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Old April 23rd, 2009, 04:08 PM   #1
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Need advice - mics for dinner conversation?

I am shooting 6-7 people seated around a large round dinner table, eating and talking (all seated in a semi-circle, leaving one side open for 2 cameras). What is the best mic setup to capture great audio? My audio will be going directly into a canon XH-A1 camera.

I really want a nice close-mic sound. My initial thought was to use 7 wireless mics back to a mixer and then into the camera. After thinking about it though, I’m wondering how much chewing, lip smacking and swallowing sounds that would pick up? Not good on close shots of important discussion where someone off-camera would be chewing loudly.

One moderator will lead the discussion – the rest will chime in as the discussion ensues. I anticipate lots of back and forth discussion with some cross-talk.

If I use mics above the table (hanging) what would they be? How close to a 'close-miced’ sound could I get from that? I don’t want it to sound like an echoey, hollow board room meeting! How about PZMs? (I’m thinking that table noise and utensil clinking would be an issue here.)

I'm also thinking that because of the unpredictable nature of the conversation, It would be too difficult to capture with a boom mic/boom operator.

Any advice/input would be appreciated –

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Old April 23rd, 2009, 04:33 PM   #2
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Actually, a boom mic with a talented operator is probably your best bet (short of having everyone mic'd).

A short mic (not a shotgun) with a cardioid pattern pointed towards the speaker from a fixed height would minimize differences in volume and sound quality. Saves lots of time in post too.

As a backup, you can consider a Zoom H2 with all 4 channels going (front and back) in the center of the table (hidden in a centerpiece of flowers, perhaps).
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 04:47 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Oren Arieli View Post
As a backup, you can consider a Zoom H2 with all 4 channels going (front and back) in the center of the table (hidden in a centerpiece of flowers, perhaps).
Good suggestion but beware something I had recently - 6 people sitting in a conference room on a corporate shoot in Cambridge. They were seated around a table with the Zoom H2 with all 4 channels going as suggested by Oren - trouble was one of them kept taping the table with his hands whilst talking/listening/picking his nose/breathing....just about ruined my "back up" audio!
Andy K Wilkinson -
Cambridge (UK) Corporate Video Production
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 05:01 PM   #4
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If I was limited to recording on just 2 audio channels, I would use two mics (either cardioid or hypercardioid, small diaphragm condensers) on static booms. Each mic covering half the participants from above at about 30 to 45 degrees and as low as possible. Shooting widescreen will help with keeping the mics lower.
Is this a scene in a movie or more like a talkshow? If a movie scene you'll probably use a totally wide establishing shot less than if it's a talk show.
You may need to use an alternate placement for the widest establishing shot if that includes the whole group. For example you could use the same mics hidden on the table in the widest shot, then go to boom mounted for all the close shots. Or if the widest shot is only a lockdown you can matte out the static booms in post with a little pre-planning.
It's important to have a room with low ambient noise and acoustically soft surfaces (including a tablecloth) as well as carpet, moving blankets, padded furniture etc. You can treat the ceiling pretty easily by tacking bed sheets up so they hang down in a slight arc about a foot below the ceiling.
Other sources of noise like air conditioning, refrigerators, traffic, fluorescent lights, must be kept to a minimum. You might even want to buy some chrome-plated plastic utensils. You can hardly distinguish them visually from the real thing but they would be much quieter.
You'll need mics with very low self noise and good sensitivity. High quality mic preamps and mild compression will also be very important.
I would consider using a higher quality audio recorder, possibly one with 4 channels of recording. This would allow you to use more mics, each covering fewer people from a slightly shorter distance. The key is you need to keep each mic isolated on its own channel. Live mixing will probably be too slow, automatic mixing could be fooled too easily by the noises of the table and eating. Leaving all mics up and combining them to a lower number of channels would be a disaster!
With each mic isolated on its own channel, then you make the best audio choice in post for each shot.
This will probably be one of those threads where 20 different ways of solving this problem will be discussed, but the above description is what I'd do personally.
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 05:29 PM   #5
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You don't say about seeing mic's. If it's a chat show why not stick a wired lav mic on each person and get someone who has done it before to mix it as it happens. Basically keeping the most likely mic's semi open and fading between. Just like on a live tv show.

Only thing is you need 7 wired personal mic's a mixer and a sound engineer to do the mix.

for me it would be ok as i have 6 wired mics and some radios as well so I could muster about 10.

Obviously if you only have such and such gear then the answer needs to fit the gear.

What do you have available?
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 05:30 PM   #6
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Orin, Andy, Jay –

Thanks for the great feedback.

Here’s some more info I should have included.

The video of the dinner discussion is documentary in style and will happen in real time while shooting two (or three) cameras. One will be wide, one fixed on the moderator (seated in the center) and one roving back and forth (close) depending on who’s talking.

Would a boom-op be best? It seems to me that with the conversations jumping back and forth, (unscripted) it would be very difficult in real time. Here’s a link to an example of a program that we are styling our shoot after.

YouTube - Dinner for Five - Ep #3.2 (2004) Part 1

Looks like they are all on wireless.

If boom -- which mics (specifically) would you recommend?

Thanks again for the great feedback!

Jimmy -- just saw you reply after posting - thanks. Seeing them is not a problem. However, I'd prefer not to have to go with 7 wireless for the obvious reasons (you mentioned), but above all, I want to get great sound. I can budget 7 wireless if necessary.
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 05:52 PM   #7
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How long do you anticipate recording at one time? That would factor into whether a live boom op (or two preferrably) could handle it. I think they'd have to be on ladders also, with the boom resting behind their head across the shoulders to shoot for extended periods of time.
If you can get 3 or more recording channels, then mic the moderator with a hidden, wired lav and use two static booms each covering 3 people. That would be simple, but the enhanced presence of the moderator's lav might be noticeable. Maybe use a planted mic on the table directly in front of the moderator.
What's your budget for everything audio? You could buy or rent, and you'd have to balance out the cost of a better recorder versus better mics versus boom ops versus a live mixer (person) etc.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 01:45 AM   #8
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Thanks Jay --

I anticipate rolling uninterrupted for at least 1/2 hour -- and possibly up to 1 hr. So yes, the boom op(s) would get fatigued I think. Thanks for the ladder/shoulders tip however.

I will only have 2 channels (into camera). I could get a mixer..

If I were to static boom as you suggested, what type of mic would you recommend? And would suspending the booms from the celling produce the same results as static booms on stands/poles? How about positioning?

I'm a bit leery about a mic on the table in front of the mod. Do you think I'll get too much clinking/table noise?

Budget -- I'd like to keep it under 1K including boom op.

Thanks again --
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Old April 24th, 2009, 10:39 AM   #9
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I think live boom ops would be way less efficient than static booms with such extremely long takes.
You could also use hanging choir-type mics suspended from the ceiling, although generally they don't have as low self-noise as a premium cardioid or hypercadioid that could be boom mounted. Plus hanging anything from the ceiling would be more setup and less flexible to change if something around the table needed an unforeseen adjustment. I think static booms are the way to go.
Can you record to more than one of your cameras to gain more than just two tracks? If the answer is No due to audio quality of camera inputs, then I'd use a cardioid to cover the moderator and half the other people, then a cardioid to cover the remaining half.
I'd really try and find a way to record at least 3 or 4 channels though, one for the moderator, one for the left half and one for the right half, (and one overall cover mic that wouldn't be great quality but would have everyone recorded evenly. This could be used as a backup, as a logging and editing aid and could be sent to the 3rd camera so that footage would have cleaner audio than just ambient when aligning tracks and checking for drift over long takes.
Since $1k would have to be spread over a lot of different pieces (assuming you have nothing to begin with), that's going to be extremely thin if you're purchasing. It can be done, but the quality of mics would be reasonable rather than premium.
Are there sound professionals in your area that do this kind of work? If not and you're set on purchasing your own with that budget, then I think you'd be limited to AT3031 mics ($169 each) or maybe the newer AT4021 ($249 each) if you could beg, rent or borrow other items.
Again because of using a lower number of wider pattern mics at a slightly greater distance to get even coverage, your recording space has to be low-noise and acoustically soft.
In addition, you should have a shockmount, boom pole, boom holder, stand, sandbag, and cable for each mic. You'll also need a stereo mic preamp or a small mixer with sufficient quality mic preamps, a compressor would be nice, more cables and good headphones.
All that's going to be about $1500 depending on the quality of the boom poles and preamp. You could go directly into the camera without using a preamp, but that's usually not sufficient for a good quality, low-noise signal, which is the whole point of buying better mics.
The good news is all these items purchased will outlast your camera if you get quality gear and take care of it.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 12:41 PM   #10
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Thanks for the great info Jay --

Just to clarify -- my budget is for rental. I'm in the NYC area with access to great gear. With that being said, what mic would you recommend -- or other gear?

So it looks like two static boom on stands? I'm concerned about picking up the stands as the cameras mover back and forth as in the example (link) earlier in this thread. If I were to hang the booms from the ceiling, I suppose I lose the option to easily move them around to capture the best sound.

Yes, I can go to another camera with audio, but would prefer to leave one of the cameras 'untethered.' (will only use 2 cameras)

So two channels in (1 each boom) and then maybe a zoom H2 on the table for backup?

Thanks again --
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Old April 24th, 2009, 03:54 PM   #11
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I did one of these with a very small group around a dining table in a small apartment. I hung a Schoeps MK41 (hyper cardiod) in the overhead light pointing straight down at the center of the table. It picked up the conversation very naturally, but it may not be the close up sound you are going for. There was zero sound treatment done in that situation. For a close up sound with lavs I would suggest hard wired into an eight channel automatic mic mixer. Hardwired that is if you can avoid showing the wires and don't have to have people coming in to sit down. Wireless lavs would be good too but might blow your budget. The mixer itself should rent for $100 a day max. I've done this with large (up to 25 people) groups and its sometimes the only way.
If you decide to go with boom ops I would go with Schoeps mics or other high quality cardiod or hypers and divide the group in half. For long takes I use a mono pod support to help me. I recently boomed a five person group (one person was on wireless lav on his own channel and the rest were boomed. I was sending my mixer output direct to the camera via an umbilical. It was a spontaneous one and a half hour discussion and I hardly broke a sweat. If you have to be on a ladder it might get tricky to use a support but it could work. If you use lavs I hope you're good at hiding them if that's also the style.
Good Luck!
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Old April 24th, 2009, 04:03 PM   #12
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Just looked at the example and they are all on exposed lavs. Looks like possibly Sennheiser MKE2s. The auto mixer would work well in this scenario. If you rented Countryman B6s you could poke them through a button hole and hide them in plain site.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 08:59 PM   #13
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What about using a boundary microphone? These are omni directional, and you put one in the centre of the table. A "not-too-bad" plate microphone could be AT841a - quite small.
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Old April 26th, 2009, 04:16 PM   #14
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Micing Dinner Group

TingSern's suggestion of a boundry mike is going in the right direction. A boundry mike is NOT a PZM mike. The PZM would be the best choice. The PZM due to its operational characteristics minimizes reverberation & other room artifacts; some refer to it as a plate mike. You could use 2 of them at least 3-4' (to minimize comb effects) apart on the table. I would test the setup with one mike,to see if it would pickup all of the individuals; then try 2 mikes & go with the best setup. Remember these are non directional & will pick up all sounds abovethe table top.

The boundry mikes are not PZM's; they were brought out by other manufacturers after Crown International aquired the patent rights to the design from Ron wickersham. Radio Shack used to sell a PZM that was made under the Crown patent for $60-; but like all really useful products that become popular, they were discontinued.

Last edited by Bill Wilson; April 26th, 2009 at 04:17 PM. Reason: correct name
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Old April 27th, 2009, 07:45 AM   #15
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This is the kind of shoot which requires a little bit of everything for sound. I would use hardwired or wireless lavs going to an automatic mixer system like my Shure FP 410's as well as mount a couple of booms recorded to a second channel. I don't like boundary mics for this as the table noise is usually closer in proximity to the mics than the voices but they might serve instead of the booms. If one has the budget it would also be great to record the iso's but most of the time the lavs mix will be outstanding and the automatic system means most of the time only one mic will be in the mix at a time except when everyone is talking at once where it sounds like a mix. It is important to have a line of sight for the sound person so they can see if someone is not talking and making annoying sounds etc while not talking so they can be dropped out of the mix for that time. Reminding people before the shoot that they are miked so unnecessary noise should be avoided can help.
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