To capture good sound we urge video producers to bypass the on-camera microphone and connect an external microphone to your camcorder. But once you’ve got your audio, there’s one more step for you to take to really get control over your soundtrack.
Consider an audio mixer. Not only do they come in handy for live, in the field productions like weddings, music videos or seminars where you may be miking multiple sources, but they are even better for post-production audio editing. It’s in post-production where you can unleash your creative powers on your audio using an audio mixer. A sound track can be made up of dialogue, music, sound effects, natural sounds or a combination of any or all of these. An audio mixer gives you the ability to properly mix and balance these various audio elements to create a seamless soundtrack.
And if you think that just because you use a nonlinear editing system you don’t need a mixer, think again. You can use a mixer to solve all sorts of audio challenges. Wiring is just one. By connecting an audio mixer to your audio digitizer card, you can then run all of your other audio gear through the mixer. This is a convenient and versatile solution to help digitize and control your audio.
What to Look For
An audio mixer essentially takes two or more audio sources and mixes them into one, much in the same way two streams of water come together to mix in a river. The simplest of audio mixers passively mixes two or more streams of audio together into one output, like the Azden Cam3 ($69). This is a convenient model since it requires no power, and it’s small enough to mount directly on your camera.
The best way to decide which audio mixer is right for you is to determine which types of productions you will do. If you’re doing a lot of work in the field where electrical outlets are few and far between, then you may want to consider one that can be powered by DC or battery power. The Peavey RQ 200 ($240), Carvin’s S-400 Stagemate ($400), Studiomaster 42-DC-XLR ($130), Shure’s M367 ($795), FP42 ($1240), FP410 ($1650) and FP33 ($1795) all are battery operated.
The Ins and Outs
Next you’ll want to decide which jacks you’ll need and how many input devices you’ll be running at the same time. The more jacks you have, the more versatility you’ll have over the number and types of your audio connections. RCA inputs are essential for most video productions as you can connect your standard audio equipment like CD player, turntable and cassette player. The XLR and 1/4″ jacks are also available for most of the mixers, and you can easily find adapters to go from 1/4 inch to RCA. Many professional-level microphones, headphones and musical equipment use these types of jacks. Some mixers also provide a mini jack, the same one that you may find on many camcorders that have a mike or headphone jack. The Peavey RQ200 offers all of these.
The number and types of inputs you’re planning to use will also help determine which mixer is right for you. If you’re going to be recording with a number of microphones, you’ll definitely want multiple mike inputs. If you’re going to be mixing one or two CD players, a cassette player, a turntable and a VCR, say, then you want to make sure the model you choose has various line inputs. Also if you’re working with music, you probably want a mixer with stereo line inputs. On many of the models with stereo inputs, you can use the stereo jacks individually as mono line inputs. Some line and mike inputs can not be used simultaneously. The number of channels the mixer has determines how many lines can be used at the same time.
Once you find the style of mixer that fits your production needs, test it out and get a feel for it. Is the meter indicator easy to read? Do you like the fader slide or do you prefer a knob? Does it have built in sound effects? Do you like the feel of it? Comfort is important since you’ll probably spend hours creating your audio mix.
There are a whole host of audio mixers available at various price points. Take an inventory of your personal audio needs and then take a gander at the accompanying audio mixer grid to help differentiate between the various models. As you gain more control over your audio, you’ll see and hear just how crucial a good soundtrack is to the overall quality of your video production.