High-Quality Audio Recording at the Altar


If you’ve been tasked with documenting a friend or relative’s intimate wedding, due to the simple fact that you own a decent camera, chances are you haven’t given much thought to best practices for capturing the audio. While many of today’s DSLR and mirrorless cameras can capture top-notch video, most of them lack a high-quality built-in microphone; and beware—no matter how great a video is to view, bad sound quality can completely ruin it.

Even though professionals generally rely on high-quality multi-track portable recorders and wireless microphone systems to capture the highest-quality audio, great results can also be achieved using a few inexpensive microphones, along with the everyday mobile devices that you already have. The items mentioned in this article will help you capture great sound quality at the altar, and don’t cost a fortune.

For clear capture of the bride, groom, officiant, and any other speakers during the ceremony, close placements using lapel microphones are preferred, to ensure that every word of the spoken vows and speeches are picked up clearly, and that background noise is kept to a minimum. Enter the RØDE smartLav+, a unique professional-grade lavalier microphone for portable devices. While it’s best to use a separate mic for each speaker, one on the groom and another on the officiant will usually suffice. So, if you’re not brave enough to try to get your beautiful bride to hide a mic and an iPhone in her wedding dress, not to worry. Since the smartlav+ uses an omnidirectional condenser capsule that picks up sound from all directions within a few feet, it should have no problem picking up the bride’s voice, because she will be standing close enough to the groom.

RØDE smartLav+ Lavalier Condenser Microphone for Smartphones

RØDE isn’t the only company making lavalier microphones for portable devices. Shure has the MOTIV MVL Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone, also an omnidirectional condenser lavalier microphone that has a 1/8" (3.5mm) TRRS connector. The mic allows you to record using a free download of the MOTIV App for iOS software from the App store, or any other digital recording platform.

Once your lapel mics are in place and the recording app is loaded, have the subject do a mic check and make a test recording. Then, temporarily disconnect the mic and play back your recording using a basic pair of studio headphones like the Senal SMH-1000 or the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, just to make sure you’re getting a nice, balanced signal. Turn the device’s playback volume to about 75% of full volume, and if recording sounds too distant or too quiet, then move the mic to a position a bit closer to the subject’s mouth. Conversely, if the signal sounds distorted, if you hear too much breathing, or you’re getting a lot of vocal pops, move the mic down the lapel a bit farther from the mouth.

Senal SMH-1000 Professional Field and Studio Monitor Headphones

The next thing that you'll need is an ambient microphone to capture the oohs and ahhs from the crowd, as well as any musical accompaniment that's being played at the ceremony. The RØDE iXY Stereo Microphone is a well-suited option for iOS that works with the RØDE Rec app, and it will plug into your iPhone or iPad via its Lightning Connector. The Shure MOTIV MV88 Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone for iOS and Zoom iQ6 Stereo X/Y Microphone for iOS Devices with Lightning Connector are some other good choices for use as an ambient mic, and they won’t break the bank.

The ambient mic and your iOS device can be mounted on a tripod boom stand, such as the Auray MS-5230F, using the IK Multimedia iKlip Xpand MINI mount for smartphones, or the iKlip Xpand mount for tablets. Position the stand in the back, or somewhere off to the side with the crowd and music in front of the mic, and pull up the RØDE Rec app. Next, plug your headphones into your device’s headphone jack, make sure that the iXY is the selected microphone in RØDE Rec, and make a quick test recording and play it back to make sure everything is working. If it’s windy, be sure to use the included windscreen to ensure the cleanest recording.

RØDE iXY Stereo Microphone

So, you’ve got all your mics set up, and it’s time to start recording. Gather up all the subjects who are wearing lapel mics near the ambient mic and start the video recording with your camera. Keep in mind that you’ll also want to record audio with the built-in microphone on your camera, because you’ll need it in post-production to use as a sync reference. Make sure the audio app is loaded on all audio devices being used, press Record on each, and have your subjects tuck their devices away. You should now have one of the subjects clap their hands together to create a visual and audible syncing point in the audio, and on the video. Now, you’ll be able to sync your audio and video easily in post, and you can use video editing software such as Apple’s FCPX, or Red Giant PluralEyes 4 to make it easy.

Thanks for reading this article and, hopefully, you're empowered with enough information to achieve great audio at the altar with simple, inexpensive tools. If you have any questions at all, we encourage you to post them in the Comments section, below.