Kaoss Pad KP3 DC powering

Just as a note as it doesn’t seem to be anywhere else on the internet (and was quite tricky to find out): the power connector for the Korg Kaoss Pad 3 is JEITA RC-5320A JSBP4 standard:

Outer diameter is 5.5mm
Inner diameter is 3.3mm
Centre diameter pin is 1mm

Plug I used was a Lumberg 1636 04

It’s also nowhere as greedy as the PSU is specified, it’ll boot up with as little as 9V 100mA

This may also be applicable to other Kaoss Pads and other Korg products.

And using alien power supplies may invalidate your warranty etc etc

New DPA concealers

Earlier this week I bought some of the newer style DPA concealers- I’ve found the older style to be really useful for hiding body mounted mics, however they’ve made some changes (very possibly improvements).

Quite a few people seem to be a bit confused about them, so I thought I’d show you how they work:


As you can see, instead of one piece, the new concealer’s made of 4,with one piece being slightly smaller than the original concealer.  The back part can be sewn into clothing or used with the clip, as shown here:


There’s also an extra “space bracket” wire which is removable over the top- both of these should keep fabric away from the mic, reducing the chance of rustle against it.  I also think these may be a good way of mounting wind protection without tape, but may require some further experimentation


Here’s a comparison against the old concealer- the new one’s slightly smaller and the plastic’s more pliable. The new ones are a tighter fit and need to be bent a little to get the mics in. As you can see, there’s a 4071 in the old concealer and a 4061 in the new one.  The old ones need specific concealers for both mics and the new ones will work with either:


Here’s the 4071 in the new concealer:DSC01987

DPA’s part number is DMM0021 for a single concealer or DMM0521 for a pack of 5.

Other versions are available for the heavy duty versions of the 406x and 4071 mics and the new d:screet slim.

Sound Network are the UK distributors


Tascam DR701D and HDMI DSLR Sync

Last month Tascam announced a new recorder, aimed more at DSLR self shooters- the DR701D

Although I’m yet to see one in real life, they have built in a unique feature: an HDMI input and output.  This is by no means a review, but a few thoughts on what impact this could have on workflow.

Why would you put an HDMI input on an audio recorder?
Well, it’s not just video signals which are sent over HDMI.  They need to be synchronised with the source and, in addition to that there are 8 channels of audio and time code.

There are also a number of DSLRs and cheaper cameras which lack professional inputs and outputs for time code and genlock, but do have HDMI outputs.  With a case of a lot of these cameras, it’s simply not possible to synchronise them, so more work is required in the edit (although programs such as Plural Eyes can really help).  In addition to this the inputs for DSLRs are often consumer 3.5mm minijack connections with poor analogue performance.  If they’re sent audio it usually ends up being noisy and adding another cable just adds an additional point of failure to the system.

Single Camera interview
In this situation, a sit down interview- neither the camera or sound recordist are likely to move, so attaching an HDMI cable to the recorder is fine.  This allows the recorder’s clock to synchronise with the camera’s and to receive time code (including remote roll commands).  Here both time code and the clocks are synchronised; these are 2 separate things- time code is only meta data, the clocks which determine the frame rate and sample rate of the camera and recorder require a higher frequency sync signal- genlock or word clock, here the sync signal is in the HDMI stream.  This should mean both files should be perfectly in sync throughout and the files are the same length (never before possible on DSLR shoots).

Vérité shooting (single camera)

Here it’s not really practical to be cabled to camera (especially with something as flimsy as an HDMI cable) , as both camera and sound will be moving.  What’s possible though, is to plug the HDMI into the recorder near the start of the take, then roll separately.  Time code will probably be well within a frame, however the clocks will not be synced so files will be different lengths.  This may be fine for shorter takes, but over longer periods (say, shooting events) the files lengths will differ and may need to be cut and re-synced.

There are some consumer  (and professional) wireless HDMI transmitters, which may work for this, however I think they will have a different clock on the receiver so will not have synchronised clocks.  They will also have a fixed delay time, which will have to be accounted for in the edit.

Multiple cameras

Unfortunately, this is where this workflow totally falls over.  All these cameras only have HDMI outputs, so it’s impossible to get an external time code or clock signal into them.  The only time code and clock output on the DR701D is an HDMI passthrough and I’m not aware of another box which can extract this.  For this another solution may be required, such as sending time code to an audio track on the cameras (which has no clock sync and specialist software is required to decode it), or hiring suitable cameras for the job!  A lot of times DSLRs are used as B-Cams and it’d be good to get a more professional sync solution with them, unfortunately this isn’t it.

However, the DR701D does seem to have a professional level TXCO clock generator, so could be jammed and stay in sync with more professional equipment

Molle radio mic pouch

I’ve been looking for a decent solution for this for a while now.   I’ve been using a few of the hard zip up containers Countryman mics come in for lavelier microphone and wireless transmitter storage, along with mounting accessories.  However I’ve been after something a bit bigger to put belts in so I’ve got an ‘all I need’ radio mic kit for when I need to leave set to get people mic’ed up.

After getting one of the new K-Tek stingray bags it has fabric rings for attaching military standard ‘MOLLE’ accessories.   There’s quite a lot of different kit available which is compatible with this, from army surplus and other places.

I bought a ‘medical pouch’

Inside I can get batteries, 2x countryman pouches with mics, transmitters and belts

Under the countryman pouches:

Inside the pouches:

And here’s how it can be attached to the bag:

I also often carry just one ‘main transmitter pouch’ in the front of the bag- this will just be when I’ve got this bag on its own.  It should also mount onto the waist belt.

I’ll have a look into more MOLLE accessories and see if some are useful…


Sonosax SX-R4+ first impressions

Being an ‘Early Adopter’ is usually a thing I don’t do and warn others away from, especially with products which are heavily software based, however I’ve been a user of the SX-R4 /SX-M32 for some time and have struggled to find another solution which has been able to do quite as much with a similar footprint and weight (despite the numerous workarounds and bodges in my current rig) and have the sound quality I’ve grown accustomed to.  When they offered a discount for pre-orders of the machine I put a deposit down.  Think of this as an ‘initial’ review.  I expect there’s a lot more to come from this machine and the modular system based around it.

The SX-R4+ has been out on 3 separate jobs now, all fairly straightforward corporate /online type things.  It was spared from a trip to Kosovo as it arrived the morning I flew out.

At a first glance the front of the machine and user interface looks pretty bare.  However,  it has a touchscreen interface, I was a bit sceptical about this until I’d used it (especially for a machine this size, it’s only marginally bigger than the SX-R4).  For most menu functions, the screen’s effectively separated into a grid of 9 buttons- all big enough for fingers and there’s a knob to change parameter values.  The menus seem well layered, nothing’s more than 3 layers down.  This allows much faster navigation through menus than on recorders without a touchscreen.   On the main screen there are 3 shortcut sections at the bottom, one to the power menu, one to quickly change scene/slate/take and one to the main menu.  Ideally I’d like a faster way to to the metadata notes screen too, but that’s one click on the web server screen.  Faster hard pan control would also be beneficial.

To add to that, it has a wifi interface which other devices can join or, alternatively it can join a network.  It doesn’t require an app, just a browser window as the machine runs the interface through a web server.  Currently it’s possible to view meters, arm and disarm tracks and add metadata, while almost all parameters on the machine are viewable.  This adds further ease of use to the machine and there’s no reason why a keyboard couldn’t be plugged into your tablet/phone/computer (although there’s no native keyboard port).  Although it’s a small device, it can ‘get big’- there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used effectively for trolley based work with either a mixer in front or with the upcoming control surface.

Webserver screen

Next, what does it sound like?  Lovely. Through the headphone amp, there’s definitely an extra level of cleanness compared to the original R4 and Sound Devices 6 series, this may be just an improvement to the headphone amp, though.  However, it does have an extended dynamic range, due to some kind of dual ADC witchery to give something like 135dB(A) dynamic range- effectively your recordings should be clean without adding any gain to your mics whatsoever (although productions may not understand/like this).  I’m not sure my ears can manage that- it’s from nothing to practically being behind a jet engine and possibly more than any microphone can manage.   There’s some sort of patent wrangling in the US going on with zaxcom’s neverclip which seems to be similar technology meaning the R4+ won’t be sold in the US at this time.

Input-wise it can also take 10 channels of AES3 digital inputs (4 of which can be dual AES42 digial microphone inputs if going though the XLR connectors), 4 microphone inputs and 2 balanced line level.  Using the AES3 inputs make a real difference to the noise floor on the outputs on my Wisycom MCR42 receivers.  All the digital inputs use asynchronous sample rate converters, so clocking is not required.  When switching between analogue and digital on the XLRs, you can hear the mechanical click of a switch inside the machine (in your ears, rather than headphones).  It’s quite satisfying, and I can’t imagine you doing that whilst rolling.  The mechanical record/playback switch is also satisfying, but I think the original R4’s is slightly larger and better.

Outputs are a bit of a sticking point with this machine, as it comes your only outputs (except headphones) are a 2 channel unbalanced output and a 2 channel AES3 output.  This actually worked out fine for a job feeding 2 amiras, with one on wireless but it will require an extra box to run balanced analogue, either an unbalanced-balanced converter or DAC.  There is an empty slot on the left ‘analogue’ side for either a 5pin 2 channel balanced output or RJ45 digital audio connector to run 16 channels I/O over dante, ravenna or AVB- this would really open up the machine to expansion and allow it to be used as a computer audio interface but would still require another box for camera feeds.  Both of these options are currently in development and expected by the end of the year.  Any inputs can be routed to any track or output.  There’s a matrix with each of the 16 tracks and inputs are assignable, while outputs have a 2 track matrix with each pair of channels assignable to either output channel.

The R4+ is a 16 channel recorder, which records to 2x SD cards located on the front at up to 192kHz.  I didn’t receive a cover for these as they’re currently being re-designed.  Sonosax weren’t happy with the initial batch so a new one should be on the way.  Personally I like the front access to the cards- it avoids ferreting around the sides/back with some pliers trying to pull out a CF card . Also the SD cards are considerably cheaper than CF.  A new development is that the R4+ formats the SD cards as UDF- which is the ‘dvd writing format’.  This means file headers are written at the start and the data is added sequentially- if there’s any interruption to recording, say a loss of power then the files stay intact and won’t be lost as a header hasn’t been written.

The power management on the R4+ takes another step up from many other recorders available.  It uses ‘2054’ shape Inspired Energy/RRC/audioroot batteries internally with a runtime of over 8 hours with the machine as-is, and running a RF distributor and 2 wisycom receivers just under 5 hours on one 48W/hr battery.  You can tell this from the smbus interface with the battery- detailed current draw, how many charge cycles the battery has done and accurate runtime are all viewable.  Battery warning alarms can be set at whatever time you like.  It also has a 12V regulated output, and 7W can be drawn from this- this is switchable so peripherals can be turned off through the menu.  There’s also an hot-swappable external DC input which will also receive smbus data over pins 3 and 4 (check your wiring in case DC is going through those pins!).

Finally, the 4 main controller knobs.  First, the good news- these are connected to the DSP and control the ADC input levels of the inputs to each of the 4 corresponding XLRs. Also, the fact they’re offset from each other makes it easier to identify channels without looking. They’re very smooth and totally free of ‘zipper’ noise; sensitivity, gain ranges and whether the knobs mute at zero can all be selected through menu options.  They also have a button which is activated when they are pushed in (this can also be programmed to do number of functions- including something else on a ‘long’ press, although PFL seems to be the most useful).  The issue that they’re currently ‘locked’ to input gain on each XLR, is however an issue at the moment- this means it’s only possible to record post-fader iso tracks, and that each AES3 pair is automatically ganged to one fader, so in AES3 output mode my receivers are effecitively single channel.  This is one of a number of issues which are due to be fixed in the next firmware update, however.  The faders for inputs 5 and 6 correspond only to the analogue line inputs and are pre-adc potentiometers, so if used as faders the iso tracks will be ‘post fade’ (and this can’t be changed in software).

The final missing feature is dedicated comms sends.  I think it’s something Sonosax want to keep for their bigger mixers, however this machine does have plenty of tracks and it certainly has the DSP power to route a mic input to a number of destinations (possibly through programming some of the buttons).  It could also be possible using an external analogue mic switch or through a third party dante/ravenna/AVB compatible box.

In conclusion,  it’s small, this is a very powerful machine, which sounds fantastic and has an excellent user interface.  It should also get very expandable later in the year when the additional mic preamp box, control surface and option cards become available.  There’s also buckets of DSP horsepower in there yet to be used, so it’s still early days on software capability.  However there are a few missing pieces at the moment, which should hopefully be sorted very soon.

For further information, see sonosax.ch and the IPS have a detailed interview with Pierre Blanc from Sonosax about the machine here

New battery standard?

For the last few years I’ve been using NP1 batteries (mainly the shorter NP35 format), which seem to have become a standard for most location sound recordists.

However, there are other 14.4V Li-Ion batteries available.  Another type, which I feel may become a new standard are the “2054” format batteries.  They come in 2 sizes, one around the same as an NP1 but packing in up to 98Whr of energy (pretty much the maximum allowable on flights without limitations being imposed) and a half length one at 48-49Whr.  This is compared to a maximum of 84Whr in an NP1 (DSM’s Ultimate NPLU84) and 35Whr in the half length (Hawk-Woods NP35).

Here’s a picture of the various sizes compared to a full size NP1

Both Sonosax and Aaton have recently announced recorders (SX-R4+ and Cantar X3) which use this battery format and Audioroot have been producing both these batteries and the distribution systems for them for a while now.

Also there aren’t really that many sound recordists, we’re not a huge market.  These batteries are used in industrial and medical equipment.  There are two companies who make them (that I know of): Inspired Energy (USA) and RRC (Germany).  I’ve been informed that Audioroot batteries are supplied by Inspired Energy, but programmed with custom firmware in order to communicate with their distribution systems and chargers. RRC only make the smaller format batteries, there’s also a difference in power gauges- RRC have LEDs which light up in sequence when you press a button, while Inspired Energy have an LCD display on the end which always stays on.

I did say communicate then- these batteries have a system called SMBus, which is a standard system which communicates charge info, battery health, temperature etc to either the charger or the equipment it’s plugged into.  This can allow accurate info on how long the battery will last given the load it’s under, not just a voltage.  This means they require extra contacts for data info (so pins 2 and 3 on a hirose connector will be used).  Check your cables first as some may be made connecting pins 1&2 and 3&4, which may damage components on the other end is they’re given 16 or so volts.



Short Expectations

This is a list aimed at both producers of short films and technical crew on my expectations while doing a short.

1) I’m doing you a favour, be nice:
It’s not going to look good on my CV or showreel (I don’t have a showreel- see the post production point), get me any guarantee of extra work or “exposure”.  If you come across like you’re doing me a favour over the phone or in an ad (I see this a lot on mandy.com), I’m not likely to say yes to the project.  Don’t try to sell it to me either, just ask nicely- I’ll take a look at the script and see what’s required to do a good job.  I don’t really want to be donating my time to spending a weekend with a load of egomaniacs that I wouldn’t want to work with again.  I’d like to spend it with nice people who listen to each other and can make a good film together- it’s a team sport!

Even if this project does really well and you go on to something else, you may get a line producer in with their own contacts and bring someone else in.  You’ll have probably forgotten about me by the time the short’s gone through post anyway :'(

2) “With own equipment”
This is a sentence I see quite a bit in ads as a massive red flag as it usually means “With own *free* equipment”.  Professional gear really isn’t cheap, you’re looking at least £6-7k for a basic doco kit, and for a drama kit, a lot more- £50k and up. Yes, you can shoot some nice stuff on a DSLR, but professional sound gear hasn’t got any cheaper. Do you expect the camera and lighting dept to own all their gear and give it to you for free?  I also still charge for gear on shorts for 2 reasons:  maintenance costs money- things break over time, new tools become available and I need to keep everything in working condition, which takes up my time or I need to give someone money to fix things.  My second reason is I want there to be a level playing field, if someone’s new to the business, or doesn’t want to buy kit they can get a kit out from a rental house and use it at a similar cost to me.  I’ll have all my stuff set up how I like it and have spares, extra gizmos etc, though.  If I’m using someone else’s equipment, I’ll need to spend prep time setting it up.  And no, I’m not going to use a zoom recorder as it’ll sound really noisy.

The kit I’ll be bringing will also need to be put under production insurance- while it’s on set it’s the production’s responsibility, so if there are any losses or damages production will have to claim for them (or provide a replacement).  Although things like lavelier microphones are small- they can get snagged while on cast (especially if they try taking them off themselves) and at £200-400 each, aren’t cheap to replace.

3) Sound Team
If you’re making any kind of scripted work with dialogue, I’d need a 2 person sound team at least.   I can’t boom a shot and mix multiple microphones at the same time,  I need at least one extra hand and maybe an extra brain.    Yes, you may have done films before with one person doing everything, or a boom going straight to camera but compromises have to be made and a usable mix isn’t possible this way.  The mixer also isn’t going to be able to react to changes in levels- you need to ‘set and forget’ or just use radio mics, which usually aren’t the best solution.  I’m also not willing to swing a drama boom (over 10 foot) with a bag on- it’ll result in osteopath’s bills

I want to get the best sound I can for your film and this requires a team to do it.   I need to have someone I can trust to get the microphones in the right places.  This is a highly skilled job, you need to be aware of how different microphones work in relation to their environments,  the angles of frame from different lenses and how lighting is going to affect where you can or can’t be.  It requires knowing the intricacies of different costumes and how to work in close proximity to actors in getting radio mics fitted.  It’s not just “holding a mic on a stick”- would you ask a runner to pull focus?

4) Pre-production
So many shorts seem to suffer from the problem of suddenly realising they need a sound mixer.  It really helps if we’re across the pre production process.  Take us to recces!  I know it’s extra time and we’re not always available, but it can make the difference of a scene being usable or not.  Will you require generator(s), where will they be positioned?  Are you next to something which is noisy and out of shot?  How will it be shot and lit?  What are the costumes like?  If we can work things out with the relevant departments beforehand it can make a huge difference to what you get as a final piece, again- it’s teamwork.  If I’m brought on at the last minute I can try my best to solve problems, but it’s less likely to happen

5) Expectations vs budget
I can’t do everything with just basic kit, scenes with multiple speaking characters may require 2 booms and as many radios as there are characters (especially in exteriors).  Also radio mics are *really* expensive, at least £2k per channel.  We’ll also need to provide a mixer and recorder with that many tracks and might be more than I own.  I can’t give you this stuff for free.   Is anyone singing? Playback might be required.  It could be a case of paring down your expectations to meet the budget you’ve got or re-allocating it- do you really need to spend extra on hiring those super shiny lenses etc?

6) Time/scheduling
This can really make the difference between a good or bad shoot.  If things get rushed, people make mistakes or don’t get the time needed to fix something then your film will suffer for it.  Also, please don’t take people’s time for granted- let them get some rest!  I tend to charge my standard overtime rate on anything over 12hrs, even if I’m donating my time for free.  This isn’t because I’m greedy, it’s a penalty so that my time and the rest of the crew’s isn’t taken for granted and we can actually get some sleep, if we’re tired mistakes and accidents can happen- again, it’s just a film.  Also really think hard about whether night work is necessary or not, you’ll be really messing with crew’s sleep patterns and effectively taking another day away from them to re-adjust

7) Post Production
Make sure you budget for this, whatever.  If you’re on a tight budget, don’t expect to do any ADR (automated dialogue replacement), you’ll need to hire a studio- it’ll take ages and you won’t get the same performance as in the moment.  If I’m on set and ask for wild lines (run without sync with camera), it’s important that I get them- here a few minutes can save a lot of money and stress later down the line.  It’s still really important to get a quality post production team- the production tracks are only one ingredient to the soundtrack- here the soundtrack will take shape.  This is also why I don’t have a showreel- I’m only getting one ingredient to the soundtrack, it’s up to the post team  to cook it into something lovely.   I’ll try and give them options too, with isolated tracks and will record the off lines if I’ve got the resources.  However, an inexperienced (or even just having the picture editor) post team can make a mess of things which can really affect the quality of your film

8) Money
I really do understand that shorts don’t have high budgets, are often self funded and don’t have much chance of recuperating that expenditure. Depending on the film I’m willing to waive my fee as long as I can get the tools in to do the job properly.  This will include getting assistants in who will, in turn be doing me a massive favour and I like to make sure they get something out of it too.

I’ll also need to make sure I’m not losing money on the job- if it requires a reasonable amount of gear I may need to hire a van to get it to location. However I get there it’ll need to be paid for in full, this includes picking up additional rental gear.

Also, I can get called up to do fully paid work at any moment- and I’m afraid I may have to do another job in order to earn some money- I am running a business here and alas, my landlord doesn’t accept IMDB credits in lieu of rent.  I will try not to dump you in it and find a suitable replacement, though (which may even involve me paying them some of my fee from the other job, and me owing them a massive favour).

9) Whose Sound?
When I’ve handed the rushes over, the sound doesn’t belong to me- it belongs to the producer and director.  I’m not doing this for me- I’m doing this in order to give you the best quality tracks possible and options in the edit, I can only make suggestions and the director can either go with them or ignore them.  Compromises sometimes have to be made across different departments and it’s sometimes the director’s job to make those decisions.  There may be shots where getting a good recording isn’t possible and I’ll try and flag these up, letting the director know they won’t be able to use the dialogue in that shot in the edit, for example.

10) What’s in it for me?
Ok, doing a short won’t do anything for my CV, showreel or give me “exposure”- what do I get out of it, then?  Just working with some different people (who are hopefully lovely).  It also might give me that chance to try out a new setup, or work with a new assistant so we both get familiar with it, hopefully in a less high pressure environment than on a bigger shoot.  I’ve done loads of shorts in the past and find I’ve had recommendations or offers of work from people from all sort of different departments- as always with a lot of these things it can be a case of “be nice to the runner, as they might be production manager in a few years”.  We also might get a good film at the end, where I can be pleased that we’ve done a good job.  Maybe I’ll get to work with a director who’s the next big thing, and will get me on subsequent jobs but on the other hand I could also win the lottery 😉

11) Food/Drink
While I’m on set you’ll need to feed and water me (and the rest of the crew)- I can’t leave to get anything during the day.  I’ll need a hot meal too, don’t mind what it is as long as it’s hot- I’ll be on my feet and doing stuff all day so will need to eat a reasonable amount.  Although I do like takeaway pizza it’s probably best not to have it every day.  Access to water all day is a must.  Tea and biscuits are always good, too… and proper coffee.  Although I’ll dress appropriately if I get cold/hungry/thirsty I’m not going to be able to concentrate on the job and if your crew ends up like this it doesn’t end well

Wisycom MCR42 v3.x firmware

I’m doing this post as I’ve realised quite a few people with wisycom haven’t updated their firmware and there’s a quite a few nice features they’ve added since v3 on the MCR42.  The new UPK mini programmer is also available, which is considerably cheaper than the older UPK300, which allows much faster changing of frequencies, locking, unlocking and hiding of frequencies and allows you to update firmware.  NB: if using windows 8, the installation process is a bit convoluted- there’s a help file in the wisycom manager 0.8 program.  And you need to press the connect button for it to see the UPK.

First up, if you’re used to using the MCR42, it initially appears that you’ve got an extra menu layer to navigate, the ‘Edit RX1’ and ‘Edit RX2’ are no longer at the base of the menu tree.  However, you can see and access the settings  through the new ‘quick access’ screens.  The only thing I’ve found I regularly use which isn’t in the quick access menus is the power on/off for individual transmitters.

These are accessed by pressing the ‘sync’ and ‘scan’ buttons which allow you to scroll through these new screens.  Hit ‘sync’ and you get to the RX1 frequency screen:

Pressing select allows you to alter any of the frequency settings, scrolling between channel, and group.  There’s an option to display by the channel name (in fast channel select in the advanced menu), but the frequencies aren’t displayed   There’s another similar screen for RX2.  Next is the RF screen:

This shows your RF strength from each receiver, with a bar for each antenna.  Hitting Menu/Select brings up an RF settings menu, where you can alter squelch settings.  Squelch is the threshold at which the receiver will cut out any incoming RF, this is to ensure when a transmitter goes out of range, you don’t get a burst of static coming through.  There’s a new ‘Auto Squelch’ feature, which runs a scan and sets squelch threshold based on the RF in your environment at the frequencies your receiver is set to.

To run a more general RF scan, hold the ‘scan’ button when in the main screen and choose a receiver and group to scan.  Use the ‘Center’ group (00 as default) of frequencies to run a broadband scan and the regular block of freqs you’d use for more detail over a smaller area. There’s also an ‘intergap’ group, which I think is the frequencies at the start and end of groups. It pulls up a graph in order of ‘best’ to ‘worst’ freqs, if you want to see it in frequency order, press sync and scan at the same time.  If you’re using a user frequency block, I’d advise hiding all the slots you’re not using, so it doesn’t scan your lowest frequency on the RX loads of times.

Finally there’s the Audio screen- this is easiest to access by pressing ‘scan’ once from the main screen (you can also scroll through the other quick menus first with ‘sync’):

This shows your expander settings, audio output level (I generally keep them on +12dBu, this is the level that the DAC outputs the signal, anything else is attenuated) and has big modulometers for each receiver.  Although the increments aren’t marked, I’d guess they’re all 6dB (as the bottom is -42dB and top is 0dB and there’s 7 markers).  It’s so much easier checking levels now.

Finally, the preset feature- it’s in the main menu, second item down (under infrared).  There’s 3 presets (you can rename them using the infrared programmer and software), if you hit ‘save’ and select a preset- it’ll save the current settings and return them when you restore that preset again.  This receiver has presets for camera hop frequencies and talent mics 7 and 8, for example and I can now change between the two easily.  It’s also possible to put different expander settings on different presets.  Expander settings can be tied to channel numbers in the MCR4x manager program:

Here I’ve set channels 22-34 to have the sennheiser evolution expander, and programmed group 12 to have the Channel 38 preset frequencies for this system.  There are loads of channels per group, so you can do this.  This does, however work across groups- so try and keep certain channels for certain transmitters only.  You can hide the frequencies before the first one you’re using (and you can select multiple blocks using shift/ctrl+click for locking and hiding, whcih saves time).  Presets can also be used in the wisycom transmitters, specifying input levels, frequencies and compander settings.  There are also updated ENC and ENR 1.2 companders, introduced in v3.3 firmware.  These have a 1.2:1 compressor on the output for use with DSLRs and other noisier consumer inputs- no difference to the TX.

25 pin modular system

This is a bit of an ongoing project, but started having thoughts about it after working with an Audio Ltd 2040 system while assisting a production sound mixer on a drama job.  We were having serious range issues throughout the job, the cause of which was possibly something attached to the camera.  The only way we could get round this was to move the receivers closer in ‘remote boxes’.

These were an RK3 rack in a box with a battery and antenna inputs and outputs, and we rolled out either individual XLR cables or a multicore to connect to the main trolley.  As the receivers themselves are very expensive, it’s not really practical having duplicates doing the same thing, so it was a case they could quickly be pulled out of the RK6 and slotted straight into the remote boxes.

However it’s a case that it’s not possible to do this with other receivers, such as the Wisycom MCR42, which I use.  There is, however quite a common standard for camera receivers.  Pretty much all slot in receivers have an option for a universal ‘Panasonic’ standard 25 pin connector on the base, which will output 2 channels of balanced audio.

So, I’ve now got 25 pin bases for all my receivers.  There are a number of options for antenna, audio and power distribution, which have 25 pin options.  I already owned the Audio Ltd EN2  distribution rack (which still isn’t up on their website, it’s about £550 +VAT) but got an additional 25pin base.  I was scatching my head and looking at getting something made up so the receivers slotted in, but realised the camera mount brackets had holes in the same place as the mounting points on the audio CX2 receivers.  Audio do a base for the receivers with a bar with mounting points on. So just screwed on the brackets and  now have slots.  A disadvantage with the 25 pin section on the audio ltd distributor is that it adds a bit too much weight, there’s a steel plate along the back and I’m not sure it really needs to be there.  When I get some time, I may drill out sections from that

The second mounting solution I have is a Lectrosonics Octopack.  Here it’s a case that the screw holes are in different places to those on the wisycom receivers, however Richard Meredith’s Audio Dept made a run of very purple mounting flanges, so the receivers sit in the slots properly and can also be screwed in so won’t come loose:

It’s not just wisycom which will work, almost any ‘slot in’ camera receiver should have a 25pin option (except Sony, who don’t like to play with others).  Other examples are Lectrosonics SRb, Audio Ltd CX2.  There’s also another distribution system, the PSC Six Pack.  There’s another mod to the wisycom camera plates (see the picture further up on the Audio Ltd distributor) where grooves have been drilled in the camera bracket so the cables can fit.

You can also ‘mix and match’ different brands of receiver, however they don’t always orient the connector the same way round. Here’s a Sennheiser EK3041 (it’s actually on, but the display’s nowhere near as bright as the wisycom):

They also work on their own without antennas, here’s a quick and light cable for the back with power and audio connections:

Basic professional kit

I’m going to just take you through what’s involved in a basic professional kit for sound recording.  And, if you want to get into this business what sort of things you should prioritise.

1) Boom microphones

These are the important things, and are actually the only bits of your kit which will make a significant difference to the rushes you hand over.  They’re also mature technology, so nothing new’s going to come along and make them obsolete any time soon.  I’d expect to get 10 years or more use out of a professional mic.  So buy a good one (or maybe two).  It depends what kind of work you’re doing, but a good shotgun or hyper/super-cardioid mic will actually work nicely for both outdoor and indoor work.

Cheapest professional solution would be a 2nd hand Sennheiser MKH416T (T= T powered, so will require an adapter to work with most modern mixers).  It’s very directional, very robust (both with build and environmental conditions) and has pretty low self-noise.  Downsides are any off-mic sound is not natural and it doesn’t work well in reflective spaces.

I run Sennheiser MKH8060 and 8050 mics, which are newer, more compact, don’t have quite the same directivity but work better off axis and in reflective interiors

2) Boompole, shockmount, windshield

This is all the mechanical stuff, oh- that shouldn’t cost much, or matter, should it? It all affects how easy it is to use the gear and it’ll make noise when set up or used incorrectly!  Again, don’t cheap out on this stuff.  For anything on your own, you shouldn’t really be using a boompole much longer than 10′, it get unwieldy and you’ll start doing horrible things to your back.

Carbon fibre really makes a difference to the weight.  Internal cables can be handy for doco jobs, but they’re not necessary and can flap about (making noise) if you’re moving.

Different people like different manufacturers but Ambient, Panamic, VDB K-Tek and PSC all make professional stuff and second hand poles do come up *cough*.  Loon also make excellent poles but the company’s had some difficulty so purchasing or getting hold of parts may be difficult

Your mic needs a suspension, and one that works for the weight of your mic too.  Look at Rycote, or Cinela (if you’re rich)’s website and they can advise on the right one for your microphone (you can even talk to them).  Also, if you’re outside you *need* windshielding, otherwise everything will sound like low frequency rumble.  A suspension and softie will do for light wind, but once you’ve got anything over a light breeze you’ll need a ‘zeppelin’ type suspension.  Again, Rycote or Cinela will be the ones that last (again, check their website or with them directly for the right size).  Rode do a cheaper one, but it’s a bit bigger and more unwieldy

3) Radio Mics

These little things work by the power of witchery and are also devilishly expensive.  The bit where you don’t cheap out is (again) the microphone.  Sanken COS11 and DPA 4071 (or 4060/4061/4063) are ‘all purpose’ professional mics. They’re the bits that make the big difference.  Watch out buying second hand lavelier mics, as they get older the cables get stiffer

The nicer top end transmitters and receivers are often smaller, sometimes more robust and offer extra features like control and increased bandwidth.  Performance and sound-wise some of the cheaper analogue systems, Audio Wireless, Audio Ltd EN2 and Micron seem to offer some of the best value for money. Lectrosonics, Zaxcom and Wisycom have more bells and whistles (almost literally for the lectro remote control tones). Audio Ltd 2040 and Sennheiser 5000 sound great and are small, but are expensive.

Watch out what your frequency ranges are.  We can legally use 606-614MHz (with a license) and 863-865MHz in the UK when out and about.  Other frequencies can be licensed for fixed locations (see https://www.pmse.co.uk/).  For the majority of doco type work I don’t use more than 2 channels worth of radio mics, so don’t buy more than that to start with.  The second hand market’s particularly good for lower bandwidth analogue systems at the moment, since Wisycom dropped their prices considerably last year and *everyone* bought them.

As an absolute minimum go for sennheiser evolution series (sk100, ek100) transmitters and receivers , they can also be useful later for sending signals around set for monitors etc

4) Mixer

A lot of people ask “what recorder should I get?” when they start out.  This is not the correct question.  You need a mixer for any ‘lower end’ properly paid work as the editor isn’t going to want to patch together hours of individual tracks.  They need a mix (and you’ll also get to do your job, mixing sound) and usually this will get recorded onto camera, so you need the right outputs.  Zaxcom and Sound Devices make some nice machines which are both mixer and recorder in one box, however you don’t *need* this.

The mixer’s the heart of your kit, it’s what you’ve got hands on control of and everything runs through it. You’ll need at least 3 channels, and the stuff you’re paying for is professional quality preamps and limiters.  Second hand SQN, Sound Devices 302, 442 or 552 (you get a recorder thrown in!) are all readily available at reasonable prices.  Direct outs might be a nice thing to have later, but don’t worry too much.  You’ll also need an umbilical cable to camera which will cost you about £125-150 to have made up.  These will also all run for ages on AA batteries (552 is maybe an exception)

5) Headphones

This is your only way of hearing what’s going on. You need closed back headphones and nothing with active noise reduction (as it’ll process what you’re recording!).  Again, really important and personal choice.  Here’s some professional options:

Sennheiser HD25, HD26 PRO, HD280
Beyerdynamic DT770, DT250 DT1350
Sony MDR-V6, MDR-7506, MDR-7510
Ultrasone 550 PRO

6) Bag, Harness etc

This is all down to personal choice, but totally key for ergonomics, for how your gear fits together.  They seem really expensive for what they are, but as soon as you start having to unplug and plug in cables out of some kind of camera bag it becomes tedious, especially if you have an issue with something. KT Systems in the UK and Kortwich in Germany will make custom bags (and do off-the shelf things).  Other manufacturers include K-Tek, Porta-Brace, Petrol (who seem to have been re-branded to Sachler this week), and Orca (who originally did the Petrol bags).

Harnesses can be important, again, it’s a personal preference.  The can be expensive, but so are osteopath’s bills!

7) Recorder

This is where you can really cheap out and still have great recordings!  You need 2 channels, which can handle professional line level (Tascam recorders with XLR connectors do, while Zoom don’t) or consumer line level if your mixer has a ‘tape out’ jack.  You don’t need extra mics, you don’t need 192kHz recording, just 2 line ins and a record button, all the niceness is in your mics and mixer.  This will be totally fine for an emergency backup if the camera audio goes wrong, or for jobs with DSLRs (don’t plug into them, just don’t).

Some of the issues with a lot of the consumer recorders is that they’re made for ‘hand-held’ use, which means the screen’s in the wrong place for bag use.  A solution is some have a remote control, so you can bury the recorder in your bag, however you can’t change settings (if you need to).  Tascam have some new recorders with wifi control on your phone, which could be really useful for this,  just mount your phone on your bag (NB I haven’t tried this, but do intend on giving this a go).

If it’s a case you need multi track or time code, then hire another recorder in and charge production the rental fee.

8) Batteries

This will depend on the gear you’re using.  Some gear may run off rechargeable AA batteries all day, however quite a bit doesn’t.  For this size of bag either Sony ‘L-type’ batteries or Hawk woods NP35 would do the job, with the sonys being cheaper (knock-offs can be bought on ebay, although can’t vouch for quality) for all the chargers etc.  Hawk woods make a power distributor

9) Cables

These will cost more than you think and if you don’t have them, nothing works!  A number will require specialised connectors (which are usually £10+ to buy alone) and will have to be custom made.  Learning how to make them yourself can save quite a lot of money and will be really useful allowing you to fix them in the field if they break (which will happen).

There’s no magic in cables which makes things sound ‘better’ (despite what audiophile magazines may say), they either conduct or don’t.  However, choosing the right cable for the right job (flexibility, right kind of shielding) will make a difference to how long it lasts, and how usable it is.  Again the connectors make a difference, with how serviceable and reliable they are

Always make sure you’ve got at least 2 spare XLRs with you for doco jobs too.  There’s a number of skilled cable makers about who will make cables to order.

10) Zoom F Series (addendum)

Here’s a short addition about these machines since they’ve been released after this post was written.  Effectively both the F8 and F4 are mixer/recorders, and from all accounts are pretty decent quality.

On paper the F8 has more features, more inputs etc, however I think the F4 looks more practical for the majority of jobs I do in the bag, being designed more like a mixer.  It’s got bigger knobs on so should be possible to mix on (the F8s are only really useable to set levels and make minor adjustments due to how tightly they’re positioned), has full size XLR outs (so you don’t need to have TA3 adapter cables) and a dedicated return feed.

On both machines  the line ins are still on jack plugs only, which is a real annoyance- they don’t lock and, again more adapters or custom cables.  Also the limiters are digital, so if the signal is too hot going into the analogue to digital converter, it’s toast.

In a drama situation, on the other hand the F8 is more useful as either a backup recorder, additional channels or something to put in the boot of a car with its remote functionality. The fader control surface should allow it to be used as a proper cart recorder too