The Olympus ME33 boundary microphone is the mic that I recommend for recording medium and large focus group discussions. There are several reasons why, and I’ll touch on them later on in this review, but first a couple of suggestions. If you are looking to record focus groups, meetings or conferences in a boardroom setting, I recommend you also read this post on how to record focus groups and this post on choosing a recorder for focus group discussions. Those two posts additional tips that’ll help you capture great sound in a boardroom setting.

Olympus ME33 Review

Summary: Olympus ME33 Boundary Microphone Review

  • The Good:

    You can connect up to 6 mics. Captures very little background noise; but captures distant voices very well. Sleek, attractive design.
  • The Bad:

    Only works with digital recorders with plug-in power (1.5v-5v). They are not cheap.
  • Verdict:

    These microphones are perfect for recording audio in large meeting or conference rooms. Also great for recording focus group discussions with a large number of participants. Buy it now from amazon – you won’t regret it.

Digital recorders are great for recording qualitative data. However, for optimal recording quality, you need to place them close to your subject(s). Now, if you have a large number of participants, you can use multiple recorders and place them strategically around a room. But, you will need to do a lot of work in post synching up the recording. Easy enough for someone who has audio editing knowledge, but for most of us it’s not easy.

The Olympus ME33 boundary mic provides an elegant solution; daisy chain connection. That means that when you connect 2 microphones, you’ll get one output. And you can connect up to 3 Olympus ME33 microphones in a daisy chain.  So you’ll get the coverage of 3 digital recorders, but only one audio file. No need to sync audios in post. But there’s more.

Olympus ME33 Boundary Microphone Specifications

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Olympus ME33 Boundary Microphone Splinter

The Olympus ME33 is a monaural microphone. Which means that it only records on one channel. In stereo setting, it will record in the Right or Left channel. So, you can connect 3 Olympus ME33 boundary microphones in a daisy chain and they’ll record audio into the Left channel of a stereo digital recorder, and then add another set of 3 Olympus ME33 boundary microphones in a daisy chain and they’ll record in Right channel of record. Brilliant!

That’s why when you read Olympus ME33 boundary microphones documentation, it states that you can daisy chain up to 6 microphones. You’re actually daisy chaining 2 sets of 3 boundary mics, using a splinter (comes with the mic) to separate the stereo mic input on a digital recorder into Left and Right channel, and using that to connect the 2 sets of daisy chained microphones to a voice recorder.

Daisy Chaining 6 Olympus ME33 Boundary Microphones

I’ve had questions from researchers about how this setup works. Hopefully I’ve explained it well enough that you’ll now have a good understanding of how to set them up. It’s easy as, place them on the conference table, connect the mics, plug them into the recorder; press record on the recorder to start recording. Very easy. If you have any questions, please post them in the comment section below and I’ll be glad to help.

Alright, back to the review. Let me start with the features of the Olympus ME33 boundary microphone that I like.

The Good

I really like the daisy chain feature. I own a USB boundary microphone and it does not have this feature. I can only imagine what I could do with it if it did! You can also use 2 Olympus ME33 boundary microphones without daisy chaining them. So you have a lot of options on the number (1-6) of Olympus ME33 mics you can use to record your qualitative data.

Basically, the larger the room, the more mics you need. From my testing, I’ve found that optimal coverage is around a 4tf radius. For a 15 ft long conference table, you only need a 2 of them. If the table is really wide, more than 8 ft, you’ll need more.

I’m also impressed with the quality of the sound captured. Olympus rate the sensitivity of this boundary microphone as -35dB (it will capture any sound that’s above -35dB). That’s high. I’d expect it to capture a lot of background noise. But it does not! In fact, I’ve compared the Olympus ME33 boundary mics with all other mics/recorders that I own and it captures the least noise. In addition, it does a capture distance voices very well.  So low noise, good audio coverage. Perfect.

Finally, it look good. I recently used the ME33 to record a stakeholder meeting and I could tell they were impressed by the shiny thing in the middle. As I said, I own other boundary mics (because they so good at noise isolation), and the Olympus ME33 has the sleekest design. And it’s also very easy to store. You wrap the 6ft cord underneath each mic, very neat. Kudos to the design team at Olympus.

The Bad

Plug-in power. You need plug in power to use this microphones. It only works on digital recorders that provide plug in power of 1.5v- 5v. I don’t know why Olympus did not power this with a separate 1.5v battery (there’s definitely enough room in the casing). But the plug in power requirement means that I cannot connect the ME33 to my computer/laptop, phone and so many other devices. I am restricted to using a digital recorder with plug in power.

Now, most digital recorders have plug in power, but how much varies. And if you are connecting 6 boundary microphones to a recorder, you’ll need a lot of power. From my testing, I’ve found that the Sony ICD-ux560 will comfortably power 2 boundary mics. For more than 2 boundary microphones, the Zoom H1n works very well.

My other gripe with the Olympus ME33 is that it has a stereo mic output. I know, I earlier stated that this is a mono mic. It is. But the output is a fake stereo, a mono channel doubled up. It’s not Left and Right channel, but one channel duplicated. Why is this important? If you connect the Olympus ME33 directly to the recorder (without using the splitter), you get a stereo recording. But if you connect one Olympus ME33 boundary microphone to your recorder using the provided splitter, you’ll generate a lot of white noise!

Verdict

The Olympus ME33 captures very little background noise, but captures distant voices very well. And you can connect up to 6 microphones using its daisy chain capabilities. All that equates to very large coverage. That makes this microphone perfect for recording audio in large meeting or conference rooms. The only downside: you’ll need a digital recorder that provides plug in power… buy the ME33 from Amazon.

References

Olympus ME33 Boundary Microphone Manual. 

10 thoughts on “Olympus ME33 Boundary Microphone Review

  1. JJJ

    If you connect a single one of these to the Zoom H1, is there a way to set it up so both this and the zoom record? Or will the mics in the Zoom H1 turn off so only the external one does the recording?

    1. Isaac Post author

      You’re right, once you plug in an external mic the H1n automatically turns off the internal mics.
      And there’s no way (that I know off) of turning off this default action.
      If you don’t mind me asking, why do you need to record the internal mics?
      Isaac

      1. JJJ

        Wanted to save money by having the recorder at one end of the table and the mic at the other end instead of needing to buy two of the mics.

        1. Isaac Post author

          Ah okay – got you, yeah the ME33s are not cheap. If you’re really on a tight budget, I’d recommend you buy a couple of the Sony PX470 (I got mine for less than $50) or the Sony ICD ux560 (got mine for $70) and place one at each end of the table. You’ll have to do some work in post to sync the recordings, and spend sometime getting the right settings for your location. But they’ll get you decent audio. More on the px470 here.
          I’d be interested to hear (and I’m sure other researchers would love additional feedback) what you end up getting and how it all worked out…

          KD
          Isaac

  2. Phil

    Does the Olympus ME33 come with the very long daisy chain depicted in the drawing above to connect the microphones to the stereo splinter? I’ve just bought two Olympus ME33 boundary microphones and the SONY ICD recorder and I’m wondering if I need to purchase anything else? I will be holding focus groups with 8-10 people in a reasonably confined space (I’m making sure that all participants are seated at a table that is not too big and that they are fairly close to one another). And I need a long enough daisy chain to place one microphone at each end of the table.

    1. Isaac Post author

      Phil, yes it does. It comes with a 6ft cord and the stereo splinter. So you’ll be able to place the ux560 at the middle of the table and the ME33 at each end of the table. The only other thing you’ll probably need is a microSDXC card. The ux560 comes with 4GB internal memory that will give you about 5 hours of recording time, while using the WAV format – which is what I recommend. If you’ll need to record more than 5 hours of audio before you transfer the recording to your computer, you should get a microSDXC card.
      All the best,
      Isaac

      1. Phil

        Thanks a lot Isaac. This website is so helpful! I still have two questions.

        – Any micro SDXC card will do? https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=microSDXC+card&__mk_fr_CA=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&ref=nb_sb_noss

        – I will be using two Olympus ME33 boundary microphones. Should I plug each on the stereo splinter and then the steroo plinter on my SONY ICD recorder? Or should I plug microphone #1 on microphone #2, and microphone #2 to the SONY ICD recorder (meaning that I don’t use the stereo splinter at all)?

        Thank you in advance for your answer!

        1. Isaac Post author

          Yes, most microSDXC will work. If you plan to purchase one online, look out for fakes: here’s a great post on buying microSD cards.
          With the ME33, either way works. It all depends on how you set up the focus group. You do want to be close to the recorder, so that you can operate it and keep an eye on it.
          If you are sitting at the end of a table, then connect the mics in a chain and plug them into the ux560 without using the splitter.
          If you are in the middle of the table, use the splitter and place a mic on your right and left.
          Regards,
          Isaac

  3. Jan

    Will this microphone work with the Sony PCM-M10 recorder?

    1. Isaac Post author

      Yes it will. It’ll work with any recorder that has powered 3.5mm mic jack.

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