Tag Archives: location sound mixer

The Allure of Nagra Tape Recorders

Nagra IV-S tape recorder

Nagra IV-S Stereo Tape Recorder

Particularly regarding the Instrumentation Nagra SJ, an audiophile client was asking me what made the Nagra sound “special.” The SJ has “extended frequency response” to allow for measurment of vibrations and supersonic artifacts. Does it sound better? Is it the amplifier design?

Nagra III tape recorder 1960

This 1960 Nagra III has unusual head shielding. Also there is no tone generator or BA (before/after) switch.

The SJ is not necessarily going to sound better. The SJ recording system did not include the same pre-distortion tricks that are employed in the audio Nagras. As you go up in record level, saturation and non-linearity increase. Pre-distortion served maintain that linearity. Otherwise, the SJ has NAB/CCIR record and playback EQ like any other Nagra. The head gaps on the SJ’s were narrower, to allow for higher frequency recording and playback at 15ips. The specifications have the response at 35khz at 15ips. ….Nagras were often built to order, with unique circuitry combinations based on what the individual customer needed. Along with circuit improvements/changes done at the factory, (many undocumented) there’s hundreds of different Nagra configurations. There were even Nagras built without a front meter or input level controls, just a blank panel (Nagra IV-ML) These days, every Nagra I encounter is different in some way from the norm.

Nagra IV-ML

The Nagra IV-ML had no front panel meter or level controls.

nagra IV-ML

The levels were meant to be controlled at the mixer.

The Nagra playback amplifiers are simple, discrete transistor designs. I’ve had clients who own outboard tape head pre-amps they’ve paid $4000 for, like the “King Cello” preamp, so they want the outputs of the heads available on the side panel of the Nagra. For example see http://www.reeltapes.net/kingcello -one of these expensive preamps.

King Cello Nagra

King Cello Tape Head Preamp- $4000

Using the Nagra in a home music playback environment goes beyond the sound of the internal amplifiers. Users also appreciate having a very unique, professional, portable recorder. Stereo Nagras sold back in the 80’s for around $10,000. The build quality is remarkable, with no stamped parts, only machined aluminum/stainless steel parts. The functionality and durability were designed to withstand constant use in extreme environments and temperatures. The servo motor speed control can maintain perfect speed while the recorder is dropped to a table, or while the user is running on foot with the recorder on the shoulder. The tape tension mechanics are ingenious, continually self-adjusting tape tension during transport operations. The aesthetic design is a direct reflection of Kudelski’s sensibilities, from the unusual dual-needle meter, to the use of excessive panel labeling. Kudelski’s electronic designs were not complex, but all component values, tolerances and other characteristics were carefully regulated. All transformers and inductors (using toriod cores only) are wound entirely in-house. All fasteners are made of stainless steel. It is a laboratory-grade instrument that found its primary home in the alternative universe of motion picture production. That the film art-form once required such elegant, yet precision equipment is part of the Nagra’s allure. -by Pete Verrando www.txsound.comNagra IV-S Verrando  

Why I like Sennheiser G2/G3 systems for everything but talent wireless

sennheiser G3 wireless

Sennheiser G3 wireless microphone system.

Here’s just a few reasons why I love G2/G3 for IFB/scratch track feeds over Lectro or Zaxcom IFB solutions:
– The mini plug input/output is highly compatible without need for custom cables. You can feed a scratch track to  a Red Epic with a standard ipod cable. Transmitter Mic/line input selectable thru tip or ring on the cable. You can hook up to anything with a good set of adaptors. Have you sent audio to a Black Magic camera yet? Non-standard, strangely wired 1/4″ jack inputs, but no problem with a Senn and an ipod cable with a headphone adaptor.
– you can feed  hops and Ifb with same transmitter. 1 less frequency to coordinate.

-Less weight and RF mess in a sound bag. I’d rather carry around a 2 ounce, 30mw G3, than a 1/2 pound, 250mw flamethrower like the Lectro T4.

– I purchased my first set for scratch track hops in 2005. I now have 6 transmitters, 4 plugs, 6 receivers and 15 IFB’s. All purchased on ebay, and on average, less than half of retail. (Many misguided soundies and one-off project users buy these, then dump ’em. )

I’ve yet to have one break.  I’ve replaced many antennas at 5 bucks each, if you can solder well, you’re good.
– huge battery life. 3 days with a pair of lithium AA’s
-audio/rf metering on every unit
-Better range than lectro R1a or zax 2.4 gHz IFB units, owing to  external whip antennas
-transmitter won’t RF swamp a sound bag
-some venues now restricting 2.4 gHz devices as they compete with wifi (Zaxcom IFB)
-super wide input/output audio level settings. It’s easier to set the level on the Senn than dig around on the cryptic Red Epic’s audio screen. So why bother?
-instinctively intuitive to use. Big, understandable, backlit display
-great for feeding video assist, pa systems, or pulling feeds from PA or press feeds
velcro them together for 2 channels, and they are still a very small receiver pkg.
-They’re Great crash wireless for talent- (about the only time I’ll put one on a talent).
-30 mw is low for transmitter power, but as an IFB, the pack is not against somebody’s body.
Instead, it is out in free space on your cart or bag. So no RF absorption from a sweaty cast member’s body.

I’ve have found that the Lectro IFBs are better if your crew needs to change receiver channels frequently to listen to different sound units. WIth Lectro R1a’s, They just push the volume button to cycle thru programmed channels, without needing to look at it. (Don’t know if the ERX can do this).

-Senn’s butt-plug transmitters are also cheap and great for a quickn’dirty wireless handheld for PA or voice-of-god mic for AD’s

On a recent commercial, with one Senny transmitter, I fed scratchtrack to  two Alexas, video assist, client-lounge PA speaker and 15 IFB’s. Excellent range, kinda nice.
-iem headphone amp VERY loud. Even the regular receivers can drive a headphone at +6

-easy to coordinate freqs with internal pre-selects/rf metering, or use the freq finder app.

IEMs and beltpack receivers will also receive acceptable audio sent from more powerful lectro IFB transmitters.

-I could go on. I’ve got buckets of these things.

But I never will use them as frontline talent wireless. They breakup a little at high audio frequencies (sibilant sounds) unless you stay well within the headroom, like half-level.

-By Pete Verrando www.txsound.com

 

Location Sound Mixer, Time Code Slate Inventor Bill Daly -RIP

Bill_Daly location sound mixer

Bill also realized the first “Time Code Slate” using video monitors and a desk clock.

Bill Daly, a veteran N.Y. sound mixer filled in for Tod Maitland on the first 2.5 weeks of JFK in Dallas, doing all the motorcade scenes. I was the 2nd mixer and sfx recordist with my Nagra 4L and one of the early portable DAT machines, 5 years into my career. Bill was pretty gruff and would occasionally tear me a new arsehole by day, but always followed up by buying me a drink after wrap and regaling me with war stories. I’ll never forget one day, while sitting in the window sills of the 6th floor Book Depository, seeing Bill’s massive cart on the street below, with his huge Sela mixer and umbrella anchored to his cart, but no immediate sign of Bill. A gust of wind hooked the umbrella and pulled the cart over on its back, his stereo Nagra flipped lid-down and skidded on the pavement. Boom op T.J. O’Mara dashes over to the pile and slaps his hands to his head, and frantically he goes about righting the whole mess. I think they were back up and running in 15 minutes. It was surreal. He was just as encouraging and kind to me as he was a ball-buster. Cheers Bill!  by Pete Verrando, www.txsound.com

tod maitland jfk

Tod Maitland while in Dallas on JFK.

 

Planet Of The Sound Mixers

TV Crew people often say that sound people are the strangest  cast at the carnival. After years lurking around some sound mixer list serves, I can see how they would reach that conclusion.  Check out www.jwsoundgroup.net and read some of the threads. I’ve never seen so many like-minded people go to the mat as they do, mixed with indulgent reverence for each other. A mostly happy yet dysfunctional family, with a cage in the basement.
If you want to go deeper , check out rec.arts.movies.production.sound on the ol’ Usenet. These days, Usenet is part of the internet wasteland, like CB radio. Nobody knew much about net-etiquette back then. Check out the posts of/about “Senator Mike” or “Roberto.” Mike would wail on any sound novice or “outsider” to go back from whence they came. Mike has softened up in his later years on jwsound, but occasionally, he still manages to let his old self shine. Back then, he and others were sometimes “banned” from the group, only to show up on other groups, like the Lectrosonics group, where he tells folks that their equipment is “broken”.

location sound mixer headphones

The Zen of headphone Face-Listening

This kind of relates to my experience as a ham radio operator. I always wanted to be a ham, since I was a kid. My dad told me he would buy me the equipment if I learned Morse code, and passed the technical test. I tried, but did not have the discipline, or mentoring, to see it through. But I finally got my license about 30 years later, and I learned Morse code. Morse code is obsolete. Just don’t tell any ham operators I said so.
Which is why as a ham,  I ultimately never spent much time on the air. Those guys weren’t too friendly or fun to engage. Curmudgeonly, reclusive, often ultra-conservative, & not much in the way of social skills. They use words like “diabolical.” Instead of saying “goodbye,” they are just as apt to say “farewell.”  Farewell?  The below screen capture is Senator Mike himself, as an extra on Hawaii 5-0, sometime around the late 60’s -early 70’s:

senator mike michaels, hawaii 5-0

Senator Mike worked on Hawaii 5-0 as both sound technican and on-camera extra.

Senator Mike Micheals Location Sound Mixer

Senator Mike Micheals Today.

I guess, like athletes, electronic gear-heads tend to size one another up on a continuing basis. Back in the 80’s, I met a sound mixer named James Tannenbaum  on a film shooting in Austin. Jim’s very talented and successful. I respect him a great deal. I learned a lot from him. He’s written some great articles for Sound & Picture. He is undoubtedly one of the most unusual human beings I have ever met. I was the video assist operator, and a sound wannabe. No doubt I picked his brain to excess. When Jim didn’t appreciate my presence, he wouldn’t use normal cues to dismiss me. He would toy with my assumptions or quiz me into submission. Mr. Jean Clark, his chain-smoking boom operator, would delightfully join in. Some time soon, I will post some passages from a book Jim was writing at the time about sound mixing. Technically, much of it is obsolete. However, the advice Jim revealed about dealing with others on the set was hilarious. “Use your nearly-dead batteries script supervisor Comteks.” I paraphrase, but stuff like that.

Jim Tannenbaum Location Sound Mixer Car Shot

Jim Tannenbaum C.A.S. doing a car shot the old school way.

Anyway, among  personalities on the set, I guess the sound people rank as the most unusual bunch. Maybe we were the kids who were picked last to be on the team. Loners. There must be some pent-up aggression among us, as evidenced by the tit-for-tat that lives in infamy on the sound mixer listserves. (Senator, that Usenet stuff never goes away, at least for now.)
To be honest, I’m probably just as strange as the rest of them. We are least qualified individually to judge how we are perceived by others. Also, I think my clients are just too diabolical to tell me the truth.
-by Pete Verrando www.txsound.com

 

Facebook Sound Mixer Nation

oh shit oh shit oh shit

oh shit oh shit oh shit

Theres a burgeoning Facebook group known as “Freelance Sound Mixers & Recordists for TV/Film. It is a largely un-moderated an un-categorized free-for-all. But, if One had to categorize the existing posts, these come to mind:
*I Can’t Get Any Wireless Range
*I Just Spent another $2000 and I Still Can’t Get No Wireless Range
*My (equipment) Stopped Working, How Can I Fix It Without Getting It Repaired?
*My Crisis That Is Holding Up A Production Right This Moment Is:
*I Bought This(equipment) & How To Use It
*I Bought This(equipment), Do You Want To Buy It
*What Frequencies Are Good In This (city, state, country, nation, hemisphere)
*What Do You Think Of This (microphone, recorder, wireless, etc)
*You Are Wrong About That (microphone, recorder, wireless, etc)
*Lengthy Technical Posts Of Questionable Accuracy
*Arrogance As An Expression Of Insecurity
*An “office today” photo.
*What Is The Best Microphone For (whispering, shouting, singing, sound effects, gun shots, etc)
*How Do I Record On A (plane, train, automobile, bus, boat, hallway, bathroom, mountaintop, etc)
*Has anyone ever used this(microphone) In This (situation)?
*Look At My New Package (of equipment)
*What Is A Good Pay Rate For A Mixer/Equipment
*This Job Is So Cool, Whats The Big Deal About Pay
*I’m Doing Lots Indies & Shorts Films with My New Package.
*Why Is The Pay So Low On Indies & Shorts?
*Old Mixers Bitching About New Mixers Working For Cheap
*Old Mixers Bitching
*Arguments About How Wireless Microphone Equipment Works
*Production Starts In 3 Days And I Have No Clue About Any Of This
*Ha Ha Lame Craigslist Crew Posts
*The Only Work I Land is From Craigslist Crew Posts
-by Pete Verrando www.txsound.com
Facebook Sound Mixers and Recordists:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/soundmixers/

 

G

record now, decide later.

record now, decide later.

sankenlavEver wonder why sound mixers record and interview with both a lavalier mic and a boom microphone?  The standard producer request, whenever an interview is recorded for television: Boom channel 1, lav channel 2, or visa-versa. Why 2 microphones for one sound source? The answer runs a little deeper than you may think. 20 or 30 years ago, 2 mics for a single interview was not done. The sound recordist chose his weapon, a lav or a boom, and recorded with that. The producer asked no questions. There was only one, recordable mono track anyway! Back in the news-film, documentary days, or anything that preceded video, the audio went to the mono Nagra track, or the single audio channel on whatever sound amplifier (Auricon, Cinema Products, etc) was driving a sound-on-film system. Not only were two mics unnecessary, there weren’t two audio tracks for two mics.  Eventually,  Two tracks of audio  became available when 3/4” u-matic, stereo Nagra, or 1” field recording came into being. Yet two mics for a single-person interview was still hardly contemplated. Enter the days of Tabloid and Reality television. And, the need for low-cost programming to fill 80 channels of cable/satellite TV. The small army of production mixers across the US, in their lofty, revered, hard-earned union positions, were no longer enough in number to meet the demand for the forthcoming tidal wave of cheap television. However, there were plenty of young, inexperienced crew people flooding into the production work force, many never having picked up a boom pole or lavalier mic. They worked for cheap, learned by trial and error, clipping lavs on collars, happily chasing around cameras with their little mixers. Recording interviews with whatever audio gear the cameraman owned, or was thrown in the back of the truck. You can imagine what came next. Horrible audio came flooding into the edit bays. Poorly cued booms, lavs placed too low or too high, or no mic at all- when the new guy forgot to switch from the camera mic! If a mic battery died, or a location was noisy, the editor got what he got- 1 channel of crappy audio from one mic, recorded by a beginner. It didn’t take long for word to come down on high. Make those jobs idiot-proof, because we’ve got an army of idiots recording our field audio! Thus came the new protocol- record lavalier on 1 channel, and boom on the other. In Post, now we can choose the less horrible of the two! The senior sound guys balked- they knew how to get good interview audio with one mic, and no memo from above was going to tell them how to do the job. Regardless, the protocol stuck, and is still with us today. I don’t begrudge the method at all. Today, having both mics going makes sense in a fail-safe kind of way- most of the time. Also, for fun, we get to A/B our boom and lavs during the interview. The on-set mentality is: Get it right, get it in spades, and if you can, postpone making a decision about anything. Works for me! All I ask is: Please, Mr Editor, pick one or the other, and don’t mix the two down to mono! – by Pete Verrando  www.txsound.com

Time lapse Deva Fusion Multitrack breakdown, repair assemble

After a recent rainy shoot, fader #3 started behaving erratically. The fading action would jump around, regardless of the fader’s position. I ordered a new pot and replaced the fader, but this did not cure the problem. Going back in, I re-soldered the new pot and also re-soldered a past repair on fader #3, which was probably the issue,a Surface mount resistor. I don’t have a proper SM soldering iron, so I had to wing it with a pinpoint soldering tip. Normal soldering tips can obliterate an SM component and the surrounding traces.
by Pete Verrando

bountyxmtr2

Car-to-Car with Lectro’s SMV

   Recently, I was on a shoot following bounty hunters around a city every night for about 10 days. Both cars worked together, with two hunters in each. Each car had a camera operator inside,  and both “hunters” were mic’d with Lectro SMV’s , transmitting directly to an SRb 2-channel receiver on the camera. 

    Camera mic was on channel 3/4.  Now the fun part–   a plant mic was placed in the car’s headliner dead center, and fed to an external SMv transmitter on each car. Both SMv’s at 250mw full power, and taking 12 volts  from each car’s cigar lighter. Our follow vehicle had two Lectro SNA-600 dipoles mounted about 12″ above the roof on fiberglass poles, feeding a Venue Field inside the van. The Field received the 4 officer’s wireless, & the two plant mic wireless.  

Rubber band pulls transmit antenna away from car to maximze range. Fixed to glass with heavy-duty Velcro.
Transmitter  then covered in gaff tape 
Follow vehicle SNA-600 antennas fed a Lectrosonics Venue Field inside. 


On the road, the follow vehicle could reliably  hear those plant mics  up to 1/2 mile away from the hunter cars-  sometimes more in the countryside!  In the city, we would routinely loose the cars in traffic, but could usually still hear them.   This made for great follow vehicle IFB, & two clear recorded tracks of car interior when bad guys were loaded in the car. 

-by Pete Verrando

fusion22

Fusion teardown to remove faceplate dirt

Poor R3. Explanation below.

The Zaxcom Fusion series of touch-screen multitrack recorders are designed for field use, but after a few months, dirt accumulation around the touch-screen can impede functionality. I’ve torn-down my Fusion to clean the dirt accumulation, and took some photos to document the process. This is more of a documentation, and less of a how-to. I disavow any responsibility to those who attempt to use this as a guide.

There’s also some rules broken here that I normally don’t break.  I should have had an nice ice-tray to keep all the nuts and bolts organized. I should have also cleaned up my bench before starting ! Also, one should be very careful around Surface-Mount circuit boards as the miniscule components can break off with an errant bump of a screwdriver, and you’ll never be the wiser, until you’ve re-assembled the machine and something doesn’t work.

After the main cover is removed, the Fusion presents thusly:

All the knobs get removed as well. Then there’s the business of removing the faceplate from the body, attached with side screws. The multi-pin connectors on the back of the faceplate need to be carefully loosened and disconnected.

There’s also a pair of wires that must be disconnected from the mic-input board- these are for the slate mic. The connector can be carefully loosened off the input board with a small screwdriver.

The slate mic connector is the small white one right under the 25pin d-sub.

The red-black wires at the bottom are the slate mic wires. The connector is right above the headphone jack.

The front panel, still hanging on by the slate mic wires.
Once the frontplate is disconnected from the box, the gentle operation of removing the nuts surrounding the circuit board can proceed. A nut driver is preferred. If you use a pair of needle-nose pliers, you risk slipping off the nuts, and crashing into one of the surface-mount components, breaking it. Like I did.
Lucky I know how to solder surface-mount components. I wacked into R3, very close to a nut.
For God’s sake, use a nut-driver, not a pair of needle-nose, like I did.

Once all the nuts are removed, hold the assembly faceplate-up  for separating the circuit board from the aluminum front plate. If you have it circuit-board up, the LCD screen will fall out of its holder, and hang by its ribbon cable, which is unsettling. So hold it faceplate up and separate the pieces carefully:

Here is the circuit board with the faceplate off. Be very careful, the surface-mount components on the underside are fragile!
The LCD screen will fall right out of its holder, so handle it carefully. At this point I removed all the dirt that accumulated on the screen edges, between the buttons, and around the potentiometers.
Dirt accumulates/sticks to the edges of the screen.
Dirt surrounding the pot shafts
Dirt around the edges/at bottom of button assembly
And most importantly, I scraped off the sludge that adheres to the underside of the faceplate:
yucky
After cleaning, re-assembly is easiest by holding the parts vertically, so the LCD screen doesn’t fall out of its holder, and the screws can be lined up through the holes of the circuit board. Then, flipping it over like a sandwich,  All the nuts can then be carefully tightened on the component size of the circuit board.  Careful around those SMT components!!!
Re-assembly is the reverse of disassembly, but it is difficult to get the slate mic connector back on its pins. The easiest way to do this is by loosening the DB25 d-sub output connector, and pushing it in the box. This creates an access hole to push on the slate mic connector. You can also see me adjusting the potentiometer for the audio level of the slate mic. My level arrived from the factory very hot.
I fully test the machine before final re-assembly, I want no surprises on the job. Remember- in my first attempt, I bumped a pair of pliers into R3, a tiny surface-mount resistor. I didn’t realize my error until testing, when fader #3 refused to post fade.  Magnifiers and a steady solder-hand were required to find this problem and repair it.  If I had used the right tools, I’d have saved a bunch of time.
Maybe I should build a one-room apartment in there…
Even after cleaning up the dirt accumulation under the faceplate, a single dusty/dirty shoot can restart the ingress of dirt inside the recorder. Using fingers, a firm and gentle pushing down of the LCD from all four corners will often free the debris. I believe Zaxcom has recently added a machining process to the aluminum surrounding the LCD to minimize this problem. Of course, if your machine lives on a cart, dirt accumulation is less of a problem. However I just finished a bag job, hog hunting in the Rio Grande. I’m sure I’ve brought home some of that good red clay inside my Fusion!
-by Pete Verrando
oh shit oh shit oh shit

Lav Channel 1, Boom Channel 2, Please?

Record Now, Decide Later.
Ever wonder why interviews are recorded with both a lavalier mic and a boom microphone? The standard producer request, whenever an interview is recorded for television: Boom channel 1, lav channel 2, or visa-versa. Why 2 microphones for one sound source? The answer runs a little deeper than you may think.
20 or 30 years ago, two mics for a single interview was not done. The sound recordist chose his weapon, a lav or a boom, and recorded with that. The producer or director, or whoever was in charge, asked no questions. There was only one, recordable mono track anyway!  Back in the news-film, documentary days, or anything that preceded video, the audio went to the mono Nagra track, or the single audio channel on whatever sound amplifier (Auricon, Cinema Products, etc) was driving a sound-on-film system. Not only were two mics unnecessary, there weren’t two audio tracks for two mics! Two tracks of audio eventually became available when 3/4” u-matic, stereo Nagra, or 1” field recording came into being. Yet two mics for a single-person interview was still hardly contemplated
Enter the days of Tabloid and Reality television. And, the need for low-cost programming to fill 80 channels of cable/satellite TV. The tiny army of production mixers, in their lofty, revered, hard-earned union positions, were no longer enough in number, or even willing to meet the demand for the forthcoming tidal wave of cheap television.
However, there were plenty of young, inexperienced crew people flooding into the production work force, many never having picked up a boom pole or lavalier mic.  They worked for cheap, learned by trial and error, clipping lavs on collars, happily chasing around cameras with their little mixers. Recording interviews with whatever audio gear the cameraman owned, or was thrown in the back of the truck. Often an Shure FP31 and two Sony ECM50’s…
oh shit oh shit oh shit

oh shit oh shit oh shit

You can imagine what came next. Horrible audio came flooding into the edit bays. Poorly cued booms, lavs placed too low or too high, or no mic at all- when the soundman forgot to switch from the camera mic, or connect the umbilicle. If a mic battery died, or a location was noisy, the editor got what he got1 channel of crappy audio from one mic, recorded by a beginner.

It didn’t take long for word to come down on high. Make those jobs idiot-proof, because we’ve got an army of idiots recording our field audio! Thus came the new protocol- record lavalier on 1 channel, and boom on the other. In Post, now we can choose the less horrible of the two!  The senior sound guys balked– they knew how to get good interview audio with one mic, and no memo from above was going to tell them how to do the job. Regardless, the protocol stuck, and is still with us today. I don’t begrudge the method at all. Today, having both mics going makes sense in a fail-safe kind of way- most of the time. Let’s say you have 15 minutes to interview the King of Jordan. One take, no interruptions.  Mid-interview, someone starts a vacuum cleaner in the next room.   Would you rather have one mic choice or two?  Afterwards, the producer’s inevitable question- how was that vacuum? Which mic sounded better?  These days, the on-set mentality is:  Get it right, get it in spades, and if you can, postpone making a decision about anything. Works for me! All I ask is: Please, Mr Editor, pick one or the other, and don’t mix the two down to mono! 

– by Pete Verrando


www.txsound.com