Gear & Now: Microphones & More, Part One
Posted May 30, 2006

Microphones used to be simple devices that captured sounds. Now, they are "workflow enhancements" or "networking systems" or "advanced wireless technology solutions." 
     They used to feature diaphragms and cable connections; now, mics have LCDs, self-contained power supplies, timecode output, and internal recording capabilities. |
     And some seem designed more to capture the eye than the voice!

Can You See What I Hear?
A case in point is the Stereo Flamingo professional electrostatic mic from Violet Design. It's a newly developed stereo version of the classic vacuum tube, designed to meet demanding audiophiles' studio applications, not event videography. But it looks so cool with its Art Deco, almost sci-fi look (check out the animated sequence here).

More classically designed is Neumann's new TLM 49, with a fine matte nickel finish and retro shockmount configuration. It's got high-end specs that will attract the attention of demanding studio or home recordists, but it also has a price to match—$1,699.99 MSRP.

Or, there's the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tabletop cardioid (see Figure 1 below) from Bob Heil (the microphone commemorates Heil's 2004 HOF induction). It looks as good as it sounds (-55 dB @ 1,000Hz), but of course there's a price attached for the exclusive Rock Hall identification nameplate.
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Figure 1. Bob Heil's RRHOF tabletop

Before we finish up our look at eye-catching microphones, take a peek at the H3-D from Holophone (Figure 2). Looking like some kind of football on a pole, the H3-D is a new portable 5.1 surround-sound microphone. It features a six-channel discrete microphone with multi-directional pick-up capabilities across the standard 20-20KHz frequency spectrum. Windscreens and pistol grips are optional, but the mic with LED power indicator, 5' monster cable, and six-pin XLR connection will retail for around $1,700.

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Figure 2. The Holophone H3-D

But looking at mics isn't really that practical for the busy wedding and event videographer. It makes little sense for us to pay extra for a mic's snazzy appearance, since mics used on event shoots are meant to go unseen. Let's explore some new products that are practical, affordable, and now or soon-to-be available.

Zaxcom is expanding its wireless microphone offerings by adding the TRX900AA to a product family that already includes portable and rackmount wireless transmitters, receivers, and accessories. Designed for use with lavaliere microphones, the new battery-operated transmitter features integrated recording capability, and also has built-in IFB support, timecode transmission, and RF remote control from up to 200' away.

The TRX900AA records audio in WAV format on a Flash memory card for transfer to PC or Macintosh. Optional timecode transmission and video-sync generation, a brand-new feature for the digital wireless microphone system, can send two channels of audio, timecode, and video sync to just one receiver on the camera. Video sync types include tri-level, NTSC, and PAL.

Preliminary pricing for the Zaxcom TRX900 transmitter with IFB and remote control is around $2,150. The recording option adds about $300.

Too small for an internal memory, the new XSDT (for "eXtra-Super-Damn-Tiny") mic from Lectrosonics isn't much larger than the self-contained "AA" battery with which it ships. The near-microscopic wireless microphone capsule is barely a square millimeter. It's described as having a frequency response of 5Hz to 120kHz ("astounding" is the word used).

Two transmitters are available: the XSDT-ALK ($500) uses an alkaline "AA" battery for about 38 minutes of operational time; and the XSDT-LITH ($700), with its lithium battery, provides an operational time of 1 hour and 15 minutes, according to manufacturer specs. However, the batteries are permanently installed, so the XSDTs must be discarded once the battery dies.

Lectrosonics is also unveiling additions to the SM Super Mini transmitter line at NAB 2006, including a SMD (SM-Dual) transmitter that uses two "AA" batteries and therefore doubles the battery life of the original unit. Also due to debut at NAB is the SMQ (SM "Quarter Watt") transmitter for longer range and greater resistance to interference, and the RM (Remote unit) for programming and operation of the entire SM family.

Nady Systems recently introduced their new wireless microphone system, the IRW-220X, using infrared rather than UHF/VHF transmission. Infrared (IR) systems use light-transmission technology, so they do not transmit through walls. But that does mean any number of IRW systems can be used in the same building without interference, such as in school classrooms, conference facilities, or sub-divided reception halls.

Either a handheld mic (IRW-HT6X) or body-pack transmitter (IRW-LT6X) is available, with a dual receiver for two-channel simultaneous operation. Other features include IR signal-reception LED indicators, Channel A/B mix audio output RCA phono jack, separate Channel A and Channel B volume controls, and IR sensor coaxial inputs. The IRW-220X operates up to five hours on two alkaline "AA" batteries or NiMH rechargeable batteries. Street pricing starts around $500.

For many videographers, two channels of audio, as supported by their camera, will typically suffice in most taping situations. But the flexibility and creativity that adding just one additional channel—if not more—brings should not be overlooked.

Most corporate, industrial, and event shooters will know this already, but wedding videographers too can think of special situations—such as an informal but real-time interview with bride, mother, and father—that would greatly benefit from additional mic capabilities.

So Azden's introduction of its newest field mixer, the three-channel FMX-32 (Figure 3), is an interesting development. With an MSRP of $450, and anticipated street pricing even less, this is a new and serious challenger to other portable field mixers out there.

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Figure 3. Azden's FMX-32.

It's designed to mix low-impedance, XLR-equipped mics into a video camera's mic input via its balanced XLR or unbalanced stereo outputs. Each of three balanced mic inputs has individual level control, and each can be assigned to a Left, Right, or Combined output. Level-controlled headphones can be used to monitor separate channels; overall output is displayed on a five-step LED level indicator. The FMX-32 is powered by six internal "AA" alkaline batteries, for up to 15 hours of operation, or with an optional external 12 V DC power supply.

Sennheiser introduced its NET 1 Network System—essentially a hub for up to ten wireless systems—at NAB 2006. The rackmounting unit features an integrated power supply, accommodation for up to ten receivers or wireless monitor transmitters, and has rear-panel connectivity for computer control and large multi-channel cascade applications.

Providing comprehensive control over all vital mic operations, including frequency coordination and monitoring, RF/AF levels, battery status, and more, such systems provide enhanced control over multi-channel microphone environments. It's compatible with the company's evolution wireless G2 300 and 500 series, 300 series wireless monitors, EM 3532-U receivers, and the new SKM 5200-UHF handheld and SK 5212 body-pack transmitters.

The Sennheiser NET 1 Network System, available in June, retails for around $1,400; mics are extra.

Samson's Wireless System for Video, the AM1 (Figure 4), has been available for a while, but it is now available in new configurations, complete with handheld and lavaliere microphones, plug-in handheld transmitters, transmitters with built-in electric mics, cable, case, and headphones.

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Figure 4. Samson AM1

The receiver mounts on most camera hot shoes fairly easily, or can be used with a belt clip. It operates on one "AAA" battery, rated up to eight hours. The transmitter boasts up to 14 hours. Package street pricing is less than $600.

Academic researchers and industry analysts, by the way, say that some two billion microphones are built each year. So, listen up—our two-part audio series comes roaring back next issue!