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Old February 13th, 2008, 01:08 PM   #1
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Improving Audio Quality - first purchases?

I'll apologize in advance for the length, but I want to provide enough detail. I consider myself to be in transition from ďAmateurĒ to ďSerious AmateurĒ. I purchased my Sony FX-7 about a year ago and am starting to get comfortable with it. Currently I film family vacations and parties, high school football games and wrestling matches, band and choir concerts, and musicals/theatrical productions in the school auditorium. Iíd like to start filming oral history interviews, weddings of family and friends, and nature/outdoors video. My collection of audio equipment includes an Audio Technica ATR-55 shotgun mic (1/8Ē) , Azden shock mount, & Dead Cat, (2) Audio Technica ATR-35S Lavalier mic (1/8Ē) and a small Yamaha (MG102C?) mixer (AC power only).

I had my first audio disaster the other night when I recorded an indoor drumline concert from the back of the school auditorium. I was so concerned with the video settings (because it was dark with lots of lighting effects) that I just threw the shotgun mic on and didnít give the audio another thought until I started the video capture later that night. Big mistake! The first part of the program was the school jazz band playing on stage. The shotgun mic picked it up nicely, but it did an even better job of picking up the crinkle-crinkle of the kid three rows up unwrapping LOTS of hard candy. I didnít notice during taping because (of course) I hadnít bothered to bring along a set of headphones. When the drums started playing their part of the show, I found that the audio cut out completely whenever the sound got really loud Ė which was a lot. (If youíve ever heard 20 enthusiastic high school drummers in an enclosed space, youíll know what Iím talking about). Iím not sure if the audio drop out was the Sony trying to protect itself, or the shotgun mic element being driven to exhaustion. For what itís worth, the video portion turned out great.

So finally around to my question Ė I want to improve the quality of my audio. My first step will be to purchase Ty Fordís book, but Iím looking for suggestions on the best way to invest $500 (or less) to start improving my audio. My first concern will be how to get decent audio for the upcoming school musical. I should be able to take a feed out of the schoolís mixer into my small Yamaha mixer, and then run an RCA to 1/8Ē cable to the camera. The only problem is the sound crew doesnít always do the best job of mixing between their wireless lavaliers and their general area mics, so Iíd like to have a backup plan. I was thinking maybe a pair of cheaper mics like the CAD GXL 1200s or Shure SM57s might be good, and I could feed them straight into my Yamaha mixer. I am also intrigued by the Samson H2 recorder as a stand-alone audio backup. Mic-ing the stage might be a little tricky because the orchestra is sandwiched between the front of the stage and the first row of seating, and I donít want to place any high mic stands in front of the audience. One thing I am considering is putting the mics in the back with me, but raising them up high enough (8 feet?) to try to avoid a lot of the general audience noise. I havenít used the Yamaha mixer with the FX-7, but I think it should work alright.

Although AC is available in the auditorium, other times it would be nice to have something that worked on batteries instead of AC, I was thinking a used Beachtek 8 might be nice because I would also gain the limiters (that I could have used the other night). Also, given the kind of recording that I want to start doing and the budget I have, I want to avoid getting anything too specialized. Any ideas or suggestions would be very welcome!
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Old February 13th, 2008, 02:35 PM   #2
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OK, I'll start this off then let the real experts wade in!

Bearing in mind your $500 ("or less") total budget I think the Zoom H2 is a good "prosumer" option - I have one and do similar stuff to you. This will leave you a bit less than $300 I think once you've got yourself a 2 or 4GB SDHC card for it - it comes with a 512MB card.

However, I think you would be better placing it "up close and personal" to the sound source, not high up at the back of the hall.

Another option might be to spend all $500 on a better flash based digital audio recorder like maybe one of the new Sony ones. EDIT: Just checked - they (PCM-D1 and PCM-D50) cost way more than that! We also have an excellent Fostex FR2-LE which is nearer your budget but does not have 1/8 inch inputs, only XLR.

It's a huge thread (183 posts at the last count!) but cherry pick you're way through this link (and similar ones on this forum) if you're interested in digital audio recorders. In my view, this is exactly what you need (right now) but like I said, I'm no expert!

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=73021
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Last edited by Andy Wilkinson; February 13th, 2008 at 04:41 PM.
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Old February 13th, 2008, 03:10 PM   #3
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Thanks for the information Andy!

Reading through many of these posts I realize that $500 is just a drop in the bucket towards getting really great sound. I guess what I am trying to do is start building a good base with my current budget - try to find what will give me the best bang for the buck now and then build on it as I go along.
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Old February 13th, 2008, 03:17 PM   #4
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Mark,

another thing you can do immediately, and hopefully without any additional cost, is do find a buddy that is interested in what you are doing, and who can help you such that one of you can focus on the video, while the other one monitors the audio. You have experienced first-hand what can happen if one person tries to do it all. Under perfect conditions (i.e., everything is known ahead of time, stable environment), a single person can often do both, but the moment a problem arises in either area, the other one will suffer if you have to divert your attention to fix whatever went wrong.

Plus, it's often more fun to work as a team anyway!

- Martin
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Old February 13th, 2008, 03:35 PM   #5
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It sounds to me as if your audio problem happened because you shot the event with the mic placed on your camera. That's probably the worst place for a mic to be. It should be down in front, close to the action, for starters.
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Old February 13th, 2008, 03:54 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Bill Pryor View Post
It sounds to me as if your audio problem happened because you shot the event with the mic placed on your camera. That's probably the worst place for a mic to be. It should be down in front, close to the action, for starters.
It so sounds to me too. And probably also thought that the headphones are a burden, one more cable to deal with...

In a similar situation at some point in front of a scene, mic on camera, and realized at home how bad the recording was I decided to buy a wireless headphone that I'd wield on my ears; then invested in a pair of hanging microphones that I hanged above the stage. It changed my views. I can now 'model' how I pick the sound up, how much of the scene, how much of audience's claps, etc... this capability gives impressing results.

I also agree a lot that involving a second person to deal exclusively with audio is an excellent idea. I could easily manage to have somebody to lie the cables to stage, and remove and clean them afterwards... time-saving... but often people don't immediately realize how much audio necessitates attention on its own...

I'm a beginner too, and I've filmed much less than the original poster reports.
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Old February 13th, 2008, 04:40 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Mark Schreuder View Post
...Mic-ing the stage might be a little tricky because the orchestra is sandwiched between the front of the stage and the first row of seating, and I don’t want to place any high mic stands in front of the audience. One thing I am considering is putting the mics in the back with me, but raising them up high enough (8 feet?) to try to avoid a lot of the general audience noise. ...!
Putting the mics up high in the back probably won't help reduce audience noise. Mics aren't like lenses and cardioids like you mentioned you were thinking about will pick up pretty evenly anywhere on a hemisphere centered arounf the front of the mic. If you point the mics directly at the band from the back of the hall, the entire audience is going to lie well within that hemisphere. You might want to investigate the possibility of a pair of small diaphram cardioid condensor mics arranged in a coincident array on a single stand in the middle aisle, at a distance such that a lines drawn from the mic to the left and right ends of the band and across forms approximately an equilateral triangle. Do a quick wiki lookup of "Stereo mics" and "X/Y Mics." There are others cheaper but a mic that is very good in this application and well under your $500 budget for a pair is the Audio Technica AT3031. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc..._Cardioid.html
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Old February 13th, 2008, 07:07 PM   #8
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the short answer is, get your mics closer to the sound source, and further away from the noise ( audience ).

if you can get a board feed, take it unless its loaded with hum or buzz. ask if they are sending you mic or line level. if its mic level, you should be ok to plug directly into your camera with the right adaptor. if its line level, you need to cut the level with a line 50db pad ($30) or run it thru your mixer with the input set to line.

another bit about most of the cheap mixers - while they claim the XLR's will take line in, they will be right on the edge of clipping ( distorting ). either place a 10 or 20db pad on, or get a XLR-> 1/4"TRS cable and use the proper line level input. you'll also find that these small cheap mixer also lie quiet a bit about how much headroom they really have.

another mic to consider is a Okatava 012. you'll find pro's using them. one thing to know - they are sensitive to handling noise. you might want a piece of foam under the mic stands for some isolation if there is some booming bass or heavy foot stepping.
two mics, one stage R and one Stage L as cardiods should get you something decent on the stage.

to place the mics where you want, you'll need to get some long XLR cables. if its once a year, you might want to borrow or rent ( $5-$10 ea ). don't forget - SAFETY ! run the wires along the wall, avoid crossing areas where people walk ( cable damage, trip and fall ) and TAPE THE WIRES DOWN ! you can also run high up on the wall too if there is a moulding or something.

you can also try wireless if you have a decent wireless unit. quick thing - put the wireless recvr up on the wall or on a light stand above the heads of the crowd to keep line of sight with your transmitter when working at a longer distance, especially with cheaper units.... and don't forget fresh batteries.

if you can attend a rehersal with the PA system running, you can run your PA feed line and check everything out. Ask the audio guys, they can usually provide the line. test it all before the big show.

good luck, have fun.
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