SOUND DEVICES MIXPRE-D
Q Could you offer a suggestion on a small mixer for maximizing audio quality when shooting with DSLRs and medium-range video cameras like the Canon C100? We’ve been using a Zoom H4n, but keeping the audio organized and syncing in post is becoming tedious, so we want to maximize the sound quality from our new microphones and record sound in-camera and just use the Zoom for backup. What should we be listening to and considering?
A The sound quality that most DSLRs record is generally not very high quality. I, too, have been using small audio recorders like the Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-40 to record dual-system sound for projects that are shot with DSLRs. The sound quality from the outboard recorder is better quality.
But from a convenience standpoint, dual system sound requires a lot more work than recording audio in-camera. Not only must you start and stop your outboard recorder when you start or stop the camera, but you must then sync that audio with the camera’s reference audio when the material is edited. If you have many short takes, it can add quite a bit of labor and time to the editing process.
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If you would like to really maximize the quality of your DSLR’s built-in audio recording capability, there are usually a few areas of concern. One would be how to properly interface professional microphones, which typically feature a balanced XLR output, with the input of the DSLR, which is typically an unbalanced 3.5mm input jack. There are several pro audio interfaces for DSLRs on the market from companies like JuicedLink and Beachtek, but most of these products veer more toward the audio interface function than the high-end sound mixer function, even though some of the upper-line models feature some mixing capability.
I recently had a chance to try out an intriguing sound mixer with some unique and practical functions for doing exactly what you’re seeking to accomplish, which is maximize your DSLR’s built-in audio capability. Sound Devices has a small, multiuse sound mixer called the MixPre-D (www.sounddevices.com). I reviewed the MixPre a few years ago, but I feel this new version has enough new and unique capabilities to make it worthy of your consideration. The MixPre-D is basically a small, two-channel, battery-powered sound mixer, but it has some interesting features that could really fit your needs:
• Shares a metal chassis and the same build quality as larger, more expensive Sound Devices mixers and recorders.
• High-quality, low-noise microphone preamps that can accept line or mic level inputs.
• XLR inputs can supply 48V Phantom power to professional microphones.
• Includes an optional XL-CAM mount bracket for mounting DSLRs to a mixer and a mixer to a tripod or other mount.
• Two separate sets of dual-channel balanced outputs, allowing you to send one set of outputs to your camera and one set to your Zoom H4n or other XLR input recorder.
• Sixteen-segment LED sound level meters, allowing you to better judge the audio levels being fed to your camera and/or recorder.
• High-quality headphone, slate and return monitoring.
• AES digital audio outputs for feeding pro cameras with digital input or other outboard recording devices that accept digital audio input.
I’ve saved one of the most interesting and intriguing features for last: The MixPre-D can function as a very high-quality mic preamp and mixer for the iPad. Add the Apple iPad Connection Kit and a USB cable, and the iPad, with the addition of audio-recording software, becomes a powerful, high-quality portable recording solution.
The MixPre-D, like all professional-quality devices, isn’t inexpensive, retailing for around $900. But the fact that it’s very high quality, versatile, built well and will probably last you longer than your next three DSLR bodies means you should consider it a good potential investment.