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Gear & Now: High-End Audio Comes at a Price
Posted Sep 1, 2008 - September 2008 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

With apologies for mixing my metaphors, some of the sweetest sounds in wedding and event videography can leave a bad taste in your mouth. But it isn’t so much the sounds that stick in your craw (there I go again)—it’s the prices you sometimes have to pay for the equipment you need to get those sounds.

When you have a clientele that expects the best, and when they are willing to pay for it, new microphones and digital recording solutions are available to let you capture and create a soundtrack for your masterpiece that will blow them away. For example, if you know the bride’s parents are going to watch their daughter’s wedding video (and your top package) not just on an HDTV, but in a great surround sound home theater as well, then listen up.

We’ve talked before about Rising Sun Productions’ Holophone surround-sound microphone and audio recording systems, and you probably know about the H4 SuperMINI, the company’s camera-mountable surround microphone. It places multiple microphone elements inside a 360-degree enclosure (which gets mounted on a camera) and lets you record sounds that can be truly differentiated in direction and impact. Six discrete channels are encoded to and decoded from a standard two-channel audio recording configuration.

But there’s one problem: The whole thing can look and feel like a bowling trophy was attached to the front of your camera. So the new H4 Multi-Cable helps reduce the height of the SuperMINI microphone, dropping it down full 6" for a much lower on-camera profile. It also allows the H4’s encoder, preamp, and monitor module to be more conveniently mounted in a variety of locations.

With the Multi-Cable, the H4 SuperMINI microphone enclosure connects through a cold shoe connector; the encoder can be worn as a belt pack. The H4 Multi-Cable is available with 3' or 5' cable lengths. The SuperMINI itself has also been upgraded. In addition to its current 3.5mm stereo outputs, the encoder now has one six-pin mini XLR output which contains both LT and RT-balanced information.

This helps to make the mic’s recordings more compatible with professional-level AV equipment. It also allows the encoder to be connected to a camera or recording device with a longer run of cable without affecting the quality of the audio signal.

The H4 SuperMINI comes equipped with an audio zoom button, which increases the forward bias of the pick-up pattern, and an auxiliary center channel microphone input (XLR) for attaching an external shotgun or wireless lavaliere. There’s a virtual surround headphone output with gain control so you can monitor recordings in the field, and a great little tricolored LED that indicates sound level and direction. The microphone is priced at $2,695.

The Holophone D-CODE ($599), a multichannel Pro Logic II decoder, comes out this season as well, letting desktop editors easily get in on the surround-sound action. The D-CODE takes two encoded audio channels, made with the H4 or Porta-Mic 5.1 and a camera or other two-channel recording source, and decodes them into six discrete audio channels.

Decoded multichannel audio is delivered via six RCA analog outputs or USB directly to the computer. The six discrete audio files can then be edited in any pro NLE.

If you’re willing to pay close to $3,000 to be able to work effectively with six mics, how about the paying same price for one? Shure has introduced the UR1M Wireless Micro-Bodypack Transmitter (Figure 1), which is about half the size of most standard body packs, but with a heftier price.

It weighs just 3 ounces with two AAA batteries, but into the small package goes patented companding technology for crystal-clear sound across a wide 60-MHz–75-MHz tuning range (region-dependent). It’s tunable in 25-kHz increments, so thousands of selectable frequencies ensure a good response almost anywhere.

The UR1M also features selectable 10-megawatt or 50-megawatt RF power; up to 9 hours of battery life and selectable alkaline, lithium primary, or NIMH battery power metering; audio-level metering; and a backlit LCD display. The UR1M has a suggested retail price of $3,198 and is available this summer.

Shure, through Countryman line, has also introduced new options for the UR1M Micro-Bodypack, and Countryman’s Type 85 Direct Box will now be available from Shure. Countryman microphone products are sold in different coverage patterns, skin tone colors, and connector types. In wireless applications where concealment is a priority, the WCE6 and WCE6i Earset microphones are among the smallest and lightest around. When you need to make the mic next to invisible, even if used up against a wide variety of skin tones, the small and lightweight WCE6 and WCE6i Earset mics are a real advantage.

Another unobtrusive mic is the Countryman WCB6 Micro-Lavaliere (Figure 2). At about 1/10" thick, it’s thinner than most mic cables, and is available in a number of colors for mixing and matching with various clothes or skin types.

The WCE6 and WCE6i Earset microphones list for less than $500, the WCB6 Micro-Lavaliere is just under $600.

Zaxcom has upgraded its TRX line of wireless microphone transceivers, adding a wireless dynamic range expander and an adjustable RF output power feature. Use of the expander (a free software upgrade for current owners) can help attenuate low-level noise, especially handy when using and mixing together multiple mics. The algorithm pushes the noise floor to 12 dB, so the dynamic range of the TRX wireless system is effectively 118 dB.

All Zaxcom wireless transmitters will now begin shipping with adjustable output power settings of 10 MW, 25 MW, and 50 MW. This new feature allows customers to fine-tune the TRX system to meet varying distance, battery consumption, and RF power output needs.

Zaxcom’s digital wireless microphone packages are priced around $1,800, as is the ZFR800, a handheld digital recording microphone. Uncompressed audio can be recorded to removable memory cards, and a handy prebuffer ensures that nary a word is missed.

On the ZFR800 audio files are automatically recorded at 48 kHz/24 bits. The transfer software utilizes sample rate conversion to obtain the sample rate and bit depth of choice when files are imported to your computer. Any number of versions of the same recording can be made from a single file. The ZFR800 ships with file transfer software that runs on both Windows and Mac OS.

I know podcasters who love the quality and convenience of this mic; high-quality voice-over video narration can also easily be captured (without camcorder or studio setting) with the ZFR800, which is compatible with any Shure screw-on capsule.

Sound Devices
When one- or two-track audio recording won’t do (and that does happen to many event videographers), the new 788T digital audio recorder (Figure 3) from Sound Devices can meet the most demanding on-location audio requirements. I recently worked on a multicamera video documentation crew at a music history conference; as many as eight speakers at a time participated in panel discussions, and many more musicians jammed during impromptu music sessions. We had a temperamental old A-DAT machine, but the 788T would have been perfect.

This battery-operated recorder has individual controls and connectors for each of its eight inputs, plus numerous additional I/O and data connections, all in a durable stainless-steel and aluminum chassis weighing less than 4 pounds and roughly the size of a hardcover book.

On location, the 788T visually indicates level information about inputs and track assignments. Each of the eight input controls has a corresponding tricolor circular LED, making adjustments simple in run-and-gun environments like ours. The 788T’s Input Control Toggle allows for quick access to common settings such as input type, limiter engagement, high-pass filter activation, and phantom powering.

Its LCD display is viewable in all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight. The LEDs are dimmer-adjustable for any lighting condition, including a lights-out setting for blacked-out sets.

To store all the data from multitrack digital audio recordings, the 788T comes equipped with a 160GB 2.5" internal SATA hard drive. This onboard storage provides up to 30 hours of 8-track, uncompressed 24-bit audio recording. CompactFlash cards with UDMA support and external FireWire mass storage volumes can be used for recording and playback. All three storage mediums can be selected for simultaneous, redundant recording.

To transfer recorded audio, the 788T features high-speed access to both the internal hard drive and connected CompactFlash medium. Disk-to-computer and card-to-computer transfers are limited only by the drives themselves, with transfer speeds greater than 40MB/sec. with fast 266x CompactFlash media.

The 788T is powered by 7.2 V Li-ion batteries or external DC (10–18 V) and offers an on-board Li-ion battery charger. Its price is $5,995, but the capabilities of the 788T, and the results you’ll get from it, are well worth it.

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.

Learn more about the companies mentioned in this article in the EventDV Videographer's Guide:

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