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The Azden FMX-42a and the FMX-42 portable field mixers are nearly identical in appearance, yet the price tag on the FMX-42a is over $100 more than the FMX-42. In this post I'll clearly explain why this is so, and how the additional features on the FMX-42a can greatly benefit you when mixing audio in the field.
The key difference between these two portable field mixers is that the FMX-42a features a 10-pin connector and a mini-plug return input. These inputs allow you to connect the headphone output of a video camera to the mixer. This enables the operator of the mixer to listen to what the audio sounds like inside of the camera, remotely from the mixer. This way, the sound person can hear exactly what's being recorded on the camera.
In the event that the audio connection to the camera is broken, the operator will immediately be able to hear this and correct the error. If levels are too loud or soft in the camera, the sound person can make adjustments to compensate for this.
When you're connecting a field mixer to a video camera, it's a good idea to use a "breakaway cable" to connect the two. A breakaway cable will connect the XLR outputs of the mixer to the XLR inputs of the camera, as well as the headphone output of the camera to the mini-plug return on the FMX-42a. They're called breakaway cables because there's a mechanism that allows you to quickly attach and detach the cable, without having to plug and unplug all of the connections on the camera. It's a really useful way to save time on set.
Another advantage that the FMX-42a has over the FMX-42 is that you can turn off the lights on the VU meters in order to conserve battery power. It's a bit of a minor detail, but every ounce of battery life that you can save in the field will make a difference.
Both of these mixers feature a mini-plug output in addition to the main XLR outputs. This enables you to send the audio from the FMX-42a and the FMX-42 to two places as opposed to one. You can record your audio directly into two separate video cameras, or into a single camera and a field recorder. Plus, if you're working with a video camera or a recording device that doesn't have XLR inputs, the mini-plug connection will save the day.
It's always a good idea to make more than one copy of the audio that you're recording in a shoot. That's why it's a good idea to send the audio to more than one camera if you're working on a multi-camera shoot, or to make a back-up copy on a portable digital recorder in addition to recording into a video camera.
With switchable phantom power on every input, the ability to accept line or mic level signals and an optional limiter on every channel, both of these models are really well-rounded field mixers. If you want the extra ability to monitor the return audio from the connected video camera, then the the FMX-42a is worth the extra money.
If you have any questions about location mixing for video and film shoots, we encourage you to post them in the Comments section!