For DSLR filmmakers, the biggest obstacle to climb is sound. For young filmmakers who have never touched a frame of film, dual-system sound (where a separate audio recorder is employed) is often a foreign concept. For most, employing audio recorders like the Samson Zoom H4n has been a great and affordable solution in capturing good sound. The major catch is that you have to sync your separate audio and video tracks manually in post. With software like Singular Software’s PluralEyes, this has become less of an issue. But for me, the bigger issue is charging an inexperienced sound person with the H4n, which isn’t the most intuitive device.
To bring us back to a simpler single-system workflow, juicedLink, started by former Silicon Valley design engineer Robert Rozak, created a great all-in-one XLR audio adapter, mixer and preamp. Although the device worked great, there still were numerous workarounds to deal with. Because DSLRs weren’t designed primarily as video cameras, cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II wouldn’t let you manually override the AGC (automatic gain control) circuitry. In order to monitor your sound levels, you’d have to hack the camera’s firmware in order to kill the AGC. Also, since there was no headphone jack, you needed to get a headphone splitter to go into the mic jack in order to hear what you were recording. Needless to say, it was a pain.
But things have changed. In 2012, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 both give you the ability to control audio gain manually, as well as offer headphone monitoring and metering. juicedLink has capitalized on this by releasing the new RM333 Riggy Micro, a small, lightweight and efficient preamp system that allows you to use professional microphone systems to capture high-quality sound. The low-noise preamp, which runs on a 9V battery, gives you approximately 30 dB of gain. I recently tested an RM333 with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
One of the things juicedLink did to improve the RM333 Riggy Micro was to make it more useful in terms of rigging, hence the name. Because of its small size, you can mount it either at the base of the camera or on top of the camera with the hot-shoe mount. If you mount at the top, you can add a cold-shoe attachment that mounts on top of the RM333 so you can attach a microphone or, if you’re booming, a portable light. When mounting the RM333 to the base of the camera, juicedLink offers a side arm bracket that mounts to the preamp, which offers up to four additional cold-shoe mounts, ideal for a run-and-gun shooter. (Both accessories are sold separately.)
The key in getting good sound with the RM333 is to reduce your signal-to-noise ratio. I found the best way to reduce this is to turn down the 5D Mark III’s gain control to one click above zero as a starting point and to crank the RM333’s gain to 100%. If my mic placement is good, but the levels are still too low, I turn up the gain manually on the 5D Mark III. Unlike the Nikon D800, you’re able to adjust your levels while recording with the 5D Mark III.
So we’ve established that the juicedLink RM333 gives you an easier workflow in performing single-system compared to double-system, but how good is the sound? Is it higher quality than an H4n? I tested it on an H4n with a shotgun mic, and although I couldn’t say the RM333 was superior, it definitely was comparable. But the comfort in knowing I was capturing good sound while shooting, as well as knowing I wouldn’t have to go through that extra step of syncing in post, makes the RM333 well worth its $399 price tag.