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Recommendation on sound recording system
  • I do some work with a theater company, and one of our longstanding problems is that the theater itself has terrible acoustics. I use a Rode Videomic for shooting, and that's nice, but the quality's not perfect.

    So we're looking into other strategies. I like the idea of getting lapel mikes, having the actors wear smartphones or recorders, and syncing the tracks up in post. Good aspects; cheap, simple, easily expandable to any number of performers.

    Someone suggested that we get a system where the mikes send wireless signals to a central recorder. I'm not keen on this, because it may be expensive, it may be difficult to balance the sounds afterward, and the number of mikes may be limited. But I don't know, so I agreed to ask around for such a system.

    We're shooting with DSLRs (mostly GH2's), so that may be a factor here.

    Any suggestions?

  • 17 Replies sorted by
  • Wireless is very expensive. You're best bet is a small recorder with a good low-noise lavalier. I use an Olympus LS-10 with a microphonemadness matchstick lapel mic (similar lavalier is OST TL-40). You can try similar combo with a zoom H1 bringing your total price to around ~$200

  • @spacewig Thanks. It still sounds expensive with that equipment: it'd require $200 per actor. I figure the lowest-end strategy is to use $20 lapel mikes and cheap recorders, but maybe a multi-unit wireless system can be found.

  • This really might not work and be a bonkers suggestion - no idea - but could you put a number of recorders strategically around the stage, or even overhead? You could cover the stage that way, and then mix / pan them afterwards to recreate the whole image. Not sure it would work but it could do depending on the action and the opportunities you have for hiding them from view.

  • You can also improve the acoustics with some sheets of roughed up plywood to make some panels and some bass traps.

    I've done a lot of work recording in theatres and we hang mics straight down from the ceiling to cover the stage, use boundary mics in front of the footlights or prompter box and sometimes use wireless as well, it all gets multitracked and mixed down later, and there you can use physical modeling to basically change the acoustics--up to a point--in post.

  • There are cheap(er) wireless solution out there. for example look for :

    PROEL WM100H - VHF LAVALIER E HEADSET WIRELESS - i got one for 60 euro(i have seen it cheaper than this, in case you are in euroland not sure for elsewhere) and it works just fine especially for the price. I believe cheaper and more decent sound for the price then many small recorders and mics combinations.

    then of course you will need a multichannel interface so here is cheapo one : or mixer

    If not i think your best bet is DrDave's suggestion. So, mike well the stage with the right mics and correct placement related to the actors actions. Do enough test to see that you are capturing what is important. I have seen/done this in theater works with very good results, but you need to plan well the placement and all.

    Oh, and the smart phones could be a "smart" solution if they have good audio quality(some have some don't and better be the same specs. on all...) and you already have them:)

  • Or make your own - same caps 10 $ >> Panasonic capsules that live in the ends of 90% of the Mics you'll buy sub 1k $ (which you can surpass with noise and frequency response fiddling with Primo caps and a few minutes of soldering)

  • @soundgh2 I'd be interested in trying this myself. Do you have a specific Panasonic capsule in mind?

  • @Brian_Siano If none of the other solutions work out for you I would suggest renting and get everyone to pitch in.

  • Another solution could be the new Lav from rode the plugs into an iOS device, as many of the actors may have there own iOS device, and use Rode REC and then they can all drop box their files to you..

  • @DrDave When you use hanging mics and stuff, how do you deal with the room acoustics? This is the main issue we need to address, because the theater has an echo we'd like to eliminate. (We may try sound baffles, but that's a construction project for the future.)

    @spacewig: Not a bad idea.

    @Philc: My first idea was to use smartphones or mini-recorders with the lapel mikes Vitaly mentioned above.

    General question: Vitaly's mentioned some cheap lapel mikes, and I've had good results from a Audio-Technica lapel mike I got from Amazon. But are these mikes as good as the ones that come with the higher-end wireless mikes? My suspicion is that they're fine.

  • @Brian_Siano you mentioned the bad acoustics in your OP hence my suggestion to consider having them hidden around the stage depending on the action. It might work. However it does sound like you are slightly fighting a few different factors - lack of funding being one of them. Good luck!

  • Room acoustics will probably be the biggest issue mic'ing a theater and that would be the big advantage of lavalier mics, you'll get up front and clear recordings from each actor free of most of the room's reverb. As for sound quality, this might sound ridiculous but your best bet if you don't have much budget is DON'T COMPARE! There are millions of people who are happy using ridiculously poor sounding ear-buds to listen to their ipods but who feel they sound just wonderful as they are as they've never heard what it sounds like through good cans, and this is a perfect example of ignorance is bliss. The specs you should look at is frequency response, sensitivity and self-noise.

  • I think your best bet is to get the mics as close to the actors as possible. On your budget that means head-worn mics and portable recorders.

    The Zoom H1 is about the cheapest recorder that's good. I see them for $80 used, in quantity, on eBay. Something like the Olympus WS-600 might be good also. ($35 refurb in quantity on eBay) It's smaller and cheaper, but I don't know about the quality.

    Putting a mic right by a person's mouth is really the only way to get quality audio on a tiny budget. Head-worn mics put the mic closer to the actor's mouth than a lavalier does, which gives you a louder signal that will overcome whatever noise is internal to the recorder and the mic. A cheap omni sounds better than a cheap directional mic, and has less problems with handling noise. With head-worn mics, you also don't have as many concerns about the mic rubbing against clothing or anything else.

    I've used mics similar to these and they're fine. The two-ear version in theory won't shift as easily on the actor's head.

    Of course using portable recorders means you won't have monitoring. Make sure the plug connection into the recorder is secure and isn't in a place where the actor's movement can disturb it.

    I just don't think you'll get good noise performance from any cheap lavalier plugged into a cheap recorder. A high sensitivity lavalier like the Edutige ETM-006 might be worth checking out.

  • Head-worn mics stick out pretty bad if you ask me. Unless this is a play about the history of telegraph and such? ; )

    I don't know in what kind of theatre you are, but I guess is not a black box because these are usually dead sound(minimum reverb and echo) spaces, so maybe you can invent and use a little bit of DIY damping of your space to ease your task.

    As Mark said : Good luck!

  • Depending on what you are recording, and what quality product you want, you could get by with mobile spots. I would never do it that way, I would want to get stage coverage, with hanging mics and boundary mics. However, there's more than one way to make a recording.

    For the echos, if they are flutter echoes or bass echoes or whatever you can just buy a couple of bags of Bonded Logic and that will usually do the trick. Hard to imagine a theatre with problem echoes if it is full of people--audience, that is--unless it is an amplification problem

    Anyway, you can use hypers and just get direct sound. I've never really had an issue with echoes even in a cathedral if the mics are positioned reasonably close to the source.

    Sennheiser make a very nice "hat pin" mic that can easily be worn and is what we normally use for theatre.