Bluetooth Sound: 5.1 Capture
One of main limitations of most consumer grade camcorders is the absence of an external microphone input. Sony has solved this problem with the new ECM-HW2 Bluetooth wireless microphone. It offers two way communications, lets you decide whether to record just the mic input or add audio from the on-camera receiver as well, and it boasts a range of up to 300 feet. That’s a whole football field. It can also be used as an IFB (Interruptible Feedback) 2-way enabling the camera op and the talent to communicate at a distance without shouting.
Seven pieces make up this lightweight wireless package. First, the receiver looks very much like a small on-camera light sans the bulb. On one side is a sliding switch giving you four options, Off, Single, Mix-Mono and Mix-5.1. On the opposing side is a headphone jack allowing the user to monitor audio. The bottom of the receiver is the Active Interface Shoe mount. The back displays a mic battery LED indicating when the mic battery is running low. Next is the Bluetooth LED indicating that the connection with the mic is active followed by a volume adjustment allowing the user to control the volume to the headphones.
The second component is the mic and built in transmitter. Small and cylindrical, the mic is fairly lightweight and very simplistic. The right side gives us an on/off switch followed by a volume adjustment identical to the receiver. The opposite side houses the headphone jack. The back is largely taken up with the built-in belt clip.
The remaining pieces include two inexpensive mono earphones, an armband, a wind protector for the mic, and an earpiece meant to hold the ear bud in place.
Putting it To Use
Attaching the mic at first is a little awkward as the belt clip on the back does not swivel to attach to a button up shirt. Luckily, the mic is lightweight and fairly compact. A single AAA battery powers the wireless mic/transmitter. The microphone is a condenser-type mic, quite like the one built into the camera so it has a very wide pickup pattern, meaning that it doesn’t have to be right next to your mouth to pick up what you’re saying. The benefit, of course, is you can attach it to the belt of your subject to keep it a little more discreet. The downside is that you may pick up more audio than you intend.
The Bluetooth pairing is done quickly and easily without any additional steps. We first switched the receiver to Single mode which allows audio to come through the wireless mic only. In other words, the person wearing the mic also has an audio monitor to hear stage directions from the camera operator. The audio comes through crisp and clear. Our only complaint here is that the auto gain control on the 2-way is quite noticeable and there is no manual audio setting. One thing to note here is that no matter which setting, the audio level that goes to the wireless mic is always on, which allows the subject to still hear the camera operator. This is a nice feature especially if the camera operator needs to give the subject cues or instructions from afar, or in a noisy environment.
Next, we switched the receiver to Mix-Mono. Now the audio comes from both the wireless mic and the mic in the receiver. Again the audio is clear and the balance between the two mics is even. The mic built into the camcorder is still turned off. We didn’t quite get up to 300 feet in our tests, but we did get a good 150 and there were no audio dropouts.
Finally switching the receiver to Mix-5.1 enabled the camera’s built in 5.1 surround sound microphone and allowed the surrounding sound to be recorded in 5.1 while the wireless mic came through on the center channel. This is a very nice feature for recording a talking or singing subject in a noisy or ambient environment. Picture your child singing the lead in the school play and being able to hear them front and center while capturing the audience in surround sound.
Look at the ECM-HW2 as a consumer, this is a handy addition to any camcorder with an Active Interface Shoe, especially those that do not have an external mic input. We can think of many reasons to use it even at birthday parties, or vacations simply for the fact that the mic has a 300-foot range and will simply add to your audio experience. Even if the mic is placed in various locations, it will allow you to broaden and enhance your video from just the on-camera mic. Although a bit pricey, we think that overall the ECM-HW2 earns its keep as a valuable enhancement tool.
As a professional, it may be tempting to go right out and buy the ECM-HW2 just for the fact that it is an affordable wireless microphone with built in two-way communication, but let’s look at a few drawbacks. First, the only way to power the mic receiver is to plug it into a camcorder equipped with an Active Interface Shoe, making this useless to anyone with a prosumer or above camera. Second, the wireless mic is very omni-directional and will easily pick up unwanted sound. Third, the built-in audio compressor can get annoying, especially if you’re trying to record dialog and a sound slightly louder than your subject kicks in, your audio level will get interrupted momentarily to adjust for louder sounds. Or if your subject stops talking for a moment, the audio level will increase until your subject begins talking again, causing an annoying burst of sound. The two-way communication feature is very handy and makes us almost want to own it for that alone, but a pair of walkie-talkies does fit a little easier into the budget.
The ECM-HW2 is lightweight, very easy to use, and works as advertised. The audio quality is matched to most built-in camcorder mics. The Bluetooth signal is strong and has an impressive operating range and remained strong during all tests. We see this being very handy to anyone owning a consumer camcorder with an Active Interface Shoe. One thing we think would have been nice to include would be an 1/8 mic input on the receiver, which would allow the user to use more expensive microphones with the receiver. This would have helped justify the price. Another thing lacking is the ability to power the receiver externally and allow it to be used with cameras that do not have an Active Interface Shoe.
Headphone Jack: Yes
Wireless Type: Bluetooth
Microphone: Electret Condenser, Monaural, Omnidirectional
Transmitter Power: 1 AAA Battery
Receiver Power Source: Active Interface Shoe
Manual Audio Control: No
Weight: Transmitter (2.0oz w/battery) Receiver (2.10oz)
Dimensions: 48 X 44 X 52mm (receiver)
- Long Range Signal
- Two-Way Communication
- Ease of Use
- It’s a Wireless Mic
- Power Limited to Active Interface Shoe source
- Lack of Swivel on belt clip
Consumers will enjoy the flexibility and added provided by the ECM-HW2 Bluetooth wireless microphone. Professionals however may be disappointed in the lack of control.
Brent Holland is a wedding and event videographer.
16530 Via Esprillo
San Diego, CA 92127