Solar Odyssey Audio Choices

Continuing the haiku that is Solar Odyssey production with the audio question. Audio has never been my strongest point although I’ve always had the good sense to hire someone for whom it was a strong point!

No such luck here. There’s simply not room in the crew for a dedicated audio person.

There are also two audio problems to solve: on Ra (our boat) and off Ra.

On Ra

My solution for on-boat audio is pretty classic – radio mic everyone! To our advantage we’ll mostly be out on the water, well over a hundred yards from any likely sources of interference. I would love to put together a Sennheiser kit with six channels but there’s that budget constraint again.

While certainly no Sennheiser, this Nady kit seems like it will do the job. It seems focused on small venue support so I’m confident it’ll minimize cross interference. The receiver is a one rack unit high, with either composite output, or eight individual channel outputs. We have a crew of six, plus possible guests, so normally six channels will go directly from the receiver, via a MOTU 8pre and be recorded direct to disk on the Mac Mini server. The receiver unit runs on 15v, easily achievable on board where nominal “12v” usually runs a couple of volts over, with internal regulation clamping it to 12v internal to devices.

This is not the cheapest eight channel system in the market, but eight channels for $295 seemed way too cheap to possibly be worthwhile.

Two additional PZM (surface effect) microphones will feed into the additional two channels – possibly both in the cabin for a fall back recording, or perhaps one in cabin and one outside to record ambient. (I’m still undecided.) I also haven’t yet chosen the two PZM microphones, so suggestions in the comments, please.

The radio mic outputs, and microphones, will go through a MOTU 8pre into a multichannel recording that will run most of the time we’re on the boat. (Metadata will be used to automatically pull selects for any audio that’s been marked as useful, by adding metadata at the time in our new metadata app. That app will also label each channel with the person’s name.)

Final Cut Pro X (or Pluraleyes, whichever works best in our workflow) will be used to synchronize audio with appropriate video. I also figure that if we have to cover 5-10 seconds at the start of a story with some b-roll, as long as the audio is good, I can get away with it. That’s where having that dedicated Go Pro would work (right Steve O?) as “safe” cover visually, and the more I think of it the more I like the idea.

Monitoring will have to consist of spot checks, rather than the luxury of a dedicated person.

Off boat

It’s off boat that having a dedicated audio person with the traditional boom microphone would be nice. Very nice, because they would also be monitoring. Again, not going to happen.

A somewhat lateral suggestion was made by my friend, and audio guru, David Lawrence  suggested individual recordings. I’ve been testing the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone feeding into a Zoom H1 and it works well, as long as the limits of lavalire microphones and kept in mind (position and clothing rustle). My only issue with the ATR-3350 is that it comes with a very long cable that I don’t need but don’t want to cut. I think I’ll heat-shrink wrap it!

Each crew member would get their own unit off boat (well, four people will).

On the FS100 I’d like a typical short-shotgun. I’m open to better suggestions than Sony’s default for the FS100.

Which still leaves me with the problem of casual-but-close audio. I’m thinking about trying to get the best sound from people on an adjacent boat, for example. So here’s my second problem: what microphone to use that won’t be too big and clumsy but has a good hypercardiod, highly directional, pickup pattern, with noise isolating hand grip? That would feed another H1 or (if XLR) an H4.

Again, metadata and audio waveform-based synchronization will be used to bring audio and video together in Final Cut Pro X before editing starts.

I think the amazing thing is how much technology has changed over the last five years. Without the ability to sync based on audio waveforms (in my mind pioneered by Bruce Sharpe at Singular Software) I doubt we’d be able to get decent audio on this journey. At a minimum we’d need one additional person; a bunch of Lockit boxes (or similar) and a lot more fuss before a shoot. So, like the video side, the convergence of technology is what makes this production even plausible within the limits.

4 replies on “Solar Odyssey Audio Choices”

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    1. Thanks to both Steve’s for the suggestions. Steve S, already using the ATR 3350’s into Zoom H1s

  1. I use the ATR 3350 because it’s cheap! The fluffy wind shield actually cost more!

    On my FS100 I have a Rode NTG-1.

    I’m a bit of an audio philistine tho and regularly reminded that I am too.

    The FS100 is a great camera but I don’t think I’d use mine for a doco, the LCD isn’t up to snuff for quick accurate focussing IMHO. Lens choice will be key.

    Small sensor and parfocal lens would be my first choice. Save that for the camera disc tho.

    Philip, do you have a channel interested in your doc or are you shooting it and then hoping to get someone interested in airing it?

    1. Both Travel Channel and Discovery have expressed “interest” but these days that means “make it, show it to us and we’ll decide”. Almost no pre-funding deals without an extensive track record anymore. 🙁

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