Lavalier and lapel microphones. Sometimes you see them; sometimes you don't. Sometimes it's effortless to hide them away, sometimes it's not practical, and sometimes they absolutely must not be seen!
So how and where do we attach a lavalier/lapel microphone? Lavalier (lapel) microphones often have removable clips that attach to clothing and other material. Alternatively, adhesive tape is used. Lav/Lapel mics are typically attached near the diaphragm or chest and pointed toward the talent's mouth, though other placements may be needed for film/video.
Although attaching a lav mic to someone is simple, finding an ideal location and method takes some conscious effort. This article will share ways to up your lavalier microphone game and help you get the best sound possible!
To learn about my recommended lavalier microphones, check out My New Microphone's Best Lavalier Microphones For Interviews/News/Presentations and Best Lavalier Microphones For Actors.
How And Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone
As we've already discussed, the typical placement of a lavalier microphone (otherwise known as lapel microphone) is attached to the speaker's clothing near their chest. You'll generally get the best sound in this area. However, it's not always easy to clip the microphone on in this region while having it point at the speaker's mouth.
For the remainder of the article, I'll refer to them as lavalier or “lav” microphones.
So let's talk about some strategies to get the best sound out of your lav mics.
But first, let's define the lavalier microphone.
What Is A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone?
A lavalier microphone is virtually any small microphone that attaches to an actor or other person speaking. Lavaliers see the most use in film, interviews, and presentations where the presenter must move around.
They are an excellent tool for discretely recording audio. Once attached, there's no need for the speaking person or audio technician to adjust them or even notice that they're there.
Lav microphones are typically attached to people via their clothing. However, lavs may also be hidden away from people, acting as “planted microphones” or even boundary mics.
Most lavaliers are electret condenser microphones. Their tiny capacitor-style capsules are permanently charged. However, the capsules often output a weak audio signal with extremely high impedance. Therefore, a DC bias voltage is necessary to power the internal preamplifier and impedance converter (these components are often combined in a JFET immediately after the capsule). Lav mics are small, so you can imagine that they'd be designed as simply as possible.
It's also common to have a lavalier attached to a wireless transmitter (in fact, I've never recorded a lav mic that wasn't with a wireless system). The common wireless lav setup includes a properly attached lavalier microphone and a hidden belt-pack transmitter. This allows the talent to roam freely (within range of the wireless system) without worrying about cable lengths and the trip hazards that come with them.
For more information on wireless microphones, check out my article How Do Wireless Microphones Work?
Directional Versus Omnidirectional
Depending on the intended application of the lavalier mic, we may want either a directional lav or an omnidirectional lav.
Omnidirectional microphones, as their name suggests, pick up sound from all directions. This isn't as much an issue when close-miked (like attached to clothing) but can pick up too much extra sound when positioned away from the intended sound sources.
Omnidirectional lavs have fairly consistent frequency responses from all directions. The small size of a lav mic doesn't get in the way of sound waves travelling from its rear.
Omni lavaliers exhibit no proximity effect. This means there's no bass boost as the microphone gets closer to a sound source.
Omnidirectional lavs are also less sensitive to handling and wind noise than their directional counterparts.
For the reasons listed above, omni lavs are ideal for attaching to clothing and close-miking the talent and other sound sources.
To learn more about the omnidirectional polar pattern, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
As their name suggests, directional microphones have a direction in which they are most sensitive to sound. We could say we point directional microphones at the sound source we're trying to pick up.
We can position these microphones further from the sound source. As long as they're pointed toward the sound source, they'll be much more efficient at capturing the intended sound than the omnidirectional lavs.
Directional microphones do exhibit proximity effect. However, that's not a bad thing. The proximity effect can be exploited to our benefit.
For more information on microphone proximity effect, check out my article What Is Microphone Proximity Effect And What Causes It?
Attaching the mic closer to the sound course can help us achieve that low “radio voice.” Be conscious when close-miking with directional lavs, though. Even if the lav is attached further away from the person's mouth, the chest cavity and diaphragm also make noise. We could be “bass boosting” that noise.
Extra caution must also be taken with directional microphones to actually direct them at the person's mouth or the other intended sound source. This makes close-mic attachment critical.
For example, let's say the lav is attached to a jacket collar, and the collar is flapping about. The mic signal will vary in level as the mic direction varies. On top of that, the mic's frequency response also changes as the source is moved off-axis.
Directional lavaliers are sensitive to wind and handling noise. This makes them a worse choice than their omni counterparts in outdoor applications (wind) and close-mic/clothing applications (clothing movement and scratching the microphone grille).
Windscreens, cable clips, and tape can help reduce this noise and are recommended for directional and omnidirectional lavalier microphones.
Directional lavs are best used as planted and boundary mics. They can be used effectively close-miked as well, particularly if the talent will not be moving much.
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article What Is Microphone Frequency Response?
Proximity Versus Transparency
To be honest, I had never heard of “proximity lavaliers” and “transparent lavaliers” before doing my research for this article. So what do these terms mean, and how do you know a microphone is built for proximity or transparency?
Proximity lavs are designed to emphasize the voice and remain close to the sound source. If proximity lavs are positioned too far away from the sound source, their sound quality will suffer. This is not to be confused with the proximity effect (I confused them). Some omnidirectional lavalier microphones are also proximity lavs. These are the types of lavs meant for close-miking people.
Transparent lavs are designed to sound natural regardless of their position. These are the microphones that work wonderfully as planted mics.
So how do we tell the difference? Well, no manufacturers straight up tell us if their lavs are for proximity or transparency, so it's up to us to find out.
- Hold the lav near your chest while speaking and monitoring it
- Extend your arm slowly, moving the lav further away from your chest while continuing to speak
If the microphone's tonal quality noticeably shifted, it's a proximity lav.
If the microphone's tonal quality stayed the same and only got a bit quieter in the process, it's a transparent lav.
Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone
So, where do we attach a lavalier microphone to anything? Here are some common placements:
Attaching lavalier microphones to clothing is very common.
The ideal lavalier microphone to attach to clothing is an omnidirectional proximity lav mic.
Now, I'm no fashion expert, but I'll share some examples of what you'll typically be dealing with when miking up an individual with a lavalier microphone.
Button-up shirts and blouses are my favourites to work with. It's easy to clamp a lav slightly above the sternum and send the lav cable down through the inside of the shirt. A bit of tidying up, and you're all set with a professional placement of a lav microphone. Ensure the microphone is on the outside of the shirt or blouse.
Ties are also great pieces of clothing to clamp a lav mic onto. Clamp the microphone to the tie slightly above the sternum, tidy the clamp and cable, and send the mic cable down the shirt. Once again, ensure the microphone is on the outside of the tie.
Positioning the microphone “slightly above the sternum” is a good starting point but not an absolute. If you find that positioning the lav mic higher or lower yields a better sound, please do that instead!
If the talent is wearing a T-shirt or sweater, the best bet is to clamp the lav to the collar. This will yield a different sound since the microphone is closer to the talent's mouth and because it's near the throat rather than the chest. Try your best to position the microphone so that it doesn't rub against the person's neck. If this means pointing the microphone slightly away from the talent's mouth, so be it (another reason why omnidirectional lavs are preferred in this situation).
There are so many other outfits I won't get into in this article. Still, hopefully, with this information, you'll be able to make an educated choice when attaching a lav to clothing.
Be careful with jackets and other floppy clothing. Attaching a microphone to a jacket that is moving around can cause unwanted level and timbre qualities to the audio signals of directional microphones. Also, watch out for the possibility of a jacket rubbing against a microphone attached to a shirt inside the jacket.
Attaching lavalier microphones within the hair or wigs of actors is a popular strategy in film, television, and theatre.
The ideal lavalier microphone to attach in hair is an omnidirectional proximity lav mic.
Position the microphone in a hair part so that the mic capsule is nearly at the forehead hairline.
We'll discuss securing lavalier microphones in hair in the next section.
On/In Stage Props
Stage props can provide excellent positions for lavalier microphones. These microphones are most often referred to as “planted mics.”
The ideal lavalier microphone to attach to a stage prop is a transparent mic. The exact placement relative to the sound sources will dictate whether a directional or omni lav will be preferred.
Get creative with this. There's no right or wrong unless the lav is plainly visible or becomes a tripping hazard. However, It's worth noting the fewer physical barriers between the microphone and the sound source, the cleaner the audio signal will be.
Try first to point a directional microphone at where the action will be. If that's not possible or the action is moving around the space, try an omnidirectional lav instead.
How To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone
Now that we know where to attach lavalier mics let's talk about how to attach these tiny microphones. There are a few key ways:
- Lavalier microphone clip
- Tension springs
- Rubber bands
- Anything that will hold the microphone in place
Lavalier Microphone Clip
Lavalier microphones nearly always come with a miniature mic clip. These clips are designed to hold the microphone in place while they're clipped to thin clothing. They are often removable, so be careful not to lose them!
Start by putting the lav mic into the clip. Once this step is complete, a tiny microphone grille/windscreen can be placed overtop the mic capsule. These grilles protect the microphone from physical damage and reduce handling noise. They also change the frequency response of the microphone.
Different grilles may be available to enhance the frequency response of a lavalier microphone placed near the performer's chest versus in their hair.
For more information on microphone grilles, check out my article What Are Microphone Grilles And Why Are They Important?
Next is attaching the mic clip. Usually, lav clips are attached to clothing but can be attached to anything thin enough to be clamped onto.
These clips are fairly self-explanatory. Squeeze the back of the clamp to open it up, place it where it needs to go, and loosen your grip to allow the clip to clamp down into position.
Always try to hide the lav cable on the inside of clothing when attaching to someone's clothes.
Sometimes attaching a mic clip is not an option or not the best option. Tape is sometimes your best friend when it comes to attaching lav mics.
I suggest using a tape that will not leave residue and will not pull on an actor's skin.
Tape is the go-to method for attaching lav microphones to stage props. Tape the microphone into place. This requires taping near the capsule while being cautious not to tape over the capsule.
If taping inside of clothing in an effort to hide the lav mic, try to tape both sides of the mic. One side should have more exposed tape to stick to the clothing, while the other should shield the mic capsule from rubbing against the clothing. This is in an effort to reduce handling noise. This works best with omnidirectional lavaliers since there's a chance the clothing side tape could cover the capsule.
Once again, always try to hide the lav cable.
In film, television, and theatre, it's often critical that lavaliers remain hidden from the viewer. A common mic placement, therefore, is in the hair of the actors.
Tension springs help to attach lavalier microphones to the hair of actors easily. Let's take this step-by-step.
Part the hair as naturally as possible and place the microphone cable along the part. The mic capsule should be as close to the forehead hairline as possible.
You may hold everything in place with hair clips while you work to place the microphone properly.
Once the microphone and cable are positioned, gather two small locks of hair near the capsule and gently pull them to either side of the cable. Hold them outward, so the cable sits between them.
Bend the spring slightly to open up spaces between its coils on one side. Position the spring so that the hair is in between the coils and allow the spring to return to its original shape. The spaces between the coils will close up, holding the hair in place. The hair, in turn, will hold the microphone in place.
It's best to secure the lavalier in at least 3 places. At the hairline, near the whorl (rear top of head), and at the hairline of the neck.
Alternatively, rubber bands can be used to hold a lav mic in an actor's hair. I'd suggest using tiny orthodontic-style elastic bands.
Start by parting the hair and planning where the mic cable will run. Before placing the microphone, we position the rubber bands.
Take a small lock of hair near the part and the hairline. Run the hair through the middle of the elastic band and position the band near the scalp. You'll likely have to run the hair through multiple times to get the band to hold tightly and securely. Repeat the processes at 2 or more locations along the path the mic cable will follow.
The next step is to position the mic and the mic cable. Starting at the back of the neck, send the lavalier mic capsule first through the elastic band. Pull the mic and cable through the rest of the bands in a row and position the capsule securely near the forehead hairline.
Once the mic has been positioned, go back and split each lock of hair. Gently pull the split locks in opposite directions to tighten the elastic bands and bring the microphone cable closer to the scalp.
Note that hair acts as an excellent windscreen and doesn't cause much handling noise against the microphone. Though the above 2 attachment methods may seem tedious, they're often necessary and definitely worth the effort.
Anything That Will Hold The Mic In Place
Lastly, when in a pinch, use whatever is around you to hold a microphone in place. Conversely, if you have time, get creative with mic placement and attachment.
That being said, most of the time, you'll be using 1 of the 4 methods mentioned above.
Is there ever a time to use a lavalier microphone when not filming? Lavalier microphones can absolutely be used outside of film. They are particularly useful to record and/or reinforce presentations where the presenter moves around. They're also excellent for interviews since they're so innocuous. However, they're not always the best choice to capture sound.
How important is it to hide a lavalier microphone? It's critical to hide lavalier microphones in many film, television, and theatre productions. Hiding lav mics helps tremendously in creating the real-world feel needed for dramas. However, documentary, news, and other interview-style productions may not require the lavaliers to be hidden.
Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.