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Old July 26th, 2010, 07:28 AM   #1
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where to get a cheap preamp/mixer?

I'm a sound mixer for a shoot and the director insists on the sound being inputted into the camera (one system instead of two). That's fine, but I want to be able to control the levels of each scene myself. Is there a cheap 1 or 2 channel mixer/preamp out there that shows the levels (so I can keep it from clipping or being too low)? I have one, but it doesn't show the levels. The smaller and lighter it is, the better. (it also has to have a headphone output as well as an XLR output)
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Old July 26th, 2010, 07:33 AM   #2
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How many mics in use at one time? Boom, wireless, or both?

Buying cheap and upgrading later is the most expensive in the long run. Buy decent pro quality once and be done with it. If the budget is tight, consider renting pro rather than buying cheap. I'd go with something like the Sound Devices field mixers - if 3 mics or less, the SD302 is an excellent choice, though not cheap.
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Last edited by Steve House; July 26th, 2010 at 09:10 AM.
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Old July 26th, 2010, 11:31 AM   #3
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I recently bought a new field mixer at work and settled on the SD302. It is indeed a pleasure to use. Impressive quality. But it does cost about $1200.

Another mixer I looked at based on reviews and internet searching for a "cheap" mixer was the Sign Video ENG-44. It's about $500 on BH. I only mention it because I saw it's name mentioned a bunch as a decent cheap alternative--I've never used it and can't say anything about it from personal experience.

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Old July 26th, 2010, 01:04 PM   #4
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I only need one or two channels (only one boom mic) and I need to be able to see the levels (that's the most important part). Is there one out there with just one channel, XLR output, visible level meter, and a headphone jack? There just isn't enough money to spend more than $100-200 on it.
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Old July 26th, 2010, 01:20 PM   #5
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+1 on the SignVideo mixer, I have used it and it's a nice piece of kit at a reasonable price.
The $200 price point is problematic, because you're hard pressed to find anything with a level meter there. Rolls makes some workable pieces...I have a couple stuck in my audio kit for things like pool-audio feeds...you can find them at bhphotovideo.com and and a good selection of Rolls and several other brands of low-cost audio devices here: Mini Mixers - Direct Pro Audio

Good luck!
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Old July 26th, 2010, 01:21 PM   #6
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IMHO, for that money you've gotta' rent. Or borrow or something. There's nothing you want to own in that price range.
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Old July 26th, 2010, 01:37 PM   #7
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I have been using the Sign Eng44 for about 2 years now, and it has held up well, and operates flawlessly.
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Old July 26th, 2010, 02:08 PM   #8
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I have an old 4 channel mixer (although I'm not sure about the quality) with no levels on it. What about getting something like this:

American Audio AA-DB1 Low Cost 2 Channel Audio LED dB VU Meter Audio Level Meters at Markertek.com

Although it only have RCA inputs/outputs so I'm not sure how that would work. XLR into the mixer, then out via RCA to the level meter and out again via RCA and then into the camera (not sure if there is an RCA input on the camera, there's an XLR input).
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Old July 26th, 2010, 02:21 PM   #9
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Another vote for Signvideo ENG44. I tested some of the Rolls devices and they were very hissy. In my quest for an inexpensive mixer, I also tested the Azden series, which were "sub par", also bought the SD302 - which is awesome and well built. I still think the ENG44 is among the best value out there. It is surprisingly "transparent" as we hear in this example:

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Old July 26th, 2010, 05:23 PM   #10
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Guy, thanks for taking time to do that test. In your opinion, did which had more noise, direct-to-camera or the Mixer version? Any other subjective thoughts?
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Old July 27th, 2010, 05:33 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Grant View Post
I have an old 4 channel mixer (although I'm not sure about the quality) with no levels on it. What about getting something like this:

American Audio AA-DB1 Low Cost 2 Channel Audio LED dB VU Meter Audio Level Meters at Markertek.com

Although it only have RCA inputs/outputs so I'm not sure how that would work. XLR into the mixer, then out via RCA to the level meter and out again via RCA and then into the camera (not sure if there is an RCA input on the camera, there's an XLR input).
Not calibrated
Requires AC mains power for the power supply
19" wide rack mount device, not portable
RCA connectors means it's unbalanced
A toy to make an amp look cool, not a measurment instrument ... money thrown away

You can't make a silk purse out of sows ear ... either find the budget to get a proper field mixer or better, rent one. Unless your shoot is taking a relatively long time, you can rent a proper mixer for far less money than you can buy a so-so one.

In addition to level meters, the mixer you use also needs a reference tone generator to align and calibrate the camera's levels to the mixer.

What camera are you going to? Saying that it has an XLR connector doesn't say much, XLR is simply a type of plug. What levels does it require? XLR can be mic level, consumer -10 line level, or professional +4 line level.
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Old July 27th, 2010, 09:09 AM   #12
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This is slightly out-of-budget but is the best for you

Azden FMX-32 Microphone Field Mixer FMX-32 - B&H Photo Video
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Old July 27th, 2010, 11:47 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Cascio View Post
Guy, thanks for taking time to do that test. In your opinion, did which had more noise, direct-to-camera or the Mixer version? Any other subjective thoughts?
I was surprised at how close they were. My initial impressions upon playback were that the Mixer had a fuller low end. As far as noise, the cables and the mics were the same, you'd figure with the extra hop (mixer LINE OUT to camera LINE IN) that a slight hint of noise would be introduced, maybe you'd see a distinguishing comparison using test equipment, but to my ears, the noise level was the same.
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