Audio Is A Critical Piece Of The Puzzle

within the past week, I’ve come to realize just how critically important the quality of audio recording is to the success of producing quality multimedia storytelling projects.

The quality of audio that comes from NPR’s daily stories is in my opinion, astounding in how well audio itself is used to let the listeners minds eye see what’s happening, purely by the use of audio and how it’s edited/produced for the final story.

Having spent the past few days on Transom.org’s website, and delving into the tools section, specifically around digital audio recorders and the differences in sound quality of microphones, I felt the need to test my own equipment that I had been using since moving to DSLR video and producing video with dual sync audio.

Needless to say, what I thought had been good sounding audio was indeed mediocre at best.  I purchased a Zoom H1 last year due to it’s compact size and built in X/Y pattern microphones.  To be honest, it was the only option available in the price range it sold for and so figured it had decent reviews, it was worth getting.  What had caused me to look at my current setup was also because of just how “cheap” the Zoom H1 felt each time I used it.

Having had it now for a year, I’d begun to wonder if I wasn’t missing something in the process.  Sure enough, after asking some quesitons on the Yahoo NewspaperVideo email discussion list, I was pointed to Transom.org’s website and so my education in audio began this past week.

My eyes (and ears) were opened after reading through the site that I was settling for substandard audio.

For example, the nuances of low floor audio noise from my Zoom H1 was apparent once I did some semi structured testing in a quiet room with some sound proofing (think talking under your bed covers to eliminate any echo from the room).

I then tried the same test with my Azden SMX-10 stereo mic, thinking it must be better than the built in mics on the Zoom H1.  WRONG!  The lack of sound quality was astounding.  It was sobering to realize I had been using only what I had, and hadn’t given audio any serious consideration as a part of my multimedia production workflow.

I was pointed to this review of some of Tascam’s digital audio recorders on Transom.org.  Even though the review is somewhat dated, the fact that the technology is still current that there’s no nine month technology upgrade cycle.  It was refreshing to know that the audio recorders from the time the review was written are still the current models being used today.

The tough part from a budgetary standpoint is where does one draw the line of needs versus wants.  Audio recorders can range from less than $100 all the way to over $1000 – depending on the spec’s of the recorder.  The great part is, there’s very little in the way of needing to spend at the upper end of the price spectrum unless you have a specific need for it.

Tascam DR-05

Although I would like to go with a recorder that offers more than two tracks of audio, I’m not in the need for it at this time.  In addition XLR, although the gold standard for audio, isn’t available in the price range I’m needing to abide by.  I’ve determined that the workaround for me is to use a 1/8” to XLR Low to High Impedance Matching Transformer that will allow me to work with any professional grade microphone in addition to my Sennheiser Evo wireless lav kit.

Tascam DR-07mkii

After I went back and forth, I settled on the Tascam DR-05 audio recorder.  I could have gone with the Tascam DR-07mkii, but the option of adjusting the microphones from an A/B pickup to X/Y pickup wasn’t worth it to me.  It’s my slightly paranoid opinion that this is just one more possible thing to malfunction at the most inopportune time.

External Microphones

Shure SM58 Microphone

This was the second piece of the puzzle in my findings.  Having gone to the Transom test of various microphones in a blind sound quality test of several manufacturers, the sound quality comparison between the various offerings was another ear opening experience.  Microphones costing hundreds of dollars were at times put to shame by those costing alot less. The Shure SM58 became my favorite microphone after I discovered which one it was on the reveal page.  At less than $100, it’s a bargain of a mic to add to any multimedia journalists audio kit.

Given the power of the spoken word, the importance of a proper audio kit can’t be reinforced enough.

In conclusion, I’ve learned from this valuable lesson to give audio a more important place in my multimedia storytelling work and as such made the investment that I can afford to up my game in this area.

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