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Old 12-15-2017, 10:33 PM   #1
Lox-StoryConnective
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Question Lavalier connector sound quality - XLR vs 3.5?

Hiya indies,
Is there any difference in sound quality between an XLR & 3.5mm lavalier microphone?
Is there any difference in sound quality between unbalanced low voltage plug-in power lavs & balanced phantom power lavs?
Which connector-to-recorder setup yields optimal quality audio?
Thanks in advance :-)
-n00bindie
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Old 12-16-2017, 07:08 AM   #2
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Which connector-to-recorder setup yields optimal quality audio?
When it comes to lavs, for the most part, the quality of the microphone and how it's used are the largest determining factors. The rest is picking the right tool for the right circumstance.
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Old 12-16-2017, 03:26 PM   #3
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When it comes to lavs, for the most part, the quality of the microphone and how it's used are the largest determining factors. The rest is picking the right tool for the right circumstance.
Cool, thanks for the response Sweetie.
How would a Countryman EMW Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone for Digital Recorders with a 3.5 connector or a Oscar SoundTech Lavalier Microphone OST-802 with a 3.5 connector sound plugged into a Zoom H1?
Does anyone have any experience with this?
Thanks again :-)
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Old 12-16-2017, 06:12 PM   #4
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How would a Countryman EMW Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone for Digital Recorders with a 3.5 connector or a Oscar SoundTech Lavalier Microphone OST-802 with a 3.5 connector sound plugged into a Zoom H1?
It would sound like one of those lavs plugged into a H1. I've never run with that configuration, and I doubt I know anyone who has either. Not sure if it'll work, if it does, let us know how it goes and how it sounds.

You'll need to find out if you can live with the noise floor that comes with a recorder like the H1.
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Old 12-16-2017, 07:45 PM   #5
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It would sound like one of those lavs plugged into a H1. I've never run with that configuration, and I doubt I know anyone who has either. Not sure if it'll work, if it does, let us know how it goes and how it sounds.

You'll need to find out if you can live with the noise floor that comes with a recorder like the H1.
Thanks again Sweetie,
I will update the thread with my experience if-when I decide this is the direction I'm going to go. More specifically, I would like to know if it the Countryman or OST will sound significantly better in the H1 than, say, the $20ish one I'm currently using with the H1.
Also, if it's worth it to just wait & get a Sound Devices MixPre & condenser XLR lavaliere for use with the MixPre's balanced XLR input. Obviously, this would be sound better & the MixPre can do a lot more than the H1, so they really can't be compared at all. But it would take me a lot longer to save up for the MixPre. The H1 seems to be a stop-gap in-between phase until I get the MixPre.
That said, I have had fairly good success easily equalizing out the noise floor of the H1 in post processing.
If-when I do upgrade to a Sound Devices MixPre, will a "broadcast quality brand" 3.5 lav sound as good as a "broadcast quality brand" XLR lav - given the same sound floor & preamp (the MixPre's)?

Last edited by Lox-StoryConnective; 12-16-2017 at 08:40 PM.
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Old 12-16-2017, 08:55 PM   #6
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I would like to know if it the Countryman or OST will sound significantly better in the H1 than, say, the $20ish one I'm currently using with the H1.
I'll need to have a frame of reference to have a chance to answer that. How does that microphone sound compared to a piece of equipment I'm familiar with I once picked up a few $1 lavs from ebay. They sound like crap. How do they sound compared to yours?

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will a "broadcast quality brand" 3.5 lav sound as good as a "broadcast quality brand" XLR lav
These are simply connections. Generally speaking, since the length of the cables is negligible, they don't usually affect the quality.

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Also, if it's worth it to just wait & get a Sound Devices MixPre & condenser XLR lavaliere for use with the MixPre's balanced XLR input. Obviously, this would be sound better & the MixPre can do a lot more than the H1, so they really can't be compared at all. But it would take me a lot longer to save up for the MixPre. The H1 seems to be a stop-gap in-between phase until I get the MixPre.
It sounds like you're trying to determine what's a good solution for you. Impossible to tell without context.

In some circumstances, I'd say you'd be going higher than needed (in some cases you'll be able to get away with a $50 Rode Lav and your phone), in other circumstances I'd say you're nuts going for such a cheap solution such as the SD MixPre3 that you'll outgrow in a matter of months.

You might get better answers if you tell us what you're trying to achieve and what you already have.
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Old 12-17-2017, 08:31 AM   #7
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It sounds like you're trying to determine what's a good solution for you. Impossible to tell without context.
This.

What kind of production are you doing? At least, what’s your primary target? Corporate videos? Mostly seated interviews? Walk-and-talks? Narratives like short films?

The setups you’re considering may be completely wrong for what you’re wanting to accomplish. Or maybe not. No way to know until we know what you’re trying to do.
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Old 12-19-2017, 07:54 PM   #8
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These are simply connections. Generally speaking, since the length of the cables is negligible, they don't usually affect the quality.
Interesting; so does that mean that the length of the cables can affect the quality?

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It sounds like you're trying to determine what's a good solution for you. Impossible to tell without context. ... You might get better answers if you tell us what you're trying to achieve and what you already have.
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This. What kind of production are you doing? At least, what’s your primary target? Corporate videos? Mostly seated interviews? Walk-and-talks? Narratives like short films? The setups you’re considering may be completely wrong for what you’re wanting to accomplish. Or maybe not. No way to know until we know what you’re trying to do.
Good points. Context is certainly important, especially when it comes to mics. Here goes... format is most always interviews for my own podcast & YouTube channel. Production locations are either indoors seated in someone's living room, or outdoors moving around in the field; two people - interviewer & interviewee. I have learned, unfortunately through trial & error, to use multiple mics as backup in case one has a problem. When I have given interviewees a handheld mic (in this case the Zoom H1), & they are not used to speaking into a mic, they tend to wave their arms & I lose the audio. I now know not to ever do this unless someone is experienced using mics. When my interviewer holds the mic, the results have been much better; that said, sometimes there is fidgeting noise with the handheld & sometimes she's paying so much attention to the interviewee that she forgets to move the handheld mic from her mouth -for the question- back to the interviewee's -for the answer. Granted both of these cases have been rare, but this is an example of when having additional backup mics helps. The wide pickup pattern of the Zoom's stereo mics is sometimes not the best for noisy outdoor environments (eg. a farm) & picks up a lot of unwanted loud distracting ambient sounds. This is the reason I got the directional mic & boom - both of which are working great. But I do not always have a sound person who can operate a boom while I'm operating the camera if we are outdoors moving around. So, when I am acting as a one-man-band (no boom operator), the lavs will be necessary for the gear bag. Ideally, I would like to have a lav for both the interviewer & the interviewee. These lavs would accompany other mics - either the boomed directional mic or a handheld mic, depending on the situation. Another reason for wanting good quality lavs to add to the mix is because they allow hands free operation while at the same time good proximity to the speaker - hence "close sounding" audio.
Of all the podcasts & YouTube videos I've done thus far, either the interviewer or the interviewee has worn the one cheap lav (don't remember the brand or model, it was just a cheapy from amazon) we have, though I have only ended up publishing a recording from this lav once, because it was -unfortunately- the best audio we got from that interview (the stereo mic was picking up too many loud sounds & we didn't have a directional at the time). All the other times, this lav sounded worse than other mics we have used. So having a high quality lav that can be used as a primary mic or a secondary quality backup mic would be useful for multiple reasons in various scenarios.
All that said, & now that you know the specifics, let me pose a slightly more hypothetical question:
A hypothetical case calls for a lavalier microphone to be used. The sound person has a professional brand mixer. This mixer has a balanced phantom power XLR mic input. This same mixer has a unbalanced low voltage plug-in power 3.5mm mic input. This sound person has two lavalier microphones which are the same brand & model lav mics. Each of these lavs are able to be used with this same mixer. There is one difference between the mics... one lav has an XLR connector, the other lav has a 3.5mm connector. Which one does the sound person go to? Why?
Thanks :-)
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Old 12-19-2017, 08:30 PM   #9
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Interesting; so does that mean that the length of the cables can affect the quality?
Yes. Balanced (three conductors: positive, negative, ground) can run longer distances without added noise or risk of RF interference. Unbalanced (two conductors: positive, negative+ground) can only run a few feet before there’s a risk of added noise floor and increased risk of picking up RF bleed.

Balanced audio can run 200’. Unbalanced shouldn’t run longer than 10’, and shorter than that is better.

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Context is certainly important, especially when it comes to mics. Here goes... format is most always interviews for my own podcast & YouTube channel. Production locations are either indoors seated in someone's living room, or outdoors moving around in the field; two people - interviewer & interviewee.
So you have two very different scenarios. The first rule of thumb is, “Whenever able, use a cable.” When everyone is seated for a locked-down interview, wired lavs on both host and guest are a great way to go. Record them to separate channels and control the mix between the two in post. If that leaves cables across the floor that will be in the shot, two boomed mics (on stands) can give you the same end result. One mic over the host, one over the guest. Record separately, mix in post.

For walk-and-talks, that’s a very different beast and hard-wired lavs (even a hard-wired handheld) are impractical. This is where wireless systems with lavs come in. Or, if you want to simplify things, one wireless handheld in the host’s hand... but that constricts movement a bit.

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Originally Posted by Lox-StoryConnective View Post
I have learned, unfortunately through trial & error, to use multiple mics as backup in case one has a problem. When I have given interviewees a handheld mic (in this case the Zoom H1), & they are not used to speaking into a mic, they tend to wave their arms & I lose the audio. I now know not to ever do this unless someone is experienced using mics. When my interviewer holds the mic, the results have been much better; that said, sometimes there is fidgeting noise with the handheld & sometimes she's paying so much attention to the interviewee that she forgets to move the handheld mic from her mouth -for the question- back to the interviewee's -for the answer.
First, I’d never give a handheld mic for an interview to the interviewee. That’s the job of the host/reporter/intervewer.

Second is that for the interviewer, it requires dedicated practice learning how to use a handheld efficiently. Under most circumstances, an omnidirectional interview mic is also going to be helpful as it is a little more forgiving if the mic accidentally tilts off-axis.

Third, using a handheld recorder with the on-board stereo mics as a handheld interview mic is just a recipe for disaster under any circumstances.

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All that said, & now that you know the specifics, let me pose a slightly more hypothetical question:
A hypothetical case calls for a lavalier microphone to be used. The sound person has a professional brand mixer. This mixer has a balanced phantom power XLR mic input. This same mixer has a unbalanced low voltage plug-in power 3.5mm mic input. This sound person has two lavalier microphones which are the same brand & model lav mics. Each of these lavs are able to be used with this same mixer. There is one difference between the mics... one lav has an XLR connector, the other lav has a 3.5mm connector. Which one does the sound person go to? Why?
You’re seeking a simple answer to a complex issue, so I’ll give you a most unhelpful word of an answer: it depends.

A good sound kit has lavs termiated for XLR connection for running wired direct to the mixer/recorder/camera, and lavs terminated for wireless transmitters (which can vary based on the wireless system used). If the interview is seated and the sound person is going for wired lavs, the XLR-terminated lavs allow the cables to run across the studio or location without issue. If the interview is a walk-and-talk, the sound person is probably going to go wireless: the lav is terminated for 1/8” (3.5mm), or TA3F (mini-XLR), or 4-pin Lemo, or _____... whichever matches the wireless transmitter used. The wireless receiver will connect to the mixer’s XLR inputs.

Last edited by AcousticAl; 12-19-2017 at 08:34 PM.
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Old 12-19-2017, 09:26 PM   #10
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Yes. Balanced (three conductors: positive, negative, ground) can run longer distances without added noise or risk of RF interference. Unbalanced (two conductors: positive, negative+ground) can only run a few feet before there’s a risk of added noise floor and increased risk of picking up RF bleed.
Good to know; this is very helpful. Thanks.
So, RF interference affects (long) unbalanced cables & not long balanced cables. Otherwise, all other factors being equal, there is no difference in sound quality between balanced & unbalanced cables?

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For walk-and-talks, that’s a very different beast and hard-wired lavs (even a hard-wired handheld) are impractical. This is where wireless systems with lavs come in. Or, if you want to simplify things, one wireless handheld in the host’s hand... but that constricts movement a bit.
Is this because during a walk-and-talk interview the wireless receiver operator can effectively monitor the sound (gain, mic placement, etc.) while both interviewer & interviewee have freedom of movement (within transmission range of course), making wireless the ideal choice in this scenario?

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...Under most circumstances, an omnidirectional interview mic is also going to be helpful as it is a little more forgiving if the mic accidentally tilts off-axis.
Yeah, I've also got an omni handheld on the wish list for this very reason.

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Originally Posted by AcousticAl View Post
A good sound kit has lavs termiated for XLR connection for running wired direct to the mixer/recorder/camera, and lavs terminated for wireless transmitters (which can vary based on the wireless system used). If the interview is seated and the sound person is going for wired lavs, the XLR-terminated lavs allow the cables to run across the studio or location without issue. If the interview is a walk-and-talk, the sound person is probably going to go wireless: the lav is terminated for 1/8” (3.5mm), or TA3F (mini-XLR), or 4-pin Lemo, or _____... whichever matches the wireless transmitter used. The wireless receiver will connect to the mixer’s XLR inputs.
I get what you're saying about some mixers/recorders/cameras having XLR input jacks & some wireless transmitters having input 1/8” (3.5mm) jacks, and that there are different lav connectors for each. And what the sound person is going to use depends on the scenario.

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The first rule of thumb is, “Whenever able, use a cable.” When everyone is seated for a locked-down interview, wired lavs on both host and guest are a great way to go.
Nice, now that I can remember!
Let's see if I've got it. Reasons for the axiom: “Whenever able, use a cable”
1. Wired means not worrying about dropping a wireless connection signal - as opposed to wireless in a big city environment for example,
2. Sound person can better monitor the situation (eg. battery life of recorder v. battery life of wireless transmitter).
I have certainly grokked -both from this thread & from personal field experience- that sound quality depends largely on choosing the right tool in the right scenario & that that is most important above all for getting the best sound.
Let's try another hypothetical:
A film is being made that will include both locked-down interviews & walk-and-talk interviews. For the locked down interviews, sound person is using pro audio brand lavs plugged via an XLR connector into a balanced input into a pro audio brand mixer. For the walk-and-talk interviews, it's the countryside & there is no RF interference, the sound person is using a pro audio brand wireless system with the same brand & model lav as used with the aforementioned mixer, only this lav has a 1/8” (3.5mm) connector because it is being plugged into a pro audio brand wireless transmitter that accepts 1/8” (3.5mm). As both these environments & input devices are distinct, this sound person understands that the audio from each of these recordings will sound different. However, the sound person would like to know if the sound quality from the unbalanced wire is diminished in comparison to the sound quality from the balanced wire, resulting in potentially inconsistent quality audio in the film.

Last edited by Lox-StoryConnective; 12-19-2017 at 10:15 PM.
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Old 12-19-2017, 09:36 PM   #11
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Not being a professional location sound guy myself, I would imagine that an unbalanced 3.5mm cable would introduce more noise in general, and XLR will always allow for longer cable runs - and the realities of shooting mean that often even when you're 100% sure you won't need the extra length by the time it comes time to shoot suddenly everything's changed and your cable needs to run much longer.

That said, most wireless transmitters that I've seen don't use full-size XLR connectors and in the short cable run from transmitter to mic, potential issues are well diminished if not eliminated.

XLRs are also better, more rugged connectors, and are designed for professional use.

As a camera equivalent (because I'm a camera guy, so it's easier to relate back to cameras), I guess you could say RCA and BNC. Both technically get the job done, but I would never choose RCA over BNC if I had the choice (and all else being equal) due to cable runs, ruggedness of connector and cables, impedance etc.

Truth be told, I've never had to make that choice as RCA is a home video connector and is not used on professional equipment, but the theory is the same.

Last edited by jax_rox; 12-19-2017 at 09:38 PM.
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Old 12-19-2017, 09:52 PM   #12
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Good to know; this is very helpful. Thanks.
So, RF interference affects (long) unbalanced cables & not long balanced cables. Otherwise, all other factors being equal, there is no difference in sound quality between balanced & unbalanced cables?
At short distances, no. Over longer runs, unbalanced can add noise and lose overall sound quality.

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Is this because during a walk-and-talk interview the wireless receiver operator can effectively monitor the sound (gain, mic placement, etc.) while both interviewer & interviewee have freedom of movement (within transmission range of course), making wireless the ideal choice in this scenario?
That, and wired lavs on a walk-and-talk are a massive trip hazard. And it’s damn near impossible to keep the cables out of the shot.

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I get what you're saying about some mixers/recorders/cameras having XLR input jacks & some wireless transmitters having input 1/8” (3.5mm) jacks, and that there are different lav connectors for each. And what the sound person is going to use depends on the scenario.
Ummm... yeah. That’s a bit of a convoluted summary, but you’re in the right neighborhood.

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Let's see if I've got it. Reasons for the axiom: “Whenever able, use a cable”
1. Wired means not worrying about dropping a wireless connection signal - as opposed to wireless in a big city environment for example,
Correct. That, and any artifacts that may be introduced by the wireless system (the better the system the less those artifacts will be).

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2. Sound person can better monitor the situation (eg. battery life of recorder v. battery life of wireless transmitter).
I am not at all a fan of the idea of putting a recorder on the talent and walking away to leave it running on its own. So, yeah. Having the recorder/mixer in the bag or close to the camera allows for better monitoring of everything.

Batteries for wireless transmitters are rarely a concern if you follow proper protocol on a shoot day: fresh batteries at breakfast, fresh batteries at lunch. And if the day goes long, fresh batteries at dinner.

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I have certainly grokked -both from this thread & from personal field experience- that sound quality depends largely on choosing the right tool in the right scenario & that that is most important above all for getting the best sound.
Absolutely, but just as important is proper use of that tool. A cheap mic will outperform an expensive mic if the cheap mic is placed in the right spot and the expensive one isn’t.

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Let's try another hypothetical:
A film is being made that will include both locked-down interviews & walk-and-talk interviews. For the locked down interviews, sound person is using pro audio brand lavs plugged via an XLR connector into a balanced input into a pro audio brand mixer. For the walk-and-talk interviews, it's the countryside & there is no RF interference, the sound person is using a pro audio brand wireless system with the same brand & model lav as used with the aforementioned mixer, only this lav has a 1/8” (3.5mm) connector because it is being plugged into a pro audio brand wireless transmitter that accepts 1/8” (3.5mm). As both these environments & input devices are distinct, this sound person understands that the audio from each of these recordings will sound different.
Only slightly different, and only because of location/ambient surroundings and the fact that the wireless system’s compander may affect the dynamic range of the signal. But if, for example, we’re talking about a Sanken COS11 terminated for XLR/phantom use vs. a Sanken COS11 terminated for wireless use, the sound will not be that drastically different and in the edit should be nearly indiscernible aside from the audible environment.

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However, the sound person would like to know if the sound quality from the unbalanced wire is diminished in comparison to the sound quality from the balanced wire.
If the sound person is truly a sound person, he or she will know the answer to this. If the sound person is a newbie and is generally curious: continuing the example using the Sanken COS11, the 3.5mm-terminated lav runs only 18” or so into the transmitter and will not suffer any reduction in quality as compared to the XLR-terminated Sanken COS11 running straight to the mixer.

Last edited by AcousticAl; 12-19-2017 at 09:57 PM.
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Old 12-19-2017, 10:11 PM   #13
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That, and wired lavs on a walk-and-talk are a massive trip hazard. And it’s damn near impossible to keep the cables out of the shot.
Good point.

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Only slightly different, and only because of location/ambient surroundings and the fact that the wireless system’s compander may affect the dynamic range of the signal. But if, for example, we’re talking about a Sanken COS11 terminated for XLR/phantom use vs. a Sanken COS11 terminated for wireless use, the sound will not be that drastically different and in the edit should be nearly indiscernible aside from the audible environment.
This pretty much definitively answers the question I've had since OP. Thanks, I do genuinely appreciate your participation here in the n00bie subform.

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...continuing the example using the Sanken COS11, the 3.5mm-terminated lav runs only 18” or so into the transmitter and will not suffer any reduction in quality as compared to the XLR-terminated Sanken COS11 running straight to the mixer.
The Sanken COS11 with 1/8" TRS connector has a 5.9 foot (1.8m) long cable. Are unbalanced cables longer than 18 inches & shorter than 6 feet subject to significant interference?
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Old 12-19-2017, 10:19 PM   #14
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The Sanken COS11 with 1/8" TRS connector has a 5.9 foot (1.8m) long cable. Are unbalanced cables longer than 18 inches & shorter than 6 feet subject to significant interference?
Now you’re startng to stray away from “I have my answer”. C’mon back around so you don’t get lost.

Yeah, it has a nearly-6ft cable. It’s fine going into a wireless transmitter. I promise.
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Old 12-19-2017, 10:31 PM   #15
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Now you’re startng to stray away from “I have my answer”.
Not quite - considering the qualifier "pretty much" was in the original post, yet omitted from the above quotation.

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Yeah, it has a nearly-6ft cable. It’s fine going into a wireless transmitter. I promise.
So therefore given the aforementioned conditions in the previous hypothetical, the resulting audio quality for the film will be consistent between locked-down interviews recorded with the balanced Sanken COS-11 & walk-and-talk interviews recorded with the unbalanced Sanken COS-11?
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