The Basics of Audio Equipment for Filmmakers

Thomas Popp discusses the basics of audio recording, especially with wireless equipment. 

In order to be a well-rounded audio engineer, it is crucial that you understand the tools available to you. I would like to begin by breaking down the audio equipment available and teach you their purpose, limitations, and some tips on learning how high quality audio is recorded. A good place to start is with an introduction to wireless systems.

A wireless system is a piece of equipment that allows you to take a sound source (microphone) and send the audio wirelessly through the air to a receiver instead of physically tethering that source microphone to its destination (a mixing console) with a cable. The benefit of wireless technology is that it allows the sound engineer to capture a source of audio that may not have been attainable in the past. We use wireless systems on talent when we are not able to get a boom microphone in the shot as well as to occasionally plant a microphone that will allow us to get a better ambience in a scene.

One of the debates that I always get when working on jobs is the highly opinionated question of WHEN to use them. On many productions, I receive phone calls from coordinators or producers that will begin right away by telling me how many wireless systems I need before they even begin discussing the details of the shoot. Even though I always take this information into consideration, it is very important as the sound mixer on a job to fully understand the details of the shoot you are working on – not just how many wires.

Producers may understand the sound process, but may not fully understand the equipment requirements for the job. A great example of this would be a job that I worked on that required me to bring eight wireless systems to wire talent. After discussing the shoot in more detail, I learned that there were indeed eight talent in the shoot, but they were NOT going to be there at the same time! Had I not backtracked and asked my employer for more details, I would have had to charge them for additional wireless systems that would not have been needed. Instead, I brought a basic package with two wireless systems and a boom and never even brought the wireless out; the boom happened to be my best option for capturing sound on that particular job.

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