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The Art of Audio at Adorama

The Art of Audio at Adorama

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Sound: the thorn in the side of freelance videographers and filmmakers, which separates the amateur film from the professional. Learn the basics of audio equipment

By Atif Hashmi

June 30, 2011

Imagine you’re at Adorama Rentals. You’ve reserved the camera you have been dying to use. You have a light for every contingency. You even managed to get that bizarre lens you’ve always wanted to use… You know the one. You’re about to check out, and you are gearing up in your head for the shoot, thinking, “I’m going to kill this film.” You go up to the counter with your treasure. You open the bag. It’s all there. Glorious. You turn to leave, when something pulls you back, it’s the hand of your friendly Adorama employee, who simply asks, “Will you be recording sound?” Uh oh.

Sound: the thorn in the side of freelance videographers and filmmakers. How do you do it? Does it even matter? Maybe just make the images pretty, and no one will notice the static hum. Maybe the camera has sound recording built-in?

Sound separates the amateur film from the professional one. It instantly boosts production value and determines if you get another job. Sound recording is an integral facet of filmmaking and needs to be met with same level of expertise and enthusiasm as image recording. In the end, are we not as filmmakers dealing with two primary senses, sight and sound?

First off, you need to ask yourself some questions. What is my end product? Am I shooting a music video? A short narrative? A documentary? Am I shooting an interview that’s going to end up online? Where will people be listening to it?

This is an integral part of the sound mixing process, finding out exactly what the end result will be, as much as resolution of image is concerned. Another major consideration is do you want to record sound in camera, or separately. Other important questions: who am I shooting? Where is the subject in relation to the camera? Is it a long lens shot of a couple walking along the water? Is it a diner scene with basic three shot coverage? An infomercial? An interview where the host is standing with a variety of guests in a crowd and will be seen from waist up and needs to have a hand mic? These concerns are an essential part of the filmmaking process and need to be given proper attention.

You have a plethora of sound recording tools to help you achieve your vision at Adorama Rentals. In the next few posts I’ll be explaining them by category, with a brief description of its best use and troubleshooting tips.

Important note: in the lineup of equipment necessary for recording sound the end quality of the sound is only as good as the weakest element in the chain, so if you have a great recorder but are using consumer grade mics, don’t be surprised if the end sound is still squashed.

Adorama has a team of talented rental specialists, however it is your responsibility to know what to do with the equipment you rent, so it is recommended that you rent something you haven’t used before a job, to get a sense of the tool and how to use it on location. After looking through this list of equipment, you should know that audio recording is a specialized and very important art form that, similar to photography, requires both a technical knowledge and artistic “eye”.

RECORDERS / MIXERS

Zoom H4n
A popular recording device originally intended to be used by musicians for recording sessions and for journalists conducting interviews with more than two voices of interest. The device’s operation is simple enough, and the manual provided with the rental package details everything you need to know for basic operation.

Since the built-in microphones are calibrated for music, voices can become an issue when just using the device on its own, leading to distortion. For better recording, try setting the device to 4 channel mode, which enables you to record using both the attached mics as well as your choice of microphones using XLR inputs. These include the variety of microphones found at Adorama, and you can think of this device as both a recorder and mixer when looking for available kits. Although not nearly as good as the 702T recorder in use with the 302 sound mixer, it is a solid device and able to work well for most interior scenarios. Not for use with professional 5.1 Dolby digital. Ideal end products are web video, interviews for TV and short films with low to medium budgets.

Sound Devices 702T digital recorder & Sound Devices 302 sound mixer

This combination is the standard for professional sound mixing and recording, and requires both to manage the type of audio file that is being recorded. To operate you need the proper  sound bag and XLR cable to connect to a microphone. In sound recording, the audio signal requires a mixer to gauge the proper levels and determine which source needs to be assisted (mixers are especially helpful for use with multiple mics. The recorder can record up to 4 channels either in separate mixes or a gauged master mix if recording for a quick turnaround.

MICROPHONES


Microphones are the lenses of sound, capable of recording a wide range of data and variable to the point where you can literally find a mic specialized for any need. Mics come in different models based on need and input/recording method, as well as different calibrations for how they record (some record better up close; some far away. Others are better for group settings with a greater degree of circular recording room. Below are the available microphones at Adorama Rentals.

Sennheiser Shotgun Mic XLR ME66

A professional grade device, the Sennheiser shotgun mic is a standard on any film shoot, as it provides ample recording over a wide range and can be equipped with both phantom power and internal power with the use of AA batteries. It requires XLR cable and either a hot-shoe mount for use as an onboard mic, or a boom pole to allow for optimum recording when doing narrative scenes that require the absence of a visible camera. For best recording using this mic, try equipping a boom operator with pole and mic, as well as a muzzle to block any distortions caused by wind. Also provide the boom op with velvet or silk gloves as they wont make any “handling noise” when operated. Boom op can be hooked up to his or her own pair of headphones and should be run through a mixer before being recorded (this can be replaced with a ZOOM or other pro-sumer device if necessary).

RODE Directional Video Microphone

For recording the simplest of interviews and mountable on any camera with both a hotshoe- mount and standard mic cable. The mic features its own power source, powered by AA batteries, while boasting a solid ten-foot frontal radius; it acts like a small end shotgun, the fall off being drastic from side to side. Recommended for use on simple doc shoots and interviews where only the speaker needs to be heard, and under minimal wind conditions. Clips onto most hotshoe mounts, suitable for use with HDSLR cameras and prosumer grade HD cameras.

LAVALIER MICS


Used with a Lavalier system these mics are specially made to be worn by the performer under or on their clothes near their throat/neck area. Tip for use, if you loop the cable around the clip of the mic it’ll supply needed slack in case of pull, stopping it from popping off with movement, and be careful of wearing coarse fabrics and nylons or parkas with these, they pic up clothes almost as often as voices. Sensitivity can also be gauged on the Lav units (below).

WIRELESS RECORDING


Above were options for devices that require a tethered system to transfer and record sound. Below are some options for recording wirelessly, these can be used with any mixer and recorder (or combination) that allows for XLR or standard audio input. The basic principles for wireless recording are a parenting of receiver and transmitter that live on the same frequency, and an attached recording device that lives with the receiver, as the transmitter carries the mic to the subject.

LAVALIER  SYSTEMS


Lavs, in short, are basic wireless mics that use small, clip-on microphones tethered to a portable transmitter that send the audio signal via radio-channel to a linked receiver, that in turn sends the signal via cable to mixer or recording device. Adorama has two models of Lav mics, each basically operates the same and are ideal for recording sound on subjects that you wish to receive optimum recording and cannot reach them with the shotgun or other tethered options, for instance, if the shot is a wide shot and you can see the ground and sky, so any cables running to mics will be visible. Each model operates in the same way although they cannot be mixed and matched (i.e. the G3 reciever cannot work with a G2 transmitter). When you check out a pair of Lavs they come with a audio mini-XLR cable for attaching to a recording device, as well as spare AA batteries. Clipping the mic requires some testing, so having the subject ahead of time and conducting level tests will yield the best result.


Sennheiser EK100 Receiver & Sennheiser SK100 Transmitter (G3)

The first generation in Seinnheiser’s arsenal of wireless recording kits provide all the basics you would expect of a wireless system. Operating on 2 AA batteries in each transmitter and reciever (4 total), these are capable of recording at distances topping near 80 feet from the transmitter to the receiver. Tip: try testing the system outdoors and indoors to properly calibrate headphone level with receiver level.

Sennheiser EW100 G3 Receiver & Sennheiser EW100 G3 Transmitter

The latest from Sennheiser comes the G3 model. Basically the same system all around, slightly configured interface, better at rounding peaks and pops with stronger frequency settings. CANNOT mix G3 receivers and G2 transmitters or vice verse.

Sennheiser EW 100 Handheld mic G3

For recording wirelessly on TV and documentary spots that require the use of a handheld microphone, ideal for use on live coverage of events (i.e. red-carpet and party events) as well as for situations where there is a host who will be speaking with multiple interviewees.

BOOM POLES


Boom poles are an essential part of a filmmaker’s kit, as they are the most common tool combined with shot-gun mic and XLR cable for capturing professional quality sound. Adorama has a few choices available, most of which are made with shotgun mount and provide enough extension for most situations. major tip for boom operators, try holding the boom along your back, like a staff with both arms gripping the ends using your neck as the fulcrum. This will allow for less fatigue during long takes, help with balance, and lessen handling noise (noise caused by boom operators movement on the pole picked up by the mic).

GITZO Mic Boom

An all around solid boom pole, good for interiors and light enough to be used all day with proper operation and little fatigue. Comes with shock-mount

BOGEN Super Boom

A great boom pole for larger setups when performers are at a distance. Much lighter than Gitzo boom. Comes with shock-mount

K-TEK Boom Pole

Solid pole with standard length and grips for loosening and tightening. Simple design. Comes with shock-mount

HEADPHONES

For the sound recorder, being on set means being able to record and register quality sound onset at the time of recording, to prevent discontinuity in the final product and to allow the story to be told in a clear and digestible fashion. To do this, they require the use of high-quality headphones, so that the difference between the sound being heard onset and that of the actual sound file is minimal (keep in mind that most headphones have to use a compressed version of the sound file and therefore we hear a lesser quality version based on the quality of the phones).

Sennheiser HD280 Pro Headphones

Sennheiser’s best must mean something. Incredibly durable, with a ultra-wide frequency response of 8Hz to 25kHz.

So there you have it, By simply considering the above information you will be well on your way to understanding the basics of Adorama video sound recording. One last bit of advice, always remember to hit record. Everything else is cake.

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This article originally appeared on the Adorama Rentals Blog. Atif Hashmi is a filmmaker in New York City.

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