This article originally appeared in the March, 2017 issue of Pro Sound News. Innovations is a monthly column where different pro audio manufacturers are invited to discuss the thought-process behind creating their products of note. Karl Winkler is vice president of Sales for Lectrosonics, Inc.
Let’s face it: Even though our business is audio, we all know that the world is ever more video-centric. The technology has advanced to where we can stick a 4K camera on a crash helmet and then jump off a mountain wearing a wing suit. Or we can put that same 4K camera onto a drone and get amazing shots that were impossible just a few short years ago. What hasn’t changed, however, is that sound makes the picture, although we’ve all been in a few situations where the video guys don’t know that. The laws of physics haven’t changed either, thus good sound is still needed directly from the source, regardless of what kind of action is happening on the screen. This isn’t as easy as it seems, though, because there are many challenges between our ideal of what good sound is, and the physical parameters needed for it to happen. Long story short: Camera-mounted microphones just don’t cut it in most circumstances.
For major motion picture and television production, one common way to get good sound from the talent is to “wire” them with a lavaliere microphone and bodypack transmitter. Lectrosonics has been well known for the transmitter/receiver part of this equation going on three decades, but this approach, while effective, isn’t always practical for extreme sports video production, for a couple of reasons. First, the required operating range may be too far; although Lectrosonics has also been famous for long-range wireless operation, when you are in the mountains, or covering a huge area, sometimes wireless isn’t a viable option. There can be unpredictable challenges even for the most experienced crew.
The second challenge is budget. Getting a proper mix on a fully staffed film set is one thing—just hire a professional location sound recordist team to take care of it—but many extreme sports productions have limited budgets and big dreams. This is where a portable “pocket” high-end recorder comes in.
The PDR (Personal Digital Recorder) from Lectrosonics was designed to solve this issue by bringing a high-quality mic preamp and high-resolution audio recording at 24 bit/48 kHz into a package that is easy to place inconspicuously on a person. Certainly, small recorders have been done before, dating back to the spy-friendly Nagra SN analog reel-to-reel machine from the mid-1970s. And portable digital recorders have been on the market for some time—see the variety of models from Zoom and Tascam in particular. But none have put all this, with time code, into an all-metal case with this selection of professional features.
If you are familiar with modern video or film production sets, you know that the cameras and audio equipment are all kept in sync via time code. Usually there is a master clock on set, and from there, the various devices are synchronized. A time code slate is often employed, so the start of every cut has the actual clock numbers on camera for reference in post-production. Then, all files from all the various capture devices can be brought into the post-production suite and quickly and accurately lined up with minimal effort.
Thus, time code compatibility was deemed critical for the PDR. The engineering team decided on the Lemo 5-pin connector, one of the standards for timecode connectivity. The other standard connector, a BNC, is much larger and would be cumbersome on such a small device. With the PDR, the unit is simply “jammed” at the beginning of the session, and it will keep accurate time all on its own, for hours at a time. The microphone input is the Lectrosonics standard TA5, used on thousands of belt pack transmitters over the past three decades. This way, your favorite microphone (from DPA, Sennheiser, Countryman, Sanken, Sony, Voice Technologies or others) that is wired for a Lectrosonics transmitter will work properly on the PDR. Then there is a 1/8-inch output for monitoring the incoming signal or the recorded files using headphones. This output can also be configured as a line source to feed a transmitter, in case you do want to use the talent’s dialog in a more traditional manner with a central location recording system and have the PDR as backup.
Audio files are stored in .WAV format on a micro-SD card, making it easy to retrieve the recorded information with any standard audio or video editing software. Two recording modes are offered in the PDR: “HD Mono” and “Split Gain.” The first type, HD Mono, records the audio on a single track, providing more than 110 dB of signal-to-noise before limiting. This recording mode employs a limiter at the input to prevent clipping at the A/D converter from unexpectedly loud signals—the same input arrangement used on Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless transmitters. The second recording mode, Split Gain, records the audio on two tracks, with the levels separated by 18 dB. This mode does not put a limiter in the signal path, but any “overs” on the high-gain track will be preserved without clipping on the lowgain track.
The PDR’s all-metal housing is machined from aluminum alloy and hard-anodized to make it incredibly tough. Like other Lectrosonics professional products, the PDR is meant to take the abuse dished out in the real world, not just in the studio. To keep the unit as slim and light as possible (it only weighs 2.5 oz. with a battery), the design incorporates a AAA battery. Even still, the PDR will run for about 6 hours on a lithium cell—more than enough time to cover just about any extreme sporting event or stunt.
So, next time you or your clients have a shot at capturing an extreme sporting event or any situation where traditional audio capture methods aren’t up to the task, think about employing the PDR. You’ll be able to get first-class audio from the talent’s or the athletes’ perspective, with minimal effort. Speaking of money channel, the PDR can be had for a price that is in the neighborhood of the Neumann KMS105. At the end of the day, it’s all about the audio, isn’t it? Well, at least the important half.