Hollyland has been knocking it out of the park recently with their wireless camera monitoring systems. But with their very first audio product, the LARK 150 Dual Wireless Audio System, Hollyland is positioning themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
If you’ve been happily using your standard wireless audio kit for the past 10 years, chances are you haven’t missed much until last year. Wireless audio monitors and transmitters have remained largely unchanged for a long time, apart from FCC removing blocks of frequencies here and there.
When RODE came out with the RODELink Filmmakers Kit which uses a 2.4ghz digital bandwidth instead of the standard radio frequencies, many filmmakers were at first hesitant to dive in. After all, the most challenging part of wireless audio is running into interference, so why start sending your audio into a digital space that’s overloaded with WiFi routers?
Well it turns out the 2.4ghz bandwidth actually works swimmingly, and in fact during heavily filmed events like sports and award shows, camera operators are starting to prefer RODELink kits over industry-standard Lectrosonics. Not to mention, the linking process and channel selection is so quick and easy that it enables shooters to get up and running faster and with less interference woes.
And then last year RODE released the Rode Wireless Go, which takes the wireless audio form factor down to an absurdly tiny size. That, plus the fact that the transmitter has a built-in lavalier, has made the Wireless GO a no brainer for many content creators.
But there’s still a couple missing ingredients from the Wireless GO, and that’s where the new Hollyland LARK 150 comes in.
Hollyland Lark 150 Specs
The Hollyland LARK 150 is a dual wireless system, with one receiver unit and two transmitters, using the 2.4ghz bandwidth. The transmitters utilize FHSS technology - Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum - which enable them to automatically pair to the receiver with smart frequency selection. The transmitters send a signal with less than 5ms of latency, up to 328 feet from the receiver.
The dual transmitters are each about 1.5x1.5 inches, actually smaller than the RODE Wireless Go transmitters which are already tiny, and they weigh less than 1 oz. Each transmitter has a 3.5mm mic input, a mute/power button, and a built in lavalier mic. There’s a clip for easy attaching to a shirt, jacket, pocket, belt, and so on.
The receiver is about the size of the two transmitters placed side by side. It also has the same belt clip as the transmitters, and it’s sized perfectly to fit inside a camera shoe. In addition to the power button, the receiver has a line out as well as a headphone out port. That way you can monitor your signal separately from what your camera or audio recorder is capturing.
The receiver is notable for being incredibly small, and yet it has level knobs for both transmitters, in addition to a screen for setting gain level and other settings. Once it’s powered on, you can press the level knobs in to flip through a few different settings, including outputting in Mono, Stereo, or with a -6db Safety Track.
The receiver and transmitters all fit magnetically into a hard case that serves a dual purpose. It charges all the units together, while also maintaining its own built-in battery, so that you can charge the LARK transmitters and receiver even when it’s not plugged into any kind of power. Think of it like an AirPods case, if you’ve ever used AirPods.
The transmitters feature an anti-vibration design, and they use digital noise cancellation, all in the background without you having to enable anything. Another thing to note is the transmitters and receiver power on/off automatically when you take them out of the storage box or replace them, and they also pair automatically as well.
The package comes with 2 lavalier microphones, 2 furry windscreens, as well as a 3.5mm TRS cable, a USB A to USB C cable, and a storage bag. That is actually a lot of added value, considering a cheap Sennheiser ME4 lav mic would set you back $130 for just one mic.
Hollyland LARK 150 Review
The Hollyland LARK 150 finally solves audio for a generation of mirrorless camera video shooters. The simple addition of those two little physical knobs is a relief, after years of dealing with subpar audio management.
No matter what wireless or wired audio setup you’ve been using up until now, if it’s going into a hybrid camera that doesn’t have built in physical level knobs, you’re going to have a tough time with audio. The only way to adjust levels is either in the camera menu, using the LCD screen, or on the wireless receiver, which might have a hard button or two for adjusting level.
During any sort of shoot where a subject is talking into a lav mic, it’s perfectly natural to want to adjust their levels as their voice changes in tone and volume. But without a physical knob, many of us have turned to using separate audio mixers or preamps which give us that much needed control. But having to mount yet another piece of gear, plus the cables and power necessary for a minimal setup, and then gain staging so that the camera gets the right signal…it’s just been a little much for run and gun filmmaking.
There’s been many times when we’ve had a simple DSLR or mirrorless camera built up so much for a shoot that it ends up being way more bulky and complicated than a small cinema camera like a C100 or FS5. The LARK 150 solves this dilemma - you no longer need to have a preamp for simple run and gun interviews and dialogue heavy B-roll shoots.
For content producers, especially self shooters, being able to physically control your audio levels while your camera sits several feet away is not only a bonus, it’s essential. The headphone out on the LARK receiver is also a nice feature, although we always prefer to listen to the camera headphone out so we know precisely what is being recorded.
The other feature in the LARK 150 that is an absolute diamond is the Safety Track. Your camera records a stereo track with the right channel automatically recording at -6db. This is a godsend for those times when you think you’ve set all your audio levels correctly during the pre-interview, but then once the actual shoot begins, your subject suddenly speaks way louder.
This feature saved us on a recent Youtube video where we used one LARK 150 transmitter on a vlog-style self shoot, set the audio levels, sat several feet away from the camera, and then proceeded to talk for 30 minutes without checking the levels again. Turns out the entire video was clipping, but the safety track did its job and saved the shoot.
What about if you’re shooting with both transmitters, with two subjects? You can still set their individual levels using the physical knobs, and then send both of the transmitters into the camera’s left channel together, while the right channel records a Safety Track.
There’s many times where that could be more useful than recording the subjects to a regular Stereo track, with each of them on their own channel. If they’re not talking over each other, and you’re controlling their physical levels actively during the interview, then recording a master channel with a safety backup would be a great way to go about it.
And finally the last feature that makes the LARK 150 a life savior is the charging case. It’s such a smart design that makes charging headaches a thing of the past for all of these other wireless audio systems with built in batteries. Typically you would need 4 USB cables and 4 wall adapters to charge two transmitters and two receivers at the same time. Plus you would need 4 wall inputs. With run times at less than a full production day, you better be doing this dance every night before a production, or else you run the risk of running out of batter mid shoot.
But being able to charge the LARK 150 receiver and transmitters all at once, with one USB cable, is such a relief. Plus being able to charge them with the case itself, when wall power or a battery brick is not available, is outright genius. This truly is a system that makes these little wireless units much more useful to many professional productions.
If you’re only using one transmitter, the battery on the receiver and transmitter can last for up to 10 hours. If you’re using two transmitters, that goes down to about 7 hours. If you plan to be interviewing or shooting for more than that on a continuous shoot, then you’re probably better suited for a wireless system that uses replaceable batteries. But for most scenarios, being able to quickly throw in the receiver and transmitters into the case for a charge on the go will give you enough juice to keep going.
Putting all the pieces together, it’s how simple and reliable the LARK 150 is, that makes it a no brainer for many content producers. We loaned our unit to a video producer who was on her very first video shoot with any kind of audio. It was a two person interview, shot with one camera. It’s a lot to throw at an up and coming filmmaker, but after a 5 minute intro, we handed off the LARK 150 and were confident that it would get the job done.
And it did! Even for someone who has never worked with mics or audio equipment before, the LARK 150 was easy to setup, there wasn’t much of a learning curve at all. And of course, the levels were easy to monitor and ensure a quality recording. And that was with using external lav mics. With the built-in mics on the transmitters, this whole system couldn’t get any easier.
And so for anyone who is already an established filmmaker, or content producer, or someone who wants to add a simple audio system to their hybrid camera system, the LARK 150 is highly recommended.
Plus as a bonus, if you do plan to use the transmitters on their own with the built-in mic, the included furry windscreens are actually smartly designed and very sturdy. They pop into the 3.5mm jack with a dummy plastic connector, which holds the windscreen in place without changing the audio source to an external mic. Smart, right? This solves one of the problems with the RODE Wireless GO, which comes with a furry windscreen that doesn't always stay on.
Are there any downsides? The transmitters have Hollyland branding on them, they have distracting lights, and they’re a little reflective, despite being black, so we ended up wrapping our transmitters with gaff tape. You may want to do the same if you plan to use them with their built-in mics, clipped somewhere close to the subject’s mouth where the transmitter will be visible on camera.
The 3.5mm jack isn’t lockable, but neither is the Rode Wireless GO, so we can’t fault Hollyland for skipping that feature here. But in future versions, we would like to see a lockable thread, to prevent a subject from pulling the mic cable out of the transmitter.
And the fact that this is Hollyland’s first foray into audio could be a question about long term dependability. Who knows what happens with the magnets in the charging case over its lifespan? And what about the physical knobs - what happens if they get bumped? Those are questions that we may start seeing answers for further down the road.
But for now, the Hollyland LARK 150 is so cheap for what you get, that we’re not too worried about the long term just yet. It’s perfect for the now and we’re grateful for Hollyland for solving the dilemma for run and gun hybrid video shooters.