My Audio Journey

Most of my friends who do stock footage also either work in the entertainment industry, or they do other projects such as short films and weddings.  Typically, we remove the audio from our stock footage clips, but when we need audio, we typically need GOOD audio.

That’s where I’m at.  My current “day job” is shooting television commercials and corporate commercials for the web.  So I am often recording actor dialog and/or voice-overs at a remote location. And since the T2i I used to shoot with recorded audio poorly (even with Magic Lantern, it wasn’t great) and my new T4i isn’t much better, I went the separate audio recording route.

I started with the Zoom H1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder that I got for $99 + shipping.  Yes, it’s made with cheap plastic, but it does an excellent job as a voice recorder for dialog and voice-overs.  I also picked up the Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone for about $30.  The Zoom H1 is so small it fits in a pocket, so it was easy to clip the lav mic onto the talent, turn on the recorder and have them stick it in a pocket.  After learning how to use it for a few days, it ended up working EXTREMELY well.  I got great sound out of it and shot about 20 or so commercials and a half dozen short films.  I even used it with a Rode VideoMic mounted on a boom pole numerous times.  The main problem I had as that most of the time, I couldn’t monitor the sound being recorded because the Zoom H1 tucked away in an actor’s pocket.

So after saving up some money from my new-found career, I upgraded.  Of course, it wouldn’t be worth it to upgrade to a better recorder (I’d have the same problem, plus a new problem that the better recorders won’t fit in a pocket) unless I also moved to a wireless solution for mic’ing up actors.  So, I sold the Zoom H1 and bought a Tascam DR-40 Recorder and an Audio-Technica Pro 88W Camera Mountable VHF Lavalier System.

I did a ton of research and all the “pros” kept telling me to spend $600 on a Sennheiser G3 system, but they weren’t willing to give me the money to spend. I read enough reviews that I felt taking a chance on the Pro88W wireless system was worth it.  And I can tell you, 5 short films and 60+ commercials later, I was right.  It’s a great system as long as you understand its limitations and work within them. First, it eats batteries, so ALWAYS keep fresh new 9-volt batteries in your audio kit.  I generally find that I’m using a new set of batteries for each shoot.  It comes with an omni-directional mic, so take a few minutes to have the talent be silent so that you can listen any other noises being picked up.  It’s also an advantage in that, if two people are standing next to each other, you can record both of them (great for weddings with the lav on the groom).  On a fresh set of alkaline batteries, I’ve successfully used it with the transmitter/receiver 100-feet apart in a large room or outdoor without any noise, but after about 20 to 30 minutes the batteries are used enough that 40-feet is your max range for noiseless audio.  After another hour of continuous use, that drops to 20-feet. Quite honestly, 90% of the time, I never have them more than 15-feet apart, so I rarely have an issue.  And at 15-feet you get a STRONG noiseless signal for about 2-hours of continuous use.

I could have used the new wireless mic with my Zoom H1, but I wanted a recorder with XLR connections and the ability to record multiple tracks.  On a few occasions where I shot interviews, I’d put the wireless mic on the talent who was on camera and I’d use the wired ATR-3350 lav mic on me.  Or, I’d use the wireless mic and shotgun mic simultaneously.  With the ability to record 4 separate tracks at once, it was very versatile.  The only issue I ran into with the DR-40 was that it was susceptible to electronic interference.  If I put the wireless mic receiver too close to the recorder, I’d get electronic interference recorded as noise.  Also, while Tascam released a new firmware that give you independent control over the line-levels for all 4 recorded tracks (previously, they shared the same levels), it was difficult to set them and monitor each one.

So, this last week I sold the Tascam DR-40 and bough a Zoom H4n Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder. It’s not as easy to use as the DR-40, but I don’t get ANY electronic interference with it and so far it seems to be working just as smooth as the DR-40 did.

Oh, I bought a “boom pole adapter”off eBay to convert a cheap painter’s pole into a boom pole.  The problem is that it came with a 3/8th screw that wasn’t compatible with my Rode VideoMic. Plus the Rode Mic worked well mounted on my camera for general sound, but as a “shotgun mic” for dialog mounted on a pole, it just didn’t seem to work well.  I sold it and bought an Audio-Technica AT8015 – Shotgun Microphone. It’s really great at picking up sound that you point it at and rejecting sound from the sides, but it’s a bit too long and I can’t mount it on my camera without it showing up in the frame because it sticks out so far. It works great on a boom pole, though.

Right now I’m saving up for my next two upgrades.  a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic and a Sennheiser G3 wireless lav kit.

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