Bluetooth wireless lapel microphone
In this post I’m reviewing the Sabinetek SmarkMike+ bluetooth microphone. I haven’t been paid or asked to write this review. It’s based on a purchase with my own money and it might be one of the best pieces of audio equipment I’ve bought.
Note: some links in this blog post are affiliate links. I’ll get a small kickback if you do purchase.
I never review anything I haven’t bought or used myself and I’ll do everything I can to cover the positive and negative.I purchased the SmartMike+ Pro Bundle, which is 2 microphones, 2 directional mic add-ons and 3.5mm audio cable adapters.
Microphone for vlogging and YouTube
There tons of different types of microphones to use for different situations. Recording vlogs with a single camera like your DSLR or smartphone, might be better off using a shotgun or directional microphone.
Directional microphones like the Rode VideoMicro Compact, gives you the freedom to move around in front of the camera, however the further you get from the microphone, the quieter you become.
It’s worth noting that for sheer convenience and ease of use, my Rode VideoMicro Compact is easily one of my favourite microphones and I love it. However it does have a few drawbacks. If I talk to the camera, it sounds perfect. But as soon as I turn away or change my distance from the microphone it can be difficult to make it sound consistent.
For example if I turn to face my whiteboard or move further into the distance, the sound can get quieter.
On the other hand a lapel or lavalier microphone clips to your collar, lapel or clothing and is a consistent distance away from your mouth/audio source. That means even if you’re not facing the camera, when turning to face a whiteboard for example, your voice stays a consistent level.
However lapel microphones have the one drawback of wires. Wires EVERYWHERE. Wireless lapel microphones are expensive (and rightly so) and a decent lapel microphone does sound better. However if you don’t want to spend a few hundred bucks on a wireless mic, you’re better off buying something like the Rode Smartlav+ Lavalier Microphone for Smartphone.
But frankly being out on the road or in a different location, using a wired mic was messy. It’d get tangled everywhere and is difficult to keep out of shot too (the wire would always peek into frame).
Have your cake and eat it
Ultimately what I was looking for was a wireless, affordable microphone that would allow me to set up a camera or two and just talk. I didn’t want to worry about levels and distances. I also wanted to feel free to move around more and just “plug and play”. What I wanted was the convenience of the directional microphone with the quality of a lapel microphone.
That’s where the Sabinetek SmartMike+ comes in. According to their sales page, they offer everything I’m looking for and so far it’s lived up to those expectations.
Packaging, communication and delivery
Ordering the SmartMike+ was easy. There was some confusion over the inclusion of adapter cables but after ordering, Sabinetek did reach out to me and offer a refund on the additional cables that I had bought.
As mentioned above I ordered the Twin Black Pro Bundle. The reason I ordered the twin bundle is because I wanted to use the microphone with my DSLR as well as my smartphone (more on that later).
The packaging felt high quality and the bundle came in it’s own box. Rather than just having 2 microphone packages in the same delivery, the bundle had its own packaging. I have no idea why this made me feel more comfortable, almost like they knew the bundle would be a popular product and to treat it as its own product.
Delivery did take a few weeks. Which to be fair is during the largest global pandemic in recent history. Plus the shipping is presumably from China. I think it took 3 weeks from order to delivery and during that time I got plenty of email updates, reminder emails and nurture sequences which reassured me during the time I didn’t have the mic.
The packaging within the package also felt high quality and used decent materials. They say you eat a meal with your eyes and for many products from China the packaging can let down the first impressions of a product.
In total, the package came with the following:
- 2 Sabinetek SmartMike+ bluetooth microphones
- 2 directional microphone addons
- 2 dead cats and pop filters
- 1 TRS 3.5mm audio adapter
- 1 TRRS 3.5 mm audio adapter
- 2 micro usb charging cables
- 2 carry cases
- 2 single ear, in ear headphones
Manual and instructions
Unfortunately the instructions are laughable. They’re not the worst instructions I’ve ever received but they’re pretty awful. Bizarrely, the quick start guide has more detail and instructions than the actual instruction guide.
Luckily the Sabinetek SmartMike+ is pretty intuitive. It only has one button, one 3.5 audio port and a clip. While a basic connection is pretty simple, more complex connections such as to a DSLR require some specific guides.
It’s also clear that many people who buy the SmartMike+ aren’t 100% sure on how the bluetooth connection works. From being in their Facebook group, many people don’t get how the connection works to either a smartphone or a laptop. I’ll admit that I had you search on YouTube for a few detailed instructions and although they are trying to be clear on the sales page, I’ve still seen lots of posts and questions from people asking how the SmartMike+ works in terms of it’s connections and requirements.
First time setup
First time setup, after reading the instructions, quick start guide and a few YouTube videos was actually pretty simple. Simply holding the button down will power the SmartMike+ on and if it hasn’t been paired before, it’ll go into pairing mode.
Then with my phone’s bluetooth enabled I can connect to the SmartMike+ and use it as a microphone. HOWEVER in order to record using the SmartMike+ in bluetooth mode you MUST use the SmartMike+ app.
Usually I’m hesitant to use a 3rd party camera app. I’ve found with the DJI Osmo app that the app doesn’t recognise any of the additional lenses or capabilities that my phone offers.
I’m using a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. The camera on it is incredible, with 3 lenses on the rear and 2 on the front. However some of the camera modes are actually software rather than using a lens. For example livefocus where the background is blurred like with depth of field effect, can only be used in the Samsung camera app.
However, to Sabinetek’s credit, most of the camera lenses are available in their app. It’s not perfect but it does offer the ability for me to choose 2 of the rear lenses (normal and wide) and zoom in. However it only offers the single lens option (the closer cropped of the 2) for the front lenses.
Connecting the microphones to the app for the first time was very easy. It also offered a firmware update for the SmartMike+ as soon as I connected it and appears to have had several updates in the weeks I’ve owned it, which is good I suppose.
I’ve learned that there really is no such thing as “plug and play”. Even with the most basic of equipment, you are always going to have to learn some new skills. For example, TRS and TRRS connections can completely throw people off and make it seem like there is a technical fault with audio equipment, when really it’s just a stupid little black line.
Your smartphone most likely has what they call a TRRS connection. Which means that the 3.5mm audio jack or “headphone cable” has 3 black lines on the metallic pin that plugs into your phone. However, you camera and other input devices might need a TRS connection, which is where the metallic pin that plugs into the camera or device only has 2 black lines!
It’s needlessly confusing and I’m sure audio nerds will tell me the long and complex and extremely interesting reason as to why there is a difference. But ultimately, it means that if you want to plug your SmartMike+ into a camera like a DSLR, you need the TRS connection cable. However if you want to connect the SmartMike+ to your smartphone using the cable (instead of a bluetooth connection, which we’ll come onto) you need the TRRS cable!
Some users have complained that their microphone isn’t picking up any sound when connected with the wire. I’d wager that most of them are using the wrong connection cable.
This is what I mean by no such thing as “plug and play”. Even simple connections can take time to learn and get correct. Once you know it, it’s easy. But even when you connect something and it works, it can still take time to get it just right.
With a phone
There are two options for recording with the SmartMike+ on your phone.
- With the SmartMike+ app
- With your own camera app or other recording app like Facebook live/TikTok etc.
What can be confusing to some people is that the connection type will vary depending on what you record with on your phone.
IF you want the fastest and easiest way to record videos and podcasts AND to connect 2 SmartMike+ microphones to your device, use the SmartMike+ app. It’ll allow you to record 2 separate audio tracks for things like interviews or podcasts.
It also offers a dictation/transcription service using the audio. I know. Sounds mad but it’s true. It is in beta and I believe will become a paid service. But the option is there. Connecting via bluetooth to your phone will make the Sabinetek SmartMike+ the microphone AND speakers. This is important to remember if you are using the SmartMike+ for things like calls, recording and Zoom calls.
What it means is that all audio, both recording and playback, goes via the SmartMike+. So if you’re using it as a microphone on a call, you’ll need to connect headphones (either the single ear headphone provided) and plug that in, or your own headphones. Lots of people ask if it’s possible for the SmartMike+ to just be the microphone and for the phone to act as the speaker. Which is not possible nor should you want that. You’d most likely end up with an awful feedback loop, which would get louder and louder until it sounds like the THX introduction at the cinema and blow your head off.
However if you want to record via your own camera app, or use a 3rd party app like Facebook, TikTok or Snapchat, you’ll need 2 SmartMike+s and connect them via Slave/Master mode (more on that below).
When using the SmartMike+ app you can start recording by pressing the red button on the side of the SmartMike+ which is a nice feature. The app also allows you to adjust audio recording volumes, and some of the camera settings.
With a DSLR, laptop or other devices and 3rd party smartphone apps
The SmartMike+ connects via bluetooth to your phone. However, it only records using the SmartMike+ app. If you want to record via the SmartMike+ on a DSLR, your phone’s native camera, laptop or GoPro etc. You need TWO SmartMike+s.
This might sound pointless, but for 99% of vlogs, videos and smartphone recordings you’ll only ever need 1 SmartMike+. Using the SmartMike+ app you can connect directly to the SmartMike+ and record quickly and easily.
However if you want to record from 2 microphones (perhaps as a podcast or interview) or you want to use the microphone on something that can’t have the app/doesn’t have bluetooth, then you can connect one microphone to the device via the 3.5mm audio cable and a second microphone to the first microphone.
This is called Master/Slave mode or M/S. This is closer to what traditional wireless microphones do to create a connection. It might sound complicated, but in fact is a brilliantly simple and elegant way of creating multiple connections and being a very versatile piece of audio equipment.
The connection distance is supposedly up to 10m but I haven’t fully tested it at that distance. I have recorded in another room however with a wall and no line of sight and the connection still remained pretty strong.
I feel that this flexibility and versatility is a massive benefit to the SmartMike+. With 2 microphones you can easily create multiple recording modes and connect to so many more devices.
You can also adjust the “gain” while using the 2 microphones in M/S mode by clicking the red button on the side of the microphone plugged into the device (I have been told that you can adjust it from either one of the devices but I couldn’t get it to register). Gain is how sensitive the microphone is. Kind of how “loud” you have to be in order to be recorded and heard. In my experience with the device, the lowest gain level was sensitive enough.
As a side note, pressing the red button while in M/S mode cycles through gain levels starting with the default mode (which is high), switching to medium, low, super high and then back to high (default).
Weight and size
I could not believe how small the SmartMike+ was when I got it out the box. It’s super light and weighs just 14 grams! Which is about ½ an ounce. I literally cannot feel it clipped to my collar and it doesn’t feel like it’s in the way.
When I connected one of the SmartMike+s to my DSLR with the TRS cable, it was so light that I didn’t feel it was pulling on the connection. The size includes a 110mAh battery which equates roughly to 6 hours of battery life. Pretty impressive considering the size and features of the SmartMike+.
Community and support
Personally, I’ve felt that support has been fantastic. Yes, the manual is pretty atrocious and light, but there is evidence that they’re adding more documentation and support. Also, there is a pretty decent FAQ and support section on the website.
There is an active Facebook group also, which has a few webinars and provides a pretty good community support channel. However I’ve found YouTube to be my friend for finding how-to guides and I don’t know why Sabinetek doesn’t smash a killer YouTube channel out.
The Sabinetek SmartMike+ is not cheap. A single unit is around £130/$160. However there are discounts available on the site for signing up and they have a pretty aggressive cart abandonment sequence.
I paid roughly £260 for the Twin Pro Bundle which came with the 2 SmartMike+ units and the directional mic addons, plus some other stuff. It’s really a case of use vs. convenience and laws of diminishing returns.
Of ALL the pieces of equipment to add value to your videos, the quality of your audio will add the most to your production value. People can deal with low res and out of focus shots. The camera is NOT where you should be investing all your money.
Having said that, if you’re just starting out, if you’re not creating lots of videos regularly, I can’t in good conscience recommend the SmartMike+. It’s a pretty big investment for something that is really just a massive jump in convenience instead of increased audio quality.
If you have less than $100 to spend on a microphone for your videos, you’re better off with either of the Rode suggestions I made above. Either the Rode VideoMicro Compact, or the Rode Smartlav+ Lavalier Microphone for Smartphone. For it’s sheer versatility and ease of use, the Rode VideoMicro Compact will always get my vote.
However if you regularly create video and you use your smartphone for all your production and recording, plus you’re looking to make life a lot easier and get some better shots, the SmartMike+ is a fantastic addition to your toolkit.
I absolutely love the SmartMike+ and please don’t take my Rode recommendation as saying you shouldn’t buy one (or two). It really is a fantastic piece of kit and it has made recording content much much easier. For a bluetooth connection to a phone with a single microphone, you will be hard pressed to find a cheaper and more feature rich wireless mic.
Sabinetek Smartmike+ review
The SabineTek SmartMike+ is almost certainly a sign of things to come. Smaller and more affordable technology entering the market for new businesses. It’s not always wise to jump on the bandwagon with every new piece of technology, but Sabinetek has met and exceeded many of my expectations with this microphone.
I almost feel like it’s a bit of a hidden gem. Filled with potential but due to a (currently) lacking documentation, that SmartMike+ has way more to offer than just a bluetooth microphone. If you regularly shoot video and use your smartphone for everything, it’s a fantastic addition to your video and audio toolkit.