A mass proliferation of prosumer/ consumer DV camcorders and nonlinear editing (NLE) capability has occurred. Sociologists may be picking apart the implications of this event for generations to come, and although it may be the modern equivalent of a Gutenberg printing press in every home, the mysteries of achieving decent production sound chronically escapes the not-so-silent majority. There is constant demand for a “sound thing widget” that will automatically solve the annoying need for a real sound person. Inescapably, the answer to achieving good sound is much more about skills and experience than about hardware.
Product PointsApplications: Field, location
Key Features: 48V phantom power; battery power
Contact: BeachTek at 416-690-9457, Web Site.
From another perspective, professional sound people are being thrust more and more into situations where they must apply their craft in nontraditional environments, i.e., prosumer/consumer devices are becoming the mastering medium in many situations. This is an irresistible tidal wave, so beyond recording backup on simultaneous professional portable media, what is a poor sound jockey to do? Breathe deep…
This frequent need to use consumer gear in a professional context has created a kind of subindustry and a class of equipment designed to interface the two formerly alien worlds. In fact, there is a certain satisfaction in being able to successfully use professional sound gear with consumer stuff. I find my need to do so in professional environments has been expanding constantly.
Into the fray enters the Canadian company, BeachTek, and its product line aimed at professionalizing the audio of all these video camcorders.
BeachTek’s earlier product, the DXA-4 (still in production) and its variations, provide a sturdy, simple, camera-mountable box allowing users to split their inputs to camcorders and using balanced XLR inputs for professional microphone and mixing equipment.
The DXA-6 is an extension of this concept with some important additions. It is a bit larger than the DXA-4, but not by much, and provides phantom power at both inputs for the use of professional film and video microphones. This little box eliminates the kludge-monster of additional cables, Velcro, power supplies and/or mixers needed to use this gear with your prosumer/consumer camcorder. What it does not do is professionalize your approach to gain control or microphone selection and placement. These are up to you.
The box is simple enough; flat black aluminum, rectangular, (5.25 inches x 3.5 inches x 1.25 inches) it mounts directly to the base of your camcorder with a standard 1/4-inch mounting bolt. On the bottom is a female 1/4-inch mounting point so you can still secure the camera on a tripod support. All this is shimmed with a 1.5 inches x 3 inches piece of rubber matting. The overall build quality is very good. This is true inside and out as the components are, for the most part, of a high standard.
At the connection end of the box are a pair of high-quality Neutrik XLRs for left and right balanced microphone or line level inputs. Nestled between these is a female mini (3.5 mm) input jack labeled R Aux. The brief documentation tells us that this input “allows you to attach wireless microphones that use standard mini jack connectors. This signal is sent to the right channel.” This aux input is an understandable nod to some of the consumer wireless equipment out there but strikes me as a negative. The idea is good, but the execution is not so hot. Set up as a balanced mono, this jack is not wired in a way standard to most mini plug sound gear and can create serious phase or damage to your sound recording if not connected to compatible equipment. There is no warning of this on the instruction sheet. The build quality of this mini jack is not so great either.
(Editor’s Note: BeachTek says it has upgraded the aux jack and redesigned the circuit to address the reviewer’s comments.)
Also on this side of the device is a hard-mounted output cable terminating in a molded gold-plated male stereo mini plug. This is the sole output cable and would be subject to the most wear of any of the interconnects. This also worries me, for if it fails, you are into a field repair situation or shut down. I would prefer this to be a high- quality, locking mini jack so I could quickly replace the cable with another if a problem should arise. And, picking a nit, I think that so important a cable should not be molded but accessible for repair.
Along the side of the box is the battery compartment for a standard 9V cell. This is nicely done with a slide-out drawer for easy access and quick change. BeachTek claims about four hours of continuous use as typical.
At the control end of the box are the following: a phantom power on/off slider switch with a red LED indicator for battery power; the left and right channel attenuator pots with 10 click steps of padding; a pair of mic/line switches that engage 50 dB pads for line level inputs; a mono/stereo switch which allows you to split tracks or send a single signal to both, and finally, a G1/G2 switch which is a ground lift (you are advised to set it to ‘the position that gives you the least amount of noise’). This is nice considering the variables from one camera manufacturer’s grounding scheme to another.
As the instruction sheet accurately points out, “Most camcorders use automatic gain control (AGC), ” so setting level for them is an exercise in gross generalization. The instructions tell you “…the adapter can still be used to adjust the input levels, but will not override the AGC circuitry.” Hmmm… Okay, whatever. You are then advised to set the controls “…as high as possible to achieve the maximum signal-to-noise ratio. You may have to turn the volume controls down if you are using very sensitive microphones or are feeding in high-level signals from a mixer.” How will we determine this? I guess record some and play it back. In these important areas, I find the documentation skimpy and a bit unclear, but that should not dissuade you from using this very helpful tool.
The DXA-6 has been evolving as its first incarnation only offered phantom power on one input. The latest version offers dual 48V phantom power. Clearly BeachTek is continually working at improving its products and responding to its customer base.
I would guess that the people who would be most interested in phantom power are the same group that will gravitate toward the prosumer camera side of things, such as Sony VX and Canon GL series cameras. Fortunately, these tend to be camcorders with the ability to manually set input gain levels. I would urge BeachTek to offer a reference tone oscillator in the next version of this unit as this would greatly facilitate lineup for proper levels.
It sounds good, with approximately an 80 Hz to 20 kHz spread and pretty quiet inputs. Certainly within the realm of the designated recording devices the DXA-6 will be hooking up to. It sounds far superior to whatever onboard mic arrangement any of these camcorders could give you.
This is a great little box that lets you put your real gear into your toy’s ears – reasonably priced, well built and for the most part well-thought out.
Dual regulated phantom 48V power shrinks your load and kludge, streamlining the whole process. Also, this is a useful tool for other types of consumer audio equipment such as computers, MD and DAT recorders, etc.
On the more negative side, the aux-in is a bit below par as is the main output cable arrangement. Also, I find the documentation sparse and unclear on certain points. I really miss a simple, onboard 1 kHz reference tone generator.
The constantly blurring line between what gear is professional and what is not smears on and these definitions have really begun to lose meaning as the real answer is being derived from the end use rather than the product category. BeachTek’s DXA-6 box significantly raises the bar in this niche area and helps smooth the process. This is one of the most concise ways of hooking your regular kit into the consumer world and is probably the best product in this class.