High-Quality Audio Makes or Breaks a Production... the HVR-A1U vs HDR-HC1 Audio at DVinfo.net

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Sony HVR-A1 and HDR-HC Series
Sony's latest single-CMOS additions to their HDV camcorder line.


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Old April 2nd, 2006, 08:08 PM   #1
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High-Quality Audio Makes or Breaks a Production... the HVR-A1U vs HDR-HC1 Audio

High-Quality Audio Makes or Breaks a Production... the HVR-A1U vs HDR-HC1 Audio and the reasons to choose the HVR-A1U over the HDR-HC1.

I am always surprised at how little emphasis is placed on high-quality audio in video productions. Sound bears at least 50% of the weight in any good video/film production, maybe more. If you watch a horror film and pay attention to the audio, you will realize that you are being totally manipulated by the audio even when absolutely nothing happens on screen, even if the screen is totally black.

Poor audio destroys an otherwise great production. Good audio elevates the quality of any production significantly.

USING YOUR CAMCORDER'S BUILT-IN MIC IS A UNIVERSALLY BAD IDEA.

A built-in mic relegates your production to the bad movie production heap, even before you start.

A pro would never even consider using an onboard microphone in any production, unless he was doing a quick-and-dirty run and gun, and audio quality wasn't important or was not even being used. News guys don't use onboard mics either. They always use a boom pole or a hand-held mic. You will destroy the best produced video with poor audio. You get handling noise, camcorder motor noise, and substandard quality. Even if you buy a big buck mic and stick it on the A1U you will still get bad audio. A good mic will just emphasize the handling noise and camcorder motor noise, and the microphone will be poorly positioned to acquire clean, low-noise audio. Your production will be bad before you start.

It mystifies me that people don't see the value of the XLR mic and especially the line inputs on the A1U and would choose the HC1 with an uncontrollable omnidirectional stereo mic that picks-up all the sounds in the room (poor audio quality) instead, unless you are shooting home movies of your kids. The A1U has XLR inputs so that you can feed audio from mics or line level sources such as mixers, etc.

If you are going to make a film you need a boom operator with a boom pole and a decent shotgun mic, or at least a studio boom and shotgun mic. The boom puts the mic in an optimum position to acquire high-quality audio and eliminates handling and camcorder motor noise. The shotgun isolates sounds in a sound field (rejects off axis sounds). In other words, the shotgun picks up the sound you want and rejects the sounds you don't want. You will never, and I mean never ever, see anyone in a film production or a broadcast event acquiring audio with a mic attached to the camera. Booms or boom poles are used in all cases.

Many broadcast professionals and filmmakers choose the Sennheiser ME66/K6 shotgun as their main boom mic. A good second choice is the Audio Technica AT897 or AT835b. The AT897, in recent years, has become very popular among indy filmmakers since it is less expensive than the ME66/K6 and provides similar quality and is also a short shotgun (11 1/2 inches like the ME66/K6). The AT835b is also a very good mic but is longer (14.5 inches) making it just a little harder to keep out of the frame. The ME66/K6 is more expensive but is still a good value since you can exchange capsules to cardioid or omnidirectional using the same K6 module.

Sennheiser USA http://www.sennheiserusa.com
Sennheiser ME66 Shotgun Mic: http://www.sennheiserusa.com/newsite...transid=003284
Sennheiser K6 Power Module:* http://www.sennheiserusa.com/newsite...transid=003861
Note: You must purchase the power module along with the microphone capsule.

Audio Technica http://www.audiotechnica.com
Audio Technica AT897 Shotgun: http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/wi...4dc/index.html
Audio Technica AT835b Shotgun: http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/wi...519/index.html

Attaching a good mixer to the line inputs of the A1U allows you to record from mixed audio sources such as mics, audio decks, DSP effects processors, echo, compressors, expanders, and prerecorded audio, all in a live setting. And in live settings you don't have 2 days to load the video into an NLE and massage it. The audio feed is live and it couldn't be acquired without the line inputs of the A1U.

This is the same reason that pros choose the Z1 over the FX1. The FX1 is not capable of acquiring high quality audio without a lot of help, just like the HC1. Another thing you may not be aware of is that the beefed up audio circuitry of the A1U provides a much cleaner, lower-noise audio signal for your productions.

If you are shopping for a camcorder to produce the next great indy film, don't forget about audio. If you do, your movie will be less than forgettable. Don't get caught up in trying to save a few bucks on a camcorder because audio isn't all that important... NOT!

-- Dave

Last edited by Dave F. Nelson; April 3rd, 2006 at 12:20 PM.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 01:54 PM   #2
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Hi Dave,

Hear! Hear! :-) thanks for your informative post. But if you're not recording from multiple sources, wouldn't the HC1's mike input be as effective as the A1's if you're using a boom mike or wired lav?

Dorothy
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 03:12 PM   #3
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What about the 3.5mm stereo mic inputs on the HC!...? Arn't they just as good?

Wired Lavs are inherently noisy and probably wouldn't be a problem with the HC1. On the other hand, if you have a really good UHF dual diversity system (good means quiet) you would hear the difference immediately.

Wired boom mics are a different story. They are very quiet and the difference is very noticable.

In other words, when I use the 3.5mm stereo mic inputs, there is a lot of hiss. This hiss is not present when using the XLR inputs.

Why is this so? The following are my conclusions after some real world testing:

The HC1 and my A1U have the same consumer lever 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) stereo mic inputs. If I remove my XLR unit, my camera acts just like an HC1. This is an unbalanced higher impedence stereo input which introduces a high level of noise when recording, especially when using ALC. The XLR unit doesn't and is very very quiet.

I have found the XLR inputs to be much quieter than the 3.5mm inputs on my A1U. I purchased a 3.5mm to XLR adaptor just to plug my wireless mics into the XLR inputs rather than the 3.5mm inputs. My mic is at least 10 to 15 db quieter when plugged into the XLR inputs than the 3.5mm inputs.

Sony appears to believe that consumers just don't care about audio and they are right. Even on this board, people say things like audio isn't that important to me.

That's why I created this thread!

Sony knows their customer. The new HC3 doesn't even have mic inputs.

Regarding your apparent belief that mixers may not be all that important, there are many capabilities that mixers have that you probably haven't considered. Mixers let you control the sound field when you are recording so you can pan the mic input anywhere in the sound field from left to center to right or anywhere in between. This can all be done while using other mics to acquire the sounds in your environment (very important).

Most pros use mixers all the time. I happen to use a 16 channel phantom powered mic mixer because, many times, I record events which can't be recreated with foley in the studio later.

Take the example of skateboarders moving from left to right, up and down, and back and forth throughout a sound field. You would have to have a couple of highly-paid experienced foley experts to simulate the sounds and track and sync them to the video. And even if it could be done, it would never be anything like the original event.

And if you have a little more sophisticated equipment you can encode 5.1 surround sound onto the 2 channels of an A1U live. Then they can be decoded in Adobe Premier or other NLE and burned to the new HD DVD which just came out about a month ago. The above skateboarding example is just begging to be done in surround sound, and most are.

If you are a pro, you'll never know what your next prohect is, but you will certainly tie your hands behind your back if you purchase the HC1 and then attempt to record high-quality audio. It's true that you can get an XLR adaptor for your HC1 but the circuitry for the 3.5mm inputs that the adaptor plugs into are inferior and noisy compared to the XLR inputs of the A1U.

I'm just trying to help prevent people with dreams of making the next blockbuster indy film from making mistakes that can never be repaired without a reshoot.

It's interesting the problems people cause for themselves by not ponying up and purchasing the right tool for the job in the first place.

One individual on this board even suggested that if you purchased an HC3, you could still get good audio by purchasing a separate digital recorder mixer and mic combination for roughly $2,000 and recording audio "wild" (unsynced on a separate recorder) and then syncing the audio in post, rather than just buying an A1U to start with and saving $1.200 to $1,500 instead.

Best regards, Dave.

Last edited by Dave F. Nelson; April 3rd, 2006 at 04:04 PM.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 03:24 PM   #4
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> My mic is at least 10 to 15 db quieter when plugged into the XLR inputs than the 3.5mm inputs.

That much quieter in noise for the same volume of recorded sound? Or just quieter recording overall? I've noticed nowhere near that difference in noise level if the signal level is held equivalent!

Obviously using the on-camera mic is far from ideal, but I've been really pleased with the results from a separate AT822 plugged in via the 3.5mm jack.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 03:32 PM   #5
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3.5mm inputs are much noisier than XLR inputs.

Yes I noticed a substantial difference. So much so that I bought an adaptor just to use the XLR inputs with my mic. I also have an AT897 that is very quiet when plugged into the XLR inputs. And when I plug the AT897 into a camcorder adaptor cable and plug it into the 3.5mm inputs I notice the same decrease in signal to noise ratio (increased noise at the same level).

The 3.5mm inputs have a very high noise level with an open mic, while the XLR inputs are very quiet. It may be that the ALC circuitry is much more aggressive with gain which causes more noise. However I noticed that the impedence of the input ciruitry is probably much higher which increases noise along with the gain.

--Dave
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 05:32 PM   #6
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Dave,

I appreciate your input. As with probably others, I started this as a hobby, and it just seems to take a life of it's own and grows. Yes, had I been blessed with perfect foresight, or had developed a plan to "go pro", things might be different. But sometimes as you learn and develop with your interests, you find you have to make due with what you have for a while, because it is a hobby. I don't know where my hobby is headed, but I'm getting pretty much "ate up with it"...just ask my wife! Perhaps in a few years (maybe sooner...honey?) I will get a "pro" camera.

Having said that, and having an HC 1 that I like very much, it is my desire to get a "good" microphone system to record "good" audio with the camera I have. I've been waiting to pull the trigger on a microphone purchase while I look and listen on these forums.

It seems that basically there are a couple of ways to go with my HC 1. A 3.5mm mic system like the Rode Videomic, or a balanced mic of some kind (as say the Azden SGM 1X) with an XLR adapter like the Studio 1 BP-3 Pro. I am leaning toward the balanced XLR mic and adapter as I feel if I do progress further into this "hobby", the XLR stuff would be most likely capable of future use and the best investment. Plus the Studio 1 adapter has Line/Mic switching which could come in handy at some point.

I do understand that the HC 1 mic input has a low dc power output function that for which the Studio 1 adapter is has a voltage blocking circuit. I am not sure how the Rode mic works with this power output issue, but I have heard only good things about the Rode.

Of course, I do plan to use a mic boom or boom stand when feasible, or some type of bracket or "rig" when mobile as opposed to direct mounting to the camera. This would apply with either mic system.

Bearing in mind my "hobby" orientation and budget mindedness, what do you think of the XLR adapter with balanced mic versus the videomic option for my HC 1?

I would appreciate your comments and opinion, as well as those from others.

Jamie
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 05:55 PM   #7
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Save some bucks. You don't need the Studio 1 BP-3 Pro adaptor.

If you are just plugging in an XLR mic into the HC1, you can get a camcorder mic adaptor cable to adapt the XLR audio output of your SGM-1X or AT897, or whatever, XLR based mic so it can be plugged directly into your 3.5mm stereo microphone inputs. These adaptors (Hosa part number XVM-105) are commonly available on the net for 10 to 15 bucks and work great. I use them all the time.

If you don't have a mic or boom pole, ProStudioTools sells the Pro88-AXP 3.5 Shotgun microphone boom pole system which includes the Azden SGM-1X, a fur windsock, 2 25 foot mic cables, and a camcorder adaptor cable that plugs directly into your HC1 for only $319.99 plus shipping.

Here's the link. check it out.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...MESE%3AIT&rd=1

--Dave
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 06:03 PM   #8
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Thanks Dave.

I was actually thinking that the Studio 1 adapter gives me the option to mix in a couple of sources when desired.

Maybe I'll start out with one XLR and an adapter as you suggested, and go with the Studio 1 "mixer"/adapter later. No...maybe I want it now.

Thanks again,

Jamie
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 09:51 PM   #9
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Best wired lav mic for broadcast quality on camera interview?

Dave,

I have an HC1 and have to fly to Israel in a few weeks to do some interviews for a HD television documentary (99% of which has already been shot with a Sony F900 Cine Alta and pro audio gear). The interviews will be indoors (not sure about the type of room). The director wants me to use a wired lav mic. Can you please weigh in on the following questions?

1) Which is the best XLR wired lav mic for these interviews?

2) Would you advise purchase on an A1U vs. buying a Beachtek DXA-2S for my HC1?

Sound quality is of utmost importance and worth purchasing the A1U and selling the HC1 on Ebay if the sound will be that much better on the A1U for these interviews.

Thank you, Jeff
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 10:04 PM   #10
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Stick with wired mics if you want high quality audio.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Gusky
Dave,

I have an HC1 and have to fly to Israel in a few weeks to do some interviews for a HD television documentary (99% of which has already been shot with a Sony F900 Cine Alta and pro audio gear). The interviews will be indoors (not sure about the type of room). The director wants me to use a wired lav mic. Can you please weigh in on the following questions?

1) Which is the best XLR wired lav mic for these interviews?

2) Would you advise purchase on an A1U vs. buying a Beachtek DXA-2S for my HC1?

Sound quality is of utmost importance and worth purchasing the A1U and selling the HC1 on Ebay if the sound will be that much better on the A1U for these interviews.

Thank you, Jeff
If you already have an HC1, I'd stick with it.

Wireless mics are inherently noisy. Even the most expensive ones are noisy. They should only be used if there is no other alternative.

Even if you use an XLR based lavalier on a high-end pro camcorder, the noise level will be much higher than a wired mic. And purchasing an A1U probably won't help you much with noise levels.

If you can avoid using a wireless mic of any kind, please do. You can use a lav mic without using a wireless rig. Wireless lavs have wires that plug into the transmitter anyway, and these wires need to be concealed in any case.

If your idea is a low noise, high-quality signal, stick with a wired mic.

If you must use a wireless system, Azden, Sennheiser, Audio Technica and Shure all make good lavalier systems.

However, always avoid wireless mics at all cost. Stick with wired mics if you want high quality audio.

That's my recommendation.

--Dave
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 10:45 PM   #11
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I do think the A1 is probably worth it, I wish I knew about it when I bought my HC1. Right now, I am using a Beachtek DXA-6 XLR converter and it has proven very satisfactory, IMO.

Sure, the A1 may have a lower noise floor but the electrical noice in the HC1 in conjunction with the Beachtek seems to be well below the ambient noise I have to deal with. The rig cleanly picks up any faint mechanical noise from a good distance away, any electrical noise is much quieter than that, so trading for an A1 isn't going to help me.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 11:11 PM   #12
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A1U and Wired Lav

Dave,

Thank you very much. Actually, my plan is to us a wired XLR lav ( I assume such mics exist). Would you still suggest that I keep the HC1 vs. acquiring and A1U? What wired Lav would you recommend? Also, if wired lavs don't exist, what small inconspicuous mic would you recommend for the interviews?

With Appreciation, Jeff
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 11:29 PM   #13
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One man's Sennheiser is another man's AKG, is another man's Shure.

It's hard to go wrong with a mid priced lav. Sony, Audio Technica, Sehhneiser, Shure and many others make lavs. I have always used Sony electret condensor lavs but I have been in audio since the late 60s. As a matter of fact, I have mics that are older than many of the people on this board that still work great.

As a matter of fact, I still have an original Sony ECM-22, the electret condensor mic that put Sony mics on the map along with a Sony C500 phantom powered condensor mic (500 for $500 bucks in 1968). Heck, you could buy a brand new VW Beetle in 1968 for 699 bucks. Anyway, enough of that.

Audio is a very old technology compared to video. There is very little that is new in microphones today except cheap ones.

I would recommend that you test lavalier microphones in a local store rather than relying so much on the recommendations of others.

Microphones tend to be very subjective. One man's Sennheiser is another man's AKG, is another man's Shure. There is no such thing as best.

Listen to the mic plugged into your HC1. If it sounds good to you, go for it.

It's also true that in 1970 it was hard to buy a good audio system. In 2006 it is hard not to buy a good one... get it?

I would recommend not using a Lavalier mic unless it is absolutely necessary.

Professionals use shotgun mics on boom poles or studio booms for interviews.

You seem to be stuck on lavalier mics. However, lavs are always the last choice of a professional unless you are not able to hide the shotgun out of the frame for some reason.

I always use lavaliers as a last resort. There is always noise, like the mic chafing against cloth or the collar. There is always something in the way of getting high-quality when you use a lavalier.

That's why pros use shotguns on a boom.

--Dave

Last edited by Dave F. Nelson; April 4th, 2006 at 09:00 AM.
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Old April 4th, 2006, 08:13 AM   #14
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Hello Dave, nice thread. I've stressed before the importance of having an alternative recording device for audio with this, and any cam with unbalanced audio.

Of all the tasks involved in setting up a shoot, the audio is the one which takes the most chunk of time. I use a rack of four TOA wireless UHF receivers and mics. Using both handheld and lapel units. I also run the audio through a Behringer Euro rack mixer before it hits the tape. I can seperate the noise and get a very strong and clean signal. I do, however, allow a little background ambience, as it's more natural.

If your stuck with an unbalanced system, then your going have some noise cancellation to do in post. I suggest folks then take a sample recording of the rooms noise or ambience. Have everyone quiet on the set and record about 15 secs of silence. If you have sound-forge, with the noise-plugin, or Adobe Audition, you can use the 'silent' recording as the noise reduction profile. In most cases it will do, however, depending on high the floor noise masks over the vocals, you could wind up cutting out some of the material you want, never illiminating all the noise, and having it sound canned.

So, in short, if you don't do all the work up front, then you'll have to do it all in the backend, at post, and the quality will not be as good.
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Old April 4th, 2006, 10:14 AM   #15
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And don't forget to record 30 seconds of room tone (as it's called in the business).

It's customary to record at least 30 seconds of room tone for each scene/location you shoot. The normal procedure is to gather everyone in the room and keep them all still. Recording this ambient room sound is useful later in post so that when you cut to no sound, you add room tone so the audience isn't shocked by the sound of nothingness. This room tone can be looped, cut, blended, equalized, faded, etc., as necessary, in post.

If you are quiet in a room and just listen to the sound of the room you will hear the refrigerator, the heating system, the sounds of water running through the plumbing, the sounds of cars driving by on a nearby highway, etc. These sounds are unique to each location you shoot in.

The reason you keep all the actors and equipment in the room when you record the room tone is because sounds are affected by people, their clothes, furniture, the walls, and the equipment in the room. Audio bounces off walls and equipment, but not people and furniture. Some sounds are deadened while others are exagerated because of the characteristics of the room you are in.

Each room has it's own unique sound, tonal color and ambience, which can not be duplicated later in post.

Recording room tone is hard to do if you record with ALC enabled (automatic level control) because the ALC circuits increase gain if no audio is detected, which increases the noise level. ALC circuits have gotten better in the last few decades but still can't beat manual controls. For this reason I recommend that ALC never be used in your production.

I know this may cause some to ignore the rest of this discussion but you need to be able to control audio levels just like you need to control white balance, focus and exposure levels. Many insist on using ALC and some camcorders do not allow you to control the audio manually, but using ALC could be your undoing in some scenes, and will definitely cause a great deal of work later in post.

Room tone should be recorded with open mics, and audio levels set manually (the same mics you used on the set). Be sure not to change the level you used when recording the audio previously. Do not change the mics used to record the scene because all mics sound a little different. Also do not change the position of the mic or mics. If you were recording a scene on a bed then get the actors back on the bed and position the mic just as in the shoot. If you shot a over-the-shoulder interview with a single mic, by all means sit the actors back down and position the mic appropriately.

Recording room tone and other tweaks are what set so-so audio apart from good audio for video and film.

In a film/video production, the cost of the camcorder is of little consequence to the total costs of the software and hardware necessary to git-er-done so-to-speak. It's likely that you will spend just as much on mixers, mics, expanders, compressors, DSP effects, foley and foley misc., cabling, hardware and software, especially if you plan to record surround sound, as you'll spend on video equipment and software.

In any case, the key to good audio is a camcorder or recording device with clean, low noise circuitry and balanced mics, wired preferably, since wireless mics introduce noise. The A1 will definitely do a better job than the HC1, but let's hear from those who have had successes in real world productions with the HC1. Share your tips and tricks and the equipment you used to git-er-done.

--Dave

Last edited by Dave F. Nelson; April 4th, 2006 at 12:28 PM.
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