What Your Hear is What You Get:The Benefits of External Mikes and Headphones

After weeks of planning, you are
finally able to get everyone together on one day to take part
in your latest video project – a video scrapbook. One by one, you
record stories about your family’s unique history. To your amazement,
the day goes without a hitch, and you can’t wait to review your
day’s work.

That evening, you sit down to review
your footage. Aunt Ginnie appears on the screen, her lips move
rapidly as she explains how she met your uncle. Hmmm, you can
hardly hear what she is saying. You turn up the volume on your
monitor. No luck. Her muffled voice is almost impossible to distinguish
from the roar of the background noise. What you can hear, unfortunately,
is your other relatives bustling about close to your camcorder’s
position. You try the volume on your television again, and the
volume of the bustling relatives increases. Panic strikes. You
fast forward to your next relative. . . and the next. . . still
the same problem. One-and-a-half hours of perfect video ruined
by background noise. The problem? Your camcorder’s built-in microphone
wasn’t positioned close enough to your subjects to effectively
pick up their voices. The solution? An external microphone. An
external microphone allows you to record sound from a spot that
is closer to your subject.

Handle Your Sound

You decide to abandon the first version
of your video scrapbook, and head out to the local electronics
store to buy an external mike that will give the second take of
your video scrapbook the sound quality needed to hear an intimate
interview. Bravely, you enter the store where a sales clerk living
on commission immediately accosts you. The clerk explains that
external microphones come in three basic styles: handheld, lavalier
and shotgun, and that he considers the handheld mike to be the
most versatile. He tells you that handheld mikes are ideally suited
for recording on-the-spot interviews, speeches or narrations.

After hearing this, the clerk shows
you a variety of handheld mikes, like Azden’s DX-431, which costs
$40 and has a unidirectional pickup pattern (it only responds
to sound coming from one direction). Beyerdynamic’s model M01
sells for $99 and has a hyper-cardioid pickup pattern (a highly-focused
heart-shaped pickup pattern that rejects sound from behind). Slightly
higher priced is Electro-Voice’s model 635A with an omnidirectional
pickup that is sensitive to sound from all directions. The Electro-Voice
635A sells for $139.

You buy a handheld microphone, and
reorganize the family gathering, positive that Aunt Ginnie and
the rest of the family will sound as clear on-tape as they do
in real life. When you begin to tape the scrapbook again, you
feel confident of your video’s sound quality as Aunt Ginnie speaks
into the mike with the look of a television newswoman. Then you
look into your viewfinder and realize that you have a new problem:
Aunt Ginnie may have the sound clarity of television news reporter,
but she appears uncomfortable and awkward with the microphone
covering part of her face. Sensing another floundered attempt
at the video scrapbook, you grab your trusty credit card and quickly
flee back to the electronics store to get a different microphone.

A Shotgun Approach
Out-of-breath and panic stricken, you tell the sales clerk how the handheld microphone might not be the best choice for interviewing Aunt Ginnie. The clerk nods and pulls out a long dark tube that looks almost like the barrel of a shotgun. The sales clerk tells you how shotgun mikes are ideal for shooting in situations where you need to record your subject from a distance, such as wildlife photography. Shotgun mikes are directional, which means they reject sound from everywhere except from the direction that they are pointed.

Shotgun mikes will cost you
a little more than a handheld mike, but many professionals prefer
them due to their pick-up capabilities. AKG’s model C-568 EB costs
$636, with a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz. The Beyerdynamics
MCE865.1 ($499) is a battery-powered short shotgun condenser microphone.
It’s great for interviews and camcorder use, and has an adapter
to mount it on the hot shoe (an accessory mount provided with
many camcorders). The MCE865.1 carries a price of $500.

You consider your options carefully
until you are almost ready to buy a shotgun mike. At that point,
you visualize yourself using your expensive new microphone to
interview Aunt Ginnie. You don’t really need to record her from
a great distance for any safety reason, and the price of the shotgun
mike would seriously damage your credit card’s precarious balance.
Thinking that there has to be another microphone option available,
you have a vision of the little clip-on microphone game show contestants
use. You then remember that the sales clerk has not yet shown
you all three types of microphones. You ask him about lavalier
mikes.

A Lav Experiment
The sales clerk frowns as you mention
a lower priced (and lower sales commission) style of microphone.
The clerk explains to you how lavalier microphones are small in
size, can easily be attached to your subject and are ideal for
shooting situations that require a microphone to be hidden from
view.

Azden’s EX-503 omnidirectional lavalier mike sells for $25. This condenser microphone incorporates a design for use with a wireless transmitter that supplies it with phantom power. Phantom power means that the EX-503 does not have a power supply of its own and depends on the power source of another device to operate.

Shure’s SM11 lavalier mike sells for $87, complete with case, 3′ cable and a 2-year warranty. Beyerdynamic’s model MCE50.15, which has a frequency response range of 25-18,000Hz, sells for $369. Audio-Technica’s ATR35s omni-directional lavalier mike has a frequency response of 50-18,000Hz. The microphone is extremely small and the price is just $40.

You grab a lavalier and sprint back to interview Aunt Ginnie before she gets too tired. You cable your fancy new lavalier to your camcorder and run the microphone out to the spot where your interviewee waits. Aunt Ginnie, hardly aware that you slipped out to the electronics store in the first place, looks surprised when you clip the tiny microphone to her polyester jacket. After finishing Aunt Ginnie’s interview, you continue the process and manage to interview the whole family on tape.

It’s All in Your Head(phone)
Confident in your video’s sound, you review your interview footage starting with Aunt Ginnie. At the beginning of her interview, Aunt Ginnie sounds fine, but as the interview progresses (and Aunt Ginnie gets more restless), the sound deteriorates as a strange noise dominates the recorded sound. In a panic, you fast-forward to the next interview to find its sound quality perfect. You realize that when she got restless, Aunt Ginnie’s polyester jacket was rubbing up against the mike, causing the racket. What could have alerted you to the potential audio catastrophe? A simple set of headphones to monitor the audio as you taped.

Headphones come in a variety of types and prices. The most inexpensive method of monitoring your audio is through bud-style earphones. Sony sells the Fonopia MDR-E811LP ear-bud stereo earphones for $13. Headphones that are more traditional cost anywhere from to $6 to $300, depending on their quality.

Sony, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic and Audio-Technica are all manufacturers that make quality headphones for both the consumer and professional markets.

Sennheiser’s model HD435 entry-level headphone has a frequency response rate of 22-20,000Hz, weighs in at 4.2 ounces and sell for $60. Beyerdynamic’s DT770 Pro headphone set is suited for studio or professional applications, and sells for $150. Audio-Technica’s Omniphones headphone series come with a 3.5mm stereo mini-plug and 1/4" plug adapter. The ATH-P1 headphones cost $20.

The Third Time is the Charm
As you interview Aunt Ginnie for the third time, you realize that preventing bad audio is easy when you come armed with the basics: an external mike and a set of headphones. Keeping a set of headphones in your camcorder bag will help you prepare for most audio scenarios. Whether you’re a beginner or a videographer who is an audio master, keeping these simple audio accessories with you can help ensure your video is pleasing to the eyes–and the ears.

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