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Old April 3rd, 2008, 05:49 AM   #1
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How to set sound levels

Hi
I'm shooting on a JVC GY-111E with a Sennheiser ME66/K6 and a K-tek windshield system; with XLR input...no other system, both indoors and outdoors.

How do I set audio levels correctly to ensure best sound (assuming locations and other stuff are taken care of)? At what decibels should the sound be for the best recording? Also, does keeping it in either stereo or mono make a difference?
Would really appreciate any help in this regard.

Thanks!
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 06:49 AM   #2
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Sareesh, as long as the levels are not at extremes of the audio threshold JVC's inbuilt audio limiter does a darn good job (the best in my opinion.) As long as you've set the correct reference level in the audio menu there really should be no need to set or ride the levels manually. Only last week I shot a live band on stage that were quite loud and to my surprise I got no hard clipping with the ALC on (I was using a Rode NT1).

As far as routing channel 2 input to channel one goes I would recommend you do it as a matter of redundancy, however as long as either channel has the source audio it really does not make much difference as it will always be a mono signal.

JT
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 07:10 AM   #3
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Professionals manually set zero level or reference tone at -20db in the digital world which is equal to 0db in the analog world. If set up your camera this way you will have plenty of head room without having levels that are also too low.

Auto settings will not always bail you out and besides professionals control their equipment not the other way around.
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 07:28 AM   #4
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Have to agree to set audio levels manually.

In my experience the mic inputs are not terribly good on the camera. A really good alternative solution is to buy a single channel of Sound Devices MP -1 which is outstanding and then go line level into one of your channels. This has an inbuilt limiter which is very difficult to clip. I have this device on the back of a bracket on the camera. it is pretty light. You can velro it onto an anton bauer wireless mic holder.

There is a world of difference between the sound you will capture using a professional preamp like this and the inbuilt pramp on the camera which are not very robust.

Rob
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 09:33 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick L. Allen View Post
...besides professionals control their equipment not the other way around.
Of course Rick, that's why we bought into the JVC Pro-HD form factor. Furthermore, under controlled audio environments this is absolutely true, but in practice wouldn't it be better to err on the side of caution? Besides Sareesh has not been specific about where, how & what he is shooting. One thing I can say is that unless he has a sound guy then riding audio faders while trying to maintain framing, exposure & focus is asking for trouble. Just like blown highlights, hard clipped digital audio is lost.

Robert, I doubt that any sub $10K camcorder has high quality mic pres, besides I would point the finger at HDV audio compression before I picked on the quality of camcorder mic pres & limiters. In my experience with Panasonic & Canon I think JVC's limiter handles audio saturation most graciously. Your suggestion of an proper external Pre-Amp is definitely a good one though .

At the end of the day if your project has a serious sound requirement then for the sake of the final product you should be using a sound guy instead of relying on your camcorder to do everything.

Sareesh, give us some more info about what you are shooting and your environment and we might be able to give you better advice.

JT
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 09:42 AM   #6
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Agreed that in a very dynamic audio environment the positioning of the gain controls on the camera is pretty hopeless.

Also agreed that the audio compression is a bit sad. In critical situations I record double sound to a Sound Devices 722 but this can be cumbersome.

My solution is pretty much based on the need for a portable solution that delivered sound that I am more than satisfied with (part of my other life is as a sound recordist) . Going line level in at least bypasses the preamps and gives you usable sound.

And yes, we should be focusing on what Sareesh needs to know.

Rob
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 10:42 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sareesh Sudhakaran View Post
Hi
I'm shooting on a JVC GY-111E with a Sennheiser ME66/K6 and a K-tek windshield system; with XLR input...no other system, both indoors and outdoors.

How do I set audio levels correctly to ensure best sound (assuming locations and other stuff are taken care of)? At what decibels should the sound be for the best recording? Also, does keeping it in either stereo or mono make a difference?
Would really appreciate any help in this regard.

Thanks!
If you are not using a mixer, you definitely need to set your reference level at -20. Basically, you are looking for your average peaks to get close to the -16 range.

If you have a good mixer w/ good limiters...I prefer to set the reference tone at -12 for most stuff (unless there is high dynamic range).

And when you are only using one mic...you can do both. Send a lower level on one track that is less likely to bump up against the limiter.

The ME66 is not really a good option for indoors audio. A good hyper cardioid mic is prefered because low frequencies are not directional.

The only excuse to ever not set your level manually is when you are just shooting B-roll and you can just switch one track to auto...just make sure you keep it in manual level all other times.
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 01:44 PM   #8
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sound levels

when I'm doing news and current affairs work, usually shooting solo (without a sound tech), i set my onboard mic on channel one, set to auto, to pick up natsot. Then I run my Sennheiser radio mic receiver into channel two, and set that manually. I use a Beyer dynamic interview mic with a sennheiser transmitter unit, and the sennheiser lapel mic/belt pack transmitter unit. I find the JVC's auto level on channel one is fine, even in extreme circumstances (noisy crowds of pakistani demonstrators, inside an armoured personnel carrier). But for interviews I'll always set manual levels through channel two.
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 03:26 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by James Thirston View Post
At the end of the day if your project has a serious sound requirement then for the sake of the final product you should be using a sound guy instead of relying on your camcorder to do everything.

JT
That's true, but when it's one man band time, when you're responsible for sound, camera, lighting, directing, everything, I think it's really time to consider auto settings. Very hard to do all those jobs fluently in manual mode, so easy to miss something, forget something, or basically screw something up. It's a lot of balls to keep in the air. Any one of them is difficult enough.

Those auto features aren't there so your girl friend can use the camera, auto settings have a legitimate time and place in video production.
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Old April 5th, 2008, 02:34 PM   #10
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I leave channel 1 on Auto and channel 2 knocked back way down so I have a 2nd chance to get audio in case there is a large noise. My only question (self doubt) is....... IS the 2nd channel from the same mic bypassing the auto levels of channel 1 or am I riding the levels from an already adjusted Auto level. HMM.. I believe with some experiementation that that it is BEFORE the auto adjusting circuit... yet I am unwilling to bet any money on that statement.
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Old April 6th, 2008, 12:43 AM   #11
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When where and how

Thanks James.
I'm shooting a low-budget indie feature, so I have a crew with me (minimal though). I'm finding it difficult to hire a good sound guy, so I'll probably be delegating this job to an assistant. We're shooting interiors and exteriors. We did shoot a short film in January, and what I basically did there was use the camera's onboard mike on one channel and my me66 on the other. The sound was in auto and i checked the levels to see they don't reach the end (Now I know it's supposed to be -3dB).

I'm thinking, if I can teach the assistant (also boom guy with headphones) to just check a few things (hand him over a check list and make him practice and hope for the best) while shooting, we shouldn't be too bad. I would also be doing tests with each setup.

I understand I should fix the audio levels at -20dB. What about the INPUT MIC REF?

I did learn the hard way that one can't record dialog meant for exteriors in a closed room, and that it's practically impossible to remove room reverb with audition cs3 (which i used to play with the sound). Unfortunately, I'm forced to use music now to cover up these sounds. I don't want to make the same mistakes again. So I want to make sure the camera has the best settings possible, the boom is in the right place (or best possible place), and the audio levels won't be clipped. Is there anything else I can do to make the sounds more professional? One more dumb question: should i use the windshield system for interior recordings or is that an absolutely insane thing to do?

Thanks for everything!
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Last edited by Sareesh Sudhakaran; April 6th, 2008 at 12:50 AM. Reason: Wrong Thankyou in the beginning.
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Old April 6th, 2008, 12:48 AM   #12
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Did the same

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Adams View Post
when I'm doing news and current affairs work, usually shooting solo (without a sound tech), i set my onboard mic on channel one, set to auto, to pick up natsot. Then I run my Sennheiser radio mic receiver into channel two, and set that manually. I use a Beyer dynamic interview mic with a sennheiser transmitter unit, and the sennheiser lapel mic/belt pack transmitter unit. I find the JVC's auto level on channel one is fine, even in extreme circumstances (noisy crowds of pakistani demonstrators, inside an armoured personnel carrier). But for interviews I'll always set manual levels through channel two.
Thanks Robert, I did exactly this when I shot my short film in January. But I used the shotgun only. Question is: how do you set one channel to auto and the other to manual?
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Old April 6th, 2008, 11:24 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sareesh Sudhakaran View Post
...I don't want to make the same mistakes again. So I want to make sure the camera has the best settings possible, the boom is in the right place (or best possible place), and the audio levels won't be clipped. Is there anything else I can do to make the sounds more professional? One more dumb question: should i use the windshield system for interior recordings or is that an absolutely insane thing to do? ...
I NEVER use the big windshield inside. It's purpose is to keep wind noise from effecting the mic. It also cuts some of the high frequencies. And it adds unecessary weight to the boom. Just use a small foam windscreen for interiors to inhibit any motion noise. Some mics ...especially the ME66...sound too bright on the top end without the small foam windscreen. The foam windscreen for interiors will make the boom guy a happy boomer.

To sound more professional...you need to get professional tools. The best upgrade you can do is get a couple of great sounding mics.

The logical upgrade path would be...

1) Mics, - shotgun: Sanken CS3e, Schoeps CMIT5u, or Sennheiser 416
Hypercardiod for interiors: Schoeps MK41, Audio Technica AT4053a, Sennheiser MKH840
Lavs: countryman B6, Sanken COS11

2) MIXER - Sound Devices 302 or 442, great mic premamps and excellent limiters.

3) External 24 bit multitrack recorder.

Again, I would never use AUTO levels for something like a dramatic film recording. It artificially pumps up low levels and adds a background level that constanly changes.
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Old April 6th, 2008, 02:41 PM   #14
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Hello
I use a NT1, Audio on manual mode.

I keep the wheel adjustment at about 5-6
if i need more volume i do it in post.

I'm a pro musican i have a audio studio and the last thing you want is clipping or distortion.

LESS IS BEST

Just my opinion.
JOE
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Old April 6th, 2008, 07:57 PM   #15
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A vote for Jim's advice.

The ME66 can sound shrill/very bright.

If there are budget considerations (always!), try the Rode NTG-1 which is an excellent shot gun microphone and much nicer/more natural sounding than the ME66.

An external mixer will allow you to go line level in. Your sound will improve dramatically just by getting a better microphone and not relying upon the mic preamps of the camera.

And do not use auto for the reason Jim gives. Even in the most difficult audio environments, with practice you can get levels right.

Rob
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