Gear & Now: Microphones and More, Part 2--From Lavs to Windsocks
Posted Jun 27, 2006

Some sharp-eyed correspondents questioned the assertion in last issue's Gear & Now that more than two billion microphones are produced annually—with more each year! Admittedly, this figure may seem a little outrageous until you consider that not all are used in pro video production. The growth in consumer communications devices—from cell phones to hearing aids—is key to the astounding output. So, too, are MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), a new technology in which advances in manufacturing and fabrication allow for low-cost, high-performance miniaturized condenser mics with stereo compatibility and digital pulse density-modulation capabilities.

However remote such advances may seem from our industry today, they will find their way to pro video production applications in the not-too-distant future. New acoustic systems for acquiring and delivering sound will emerge, as work at companies like Avaya Labs and Knowles Acoustic continues. In the meantime, several real-world mics, mic systems, and audio accessories that are well-suited for event videography are available now, and are described in this second of our two-part look at new tools for audio-for-video production.

Lapels, Lavs, and More
AKG's new MP 40 offers some interesting options for wedding videographers, in particular. Not much bigger than a ballpoint pen, the MP 40 is incredibly easy to use: stick it in a breast pocket for quick, easy, and unobtrusive use. Or, detach the tiny lav mic from the transmitter, and use the provided lavaliere clamp to fix the microphone even closer to the mouth. The cable is long enough so that the transmitter can still be hidden in a pocket.

Running on one "AAA" battery, the MP 40 has an on/mute/off switch and input gain control. An optional CU 40 charging unit recharges the mic without having to remove the battery. It's reasonably priced at $229.

AKG has also introduced new components for its third-generation WMS 40 wireless system, including fixed-frequency, dual-independent, and full-multichannel diversity systems. The PRO FLEXX models feature long operating times, with up to 30 hours on a single "AA"-size battery. Rechargeables can be used, and an optional charger is available. Familiar operating components include handheld and bodypack transmitters; head-worn, handheld, or lavaliere MicroMics. The PR 40 diversity receiver is priced at $292; the TM 40 (MSRP $271) transmitter module, selectable for wired or wireless operation, is easily adaptable to different shooting situations.


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beyerdyamic's MP40

Adaptability is also a hallmark of the wireless 6400 kit from Anchor Audio, which can be used with a choice of four different configurations: hands-free collar mic, hands-free headband mic, lapel (lavaliere), and/or handheld mic.


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Anchor Audio's wireless 6400 kit

It has an easily readable LED display, a DC Out option, which recharges the handheld microphone from the base unit, both balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" outputs, and a rackmount kit with connection cable. It operates across 64 selectable channels with true diversity signaling. The system's street price is around $400, and it comes with a full six-year warranty to protect that investment.

The KE 800 UHF Camera Receiver introduced by beyerdynamic at NAB 2006 features a unique new "automatic transmission frequency detector." Using what the company calls ACT-Function (Automatic Channel Targeting), the KE 800 searches for an interference-free frequency to transmit via infrared to the transmitter (Opus 800 and Opus 500 Mk II wireless systems). A pilot tone and adjustable squelch control add to the transmission confidence levels.


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beyerdynamic's KE 800 Camera Receiver

beyerdynamic's M 58 dynamic mics will all be delivered with a new coating that offers significant advantages over that Nextel finish on earlier models. The new coating is more scratch-proof and sweat-proof than other handhelds, and it helps reduce handling noise, very important in field settings and location interviews. The rugged mic is nevertheless weight-balanced, so is easier to hold during lengthy interviews or "he-said, she-said" sessions.

Using Electro-Voice's new RE97Tx may be a little different approach in many wedding or event video mic applications. It's a very low-profile, headworn condenser mic. The unit sits inconspicuously over either ear, and as it is available in beige, brown, or black, the mic and malleable boom arm can be shaped and matched to any number of people and places. The length of the boom arm (and thus, how far the actual mic extends across the cheek) can easily be adjusted back at the ear loop.

Its connecting cable then wraps behind the neck, and is attached to clothing with a convenient clip. The 97Tx is a good deal under $300, and has a good frequency response and dynamic range for an omnidirectional.

Shure's new SLX14/WL93 wireless system comes with the more traditional lapel/lavaliere mic (but the bodypack transmitter works with headworn, lavaliere, and instrument mics, as required). It's a little pricier (list $850; street pricing around $600), but features Shure's patented Audio Reference Companding, a technology that audibly brings more clarity and dynamic range to the transmissions. It uses a variable compression ratio, helping to reduce or eliminate those annoying wireless artifacts sometimes heard during quiet passages with lesser systems.

Shure also implements an infrared-based Auto Frequency Selection and Auto Transmitter Setup, scanning the current environment so as to sync among 960 operating frequencies and up to 20 systems in a given location. Operating on two "AA" batteries, the system is rated up to eight hours continuous at range up to 300'.

On-Camera Microphones
For mounting the mic on a camera, rather than a person, some new—and not so new—offerings are available.

The VideoMic from R0DE is a professional-grade shotgun microphone, apparently designed specifically for use with digital video cameras with standard camera-shoe mounts and stereo mini jacks.

The VideoMic is powered by a standard 9 V battery (with a low-battery LED status indicator) located in the support arm itself; it's rated to 100 hours. There is a switchable high-pass filter to reduce unwanted low-frequency rumble, and the super cardioid mic has a good low-noise and wide-bandwidth response. Its somewhat low signal-to-noise ratio of 74 dB means it may not be as clean in some settings as desired, but it delivers reasonable sound at a reasonable price (around $150 on the street).

The DV SGM1, recently introduced by Professional Sound Corporation, is a lightweight, hyper-cardioid shotgun mic boasting phantom powering and good frequency response, even off-axis. It comes as a convenient kit from PSC, but you should be aware the package actually consists of the Azden SGM-X1 mic and shockmount, along with a Koala windsock and adapter. PSC prices its kit around $280, but the mic itself is available for $150, and you can easily pick up the other accessories as needed.


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Professional Sound's new DV SGM1 hypercardioid shotgun mic

Other Mounts
Maybe you don't like the mic on top of your camera, or mounted on a person. If you happen to work with a boom operator, be aware that K-Tek has introduced the collapsible Avalon Traveler, a pro boom pole that fits in a standard equipment case: it's just 20" (50.8 cm) long at the minimum, but extends to a reach of 79" (2 m).

It's made of lightweight, durable aluminum tubing, and is suitable for ENG, EFP, and DV production. The suggested U.S. price is $210; a version with an internally wired coiled cord, a Nuetrik female XLR on the top pigtail, and a Switchcraft male XLR in the base is also available for $250.

Fluffies and Smoothies
Koala's line of windsocks or windjammers is well-known; new to the lineup is the HDV MiniMax. Designed specifically for Sony's FX1 and Z1 camcorders, this black wind-and-noise protector (MSRP $49.35) fits nicely around the camera's shoe attachment and the shoe extension.

Koala's new Fluffy is a foam-and-fur combo wind protection for shotgun mics of various sizes (this furry little creature comes in four lengths) that works without the housing many such devices require. It's priced at $85 MSRP.

Rycote has launched a new range of windshields that offer not only wind protection, but a palette of eye-catching colors. Smoothies are made of a two-part foam cavity, covered by a thin foam outer skin, reducing wind noise up to 22 dB, the company claims. There is a large range of sizes to fit most popular shotgun and condenser microphones (from 19 mm to 25 mm diameter), and five new colors: blackberry, strawberry, lime, banana, and blueberry.


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Rycote's new multi-colored Smoothies line of windshields

Maybe your video company doesn't actually favor such vibrant tones—no problem, as the company can add printed, customized logos, too.

...And Snowballs
Finally, here's one more mic that looks as good as it sounds. The Blue Microphones Snowball condenser mic has been shipping for several months ($155 MSRP), but is finding new uses all the time. It features plug-and-play USB compatibility, so digital recording and portable laptop or DAW use are very easy (Mac or Windows).


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Blue Microphones' Snowball condenser mic

The digital output is 44.1kHz/16-bit, like an audio CD, so its users are involved in anything from instrument and voice recording for music production/demos; DV looping; video sweetening/postproduction; podcasting, sound effects, audio sampling, interactive programming, Internet telephony and conferencing, and much more.

All that, plus the opportunity to use funny or sarcastic references to freezers, refrigerators, and a microphone's chances of surviving the Netherworld!