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Old January 23rd, 2010, 07:55 PM   #1
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Sound for a HDSLR system for Micro-Budget Indie Newbie?

Looking for some sound advice :P

My camera system is going to be a HDSLR (likely whatever replaces the Nikon D700 or a the Canon 5D MII) so it will have an RCA audio jack and crappy on-board sound (that I never want to use).

My "Sound" Budget is around $1000 and I'll be doing mainly Music Vids, Shorts, and Theatrical Indie Videos and the occasional nature film. I don't see a lot of run & gun sort of shooting. Client output would be DVD/Blu-Ray and web-based (I can't see myself doing theater screens in the near future).

So I've been looking at various sound options and here is what I'm thinking for my sound-setup.

1a. I have somewhere*** an old stick mic (I don't think its shotgun, but very similar looking so it may be) with XLR output and end-piece converter to RCA (large), it runs on AA and presumably phantom if using XLR port. I have several long audio quality RCA (large) cables and adapters to the smaller RCA port I expect the camera to have.
1b. Looked into a shock mount for it ~$60

2. A RODE Video Mike to sit on the camera as a shotgun mic, it has a RCA output directly to camera. Went to the local video store and tried it out on a D300s (because the gain can be set to manual on the D300s) and had the sales person talk while I rotated the camera to hear sound fall off. ~$150

3. I'm also planning to get some noise canceling headphones for quick sound review on-set, Likely Bose as my brother has a pair and they seem to work quite well. ~$300

4. Boom with counter weight (micro-indie I likely won't have a dedicated audio guy who is used to holding the boom, likely only my AD, off-screen actor, or myself between shots). ~$150 but likely DIY from my lighting gear.

5. A dead cat :weird: and small audio recorder ~$200

6. I have a Flip Ultra HD video camera which is portable to indiscreetly place somewhere as a floor mic/video etc.

This brings the total for audio around $750 + shipping & taxes for two mics which can record at the same time.

Or Should I go for one of these packages?

Please Chime in with your suggestions :yes:

*** I recently moved and looking at doing another move to a more permanent location, so much stuff is still in boxes.
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Old January 24th, 2010, 12:57 AM   #2
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Your budget should still allow you to pick up one (or two) Zoom H2 digital audio recorder(s)... about $160 US. Incredibly handy gadget. Records up to 96K 24bit, gives you a choice of stereo microphone patterns and can ever do 4-channel surround audio. Remarkably good sound for such a cheap device. I've used two set up on light stands to record an outdoor impromptu concert by a local klezmer band. I've also dropped one in the shirt pocket of a performer as a substitute for a wireless microphone when mine was on the fritz unexpectedly. I've debated sticking one onto a boom pole, but haven't had the opportunity yet.
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Old January 24th, 2010, 06:34 AM   #3
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RCA???? RCA jacks are the coaxial pin "phono" jacks you find on the back of consumer audio gear . If you look at the back of a consumer DVD player, for example, you'll find red, white, and yellow pin jacks for right and left audio and composite video - those are RCAs. I think what you're talking about are phone jacks that take 1/4 or 1/8 inch TRS (tip, ring,sleeve) plugs like you find on headphones. Sounds picky, but when you place an order for "RCA extension cables" you're not going to get what I think you really want.

DO NOT use active noise cancelling heardphones like Bose! When monitoring your audio you need to hear what you're really getting. Noise cancelling phones will introduce their own types of distortion that will make it very difficult to evaluate your takes. You're wearing 'cans, in part, to hear if noise has intruded into your track. Noise cancelling headphones will cancel out the noise coming through the recording chain just as easily as it filters noise leaking through the headphone earcups. Since the purpose of wearing them in the first place is to hear noises such as barking dogs, refrigerators, HVAC, handling rumble, distant airplanes, etc, creeping into your tracks, noise cancelling phones are self-defeating.

Nor do you want headphones designed for music listening for pleaure, not matter how "audiophile" they are. Phones designed to "make music sound great" are also introducing distortion to "improve" the sound by whatever the manufacturer (Bose, etc) defines as being "better" or by what will make them more sell better to the iPod crowd. You want 'cans that are accurate and predictable. The film industry standard is the Sony MDR-7506 at about $100 with Sennheiser HD25 coming in second. If you want noise cancelling because you anticipate shooting in high noise environments, Remote Audio offers a modified 7506 with aviation noise protection style earcups fitted.

You're need to find out exactly what that old stick mic really is. There's a whopping big difference between what is typically called a stick mic and a shotgun. Stick mics are hand-held report's mic, typically dynamic thus not requiring power, usually omni (non-directional) or cardioid (semi-directional) in pattern, and designed for use about 4 inches from the mouth. Shotguns are condensor mics requiring either external phantom power or internal battery power, super-cardioid (highly directional) in pattern, and designed for use about 30 inches from the speaker.

Careful with those "RCA" extension cables you have. Depending on what you're extending they may or may not be wired correctly. A very common issue is with music-store XLR to TRS cables - the off-the-shelf cables are often wired to connect a balanced mono XLR to a balanced mono TRS commonly required in PA and DJ setups. To connect a mic to your camera, you'll need one to connect balanced XLR to either an unbalanced mono TS, mono TRS, or stereo TRS. The cables will look exactly the same but the internal wiring of what pin on the XLR connector connects to what terminal of the TRS connector will be totally different. Compounding the issue can be the adapter to connect the 1/4 to the 1/8 or 3/32 jack on the camera.
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Old January 24th, 2010, 01:32 PM   #4
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If using the 5D Mark II, the juicedLink CX231 and Magic Lantern firmware works great. The results are surprisingly good with low noise levels. The setup gives professional results, though not silky smooth audiophile quality.


With a cable adapter you can connect headphones to the camera. (I use Sennheiser HD280 Pros - they're more neutral than Sony 7506s to my ears.) This connection is after the A/D converter, so you're hearing what will be recorded. Add a Boostaroo headphone amp for stronger levels and up to three outputs (boom op, mixer/AC, director.)

If you use a painters poll for a boom, that leaves a good part of the budget for mics.

Magic Lantern only works on the 5D2. On the 7D or 1D4, either record externally (say, to an H4n) or go for the juicedLink DN101.

juicedLink: New Product Preview: DN101 DSLR Audio Solution

There are two advantages to recording in-camera:

1) You don't have to spend time sync'ing in post, and
2) When you playback as a final check before striking a set, you can see HD video and hear the intended audio to ensure that everything is golden.
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Old January 24th, 2010, 11:17 PM   #5
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I guess I was referring to the phono plug and not RCA (larger version, wouldn't fit in an iphone or MP3 player, older headphones had this size).

I looked at the H2, also noticed the H4n, a bit more pricey (likely get only one) but sounds like its a much better unit. Thoughts?

The juicedLink does look interesting however I think I may avoid it for two reasons:
1. I'm planning on recording the sound separate from the video, HDSLR don't impress me on sound quality capture. Adding a box between the mic and camera doesn't jump out at me as an easy way to add a major plus to my music for the cost.
2. Nikon's (300s tested in store & D3s from my reading) have the option of manual gain settings in camera, so I don't have to have auto gain level "fooling" by the audio box.
Let me know if these assumption are miss-informed.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 12:07 AM   #6
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Depending on how long the shoot is, maybe hire a sound guy with his own gear. If you want good sound. Owning a mic is not going to help if you can't swing it.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 01:19 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Graeme Hay View Post
I guess I was referring to the phono plug and not RCA (larger version, wouldn't fit in an iphone or MP3 player, older headphones had this size).
Actually, an RCA plug is the same as a phono plug. :) You're thinking of a 1/4" phone plug.

Quote:
I looked at the H2, also noticed the H4n, a bit more pricey (likely get only one) but sounds like its a much better unit. Thoughts?
The H4n has newer/better preamps than the H2. You can hear the H4n vs. the juicedLink and other devices in my six part review here: vimeo.com/5370880

Note that there are links to uncompressed audio examples on the vimeo pages that you can play back on your studio system for detailed comparisons.

Quote:
The juicedLink does look interesting however I think I may avoid it for two reasons:
1. I'm planning on recording the sound separate from the video, HDSLR don't impress me on sound quality capture. Adding a box between the mic and camera doesn't jump out at me as an easy way to add a major plus to my music for the cost.
IMHO, the sound from the JL/5D2/ML beats the H4n, slightly. It has less noise and a crisper response. On the downside, it is slightly harsh. You might also consider recorders from Tascam and Marantz. Sound Devices is the gold standard. Your budget would cover a rental, but not a purchase.

Anyway, the juicedLink "box" has excellent preamps that really do make a difference. In my reviews above, the Microtrack II is the clear loser. Put the juicedLink upstream of the Microtrack II and the results are nearly as good as the H4n. The bottom line: good mic preamps are critical for good sound. (The built-in preamps in the Microtrack II are very noisy. By boosting the gain with the JL, I can turn the MT II preamp gain - and noise - way down.)

Quote:
2. Nikon's (300s tested in store & D3s from my reading) have the option of manual gain settings in camera, so I don't have to have auto gain level "fooling" by the audio box.
Let me know if these assumption are miss-informed.
I'd skip the Nikons for video right now. The Canons have a MUCH better video codec. Magic Lantern on the 5D2 gives manual gain, so it doesn't need to be tricked. Maybe the next gen Nikons will put them on top (until RED releases Scarlet), but for now, Canon is king of the hill.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 10:27 AM   #8
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I don't mean to hijack this thread, but what exactly is the function of a built-in microphone pre-amp in a digital recorder if you are using the integrated internal mikes? I have always assumed that the internal mikes in an H2 (or an H4n, for that matter) bypass the pre-amps with a purely digital connection. My understanding has been that the recorder's pre-amps only function when you connect an external microphone directly into the "mic-in" jack.

Am I incorrect in this assumption?

Depending on what I am doing, I will use my H2(s) in one of two ways:
1. As a standalone recorder, using the internal microphones, for ambient or "live" recording OR
2. Connected via the "line in" jack (not the "mic in") to a Sound Devices Mix Pre and external microphones.

The H4n is a higher quality unit, no doubt, but it is also larger, heavier and more expensive. I'm not sure, though, that assuming you bypass the internal pre-amps, there's really any difference in the recording quality between the H2 and the H4n. Can anyone confirm this?

The nice thing about the H2s is they are so small, and so cheap, that it is easy to deploy two or more in strategic locations to get the best sound. I'd rather have two slightly lower quality microphones/recorders close to the sound than one better microphone further away. They're also light enough that you can have one with you wherever you go. On the other hand, the H2s are certainly less durable, but then again, if they get crunched, you're out less money.

Just a couple of thoughts.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 11:20 AM   #9
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Quote:
I don't mean to hijack this thread, but what exactly is the function of a built-in microphone pre-amp in a digital recorder if you are using the integrated internal mikes? I have always assumed that the internal mikes in an H2 (or an H4n, for that matter) bypass the pre-amps with a purely digital connection. My understanding has been that the recorder's pre-amps only function when you connect an external microphone directly into the "mic-in" jack.

Am I incorrect in this assumption?
Mics are analog devices, be they internal or external. The internal mics need the same preamplification and amplification as the externals before their signal is passed to the A/D converter for conversion to digital.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 11:37 AM   #10
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@ Brian

No, that is a legitimate question that I also have. Once we capture the audio in a digital form, the concept of pre-amping it (especially for a recording which we can "play" with later) doesn't make a lot of sense when it could degrade your sound before being recorded.

Unless someone is going to tell me its an extra 10 hours of post to amp up my recording without the pre-amp (or that the digital single won't capture the sound without the pre-amp) I can't see spending money on additional field equipment and personnel to operate it.

As for the H4n vs the H2, I would go with the H4n as it has XLR plugs which is what my intended external mics have (I have one, I'm looking at purchasing a second one). That way I get all the sound recorded to one box.
[EDIT] - Ah, I see what Steve is saying now about analog to digital. In the price range I'm talking about (which seems to be $300-500 for the recorder) is the Juicelink a big boost in quality?


@Jon

- Yeah a 1/4" phone plug and 1/8" phone plug.
- As for renting more expensive gear - I run on a capital positive budget (I save up the money to buy things). If I sell it later the difference is my "rental fee" which will be less that the unit is worth, and in the mean-time I get full use of it whenever and for whatever I want, without hassle. I'll only rent something when I can positivity say I need it; and the few times which I would use it doesn't justify buying it.
- I have ~20 Nikon Pro Lenses, I realize that Canon is better at video right now (will see what replaces the D700 in February, fingers-crossed) but I'm not going to re-buy all these lenses, nor try to do photography & videography with them on a Canon body and sacrifice infinity focus and all the lens/camera controls & electronics.

@Sacha

- I have friends who will help hold booms etc, even one has volunteered to be co-director (so I can focus more on being the DOP) however none of them have the money to spend on gear.
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Last edited by Graeme Hay; January 25th, 2010 at 11:42 AM. Reason: Steve Posted while I was writing the reply.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 12:56 PM   #11
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Graeme and Brian,

The raw signal level from any microphone is miniscule. Before you do anything with it, it must be amplified to a usable level. All mics feed preamps, whether the preamp device is built into a mixer, recorder, camera, or a dedicated preamp.

If a preamp is cheap, it will have noise. When that noise gets combined with a tiny mic signal, the noise can be significant. Now when you boost the signal to be loud enough, you amplify the noise as well. It doesn't matter if you boost the signal digitally or in analog; once the signal is infected with noise, making the signal louder makes the noise louder too.

That's why the preamp is critically important. A noisy preamp can trash the signal from the world's greatest microphone.

On the other hand, if you have a great mic and preamp, the signal will be high, and the noise low. When you feed that hot signal into a cheap recorder, the recorder/camera/whatever will add some noise, but it will be very small compared to the signal level.

In other words, the input of the preamp is like a quiet passage in a string quartet - and noise from a cheap preamp is like somebody running a vacuum cleaner. The output of a preamp is like a rock concert at full tilt. Run a vacuum cleaner there and nobody will notice.

The noise level that you can tolerate depends on where people will play your content. If you will play the video on an airplane or in a moving car, you won't be able to hear the noise. On a TV in a living room, low noise becomes more important. On a large stereo in a quiet room, it's a big deal. In a movie theater where the volume is high enough to rumble your seat, low noise is absolutely critical.

I've heard dialog from the JL/5D2/ML setup in a mid sized theater, and the results were excellent. Again, it's not silky smooth, audiophile quality, but the noise was imperceptible.

Check out the following on a good system in a quiet room for an example...
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Old January 25th, 2010, 01:05 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Graeme Hay View Post
...In the price range I'm talking about (which seems to be $300-500 for the recorder) is the Juicelink a big boost in quality?
It depends on the recorder. When feeding a typical 1/8" input camcorder directly, the improvement is huge. Same for feeding the Microtrack II. (Last year we recorded sound for a festival film with the MTII, and the sound quality was our weakest aspect. I spent hours and hours doing noise reduction and adding music and foley to cover the noise. The JL totally rescues the MTII. I wish we had the JL - or a better recorder - during that production.)

I've heard that the JL improves the sound of the H4n, but I haven't tried that combo. The preamps in H4n are already quite good, so the JL isn't necessary with it. Rather than buy the two, I might pool the money toward a higher end recorder.
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Old January 26th, 2010, 11:49 AM   #13
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What I think I'll do is get a dedicated pre-amp and the H4n. I can then plug in the XLR mic (RODE NTG-2 & Cardioid Mic - I think my old one is this now that I have done some further reading on the differences between the two). And I can use the H4n's stereo mics when needed.

That way I can separate the sound & video equipment on set while still getting good sound; perhaps not the best sound, but a good compromise for functionality.
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Old January 26th, 2010, 12:46 PM   #14
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For external recording, I'd start with the H4n and then see if the sound is good enough. If so, there's no need for the external preamp.

Also, since the H4n has XLR inputs, if you want better upstream preamps, I'd look at a mixer with XLR outs. The Sound Devices MM-1 is a single channel, low priced option.

MM-1 Line Driver / HP Monitor | Sound Devices, LLC

juicedLink has very clean preamps, but they are built for 1/8" unbalanced connections, rather than balanced XLR connections to the recorder.
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Old January 26th, 2010, 04:20 PM   #15
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I can recommend the H4n, it works well and is a significant improvement in many different areas over the original H4. However I've never tried to use it hooked directly to mics, I've always used a controllable preamp or a mixer as a front-end. It's more an issue of controlling the signals with an external device that's designed for control rather than attempting to just use the H4n levels.
The signal quality difference between an external preamp or mixer versus your H4n preamps should be tested, but in the real world I think control will be a bigger issue to deal with.
One side note, the H4n balanced line-level inputs are on 1/4" jacks within the XLR mic-level jacks, so you would need the appropriate cables depending on the level you're sending to the H4n. It's easy to get XLR-female to TRS 1/4"-male adapter cables.
As for the camera's audio I think two concepts are important even if your main audio is being recorded separately on the H4n.
First it may come to pass that the project simply won't get finished if the editor and/or director have to sync all the audio. It may not matter about their best intentions or how bad the camera audio is or how good your separate audio is, the issue may overwhelm them depending on the complexity of the problem. Sadly, I've seen this happen.
Second, even if they do use the separate audio for everything, it will be very important to get the best possible audio onto the camera in order to more easily sync all the material.
Sync claps at the head and tail of each shot are great, but months later when a long segment of original footage has been sliced down to very short clips from multiple takes and angles, those sync claps will be long gone and the editor will be dependent on watching and matching audio waveforms from the camera and the audio recorder. If all you've got on the camera audio is a low-volume, noisy signal from the built-in mic when you're shooting from some distance away, it will be a major pain to sync.
The same is true with other organizational tricks like matching time-of-day clocks on both devices, in the end synchronizing the waveforms on the NLE will be the fastest way to get final sync even with the best organization and record-keeping.
So it's important in my opinion to get useable audio onto the camera no matter what else you plan to do separately.
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