You can probably guess from reading my writings that I’m not much of a video person, so I don’t regularly report on video products or accessories (though I’ll probably do a follow-up to my review of the Zoom Q3 now that that the updated Q3HD is in the pipeline). So that’s my excuse for not being aware of what was a hot item for video last year – the use of a DSLR (nominally a still camera) to shoot high quality video on a budget considerably lower than what it takes to buy or rent a similarly high quality video camera. If this is new to you, too, look at the blog of short film maker Philip Bloom, who seems to be a leader in this sort of grassroots technology.
These DSLRs have a crummy built-in mic, but thoughtfully also have inputs for external mics. The A/D converters apparently aren’t too bad on those cameras, so this show brought us two high quality mic preamps which, in addition to being multi-functional front ends for field recording, have a few extra features that make them good companions for the DSLR when used as a video camera. Both are sized to fit the bottom of a camera or worn on a belt clip, both have an accessory mounting bracket to attach the preamp/mixer to the camera’s tripod socket, and both have outputs both at real line level and at a mic level suitable for the DSLR’s external mic input, and both are battery powered. Both also include a tone generator for level setting and slating.
The Audio Development AD 071 has three inputs which can be configured either as three mic inputs or two line inputs and one mic input. Switches for each input channel configure it for left, right, or center (no real pan controls, though), with switchable 48v phantom power on the mic inputs. Mic inputs have a limiter permanently in line to prevent clipping of the input stage, and there’s a switchable limiter on the outputs. The headpone output can be switched between the preamp inputs or a playback input from the camera.
The Sound Devices MixPre-D is a compact mic/line mixer that adds digital outputs, both AES/EBU and USB to the usual analog outputs.. Though I’m not aware of a DSLR that has AES digital inputs yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s coming, and the MixPre-D will be ready for it. It features a built-in matrix to accommodate the M-S stereo mic configuration and Sound Devices’ excellent long scale meters.
Sescom is a company that goes back at least 35 years. They specialize in little interface problem solvers and every year that I see them at a show, I’m glad that they’re stilll around. Their IL-19 in-line XLR-XLR isolation transformer has solved many a ground hum problem in the field for me. They have a few new versions, one being a dual channel isolator, one with a polarity reverse and a ground lift switch, one with pin 1 isolated, and a rack mount box with 8 IL-19 transformers. They also have a series of specialty cables for use in interfacing external sources to DSLRs and several iPod I/O cables.
RME is now shipping their monster audio interface, the Fireface UFX, a single rack space box that has 30 audio input and output channels with computer connectivity via both Firewire and USB 2.0. RME has a reputation for solid and very low latency drivers so I expect that this unit will work with just about any computer without a lot of fooling around. In addition to recording to a compter, it can also record to and play back from a USB flash drive (there’s a connector for it on the front panel). I didn’t get a full rundown on how much control you have over it without a computer connected, but without a doubt it can be configured for straightforward stand-alone audio capture. That’s as good as my trusty Mackie HDR24/96.
Like all of these multichannel I/O boxes, you have to know how those 30 channels are counted. There are four Mic/Line/Instrument XLR combo connectors on the front panel and 8 TRS line level inputs on the rear. There are 12 corresponding analog outputs as 6 TRS and 2 XLR balanced, at line level, and two stereo front panel headphones jacks. The two ADAT optical ports that can be configured for 16 channels at standard sample rate, 8 channels at 2x or 4 channels at 4x sample rate, or one can be used as S/PDIF optical (2 channels) To round it out, there’s AES/EBU input and output, 2 MIDI ports, and word clock in and out. There’s a pair of what I think are OLEDs that display a pretty clear set of meters as well as indications of mixer level settings, gains, and some setup information for functions that can be controlled by the front panel buttons and data entry knob.
RME’s Total Mix software control panel provides a set of digital mixers that allow any input to be routed to any output, giving complete flexibility in configuring headphone mixes while tracking, multi-channel outputs for surround mixing, There’s 3 band EQ on every channel as well as reverb and delay that can be used as ‘comfort food’ in the headphone mixes.
Not being a big fan of DAWs, plug-in, or surroung sound, it took a tip-off from my buddy at the Focal (loudspeakers) booth to get me up to see a demo of the DTS Neural UpMix processing plug-in. I’m not easily amazed, but this was really impressive. The short story is that it will take a stereo mix and pretty intelligently create additional channels for a 5.1 or 7.1 surround mix. Of course what comes out depends on what goes in, but with its default settings, it didn’t seem to do anything that was unreal. It did a very good job of creating a well isolated center channel of the lead vocal (which was panned to the center of the stereo mix), and, from the live recording that they used to demo it, put mostly crowd sounds and hall reverberation in the surround and rear channels. There’s a set of controls that allows you to push things around more (I expect these are more effective on a studio recording where individual sources are better isolated), but I can see it being used as a push-button surround generator if you’re not equipped for surround mixing but the client requests it. There’s also potential here for tricks like using it to isolate the center material (like for example, the lead vocal), performing some magic on the file it creates for that track, then using the tools to downmix it back into stereo with the “fixed” vocal track. It’s for RTAS, AudioSuite, and VST, with an offer of a time limited free trial. I think you neee an iLok, but if you have one, have a surround system to listen to what it does, and want to be at least somewhat amazed or amused, check it out.