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Sennheiser XS Lav USB C review: A budget-friendly recording companion

The Sennheiser XS Lav USB C with the windcushion   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

With work-from-home upending routines for the foreseeable future, handy gadgets such as ring lights, laptop stands and lap desks are now a solid need. For multimedia-geared jobs or interests, audio gadgets are important too — especially a responsive microphone which is valuable during meetings, interviews and creating content with voiceovers.

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Besides, we cannot always be asking our family members or housemates to ‘keep it down’ throughout the day. Soundproofing a room may not cover all your audio needs and a decent microphone will have your back on that. But with so many in the market, it is not easy to determine what you may need without knowing all the vital specs that make a great microphone.

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Essentially matching the mic to both the environment you will use it in and the gear you will use it with, is the key. For example, recording voices, outdoor filming along with environmental noises, music recording and so on.

So when Sennheiser launched their XS Lav USB C, it had to be thoroughly put to the test.

Design is everything

I was pleased that I do not need an adaptor for this mic as it plugs directly into my M1 MacBook, iPad Pro and Android devices. Do not worry, the XS Lav is also available in AUX format for a lower cost. The form factor itself is attractive because of its minimal size; it just has a single wire that is not too thick or too thin but sturdy, and it does not tangle easily. The kit also comes with a strong clip which can be removed.

Sennheiser XS Lav USB C clipped onto a shirt

Sennheiser XS Lav USB C clipped onto a shirt   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

Because of the 10.5-millimetre diameter of the mic, it is a lot less clunky and does not invade your frame, if you are filming. It certainly lives up to the rising plug-and-play demand: who has time to wait for drivers to be installed anymore?

Going through the specs, I was pleased that XS Lav USB C has an omni-directional pick-up pattern, which means wherever you place the mic on your person (ideally within the neck to lower chest region, or even your wrist), its field of sensitivity picks up your vocals with equal strength. This makes the mic itself a hypercardioid mic allowing more sound pick-up from a 180-degree range while rejecting more of the sound coming from 90 or 270-degree ranges. The mic’s frequency response ranges from 70 to 18,000 Hertz which, industry-wise, is standard for a vocal mic.

But you cannot rely on the specifications alone. Because mics are essentially transducers, wherein they convert mechanical wave energy (sound waves) into electrical energy, so the performance also depends on its structure; the kind of metals or plastics used. For lavalier mics, plastics on the outside are all right to keep the product as light as possible, but the internal parts — where the magic happens — as well as the clamp are usually made of aluminium alloys.

Close-up of the Sennheiser XS Lav USB C mic

Close-up of the Sennheiser XS Lav USB C mic   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

Put to the test

I compared the performance of the XS Lav USB C to another mic I own as well as keeping a recording with no mic at all, and all this was recorded in a uniform environment (during the day in a somewhat sound-proof room, with some ongoing outdoor construction). I first used my DSLR to record a video with no mic and — needless to say — there was a lot of interference and I could barely hear myself in the playback.

Next, I plugged the XS Lav USB C into my DSLR with an adaptor I had on hand and there was significant improvement. The audio had discernable layers; though there was construction in my neighbourhood, the foreground kept my voice priority while background noise, like the occasional dynamite, was barely heard. I then compared it to my Rode Smart Lavalier Plus which is a bit pricier (₹7,100) than the Sennheiser and the audio was not very different, making the Sennheiser a smart buy for its ₹5,190 price tag.

When I later recorded with the XS Lav USB C during a thunderstorm, I attached the wind cushion (which comes with the device) and, once again, my audio remained a priority and very clear.

Sennheiser XS Lav USB C, the clamp, the windcushion and the drawstring baggie

Sennheiser XS Lav USB C, the clamp, the windcushion and the drawstring baggie   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

Post-production revealed a bit more granular control over audio, which I prefer. For a video interview I did, I upped my audio volume by a mere 16 decibels, a marginal amount compared to my laptop’s mic where I usually up the audio volume in post by 30 decibels, if I was recording.

Some misses, but forgivable

Though the cable length is at two metres, it would have been good to see the Sennheiser mic come with an extension cable, which is fast becoming a norm for even the lowest-cost mic kits. In fact, an extension cable is often a strong deciding factor for picking out a mic. I also wish the mic came with a fur windsock, even though it did come with the wind cushion. A fur windsock would have further cut out more intense background noise like other people playing loud music nearby or even air conditioning or loud fans in the same room.

But these granular needs are not absolutely necessary as it does depend on your usage.

Of course you cannot not expect XS Lav USB C to match a studio-quality recording — lavalier mics rarely do. But it does the needful in eliminating background noise really well while maintaining clarity. It is light with a strong wire which is great, and the best part is the kit comes with a drawstring bag so you can carry the mic with you safely and keep it dust-free.

At ₹5,190, the Sennheiser XS Lav USB C is a well-priced essential for content creation or conferencing needs. Its AUX equivalent, XS Lav Mobile (TRRS), is priced at ₹4,490 and is bound to perform at a similar level.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 5:58:18 PM |

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