Top 10 Essentials for Location Sound Mixers

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Location sound mixing is a demanding art that requires a very specific set of tools and skills; one without the other won’t get you far. Though you can’t purchase talent and dedication from B&H, we do offer the gear you’ll need to make it in the business. As you might suspect, some pieces are slick, but not necessary, while others you don’t want to live without. So, let’s look at 10 essential items for the rig of a serious location sound mixer.

1: Multitrack Field Recorder

Obviously, you need something portable on which you can record and mix… that’s where a multitrack field recorder comes in. You should seek out one such device that provides battery and DC powering, timecode synchronization and generator functions, and redundant recording capabilities in a housing that’s designed for life in a sound bag (all controls on the front, all inputs and outputs on the sides). Consider the Zoom F8n and the Sound Devices 833, two highly qualified examples of field recorders in their prime. Each is packed with powerful manual and automatic mixing features, high-resolution audio performance, and user-friendly operability made for mixers like you.

Zoom F8n 8-Input / 10-Track Multi-Track Field Recorder

2: Sound Bag

Since you’re going to be moving around on location, a sound bag is an undeniable requirement. The task of carrying the field recorder, wireless transmitters/receivers, batteries, and more is made possible and reasonable with a sound bag. I suggest the ORCA OR-28 bag for the Zoom F8n and the K-Tek Stingray Small for the Sound Devices 833. If you really want to treat your back and shoulders right, get a compatible harness such as the ORCA OR-40 (for the OR-28) or the K-Tek KSHRN3 (for the Stingray). When it comes to organizing a sound bag, the general recommendation is to put the recorder in the compartment closest to you because it is most frequently accessed, then use the slots further from you for things you won’t be touching as often.

ORCA OR-28 Mini Audio Bag for ZOOM F8, Zaxcom Max, Tascam DR70 & Other Recorders

3: Equipment Cart

Considering that you should expect to have more equipment than you can or should carry at once, an equipment cart will serve you nicely. The ORCA OR-48 is an all-in-one bag/cart system with a versatile internal divider system, multiple storage pockets, a multipurpose tray/table, and external pockets to hold boompoles. The PSC EuroCart XL is an aluminum sound cart with three shelves, boompole holders, and the ability to split into two halves for easy storage or transport. If you’re after something more traditional, the Inovativ Voyager 30 is a great option, with its pneumatic tires, foot brake system, threaded rail plates, and adjustable top shelf. Plus, it collapses into a flight-ready travel case. Just be sure to get an attachment to hold your boompole!

ORCA OR-48 ORCART Audio Accessory Bag with Extra Tray

4: Shotgun Microphone

Knowing that you’ll inevitably be working outdoors, a shotgun mic is vital for dialogue capture. The RØDE NTG3 and Sennheiser MKH 416-P48U3 moisture-resistant shotguns both offer low self-noise, high sensitivity, and a frequency response that’s tuned for speech intelligibility, though the MKH 416 exhibits a sharper focus. For indoor scenes in rooms with noticeable ambience, the Audio-Technica AT4053b is great because its hypercardioid polar pattern and lack of interference tubes—it’s a pencil condenser, not a shotgun—allow it to maintain directivity while avoiding the phasing caused by reflected sound entering interference tubes.

RØDE NTG3 Moisture-Resistant Shotgun Microphone

5: Blimp/Windshield

To be truly prepared for the bothersome wind you’re bound to encounter during outdoor shoots, snag something more intense than a little foam windscreen. The RØDE Blimp (for the NTG3) and the Rycote Windshield Kit 295 (for the MKH 416-P48U3) are really quite impressive. Each one gives you a blimp-style windshield covering a microphone shockmount, which sits atop a pistol grip that can be mounted on a boompole. For maximum reduction of wind noise, you also get a faux fur windjammer, known in many circles as a windbuster, dead cat, or dead wombat… endearing names, I know.

RØDE Blimp Windshield and Rycote Shock Mount Suspension System for Shotgun Microphones

6: Boompole

Though ownership of a boompole is a universally accepted necessity for location sound mixers, it’s worth stating here anyway in the spirit of being thorough. Look for boompoles built with internal XLR cables and side-exit cable outlets to minimize setup time and reduce the chances of damaging the XLR connector when you rest the boompole on the ground. When choosing carbon-fiber or aluminum for the construction material, know that carbon-fiber is lighter, but aluminum costs less. The carbon-fiber Auray CFP-58R is a 5-section model capable of a 2.5 to 8' length range with a light weight of just 1.7 pounds. You might consider getting multiple boompoles such as a short carbon-fiber model and a long aluminum model, or vice versa.

Auray CFP-58R Carbon Fiber Telescoping Boom Pole with Internal Cable & Side Exit XLR Base

7: Wireless Lavalier Microphone System

It would be a grave error to assume that you can record all your audio with a shotgun mic. Since you’ll have to mic up actors and actresses, a wireless lavalier microphone system is something you simply cannot forego. If your funds allow it, you should invest in a stable, true diversity system with a receiver that supports DC powering, not just batteries. Why? If you set up your sound bag with a unified power source (cue the next section), you need a receiver that can tap into that power. Take a peek at this digital Lectrosonics system; it includes a bag-friendly receiver, a super-miniature bodypack transmitter, an omnidirectional lapel mic, secure locking connectors, and advanced technology to ensure reliability that won’t let you down. A more budget-conscious choice is the Deity Connect. Though not as small or technologically stunning, it’s bag-ready and relatively affordable.

Deity Microphones Deity Connect Dual-Channel True Diversity Wireless System (2.4 GHz)

8: Battery Distribution System (BDS)

Instead of having to keep track of the battery/power status for each component in your sound bag, incorporate a specially designed unified power source called a BDS (battery distribution system). The Remote Audio BDS v4 can be powered by a single NP-1 battery and has enough outputs to provide “juice” for six devices (e.g. a recorder, receivers, and more). Add the RMv2 meter for convenient volt/amp metering and on/off control for all the goods in your bag.

Remote Audio BDS v4 Battery Distribution System Kit

9: Interruptible Foldback (IFB)

You’ll undoubtedly receive requests from the director to get him/her an audio feed from your mixer/recorder. So, route audio from your multitrack field recorder into an IFB (interruptible foldback) transmitter, which can send the mix wirelessly to an IFB receiver for the director. The Lectrosonics IFBT4 VHF kit does the trick effectively; just be sure to have headphones for the director, too.

Lectrosonics IFBT4 VHF Transmitter with IFB Beltpack Receiver Kit

10: Headphones

Where would you be if you didn’t have headphones? Up the creek without a paddle, that’s where. So, grab a pair of closed-back headphones like the Sony MDR-7506, the K553 MKII from AKG, or the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT and always listen to what you’re recording.

AKG K553 MKII Closed-Back Studio Headphones
AKG K553 MKII Closed-Back Studio Headphones

Odds and Ends

Even after attending to those 10 essentials, you can improve your professional life with the presence of a plethora of accessories. Stockpiling miscellaneous cables, clips, adapters, straps, tape, scissors, and tools will surely be in your best interest. Organize them into small and large bags, and please label them! It may take a while to nail down what works best for you. Since every location sound mixer has a slightly different setup, we’d love for you to share your recommendations in the Comments section, below.

Items discussed in article

2 Comments

IFB stands for interruptible fold back.  You should have a different feed for the director and your boom op(s). It also helps to have a third isolated IFB feed for the script supervisor.

IFB: UN(?)interruptible foldback

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