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Old November 22nd, 2010, 11:41 PM   #1
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Field Mixer outputs and portable recorders

Over the years I have acquired a fair amount of audio gear. I think it is time that I consider investing in a field mixer and start to do some work as an audio guy. I have a few questions.

Looking at the features of field mixers, I see that all of them have just main L and R outputs to feed a camera or whatever you are recording too. Looking at field recorders, they have up to about 8 inputs at a decent price.

This doesn’t add up to me because I would like to run 4 channels and have each be recorded onto a separate channel. It seems like it would be risky to me to limit my options with editing the audio in post with 2 channels being on L and 2 on right. Not to mention that many cameras dont record with the same audio quality as other recording devices. For example, I dont want to have to ride the controls more than I would already need to just to shut off a wireless mic that isnt in range at the moment. I would probably have my hands full in other areas. It would also be nice to have the ability to treat it as a mini recording studio if I wanted to record a brass quartet for example.

Is wanting to record each channel separately that unusual? How is it achieved if so in the film world? It seems like 2 mixers is the only alternative? In my mind, its not even an option to start combining the channels but I am open to ideas of industry standard practices.

As I shoot on an ex1 as a one man band I am in need of additional understanding of how time code works and how you best line everything up in post (especially if I am not the one doing the editing). I will check on the information that is already out there on this subject.
Any specific equipment recommendations for a field mixer and portable recorder would be helpful.
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 12:19 AM   #2
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To record more than two channels, then you will need a multi track recorder. Sound Devices and Zaxcom make some of the best. The sound Devices 7-- series (744 and 788, specifically) are 4 and 8 track recorders, respectively. They will record each input to a separate track in the file, so you have full control in editing. The Zaxcom Deva does the same, however I have never used one personally.
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 04:35 AM   #3
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The Sound Devices 552 mixer has "direct outs" of the inputs which could be fed to a multi track recorder.
The actual set up would depend on the sort of audio work you are doing... lower budget straight to the camera stuff or multi level big budget shoots.
I couldn't think of anything worse than spending lots of $$$ on a multi track mixer / recorder and only use it on on 1 or 2 mic shoots, or rough environments carrying it over the shoulder all day.

Time code is basically a a clock track recording a nominated time [either time of day or a resettable time] if all cameras and recorders are running "identical" time code then its easy to match the recording in editing later, think of a sporting event shot with multiple independent cameras, if an incident happened it would be at the same time code on ALL the tapes.
Often camera operators that don't need time code for editing [news crews etc.] use the code to number tapes for easy ID later. eg. tape 1 would run code 1:00:00:00, tape 2 uses 2:00:00:00, tape 3 3:00:00:00 etc
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 05:00 AM   #4
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You don't need necessarily two mixers to work with 4 discrete channels. My SD442 has 4 mic inputs. Each channel can be mixed to either left output, right output, or both channels for output through the main stereo outputs. So far not a solution to the problem of recording 4 discrete mic channels (called iso tracks, by the way). BUT, each input channel ALSO has a post-fader direct-out connection that allows one to send each of the input channels by itself to its own recording channel on a multi-track recorder. Many mixing desks provide similar direct outs for each input channel, as well as submix outputs, in addition to the main mix. A not uncommon scenario might be a SD442 mixer paired with a SD744 4-channel recorder, plus a breakaway cable to connect to the camera. The mics are fed to the mixer input channels. Each input channel's direct out is fed to one of the 4 line level inputs on the 744 recorder. Meanwhile, the stereo main outputs of the mixer are fed to the line inputs on the camera. The stereo mix done in the field is recorded in camera alongside the video for immediate review on-set (dailies) while the 4 discrete mic channels are recorded independently on the recorder in order to retain pristine, un-mixed tracks of the original production sound to use in the actual final soundtrack mix that is done in post. If one had another recorder that even offered more recording tracks than does the 744, say a Nagra VI or a Deva, one might send each direct out to its own iso mono track plus one of the main mix outputs to its own stereo track in addition to or instead of the stereo feed to the camera - very common in film where there IS no in-camera audio recording possible. Of course you could also just disregard the main stereo outputs from the mixer altogether, just not connect them to anything, and work directly from the 4 mono iso mic tracks if you were so inclined.

As far as I can tell, the EX-1 doesn't have a timecode I/O connction so a timecode workflow probably isn't in the cards. There are several variations of a TC workflow, but commonly the camera generates timecode tagging each video frame and sends it out to the audio recorder. When sound rolls, the timecode coming in from the camera at the instant of the first recorded audio sample is recorded into the audio file header. Since the same timecode has been recorded in the camera, we know the exact frame during which the first audio sample was recorded, allowing the two files to be quickly aligned in post. Another way this correspondence can be done is to use a TC slate, the slate displayng code this time generated in the audio recorder. By photographing the slate and then in post matching the numbers visible on the screen with the timestamp in the audio file, one can similarly line up the two files. With your EX-1 and its lack of any facility to send TC out or receive external timecode in, the TC slate would be the only way timecode could be used in your workflow. It's important to note that with file-based audio recording, the timecode really doesn't do anything more than an old-fashioned manual clapper slate does, it just does it a little faster and more conveniently. It does not prevent drift or control the audio recording or playback speed, all it does is provide a single common alignment reference point in the two files to allow one to quickly sync them up in post.
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 01:45 PM   #5
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Thank you for your replies. In particular Steve. You spoke very well to my experience level.


A few follow up questions relating to timecode. Is not having timecode on your recorder something that will prevent you from working at the higher levels? I personally dont mind just clapping my hands really loud to have some identifiable audio marker to line up in post but im guessing some productions would. Also, assuming you are not already tied down with a breakaway cable, wouldnt being tied down to the camera with a timecode be a pain? You are already tied down to a boom operator and I can imagine a that being a problem when the boom op needs to be a bit farther from the camera.

Now for some follow-up questions with the recorder and mixer. I really like the idea of the 442....alot. Reliable brand, easy to buy used, a fair price and seems to have what im looking for. I have a question relating to the 744. I was looking at the Tascam DR 680 (no timecode...hence my questions about timecode). It seems to have good specs and is significantly cheaper. Obviously the innards are probably better on the 744 providing for a better overall recording, but is the difference worth it? If we were talking a few hundred dollars...or even a thousand dollars.... then maybe. But over 3 grand more would need to be a huge jump. Is the 680 a good pair with the 422?
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 02:13 PM   #6
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I am probably not saying anything you don't already know but audio, like video, is dynamic. It really takes a good sound person concentrating on the audio. I have never done well at both camera and audio when I have done it one-man-band
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 05:56 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan Lukehart View Post
...A few follow up questions relating to timecode. Is not having timecode on your recorder something that will prevent you from working at the higher levels? I personally dont mind just clapping my hands really loud to have some identifiable audio marker to line up in post but im guessing some productions would. Also, assuming you are not already tied down with a breakaway cable, wouldnt being tied down to the camera with a timecode be a pain? You are already tied down to a boom operator and I can imagine a that being a problem when the boom op needs to be a bit farther from the camera.

Now for some follow-up questions with the recorder and mixer. I really like the idea of the 442....alot. Reliable brand, easy to buy used, a fair price and seems to have what im looking for. I have a question relating to the 744. I was looking at the Tascam DR 680 (no timecode...hence my questions about timecode). It seems to have good specs and is significantly cheaper. Obviously the innards are probably better on the 744 providing for a better overall recording, but is the difference worth it? If we were talking a few hundred dollars...or even a thousand dollars.... then maybe. But over 3 grand more would need to be a huge jump. Is the 680 a good pair with the 422?
I'm not sure what you mean by "working at the higher levels." If by that you mean you're putting together a kit to use when you start hiring yourself out as a production sound mixer, then I would say a timecode capable recorder would be a must have. AND an old-fashioned manual clapper slate. AND a timecode capable Smart Slate. You never know what a producer hiring you is going to ask you to bring to the shoot (for a fee, of course).

You don't necessarily need a permanent timecode umbilical between the camera and the audio recorder. Professional quality recorders like the timecode able SD744T and 702T, the Nagra, Deva, Cantar etc have very stable timecode generators, generally tracking time accurately to within 1 frame in 12 to 24 hours. You set the camera and recorder both to use "continuous" timecode where their clocks count constantly regardless of whether they are recording or not. You connect them together with a cable at the start of the work day and "jam sync" so the recorder reads timecode from the camera and sets its clock to the identical value. Then you can disconnect the cable and both the recorder and camera continue to run on their own, their TC clocks ticking off time identical to the fraction of a second. If the camera is powered down, such as for a battery change, the clocks are re-jammed. Note that the main time-of-day clock is NOT the same as the timecode generator clock and nowhere near as accurate. Also note that this is just the basic idea and there are many diferent ways TC workflows are implemented differing in the details. Wolf Seeberg has several books on the use of TC in film and with professional video cameras that I can recommend to you.

Can't speak to the 680 as I have't used one But referring back to your "working at the higher levels" comment ... if I were hired as a production mixer I would be very hestitant to show up on set carrying anything LESS than a SD recorder even if whatever I had might technically be an adequate substitute according to its specs. Appearances matter for freelancers. Think 3 kilobucks is a big jump, try pricing a Cantar :)
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