Holiday 2012: Recording Audio for Video Productions

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When it comes to production sound for film or an original series, quality audio capture is imperative. Bad audio can ruin the experience for everyday viewers and critics alike. In this article, we’ll discuss the elements of an effective and ultra-portable sound recording rig.

The first step is undoubtedly the recorder itself. At the very least, you’ll need a device with XLR inputs that is capable of capturing audio at 24-bit/48 kHz resolution. For the purposes of demonstrating entry level rig construction, we’ll build our equipment sets around portable digital recorders, specifically, the Tascam DR-40 and the Roland R-26, which can both record WAV audio at resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz and have two XLR/TRS combo inputs with Phantom power. Additionally, they each record to SD or SDHC cards and output data via USB Mini-B ports.

The Tascam DR-40 has many applicable features for production sound. It can record 2 stereo channels at once and accepts SDHC cards up to 32GB. Additionally, you can enable Dual Recording Mode, which captures a safety track at a lower volume in case your main track distorts or peaks out. The switchable pre-record option provides 2 seconds of audio prior to you engaging the recorder, which is a nice safety net for dialogue. Wind noise and low-frequency rumble can be minimized with the low cut filter, which can be set to 40-, 80- or 120 Hz. The DR-40 can operate for 15 hours on 3 AA batteries, but can also be powered by USB bus power, an external battery pack or an AC adapter.

The Roland R-26 can record up to 6 channels simultaneously, in a number of configurations, allowing very flexible and thorough recording options. In addition to its XLR/TRS combo inputs, the R-26 has 2 sets of internal mics (XY and omnidirectional) as well as a 3.5mm plug-in mic jack. The input sets even have independent low cut and limiter settings. It also has a 2 second pre-record option. The R-26 accepts SDHC cards up to 32GB and can be powered by 4 AA batteries or the included AC Adapter. It is also compatible with rechargeable NiMH batteries.

A shotgun microphone is the next step in capturing production sound. The Sennheiser MKE 600 is a great choice, featuring a high level of directivity with excellent off-axis rejection and SPL handling up to 132 dB. It weighs only 4.5 ounces and can run on Phantom power or a single AA battery. The Røde NTG-2 is a supercardioid shotgun mic that provides great focus on the source, isolating from off-axis sounds, while handling sound pressure levels up to 131 dB. It weighs 5 ounces and is powered by either an internal AA battery or Phantom. The K-Tek Avalon Series Boompole will allow you to get either of these mics comfortably above your source.

If you’re using the Roland R-26 recorder and would prefer to keep your XLR inputs open for wireless microphones, you could combine Røde’s VideoMic Pro and Micro Boompole. The VideoMic Pro is usually a shoe-mount mic for DSLR cameras, but the Micro Boompole allows you to use it as a full-on elevated shotgun mic. The VideoMic’s 3.5mm connection is extended through the boom and outputs at the bottom. To take full advantage of the R-26’s 3.5mm stereo input, the Stereo VideoMic Pro is also compatible with the Micro Boompole and provides an XY cardioid condenser pair. Both mics feature an impressive 134 dB SPL handling and are powered by a 9V battery. A Dead Kitten Windshield can help minimize wind noise in both.

Wireless lavalier systems allow you to place a microphone discreetly on a subject, closely capturing their dialogue. The battery-powered Sennheiser ew 112-p Wireless Lavalier System has a minimal footprint. Its small transmitter and receiver operate for 8-10 hours on two AAs each. The included subminiature lavalier microphone has frequency response from 80 Hz to 18 kHz. The system outputs to a 3.5mm jack, but includes an XLR adapter cable. Sony provides a competitive option with their UWP-V1 Wireless Lavalier System, which also has battery powered low-profile components, but doesn’t have as many available channels. Like the Sennheiser, this Sony system has a 3.5mm output jack and includes an XLR adapter cable.

The last major component of your production sound rig is a set of headphones. But not just any headphones, you need something that you can rely on. They will be your main source for catching wind and noise problems, not to mention monitoring the clarity of your mic placements. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones offer up to 32dB of isolation, allowing you to hear your inputs above your surroundings. Another industry standard is the Audio-Technica ATH-M35, which features 40mm neodymium drivers and aluminum wire voice coils. The Senal SMH-1000 headphones are new to the market, but have a top shelf feature set with natural isolation and low bleed factor.

In order to get the maximum performance and recording lengths from your digital recorder, consider using the largest SDHC card that your recorder will support. SanDisk and Lexar both make high performance 32GB SDHC cards. Ruggard makes a case to help you manage your storage cards. And for those who are constantly importing data from flash memory, the SanDisk ImageMate provides a high speed all-in-one interface to get it done more efficiently.

Now that we’ve covered all the necessary products to record production sound, all you need is a way to transport them. The Petra PS601 Deca Eargonizer Bag features removable dividers and plenty of space for all of the equipment discussed in this article.

Production Sound Mixing is a prestigious and demanding niche of the audio world. You’ll need a serious work ethic and some dependable equipment. Come kick the tires at the B&H SuperStore and talk to our Sales Professionals about what gear will best suit your requirements.