19 May 2014

The New Newspamphletter

Greetings, campers. It’s been a bit since the last Official Syncsound Audio Newspamphletter, so buckle up. (Not because it’s super exciting or anything, just a friendly reminder to always use your seatbelt in a moving vehicle. Safety first!)

Now, on to the newspamphling: alterations and updates have been made to the main mix cart (the missile defense shield is back-ordered). From the ground up: the power supply was recently upgraded from a lead acid to a Powerstar EuroLife Lithium Ferrite system, delivering more power with less weight (less weight = less grumpiness from sound mixer. Everyone wins!). 

Remember, kids: "green" is "power", and "red" is "eject". NEVER PRESS RED WHEN I'M WORKING, NO MATTER HOW FUNNY IT IS.

The EuroLife was intended for another cart design, but with the addition of some strategic stabilizing solutions (read: Velcro), it integrates just fine into the Rastorder Foldup cart.

At the top of the cart, you’ll notice an RF Venue Diversity Fin, a combination dipole/LDPA antenna in addition to a standard sharkfin. This may seem redundant, but is by design. Rather than use the RF Venue as a dual receiver antenna, I am employing the dipole as a transmitting antenna for the Lectro IFB system. I had been using Lectro’s own dipole antenna for the IFB, but this meant mounting three antennas on the cart, which was unwieldy at times. Now, the dipole section transmits, and the LDPA functions as a second sharkfin receiver. Having done numerous walk tests, I can confirm performance is at least as good as having three separate antennas. (RF Venue doesn’t recommend this practice per se, but the tests bear out the concept).

The Ol' Switcheroo

On the picture side, I’ve added a Monoprice A/B SDI switcher. As I only have real estate for a single monitor, I’ve had to make a choice when shooting with two camera coverage. When it’s a tight-and-wide, I monitor the wide, as this is more crucial for keeping the boom out of frame. But when we have cross coverage with two mediums or close ups, it can be limiting. The switcher allows me to check both frames while keeping the cart light and collapsible. Seeing as how my request for a Bugattii Utility Vehicle goes unheeded (thanks for nothing, Wolfgang!), I need to keep the entirety of my kit modular enough to fit into a Subaru Forester.

Tucked under the top shelf, just behind the CL-9 is a Demerbox Active Speaker. A rechargeable lithium battery powers the speaker, which can accept 3.5mm minijack or bluetooth. It's too underpowered for playback use, but has plenty of oomph for a cart speaker. The fact that it's built into a waterproof Pelican case makes it a great choice for the dry, sunny Oregon weather.

In the doodads department, I recently acquired the Mozegear TIG, a svelte timecode reader/generator that offers a very elegant way to stripe timecode as LITC, meaning you can record timecode on cameras that don’t normally accept it (like DSLRs and the Blackmagic cameras). It also has a option to output timecode on one channel of audio and allow a scratch track on the other. Check out my review here.

So, here are both the main and follow cart. The rest of the main mix cart is the same: based on a 788T bag, it comes with a CL-8, a CL-9, IFB and Comtek, and a Lectro Field Venue with VRT receiver modules.

On the follow cart you’ll see my SD 664 bag, for smaller ENG/EFP gigs, which also functions as a mobile/backup setup on bigger film/TV jobs. The lower shelf also holds a case of Comtek receivers. Two are included with the kit; up to (8) more are available a la cart (even more can be sub-rented with advance notice).

Finally, the piece of resistance: the Glacier’s Edge Mark II Collapsible Posterior Support System. Forged of not-aircraft-grade aluminum, the system is enshrouded with ballistic nylon, capable of withstanding a shock load of thousands of grams. The system comes equipped with a horizontal accessory platform (aka “tray”), as well as vulcanized high-friction stabilizing pods. It’s a real beaut, but if you want one, you’d better start saving. They can sell for literally tens of dollars.

And there you have it. Minor tweaks here and there, but the little things do add up, providing a leaner, meaner sound department. Okay, we’re not mean... unless we’re pushed too far:


26 March 2014

The Mozegear TIG

I must admit, the first time I read the name “Mozegear”, my first thought was a line of swag featuring Cousin Mose Schrute:

Come on, who wouldn’t buy that shirt for $49.95?

Upon further reading, it became apparent that instead of a taciturn beet farmer with an odd running form, it was an upstart outfit in Arizona, and they’d made a small, versatile new timecode generator/reader, the TIG.

The TIG can be used just like boxes such as the Ambient Lockit or the Denecke SB-3, jammed once at call and once again at lunch, and it will feed the camera with good TC, regardless of any battery changes on the camera itself. The TCXO is rated at +/-.5 PPM, and while it’s not quite the .1 PPM that you generally see, it’s more than accurate enough to get you through 6 hours before re-jamming. (One issue I ran into while testing the TIG: if you happen to use a lemo-dual XLR cable, you will need to ensure that pins 1 and 3 are tied together in the cable chain. I had to go find an unbalanced FXLR to 1/4" MTRS adapter, rather than the off-the-shelf balanced adapter I had been using with my Denecke slates and SB-Ts.)

In use on the Arri Alexa for 2nd Unit with NBC's "Grimm".

In lieu of a display, Mozegear opted for the LED blink code as a visual jam/rate indicator. They thoughtfully silkscreened the code onto the TIG itself, saving you the hassle of diving into a manual in the field. It supports all the commonly used frame rates, including drop frame, up to 30 FPS. There is a rotary rate selector under the hinged battery door, protecting the switch from being accidentally bumped during use.

The TIG is smaller than either the SB-3 or Lockit, almost by half. It’s light, and runs on (2) AAA batteries. The small form factor and low weight will certainly please ACs building either Steadicam or DSLR rigs, which brings me to its killer features: in addition to the standard BNC, it also offers a LTC output on a 3.5mm minijack. This output will feed TC to one audio track of a camera that lacks a dedicated TC input (DSLRs and the Blackmagic line, for examples).

One of these things is awesome with timecode...

With DSLRs, however, you run into the obstacle of a single audio input. If you feed TC, you lose the camera mic and the option of sending a scratch track as well. Mozegear considered this, and provided an audio input on the TIG, which then allows you to feed scratch track to one channel and TC to another on a single minijack cable. This ensures that post will have a courtesy mix for reference before they sync dailies.

On the post side, the only workflow that I’ve tested directly is using the Blackmagic Cinema camera and the free, cross-platform Davinci Resolve Lite software. Once you import your video files, you set each clip to read its TC from the LTC on its audio track. You can then batch sync picture and sound for the day and export for use in your NLE. Easy peasy.

Ah, the internets. You never fail me.

The only other comparable product I’m aware of is the Zaxcom ERXTCD. It offers both audio and TC output from a single device, with the added benefit of being a receiver itself. With the TIG, you’ll still have to mount an RX (IFB/Comtek or dealer’s choice) and send its output through the TIG to lay down audio with TC in the case of a DSLR. The drawback of the Zaxcom unit is that it only jams from Zaxnet, and cannot be used as a TC reader with gear from any other manufacturer. I’d say that if your rig is already Zaxcom, then the ERX would be the way to go for you.

Small, light, versatile, and affordable ($399 MSRP, lower priced and offering more functionality than the next least expensive option, the SB-3), the TIG is a can’t-lose. If you’re building your kit and it’s time to add TC, you find yourself in need of adding TC to a DSLR situation, or you simply want an affordable backup, the TIG is the way to go.

  • small size and weight
  • affordable
  • enables TC post production for non-TC cameras
  • audio pass-through; you still get a scratch track

  • no word clock (though that need is specific)
  • one more battery type to add to inventory
  • you’ll have to hold editorial’s hand while you explain the post process to them

MSRP: $399

09 February 2014

Go Boom or GoPro

Often when we’re in the trenches during the heat of battle, we employ any number of  analogies to communicate with production (like, say, stale military metaphors).

“Take 6: NG due to mortar fire.”

It can help you to relay an idea to someone who doesn’t share your tech background. In turn, this can help us to fulfill our responsibilities in capturing usable assets for post.

Modern productions don’t always understand the limitations that they impose upon themselves, so it falls to us to provide insight so that those in charge can make an informed decision. It would be nice if they would simply defer to us, but it’s their show. Not only must we be tactful, but creative; remember, we’re often the only ones who fully understand the technical ramifications of certain choices. We have to be able to ensure that the other person has a firm grasp of the situation without the benefit of years of technical instruction in audio.

One that I’d been mulling recently was an easy way to explain why wireless mics aren’t the magical unicorns that they’re imagined to be. 


Devendra Cleary, C.A.S., has hit upon a brilliant tactic in the latest C.A.S. Quarterly Journal:

“Wires are the 'GoPros' of sound. First, they are both smaller and of lesser quality than the traditional inventory of equipment we both use. Secondly, they are prepared, attached in their position, and out of our technician’s hands as the shot is being acquired. Due to how a director designs a shot, sometimes a GoPro is the most brilliantly effective way to capture it, and quite possibly the only way to. Wires are the same. Sometimes, due to how a shot is designed, wires are the only way to capture the dialog. This is fine. But no one would ever expect a DP to capture every shot using a GoPro...

Let’s say we just shot a bunch of stunts and car crashes with Go Pros rigged everywhere. The DP and director are happy and it’s time to move on to the close-ups of our actor’s dialog. Imagine if the DP was asked to continue to capture those close-ups with the GoPros instead of their favorite, high-quality 100mm prime lens attached to an Alexa camera. It would be unacceptable. So it is not unreasonable for us to want to capture that same dialog with our high-quality overhead boom mic of choice.”

Nailed it.

24 January 2014

Zax Attack

Welp, the rumor mill came through, and the Big Z did indeed announce new products yesterday, along with some new firmware goodness.

The new TRXLA2 transmitter:

The new QRX200 receiver:

(These are the base models; stereo transmitters will also be available, as well as a QRX with an IFB option). 

The Zaxcom kids got out of the office for a field trip to demo the new units' performance. Please to enjoy:

The new modulation scheme promises longer range even for legacy units. This is a big deal, and a promising direction for the industry. The demands on field mixers increase constantly, from higher track counts to rather unrealistic demands for distance between crew and moving talent. Allowing owners who have made significant investments in their gear to benefit from the new software without having to upgrade the entire unit is quite refreshing.

The other eyebrow-raiser is the fact that the new model line offers “tuneable tracking front end”, essentially making each unit capable of covering over three frequency blocks, rather than the standard single block. In addition to the channels available in each block, this offers unprecedented frequency agility. If you often find yourself in an RF-constipated environment, being able to hop blocks could be a lifesaver.

The "Jackie Chan of Wireless", if you will...

Zaxcom is doing soft launch of their new website, and you can see a preview of that at the link below. Until then, Gotham Sound is the main source for specs and info.



13 January 2014

Shake, Rattle and Roll Redux

The Ktek Nautilus Follow Up

After the my initial review of the Ktek Nautilus suspension, several readers noted that they did not have the same experience with their Nautili, and Dave Fisk graciously offered to send another review sample. I recreated the setup, using the same gear and parameters as before. Here is the new batch of test files:


As before, there is a pervasive, low level ticking in the new Nautilus sample. To be fair, this is a torture test, pushing both suspensions beyond a common use scenario. Any competent boom op will swing a mic with far more grace than that, and even an ENG mixer booming with one hand will not likely ever induce the amount of vibration that I was during the test. I'm sure that the satisfied owners of the Nautilus are operating their booms sensibly, and enjoying good results.

But what about the more rough-and-tumble gigs, like back-pedaling and booming over uneven ground? In that situation, you're watching several things at once, and you don't want to have to worry about handling noise if you can help it. If one product can audibly out-perform another, especially at a lower cost, then is there even a contest?

[Disclosure: while I am loaned samples of gear for review, they are returned after the fact (or purchased at retail price). I do not receive any compensation for my reviews, other than the many beers I buy myself after I post. ]

I earned it.

10 January 2014

The D Stands For Depressing

Sonicpool Post has, for some reason, developed and released a free iOs app called Guerrilla ADR, which, according to the press release, “gives talent the ability to download the...app, put on a pair of headphones and record their ADR lines in sync with picture. They can preview a video clip of the line along with a text description of the line below it."

Hopefully the next version has an undershirt filter.

Where to begin...[sips coffee, grinds teeth]

Feedback. Placing an actor in charge of their own session without live direction will more than likely result in more notes and more re-takes. More time=more money.

The environment. Unless the actor has their own VO booth (or even a well-stocked walk-in closet), the background will be less-than-ideal at best, and a complete cluster at worst. This is a even more vexing when you consider that they’re likely doing ADR because the background was too noisy to begin with.

Finally, the mic. By design, it’s intended to be used for telephone calls. Because it’s a telephone. That’s kind of, you know, what’s it meant to be, and all.

Unless this is intended to record temp tracks as placeholders for the edit, I can’t see this being useful in a professional capacity. Unless, of course, the idea is that they encourage clients to use this to “save money”, then end up charging OT to fix the tracks because the talent gave them poor-quality deliverables. In which case, JEANYUS.

Link to the PR.

31 December 2013

Sampler Platter

While many different sampling rates have existed over the years, the most common we encounter are 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz. Both are more than capable of fully capturing the entirety of a microphone’s signal, but one is more or less reserved for pro audio and the other for digital video. But which one for which, and why?

It was the other great debate of its day...

As it turns out, both of these particular audio specs are derived from video:

“In the early days of digital audio research, the necessary bandwidth of about 1 Mbps per audio channel was difficult to store. Disk drives had the bandwidth but not the capacity for long recording time, so attention turned to video recorders. These were adapted to store audio samples by creating a pseudo-video waveform which would convey binary as black and white levels. The sampling rate of such a system is constrained to relate simply to the field rate and field structure of the television standard used, so that an integer number of samples can be stored on each usable TV line in the field. Such a recording can be made on a monochrome recorder, and these recording are made in two standards, 525 lines at 60 Hz and 625 lines at 50 Hz. Thus it is possible to find a frequency [44.1 kHz] which is a common multiple of the two and is also suitable for use as a sampling rate.”

One such combo unit was the Sony PCM-1600, coupled with a Beta or Umatic ¾-inch tape transport, which converted and recorded two 44.1 KHz, 16-bit channels:

That, or it was an ICBM launch panel...

Other units could also be coupled to a smaller Beta deck. With the adoption of the Red Book standard  for the Compact Disc, 44.1 kHz was cemented as the rate most commonly used for pro audio.

So how did 48 end up with video? Even more convoluted math:

“Yaaaaaaaggghhhh!” - Me

“Many in the U.S. television industry liked 60 kHz as a standard sample rate because it was free of leap frames and split frequencies, and it synchronized readily with all timing signals used in 60 Hz and 50 Hz television systems, 24 Hz film and the 13.5 MHz component digital video sample rate. The professional audio industry, however, considered it wastefully high, and there was a quantity of 48 kHz software extant in Europe…

48 kHz was readily derived by frequency division from standard input frequencies that are used to derive television frequencies, and it readily synchronized with all video signals. It further bore a simple relationship with the 32 kHz BBC/EBU sample rate, and it enjoyed widespread use in Europe.”

So there you have it, in a very complex and meandering nutshell. In attempting to standardize digital audio in its myriad applications, they created a handful more. As usual: