Sunday, August 15, 2010

Getting Better Sound on Vodcasts

I have been advising small community stations in Africa to use the Kodak Zi8 flash based camera. It provides excellent quality images, especially if you use a tripod or monopod to keep it steady. I prefer it to all the offerings from Flip, not only because of the video quality but because of the SOUND. The sound on the Flip cameras is truly awful. The built-in microphones on the Zi8 are OK for ambience (in mono) and emergency situations. But I remember former Kodak PR guru Jeffrey W. Hayzlett explaining at the Zi8 launch at DLD-09 that the most common request from customers was for an external microphone jack. They did that. But which mike to choose? I have seen people using two separate lavelier micophones plugged in parallel via a headphone splitter into the Zi8. But now, I believe I have found a better solution. Darren Nemeth runs an audio business called Giant Squid. He builds small microphones exactly for the purpose. I'm interested because the cost of the microphones (65 US dollars complete) is in proportion to the cost of Zi8 (around US$180 in the US). For an extra 6 dollars he puts a Neutrik Right Angled Gold Plated Plug on the end of the mike cable (bottom of the photo in the insert). I agree with him that Neutrik plugs last longer and seem to fit more snugly into the socket on the camera. The gold plating helps improve the contact quality - because dirt and dust on the plug can end up giving you crackling noises after a while (especially in Africa). Darren doesn't make excessive charges for posting the microphones overseas either, and accepts PayPal. Altogether a good deal.

Sennheiser, Beyer etc. make great stuff, but well beyond the budget of the stations I work with.

I see discussion in some groups that indicates to me confusion around the term stereo. The micrphones above are actually two separate mono microphones wired into a single stereo plug. So you clip one mike on the interviewee and the other one on the interviewer. The Kodak Zi8 puts each mike on either the left or right channel. The confusion arises because Sony makes a single point STEREO lavelier microphone, the Sony ECM-CS10 Stereo Lavalier Microphone. I have tried this but decided against it. You don't need stereo on a single lavelier. The human voice is a single source and this mike ends up adding a lot of extra atmosphere to the recording that does nothing to improve the intelligibility of the interview. In fact, in noisy environments, the internal Kodak microphone ended up doing a better job. The ECM isn't expensive (35 US dollars) but it is not what I want. If you are using a recorder without power built into the microphone socket, you may need to consider the Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser ATR3350 which is mono but with its own small power supply in a small tube which can attach to a belt. This microphone has a really long cord (7 metres) and is powered by a watch battery. The only challenge is that you need to keep a spare battery handy. Although the battery does last quite well, when it goes it does so suddenly. There is no light to indicate the unit is switched on.