Røde VideoMic Me-L Microphone System For iPhone And The Wisdom Of The Safety Channel

The Røde VideoMic Me-L connects to your iPhone’s Lightning port and can dramatically improve sound recording quality.

Røde VideoMic Me-L Microphone System For iPhone

I’ve been a fan of Australian sound company Røde for many years. They offer quite a few microphones, wireless microphone systems and other ancillary sound products that, when added up, show that the company is tuned in to the importance of high-quality sound recording in television and digital cinema production.

My latest Røde product is the just-shipping VideoMic Me-L. This is a small microphone that’s designed specifically to plug into the Lightning port on iPhone 6 and later models. As many of you know, when Apple did away with the 3.5mm headphone jack on iPhones beginning with the iPhone 6, there was much consternation over the missing headphone jack, requiring the use of a Lightning-to-3.5mm input adapter. I am not sure about you, but very often I forget to bring that adapter, rendering many of my headphones and earbuds useless with my iPhone 8 Plus. Enter the Røde VideoMic Me-L.

The VideoMic Me-L is a small, metal, high-quality microphone that has been designed specifically for use with Apple iPhones that feature a Lightning port. The reason I dwelled on the absence of a headphone jack on recent iPhones is partly that, yes, the VideoMic Me-L has a 3.5mm headphone port. So you literally can use it as a headphone adapter for your iPhone 6 or newer. But wait, wouldn’t it be cool if the VideoMic Me-L did more than just convert your iPhone’s Lightning port into more than a headphone jack? Actually, I am being silly, the VideoMic Me-L is a high-quality microphone system.

The VideoMic Me-L comes with a fur slip-on windscreen that mitigates a lot of wind noise and buffeting.
The VideoMic Me-L comes with a fur slip-on windscreen that mitigates a lot of wind noise and buffeting.

If you want to use your iPhone as an audio recorder, there are several apps for the iPhone that allow it to function as an audio recorder, and quality sound is possible if you’re using a good microphone with accurate recording technique. What interested me is using the iPhone as a low-key documentary camera system. The biggest drawback to shooting pro-level video with an iPhone has always been audio. The built-in microphones—if you are holding the phone or are very close to the phone—are not bad, considering they are just a few tiny holes in the case. But if there is much distance between you and the phone, or if there is a lot of ambient noise or wind, the audio is pretty much unusable. And even when the audio is usable, it is fairly thin-sounding with little bass or dynamic range.

Plugging in the VideoMic Me-L instantly results in a much better, cleaner and richer sound recording with the iPhone. The signal has bass and a smoother, richer quality. The VideoMic simply plugs into the Lightning connector on the bottom of the iPhone; it’s about the simplest accessory you can use with the iPhone, and the results from using it make it well worth the cost if you use your iPhone and need better-quality sound from it.

The VideoMic Me-L comes with a fur slip-on windscreen that mitigates a lot of wind noise and buffeting. The windscreen is rather large for the end of a phone, but it works well and just adds some bulk to the microphone but not much weight. As an experiment, I tried mounting the VideoMic Me-L with the windscreen to my iPhone 8 Plus with an 18mm Moment wide-angle lens also mounted. I typically shoot with my iPhone with the Moment lens attached, and I was curious if the VideoMic—especially the VideoMic with the windscreen attached—would protrude enough from the front of the phone to be visible. I am happy to report that even with the 18mm lens field of view and the Røde windscreen attached, neither the VideoMic nor the fur windscreen was visible in frame.

The VideoMic Me-L isn’t cheap, retailing for $79 from most online sources, but it is well worth the money if you need to capture high-quality audio with your iPhone 6 or newer phone.

The Wisdom Of The Safety Channel

While using a safety channel may be familiar to you if you’re a sound mixer or studio engineer, many video and digital cinema users may not be familiar with the concept. Simply put, a safety channel is using another channel of your recording device to record the same input as the main channel but at a lower level. The idea is that if the microphone input on the main channel becomes overloaded by being fed too hot of a signal, thereby distorting the recording, you would still have a second or third or fourth channel that was recording the same signal but a significantly lower input level.

Using safety channels to record the same signal but at significantly lower input levels helps ensure you’ll always get usable audio.
Using safety channels to record the same signal but at significantly lower input levels helps ensure you’ll always get usable audio.

My Canon EOS C200 digital cinema camera records four channels of audio. Each channel can be fed from one of the camera’s two XLR inputs, from a stereo 3.5mm input, or the camera can record a mono summed signal from the camera’s internal microphone, usually used as a scratch track when using an external audio recording device because it’s pretty low-quality sound, but good enough for syncing. When I am recording sound with the camera and don’t have a professional sound mixer assigned to the crew, I typically shoot one of two ways. For b-roll, I route an on-camera Audio-Technica AT875R microphone to the channel one XLR. I can then allow the channel two XLR to also receive the same signal as the channel one XLR. I can set the channel two audio input to a (usually) -10 or -12dB lower input level. This gives me an extra audio signal that will save me if input one becomes overloaded—for instance, if someone screams, laughs loudly or if there is a loud sound nearby.

To take this even further, I can also assign input one to channel three, allowing me to manually set the recording levels of channel three even lower than channel two. I usually set channel three about 5dB to 10dB lower than channel two. I then have three channels of audio, recorded at three different audio levels from one microphone, plugged into one input.

It’s very reassuring to know that when shooting b-roll, I am almost guaranteed that at least one of my audio channels will record a clean signal that won’t be over modulated. When shooting interviews, I typically record a boom mic to channel one and a wired lavalier microphone to channel two. I can use the C200’s routing menu to record a safety channel of each microphone, the boom mic on channels one and three and the lavalier on channels two and four. Having the safety channels has saved me on several occasions, especially when an interview subject laughs or yells.

Most but not all cameras and audio recorders will allow you to record a safety channel. The device needs the ability to individually select the input channel; even low-cost audio recorders often allow for this. You should check the owner’s manual or just try it with whatever camera or audio recorder you use. A safety channel is a safety net that can come in very handy in recording clean, usable audio every time.