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Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#43 The Rode Wireless Go II review – Essential audio gear for everyone? — 20. April 2021

#43 The Rode Wireless Go II review – Essential audio gear for everyone?

Australian microphone maker RØDE is an interesting company. For a long time, the main thing they had going for them was that they would provide an almost-as-good but relatively low-cost alternative to high-end brands like Sennheiser or AKG and their established microphones, thereby “democratizing” decent audio gear for the masses. Over the last years however, Rode grew from “mimicking” products of other companies to a highly innovative force, creating original products which others now mimicked in return. Rode was first to come out with a dedicated quality smartphone lavalier microphone (smartLav+) for instance and in 2019, the Wireless GO established another new microphone category: the ultra-compact wireless system with an inbuilt mic on the TX unit. It worked right out of the box with DSLMs/DSLRs, via a TRS-to-TRRS or USB-C cable with smartphones and via a 3.5mm-to-XLR adapter with pro camcorders. The Wireless GO became an instant runaway success and there’s much to love about it – seemingly small details like the clamp that doubles as a cold shoe mount are plain ingenuity. The Interview GO accessory even turns it into a super light-weight handheld reporter mic and you are also able to use it like a more traditional wireless system with a lavalier mic that plugs into the 3.5mm jack of the transmitter. But it wasn’t perfect (how could it be as a first generation product?). The flimsy attachable wind-screen became sort of a running joke among GO users (I had my fair share of trouble with it) and many envied the ability of the similar Saramonic Blink 500 series (B2, B4, B6) to have two transmitters go into a single receiver – albeit without the ability for split channels. Personally, I also had occasional problems with interference when using it with an XLR adapter on bigger cameras and a Zoom H5 audio recorder.

Now Rode has launched a successor, the Wireless GO II. Is it the perfect compact wireless system this time around?

The most obvious new thing about the GO II is that the kit comes with two TX units instead of just one – already know where we are headed with this? Let’s talk about it in a second. A first look at the Wireless GO II’s RX and TX units doesn’t really reveal anything new – apart from the fact that they are labled “Wireless GO II”, the form factor of the little black square boxes is exactly the same. That’s both good and maybe partly bad I guess. Good because yes, just like the original Wireless GO, it’s a very compact system, “partly bad” because I suppose some would have loved to see the TX unit be even smaller for using it standalone as a clip-on with the internal mic and not with an additional lavalier. But I suppose the fact that you have a mic and a transmitter in a single piece requires a certain size to function at this point in time. The internal mic also pretty much seems to be the same, which isn’t a bad thing per se, it’s quite good! I wasn’t able to make out a noticeable difference in my tests so far but maybe the improvements are too subtle for me to notice – I’m not an audio guy. Oh wait, there is one new thing on the outside: A new twist-mechanism for the wind-screen – and this approach actually works really well and keeps the wind-screen in place, even if you pull on it. For those of us who use it outdoors, this is really a big relief.

But let’s talk about the new stuff “under the hood”, and let me tell you, there’s plenty! First of all, as hinted at before, you can now feed two transmitters into one receiver. This is perfect if you need to mic up two persons for an interview. With the original Wireless GO you had to use two receivers and an adapter cable to make it work with a single audio input.

It’s even better that you can choose between a “merged mode” and a “split mode”. The “merged mode” combines both TX sources into a single pre-mixed audio stream, “split mode” sends the two inputs into separate channels (left and right on a stereo mix, so basically dual mono). The “split mode” is very useful because it allows you to access and adjust both channels individually afterwards – this can come in handy for instance if you have a two-person interview and one person coughs while the other one is talking. If the two sources are pre-mixed (“merged mode”) into the same channel, then you will not be able to eliminate the cough without affecting the voice of the person talking – so it’s basically impossible. When you have the two sources in separate channels you can just mute the noisy channel for that moment in post. You can switch between the two modes by pressing both the dB button and the pairing button on the RX unit at the same time. 

One thing you should be aware of when using the split-channels mode recording into a smartphone: This only works with the digital input port of the phone (USB-C on Android, Lightning on iPhone/iPad). If you use a TRS-to-TRRS cable and feed it into the 3.5mm headphone jack (or a 3.5mm adapter, like the one for the iPhone), the signal gets merged, as there is just one contact left on the pin for mic input – only allowing mono. If you want to use the GO II’s split channels feature with an iPhone, there’s currently only one reliable solution: Rode’s SC15 USB-C to Lightning cable which is a separate purchase (around 25 Euros) unfortunately. With Android it’s less restrictive. You can purchase the equivalent SC16 USB-C to USB-C cable from Rode (around 15 Euros) but I tested it with a more generic USB-C to USB-C cable (included with my Samsung T5 SSD drive) and it worked just fine. So if you happen two have a USB-C to USB-C cable around, try this first before buying something new. You should also consider that you need a video editing software that lets you access both channels separately if you want to individually adjust them. On desktop, there are lots of options but on mobile devices, the only option is currently LumaFusion (I’m planning a dedicated blog post about this). 

If you don’t need the extra functionality of the “split mode” or the safety channel and are happy to use it with your device’s 3.5mm port (or a corresponding adapter), be aware that you will still need a TRS-to-TRRS adapter (cable) like Rode’s own SC4 or SC7 because the included one from Rode is TRS-to-TRS which works fine for regular cameras (DSLMs/DSLRs) but not with smartphones which have a TRRS headphone jack – well, if they still have one at all, that is. It may all look the same at first sight but the devil is in the detail, or in this case the connectors of the pin.

If you want to use the GO II with a camera or audio recorder that has XLR inputs, you will need a 3.5mm to XLR adapter like Rode’s own VXLR+ or VXLR Pro.

Along with the GO II, Rode released a desktop application called Rode Central which is available for free for Windows and macOS. It lets you activate and fine-tune additional features on the GO II when it’s connected to the computer. You can also access files from the onboard recording, a new feature I will talk about in a bit. A mobile app for Android and iOS is not yet available but apparently Rode is already working on it.

One brilliant new software feature is the ability to record a simultaneous -12dB safety track when in “merged mode”. It’s something Rode already implemented on the VideoMic NTG and it’s a lifesaver when you don’t know in advance how loud the sound source will be. If there’s a very loud moment in the main track and the audio clips, you can just use the safety track which at -12dB probably will not have clipped. The safety channel is however only available when recording in “merged mode” since it uses the second channel for the back-up. If you are using “split mode”, both channels are already filled and there’s no space for the safety track. It also means that if you are using the GO II with a smartphone, you will only be able to access the safety channel feature when using the digital input (USB-C or Lightning), not the 3.5mm headphone jack analogue input, because only then will you have two channels to record into at your disposal.

Another lifesaver is the new onboard recording capability which basically turns the two TX units into tiny standalone field recorders, thanks to their internal mic and internal storage. The internal storage is capable of recording up to 7 hours of uncompressed wav audio (the 7 hours also correspond with the battery life which probably isn’t a coincidence). This is very helpful when you run into a situation where the wireless connection is disturbed and the audio stream is either affected by interference noise or even drop-outs.

There are some further options you can adjust in the Rode Central app: You can now activate a more nuanced gain control pad for the output of the RX unit. On the original GO, you only had three different settings (low, medium, high), now you have a total of 11 (in 3db steps from -30db to 0db). You can also activate a reduced sensitivity for the input of the TX units when you know that you are going to record something very loud. Furthermore, you can enable a power saver mode that will dim the LEDs to preserve some additional battery life.

Other improvements over the original GO include a wider transmission range (200m line-of-sight vs. 70m) and better shielding from RF interference.

One thing that some people were hoping for in an updated version of the Wireless GO is the option to monitor the audio that goes into the receiver via a headphone output – sorry to say that didn’t happen but as long as you are using a camera or smartphone/smartphone app that gives you live audio monitoring, this shouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Aside from the wireless system itself the GO II comes with a TRS-to-TRS 3.5mm cable to connect it to regular cameras with a 3.5mm input, three USB-C to USB-A cables (for charging and connecting it to a desktop computer/laptop), three windshields, and a pouch. The pouch isn’t that great in my opinion, I would have prefered a more robust case but I guess it’s better than nothing at all. And as mentioned before: I would have loved to see a TRS-to-TRRS, USB-C to USB-C and/or USB-C to Lightning cable included to assure out-of-the-box compatibility with smartphones. Unlike some competitors, the kit doesn’t come with separate lavalier mics so if you don’t want to use the internal mics of the transmitters you will have to make an additional purchase unless you already have some. Rode offers the dedicated Lavalier GO for around 60 Euros. The price for the Wireless GO II is around 300 Euros. 

So is the Rode Wireless GO II perfect? Not quite, but it’s pretty darn close. It surely builds upon an already amazingly compact and versatile wireless audio system and adds some incredible new features so I can only recommend it for every mobile videomaker’s gear bag. If you want to compare it against a viable alternative, you could take a look at the Saramonic Blink 500 Pro B2 which is roughly the same price and comes with two lavalier microphones or the Hollyland Lark 150.

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