This last year you may have a little more time to spend. What better motivation is there to start this fitness vlog (or self-isolation misery diary)? Of course, your phone already has everything you need to get started, but it’s 2021 and the internet requires a certain level of quality if you want someone to actually watch or listen. Rode, who has been a mainstay in microphone gaming for decades, knows this and recently unveiled its vlogger kit to help you along the way. I also think this may be of interest to those who like podcasts on the go, which I will get into later.
The kit is available in three versions: Android (USB-C), iOS (Lightning) and Universal (3.5 mm). Inside, you get a shotgun microphone, a grip for your phone, an LED light cube, and a tripod, as well as accessories. All three retail for $ 149. However, if you go for the universal kit, you get a double cold shoe (instead of a single one) and a Rycote Lyre shock mount – something to consider if you plan to move around a lot.
The main difference between the microphone in each version is the connector at the end. But there is one more important consideration: the “Universal” (3.5mm version) does not allow you to monitor your audio data with wired headphones. So when you get the shock mount, there is a tradeoff involved. You can use bluetooth headphones / airpods instead, but this is app dependent as not all have the advanced audio options you need (but this is the case with Filmic Pro, for example).
James Trew / Engadget
If you are using your phone to create videos for social sharing, work, or just for your own memories, an external microphone is one of the easiest ways to enhance it. A few years ago, I might have said a gimbal was the thing, but built-in video stabilization on phones (especially on the iPhone and high-end Android models) has come a long way since then. Of course, the ultimate combination would be both, but audio is so often overlooked that it’s really worth investing in.
This is easily demonstrated in the following two audio examples. Both were recorded in a very harsh environment – a large room with high ceilings and no soft furnishings. The recording was made about two meters from the speaker and the difference is big (don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish it’s quality that matters). The one that was only recorded on the iPhone’s internal microphone sounds like it was recorded in a cave. The other one sounds much clearer, cleaner and more focused on the speaker.
Often times, when creating videos for your small business or social account, the difference in quality can make you get taken seriously. Of course, the vlogger kit is more than just a microphone (especially since you could already buy the 3.5mm and Lightning versions of this microphone, only the USB-C option seems technically new). There’s the light, and to a lesser extent the tripod, that needs to be considered.
Good lighting is likely the next easy win when it comes to updating your videos for not a lot of money. There’s nothing worse than blinking at a dimly lit clip to find out what’s going on. Now you could get one of those giant ring lights that are all the rage, but that’s not exactly portable, so Rode went for something more practical.
The LED cube included in the kit is about an inch and a half, or almost the same size as the GoPro Hero 4 session without the case, if you remember this. Of course, GoPro also produces an LED light that is about half the size of that from Rode, but a maximum of 200 lumens (up to 300 from Rode). The light that the LED cube gives off is enough to spice up videos I recorded indoors, which really helped them pop. In the middle of the night it will surely be enough to light you up if you like to take pictures outdoors in the dark.
In the package you will also find some diffuser filters in different colors if white is not suitable or you just want to swap things out with a sultry red or a cooling green. I’m not a huge fan of how the filters fit into the frame of the light, it’s fiddly but they do the job just fine so it doesn’t feel like you’re staring at the sun.
Picky filters aren’t the only specialty either. If you’re using either the USB-C or the Lightning model, the shotgun microphone attaches directly to the base of the phone. On an iPhone, the microphone is just below the home display. This makes navigating your phone a flick of the thumb, especially if you are using the front-facing camera (so the microphone is pointing at you). It also means that if you hold the phone in your hand while recording, you need to be more careful to avoid a knock or risk a thud in your audio.
One last little criticism, I promise, then I’ll get to the good stuff: the shotgun microphone won’t connect to my phone while the case is on, I have to take it off first. The case I have isn’t overly 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 it was obviously the first thing that caught my eye. If you’re not using a case, you’re good to go, or if you’re using a case with a large cutout around the charging port, that’s probably fine. This just needs to be taken into account.
Okay, when that’s done let me be clear: the microphone is the star of the show here. In the examples above, you have already heard the difference between the built-in microphone and the Rode VideoMic ME-L. But that was just one scenario. It works really well in almost every situation I’ve tried. Unfortunately, the current restrictions mean I can’t test it in a crowded place like a coffee shop. So I took an initiative / cheated on a YouTube video with an hour of a busy brewhouse sound that played for an hour (I have to love the internet. This test is not like for how, as the ambient noise only comes out one Direction is coming, not everywhere like in real life, but you can hear the results of both the built-in mic and the rode below.
Now the good news is that Rode’s microphone is undoubtedly winning. As I said, this isn’t a true test of a noisy environment, but the important thing is that hearing it is far less annoying than what my phone could do on its own, which seems to compress everything so that the background noise really comes through.
The same goes for my external tests. Rode includes a windshield / dead cat cover for the microphone in the kit. It’s amazingly big so it looks like you have an overweight gerbil on your phone – I love it. And it does exactly what you want, removing all that wild wind noise and leaving a clear recording. Again, the contrast between the Rode microphone and that of the phone is strong.
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 sound in a pinch. It’s mostly for headphones / monitoring, and the signal is much lower than what you get from the Lightning / USB connection, but I was able to get enough audio straight through the 3.5mm port using a headphone cable and lightning adapter record, tape . The signal could be too low for some things, anything that has an aux-in for example will be a push. But I tried feeding it into a GoPro with a media mod and it worked perfectly.
GoPro cameras have the option to enhance external microphones input, and I expected they would be needed here, but levels were actually better in standard close-up mode. In Standard + (where GoPro adds 20dB of gain) it was a little too hot while I was holding the microphone near my mouth, but it can be useful when you’re further away, such as when you’re using the camera on a tripod and want to take a wider shot, speak to the camera. Either way, it works, which means you have a little more flexibility with this microphone than plugging it into your iPhone.
James Trew / Engadget
I should share a few words on the included tripod. It’s perfectly fine. I like that it has the ball and socket joint as it makes positioning a breeze, although it’s a shame you can’t even lengthen it by a few inches. And there are really only two height settings: normal and low mode. You can of course also use it as a handle. On the positive side, the top bracket unscrews so you can attach it to a variety of other things, including GoPro accessories if you have the screw adapter.
This brings us to one of Rode’s main competitors: Shure. Both companies have recognized that vloggers and podcasters are looking for lightweight / mobile solutions, and both have multiple products in this category. Shure also sells a similar offering to the Vlogger Kit – the MV88 +. Shure’s approach is similar. You get a microphone, tripod, and mount for your phone, but there’s no light and the package costs an extra $ 200 shade. That makes Rode a better deal, doesn’t it? It depends on. Shure’s microphone feels a bit more sturdy with a metal case (the Rode is made of plastic) and you don’t have to decide which one to connect as you can simply swap out the included cables – so there’s more flexibility there. Both microphones are excellent so it will largely depend on your use case and budget.
GoPro is worth another mention too, as it has a range of tripods and tons of third-party mounts. It also sells a light and media mod so you can plug in your own external microphones. The obvious difference is that you’ll need a GoPro (while you probably already have a phone). You’ll also need to bring your own microphone if you don’t have the media mod, so the two suggestions appeal to different audiences and budgets. Although the GoPro gives you more camera flexibility compared to your phone and the HyperSmooth stabilization is the one to be beaten.
If, like me, you’re really more interested in the kit for audio purposes (like many others, I’ve taken the time to finally start this documentary podcast) then Rode’s solution is a great choice if you’re something hyper -Portables want it to have solid video chops too. I’ve wanted a solution for a while to prop my phone on the tripod and record an interview on the fly, and this seems like a good option. I’ve tried various other microphones and many even compare to the Rode in terms of audio quality (like the Shure) but it lacks things like surveillance or the direct connection to the phone (like the Shure MV88 +). I think it’s great how optimized Rodes Kit is, that it works with other devices in a pinch and that the complete package with light, tripod and accessories is available when I need them.