When it comes to audio matters, nothing can kill an otherwise excellent video than poor audio, whether due to soundtracks that are louder than the narration, interview clips that are barely audible or a host of other audio issues caused by poor mixing and balancing.
Roland Systems Group’s R-88Having the right audio board is part of the solution, supplemented by proper “miking” on location or in a studio and accurate sound blending in an audio-balanced mixing room.
The key for government video producers is to acquire the necessary audio board capabilities without paying extra for unnecessary features.
AUDIO BOARD BASICS
A basic audio board, whether standalone or part of a software package operated within a computer-based editing system should have enough inputs to accommodate all existing and planned sources. Those might include inputs from video recorders/players; a separate input for each of the channels offered by each device; inputs for CD, DVD and other digital sources, turntables and cassette players (if those components are still being used); and studio microphones for recording narrations.
The level for each input is controlled by a slider on a physical board or onscreen in a virtual version. Each slider basically is a volume knob for the channel it is managing. The main slider controls the overall volume of the mix, so users can output the right level to a recorder/live feed based on the audio-level meter readouts.
Mackie’s ProFXBeyond that, said Rob Read, Roland Systems Group’s marketing communications manager, “Basic needs would be pre-amp control, pan, limiter and a variety of input types: XLR, 1/4 inch and stereo RCA.”
The Roland eight-channel R-88 mixer audio/ recorder is suited to tight video budgets, he said. It records backup tracks that can save the day when video-based audio fails. Another suitable option is the VR-3 integrated audio/ video mixing board. It has conventional outputs plus a direct Web streaming output for live events.
Another useful feature: equalization on each channel to tune the highs, lows and midrange sound quality. Read said noise gates help because they “minimize noise during low audio levels and cut low-frequency noise. Enhancers clearly define and enhance sound for dialogue. And compressors and de-essers cut hissing, smoothen the sound and make audio levels uniform.”
So how do users choose the right audio board, without buying too much capability?
According to Matt Redmon, Mackie’s analog mixer and recording product manager, it all comes down to answering a number of important questions:
• How many microphone inputs will be used at any one time?
• How many line inputs will be needed for video decks and other devices?
• Will a built-in universal serial bus (USB) audio interface to connect to a computer be needed?
• Is the job stereo or multitrack recording or mixing?
• How much of the job will be on the mixer vs. digital audio workstation software?
• Figuring out commonsense answers to these questions will help a user determine the size and feature set of the mixer that best fits the situation, Redmon said.
Mackie’s audio board lineup includes the ProFX with a built-in stereo USB interface, onboard FX and graphic equalization. A second possibility for audio-for-video applications is the VLZ. “Our staple built-like-a-tank mixer lineup provides top-quality signal in an ultrarobust industry standard package,” Redmon said. A third choice is the DL1608 16-channel digital mixer. It features wires or wireless control from the Apple iPad. It enables users to record and playback stereo audio directly to/ from the iPad.
Users might want to acquire an integrated audio/video mixer to save space and potentially money, rather than buying and wiring separate units.
Panasonic’s AG-HMX100One such option is the Panasonic AG-HMX100 combined audio and HD/SD video mixer. That unit can handle both analog and digital video inputs, as well as produce 3D video by taking in dual SDI feeds from two 3D cameras, cutting between them and putting out a single 3D video feed.
“The AG-HMX100 is particularly well-suited to production environments where embedded audio (i.e., from camcorders) needs to be mixed with other audio (i.e., from wireless microphones) and either embedded on the output video, or output as de-embedded audio for recording or sound reinforcement,” said John Rhodes, Panasonic’s product line manager for system cameras and switchers.
“To accomplish these same tasks without the HMX100 would require the use of a rack full of separate expensive embedders and deembedders.”
There’s a saying in computer programming: “Garbage in, garbage out.” If the source material is no good, no amount of processing can improve it.
Sound Devices’ MixPre-D Compact Field MixerThis GIGO rule applies if the audio on video is too low or too high, muffled, scratchy or so wildly out-of-balance a user cannot expect that it be fixed in mixing. “No audio mixer can improve your audio after the fact,” said Jon Tatooles, managing director for Sound Devices.
It is for that reason many shooters use field mixers while on location. Capable of supporting a number of microphone inputs, those mixers enable users to see the level of each input, balance it by meter and by ear and then set the overall level of the mixed signal going into the video recorder.
Sound Devices offers field mixers from the two-channel MixPre-D Compact Field Mixer up to the six-channel 664 Field Production Mixer. About the size of an iPhone, the ultra-portable MixPre-D Compact Field Mixer runs on two AA batteries. The 664 Field Production Mixer has an integrated recorder that sends audio to removable CF and SD cards.
“There are times when the audio being recorded into the camera can be clipped right at the outset,” Tatooles said. “Having the 664 capturing it to CF/SD card ensures that you have the complete recording on hand, just in case.”
CONFERENCE ROOM MIXERS
Town council and government meeting broadcasts are staples for many government video producers. Unfortunately, the acoustics of many conference rooms leaves much to be desired. They often are echo-ridden, hollowsounding spaces that produce audio that is hard to understand for the viewers.
Phoenix Audio Technologies has tackled that problem with the family of Octopus audio conferencing mixers. Those four-channel mixers are equipped with echo-cancellation technology that automatically monitors and mixes the audio for optimum sound quality. The Octopus is designed for medium-to-large conference rooms that already have microphones and speakers installed in the room.
“In addition to echo cancellation, the Octopus has a few unique features such as noise reduction that differentiates it from other products in the market,” said Jonathan Boaz, vice president sales and marketing at Phoenix Audio Technologies. The system also provides the ability to daisy-chain the units. The Octopus can be daisy-chained almost endlessly, from a four-microphone solution up to a 400-mic package. In addition, Octopus is a Windows-based system, which allows for quick and easy setup.
SOUNDING AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS
Phoenix Audio Technologies’ OctopusIf audio board options sound daunting, remember that audio needs are only as big or as small as the actual mixing needs. For users who mix mostly from player to recorder, with a few channels required for narration and music bed inputs, a simple mixer likely will do the job. Likewise, a two-channel field mixer may be sufficient to ensure that audio “garbage” is not feeding a recording device.
So when it comes time to purchase an audio board, get what is needed with a few extra channels that will enable later expansion. This will allow users to create audio as good as the video being recorded resulting in a combined audio/video product that will sound as good as it looks.