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Why a mixer, why not just barrel adapters? -- Sunday Tutorial

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Ty Ford
Why a mixer, why not just barrel adapters? -- Sunday Tutorial
on May 11, 2008 at 3:16:13 pm

If you don't have a mixer, you may wonder if all those buttons and switches are really helpful or necessary. In the mic/consumer line/pro line playground, having the right mixer can make a make or break difference in your audio.

I use a Sound Devices 442 mixer. Last time I got a "Line level" feed from a mixer, it wasn't line level at all. It was sort of between mic and line. Rather than try to deal with the guy at the board who was very, very busy, I just took the feed and went with it, adjusting to suit with my mixer. We got what we needed.

Some ask why spend the money on a 442. The list is too numerous to fully post, but within the last week I had two situations.

1. I was on a shoot for Apple Computer. I had to feed stereo to a camera, one track to an external recorder and one track to a Comtek transmitter. No sweat for the 442. Three sets of stereo outputs plus individual solo outputs for each input.

2. I had to feed two CD recorders simultaneously. One was a pro level XLR unit. The other had consumer line level RCA inputs. Consumer line level is -10, not 0 or +4. No problem, the 442 outputs mic, -10 or line level at the flip of a switch. You can even independently vary the L and R outputs of a stereo pair, one mic the other line or -10.

BTW, feeding pro line level to a consumer line level device can sound OK when you are sending tone at -20. HOWEVER....when real levels are attempted, the -10 input will clip if fed by a 0 dB pro line level source. The clip won't show on the meters! But the audio will be clipped. First time it happened, I was listening on headphones. Tone good, but testing voice things sounded slightly clipped. Level on the recorder was no where near 0 dB.

Hmm, is this like the miclevel/line level mismatches? (You know, feeding line level to a mic level input where the camera meters look good but the sound is clipped?) Why yes, this is the junior version of that. Pro line (0 and +4) are much closer to the -10 consumer line level than -40 mic is to 0 dB line, so the -10/0 dB mismatch is less noticeable, but you're still clipping peaks.

Last week I was on a shoot with one of the new handheld HD cameras. XLR inputs but NO guide as to where -20 was on the camera metering and the owner didn't have a clue. (Note to camera mfgrs: WAKE UP!! PUT A REAL-20dB MARK ON YOUR INPUT METERING, NOT A DOT.) We chose one of the beans he thought was -20 on the camera metering and set tone. No problem, UNTIL I tried recording my voice as a test. Clipping occasionally on some peaks. I switched to the -10 outputs on my Sound Devices 442 mixer, recalibrated tone on the same bean by adjusting the camera input controls. This time when I did the talk test, we were fine.

I could probably have chosen a lower bean and gone with pro line level, but in this case we got the sound we wanted and at a good level into the camera.

Good audio is not trivial.

Regards,

Ty Ford




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David Jones
Re: Why a mixer, why not just barrel adapters? -- Sunday Tutorial
on May 13, 2008 at 5:24:53 am

Hi Ty-

Another great tutorial! Nothing is more perplexing to me than inconsistent metering. It just seems like ether meters are marked as "0db" when it really is -20, or there's a dot, or no markings at all, so it's anyone's guess. (when you were with Apple, did you tell them to put some meter markings on their Soundtrack Pro meters? lol)


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Ty Ford
-- Sunday Tutorial and Soundtrack Pro thoughts
on May 13, 2008 at 1:15:03 pm

Hello David,

In fact, I did broach the topic of Soundtrack Pro with the two Applelites from Reston, VA. (The other five were from Cupertino). All nice folks dedicated to doing a good job.

The Restonities quickly became uncomfortable after I asked a few questions and offered some simple advice. When I suggested that I wasn't looking for a full time job, but that maybe a year's contract would do, one of them said whatever might be needed could be accomplished in a day or two. Guess I should have pursued who I might talk to about it, but the comment didn't sound like an invitation.

Not wanting to be a buzz kill, I backed off. Soundtrack Pro, IMO, was designed by a computer person, not by anyone with a pro audio background. If it had been, there would be normal industry standard conventions in all sort of things that would make it more user friendly.

I changed the subject line of this post for any Apple folks looking for Sountrack Pro post. I'm an Apple user since 1986. Still have a Mac SE that I had converted to an SE 30. That means I have been using Apple computers longer than some Apple employees have been alive. I own 4.5 Macs (the Titanium Power Book is fading), 3.5 of them I make a living with. I run a DIGI 002 and DIGI 003 with Pro Tools LE for almost all of my audio.

I like Soundtrack Pro. I want to like it more. Even the audio in FCP could use a tweek. I have been more successful of late in using compression, limiting, reverb and E within FCP, but it's also sort of clunky in its own way.

Soundtrack Pro (and FCP) could be more audio friendly. I'm just sayin'.........:)

Regards,

Ty Ford






Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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