This past year, you may have found yourself with a little more free time. What better motivation to start this fitness vlog (or self-isolating misery diary)? Sure, your phone already has everything you need to get started, but it’s 2021, and the internet demands a certain level of quality if you want someone to watch or listen. Rode, a staple of the microphone game for decades, knows this and recently unveiled their Vlogger Kit to help you on your way. I also think it can be interesting for those who like the podcast on the go, which I will come back to later.
The kit is available in three versions: Android (USB-C), iOS (Lightning) and universal (3.5mm). Inside, you’ll get a shotgun mic, a grip for your phone, an LED light cube, and a tripod, along with a few accessories. All three retail for $ 149, but if you go with the Universal Kit, you’ll get a dual cold shoe (rather than just one) and a Rycote Lyre shock mount – something to consider if you plan on getting around a lot. recording.
The main difference between the mic in each version is the connector at the end of it. But there’s another important consideration: the “universal” version (3.5mm version) won’t let you monitor your audio with wired headphones – so while you get the shock mount it comes with a trade-off. . You can use bluetooth earphones / Airpods instead, but that will depend on the app, as not everything has the necessary advanced audio options (but something like Filmic Pro, for example).
If you create videos with your phone for social sharing, work, or just for your own memories, an external microphone is one of the easiest ways to enhance them. A few years ago, I might have said that a gimbal was the thing to get, but the built-in video stabilization on phones (especially high-end iPhone and Android models) has come a long way since then. Of course, the ultimate combo would be both, but the audio is so often overlooked that it is definitely worth the investment.
This is easily demonstrated in the two audio examples below. Both were recorded in a very harsh environment – a large room with high ceilings and no soft furnishings. The recording was taken about two meters from the compound and the difference is striking (don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish, it’s the quality that matters). The one recorded just on the iPhone’s internal mic sounds as if it had been recorded in a cave. The other sounds much clearer, crisp and focused on the speaker.
If you’re creating videos for your small business or social account, the difference in quality can often be what makes you take it more seriously. Of course, the vlogger kit is more than just a microphone (especially since you can already buy the 3.5mm and Lightning versions of this mic, only the USB-C option is technically new it seems). There is light and, to a lesser extent, the tripod to consider as well.
Good light is probably the next easy win when it comes to upgrading your videos overall for little money. There’s nothing worse than squinting at a dimly lit clip to figure out what’s going on. Now you can get one of those massive light rings that are all the rage, but it’s not exactly portable, so Rode went for something a little more practical.
The LED cube included in the kit measures approximately an inch and a half square, which is almost exactly the size of the GoPro Hero 4 Session without the case if you remember. Of course, GoPro also manufactures an LED light which is about half the size of Rode, but peaks at 200 lumens (up from Rode’s 300). The light emitted from the LED cube is enough to enhance the videos I shot indoors, which really helped them pop. In the middle of the night, this will certainly be enough to light you up, if you like to shoot outdoors in the dark.
You’ll also find diffuser filters in the box in a variety of colors if white isn’t right or you just want to switch things up with a sultry red or a refreshing green. I’m not a big fan of the way the filters attach in the light frame, it’s complicated, but they do the job very well so it doesn’t feel like you’re looking at the sun.
Fussy filters aren’t the only quirk, either. If you’re using the USB-C or Lightning models, the micro shotgun attaches directly to the base of the phone. On an iPhone, this places the mic just below the home indicator, which makes navigating your phone a bit of a thumbs-up, especially if you’re using the front camera (so point the mic at you). It also means that, if you are holding the phone in your hand while you are recording, you need to be more careful to avoid bumping it, or risking thudding in your audio.
One last little gripe, I promise, so I’ll move on to the good stuff: The shotgun mic won’t connect to my phone while the case is on, I have to take it off first. The case I have isn’t too thick (it’s one of Apple’s own MagSafe cases on an iPhone 12). I can’t speak for your case or for Androids, but this is obviously the first thing I noticed. If you’re not using a case then you’re good to go, or if you’re using one that has a large cutout around the charging port, you’re probably fine, it’s just something to keep in mind. mind.
Okay, done, let me be clear: the microphone is the star of the show here. You’ve heard the difference between the built-in mic and the Rode VideoMic ME-L before in the examples above. But it was only a scenario. It works really well in almost every situation that I have tried. Sadly the current restrictions mean I can’t test it in a crowded place like a cafe so I took the initiative / cheated and pulled out a YouTube video with an hour of brewery sound busy for an hour (must love Internet). This test isn’t like the genre, as that ambient noise is only coming from one direction, not everywhere like in real life, but you can hear the results from the built-in mic and the Rode below.
Now the good news is that, once again, Rode’s mic wins hands down. Like I said, it’s not a real test of a noisy environment, but more importantly it’s a lot less boring to listen to than what my phone could do on its own, which seems to compress everything so that the noise of bottom really breaks through.
The same is true for my outdoor tests. Rode includes a dead cat windshield / cover for the mic in the kit, and it’s incredibly large, making it look like you’ve got an overweight gerbil strapped to your phone – love it. And it does exactly what you want, removing all that wild wind noise, leaving you with a clear recording. Once again, the contrast between the Rode mic and that of the phone is striking.
Another thing I like about the Lightning and USB-C versions of the kit is that you can also use the 3.5mm port on the back to record audio in a pinch. It’s mainly there for headphones / monitoring, and the signal is much lower than what you get from the Lightning / USB connection, but I was able to record enough decent audio straight from the 3.5mm port with it. a headphone cable and a Lightning adapter. The signal could be too much weak for some things, anything that has an aux-in, for example, is going to be a push. But I tried to fit it into a GoPro with a media mod and it worked perfectly.
GoPro cameras have an option to boost input from external microphones, and I expected to need it here, but levels were actually better in Standard mode for close-up work. In Standard + (where GoPro adds 20dB of gain) it was a bit too hot holding the mic close to my mouth, but it could be useful when standing further away, for example, if you have the camera on a tripod and want to record a wider shot, talking to the camera. Either way, it works, which means you have a bit more flexibility with this mic beyond connecting it to your iPhone.
I should share a few words about the tripod provided. Everything is fine. I like that it has the ball joint, because it makes positioning a snap, although it’s a shame you can’t extend it even a few inches. And there are really only two height settings: regular mode and low mode. You can of course also use it as a handle. On the plus side, the top mount screws on, so you can attach it to a variety of other things, including GoPro accessories if you have the screw mount adapter.
That brings us to one of Rode’s main competitors here: Shure. Both companies have realized that vloggers and podcasters are looking for lightweight / mobile solutions and both have multiple products in this category. Shure also sells an offer similar to the Vlogger Kit – the MV88 +. Shure’s approach is similar, you’ll get a mic, tripod, and stand for your phone, but there’s no light and the package costs a shade more at $ 200. That makes Rode a better deal, right? In fact it depends. Shure’s mic is a bit more rugged with a metal body (the Rode is plastic) and you don’t have to choose which connection to use, as you can just change the cables, which come in the box – so there is more flexibility there. Both pickups are great, so a lot of it will depend on your use case and budget.
GoPro deserves another mention as well, as it has a number of tripods and tons of third-party mounts. It also sells a light and a Media mod so you can plug in your own external microphones. The obvious difference is that you must have a GoPro (when you probably already have a phone). You’ll also need to bring your own mic if you don’t have the media mod, so both offerings will appeal to different audiences and budgets. Although with the GoPro you have more flexibility on the camera compared to your phone, and its HyperSmooth stabilization is the one to beat.
If, like me, you’re really more interested in the kit for audio purposes (like many, I took this time to finally start this documentary podcast), then Rode’s solution is a solid bet if you want something to do with it. ‘hyper portable that also has solid video chops. Being able to hold my phone on the tripod and record an interview on the fly is something I’ve wanted addressed for some time, and it’s a good option. I’ve tried various other mics, and many even compare to the Rode for audio quality (like the one from Shure) but lack things like monitoring or connecting directly to the phone (as is the case with the MV88 + from Shure). Love how streamlined Rode’s kit is, that it works with other devices in a pinch, and that the full set with light, tripod, and accessories are there if I need them.