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):
This is a bit of a ‘thought experiment’ as I haven’t actually got any of the kit to try out and found whether it actually works in a production environment or not. I’m also not sure if this is currently a workable solution for me and will state the drawbacks, but this could all be useful to some people- at least as a bit of an experiment
Currently there aren’t really any digital mixers suitable for location work and I’ve been looking at potential solutions to this. I’m aware that the Yamaha 01V96 is used quite a bit (in the US especially), but it’s big, power hungry and AC powered only.
A possible solution now is that a number of computer audio interfaces will work as standalone mixers (with a suitable control surface). They have a considerable amount of DSP power available with the ability to run EQ and multiple submixes. Another advantage is that audio can be sent to a computer, for playback of previously recorded tracks or even processing (auditioning noise reduction, for example).
Having done some research, here are some possible combinations of equipment:
Effectively these are the same box, except the LIO-8 is a cut down version of the ULN-8, with no microphone preamplifiers or additional DSP plugin licenses. They’ve been around for a while and use top quality components. Metric Halo do continually support their products and are the only company I’m aware of who offer hardware upgrades to their audio interfaces. At the moment there’s been mounting rumours of an upgrade to the DSP and interface with a 3D card (which would not involve buying a whole new unit), which would add a class compliant USB-C computer interface, improved DSP power and an additional card slot.
This is the only computer audio interface I’m aware of with a locking DC connector (4 pin XLR)! There’s also a second barrel plug, which could be used for redundant power. It has another unique property in that it’s the only DC powered interface with sample rate converters on the AES3 inputs. This means I could run my radio mic receivers directly into it using their digital outs. It’s got 8 analogue audio I/O and 8 digital AES3 I/O
Now for the drawbacks: it’s a big box- a deep 19″ rack unit 432 x 330 x 44 mm but it weights 2.6kg which isn’t too bad. It currently only has a firewire interface and OSX drivers so requires a good bit of fiddling to get current computers to work with it. They really need to update this and talk of the 3D card being ‘coming soon’ has been going on for about 2 years now.
Also, with the current architecture, the midi input will accept controllers using the mackie control protocol but needs to have a computer running in order to be able to control the mixer
These are effectively a load of different interfaces with different I/O which can be combined using the AVB protocol. For a while there was just the Ultralite AVB which could be DC powered, but at the end of last year a couple more, the 624 and 8A were released. Furthermore a whole bunch of digital boxes were announced last month with AES3, ADAT and MADI interfaces. All of these are in a compact ‘half rack’ format
I’m particularly interested in the 8D, however only half the inputs are AES3, the other 2 are SP/DIF and may require adaptors and/or sample rate conversion
The DC inputs aren’t locking, but will take 12-18V, only draw 10W on the current half rack interfaces and they don’t care about polarity either
The main drawback is controller integration- they won’t accept midi control, only OSC over a network. Their suggested method is using a tablet computer using a web interface. It should be possible to hook up a tablet to a midi controller and use an application such as TouchOSC or Lemur to control the interface as a mixer. Another future possibility is programming a BomeBox, although that doesn’t have OSC compatibility yet
These RME interfaces will all work with their totalmix FX mixer out of the box, and accept Mackie control midi commands. A few features such as some of the talkback functionality won’t work without a computer, however.
The drawback, however is with some of the digital interfaces used. They all us ADAT optical format, which isn’t common in broadcast equipment, so a converter box is required. RME do one, the ADI-4DD, however it doesn’t have any sample rate converters, so 2 AJA ADA4 boxes would be required to provide use with mutiple digital sources which cannot be connected to word clock. Again, power is with a barrel plug (and it’s not too fussy about voltage or polarity), although the babyface can also be powered over the USB bus, so could be a redundant power connection.
This is a system designed to work as a powerful digital mixer with a dedicated computer running all the mix software and also plugins at low latency. It’s not cheap, but is built for purpose. Working it on DC power may be a challenge (and I expect it may be greedy), however and would require a bit of hardware hacking- looking at the motherboards on some of the host computers (the smallest Impact model, for example will run from 12V but would involve fitting a 12V PSU and invalidating the warranty). Interface wise, only the MADI ones will run from 12V, so a MADI converter with the I/O you require would be required. DirectOut make the Exbox.AES which converts 16 channels of AES3 to and from MADI but without sample rate converters (but is has redundant locking DC inputs!)
This is actually a real hardware digital mixer- 8 analogue in and 10 out (including the headphone out, which can be freely assigned). I’ve bought one of these and it’s a really compact and useful machine. However, it doesn’t quite cut it for me I/O wise- I could do with some digital ins and outs. It’s powered over USB, but can accept 2 USB connections, so redundant power can be supplied. The touch control surface is surprisingly useable, there are ‘tracks’ along the faders and indents at 0dB. The only disadvantage with the touch control is you can have ‘jumps’ if you take your finger off and it’s not in exactly the same place as where the fader is. The K-Mix works with the Keith McMillan MIDI expander so can use 5 pin DIN cables
This is just a control surface- but a small DC powered one. I owned its predecessor, the iControls Pro which wasn’t bad, although from picture it looks like they may have improved the build quality since. The motorised faders are 100mm but did require a press downwards before moving them, so weren’t super smooth. In fact I quite like the idea of having smoother, non-motorised faders on a control surface). Icon have also recently showed off an expander, the Platform Z which adds blocks of 8 faders to the ‘M’. This is designed to work with a computer so only sends class compliant MIDI over USB. Various boxes are available which will work as MIDI hosts, however
This is another control surface, again with motorised faders, a modular system except the build here looks more rugged than the Icon at first glance and has more buttons (but less knobs). Also USB out only so may need a host device if not being used with a computer
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
I’ve seen a few people lately make boxes for all their battery chargers so they can just plug one them in and then have all their chargers set up. However, most of them relied on using a number of the different power supplies and sometimes running a power strip, which take up a load of weight and space. I’ve decided to make one but cut it down to be lighter weight and to also have the option of plugging in to a battery or car DC connection in case of being away from mains.
So, first of all I needed to figure out what to was going in and what was required to power it. I thought about 20 AA batteries is about the maximum I’d go through in a day (I try not to use any other kinds) . I also use 2054 style SMbus batteries- both the chargers for these are small but require external power supplies, and they take a 24V input. I also use USB to recharge my Timecode Systems boxes (and some USB batteries, and *everyone* wants a phone charger).
So (according to the manuals/existing power supplies)
2x AA chargers on 12V (1.5A each)
2x SMbus on 24V (2.5A each 5A total)
USB on 5V 2A
and I need something to power all that…
So, basic electricity time:
Power = Voltage x Current
Components will only work within a specific voltage range (otherwise they don’t work or break) and will draw up to a certain current. So the voltage is the ‘level’ of electricity and the current is the amount it uses.
So 1A of current at 12V = 12W of power
12W divided by 24V = 0.5A of current
so, to provide the same amount of current at twice the voltage requires twice as much power.
So, the SMbus chargers need 100W, AA chargers need 36W and USB needs 10W. In all that would need a 150W PSU to run everything at once at max power.
I actually ended up getting 2 under-specced 90W PSU as they were smaller and lighter, had variable voltage, USB built in and a display. However it may mean it’ll top out (7.5A) if everything’s on at once, which may mean some things won’t charge as quickly. It’ll also turn off if it gets too hot. The second can be used too if I need additinal power or even to power my cart
The 5V line is taken care of but what about either the 24V or 12V? Although it’s usually more straightforward to reduce voltage, I decided to run the PSU at 12V and get a 12V to 24V step up converter which will handle 120W. This way, it gives the option of swapping the PSU out for a 12V battery. I made all the linking cables up with 4pin XLR connectors, which is fairly standard for DC power distribution, and means the various components can still be used separately.
Here’s all the individual components connected together:
Ends were cut off most of the cables to replace with 4 Pin XLR connectors and the 24V output was soldered directly on. I also used right angled DC jacks to save space and avoid pressure on the cables when in the box.
For the box I used one of the newer Orca accessory bags made of moulded EVA plastic. It’s considerably lighter than a Peli case, yet still seems rather durable:
The AA chargers are velcroed to the pockets which contain the PSU, step up converter and USB hub. It’s a bit top heavy, so I may remove the support straps in the case to let the lid fall back as it falls over if not leaning against something. There’s a channel under the material on the hinge which makes a neat place to run cables too.
The USB cables run to the section to the bottom right, so whatever’s being charged can go there, and the plug can fit there when being transported
I’ve owned a Sonosax SX-R4+ for around 6 months now and I generally stand with what I said in my initial review: the machine has been a pleasure to use, sounds fantastic and has a lot of recording power in a small box. I’ve managed to get by with it on its own in a number of situations but with the v2 firmware it really opens up the machine and removes these limitations.
This is based on a v2.0 release candidate version of the firmware (which won’t be publicly released), there’s been a few bugs ironed out of this and v2.1 should be up on the website very soon.
This is the big one, so I’d better get this out of the way first. In v1 of the firmware the 4 main knobs on the front are ‘hard set’ to gain control of whatever the 4 XLR inputs are. Although it was possible to mute at zero and control gain ranges (so it was possible to mix on them), the ISO track levels would also change- so post would have to undo these gain changes.
Now this is no longer the case: the v2 firmware has “fader modes”. 2 different fader curves are available -60dB to +12dB (with a steeper rolloff at the bottom) and -60dB to +24dB (linear). Both mute at -60dB.
Faders are assignable to tracks on the mix configuration screen, and single faders can be assigned to multiple tracks for stereo or surround work or even as groups. This also now allows me to run my radios (Wisycom MCR42) in AES3 as before the gain was fixedto being ganged across both AES3 channels on each XLR. It’ll also allow me control levels using the AES3 inputs on the accessory port (when I’ve sorted out the cabling)
If a fader is not assigned to a channel which is assigned to mix, then it comes through as if the fader is at 0dB. It’s possible to mute by changing the mix assignment (which is possible while recording)
So, how do you set gain and fader level with only one knob? As default the push buttons on each knob are the input settings and PFL for each XLR input (long press can also be assigned), so whatever’s going into each of these channels can be soloed and gain adjusted with the menu knob (gain is the initial setting on the input screen). Here’s a video:
Also, due to the high dynamic range of the converters it’s possible to set gain very conservatively and set up the mix tracks to be up to +20dB higher than the ISOs. With another 24dB available at the fader it’s possible to work with 44dB of headroom with unnoticeable loss on the ISO tracks if desired. With the AES3 inputs you’re limited to what happens on the analogue end of whatever you have plugged in, but can have them come in a 0dB and again boost in the mix. An issue however with setting ISOs this conservatively is it become difficult to PFL as there’s such a big difference. Personally I might only use these more extreme settings for scenarios where there may be more extreme dynamic range.
Routing works so that inputs (and mix tracks) are assignable to any 1 of 16 tracks. These can then be assigned to 2 mix tracks, or any of the outputs on the machine. Again, anything can be assigned to anything. There’s also due to be a new output board released soon with an XLR5 connector, switchable between 2 channels of balanced analogue, 4ch of AES3 or unbalanced analogue out. This gives a total of up to 8 outputs over a combination of unbalanced and AES3. Something I have noticed is that it’s not possible to send individual channels post-fade to outputs, though- which could be useful for mix-minus.
Although it’s now possible to separately assign the inputs, faders and outputs, it’s reasonably easy to keep a handle on what goes where. The new colour coding to channels also helps. The record tracks matrix shows input, track name, arm and colour. Mix menu and output menus also show track assignments and have recallable presets
I found I could navigate this recorder very quickly using the v1 firmware, however more programmable buttons and features have come online in the v2 firmware. All buttons (7) and 5 touchscreen areas can be programmed to perform different functions with both short and long presses. Shortcuts for channel muting is also something which isn’t there and I can see that being useful The Mix setup screen has also been brought up a level in the menu to the main screen.
Here’s an example report:
At first glance this machine looks like it’s something similar in size and capability of the Sound Devices 633 or Zaxcom Maxx, however there’s quite a lot more crammed into the box. The interface feels more like a larger recorder such as the Zaxcom Deva and as long as you have access to digital outputs or with an ADC it has the power to be used behind a bigger mixer and be able to deal with complex drama jobs. I don’t believe there’s anything else that can cram so much mixing and recording power into such a small space.
A feature it doesn’t have compared to the Sound Devices 688 and Zaxcom Nomad however is some kind of automixer, and although the control surface was announced a while ago now, both Sound Devices and Zaxcom have their own control surfaces released. When I had my hands on the pre-release physical mockup I found it had super smooth faders but was a bit cramped.
The R4+ does, however have a considerable amount of DSP power inside, though- so can potentially see additional features being added
Having both the mixer and recorder in one box has really become a standard these days for doco recording. It’s quite easy to see why, it’s 2 boxes with the size and weight of one. However, if something goes wrong with it you can be stuffed. With my old rig, say if there was a problem with either the recorder or mixer it would be possible to either cable to camera and just use the mixer. Or plug directly into the recorder and just record iso tracks. Either way, if something bad happened to either box it’d be possible to get something. If you’ve got one box handling all your mixing and recording and it goes wrong (and it’s a computer!) you need some kind of failsafe.
Since I bought the SX-R4+ I’ve been carrying this rig in the bottom of my bag. This is partly because I’m only set up to send to camera over wireless or AES3 digital with the R4+ (currently waiting for the XLR5 option board) so it’s had a bit of use, still:
It’s a Sonosax SX-M32 3 channel mixer, Wisycom MCR42 dual channel radio receiver (with standalone back and AA battery compartment) and a Sony PCM-M10 recorder (with remote on the right).
All of it will work for a good 5-6 hours from AA batteries (the recorder runs for about 24!). So say, I run out of Li-Ion rechargeables, or they’re held up in customs I can at least get a runner to buy a load of AAs from a shop. I can run a boom and 2 radio mics and be cabled to camera or record independently (with no timecode). Also a feature the PCM-M10 has which the SX-R4+ doesn’t is recording as MP3 (!).
The whole bag weight about 2kg and I’d probably find I can do a great deal of more basic jobs with this rig
Even when I do get the additional output options for the SX-R4+, I still think I’m going to carry this around, just in case…
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:
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.
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 thinkthey 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.
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
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…