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Old June 28th, 2008, 04:35 PM   #1
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Field Audio Kit @ $8,000 budget

Hi everyone,

I'm looking to put together a reliable, high quality, and future-proof field audio kit for working on independent feature films and commercials.

I'm having a difficult time figuring out whether to go with a sound cart setup, and record to a laptop, or using a dedicated field recorder. It seems that there’s more flexibility (routing options) with the sound cart, and more portability with the dedicated recorder/mixer setup.

I have a budget of roughly $8,000 USD to spend on the bulk of the audio equipment and accessories.

I already own a few things from going to school for post production audio:

MacBook Pro
Mbox 2 Pro
Sony 7506 headphones,
Beyer DT770 headphones,
BX8A studio monitors

I've been looking at either the Sound Devices 702, 702T, or 722 field recorder, and the Sound Devices 442 mixer.

I could always get an SD 442 mixer, and go into the Mbox 2 Pro in a cart based setup, but would the quality of the SD 442 preamps be lost with the lower-grade Mbox 2 Pro circuitry?

Does it make sense to invest more in the mixer, or the field recorder. Why not just purchase a 744T and skip the 442 mixer all-together. I'm aware that there are 2 mic lvl inputs, and 2 line lvl on the 744T, but I could run lavs in @ line and still get away with it, right?

I’m not looking to cram EVERYTHING into an 8k budget, but instead, to spend my money on as many high quality bits of kit as I can, and then add on to it as more business comes in.

Regarding microphones, I would ideally like a Shoeps CMIT5U, and possibly a hyper-cardioid as well. I would prefer to invest in the best boom/suspension/windscreen combo that I can afford, and the CMIT, rather than get 2 mics, and skimp on the wind protection and suspension setup. I would also consider a Senn 416, since that would save me an extra thousand dollars, but Ty Ford's book advises buying mics as investments, and I would like mine to last me the next 6-10 years, rather than purchase something I'll want to upgrade once that next "big feature" comes along.

I am clueless on high-end wind protection, and boom poles. Also suspension systems.

So far, this is the best way I can explain my dilemma, I’ve been pondering it for weeks, and have finally gotten the courage to ask on the open forum.

Sorry for the long post, I didn’t have time to write a short one ;)

-Dmitry Futoryan

Last edited by Dmitry Futoryan; June 28th, 2008 at 06:23 PM. Reason: grammar mistakes
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Old June 28th, 2008, 08:02 PM   #2
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Dear Dmitry,

Others will disagree, but I would do the following:

1. Start with a Sound Devices 744t.

If you want to do independent feature film work you will want to record each mic or wireless mic separately.

If you limit yourself to two channels of recording, then you will have to mix down to two channels whenever you have more than two sound sources.

This is a real problem if you have to mix down multiple wireless microphones. A drop out or interference on one wireless will destroy the audio of all other mics that are mixed down to the same channel.

Having at least four channels of audio allows you to meet the needs of many independent film productions. I highly recommend that you record each sound source on a separate channel. This makes all the difference in post.

2. Depending on the film, you will not be able to boom all of the time.

You can dramatically help the production if you get great audio on set, even if it will eventually be replaced in post.

To do this, you will need to mic the principal speakers (actors) in a scene.

An example, three riders on horseback, in a wide scene, cannot be boomed properly. Yes, you can boom the ambient sound of the horses, but you will not get great sound from the actors unless you use wireless.

In the above example, you need four channels, one from the boom mic and three for the actors.

This can be done successfully with one 744t, a boom mic, and three wireless setups, each recording to a separate channel. Two of the wireless will go into the 744t line inputs, but this works well with Sennheiser wireless and others that have line output capabilities.

3. I would buy at least two wireless systems. The Sennheiser G2's will work fine for your application. Better ones will break your budget. Get the omni lavaliere, not the cardioid lavaliere.

4. The quality of the sound from the Sennheiser's can be dramatically improved by buying or renting better lavalieres. But this streches your budget. I use Tram TR-50's, others prefer Sanken's and/or Countryman's.

5. For outdoor work, my "Go To" mic is the Sennheiser MKH-60. For indoors, it is a Schoeps CMC-6 with a MK-41 capsule (CMC641).

One can use the Schoeps CMC641 both indoors and outdoors unless you have very high humidity or moisture conditions. But, be aware that the Schoeps is more sensitive to handling than the MKH-60 since the MKH-60 has a built in infrasonic filter.

If I had to choose one or the other, it would depend on whether I ever had to record sound indoors. Of course, I do have to record sound indoors, so I would choose the CMC641.

6. You will need a good boom pole, mic suspension, wind protection, etc.

7. Visit a great audio dealer and practice with the setups (mics, boom poles, etc.) you are about to purchase.

8. Once your $8,000 is exhausted, rent the extra gear that you need for a production. For example, you may need four channels of wireless for a specific day.

9. Note that I did not include a mixer, such as the wonderful Sound Devices 442 (or 302).

You can do an independent feature film with the 744t without a 442 (or 302). When you can afford to purchase the 442 do so.
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Old June 28th, 2008, 11:37 PM   #3
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Man, that's tough. 744t is nice, but should you really blow half your budget on it? Consider that a good boompole costs upwards to a grand, and you can easily spend $3,300 on a good shotgun and hypercardiod. That's leaves no room for wireless, which is the main reason to get a four channel recorder in the first place. I dunno. Guess I'd start with top end mics and pole. For feature films, you really do need a top-end recorder. For commercials you'll probably record direct to camera most of the time. My guess is you'll make more money (especially when you are starting out) investing in wireless before the recorder. You could do a passthrough with the recorder to essentially use it as a mixer, but I wouldn't want to. The faders aren't really adequate for that, and there's a delay with the AD conversion. I'd say the priority would be pole, mics, mixer (all equally indispensible), followed by wind protection, wireless and recorder (in that order).
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Old June 29th, 2008, 01:43 AM   #4
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Thank you so much for the replies.

The order of which items to focus on was what I was really after.

I was working on the set of a feature about a month ago, and became good friends with the sound guy...He offered to sell me his 3 Senn G2 lavs, with 2 Countryman B6, and Sanken COS 11x mics (wired for the Senn G2 system). He was asking for $2,000 for the kit, which also comes with the original Sennheiser ME2 lav mics.

Is this something I should consider? They've only been used on 1 feature, and I saw how carefully they treated them. His reason for selling is that he wants more range, and reliability from a far more expensive system.

So I'm thinking I'd divide the 8k into:
1,500 boom/wind/suspension/cables (is 1500 enough for this?)
2,000 either 1 shotgun or shotgun + hypercardioid
2,495 SD 442 (into the mbox2pro on a cart w/laptop)(or I could rent field recorder)
2,000 3 senn lavs w/ B6 & COS11 mics


Also, what "accessories" should I budget for, and how much. I mean like cables, those little pads that let you stick the lavs to people, gaffer tape, adapters, etc.

I don't know what "must have" items you guys would recommend for having on set.

Thanks again for all your help guys!
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Old June 29th, 2008, 05:04 AM   #5
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Dear Dmitry,

I agree with Marco that if you are doing commercials you will probably record in the camera and may not use the 744t.

Only once have I used the 744t for commercials and that was to record some nature sounds before the actual shooting. The rest of the day I used the Sound Devices 302 mixer and we recorded in-camera.

But for independent feature film work, I use the 744t all of the time.

We just finished shooting an independent feature film. We started in February and finished last week. I used the 744t every day on set and used the 302 with the 744t once.

I recorded to both the hard disk on the 744t and to an 8 GB CompactFlash card. At the end of each day or two of shooting I just handed over the CompactFlash card to the director.

Whenever possible, outdoors, I used the MKH-60. Indoors I always used the Schoeps CMC-641.

On many days, our shooting locations were less than perfect for sound. On three occasions we shot on a nice farm in South Carolina, but it was a mile from I-95. The Sennheiser wireless with the Tram TR-50's allowed me to get good clear sound from each of the actors. It also allowed me to get close up sounds of the horses.

For this feature, we also recorded in camera using the on-camera mic. But this was mainly used to record the slate while we announced the take number. After the camera rolled and had speed, I would announce the 744t take number, then we recorded the slate closing (in camera and with the 744t) while the director announced the 744t take number.

An editor married the sound with the video for the dailies. This was a relatively easy task.

Since I recorded to both the 744t's hard disk and to a CompactFlash card, we always had a backup.

I replaced the 40GB hard drive in the 744t with a 160GB drive last year. Thus the 744t easily held all of the sound we recorded for the entire feature.

Before we shot the first take, I set the take number in the 744t to "T-0001" thus we had a very convenient way to identify (and find) every take.

All sound was recorded using 24 bits.

I say all of this to show how valuable the 744t was to this independent film production. The director, the editor, the crew and the actors were all thrilled with the sound.



I like the following (the prices are from memory, please check for current prices)

Boompoles: K-Tek 16' 202CCR $800 or 12' 152CCR $600

Rycote suspension, blimp, windjammer, etc. $600.


The Sennheiser wireless, with the mics, seems to be a reasonable deal, especially since you know its history. Yes, I would seriously consider this. There are better wireless systems, but if you step up, your whole budget would be spent on wireless. You can get good sound with your friend's package.


In Summary, if you are going to do independent feature films, I recommend the 744t. If you are going to do commercials or other work, the mixer is more important.
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Old June 29th, 2008, 09:30 AM   #6
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Make sure to consider the frequency range of the wireless if you decide to buy. Any wireless that uses frequencies above 700Mhz (the senn "C" band) are wisely avoided due to the upcoming U.S. frequency reallocation next February. Not to say they won't work, but who knows what will become of those frequencies with the new owners and the interference for wireless mics that will surely come with. And since the owners have paid millions (billions?) of dollars for this spectrum, we the wireless mic owners have little if no voice in a dispute.

My .02
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Old June 29th, 2008, 01:57 PM   #7
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I've given it some thought, and I'll actually be doing more features, and short films, than commercials.

I'm still a bit nervous about spending half my budget on a recorder. But then again, its a lot more attractive than lugging around my laptop and mbox2pro interf

I could always rent the 442 until I can afford to buy one..
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Old June 29th, 2008, 02:33 PM   #8
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I have a different take from Dan. I'd buy the mixer and rent the recorder until such time as you can afford to buy the recorder. The one drawback for the 744t is that it doesn't accept blackburst video sync to prevent drift over longish shots. With narrative drama and commercials it's not such a factor but for long form videos such as concert footage, etc, it can be. The much cheaper (albeit only 2 channel) Tascam HD-P2 does accept video sync as does the new and more expensive Sound Devices 788T. The majority of stuff you shoot will probably only require stereo. Personally, I'd get the 442 mixer and a Tascam recorder - that way you're set for either single system recording direct to camera or stereo double system to the recorder (or you could record 4 tracks by sending 2 to the camera and 2 to the Tascam). I'd plan on renting the 744 as needed and hold out on purchase of a multitrack until I could afford the 788.

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Old June 29th, 2008, 05:29 PM   #9
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Steve, I think I might be leaning in the direction you're suggesting.

The seeming advantage of having the 442 mixer is that I could use it to go to my Mbox 2 Pro if I wanted to record with Pro Tools, or BoomRecorder on my laptop.

Then either rent the field recorder, or just use the laptop as needed, until I can afford the 744, or even the 788. The mbox2pro supports wordclock, does that make any difference in the syncing for a double-system to reduce drift?

Thanks again for everyone's help! I feel like I'm slowly coming a conclusion on what I'm going to purchase. It sucks waiting months to pick out a combination of equipment, but then again, it's worse selling things you bought on impulse to afford the things you actually need.

-D
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Old June 30th, 2008, 06:37 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve House View Post
I have a different take from Dan. I'd buy the mixer and rent the recorder until such time as you can afford to buy the recorder.

Good Morning Steve and Dmitry,

I always respect Steve's opinion. Steve has helped more people than can be imagined by his carefully researched answers on this forum.

There are a few downsides to the 744t when using it without a mixer, as I am suggesting for independent film production.

1. There are only two readily accessible gain controls.

These are for inputs 1 & 2, which are the only inputs that are both mic and line inputs.

The gain for the line level inputs, inputs 3 & 4, are via a menu.

So if you are using the 744t without a mixer either to save weight, space, or cost, one must put the two channels that you will most likely need to adjust on these two channels.

Your third and fourth sound sources are line level inputs and you can set the levels during a run-through; this may be a compromise that you can live with.

(You can easily set the Sennheiser G2 wireless receivers to levels that are compatible with the 744t's line-level inputs.)

On every day of shooting of our last movie, except one, I did not use the 302.

On one day, I did use the 302 with the 744t. This gave me full control of the gain of the third and fourth inputs while recording.

I find it hard to remember the exact reason why I felt that the 302 was necessary that day. I think we had an inexperienced actor that varied wildly in his projection (sound levels).

2. There are only two mic preamps in the 744t.

This has been rectified in the 788t, which has 8 mic inputs and 8 channels.

The 788t is a welcome advance in most respects, but the level meters are not as good, in my opinion, as the 744t, and (at this time) the 788t's sample rate tops out at 48K and 48048. So one gives up the 96K option that is present on the 744t.

I have heard from a Sound Devices dealer that they may change this via firmware in the future.

In truth, the 744t was designed to work with a mixer and it works best with a mixer.

But this does add weight, space, and cost.

When one is carrying a sound bag, a 744t, four wireless receivers, cables, etc. for long shooting days, the weight does add up. If you are carrying this around your neck (which I try to avoid), it gets old real quick.

To avoid fatigue (and a very sore neck), I found that a nice high stool, which I carry from place to place, is very handy to set the gear on. I want to buy a sound cart, but I am limited in that my car is full of audio and video gear.

3. The 744t does not accept Blackburst (or a composite video signal) to maintain exact audio alignment with the camera.

For independent film production this should never be an issue due to the relatively short take lengths.

For long form recordings, up to 83 minutes, I have never found it to be a problem with my XL H1 and 744t.

But it could be a problem with some cameras in certain situations. For independent film production I would be surprised if it ever became a problem.



The 744t has some significant advantages over a two channel audio recorder and other options.

1. It is very portable and lightweight and has long endurance, far greater than a battery powered laptop.

2. In order to maintain the best options for the editor in post, it is always best to record your sounds on separate channels. Having four channels is a significant step forward over just two channels.

When using wireless on an independent film production, I feel that this is essential. If a dropout occurs on one channel, you do not want it to affect any other channel. Also, mixing of the sounds from various channels is best done in post so that it can match the cutting of the scenes.

3. The 744t has great timecode facilities for advanced work. You can use a timecode slate, and you can be the timecode master for all of the cameras on set.

Note: You can get by very well without timecode, but it is certainly nice to have when it is appropriate.

To me, the most important advantages to using the 744t is that it records great sound and has four channels.

Sound Devices gear, if properly cared for, maintains very high resell values. You may be able to purchase Sound Devices gear, then sell it after a production, for less than you could rent it.

I also think that renting, in some circumstances, make perfect sense.
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Old June 30th, 2008, 09:26 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dmitry Futoryan View Post
Also, what "accessories" should I budget for, and how much. I mean like cables, those little pads that let you stick the lavs to people, gaffer tape, adapters, etc.

I don't know what "must have" items you guys would recommend for having on set.
An assortment of adapters is always recommended. Don't skimp on your cables--pay the money for good ones.

Also, I was recently on a set where the audio guy used Victoria's Secret costuming tape to affix the lavs to the actors. It's designed to stick to skin or clothing without falling off or leaving marks. He's also got several different skin tones to blend in with the skin of his actors where necessary.
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Old June 30th, 2008, 10:03 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by David Beisner View Post
An assortment of adapters is always recommended. Don't skimp on your cables--pay the money for good ones.

Also, I was recently on a set where the audio guy used Victoria's Secret costuming tape to affix the lavs to the actors. It's designed to stick to skin or clothing without falling off or leaving marks. He's also got several different skin tones to blend in with the skin of his actors where necessary.
Any specific types of cables I should be looking at? The sound devices 744T uses a special BNC connection for some of its outputs? What different lengths are good to start with...

Thanks!

-D
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Old June 30th, 2008, 10:10 AM   #13
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Dear Dmitry,

http://www.sounddevices.com/download...nel-master.jpg

The BNC connections on the 744t are for Word Clock, which you will rarely use, if ever, and the AES/SPDIF connections which are digital. Most signals on the set of an independent film are analog so you will not normally need these.

Your audio inputs and outputs are either the standard XLR connections or the mini, 3 pin TA3 connections. In a device this compact, it is hard to find enough room for the XLR connectors.

So you will need some TA3 to XLR cables. You dealer can help with these.

For XLR cables, some 10' ones, then 25' and some 50's. The choice is yours. But, I recommend at least one 10' one for the boom pole. At other times the 25' and 50' come in handy.
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Old June 30th, 2008, 10:54 AM   #14
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Considering the price of the SD 744T, and the fact that it has only 2 mic-pres, despite the 4 inputs, is there any merit to considering something like an Oade Brothers modified R-4Pro? That would be a much lower cost, wouldn't use TA3 to XLR cables (does this cause as much of an annoyance as I think it would?), and would have 4 (upgraded) mic pres.

What would be the main difference between those two items, besides cost? Is the build quality significantly different for a device like the R-4Pro?

-D
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Old June 30th, 2008, 11:41 AM   #15
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Before buying, you might check the inventory and prices of gear at your local rental houses. Which is more available, mixers, recorders or mics? Are the mics in good condition?

As an example, I was looking into still photography rentals the other day and found that camera bodies are expensive to rent, and lenses are cheap. I'm much better off buying a body and renting lenses than the other way around.

My gut tells me that I'd rather own the mics (and care for them), rather than rent. With a solid state recorder, I'm not as worried about its previous handling. But that really depends on price, availability and condition of the equipment.

Best of luck with your purchases.
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