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Tapping into PA systems

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Joseph SimonTapping into PA systems
by on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:37:02 am

It appears that one of the methods for delivering high quality audio on reception videos is to tap into the PA system at the event... Would anyone mind directing this newcomer towards the common methods and types of equipment needed to do this?


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Joel ServetzRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Nov 11, 2009 at 4:44:17 pm

Taking audio from a house p.a. is fraught with danger, but can work fine if you have all the right tools with you. You should equip yourself with the following:

A few direct boxes. I like the Whirlwind Director the best, it has gotten me out of plenty of jams. It incorporates impedance, ground and phase adjustments.
Some inline microphone and line level pads with variable impedance, usually a set of switches on the barrel.
At least one inline phase reverser.
Some common ground lifters.
A complete set of adapter plugs and cables for every conceivable connection combination.
If you have the budget, a small mixer, such as the Mackie 1202VLZ is an excellent tool to have on hand to better control what's coming to you and what's going out to your camcorder.

Some great sources for all of the above are Markertek, B&H and Compass

Assuming you will be able to work with a house sound technician, they will range from extremely professional and helpful to barely competent and/or uncooperative, so be prepared to take matters into your own hands. Backup audio via an onboard or nearby mounted shotgun mic. or, better still, your own mic/mics at the source will help immeasurably.

You need to be prepared to deal with sound systems that may have degraded over time, been adapted to death, have issues of impedance mis-matches and ground loops. The kit above will get you out of just about any jam. Don't leave home without it, ever.

I hope this was helpful. Good luck.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl

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Mark SuszkoRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Nov 11, 2009 at 8:45:43 pm

I'm simplifying here...

The first most likely kind of connection you will get off the typical PA sound board is line level audio thru a quarter-phone jack, you'll need a quarter-phone plug, also known as a guitar plug, to take that signal. From there, depending on your camera, you can take it as line level, or you'll have to attenuate it, attenuators are also called "pads"... or run it thru what's called a matching transformer, to get it to the mic level impedance type most cameras can take.

You should try if at all possible to obtain an XLR 3-pin connection instead, the balanced XLR connector and shielded cable reduce RF noise, buzz, and hum. Radio shack sells Quarter-phone to XLR adaptors, as well as attenuators and matching transformers. For long cable runs from the board to your camera position, XLR connectors and cables are the best bet.

Worst case your feed is going to come out of RCA connectors, like those on the back of a stereo. So get an adaptor to go from RCA male on one end to the kind of connector you camera uses for a mic input on the other.

When all else fails, get a mic stand and a cardioid-pattern dynamic microphone (one that doesn't need battery or phantom power) and mic the speakers, this works surprisingly well as a back-up plan.

Visit Musicians' Warehouse, Markertek, or similar online catalog places to shop for these tools.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Nov 12, 2009 at 11:05:12 pm

PS It slipped my mind at the time I was writing, but check out FullCompass online or get their free paper catalog for a great review of all kinds of mics and how they are used.

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Chip ThomeRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Nov 14, 2009 at 8:34:25 am

Those described will do it, and your first time out, forget getting it right, if you do it'll be a miracle.

You are going to be subject to distance and the cable to your cam. If you are using a stationary cam at a fixed location, you have a shot at it. If you think you are going to be mobile and hooked up, chances are good something will go wrong.

I have done it quite a few times, and the cables and connectors they talk about, I have probably $100 invested right now and don't have all that's described here. You also are going to be subject to the mix, and if the mix is crap, so will your audio.

My biggest complaint with a board feed is it is exceptionally "sterile". If you watch more than a few board feed clips, sooner or later they are going to see they come off as "phoney" or "canned" or "unnatural". I have heard some that you almost could have swore were dubbed in at a later date it seemed so off from the rest of the audio in the presentation.

My preference is to use my Rode Stereo Videomic, and a board feed to two different capture sources. The Rode gives me the ambient from the room , and the board feed gives the clarity in the audio you seek. I mix them in Audition and clean them up as needed.

I am a firm believer that if you can see something in the clip, you better darn well hear it too, if there is a sound associated with the action or person. Case in point, clapping at the toasts, or clinking of glasses that results in kisses, isn't going to come through the PA more than likely.

In your case, should you use your on cam mic and then a board feed to a Zoom or some other such recorder, and mix in post, you are probably going to be very happy with what you receive for an outcome.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Nov 14, 2009 at 7:31:44 pm

Something not mentioned yet is that you can sometimes have the best of both worlds, if you tap into the PA and feed that to your wireless on channel two, put shotgun audio on channel one, you are now mobile without the cable restricting you.

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Joseph SimonRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 7:47:25 am

Thanks for all the advice, everyone. It's been very helpful!

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Julian ColemanRe: Tapping into PA systems
by on Dec 6, 2009 at 6:23:47 pm

I just saw your post and felt it appropriate to contribute with the way I dea with this issue.

It is true that taking a feed from the mixing desk is very sterile and what I do is the following:

I have a Zoom H4n ( and make use of the 4 channels. I mount it on a mic stand close to the mixing desk and a speaker capturing audio using the internal mics. I then take a line out of the mixer desk and feed it into a 3rd channel. None of this touches any of my cameras.

On my main camera I use a Rode NTG-3 and the 2nd camera I use a Rode NTG-2.

All of the audio is then sync'd in post. What I achieve from this is back-up of my audio recording as well as the ability to have the best audio to choose from. You'd be surprised how quick it is to sync in post and you get all of the audio throughout the event which means that even when a camera is not recording the audio is and I never mis a thing. Plenty of cutaways is also a good idea.

Julian Coleman A.M.Inst.V.

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