Recording voice overs

AT2035 in case
AT2035 in case

Recording voice overs isn’t as simple as it seems. Apple would have you believe you can just hook your ear buds into the computer, click the Record Voice Over in Final Cut Pro X and everything will be good. Only if you want room noise, the dog next door barking, and lots of static hiss to ruin your otherwise good film.

How about the built in microphone on your $4,000 Macbook Retina? Only if you want to record fan noise, your keyboard strokes and who knows what else.

No, you have to go to some effort to get good audio and a great deal of effort to get excellent audio. People spend a lot of money on it! How do you make a basic voice over that sounds decent?

  • Buy a great mic
  • Buy an awesome audio recorder
  • Build a sound booth [you’re an audio engineer, right?]

10k later, you’ll be set for your first audio book. Maybe.

OR

Don’t believe it? Here are 2 audio samples of what you’ll get if you chose

A bad recording location: Wood floors, cathedral ceiling, lots of windows. This was recorded directly into a Zoom H4n into the stereo mics

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://tvlvideo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/zoom-h4n-in-room.mp3″]

You can hear the room echo. It’s terrible and makes the voice over difficult to hear.

Now, listen to this audio recorded on a Audio Technica AT2035 connected to the Zoom H4n in mono mode (mono input mode makes it possible to use a single microphone and record on both stereo tracks).

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://tvlvideo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/AT2035-in-sound-booth.mp3″]

You can hear the voice, it’s clear and there’s no high or low frequency echo. Would this be better if it were recorded on a Schoeps CMC641G microphone? Sure! But you’ll be set back $2000 or more just for the microphone.

Mavericks 10.9.2 and Black Magic

Black Magic Ultrastudio Mini Recorder
Black Magic Ultrastudio Mini Recorder

If you are using the Black Magic UltraStudio Mini Recorder and have updated to Mavericks 10.9.2, you will find that your HDMI settings have been reset. As soon as the update came out, we added it to our machines in hopes that it would fix some of our FCPX woes, though it doesn’t look like it.

Instead, what we ended up with is a non-functioning HDMI to Thunderbolt converter. Very quickly we figured out that the only thing that had changed on the machine was the Mavericks update. So, we went into the System Preferences, into BlackMagic Design and, sure enough, the Set Input setting had reverted back to SDI Video and SDI Audio. As soon as we changed the settings, we were back in business and recording off the Nikon D800 for some demo work.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 4.56.27 PM

 

People complain about this little wonder box because they have to go in and change the settings so it works with the HDMI rather than the SDI input. The people with SDI cameras have no issues, so there are never any negative reviews about this.

In any case, we were able to produce an entire video using the Nikon D800 and the Black Magic UltraStudio Mini Recorder. It allowed us to record directly to the computer in ProRes 422, something that camera does not do when recording directly to a compact flash or SD card. This little converter was well worth the money for us.

Setting change
Setting change

The only problem we have run into is it occasionally loses sync when disabling the camera and then restarting it. All you have to do is switch from Log and Capture to Playback and then back. It seems to work every time. Compared to some other solutions, this really has been a salvation for us to shoot very high quality without the need for an external recorder like the Ninja or Aja Ki.

The laptop is not practical in the field, for the most part, as a Ninja might be, but in the studio, recording directly to the computer has made things so much faster. We can review and check our work immediately, without having to unplug a drive, swap cards, or anything. It’s right there, on the computer, ready for review.

Now all we have to do is watch out when the latest Mac Maverick’s update comes out and changes our settings.

D800 microphone test

We have been testing different microphones for the Nikon D800. One of the major problems with shooting on the DSLR are the audio preamplifiers (preamps) on the camera. They’re not designed very well. The camera has a spectacular imager because of the chip size, 1+ inch wide. But without good audio, you really just have a film camera. In order to get around this problem, we purchased 2 inexpensive wireless lavalier microphones, a Pearstone OLM-10 and an Audio Technica. Then we have a Senheiser wireless lavalier microphone, very high quality, and an Audio Technical 875 shotgun routed through a Zoom H4n.

We found that both the Pearstone and Audio Technica wired lavalier mics had an unacceptable level of hiss, at -45dB or higher. This is quite audible, making the recording sound as though it was made on a tape recorder. The D800 input level had to be raised to 10 or 11 to get an acceptable volume for the speaker but, as a consequence, increased the hiss to an audible level.

Then we tried the Senheiser wireless lavalier and increased the receiver preamp output to 3/4 full volume. This allowed us to reduce the D800 input level to 5. Then the hiss dropped to -50dB or lower. At that setting, this hiss became inaudible.

Our final test was routing an XLR Audio Technica 875 Shotgun mic through a Zoom H4n set on an input level of 60 and an earphone output level of 60. We then routed the earphone output into the D800 microphone input and again set it to a level 5. Again, the hiss was not audible, producing an acceptable recording level.
With this test, we found two acceptable solutions to eliminate having a two system recording for using the Nikon D800 as a HD video camera.

The one disadvantage about using a single shotgun on the Zoom H4n is the single shotgun only records on one channel. That’s easily fixed by using dual mono audio in Final Cut Pro X (FCPX). The big advantage is we can get XLR audio into the D800 while making a 48kHz 16-bit perfect simultaneous recording on the Zoom. We even tried it with the built-in stereo mics and had good success with that, too.

The only time we have found the wired lavaliers to work is when we have recorded outside where there is enough ambient noise to drown the hiss. Even though the hiss is there, the SNR (signal to noise ratio) with the ambient makes the hiss fairly inaudible.

Color Temperature/White Balance

You can use your camera’s Auto White Balance or its manual instructions, and it can end there, but what is “Color Temperature”?

Light comes in colors. When we see daylight outside, we see white light, or as it reflects off objects, we see the color of the object, but is it white? Our brains are able to white balance light to look normal quite well in most environments. Even though Auto White Balance on your camera can do a fair job of adjusting for the variation, a more accurate balance needs to be made manually.

Light color is measured as temperature. Daylight is generally 5500 Kelvin (outdoor or blue) and incandescent is 3200 Kelvin (indoor or red). The process for the color comes from heating a block of carbon to the said color, measured in Kelvin degrees. For more details and color use this chart. Outdoor light temperatures change during the day and in and out of shade, and artificial lights, including reflectors, can run the gamut. You need to balance every time and maybe every hour.

To white balance your camera, you fill the camera frame with a white object in the light and exposure you are shooting in (it can change during the shoot) then manually set the White Balance, (from your camera directions) and you’re good. If you have mixed colors of light such as daylight shining in on your incandescent lit studio shot, you will have to eliminate one or the other or balance the light with gels .

“White objects” come in many hues. To get the most accurate you need a professional balanced card. They may seem expensive compared to a white sheet of paper, but it will make you or a client much happier because the white balance will be spot on.

There are exceptions to the rule as with much of filmmaking. You can trick the camera for a false color or enhance a color for your film. Use a colored card opposite of the color you want and the camera will “balance” in the direction you want. With practice, you could blow them away with your cinematography.

Happy shooting,
Tim