Better Sounding Video, Pt. 1

This week, in honor of SALT and my class on getting better audio for your videos, I’ve reach back into the archives—way back to May 2007. This was part of a series on making better videos. I’ve updated it to include some new equipment, but the basic principles are still sound. That’s the great thing about solid fundamentals; they are timeless. 

Repeat after me—I will not use my on-camera mic for anything other than general sound. I will not use my on-camera mic for interviews. I will not use my on-camera mic for short films. On-camera mics have one major drawback that simply cannot be overcome—they are too far from the sound source. I don’t care if it’s the cheap built-in mic on your DSLR or a $3,000 Schoeps, too far is too far.


Let's talk physics for a moment. There is a law in physics known as the "inverse square law." It has many different uses, but for our purposes in sound reproduction, it applies thusly: As the distance from a sound source is doubled, the acoustic energy is reduced by 75% (or 6 dB).

So, let's say you have someone speaking on camera, and that person is 8 feet away. A mic right next to their mouth may receive a signal of, say 65 dBA SPL (normal talking). As the mic moves from 3 inches away to 6 inches away, the signal level drops by 75%, or to 59 dB. When we get to 1 foot away, it's in down 75% again, or 53 dB. At 2 feet it drops by 75% again, to 47 db. By the time we get to 8 feet (where the on-camera mic is), the once strong 65 dB signal is now down to 35 dB. Now, this is all true in free space; but in a room, there are reflections which will minimize the drop. But it’s still significant. 

Can an on-camera mic pick this up? Sure, but the problem is the noise floor of everything else in the room is at or above the signal level of the talent, including the sound of the tape transport in the camera! To paraphrase Alton Brown, that is not good sound.

Always Close Mic the Talent

The answer, of course, is to get the mic closer to the sound source. If you can't get the camera to within 6 inches of the talent's face (and you probably shouldn’t for other, non-sound reasons), you need a remote mic. You can use something as simple as a hand-held dynamic mic (like an SM 58) and use it like a television reporter. If you are going to do a lot of "reporter" type shots, the hands down way to go is a noise canceling mic like the EV 635 or better yet, its shock mounted cousin, the RE50. Long favorites of ENG news crews, these mics will allow the talent to stand in the middle of a football stadium and will still deliver great sound of just the talent.

If you want to be a little less obtrusive, you can use a shotgun mic (like the Audio Technica AT 8035), and either suspend it from the ceiling, a mic stand or a fish pole. A fish pole is an extendable aluminum or carbon fiber pole that is designed to be held overhead by another person, and allows the mic to be placed just out of the frame above or below the talent.

If you plan on using the shotgun on a fish pole, make sure you use a shock mount.

The purpose of a shock mount is to isolate the mic from the inevitable handling noises that a fish pole will cause. The shotgun on a fish pole gives you a lot of options if you have a second person to hold it. That person had better have strong arms though. I really like this option because the sound quality is generally pretty good, and it doesn't cost a fortune. I recently purchased a shotgun mic, shock mount and fish pole for our church and spent less than $300.

Of course, you can also put the shotgun mic on a mic stand. We shot more interviews than I can count when I owned my video production company, and we almost always used an AT853a on a boom stand right over the subject. We set it so it was just out of the shot, and got great audio every time. Sometimes, if the shot required it, we would position the mic below frame and point it up; this was key if we were shooting in a room with concrete floors. I still recommend the shock mount, even if you’re using a tripod, though. 

Next time, we’ll look at wireless mic options, including one that might surprise you.


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CTA Review: QSC TouchMix 16, Pt. 2

Last time, we started looking at the QSC TouchMix 16 digital mixer. It’s an interesting concept; a powerful mixer in a small package with no physical faders. It relies on a touch screen—and a not very good one at that—for fader control. While I didn’t love that part, there is a lot I like. Well, except for the non-recallable head amp controls. 

Why, Oh Why?

Instead of encoders, we find analog controls that sit in two rows below the two rows of mic inputs. They are not hard to use, but making them recallable would have been nice. I know manufacturers have to cut costs somewhere to keep the price point competitive, but I really wish we could do recallable head amps on all digital mixers these days. 

Sensible Controls

A series of buttons allow the user to access the mixers deep feature set quickly. Below the phantom power and mixer power buttons are five easy-to-activate rectangle buttons labeled Wizard, Info, FX Mute, FX Master and Mute Groups. The Wizard button helps inexperienced users set gain and route channels to effects. Info is basically a help menu and is pretty good. FX Mute is a nice touch, as it kills all the effects in a single button press that is always on the surface. FX Master takes you right to the FX Master page—shocking, I know. Mute groups brings up a set of on-screen buttons for the 8 mute groups. Below those buttons are the Phones, Talk and Monitor buttons. Phones and Monitor bring up an on-screen volume indication for those two outputs. Talk does exactly what you would expect it to. That’s a common theme on this mixer; it’s laid out well and acts the way you’d expect it to. Even novice users should have no trouble getting up and running quickly. I like user interfaces that are intuitive and make sense, and this section of the TouchMix is good in that regard. 

The big knob on the lower right side of the mixer has a cool blue ring around it and there are five buttons surrounding the top half. Four are user-definable and come pre-programmed for left-right navigation, cue clear and clear clip. The final button is the channel polarity flip control. Next to the touch screen we find three more buttons; Home, Menu and Record/Play. Home takes you back to the main channel display quickly, so if you get lost, that gets you back. Menu brings up the system menu, which has a bunch of controls for how the mixer behaves, sets security, gives access to aux and effects overviews and more. Record/Play brings the transport controls to the bottom of the screen.

Easy to Use

In use, the TouchMix is fairly easy to get around on, with one caveat that I’ll get to in a minute. Routing is simple and intuitive, the display is clear and bright and I never struggled to figure out how to do something. It offers two USB ports on the back, one of which comes with a Wi-Fi adapter installed. The other can be used for any FAT-32 formatted drive and can record 22 channels; all 20 inputs plus stereo mix. You can even play them back by setting each channel to take signal from the track rather than the input. It makes for easy virtual soundcheck. 

Better With an iPad

As I mentioned last time, the biggest problem I have with the TouchMix is the touchscreen. I found it sluggish to respond and occasionally overshot my targets. The version 2.1 firmware helped some, however. The best way to use this mixer in my opinion is with an iPad. While the TouchMix can be its own Wi-Fi access point, I found it worked much more reliably when I connected it to my Airport Extreme. 

The iPad app is really quite good. Where fine selections are hard on the mixer screen, it’s easy on the iPad. All functions are available—including all set up and configuration settings—from the iPad, so after gain is set on each channel, I’d walk away and use the iPad exclusively. This is really why I wish the head amps were digitally controlled; I’d never use the surface for anything if they were. It also helps that the iPad is multi-touch; the TouchMix is not. 

An iPhone app is also available, and it’s really designed for monitor mixing. You can allow a device to access all mixes (including the main) or just one through the configuration screen, making it easy for band members to mix their own ears. 

In use, the TouchMix works well enough. When paired with an iPad, it would do well for small gigs, student rooms, ancillary rooms and the like. I suspect it was really designed for small bands to set on the side of the stage to mix their shows. It feels like a set it and forget it mixer. But it does have some cool features and the number of aux mixes is surprising for a mixer in this size and price class. I did crash it once or twice during testing, and I saw a few configuration menus that weren’t complete. A reboot cleared most of that up, and to be fair, the crashes happened right after a firmware update. There’s probably some software work left to do, but overall, it’s a decent mixer in the right application.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

CTA Review: QSC TouchMix 16 Digital Mixer Pt. 1

When I first saw the QSC TouchMix at the NAMM show in 2014, my first impression was, “Meh.” After all, here was another small mixer with a touch screen instead of actual faders. I spent a few minutes with it and came away unimpressed. So when I was asked to review one, I looked again at the spec sheet, and my interest was piqued. 

Impressive I/O

On paper, the mixer actually does look pretty good. It cones in two versions, the 16 and 8, and aside from I/O count, they are identical. We’ll focus on the 16 input here. It’s called 16, because of the 16 mic inputs, 4 of which are combo jacks. There are also 2 stereo inputs on TRS jacks that bring the total input count to 20. There are technically 10 aux mixes on it; I say technically because 1-6 are mono, and 7/8 and 9/10 are stereo. The mono mixes leave the desk on XLRs while the stereo auxes have TRS jacks, which would make it hard to break them up. So, you really have the capability to do 8 monitor mixes, which is impressive on a mixer this size.

On most small mixers, you end up burning auxes to do effects, but not on the TouchMix. There are 4 dedicated FX busses that feed a limited selection of reverb, delay, chorus and pitch change effects. There is also a pitch-corrector processor that can be assigned to any channel. This could come in quite handy for vocalists that are, how shall we say, pitch-challenged. There are also 8 DCAs and 8 mute groups, which might be overkill on a 20 channel mixer, but there you go. 

Impressive Power

Internally, the mixer uses 32-bit floating point processing and has 24-bit AD and DA converters. It also features Class-A microphone amps which sound quite good. Each input has a four-band, fully parametric EQ, variable high and low cut filters, a gate, and compressor with a de-esser. The aux outputs also have a four-band parametric, limiter, delay and 4 notch filters for eliminating feedback in wedges. The main output substitutes a 31-band graphic EQ for the parametric. 

Other goodies include a dedicated talkback mic input, separate phones and monitor outputs (on TRS jacks), and four user-assignable buttons for quick access to common tasks. As is becoming common on small digital mixers, the TouchMix features over 100 presets for various types of inputs you’d find in a live setting. I didn’t try them all, but the ones I did were good starting points. I suspect experienced sound guys would ignore them or modify the starting points, but they may be helpful for less experienced operators. If nothing else, those starting points will get you in the ballpark quicker for those gigs when time is short. I’m not opposed to preset libraries for that reason—sometimes you just need to get close, fast.  There are also Wizards that assist in gain set up and effects selection and routing.

Physically, the mixer is quite small at roughly 13”x10”x2”. It uses an external power supply and a beefy power cord. It gets quite warm in operation, which tells me there is a lot going on under the hood. The interface is dominated by the 6”x3.5” color touch screen. It’s capacitive touch, and while it works OK for most operations, it’s not great at precision selections, nor as responsive as an iPad or iPhone. Instead of physical faders, the screen presents banks of 8 virtual faders at a time. You can touch and drag the faders on the screen, or touch the channel then use the large knob to raise or lower the level.

Not So Impressive Screen

In use, I found the touch screen a bit laggy, and sometimes the fader would over-shoot my target level. The screen was honestly the biggest disappointment of an otherwise good mixer. In my view, we all carry around touch screens in our pocket that work quite well. There’s really no excuse for a lousy touch screen these days, especially when it’s the primary interface for using “faders.”

Using the knob is better, but be aware there are ballistics built in; if you spin it fast, the fader moves fast. A quick flick of the knob can take a channel from off to +10 in under a half-second, so be careful. Moving it slower is easily controllable however, and pushing down enables a fine control mode. Again, this is a miss in my book. It’s possible that a future software update will fix the ballistics, but the firmware version I tested was tenuous. I was ready to write the whole mixer off based on the poor fader controlling experience, but there is one big saving grace, which we’ll get to next time. 

You may be picking up that I’m not a fan of this mixer, but that’s not correct. I think it’s a good concept, with a few flaws. But there is a way to get around those issues, and we’ll cover that, and a lot more, next time.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.