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Ten Tips For Better Audio

  • Recognize that good audio quality is equally as important as good video quality - perhaps even of greater importance for musical productions and talk shows.

  • Microphones work best when close to the sound source. Therefore you should:

    • Move the camcorder as close to the subject as possible when using the on-microphone remembering that most on-camera microphones are fairly directional with strongest pickup from the front.

    • Get the microphone off the camcorder and as close as possible to the subject (s) using one of the following techniques.

    • For one subject speaking -- clip-on lavalier microphone placed on shirt or lapel and plugged-into external microphone jack of camcorder. Use wireless mics only if the subject must more about.

    • For two subjects speaking -- two clip-on lavaliers feeding a small mixer or one or two (preferably unidirectional) mics either hand-held or placed on short mic stands on table. The line-level output of the mixer may be connected to the external microphone jack of the camcorder using an attenuating cable or adaptor.

    • For several subjects speaking -- multiple clip-on lavaliers or multiple dynamic mics placed following 3:1 rule (mics should be spaced apart 3 times the distance from the sound source to avoid phase cancellation problems) or a PZM (Pressure Zone Microphone) placed on the conference table around which the subjects are sitting.

  • For musical concerts -- ideally take line level feed from performers mixer, convert to mic level using attenuating cable, and connect to external mic input or place two quality condenser mics on stands in front of stage with mics as high as possible. Other alternatives include placing your mic near the PA system loudspeaker(s) or PZM type mics along the edge of the stage.

  • When using a mixer or video tape recorder with audio level (VU) meter or indicator lights, adjust levels to -5 to -3 VU. It is OK for some of the loudest peaks to go momentarily above 0 VU but should not remain so for any length of time. Ideally adjust levels for loudest peaks prior to taping and leave the audio level alone after that. Programs involving both music and narration will require level adjustment during the taping.

  • When using multiple microphones, particularly in the setting of a panel discussion, turn off unused microphones to eliminate extraneous noise and to provide as much “headroom” as possible.

  • When using handheld microphones, the talent should hold the mic about 2” from his/her mouth and speak across (rather than directly into) the microphone. This is essential in a noisy environment such as a sporting event where a mic placed on stand or held several feet from the talent will pick up mostly ambient sound.

  • You must monitor the audio levels and quality with headphones connected at the last point in the recording chain.  This means at the camcorder or recorder - not at the mixer if one is used. Only then will you be assured of clean audio at the proper level. -5VU of hum looks like -5 VU of clean audio on a level meter but sounds horrible in the headphones. This is even more important when using more than one microphone or mixing a microphone input with a line-level input (as from a cassette tape player). Only by use of headphones are you able to adjust each input for the proper mix or balance.

  • Keep audio (and video) cable lengths to the minimum - frequency response is lost and noise is added when unbalanced microphone cables longer than 25’ and unbalanced line level cables longer than 75’ are used. Longer runs should utilize balanced, low-impedance cables (i.e. 3-pin XLR connections).

  • When utilizing additional audio-video equipment such as a mixer and particularly when taking a line-level audio feed from performer’s equipment, you may encounter a problem known as “ground-looping.” It is evidenced by hum (mild or severe and particularly noticeable during quiet periods in the program) that cannot be traced to a faulty connector or cable. The problem arises when several pieces of equipment are connected to ground at various points in the overall system. It can usually be eliminated by “lifting” the shield of one of the audio cables to break the “loop.”

  • When walking-up to a microphone the talent should not begin speaking or singing until a few moments after they (or the mic) are properly positioned. Too often, overly eager talent will launch into their “act” while still several feet from the microphone making audio quality poor and later editing very difficult.

  • When using microphones with on-mic on/off switches feeding a mixer that you or an assistant is controlling, it is safer to tape the mic switches to the on-position and activate the microphone as needed using the mixer input controls. Frequently talent will forget to turn the mic on before speaking. Some mics also generate an audible “pop” when the switch is moved.

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