Sony Multi Interface Shoe Microphones

January 14, 2015  •  3 Comments

When I bought my Sony a99, it was one of the first cameras in the Sony line up to have the new Multi-interface hot shoe that promised a new generation of accessories which interfaced with the camera directly through the shoe. As soon as it was available I picked up the XLR audio unit, despite it's high price tag, to go with it which brought to the table one of the features lacking in most DSLR video style productions: In camera XLR audio recording with fully manual tactile controls.

Sony a7sSony a7s geared upSony a7s with XLR module, shotgun microphone and wireless receiver.

The XLR unit has stayed with me for several cameras and is now best friends with my a7s. Because the XLR box requires it's own mounting, it can't mount directly to the camera (Sony has since resolved this with a new model that mounts directly to the shoe). This is no good for bare bones guerilla filming where you don't want any extra bits and pieces to get in the way. Unfortunately I'd become very much accustomed to the XLR module as it had almost entirely eliminated the need to use an separate audio recorder most of the time. I wanted something small, easy to pack every day, that I could use for impromptu video sessions.

Last year I saw the Sony ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone demonstrated at a trade show and I was blown away. A small stereo microphone with integrated shock mount, 90 and 120 degree microphone positions, low pass filter, a line out for use without the interface shoe AND a fluffy windscreen? Sold! I pre-ordered one on the spot!

This microphone has been my mainstay for subtle low key work and B-cameras. It was a perfect match for my NEX-7 and is even more so on my a6000. I now own two of these microphones for when I'm using my a7r and a6000 and secondary cameras for my a7s. It's very solidly built and sounds very good for what I need it to do.

The only one downside is that you can't manually control audio levels while interfacing through the shoe. This is true on every camera I've tried these microphones on. The work around for cameras with an external mic jack is to just plug it in. I've since learned that this is a standard shortcoming of the multi-interface shoe for audio. No microphone interfaced via the shoe will have anything more than auto-gain as dictated by the camera. This is a step backwards in my opinion but there are always cons to go along with the pros.

My current go to wireless microphone is also a Sony, the UWP-V6 kit. It's a great kit that's never let me down but it's not exactly what you want to carry around every day. The V6 kit is the same as the V1 kit but includes an XLR transmitter for use with a stick mic and that means even more to carry. Add in the XLR cables, windscreens, microphones, and other goodies to complete the kit, I found myself hunting for something more compact which I could carry around all the time and use for impromptu interviews and guerilla video shots. The UWP-V series has been recently replaced by the UWP-D series which are fully digital, have bigger screens, a better interface, an available adapter which lets you connect the receiver directly to a Multi Interface Shoe...and a higher price tag unfortunately.

What I ended up trying and recently buying was the Sony ECM-W1M. A bluetooth based wireless system. The receiver plugs into the multi-interface shoe and is very compact. A switch on the side lets you record from the transmitter, both the transmitter and receiver at the same time, or in 5.1 surround with certain Handycams which support it. The transmitter is tiny. Not much larger than a AA battery and runs from a single AAA battery. It has an integrated microphone and a clip to attach it to clothing. The kit also comes with some accessories for mounting and a couple of ear buds. The earbuds allow two way communication between the camera operater and the person with the microphone. It's a neat feature but I can't see it coming in handy that often. The transmitter also has a microphone port with plug-in power. The transmitter seems to pair well with my Rode Lavalier mic. Both fit neatly into my everyday camera bag. 

To quickly test these microphones I performed a quick test, trying to compare everything fairly and with as little bias as possible. I recorded some video using several combinations of equipment, extracted the audio and posted it below so that they can be easily compared. The first test combinations are as follows:

  • Sony a7s + XLR-A1M audio module + UWP-V6 kit Lavalier transmitter and receiver

  • Sony a6000 + ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone

  • Sony a7r + ECM-W1M transmitter and receiver + Rode Lavalier microphone

  • Zoom H1 stereo microphone.

 

I also wanted to compare the wireless range of both the ECM-W1M and the UWP-V1 but then came to my senses. The Bluetooth module is rated for 300 feet and I'm sure that this is an optimistic estimate in ideal conditions. The UWP pack is battle tested and with the high power setting on the transmitter and the dual antenna diversity receiver, it can easily handle a distance several times as far and through several walls if needed. 

Conclusions

  • There is no substitute for a professional wireless microphone. They just work, sound great, and the peace of mind you get is worth the higher price tag.
  • The ECM-XYST1M is a trooper. Solidly built, sounds fantastic, affordably priced, and is super small. The only down side is the lack of manual audio gain when interfacing with the camera via the shoe. I'm glad I bought a second one. It's taken over as a b-cam mic over my Rode Videomic.
  • The ECM-W1M hasn't impressed so far. The size is great, and the design is pretty good aside from the receiver not having a twist lock like the stereo microphone does. Unfortunately I just don't care for the way it sounds. I need to investigate further and try to figure it out. The waveform from the W1M once I pulled it out of the video in Adobe Audition was very strange. The other microphones produced wave forms which were all very similar with only small variations in amplitude due to the auto gain factor. The waveform for the W1M however was huge. Almost every peak slammed right to -3dB. If there is a settings fix to adjust this behavior, then I think it has potential. I'm going to try it on the other cameras and see if the results are all the same. I'll post a future update if I can get it to sound good.
  • As for the Zoom H1, what can you say about this oldie but goodie? It feels flimsy, has a terrible way to adjust the settings, but it almost never fails to get the job done. It's certainly showing it's age and this is the first time I've used it since buying my first XYST1M microphone. I should note that the audio gain in-camera was very adaptive and smart while the auto gain in the H1 was very stupid. I cleared my throat once and the recording was very quiet for the rest of the entire recording...I had to do the whole thing over once because of that. All three cameras were recording during that peak and they all handled is amazingly well.

Comments

Dave Tameling
Hi Edwin,

I don't know anything about the 3000 but it does have the multi interface shoe so the Sony audio accessories should work.

The Sony ECM W1M model microphone would work for you. It's a Bluetooth based microphone that uses a receiver which plugs into the multi interface shoe and a small transmitter which has a microphone built in and a jack for adding a 3rd party microphone like a Lavalier (not included). I bought one to test with but the results weren't amazing compared to the professional options I have at my disposal. Not being able to manually control the audio gain makes the results unpredictable and the signal can be a bit noisy at times by comparison. That said, it's the only way to get a wireless microphones on some of Sony's cameras.

One neat feature which the ECM W1M has that is interesting, though not useful for everybody, is that the receiver on the camera side has a microphone built in and a headphone jack for monitoring the audio. The transmitter also has a mono headphone jack which lets the person operating the camera to communicate to the person wearing the microphone transmitter.

There are a lot of user reviews at B&H photo, both good and bad. I recommend you read them and decide for yourself if you think it's the right solution for you:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1029169-REG/sony_ecmw1m_wireless_mic.html
Edwin Rodriguez(non-registered)
I have the sony cx 3000, but I want to have Microphone exterbal cordless, to use the camara for news reported. But my camara don't have a jack to connect my module cable to extract the audio. What part do I need to buy. Please help
Hon Yee(non-registered)
Hey Dave,

I met you at a few yelp events a while back and stumbled upon this blog while looking for a mic for my A7s. Im gonna grab the ECM-XYST1M based on your recommendations. Thanks!
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