Live event video production can be very popular, very effective, and very rewarding—often because there is little or no editing involved. A good live-switch production is, for all intents and purposes, ready to go; a little clean-up or post-production packaging is often all that is required before the producer is ready to deliver the show to the client.
On the other hand, some videographers want to record the best audio possible when on location, but are fully intent on sweetening their sound back in the edit studio, working with distinct audio elements and discrete audio tools. In either case, a good location audio device becomes an important part of the video equipment list.
In either case, location audio recording or live mixing places some extra demands on the videographer and crew. Advance planning, careful preparation, and even location practice runs are all crucial to successful live video production. Good coordination and communcation among the crew is vital, as is putting the right equipment in their hands.
Live audio recording also provides a valuable opportunity to back up or dual-record all audio materials, so for safety's sake if nothing else, it means accurate audio monitoring is crucial when you're working on location. As with video, you can't fix in post what you don't capture on-site.
As such, good audio mixers, location monitors, headsets, and talkback/intercom systems are all vital parts of good live audio—and all of them will be covered in upcoming installments of GEAR & NOW. For now, here's a look at some popular and useful live audio mixers.
The Behringer UB Eurorack line-up, introduced a couple years back, features several different models; all feature internal mic pre-amps and good noise filtering. They are AC-powered, table-top units.
Starting with the straightforward UB502, a five-input, two-bus mixer (around $40) with one mono and two stereo channels; and ranging up to larger models like the UB1204FXPro, a 12-input, 2/2-bus mic/line mixer with mic preamps and a 24-bit multi-FX stereo processor ($179.99) and beyond, Behringer supplies event videographers will a variety of good functions. Among the most noteworthy are solo and pre-fader monitoring, sub-group routing, and separate outputs.
Rolls offers a complete line of audio gear, including rackmount units, simple two-in, one-out portable models, and more functional units like the battery-powered MX442 field mixer ($1,050). With four XLR mic inputs (featuring phantom power, 20dB pad and Lo-Cut switches, trim and volume controls, and a pan control for adjusting the signal placement in the stereo field), right and left channel outputs, built-in oscillators, and slate and tone generators all packed into the four-pound mixer, the MX442 is a product worth considering by many videographers doing live production.
Peavey, a company widely known for its high-powered on-stage amplifiers, includes in its audio gear line-up a battery-powered live audio option, the RQ200 six-channel mixer ($229.95; 12 ch., $399.95). It has six XLR mic inputs and four channels with stereo line inputs. Each channel has high and low EQ, monitor and effect sends, and a channel fader. Outputs are both 1/4" and mini stereo, which can be handy for plugging the eight-pound unit into a video camera or computer.
Soundcraft's Notepad (around $190) is a small, light-weight audio mixer with tons of features. It's only about ten inches across, weighs less than five pounds, but has ten total inputs, two-band EQ, separate mix and monitor outs, peak and VU meters, and more. It has a nice clean sound, and is very flexible on-location; one videographer I know mounts it on a mic arm, attached to a basic tripod—possibly for easy reach and solo operation.
Available in three sizes with 6, 8, or 12 inputs, Sound-craft also offers the LM1 series for location sound recording. Depending on the model, units weigh upwards of 20 pounds. Nevertheless, they are well-suited for location work, with battery operation (12 "D" cells), a battery check button, as well as a low battery LED, which warns users when they're down to about a half an hour of remaining battery power.
Higher in the Mix
Most studio audio mixing pros (at least those who work on PCs and Macs, and know how enervating it can be to try to nail down a fade or place an effect with a keyboard or mouse) are familiar with the Mackie Universal control. On the live recording front, the Mackie 1202-VLZ Pro (around $450) is the smallest model in the company's VLZ-Pro compact mixer line, but it has a whack of solid features for the live event videographer (and for use back in the studio, too). Users will find 12 inputs (four mono, four stereo pairs), incorporating XLR mic and 1/4" line connections, and a wide range of output options, including aux sends, dedicated tape, monitor, headphone, and more, bringing flexibility to any production configuration. A three-band active EQ, as well as low-cut filtering, brings added control over incoming sound sources.
The AC-powered unit weighs a little more than six pounds, even in its solid metal chassis. Sealed pots on all controls bring added confidence during outdoor produc-tions—and yes, there is a high-density foam MackieGear mixer bag ($30) for moving the mixer around.
Mackie also manufactures Tapco mixers, offering comparable performance but at lower costs. Unveiled in 2003, the 6303 ($119.95) Tapco model features two mic inputs, two instrument inputs, two stereo line inputs, two aux sends, a stereo aux return, tape in and out, and stereo control room and phone outputs in addition to the main outputs.
Shure, well known for its microphone offerings and wireless performance gear, produces two portable mixers of particular interest to the event videographer with a somewhat larger budget for this sort of application than those likely to seek out the tools discussed thus far. The FP24 is a two-channel mixer with excellent sound quality and operational features. It is priced around $850, but if you are truly concerned about even the basic two-person interview sound you get on location, think about this unit. It can be chained to other mixers for greater functionality.
Or consider Shure's M367, a six-input mixer/amplifier, priced around $840. Balanced mic inputs can handle any wireless or condenser microphone, and the unit's outputs allow for connection to a wide array of analog and digital devices. Powered via two standard 9-volt alkaline batteries or 120V AC (detachable power cord supplied), the unit is also rackmountable.
Portable mixers from Sound Devices are a little pricier, such as the 302 model at $1495, but they offer strong audio features, including I/O limiters, high-pass filters, and adjustable trim and pan pots. Good audio integrity can be achieved with any type of input device, including wireless transmitters and receivers, direct camera audio of all kinds, and external audio re-corders. All controls are accessible right on the main sur-faces, which is handy, particularly for over-the-shoulder operation. Solo headphone monitoring, stereo tape output, and LEDs that can be read outdoors are also featured. The mixer runs from either three internal "AA" batteries or external 5-18 V DC. Even with batteries, the 302 weighs only about two pounds.
With its $2,500 street price, the DMX-P01 Digital Portable Mixer is Sony's answer to demanding live audio requirements. Weighing just under five pounds, it is well-suited for professional event video work—just wit-ness its camera send/return function. Other user-selected functions are enabled from both front-panel physical controls and menu-driven commands, displayed on a backlit LCD. It runs on eight "AA" batteries, with DC operation via 4-pin XLR connection. There's a spare battery compartment, too.
With its full 24-bit processing and a sampling rate of either 48KHz or 96KHz, the DMX-P01 provides excellent sound quality with line or mic input devices. It has both digital and analog outputs, and is easily connected to edit suite or other equipment. Live audio mixing for event videography is usually done for one of two reasons—either so you don't have to edit, or because you do. Either way, start with a good mixer on your next production and you'll be sure to hear the difference in the final mix.