Timecode / Logging networks (ACN and TCB)

Something which seems to have been gradually appearing is how all the data about what we’re shooting is now able to be logged and centralised much more easily. You can now run a computer network on set where script supervisor, camera and sound’s notes can be compiled together and matched to all the individual files.

Two different systems have started to emerge (very recently), Ambient’s Clockit Network (ACN) and Timecode Buddy (TCB) and related products. There’s also the Cameron-Pace metastrobe system, but I haven’t seen any documentation on it (and imagine it’s very expensive to hire).
ACN has been in development for some time and started appearing on Ambient’s newest series of lockit boxes (ACL204). They’ve had this video up since it began:
http://player.vimeo.com/video/42540614

Ambient have also teamed up with a company called Easyscott to deal with their logging and metadata distribution. It seems to be a powerful system, although it requires having a server on set which someone’s got to look after (they suggest the 2nd AC). Logging currently works on iOS devices but they’re planning compatibility with other tablets in future. The server’s also able to deal process a video feed, so playback can be done over the network, rather than the camera, which may save some time on set.

Something else Ambient have been talking about with ACN is actually being able to read/write metadata directly off machines via RS232/RS422. They had a demo of this working with a 3D camera rig at last year’s IBC (http://youtu.be/YNNUnBpo_NI?t=4m17s), where metadata was updated on a tablet but I’m yet to see it implemented in any audio recorders. I’d expect the manufacturers who have implemented ambient TC units in their products to be those working with this, however not all have an RS232/RS422 port on them (Sound Devices 7 series do, though). Ambient have also just announced new slate/TC display which works on ACN.

Timecode Buddy are the new kids on the block as far as timecode systems are concerned, their system works in a similar way to ACN (where timecode data is transmitted over wifi), but they also have a UHF range transmitter for transmitting TC between units.

They’ve teamed up with MovieSlate, who make a slate and logging app, which has developed into quite a powerful logging tool which will talk to TCB and receive timecode. I use it for sound reports, but with all the multicam plugins etc multiple iOS devices can share info across the network and receive matched timecode. Buying the app does add up though- it’s £17.50 for the app (on each device), but then another £35 each for the timecode, multicam and sound dept add-ons (making £122.50 per device). I don’t think there are any plans on moving movieslate to any other platforms and TCB have said they can only get the devices to display accurate timecode on devices where they know the hardware delays etc, so if making something for android they’d have to know every model of phone/tablet that would be compatible.

Denecke have also got onboard and are developing a slate which will receive TCB network information: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl8jf_8gIOg

Finally, Movieslate are also working on adding a video feed from a Teredek Cube to the logging screen- so a live picture (or pictures) can be seen from the iOS device.  TCB are also working with Adobe in order to add timecode to their prelude live logger.
http://vimeopro.com/ipstv/ipstv-at-ibc-2013/video/74495522

Both systems look very capable, ACN/EasyScott looks like it’ll be able to do a bit more in future- but involves a more complex setup, while TCB/MovieSlate seems to be a bit more portable, as you don’t need to move a server around with you (and find power for it).

Time will tell whether one will be VHS and the other Betamax…
Zaxcom’s zaxnet system already sends audio and timecode around set, maybe metadata will be added to this?

Cleaning / Circuit board porn

Well, last weekend during a couple of not particularly pleasant night shoots on a low budget feature, this happened after an SFX shot:

Anyway, I got the worst off straight away and all my gear continued to work without any problems for the rest of the shoot.

The exterior was easy enough to clean with spray on isopropyl alcohol, but the stuff that could get into pots/switches cause damage would be inside

Here’s the inside of the mixer:

SX-M32 interior top

 

SX-M32 underside
SX-R4 Top

I was slightly amazed how little dust had got in (although there was a bit, mostly at the back) however, I cleaned all the switches and pots with IPA and a toothbrush .  I’m also amazed how they pack so much into these small boxes.

The bag and harness were soaked in warm water with a bit of washing powder in, they’re currently drying in the bath:

 

Re-tuning radios

So, it’s illegal to use channel 69 now, but what if you’ve still got some gear tuned to that region- or is it worth your while picking up second hand gear tuned to other frequencies?

Almost all these modifications require swapping out components in the systems, some are cheaper than others.  Let me know if you’ve got any info on other brands/models (Micron?, Zaxcom?)

Sennheiser price list is up here: [PDF] (prices are ex VAT)

Lectrosonics here: [PDF] (US prices, ex VAT)

Audio Limited 2040’s are around £750+ VAT per TX/RX pair, older models (2020, 2000 series can’t be modified)

Sony DWX series- I’ve been quoted £558+VAT for the DWR-S01D receiver last year.  However I’ve also seen warranty packs in the states for US$215 or so (although not to CH38)

It’s also been pointed out to me that there’s another list on the IPS site (from December 2010): http://www.ips.org.uk/tx-upgrade-costs

3 channel / compact mixers

A couple of months back I had a bit of a discussion with someone looking to put together some interviews and was after a small 3 channel mixer.  I just thought I’d put some of my thoughts together on what’s out there, which I’ve used.

Sound Devices 302
Solid workhorse mixer, really compact, practically indestuctible.  I’ve used quite a few of these and they sound clean and fine, although some other preamps have a bit more ‘niceness’ to them and a little less noise.  They sound the same as the mixpre, 552 and 442 so are certainly broadcast standard.  It’s also possible to feed an extra 2 channels to the mix bus on the return (minijack) and adjust them independently.  3 channel direct out is possible, but a bit of a bodge- send ch1 and ch2 to left and right, leave ch3 faded down and monitor it pre fade on the headphones.

Fostex FM3
I’m really surprised I haven’t seen more of these about.  I tried one when I went for the Sonosax and there wasn’t much in it preamp-wise.  It’s got more flexible outputs than the Sound Devices.  It’s got 2 pairs of balanced outputs, which can be set at different output levels and an aux out which sends 2 of the 3 channels (selectable), pre-fade.  Loads of the I/O are on full size XLR’s too (including a 2ch balanced Bus in)  Only thing which I found a let down was the “fake” digital VU meters, which I didn’t find easy to read.

Sonosax SX-M32
I went and bought one of these, mainly because of the sound, and that I could also use it as a high quality preamp pair for chamber music recording.  Good points- it sounds fantastic, both preamp-wise and on the input limiters.   The analogue to digital converter is also as good as some expensive studio boxes.  The layout’s great and it’s got loads of output options (I’ve got the direct out option’B’ with hirose 10pin).
Bad points:  It’s expensive, and some settings (like limiter threshold) have to be changed at the factory.  I’ve also had a couple of niggles with meters on mine.  I’m starting to suspect it may be because I’ve been running unregulated power to it, I’ve just got a regulated distro and it’s been fine since, but it’s been back to the factory twice now for a thorough check out (and Sonosax have been great with this).  The A/D converter also makes it maybe a bit greedier on power than some of the others (the Sound Devices will last longer on 3 AA batteries, compared to the Sonosax’s 6).

SQN 4S Mini
Here, instead of 3 channels- you get 4 in a similar sized box.  There is a small caveat though, channels 3 and 4 don’t have phantom power or as much gain as 1 & 2, so are oly really suitable for radio mics (I can’t think of may situations where they wouldn’t be used for that) .  Channels 1 and 2 are good though, bags of gain and great limiters.  There are also direct outs for all channels and and an umbilical connection on tajimi 10pin.  The ergonomics are a bit quirky (like all SQN’s) with switched gain and HPF controls on the bottom (along with most of the manual!) and pan assigns on the right hand side, but you get used to them pretty quickly.  Something I can’t see is any way of routing additional inputs to the mix bus though, so multiple mixers can’t be ganged.

AETA Mixy
I’ve never seen one of these in real life, and was certainly interested in it.  Unlike the others it’s a digital mixer, with 3x direct outs and digital in and out (including on optical and USB).  It also comes with a fixed internal battery, which I’m a bit less keen on- AA’s can really get you out of trouble and are available almost anywhere..  The umbilical output’s on a neutricon and is designed for wireless tx and rx (I think this is standard for French broadcast) and the pin out also has DC in and out, so you may be able to power a camera hop from the mixer- this is also an option on the Sonosax.

Future Stuff
There have been a couple of announcements of products to be released including Zaxcom’s Maxx which is a 4 channel digital mixer/recorder, with a option for a built in wireless transmitter.  Also Audio Developments have a small 3 channel mixer with 2 channel recorder coming out soon.  Fostex have the DC-R302 out already, which is a 3 channel mixer with 2 channel recorder, however it only has unbalanced outputs- making it awkward for straight to camera jobs (but perfect for DSLR ones).  There are also quite a few rumours floating around that Sound Devices may bring out a similar (sound) device…
Any of the mixers above can also be paired with a small, basic recorder (I use a Sony PCM-M10) for transcription or DSLR work without adding much weight or size.

 

DIY Windshield Protectors

After a couple of mentions from other soundies- I thought I’d make something to protect my windjammers, my old one’s got a bit squashed in the back of a backpack going to and from jobs.  So to protect it from knocks and keep its shape I thought putting it in some kind of tube could help.

I bought 1m of 4″ waste pipe for £10.  I found, after a lot of struggling with a hacksaw that heating them up with a heat gun lets you cut through them with a knife with ease.  I cut lengths a bit longer than the total length of the windshields, and then around an inch out lengthways along the pipe.  At the moment they’re a tight fit (especially on the newer Rycote) and require stretching a little to get them on and off, although they seem to work.

Protip: Don’t use the microphones with the drainpipes on.  They’re far from acoustically transparent and quite heavy.

Tiny Shotgun

I’ve also got a new boom mic for general purpose doco work.  I’ve had a couple of minor issues with the AKG- although they sound fine (especially the hypercardioid), they have had a few crackles and pops when in humid conditions, such as being outside all night.  They’re also a bit heavy with the shotgun capsule for one handed doco booming.

Mics which use an RF condenser principle (Sennheiser MKH series and Rode NTG-3) are more resistant to moisture and will work in more extreme conditions.  I’d also heard a lot of good things about Sennheiser’s tiny MKH8060, so tried one out and decided to buy it.

It’s got a little bit of a high frequency boost (as shown on the mic’s frequency response chart), which seems to bring out dialogue a bit more and gives the sound a little ‘sparkle’.

With that I needed to get a windshield sorted.  After looking at the measurements, even though Rycote suggested a WS3 windshield kit, I’d also seen the WS2-MZL kit (with an MZL connbox, which will work with this mic).  However with no additional modules or filters the 8060 will fit in a WS1 with the MZL connbox.  I phoned up Rycote to make sure this was correct and they even made up a new part number: 086067 (WS1-MZL kit).  I also bought a ‘Tac!t” cable, which contains a steep 18dB/octave high pass filter at 60Hz, which should eliminate low frequency handling noise.

It’s also considerably smaller and lighter than the AKG CK69 setup which fits in a WS4 and weight about 850g, while the 8060/WS1 weight a bit less than 500g.  This will make a lot of difference at the end of a long pole.

 

Sound Devices 552 (internal view)

I’ve just bought a Sound Devices 552 for quite a reasonable price, due to a fault where the power input’s shorted (it’s fully functional using AA batteries).  I opened it up to see if it was something I’d be able to fix, but it looks like it’s something on the big surface mount board (possibly just a protection diode), so I won’t be touching that- it’ll be visiting Shure.

Anyway, I took some photos while it was open. Note the in-jokes on the PCBs, the sheer amount of electronics they’ve crammed in there and all those transformers:

Multiple Recorders

I’ve been asked to provide 6 individual isolated tracks for a job next week, and the most either of my recorders do is 4.  I gave production the option of hiring a lovely Sound Devices 788T but they weren’t too keen on the cost.

So, here’s what I’ve made:

 

I’ve also found that the Edirol R-44 does have Word Clock over the CTRL Sync jack- if you plug it in to the Tascam HD-P2 they’ll sync.

If we’ve also got all the correct cables these also will be synched up to a Nagra VI run by a second recordist- 12 channels, voila!

The mixer’s mainly there so I can monitor both recorders at once

I ran them for 30mins with a mic attached to the mixer (going into both recorders) and didn’t see any deviation of file lengths (although the start/stop times were slightly different)

Battery Powered playback

It can be a bit difficult to find commercially available speakers which work off DC or batteries, in fact the only one I know of is the Remote Audio Speakeasy, which isn’t easy to get hold of over here, or cheap.

I normally use a dB technologies L80 if I need to use a speaker, although it’s mains powered only- it’s a 35W amp driving 4ohm speakers and loud enough for most situations. Having taken a look inside, the main transformer outputs 23V, and I’d have to use regulators to get that from my battery power.

After a bit of a rummage around drawers I remembered I had a board for a 25W Tripath 2020 Class-D amp (you can get these off ebay for about £20, and they’re rather good) which ran off 12V.

I’ve got a little Yamaha NS10MM centre speaker, which I normally use as a ‘Grot Box’ monitor which I bought from Hard-Off  (yes, it’s called that, and it’s brilliant) in Japan for about £12 (it still has the label).

I soldered together a few connectors, hooked them up to a 12V Li-Ion pack (another cheapo ebay job) and, as I didn’t have a suitable case for the amp, and the speaker is likely to get chipped, put it all in a camera bag:

I also found out my passive DI works backwards, so can send balanced line out to this or hook up a wireless receiver to the bag

What’s in my bag

Here’s my bag- every sound recordist’s is a bit different and I thought I’d give you a tour:

Mixer

Logically, I’ll start in the middle.  The mixer’s essentially the ‘heart’ of a sound recordist’s kit- with it the recordist can control the level of signals, so that a healthy signal to noise can be maintained but the signal is not distorted.  It also has analogue limiters which will compress the signal during peaks (such as shouting)- this is one of the main differences between mixers built for broadcast and those built for music (in addition to build, powering options and outputs)

Each of the three larger knobs control the level of each signal being sent to the mix, whilst the gain knobs set how much each signal is amplified.  LF cut is a filter which reduces the amount of lower frequencies present in the signal (which can be increased by microphones being placed close to the subject), this can also cut out some noise from the microphone being moved around and wind noise.

It will also power microphones and amplify their signals

Mixer ‘input side’:

Here’s a view from the left hand side of the bag.  Here the inputs are going into the mixer on the left.  The cable at the top goes to the boom microphone, whilst the cables with red and green bands come from a radio microphone receiver.  The thinner red cables provide power and the black cable going into the recorder on the right comes from the mixer’s digital output

Mixer ‘output side’

This particular mixer (Sonosax SX-M32) has ‘direct outputs’, which means each of the amplified microphone signals can be sent out before they are mixed.  This can give post production more options. Here the top cable, with the darker red ring sends a mix to the recorder and the other three send pre-fader direct outputs. The smaller ‘mono out’ usually goes to a radio transmitter, sending out a 1 channel mix.  There are also a couple of other connectors out of view which include one for a sending a 2 channels to a camera and receiving one back so that I can hear what is being recorded to camera, when not using a separate recorder, and a smaller one which sends the mix digitally to the recorder.

Recorder

This is the box at the bottom of the main picture.  Although it is also possible to plug microphones directly into this particular model, the quality and flexibility is not as good as using a separate mixer (there are a few recorders becoming available which can also operate as a mixer).  This one (Edirol R-44) can record 4 channels of audio, as digital .wav files.   Some recorders also have timecode generators which can be synchronised with cameras, making it faster to synchronise video and audio in post production. I also own a 2 channel recorder with timecode facility

Wireless

There are a number of situations where it is impossible, or extremely difficult to capture quality audio without using cables.   Although the most expensive and advanced wireless systems are not as high quality or reliable as a cable, they’re close- and allow microphones to be placed where they couldn’t without wires.

This particular box (Wisycom MCR42) actually has 4 receivers inside, 2 per transmiter- selecting the one with the strongest signal.  It also has emulation modes for other brands of receiver (Sennheiser and Audio Limited) and a very wide bandwidth, making it suitable for international use

Radios can also be used for sending signals, such as an feed to a director, boom operator, script supervisor or camera to aid with sync (or to send a timecode signal).  There’s also a transmitter for this purpose on the right and second receiver on the left (single channel) for a third radio mic.

Powering

Inside the pocket at the back of the bag is the battery and distributor

From here the battery power is split between the mixer, recorder and 2 channel radio  receiver.  Here is the whole bag opened up:

Here you can see the red cables running to the recorder, mixer and radio receiver in the front pouch