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:


16 December 2013

Xylophone Lumbar Raspberry

The production world is fraught with myriad tales of gear etymology. If you were to ask someone what BNC stands for prior to Wikipedia, you'd get at least two seemingly plausible answers.  So it goes with the venerable XLR.

Not a rocket nozzle.

Whereas we mixers might have once believed that it stood for its pin outs ("ground, lead, return"), we now know that it is the catalogue code for the Cannon Connector:

"Originally manufactured as the Cannon X series, subsequent versions added a locking mechanism (Cannon XL) and then surrounded the female contacts with rubber polychloroprene insulation, which extended the part number prefix to XLR."
So there you have it, sports fans. You're all slightly smarter within a very narrow scope of knowledge. Don't say I'm not a giver.

19 November 2013

Sound Devices Intros Wee 633

Sound Devices pulled away the satin cover today to reveal the 633 mixer/recorder. Like a Herve Villechaize to the 664’s Ricardo Montalban, it looks like a truncated, but nearly identical, version of the larger model.

“Smiles, everyone, smiles!”

From glancing at the marketing material, it looks like it could fully replace the 302 and the 744T, making it ostensibly a good choice for an entry-level or secondary use (car rig, etc) purchase:

Trew Audio let their fingers do the walking in their own into video, and they raise a valid point about the smaller faders for channels 4-6. Until I can get a review sample to do some finger-mashing of my own, I’ll have to take their word on it:

Don't Cross the Streams

Sound Devices will be launching a new product this morning, and will be live streaming the release from Trew Audio in L.A. beginning at 9:30 am PST :

Watch live streaming video from trewaudio at livestream.com

17 November 2013

Shake, Rattle and Roll - The K-Tek Nautilus

The K-Tek Nautilus

Since the advent of microphone use, suspensions, or “shock mounts” have been necessary. A good shock mount must provide a solid grip, excellent isolation, and a certain amount of compliance in a delicate balance. This balance will vary between mics and applications. The more sensitive you make a mic, the more it picks up unintended sounds, such as handling noise. If your mic is out on the end of a long boom pole, and in motion, isolation is key.

While key, it isn’t the sole factor. Place the mic in a nice web of springy, compliant materials, and it will be “floated”, with most thumps from the pole dissipated by the mount.

"Good Evening, and welcome to American Slinky Corporation's Variety Hour!"

But if it’s overly compliant, then a heavier mic will travel more, either smacking the edges of the mount, or wobbling to and fro before settling. And while a foam windscreen will diminish air speed over the diaphragm, its inertia becomes a factor: swing a mic vigorously enough and you'll hear the diaphragm itself in motion, generating unintended sound.

K-Tek, long known for their boom poles, has introduced the Nautilus. A groundbreaking, award-winning design, it features suspension arms made from a proprietary composite material in the form a spiral, which, according to the website, provides “3 dimensional isolation”.

The arms slide onto a T-shaped mounting rail, where a small lever locks each arm in place. The fact that it uses a locking arm to secure it means it has the freedom to be placed anywhere on the rail, accommodation just about any length of microphone. For the heavier mics, they suggest adding a third suspension arm. Each Nautilus ships with two sets of suspension arms: a grey, high-compliance set, and a black, low-compliance set.

Since there would be too many variables to test each shockmount individually, I tried my darnedest to come up with a process whereby I could test both mounts simultaneously. Since this blog is about sound for picture, I chose short shotguns (very common between film-style and reality production), and a model that runs a little heavier than most, the MKH-416. For comparison, I used the Rycote InVision Broadcast HG MKIII, which is intended for heavier mics in outdoor use, and the black, low-compliance set of K-Tek arms.

The Nautilus is conveniently threaded for a ⅜ 16 mount, found on just about every boom out there. I placed a stereo t-bar onto a standard tripod mic stand, with the Rycote on the left, and the K-Tek on the right, capping the 416s with indoor foam windscreens. Both were then hard wired via 25’ XLRs to a Sound Devices 664, with the low end roll-offs disengaged for both channels. I did my best to match the trims (the faders have calibrated onscreen displays), and recorded a two-channel poly WAV file at 48kHz, 24bit.

I got such awesome stereo cabinet tone...

I figured the best way to test its isolation and compliance was to give it a decent, Bart Simpson-style throttling, which I did in three directions: linearly (forwards/backwards), laterally (side-to-side) and a short drop. The recording was done in my "test kitchen", AKA my actual kitchen, so you will hear the gentle murmur of suburban traffic in the background.

Below are snippets of each section of the files, labeled according to the orientation of the pole and the type of movement. Again, the Rycote is on the left, and the K-Tek is on the right. The files are downloadable should you want to solo each channel:

Both suspensions worked very well, keeping the mics in place while diminishing the majority of the handling noise from my ham-like fists. The Rycote was more compliant, and thus had a greater travel during the shake. As a result, it had more low end rumble, ostensibly from inertia acting on the diaphragm. The K-Tek was more rigid, and did not exhibit the same low rumble; however, it was plagued, in all three axes, by a ticking sound. I have to imagine that it’s the suspension arm shifting against the T-rail. As the Rycote’s Lyres are screwed in, they have little, if any, travel in their mounts. The ticking is a deal breaker, as its frequency lies in a very noticeable range, while engaging a simple roll-off can virtually eliminate low end rumble.

The Nautilus is a beautiful, if slightly flawed design. Were it half the price of the Rycote, I’d recommend it as a starter kit, or for low-demand situations (static interviews with a boom on a C-stand, for example). With its current MSRP, other options make more sense.

PROS: elegant, original design; superb isolation; versatile setup

CONS: structural ticking; cost ($89 average vs. $62 for comparable Rycote)

UPDATE: A handful of Nautilus owners has expressed surprise that the unit was noisy, and suggest that might be defective. Dave Fisk from K-Tek has offered to exchange the review sample for another. When I receive that, I will conduct another test recording and post a follow up.


15 November 2013

Mightier Than the Boom

Mixer Chris Durfy has put together a detailed how-to on planting a lav mic inside the body of a pen:

"On my last show, I was having some problems with body mics and scratchy police officer wardrobe.
After trying different ways to mic up the cast with hidden techniques that were not 100%, I [thought] I’d venture into the realm of the pen mic...

This mic is great for cast with pockets on the shirt. Cops, scientists, etc… You will need to get together with the wardrobe department to have them cut a hole behind the pocket for routing of the wire to the pack."

Break Out Yer Fancy Pants

Sound Devices will reveal...something, on Tuesday, November 19th at 9am. Trew Audio L. A. will be live streaming the announcement

Perhaps some stereophonic cufflinks?

Link to Trew Audio event


24 September 2013

Ray Dolby 1933-2013

"...Walter Murch lauded him, commenting that film sound could be divided into 'Before Dolby and After Dolby.' The 'Before Dolby' era – from the beginning of recorded sound – was characterized by a constant background hiss, an underlying and irritating noise that was especially noticeable in quiet moments."

As someone who came up in the industry as it evolved from its analog origins into digital, I remember the logistical gymnastics of minimizing both generation loss and noise accumulation. Solving a persistent issue with a push of a button seemed like magic. The point of any recording medium is not the carrier, but the information itself. Dolby NR helped make the carrier disappear, and let the information, whether music or film dialogue, speak for itself.

The name Dolby of course became synonymous with consumers as a marker of quality. To wit:


24 August 2013

Behind the Cadelabra...There's a Mic

"We hadn’t seen the rehearsal, so we needed to be ready for any possibility. In the tub, Douglas and Damon’s close-ups were shot at the same time so we covered them with two booms. A mirror behind Damon reflected most of the bathroom so we had to work from below and our mikes were almost touching the bath bubbles. Even the camera needed to be wrapped in a towel. The one thing we had in our favor was that the Jacuzzi wasn’t actually running this time."

In the summer issue of 695 Quarterly, boom op Javier M. Hernandez shares some insight about working on Behind The Candelabra, Steven Soderberg's HBO biopic about Liberace. Just reading about some of their challenges (polyester, gold chains, Vegas penthouse aesthetics) is enough to make me sweat rhinestones.


19 August 2013

The Fur Flies

Wind can be the bane of a mixer's existence. Even a gentle breeze across a mic's diaphragm can result in turbulent distortion, sounding less like a pleasant summer day and more like the first stage of a Saturn V rocket during takeoff.


If you're recording out of doors, you need wind protection. The trick to a proper microphone wind shield is the one that lowers the speed of the air around the capsule, while remaining as acoustically transparent as possible.

Furryhead makes a series of wind shields to fit a range of products, from mics themselves to portable recorders such as the Zoom H4N, which I used for my test. Their shield is a slip-on with two inch long hair and a bunched collar that makes it look like either a dollar store merkin or Ernie finally lost it and scalped Bert.

It was only a matter of time.

Cheap jokes aside, it's meant to be used, not looked at, so I took my Zoom with me on a short atmos-gathering walk. I chose the Portland waterfront area, due to its acoustic mix of water, passing traffic, and wind (and because I'm lazy and it's mere minutes away). I set the Zoom for 48 kHz 24 bit WAV files, with the unit's own mics set to the 120 degree pattern.

The first recordings were made about midway across the Hawthorne Bridge, where it was pretty windy. The surface of the car lanes is open steel grating, which makes the tires hum as they drive over.

This is the "Don King" version.

First, with the Zoom's own open-cell foam cover:

Then, with the Furryhead:

As you can hear, there's no comparison: the open-cell foam tracks are unusuble, whereas the Furryhead knocked the wind down a considerable amount (the website claims 30 dB). However, it didn't eliminate the noise completely; you can still hear some low rumble on occasion (to be fair, it's all a matter of degree, as there is no completely wind-proof option for any microphone).

The second recordings were made on a pontoon dock just below the Hawthorne Bridge (see? Lazy...). I held the Zoom over the edge where the small waves were splashing against the dock itself.



As there wasn't much wind down on the dock, I wanted to do a rough comparison of how acoustically transparent the Furry was relative to the foam. While I could hear a bit of high-end roll off in my vocal slating (which I edited from the tracks, since I sound like a stilted dork), I didn't really notice much difference in the lapping of the waves. Anything you cover a mic with will alter its frequency response, but losing a little high end (which you could more than likely recover with a some EQ in post) is certainly preferable to the full-on noise storm of wind on the element.

The Furryhead utilizes an elastic band to hold the cover on the Zoom. In practice, it took a little effort to get it situated (mine is new), but certainly isn't going anywhere once it's seated. If you're a journalist and looking to switch back and forth between different covers quickly, this one isn't for you.

Also, it looks like a Tribble carcass. Them's good eatin'!

At $14.99, The Furryhead is one of the cheaper models out there, but a solid option for smaller recorders like the Zoom.

Pros: tight fit, decent wind reduction, price

Cons: seating it takes a little effort, only good against strong breezes, not high winds


12 July 2013

An Island Amid an Ocean

We mixers can be a surly lot. Sometimes it's the grind of twelve-plus hour days and bad coffee from crafty; others times, it's simply the fact that sound is the only department that would take us, so here we are.

Actual pic of my on-set blood pressure.

Nicholas Allen is an exception. Is this interview from the Soundworks Collection, he comes across as erudite, thoughtful and calm. (Maybe, like me, he makes balls of gaff tape to wing at people when he gets cranky, but that doesn't come across here):

29 June 2013

All Up In Yo Bizness (Software)

Too often in our relentless pursuit of quiet backgrounds and running refrigerators, we sometimes forget that as much as sound mixing is a technical art, it is also a business.

Since a good portion of a freelance mixer's work will likely be non-timecard, invoices are necessary. If you're as averse to the benumbing slog of paperwork as I am, you'll appreciate a simple, intuitive invoicing program, one that offers flexible analysis and tracking as well as a humdinger of a professional looking result.

I had used ProfitTrain for the past five years or so. I needed something for OS X that would offer a personalized invoice template and overdue payment tracking at an affordable price, and it met all of those criteria. However, it is an app that runs on a desktop, and thus requires me to always use a particular computer. While my primary hardware is a laptop (and thus portable) , it's still heavier than a tablet, or even a phone. What I needed was something cloud-based, accessible from anywhere, but also low cost.

Eventually I found Invoicable. It's web based, which means I can sign in from a browser on anything with Internet access, regardless of platform. While it's more comfortable to type on a full-sized keyboard, I've been able to invoice a client from set before I'd even loaded the kit into my car, all from my phone.

You have the option to email invoices as HTML, as well as receive payments online. I haven't used these features, as I typically email a PDF to the client and wait for a check. It offers a freemium model, with an unlimited free version that only places a discreet, single-line ad for the service itself at the bottom of the invoice. I honestly didn't mind the ad, but chose to purchase the full license anyway because I want to support the company. (I am not affiliated with Invoicable in any manner, nor am I receiving any compensation for this post. I'm just impressed with the product.)


17 June 2013

Wireless Go Boom!

Earlier this year, Glenn Trew wrote about his experience with the Zaxcom 742 plug-on transmitter:

So, the Zaxcom 742 plug-on pure digital transmitter is nicely made, lightweight, usually has plenty of range, and accepts mono, stereo, and digital microphones, has a built-in recorder, can be controlled remotely, and has 137dB of dynamic range.
As you might expect all of these premium features come at a bit of a premium price: US$1995 for the transmitter and one cone (additional cones $200). But is it worth it? I’m sure that many will say “yes”, and put their money where their ears are. As purists often do.

Glenn goes into finer detail about the TX's inner workings, so be sure to click on through.

(Yeah, it's not exactly current, but neither is your mom. BURN.)


16 June 2013

Bits and Bobs and Bytes

Today's tidbit is only tangentially related to sound-for-picture. Usually, production sound mixers do not find themselves caught up in esoteric debates about sampling rates and bit depths, or steadfast proclamations of the superiority of analog formats over digital.

Aside from certain specialized SFX gathering, we live and breathe at one set of data specs: 48 kHz sampling rate and a 24 bit depth. (Yes, once upon a time there were off-speed sampling rates to deal with pull-up/down for 35mm film, but these have mostly been superseded by modern DAWs' capability to re-sample cleanly on-the-fly).

Me mixing on set. (Ha ha, no. I don't have that haircut anymore).

In the music world, it's a different story. Numerous articles and reviews extolling the "air" of higher sampling rates, or the flat-out accusation of inferior playback have been levied at the venerable redbook CD format, and its cousin visiting from out of town, the MP3.

Don't even mention vinyl. We'll be here for hours.

Do I have a personal attachment to either? Nope. But I do have a certain bemused schadenfreude when an engineer can systematically demonstrate what others vehemently rail against, as in the case with the following video from the wonderfully nerdy folks over at Xiph.org (and this is good viewing for anyone who wants a clear, concise explanation of how digital audio works).

To reiterate: there are specific reasons why we on the pro side of things need 48 kHz and 24 bit: 48 mathematically agrees with digital video formats better, and we need 24 bits of headroom for the processing that will inevitably occur with production audio tracks (which are handled in most DAWs with an internal precision of 32 bit floating point). But for the folks at home? Rewind your CDs and give them another spin. Assuming better mastering of latter-day discs, they'll sound just fine.

Link to video.

14 June 2013

Han Duo

Han Solo wasn’t. Not technically. While his last name may have been a super-obvious indicator of his initial world view, he was always accompanied by Chewie, his trusty, hairy cohort. No matter how good a pilot, no matter how savvy a smuggler, he didn’t go it alone.

And neither should sound.

The most badass room tone ever.

There’s been a recent spate of projects that have demanded that a single person wire, boom, mix and record. Is it technically possible for one person to do all of this? Of course; it’s de rigeur in documentary and reality television production. Which is where it should remain.

“Multitasking” has been debunked as a myth. Having a single person doing multiple tasks means that that person is doing each task less well. In certain applications, this will produce acceptable results. In the aforementioned arenas, the audience has a lower expectation of quality, and a higher tolerance for the compromises innate in such productions. We don’t expect House Hunters to sound as clean and dramatic as a movie, and that’s perfectly fine, for House Hunters. A feature film, “indie” or otherwise, deserves better.

A single person department will be pulled in multiple directions at once. A single person won’t be able to wire that one picky actor in advance so that production won’t have to wait. A single person booming properly won’t be able to look down into the audio bag to keep an eye on levels, or be able to keep two hands free to adjust said levels should there be an issue. A boom operator strapped into a twenty- or thirty-pound bag won’t be as nimble or precise when booming a complex dialog scene, dodging lights, staying out of frame, keeping talent on-mic, all while occasionally walking backwards without falling over grip gear.

For a quick indicator of how to adequately book your crew, look no further than behind the camera and take a head count. Is there one person acting as DP, operator, 1st AC and 2nd AC? On reality TV and documentaries, yes, and that’s perfectly fine for those genres. But if your film isn’t the kind of production where there’s a single person camera department, then it also isn’t the kind of production that should have a single person sound department. Sure, your DP can do it all solo, but the quality will be compromised, and your feature will look like The Real Housewives of The Jersey Shore Who Are Also Pawn Stars:

So many shudders.

Occasionally, production will trot out the ol’ “But the last person could do it” justification, to which I say: if the last person could give you what you need in the way that you need it, then that person is worth his/her weight in pyrite. If that mixer actually exists, then why are you talking to me? Either that person wised up and said “no thank you” this time around, or they’re booked on something that pays better and you’re not willing to meet their rate. While I know that there are some mixers who operate this way, the majority of the time this gets said, production is using the “mythical mixer” as a negotiating tactic. I don’t begrudge trying to save money; business is business. But don't compromise your project out of the gate. Whatever pennies you think you're saving now you will end up spending in the form of dollars to fix sound in post. ADR and high-quality clean-up filters are still expensive, even today.

Belts are being tightened across the board. The fact that this is even requested is merely a symptom of contracting budgets. But the fact that it actually happens on set is our fault as mixers. When we say yes to this, we’re not being “team players”, or whatever euphemism production is using when they try to convince us to do this. We’re racing each other to the bottom, where we can’t earn a living or afford to maintain gear, because we’ve shown that we’re willing to do the work of at least two people for less than the price of one.

This guy doesn't count.

Sold American!

Via Reuters:
"The FCC is now working on rules for the biggest-ever auction of commercially used airwaves, in which TV stations would give up and wireless providers would buy highly attractive spectrum. The auction is expected to take place in late 2014 or later...
Friday's directive also 'strongly encourages' the FCC to develop a program that would spur the creation and sale of radio receivers that would ensure that if spectrum is shared, different users do not interfere with each other." [emphasis mine]
So, we're going to be seeing as actual auction come to fruition, finally. There was no mention in the original article of any particular frequency band being considered. Again, it's reasonable to assume the newly-freed spectrum will go to wireless network providers, i.e. telcos, as they have the most to gain by building out their networks, as well as the cash to bid. Perhaps there's an app to convert a mobile phone into a wireless mic?

"But I still don't understand why I have to tape it to my chest..."

30 January 2013

Zax to the Maxx

On Februry 16th, Zaxcom is having a shindig (read: seminar)  at Coffey Sound in L.A. :

NeverClipA live demonstration of NeverClip with a detailed explanation of all it's benefits to production.

ZFR bodypack recording with wireless QC audio and time code transmissionA major step into the future of production audio, this new software release enables multiple ZFR100, ZFR200 and ZFR300 bodypack recorders to wirelessly transmit timecode for syncing and audio for quality-control monitoring. The update enables a new, low cost, time code referenced method of recording high quality sync sound for production without the use of traditional wireless microphones and bag-based audio systems.

MaxxThe Maxx is a new class of mixer / recorder / transmitter. We'll demonstrate its many capabilities and how it can improve bag-based production audio.

The seminar is free of charge and will begin at 10:00AM PST. Everything should be wrapped up by around 11:30. Lunch will be served immediately following the event. 

27 January 2013

Time To Make the Doughnuts

Here's a nice little BTS clip about a cam op/mixer team on Bravo's Top Chef:

Ty One On

(Yeah, the title isn't my best work, but this is happening pre-coffee, people...)

+Ty Ford recently sat down to chat with +Jon Tatooles from +sounddevices about the 664:

20 January 2013

Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em

Tom Craca over at Gotham Sound has posted a field report on the Petrol PS617 Deca Lightweight Audio Bag. Many mixers have been eagerly awaiting an offering from Petrol that fits the Sound Devices 664's longer form factor, and methinks he liked it:

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the new PS617 bag designed for the Sound Devices 664. The bag is thoughtfully designed to securely hold the mixer and/or CL-6 and multiple wireless units and it certainly can be used with any other combination of mixers and/or recorders. I appreciate how its design does not force you into one configuration and Petrol clearly did that on purpose.


19 January 2013


Buenos tardes, sports fans. 

Sound mixers are a techie group, by definition. Our jobs only exist due to audio technology.  We bury ourselves in acoustics and electronics, we learn to perceive the world a decibel at a time. We hold fuzzy sticks aloft.

We must also be business people. As most of us are freelance, we become our own employers. Business acumen may come more easily to some than others, and it can become a trial by fire, lurching from one awkward negotiation to the next, until we get our sea legs and can converse as easily about invoice terms as we can about hypercardioid pickup patterns.

Where am I supposed to point the fiery end?

Part of those growing pains is transitioning from being eagerly available and saying yes to anyone who calls to becoming more discerning, and saying no when it's appropriate. There may be any number of reasons to say no: unrealistic client demands; low pay; you're feeling bloated and gassy and a heavy gear bag pressing on your abdomen isn't going to do anyone any favors.

But the most important reason is you. As your own boss, it's up to you to make sure you're adequately compensated and treated fairly. Occasionally this means saying no to available work, which at first feels completely at odds with freelancing, but over time contributes to your overall professionalism. When you do show up on a set, you're prepared and confident.

This is what I got when I entered "confident" on google image search.

The blog Work Made For Hire has a great post about learning how to say no. I had to learn myself, and while there were a scary couple of months (I swear I opened my checkbook one day and a tumbleweed rolled out), it was worth it. Yes, I work fewer days, but those days pay better, and are more on my terms, where I feel comfortable:

“No” is one of the best tools a freelancer has to protect herself and make sure she’s in control of her career.
“No” to a low paying job is “Yes” to your value as an artist or freelancer.
“No” to a client’s outrageous demand is “Yes” to your professionalism and self-respect.
“No” to a volunteer project you honestly don’t have time for is “Yes” to time necessary to relax and rejuvenate so you have the mental and physical energy to do all the other things you’ve said, “Yes” to.
“No” can help you avoid getting distracted by gigs that don’t serve your goals or that make you feel trapped.
Every time you say “No” to a request, you are saying, “Yes” to something else.

Remember, sometimes you just have to vote nope: