Recording excellent field audio is not a mystery. It's achieved through proper planning and execution of the sound parameters you decided on before the actual production starts. That said, getting the right audio gear for the field is an important part of the production process.
My second decision after deciding on gear is to get a really good sound person. Audio pros that I know and trust always have some great ideas on what gear will work best for your shoot. But maybe the budget you have does not allow for a sound person this time. It happens, but it is not the end of the world. If you want good audio just pay attention to what you are going to shoot and what kind of audio gear for the field you need to make it happen.
I wanted to reach out Curtis Pair of azPTP Productions to see what audio gear he is using in the field these days. Curtis shoots and produces major remotes in the field for high profile clients that want great audio. This list has a ton of solid field audio gear choices that are right on target.
What azPTP Field Audio uses
- Sanken COS-11D Lav
- Sanken CS1, CS3,
- Sennheiser 416 Boom Microphone
- Sennheiser 633 Mixer 3 XLR 3 Mini XLR and recorder as well
- ZaxCom Dual Channel Transmitter/Receiver
I found this an interesting way of collecting audio and was even more impressed that Curtis (if he wanted) could set up the audio by himself and in his words “get GREAT stuff”. When I pressed Curtis on his audio gear choices he was very direct. “I don’t want to be tethered down. I move fast.” So the bottom line is that if you have to, solid audio can be done well by a single operator. It works for Curtis. Let’s move on and take a look at two new offerings in the world of field audio tools.
The MixPre-10T is the newest member of the MixPre Series of recorders, mixers and USB audio interfaces. This lightweight, 10-input/12-track recorder has outstanding sound quality, flexible powering, and built-in, highly accurate timecode generator/reader – perfect for production sound mixers, field recordists, and sound designers.
The MixPre-10T features eight Sound Devices' Kashmir™ microphone preamps. These high-performance, ultra-low-noise, discrete, Class-A mic preamps were handcrafted by Sound Devices. The Kashmir mic preamps feature a -130dBV noise floor, analog limiters, and new 32-bit A-to-D converters for high-quality audio recordings.
The MixPre-10T offers eight XLR/TRS Combo Mic/Line level inputs, and a 3.5mm Aux/Mic input, which can also be used for 2-channel line input, camera return or timecode. The MixPre-10T also provides comprehensive routing flexibility with its two TA3 balanced outputs and a 3.5mm Stereo output, each with routing matrix.
Wireless Digital series will provide musicians and videographers with an easy entry into wireless audio. XSW-D uses compact transmitters and receivers that work on 2.4 GHz for worldwide, license-free operation. The series provides wireless solutions for almost every conceivable configuration and application. Transmitters and receivers can be combined so users can opt for a wireless link that will protect their existing microphone investments, or select one of the fully-equipped wireless microphone sets.
XSW-D employs digital transmission in the 2.4 GHz range and uses the acclaimed aptX® Live codec. The receivers have antenna diversity; the transmitters work redundantly, transmitting all data packages twice to ensure reliable transmission. In case of interference, the transmitter and receiver will seamlessly hop to a free frequency. The audio latency remains below 4 ms. Up to five systems can be used simultaneously and they have a range of up to 75 m (250 ft). The transmitter and receiver units can be recharged via USB using the included charging cable and work for up to five hours on a single charge.
XSW-D records audio directly into a video camera via the mic input. The receiver attaches to the camera via the XSW-D cold-shoe mount and a 3.5 mm (1/8”) coiled cable, while the transmitter connects to a handheld or lavalier microphone depending on the use case and preference.
Videographers and content creators can choose between a Portable Lavalier Set complete with an ME 2-II clip-on microphone, a Portable Interview Set for use with an existing dynamic microphone, a Portable Base Set for use with an existing lavalier microphone, and the Portable ENG Set, which contains transmitters for a lavalier microphone (ME 2-II included) and an existing handheld dynamic microphone.
Moving on to some of the other gear that I use on shoots would be some traditional Sennheiser Lavaliers or a Sennheiser shotgun off a fish pole which I will run via traditional XLRs when possible. But I also use wireless packs as well. What I look for are solid dependable sound and microphones that will withstand a lot of wear and tear.
Of course, the gear I mentioned is what I use. But that doesn't mean there isn’t a lot of other great new gear out there for you to try out. Again, it all depends on what it is you are trying to do when recording field audio.
Getting the Right Headphones
When I monitor audio in the field, I have to be confident that we got it right. That is why I always use an over the whole ear headphone. I know other shooters might opt for earbuds, but I prefer the classic over ear headphones.
I was on a typical interview shoot using cheapy headsets. Thought everything was cool. Nope. Low-level hum that took a lot of work to correct. I rely on either my Yamaha headsets or my Sony headsets. Both were around a $100-$150 dollars. Not cheap, but also not to the point that if something happens to them I am out a ton of money either.
If you have solid gear, getting great audio is not impossible. If you aren't able to delegate the responsibility to an audio pro, take the time to sort out what audio equipment you think will work best and go from there. If possible try to do some test recordings. When you get to where you are shooting try to just be still and listen to the ambient sound. Trust what you hear — I think you might be surprised.