Beachtek DXA-5DA: Pro Audio for HD-DSLR cameras – an IQ Exclusive Review

John Hess reviews the Beachtek DXA-5DA – a pre-mixer that adds professional audio recording capabilities to your HD-DSLR camera rig.

The first major hurdle of the HD-DSLR video revolution is audio inputs. These still cameras were never made to handle sound recording. So we’ve had to resort to the good ol’ dual system recording – sending audio to a separate audio recorder to be synced in the post production process. Although this way does offer a lot of advantages like portability and vastly higher sample rate, simplicity just isn’t one of them.

In comes Beachtek to offer a couple of solutions.

The DXA-5DA is essentially a pre-mixer for your DSLR camera – it takes professional grade XLR inputs and sends them through a small microphone mini jack into your camera.

XLR inputs are the workhorse by which production audio is recorded. Before we go further into the features of the DXA-5DA, I just want to point out that this unit is not a pre-amp in that it doesn’t amplify the signal. According to their website, there is no power required to pass the signal from your source to the camera. The on board 9volt battery powers the LED screen, AGC and headphone monitoring.

That said, this unit does not feature 48 volt phantom power. Phantom Power is a essentially a current that is sent from a mixer or recording deck through the microphone cable to power microphone circuitry – generally for condenser microphones

A quick break down of microphones – there are two basic types: Dynamic and Condenser.

Of the two, condensers are far more sensitive making them useful in a boom mic situation. Because boom mics are built for field use, they often have a battery compartment to provide the power for the circuitry when phantom power isn’t available. These battery powered sources will be compatible with the DXA-5Da.

This includes wireless microphones, dynamic microphones, powered mixers, and powered condesors. The DXA-5DA will not work with un-powered condensers like a studio microphone.

Before purchasing, check your audio equipment to see if it needs 48 volt phantom power. If it does, you’ll want to upgrade to Beachtek DXA-SLR which has all the same features as the 5Da but adds phantom power for a few bucks more.

Personally, I find the 5Da handles almost anything I would need it to do. And frankly, I’d much rather replace the relatively inexpensive AA batteries that power my boom mic (which can be rechargeable) than to try to stock up on pricey 9volts for the Beachtek that will drain faster because they are being taxed with the phantom power.

On the control interface you’ll find two knobs to control the two audio inputs and a third knob that controls the master volume. A welcome addition (something seriously missing from the DSLR) is the headphone jack which will allow you to monitor the audio live as you record.

Switches allow you to jump between two types of ground (in case you’re getting buzz when plugged into a power mixer) and the option of jumping from mono to stereo (mono, repeats the left signal for the the right).

But the really interesting toggle is the third one, the Auto Gain Control disable. AGC for short, is the camera automatically adjusting the audio gain to maintain a certain average level. This can lead to some extremely annoying shifts in volume. This is really noticeable when you have a quiet section in your recording and the AGC cranks up the volume to compensate – the result is annoying hiss instead of a nice quiet section.

The AGC disable feature adds a contant 20 kilohertz hum to the left channel (when recording in stereo) fooling the Camera’s AGC into thinking that the volume is constant even during quiet parts. This 20 khz hum is inaudible but can be easily notched out with an EQ filter if needed.

The DXA-5Da easily mounts to any camera and has screw holes for tripod plate on the bottom. With this device you’re not limited to just DSLR cameras, the unit can be used to add XLR inputs to any camera that takes a minijack microphone.

And speaking just on the Canon 5d, the Beachtek 5da adds some welcome bulk for doing handheld work.

Audio wise the sound is as clean as it gets.

In a Nutshell…

The Beachtek DXA-5DA adds much needed sound input to the DSLR world – making these cameras much more practical for everyday videography use.

Pros:

  • Pro XLR inputs for both line and mic inputs.
  • Clean sound.
  • Adds headphone jack for audio monitoring to a DSLR setup.
  • Auto Gain Control disable is a nice work-around for the irritating AGC.
  • Adds  good balance and weight when mounted to a Canon 5d.

Cons:

  • Lacks Phantom Power (see the DXA-SLR).
  • LED level indicators are a little on the low side.

Items from the review: