Being Green in the Field - Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in Audio Field Production
By Sam Mallery
Climate change is on everyone's mind these days, and while individual actions to reduce waste won't radically impact our global crisis, they will at least help. There are a number of things that can be done on a production set by audio people and other crew members to help conserve energy and cut down on waste. For example, efforts can be made to power down the lighting during long breaks between shots; you can be more conscious about cutting the ignition on production vehicles that are idling unnecessarily; and you can make efforts to use fewer disposable water bottles. Getting everyone on set involved in conservation is the key. Group efforts go a long way, but what you do as an individual has an impact as well.
Anyone who works in audio field production knows that the one environmentally harmful item you burn through day in and day out is batteries. Wireless microphone systems tend to eat up battery life the quickest, but your portable field mixer and portable audio recorder both require a lot of juice. Many audio professionals just factor in the cost of single-use batteries and the need to constantly supply themselves with new ones as a repetitive chore on the job. There is an alternative to dumping a handful of spent AA's into the trash/landfill at the end of the day. The solution is to harness the power of rechargeable professional video camera batteries for your audio equipment.
The constant presence of NP-1 and Anton Bauer batteries on production sets makes them a natural choice for adapting to power audio equipment. With a few accessories and a little planning, you can cut down your single-use battery consumption significantly. Doing so is not terribly complex. Here's a simple guide that illustrates how to power a portable mixer:
NP-1 caps are useful for powering single pieces of equipment, but many of us have multiple devices that all need juice. It gets cumbersome with numerous NP-1 batteries and caps powering several pieces of gear in one audio bag. The solution here is to utilize a battery distribution box. People tend to shy away from these systems because they seem unfamiliar and intimidating. But stay tuned— they are easy to set up, easy to use, and they will save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run.
NPADM4 NP1 Cup, for use with Shure FP32, FP31, Wendt X4, X2, PSC M4, M4A+
NPADCL33 NP1 Cup, for use with Lectrosonics IFBT1, 100, 200, 400 series & BattElim, PSC DV Promix 3, Shure FP-32A & FP-33 mixer, and others
NPADCSQN NP1 Cup, for use with PSC M3, AlphaMix, M4mkII, Wendt X5, Sound Devices 302, HX-3, and 2nd generation of MixPre & 442
NPADFR2 NP1 Adapter Cup to Fostex FR-2
NPADWX4 NP1 Cup to power adapter cable with 4-pin female XLR, 18"
One of the huge benefits of using a battery distribution system is that you're powering all of your equipment from a single battery. You no longer have to worry about the battery life of each individual piece of gear. Never again will you be in the middle of an important job and have to tear apart your sound kit in order to feed disposable batteries to a faltering mixer or wireless receiver. With a distribution box, you turn all of your equipment on and off from a single switch. You can set your audio bag up as you like, pop a freshly recharged battery in at the beginning of a job, and not have to worry about any individual device's battery life. Here's a simple chart that illustrates how to power a range of equipment with different kinds of rechargeable batteries using the BDSv2 distribution box. The model numbers for the necessary input and output cables are shown in the boxes in orange and blue writing:
The Battery Bud is another battery distribution box that allows you to tap into a rechargeable battery like an NP-1 and power several pieces of equipment at once. It utilizes standard 4-pin Hirose connectors, routing power to as many as five pieces of equipment. Operation is simple, you send power into it with the Cable Techniques BB-NP NP-1 cap accessory, and it distributes power to other devices via its 3 Hirose outputs.
There are many more output cables for the Battery Bud available that can power all kinds of popular field equipment, from the Wendt X4 to the AlphaMix. B&H has even put together a few powering kits with all of the accessories needed for a number of popular portable mixers and wireless systems. Here's a quick reference chart showing what accessory cables are needed for powering different kinds of equipment with the Battery Bud:
Okay, I understand battery distribution systems, but which battery should I buy?
Taking a quick glance at the NP-1 batteries available at B&H shows there is quite a range in price. It's not very clear what the difference is between the least and most expensive. Basically, there are three kinds of batteries available: Nickel-cadmium, Nickel Metal Hydride, and Lithium-Ion. Nickel-cadmium are not recommended. Their performance is poor, and cadmium has been proven to be harmful to the environment when not recycled properly. It really comes down to picking between Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium-Ion.
Let's say the typical audio bag has three wireless receivers and a portable mixer. The average Lithium-Ion battery would be able to power this kit for 6 to 7 hours, while a Nickel Metal Hydride battery would only provide 4 to 5 hours of use. This is one reason why Lithium-Ion batteries are a little bit more expensive than Nickel Metal Hydride. It's not just extended battery life that makes Lithium-Ion more desirable. Lithium-Ion batteries are more lightweight than Nickel Metal Hydride, and you will see a slight difference in performance in cold temperatures. Lithium-Ion batteries have no "memory" issues with regard to how much time they need to recharge.
If you think about it, it's a really good idea to start out with two batteries and a dual charging unit. This way you can charge both batteries overnight, and have enough power in the morning to last you the full production day. There are even starter NP-1 kits to take the guesswork out of assembling a system:
How to determine your run times
When choosing the right battery system, it's important to take into consideration the power consumption of your portable field equipment, as well as any other accessories that might be used as part of your kit - now and in the future as well. Calculating the total wattage of the equipment and options will help determine the maximum load and how much battery power is needed. Take the total wattage of the batteries being used and divide it by the total power consumption of the equipment. For example, 71wh / 29w power = 2.44 hours of running time.
What about rechargeable 9-Volt batteries?
Every portable wireless system has two main components, the transmitter and the receiver. It's not logical to power a beltpack transmitter with a sizeable NP-1 battery. So how can you be greener with your transmitters? Most basic "off the shelf" rechargeable batteries will likely not supply your transmitters with a workable amount of power. However, there are a few batteries for transmitters that have been endorsed by the wireless gurus at Lectrosonics. If your wireless systems use 9 Volts, iPower 9V Li-Polymer batteries will outperform name-brand disposable batteries! They have no memory issues and can be recharged hundreds of times.
How to go green with your Sennheiser Evolution G2 wireless system!
For the past several years, one of the most popular wireless systems has been the Sennheiser Evolution G2. However, very few people realize that Sennheiser has created a recharging system for this series of wireless. If you own an Evolution G2 100 series system, all you need are a couple of BA 2015G2 rechargeable battery packs, an L2015G2 recharging station, and an NT1-120 AC power supply, and you may never again have to buy another set of AA batteries for your portable wireless system. With the Sennheiser 100 series, you have to remove the BA 2015G2 rechargeable battery pack and place it inside of the L2015G2 recharging station to charge.
If you're handy doing a little custom wiring, you can rig your Sennheiser G2 to draw power from another source, like the DC power outputs on a video camera. The part needed to do so is the Sennheiser DC2.
Add some real star power to your next production with solar panels
Harnessing the power of the sun's rays is the key to truly making your production practices as green as possible. There are a number of professional sound people working in field production that regularly use solar panels. Sometimes it is done out of necessity, for example, if you're working in remote locations without readily available power, but often it is done in an effort to cut down waste. B&H currently doesn't carry the kind of solar panels needed to charge larger professional field equipment, but we do carry Sunlinq Portable Solar Panels that are suitable for smaller devices such as MP3 players.
In professional working environments the golden rule is that redundancy is king, meaning that if one piece of equipment fails you always have a predetermined back-up to resolve the issue. For example, if your wireless lavalier systems are suddenly experiencing interference, a prepared audio person will have wired lavaliers in their bag ready to go. Like it or not, having some single use batteries around in case of an emergency is a smart idea. There are environmentally cleaner methods of disposing of dead single-use batteries than just throwing them in the trash. Contact your local government, or the government in the location in which you will be working to see if there is an established battery disposal program in the area. Share this information with everyone involved in the production and make a designated spent-battery collection container for all to contribute to.
While these individual recycling practices are microscopic in impact as compared to what you can accomplish by getting involved campaigning for industrial cap and trade legislation, they do help. The more you become conscious of unnecessary wasteful habits, the better off we will all be in the long run. Thank you for reading this B&H article! If you'd like to learn more about electronic field production, be sure to check out these other B&H educational articles about audio field production:
If you have any further questions about powering options for electronic field production, or any questions about professional audio in general, don't hesitate to contact us at 1-800-416-5090
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