Timecode and Sync Workflow Flowchart

Here’s a flowchart of what I do when asked about timecode workflows and keeping things in sync.  It should be useful to other departments too, when specifying kit.

Note that it is not always possible to run a timecode based workflow.  This is especially the case with consumer equipment.  In this case, the best solution is to use a synched digislate.  Here there is a visual record of the timecode in the image which can be entered manually in the edit.

Other solutions are a good old clap in front of the camera(s).  Editing software also has built in algorithms for matching audio waveforms.  They’re not always reliable and won’t work if the audio on camera has no relation to the master audio recorded

Click on the image below and hopefully you’ll be able to read it (it may require some zooming/scrolling on lower resolution screens or mobile devices):


Professional Field Recorder comparison

There’s been radio mic comparison table up on this site for years now, and I had the bright idea of doing one for recorders, partly as a lot of people don’t really know what’s out there (and some assume it’s just Sound Devices).  I’ve only included those with features suitable for professional use in the field – timecode, metadata input, DC power, reasonably sturdy build and those that are current products. I have missed off the Sound Devices 702T and 744T as they have relatively low track counts compared to most of the other machines.

Also, there isn’t any info on ergonomics or sound quality as they’re both subjective.  The only machine it’s not possible to mix on (but you can route) is the Sound Devices 970- which is really designed to have a mixer in front of it, in some ways that is a bit of a different beast and is the only one which can accept a MADI feed.  Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes or omissions, this is mostly from published specs:

Edit:  Added Aaton Cantar Mini specs.  I’ve also missed off the Sound devices 664 as it’s similar in specification to the 688

2019 Update- added Sound Devices 666 (or ‘Scorpio’, as they insist on calling it) and Zaxcom Nova

  Mic/line inputs Line inputs AES3 inputs AES42 inputs (pairs) Max Inputs to tracks Rec Tracks available (192kHz) Rec Media
Aaton Cantar X3 8 4 8 2 24     24 (24) SSD, 2xSD, USB
Aaton Cantar Mini 4 2 4 2 10     16 (16) SSD, 2xSD, USB
AETA 4minx 4 6***** 2 2 8     8 (8 at 96kHz) SD
Nagra VI 4 2 4 0 8      8 (8) HDD, CF, USB
Roland R-88 8 0 2 0 10      10 (4) SD, USB
Sound Devices 633 3 3 2 1 6      10 (6) SD, CF
Sound Devices 688 6 6 4 2 12      16 (6) SD, CF
Sound Devices 788T 8 0 8 4 8      12 (4) SSD, CF, Firewire
Sound Devices 970 0 8 8 0 64      64 (32 at 96kHz) 2xSSD/CF, 2x eSATA
Sound Devices 666
(or Scorpio)
 16  4  32 36 (18)   SSD, 2xSD
Sonosax SX-R4+ 4 2       10* 4 16      16 (16) 2xSD
Tascam HS-P82 8 0 8 0 8      10 (4) 2xCF
Zaxcom Deva 24 12 4 24 8 24      24 (24 at 96kHz) SSD, 2xCF
Zaxcom Maxx 4 2      0/4***       0/1*** 8      8 (4) CF
Zaxcom Nomad 6 4       0/8***       0/1*** 10      10/12*** (10/12 at 96kHz) 2xCF, USB
Zaxcom Nova  4  2  4  10  12 2xCF 
Zoom F4 4/6**** 2 (unbalanced) 0 0 6      8 (8) 2xSD
Zoom F8 8 0 0 0 8      10 (8) 2xSD
  Balanced Outputs Unbalanced Outputs AES3 Outputs Output buses Multichannel Options Control surface Extras
Aaton Cantar X3 8 0 12 40      Dante 32×32 Cantarem 2
Monitor output, waveform display, play/rec, wifi, bluetooth
Aaton Cantar Mini 8 0 4 12       Cantarem 2 Monitor output, waveform display, play/rec, wifi, bluetooth
AETA 4minx 4 6***** 6 4   MIDI Soundfield monitoring
Nagra VI 2 0 2 4   MIDI  
Roland R-88 8 2 2        8 (direct)      USB interface 10×8 MIDI  
Sound Devices 633 4 2 4 6   CL-12 Wingman Remote
Sound Devices 688 8 2 8 8   CL-6, CL-12 Mix Assist, Dugan, Wingman remote, SL6
Sound Devices 788T 6 2 6 6   CL-8, CL-9 Mix Assist, CL-Wifi, GPIO
Sound Devices 970 8 0 8 64       Dante/MADI 64×64   RS422/GPIO/Network remote
Sound Devices 666
(or Scorpio) 
10  10  Dante 32×32  MIDI (MCU)  Android app 
Sonosax SX-R4+          0/2**                  2/6**     2/6**         4/8**      TBC network audio RC8+ wifi web interface
Tascam HS-P82 2                        0 8      10 (direct)   RC-F82  
Zaxcom Deva 24 10 0 12      10 (12 direct)   Mix-16, Oasis Nomad Touch, MixAhead
Zaxcom Maxx 4 2 0/4*** 4     Zaxcom digital tx option, Automix
Zaxcom Nomad 10 2 0/6*** 6   FC8, Oasis, Mix8 Zaxnet, Nomad Touch, Automix
Zaxcom Nova 8  0  6   Oasis  2x receiver slots for QRX212 
Zoom F4 2 2 0 4      USB interface 6×4 FRC-8  
Zoom F8 2 2 0 4      USB interface 8×4 FRC-8 Bluetooth remote app 
  Battery / power connection Dimensions (mm) Weight (kg) Notes      
Aaton Cantar X3 2x eSmart 2054, XLR4 90x320x240 3.55        
Aaton Cantar Mini 2x eSmart 2054, XLR4 90x259x234 2.3        
AETA 4minx Sony DV, HR10 75x260x195 1.9 ***** EXT I/O connector shared       
Nagra VI Nagra, XLR4 74x310x285 3.8 (weight with battery)      
Roland R-88 AA, XLR4 93x260x235 2.67        
Sound Devices 633 AA, DV, HR10 60x240x160 1.1        
Sound Devices 688 AA, HR10, NP1 (in SL6) 53x320x198 2.21        
Sound Devices 788T DV, HR10 45x257x153 1.7        
Sound Devices 970 2x XLR4 84x218x262 3.4        
Sound Devices 666
(or Scorpio) 
DV, 2x TA4 51x320x205 2.63      
Sonosax SX-R4+ eSmart 2054, HR10 50x200x144.5 0.91 *2 shared with aes out, **2nd figure with xlr5 output board      
Tascam HS-P82 NP1, AA, XLR4 100x270x260 3.65        
Zaxcom Deva 24 2x HR10 76.2x267x177.8 2.45       
Zaxcom Maxx AA, HR10 51x191x133 1.13 ***option variants      
Zaxcom Nomad AA, HR10 51x251x178 1.72 (weight with batteries)      
Zaxcom Nova 2x HR10 51x210x152 1.16 / 1.56***** ***** weight with 2x QRX212 modules     
Zoom F4 AA, HR10 54x178x141 1.03 ****line level only on jack, additional input option APH6XLR      
Zoom F8 AA, HR10 54x178x141 0.96      

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.

What gear should I get?

Loads of people (mainly if they’re new), ask this question, and the answers are unfortunately more questions:

What do you want to do?
How often are you going to use it?
How will it work with other gear?

It’s quite easy to get sucked into the idea of buying things (ooh, nice shiny lovely things) but a lot of the time, unless you’re using whatever it is on a frequent basis, you’re probably going to lose money on it.

Have a look at a local rental company (for example, in London there’s Richmond Film Services, The Audio Dept and Better Sound to name a few) and see how much it costs to hire whatever you need.  Also it often costs only slightly more to hire professional level gear (Audio Ltd, Sound Devices etc), over consumer gear (zoom, sennheiser evolution) while the professional level gear will be more robust, sound better and be able to interface with other professional gear more easily.

Also look at the features in gear that work for you personally and get the gear that works best for the way you find you work more often.  There’s a few things that can catch you out around returns/routing on certain mixers which you sometimes expect to be there and sometimes aren’t (like where the return signal can be routed, is there a ‘bus in’?)

Also, always factor in the cost of cables when you buy something, you often need quite a few new ones with obscure connectors on


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:

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.

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?

Timecode accuracy

Most pieces of professional audio and video gear designed for sync sound recording workflows run timecode, so that editors can easily match up picture and video which have been recorded separately.  However not all of them can be trusted to run on their own without drifting out of sync.  In order for equipment to avoid slipping out of sync, very accurate clock circuits must be used, which require specialised circuitry (temperature controlled crystal oscillators or TCXO).  They’re also expensive, so manufacturers often don’t implement them in their products.

I’ve gone through a load of manufacturers specifications to try and find timecode accuracy in equipment and here’s what I found.  I couldn’t find any specs for timecode accuracy in a number of products, in fact no cameras meaning they need to be attached to an external source.

Also, timecode alone will not stop picture and sound files being different lengths.  High accuracy clocks are also required to feed wordclock on audio devices and genlock on video in order to slave other devices to these rates, otherwise you’ll experience a difference in file length in accordance to how much your clocks are drifting.  This can be especially bad on long takes or syncing up live broadcasts
Also each of these figures goes for the accuracy of one source at maximum (specified) drift.  if using two of the same source, these figures should be doubled.

TC Source TC accuracy (parts per million) Time to drift 1 frame (mins) @30fps
Sonosax 1 555.55 9hrs 15mins
Zaxcom 1.54 360.7468 6hrs 1min
Tascam (specs from HS-P82) 100 5.5555 5mins 33s External Sync necessary
Ambient* 0.2 2777.75 46hrs 18 mins (requires tuning for this accuracy)
Ambient ACN 0.1 5555.5 92hrs 46mins
Timecode Buddy 0.16 3472.188 57hrs 52mins
Fostex (specs from PD606) 100 5.5555 5mins 30s External Sync necessary
Roland (specs from R88) 15  37.3737 37mins External Sync necessary
Denecke 1 555.55 9hrs 15mins
Betso 0.2 2777.75 46hrs 18mins


*in Sound Devices 7 series and 664, AETA 4minx, ARRI Alexa and Pre- ACN Lockit boxes

Updated to include Roland R88

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