 conductor (the 1/4" on the wireless receiver) to 4 conductor 3.5mm, which is not a thing I'm sure even exists, so you'd need to first adapt to 3 conductor 3.5 mm and then from that to a 4 conductor and if any of those connections don't match with your laptop or phone then it won't work and I plug in wires for a living and this all makes me exhausted just typing it out, much less trying to find and connect this string of adaptors.

Trade it in for one that you know will work. A quick search suggests that there are a lot more wired mics than wireless out there, and a bunch have 6 foot+ cables and/or extender cables, so for a cheap thing if you're only moving a few feet wired might be the way to go.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sound advice (sorry) above from everyone. My 2 cents is that you are either going to have to buy a new mic setup that works with your existing hardware or what kenchie said and buy an interface mixer.
posted by terrapin at 7:52 AM on August 14, 2020

PCs and iPads have 3.5mm jacks, not 1/4" jacks.

There are three kinds of 3.5mm jacks: tip-and-sleeve, tip-ring-and-sleeve, and tip-ring-ring-and-sleeve (TS, TRS, TRRS respectively). And TRRS jacks are frankly a nightmare. There are lots of different ways to wire lots of different kinds of signal onto a four-connector TRRS jack and over time various manufacturers have used pretty much all of them. TRS jacks get wired funny too.

If you plug a TS plug into a TRS or TRRS socket, or a TRS or TRRS plug into a TS socket, it will physically fit but short circuit the ring(s) to the sleeve. Similarly, a TRS plug in a TRRS socket (or vice versa) will fit just fine but short circuit the second ring to the sleeve. Sometimes the sockets are wired in ways where this either doesn't matter or yields some vaguely sensible fallback operation mode, but sometimes it just b0rks things. If you don't know the exact wirings for the jacks you're dealing with, it's all a bit of a crap shoot.

If you do work out the exact wiring required by the devices you want your mic to connect to, and you search for an adaptor that will achieve that for you, then you will almost certainly find one. But I strongly advise you to avoid rigid adaptors that have a plug and one or more sockets moulded into the same chunk of plastic. Those things are basically little crowbars and they will eventually rip your 3.5mm socket right off its circuit board, or snap off inside it and leave it irretrievably blocked. Use the style of adaptor that has a short length of flexible cable connecting a nice small 3.5mm plug to whatever sockets you need for your mic. If your only adapter option is a rigid type for whatever reason, use a short extension cord between it and anything you're plugging it into.
posted by flabdablet at 7:53 AM on August 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: 3.5mm, right.

Here's a pic of the adapter, which matches what we have here. It looks like a TRRS configuration, if I'm following you.

I think we'll be going with Plan B or C, a different wireless or wired mic. Wired sounds to be more common and less complicated.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:33 AM on August 14, 2020

It looks like a TRRS configuration, if I'm following you.

You're possibly not quite. There's only one ring contact on the only 3.5mm plug I can see in that picture - the one labelled "For Camera" - which makes it a tip-ring-sleeve (TRS) type, not a tip-ring-ring-sleeve (TRRS). Tip, ring and sleeve are names for the metal contact zones, not for the black insulating rings that separate them.

The box labelled "WIRELESS MICROPHONE", which I'm guessing is the wireless receiver, has a 6.5mm tip-and-sleeve (TS) plug, not a tip-ring-sleeve (TRS). So it has to be a mono (single channel) mic, and it will be wired with the sleeve as ground and the tip as the audio signal.

If the 6.5mm socket on the camera adaptor is also a TS type, which given that it's been supplied with a mic that has a TS plug seems pretty likely, then it seems logical to assume that it would be wired in such a way as to present that same audio signal on both the tip and the ring contacts of its 3.5mm plug, with sleeve as ground, so that a camera with stereo audio inputs would see the same microphone signal on both left (tip) and right (ring) channels.

If that's right, there is some chance it will work with a PC mic input. These are usually TRS but typically not stereo; instead of using the ring contact for an extra audio signal, they use it to provide a DC bias voltage for condenser and electret microphones. Since the adaptor will be connecting the tip and ring contacts on the 3.5mm plug together, the camera adaptor will only work if the wireless receiver is OK with having both an audio input and a current-limited +5VDC supply connected to its output. If the receiver's design includes an output coupling capacitor it should simply ignore the PC's attempts to provide it with power. If it doesn't, you might hear some fairly horrible distortion. The current-limiting resistor that PCs put in series with that +5V supply should be enough to stop anything taking actual damage, though.

If your PC seems to think you're plugging in headphones rather than a mic, then either you're using the wrong 3.5mm socket (look for a pink surround and/or a microphone icon if your PC has multiple 3.5mm sockets available) or the PC is a newer type that uses a single TRRS socket for both headphones and mic, much like a phone or a tablet does. In the latter case there's no way any TRS mic adaptor (including the Amazon one that JZig suggested above) is going to work.

If you do have a separate mic socket on the PC, though, JZig's adaptor might actually work better than what you already have. This is because it's actually a simple nothing-to-do-with-computers stereo adaptor whose only job is to change the size of a TRS stereo audio plug, while keeping the wiring the same. That means that it has a TRS socket on the 6.5mm side, which will be wired tip to tip, ring to ring and sleeve to sleeve to the 3.5mm TRS plug.

If you plug your wireless receiver's mono 6.5mm TS plug into that stereo 6.5mm TRS socket, the sleeve on the plug will touch both the sleeve and ring contacts inside the socket. What you'll end up with on the 3.5mm end, then, will be a tip that's wired to your wireless receiver's audio output, and a ring and sleeve both wired to ground. And this configuration should actually be compatible with a typical PC microphone input, though more or less by accident: the sleeve will be grounded as it should be, the +5V DC bias voltage that PC mic inputs generally connect to the ring contact will just be shorted to ground (harmlessly - they're very current-limited), and a mono mic signal will appear at the tip just the way the PC expects it to.

And since pretty much any TRRS combo headphone/mic socket will also be expecting only a mono mic signal, there's every chance that chaining JZig's first and second suggested adaptors (or this slightly cheaper sub for the second one) will actually work for your iPad (and, if your PC does actually use a combo headphone/mic TRRS socket as well, for that too).

Two adaptors might not be the Right Thing but they're well short of the Worst Thing, and they'll certainly cost you less than another microphone.
posted by flabdablet at 10:57 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Well it does sound like flt can return the mic he has for full or partial refund/credit so that might swing the cost issue.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:09 AM on August 14, 2020

Indeed it might.

I don't plug in wires for a living. Not any more. But for some years I did work in a school as an IT technician and I can thoroughly empathize with not wanting to have to think this shit through and just buying the Right Thing from the get-go.

I can still feel the pain of having to explain multiple times why I wasn't going to "repair" stereo headphones that only worked in the left ear when plugged directly into any of the class sets of multi-headphone splitter boxes, all of which had been in the school since wire recorders were state of the audio art and were therefore built around mono TS 6.5mm plugs and sockets. Yes, all those class sets had mono plug to stereo socket adaptors rattling around loose in the bottoms of the buckets. No, teachers could apparently not see the difference between a naked stereo plug and one whose adaptor was still in place on the end of the cable.

That said, the nice modern stereo splitters I ordered, with 3.5mm stereo plugs and sockets to fit the computers and their even newer headphones, generated plenty of work on their own. Say what you like about 6.5mm TS plugs, but they're way harder to snap than 3.5mm TRS. And 3.5mm TRRS are just the worst. I swear, those things snap when a year 3 student just looks at them funny. And getting the snapped-off tips out from deep inside an iPad's headphone sockets is fiddly.
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 AM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Heh, I'd find a big TS extension cable, a small TRRS extension cable, cut them in the middle and strip down the wires. Connect the Ss together, then try the T from the big side to the T and Rs from the other side until you find the one that works. Tape it up and call it a day. If you can find a F-F for the big side and a M-M for the small side... make two with no wasted bits.

The sorta benefit is that if this cheap mic works well enough, and you can make a slightly different connection of the big T to the small end for different devices... Well you'll have a solution for others. Cheap wireless lav-mic, easy cable. Once you know how, you can just order the end pieces (with wires atatched) from somewhere like DigiKey, a bit of solder and heat-shrink, and make them for all your other teacher friends. (or get some student to do it for extra credit.)
posted by zengargoyle at 12:30 PM on August 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've had a similar issue with a 3.5mm TS device not being usable as an input on a laptop. My solution was to get a cheap USB audio interface that had a dedicated mic input separate from the headphone output. This is the one I used.
posted by Television Name at 5:06 PM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Television Name, I'm guessing you plugged the mic line into the pink mic-in port? How is the sound quality?

And does it really require 6 AA batteries? Or is that an Amazon error/ typo?
posted by filthy light thief at 8:33 PM on August 14, 2020

Those tiny audio adaptors are entirely USB powered. And since their total physical volume is less than that of one AA battery, the business about requiring six of those has to be an Amazon brain fart.

In my experience, the sound quality on that class of USB audio adaptor isn't very good, though the most noticeable deficiency is a lack of bass response which probably won't matter for a presenter's voice mic unless what you're presenting is actually about singing technique.

But given that their mic inputs are wired the same as a PC TRS mic socket (tip is signal, ring is current-limited DC power, sleeve is ground) then you'd still want a 6.5mm TRS to 3.5mm TRS adaptor between your wireless receiver and the USB device's mic input, and if using it with an iPad you'd need yet another adaptor between the USB A plug and whatever bizarro digital connector Apple chose to stick on that year's iPads. So that's three adaptors in a chain for the iPad, which would be a bridge too far for me.

I'm pretty sure that a stereo 6.5mm TRS to 3.5mm TRS adaptor, chained to a 3.5mm TRS mic to 3.5mm TRRS headphone/mic adaptor for the iPad, will get you where you need to be with fewer potential points of both failure and signal degeneration.

However, if your PC does in fact have a combo headphone/mic TRRS socket wired the same as the one on an iPad, this adaptor designed for exactly your use case will probably suit both.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 AM on August 15, 2020

Or you could wire one of these to your phone for about a dollar, then Bluetooth the result to wherever it needs to go.
posted by flabdablet at 4:31 AM on August 15, 2020

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