By now, you may have decked your camcorder out with all sorts
of nifty add-ons like a tripod, filters, extra batteries, padded
bag, a DC light, etc. Not only do these accessories make shooting
video more fun, they can also make for a noticeable improvement
in your image quality.

In the same way, there’s a whole universe of audio accessories
out there that can impact your sound for the better. We’re talking
about going beyond just buying an external mike or audio mixer,
into the realm of nifty audio gadgets designed to help you capture
great-sounding video.

We’ll break audio accessories down into three main applications:
those that hold or otherwise enhance an external mike, those accessories
that add functionality to your camcorder and accessories that
solve specific audio problems.

The Mike Likes It

When you’re ready to take your audio more seriously, an external
mike should be one of your first purchases. After that, you can
select from countless products that will make your microphone(s)
all the more effective. In the realm of audio accessories, compatibility
isn’t much of an issue–most of these goodies will work with virtually
any type of microphone from any manufacturer.

One example is the modular wireless mike transmitter. This ingenious
accessory attaches to the bottom of any balanced professional
dynamic mike, converting it to wireless operation. Azden’s 31XT
($205) offers audio mute and sensitivity adjustment. The Nady
Link is a snap-on VHF transmitter with companding circuitry for
greater dynamic range ($755 with receiver).

When it comes to good audio, getting your mike in the right location
is half the battle. If you’re shooting in a stationary fashion,
a simple stand may be the best way to hold your mike right where
you want it. Most mike stands were designed for music, but work
very well for video. Straight stands have a plain shaft and a
weighted or tripod-style base, and most adjust in height from
about 36 inches up to around six feet. Peavey offers their S-2
tripod-base mike stand with chrome shaft and legs for $41. Beyerdynamic’s
ST-400 stand ($59) offers tripod legs and scratch-resistant black
finish.

For greater reach and more flexible placement, a boom arm is
the answer. A boom attaches to a normal mike stand, allowing easy
adjustment over a full range of angles and lengths. Booms are
available from Beyerdynamic (GST 400, $79), Peavey (Microphone
Boom Arm, $20) and AKG (KM211/1, $40).

For those jail-cell interrogations and round-table discussions,
a desk-mounted mike can be more than just a prop–it may give
you excellent sound to boot. Shure’s S37A desk stand ($28) accepts
any standard mike clip, while the S39A ($76) adds a shock isolation
system to minimize thumps and bumps from the tabletop. One of
the most affordable desk stands available, AKG’s tripod table-top
stand ($12) collapses for easy storage. Audio-Technica offers
their AT8646AM stand with rubber shock-mount suspension ($29).

Those folks who are into do-it-yourself stereo miking can get
by with just one mike stand, thanks to mounts that hold two mikes
on a single stand. Stereo mounts include the AKG KM235/1 stereo
microphone bar ($19) and Shure’s A27M ($72), the latter of which
will accept two standard mike clips in several different arrangements.

When you’re on the move, a stationary stand just won’t do. Unless
you’re using lavaliers or an on-camera mike, you’ll need a way
to suspend a directional mike just outside the frame for optimum
sound pickup. The mike boom or "fishpole" is the answer–it
allows a second person to position the mike at distances up to
10 feet away. Beyerdynamic’s MZA 716 ($349) is a lightweight,
four-section fiberglass fishpole that’s adjustable from roughly
three to 10 feet; their MZA 717 ($129) uses a two-section aluminum
shaft for a five-foot reach.

Most people have heard the sound recorded by a camcorder’s mike
when it’s buffeted by strong winds. While external mikes often
have better resistance to wind noise, they’re not impervious.
Sometimes, a mike can need a little help from an external wind
screen. Shure’s foam A81WS ($34) will work with most small-diameter
mikes, while the A58WS ($5) fits over most ball-type handheld
mikes.

When talking directly into a mike, "p" and "b"
sounds can make a different kind of wind noise. The result is
a loud thump that can ruin an otherwise perfect take. For in-studio
use, the most effective pop filter holds thin fabric in a hoop
between talent and mike. AKG’s PF-100 ($51) is one such filter,
mounted on a flexible shaft for easy placement.

Camcorder Hearing Aids

There are many devices you can attach to (or near) your camcorder
to increase its audio capabilities. In most cases, these accessories
allow you to use professional microphones with your consumer camcorder.

Why do you need these accessories at all? Good question. Consumer
camcorders have mike inputs designed for unbalanced, high-impedance
microphones that don’t require power from the camcorder. Pro mikes
are almost always balanced, low-impedance designs, and many require
a power source to operate.

Converting a professional mike to unbalanced operation and raising
its impedance is the job of an impedance-matching transformer.
Some models, like Carvin’s MTF60 ($14), attach to the mike cable
and provide a 1/4-inch male jack. The AC260 ($40) from DOD holds
an impedance transformer in a sturdy metal box. Rapco’s N-series
mike cable ($63, 20-foot length) has an impedance-matching transformer
right in the cable itself. The Shure A97F ($51) was meant for
camcorders, converting a balanced XLR signal to an unbalanced
minijack signal.

Most professional condenser mikes require phantom power, a small
DC voltage that comes down the cable to power the mike’s internal
electronics. No consumer camcorder supplies this type of power,
so you’ll need a special device to record with a high-quality
condenser mike. The Shure PS1A phantom power supply ($165) plugs
into an AC outlet to supply voltage to one or two condenser mikes;
Audio-Technica’s AT8801 ($75) will power one mike from any outlet.
For mobile use, Whirlwind’s MicPower ($110) uses a pair of standard
9-volt batteries to power a condenser mike for roughly 50 hours.
AKG offers a similar product in the B18E ($135).

For a tidy one-box solution for using professional mikes, check
out Whirlwind’s feature-packed MD-1 ($395), a battery-powered
phantom supply, mike preamp and headphone amp in one.

No Problem

Finally, we come to the audio accessories no videographer should
be without: adapters (or converters) and attenuators. These helpful
gadgets allow you to convert from virtually any type of connector
or signal to any other, and may bail you out of any number of
sticky situations. The savvy videographer has a little tool or
tackle box full of different adapters.

The simplest adapters are those that convert from one style of
audio jack to another. Some common ones you may want to buy include
1/4-inch to minijack, XLR to minijack, female minijack to male
minijack (basically an extender cable), 1/4-inch stereo to minijack
stereo (for headphones) and RCA female to minijack male. The prices
and different permutations of adapters are more than we could
hope to cover in this article, but here are a few places you can
find them: Radio Shack, Carvin, Shure, Whirlwind and Rapco.

Attenuators have the simple job of reducing the strength of an
electronic signal, and they’re important tools to have at your
disposal. Here’s why: most impedance-matching transformers bump
the audio signal up to line level. This is much too strong for
your camcorder’s mike input, and will cause severe distortion.
An attenuator brings this signal back down to an appropriate level.
Radio Shack’s 274-300 attenuator ($4) converts between RCA jack
and minijack, dropping the signal level 40dB in the process. The
Shure A15AS ($43) allows you to select between 15dB, 20dB or 25dB
attenuation; their A15LA ($39) provides a fixed 50dB of attenuation.

Shure makes a few other in-line problem solvers worth knowing
about. The A15HP ($50) contains a low-cut filter to reduce wind
rumble, handheld mike noise or other knocks and bumps. Shure’s
battery-powered A15TG ($86) puts an end to "test … test
1, 2, 3 …" by piping a 700Hz tone down the mike cable,
making it easy to set up your audio system or troubleshoot problems.
Whirlwind’s TESTER ($100) makes it easy to check XLR, RCA and
1/4-inch cables.

A Sound Investment

As you can see, most audio accessories won’t set you back a month’s
salary. When you consider how they can improve the sound of your
videos or simplify your life, it’s easy to see that audio accessories
are a good investment.

If you’re ready to take your audio to the next level, it’s time
to accessorize!

Contributing Editor Loren Alldrin is a freelance video and
music producer.

[sidebar]

Audio Accessory Companies



AKG

1449 Donelson Pike

Nashville, TN 37217

615-399-2199


Audio-Technica

1221 Commerce Dr.

Stow, OH 44224

330-686-2600


Azden Corporation

147 New Hyde Park Rd.

Franklin Square, NY 11010

516-328-7500


Beyerdynamic

56 Central Ave.

Farmingdale, NY 11735

516-293-3200


Carvin

12340 World Trade Drive

San Diego, CA 92128

800-854-2235


DOD Electronics

8760 South Sandy Parkway

Sandy, UT 84070

800-999-9363


Nady Systems

6701 Bay St.

Emeryville, CA 94608-1023

510-652-2411


Rapco International

3581 Larch Lane

Jackson, MO 53755

800-GO-RAPCO


Shure Brothers

222 Hartrey, Bldg. #1

Evanston, IL 60202

708-866-2596


Whirlwind

99 Ling Rd.

Rochester, NY 14612

888-733-4396


This list is only a sampling of audio accessory companies. It
is not meant to be comprehensive.

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