REVIEW : RØDELink Filmmaker Kit

 The RØDELink Receiver mounted on a DSLR and connected to the microphone input

The RØDELink Receiver mounted on a DSLR and connected to the microphone input

The demand for fast, high quality video increases every week.  Youtube and Vimeo libraries continue to grow as more and more people and companies use mirrorless and DSLR cameras to create video content for friends, communities and customers.  We also know that the thing that destroys good video fastest is bad audio.

The microphones built in to mirrorless cameras, DSLRs and even smart phones are generally worth precisely what you pay for them.  Their audio signals are typically noisy and result in a poor audio track that either takes hours of editing to correct, or still sound lousy.  RØDE is well known and respected for their high quality microphones.  I use RØDE shotgun microphones for studio shots and also in the field on a boom.  All good, but doing so requires a team of people.  Many people and companies are limited in resources and the videographer is often also the talent, the producer, the editor and the person who cleans up afterwards.  What RØDE delivers in the Filmmaker Kit is the capability for that one or two person video shop to get great audio into the cameras that they already own, and without having to spend a fortune on gear or engage the complexity of external recording devices.

Inexpensive microphones are typically of a high impedance design, as are the microphone inputs on modern mirrorless and DSLR cameras.  What RØDE has done is brought their talent in building superior microphones to the small video shop.  High impedance lines have a very limited run length for cables and have a bad habit of picking up noise on the way.  The RØDE Filmmaker Kit includes a RØDE lavalier style microphone, lapel clip, windscreen, radio transmitter, radio receiver and interface cable that will plug directly into the camera's input.  They use the power of an encrypted radio transmission to mitigate some of the challenges of high impedance gear.

Typically, wireless microphone kits are very expensive, so the first difference is that you get a broadcast grade lavalier microphone in a complete transceiver kit for around $600.  The Receiver has a mount to fit into the hot shoe of the camera, and a coiled cable goes to the microphone input.  The Transmitter fits on the belt or in the pocket of the talent, and the microphone attaches to a lapel or shirt front.  The cable is sufficiently fine that it can be threaded under clothing and not leave a telltale bulge visible on camera.  The other thing I really like about the RØDE system is that there are no external antennae on the packs, one less thing to get damaged or in the way.  On some other packs that I've worked with, I have had to cover the antennas with heat shrink tubing to keep them from breaking or fraying right off.

Setting up the RØDE was incredibly simple.  This is consistent with my experience with other RØDE products.  The kit comes in a bifold box with the transmitter on one side and the receiver on the other.  The kit does not include batteries, a somewhat foolish omission.  RØDE recommends alkaline batteries so that's what I used for my tests.  I have experienced less than optimal results in other radio based microphone systems when using rechargeables and while the manual does not say not to use them, for microphone use, I would stick with a high quality alkaline battery and remove them when not in use.  You can also power the units via micro USB.

Unlike many belt pack systems, the RØDE units have a non-slip surface.  Having been a public speaker for nearly two decades, I would need more hands than I have to count the number of times I have seen a belt pack fly through the air like a slippery fish.  The packs are made of high impact plastic, instead of metal and this may contribute to the lower cost of acquisition.

The transmitter has a single connection for the microphone, and thankfully it uses a screw down collar system for the 3.5mm connector.  There is a large and properly recessed on/off button and a bright LCD that displays the channel being used.  A short press of the power button mutes the microphone changing the operational LED from green to red.  Inside the case is a simple PAD offering 0, -10 and -20 dB settings.  There is also a red button with the infinity symbol.  This button is used to pair the transmitter to the receiver.  The unit is clearly labeled TX so users don't get confused.

The receiver is the same size, but the output jack is on the side instead of the top.  The connection is also a locking 3.5mm connector.  Instead of the LED number display there is a bright and easy to read OLED that shows the channel and the battery strength of the transmitter and the receiver.  When the microphone is live, the OLED shows a bar graph style display of input strength.  The LEDs on the on/off switches will flash green when a low battery situation is detected.  The receiver adds two buttons, one dedicated to mute the input signal and one to change the channel being used.  It also carries a label, RX, to aid the user.  Inside is the same pairing button and PAD option.

The entire system runs in the 2.4GHz radio band, so multi-channel support is important because this frequency range is very crowded.  The system is constantly monitoring the spectrum and automatically frequency hops for maximum throughput.  The range is quoted at 100m.  I didn't get to try that distance but I did find that it worked fine across multiple floors and through concrete walls in a basement.  The transmitter and receiver support a frequency range from 35Hz to 22kHz.  The microphone is a broadcast grade lavalier with a frequency response range of 60Hz to 18kHz.  The transmitted signal is encrypted using 128bit encryption technology.

Buyers will note that it is possible to purchase individual transmitters.  You cannot have multiple transmitters connecting to one receiver at the same time, but the receiver has eight memory locations so you can pair one receiver with multiple transmitters on different channels, so long as you only expect to use one transmitter at a time.

If you are already a RØDE Videomic owner, you can plug that microphone into the transmitter.  In fact, you can plug ANY self-powered high impedance microphone that uses a 3.5mm TRS connection into the transmitter.  If you have a 3.5mm to XLR converter, you can also plug the receiver into an XLR input via that adapter cable.  RØDE reminds us that such a signal will be Unbalanced, unlike a traditional balanced XLR connection.  In fact, you can plug an XLR microphone with an adapter into the transmitter, so long as the microphone is self powered as the transmitter does not provide phantom power.  If I didn't already have a transmitter for my RØDE shotgun mics, this would be an added benefit.

From a usability perspective, the system is flawless.  Audio quality is excellent.  I pushed audio directly into my DSLR mic input, and also used the system to connect the wireless lavalier to the unbalanced input on a Zoom H6.  Again, excellent audio with good frequency response and superb noise management.  I'm very impressed with this system and would recommend it to anyone who is doing or wants to do higher grade internet or recorded video where you need superior audio for a single talent.  I shoot a lot of one-up videos, both for the site and for clients and this is pretty much all I would need for a lot of the work that I do.  It is bulkier than the Sennheiser kit but about $80 less.  The quality is there and it's small enough to pack anywhere you are heading out to shoot.  My only quibble is the price.  With the aforementioned increase in demand for quick, quality video, RØDE could have priced this system lower and locked in the marketplace.  There are inexpensive units from Asia, but every single one that I have tested has delivered poor audio quality.  At about $589 CDN retail at time of review, the system is priced near that of other higher end competitors albeit with a larger plastic case.  Instead of going after Sennheiser in the price point (whose smaller size and metal casings deliver advantage), RØDE could have come in at $350 and owned that space.  The cost of build is not that high, even with the higher quality microphone elements,  There would still be lots of margin and a much more solid opportunity for marketplace ownership.