Suddenly Controversial Article “Is Wireless Dead?”

This controversial article disappeared recently for some mysterious reason, so we wanted resurrect it here and continue with the stimulating comments.

Adam Forgione writes,

Well maybe not exactly, but for me, wireless audio is a last resort. Signal always wants to travel the path of least resistance and air is resistant. The same concept applies many times to wireless internet vs. direct ethernet connection.

The goal is always to travel through the least amount of devices and through the shortest and least resistant path. Because you are using the wireless system to “carry” the signal, it becomes two more devices (transmitter + receiver) added to the chain causing more noise. Fortunately technology has given us many options to record our audio without wireless. Field recorders are becoming more mainstream and most record directly onto media like SDHC cards. There are 2 types of field recorder – full size and pocket size.

Full size usually packs better quality parts and more channels giving you more options and better pre-amps which give you a warmer and less noisy signal but may be too bulky to hold or wear. I use this especially when conducting controlled interviews or dialogue where there is not much movement. I also can send feeds from a mixing board into this field recorder.

Pocket size is great for portability and to hide in a pocket or clip onto a belt. I use these with a good quality lav mics for interviews, lectures, dialogue, walking/taking shots, etc.

The disadvantage of wireless is huge with event filmmakers. You have no control over possible interference, dropouts, and most wireless systems only carry the signal but do not record the signal. The signal to noise ratio is noisier than wired because the transmitter is sending signal literally through air to get to its receiver. Although there are some really good wireless systems out there, the problem is that they will cost a lot of money ($2000 +) and still do not guarantee a cleaner signal then simple wired.

Using wireless is a choice you have to decide based on your own experiences. In some situations I would actually choose to use wireless lavs so I can monitor the audio on the actor and make sure there is no noise from clothing scratching on the mic. When wireless is needed, I currently use the UR series from Shure which is a highend solution and much cleaner than most. In addition I would back up with a wired pocket recorder as well.

So to summarize, I will mostly choose wired over wireless because wired field recorders will give me a better quality signal, I won’t have to deal with wireless interference, and I won’t have to invest as much money. I will warn you about electronic devices like cell phones being near wired or wireless. Some cell phones and similar devices can create interference on all recorders and wireless systems so always keep that in mind.

Here are some setups I personally use

SIT DOWN INTERVIEWS AND SCENES WITH MINIMAL MOVEMENT

Shure VP89M medium shotgun mic wired to Roland R44 field recorder

WEDDING

1/4” instrument cable or XLR cable wired from mixing board to Roland R44 field recorder

Roland R05 pocket recorder wired with Sanken COS11D lav mic for groom or podium in church

WALKING TALKING SHOTS

Roland R05 pocket recorder wired with Sanken COS11D lav mic and hush lav sleeves to reduce clothing noise

RUN AND GUN DSLR

Rode VideoMic Pro wired to DSLR – Not the best quality but acceptable for run and gun.

Read controversial comments on Adam’s Vimeo Page

Posted on by Daily Filmmaker in Audio, Ceremony, Education, Microphones, Top Stories, Wireless

13 Responses to Suddenly Controversial Article “Is Wireless Dead?”

  1. Marc Franklin

    Working everything from weddings to corporate to network ENG to putting in a year at a “state of the art” recording studio I have used all sorts of audio feeds and they all have their pros and cons, I must disagree about wireless being dead.

    If you are good with a field recorder, and decide to leave it unmonitored, to me it is a disaster waiting to happen. If I can’t hear the signal, as far as I’m concerned, its not there. At some point, a band member, guest, AV person, may move it, accidentally shutting it down or change a setting on the board where you are getting your feed, and blow out your recording. I’ve seen this happen.

    Second, I’m very critical about audio. When possible, if a cable run isn’t too long, I’ll run a feed from a board to my camera, (a Sony S270u).

    If the cable is 50 – 100 ft, they can act as an antenna, and I sometimes pick up local radio stations. Most of the time I’ve been using a Sennheiser G2 system that has been excellent as far as sound quality. When I got it 7 years ago, I paid $500 to $600. (The new G3 system is $799 I believe). Quality is superb. Far below a $2000 system. If a battery is running down on the transmitter or receiver, I can deal with it with minimal “loss of signal” rather than going over to an audio recorder after a gig and finding it “off” only to wonder, “where did it cut out” and “how much did I get.”

    Often at the recording studio, Id take a wireless board feed to the camera. Even if I had it “dialed in” someone would change the output level, and start blasting the levels. If I couldn’t drop the level enough on my side of the camera, I could signal the board op to drop the level. If I were using an audio recorder, I’d never have picked up on it, and would have been screwed.

    Having a DSLR rig you pretty much stuck with sub standard audio, save a few hacks and adaptors. For the price of a DSLR rig, and the additional $1000+ you are spending on audio gear, you’d probably do better with a Panasonic AG-AF100 or Sony NEX-FS100, where you can record quality audio on board with confidence.

    On the corporate / TV news side of things, they always want it “yesterday.” There is rarely time to sync sound in post.

    While your set up may work well for you, it has a number of draw backs in the “fail safe” arena, that can be averted with a good $799 wireless system. That said, when I was reviewing a Tascam DR-100 ($289 street)for EventDV magazine, I did use it to back up my wireless feed on a few occasions. While it turned out not to be necessary in the end, it was nice to have as a back up. If you want to be really intrepid, you can attach the headphone outputs of some recorders, to a wireless transmitter, and get a feed to your camera mounted receiver to make sure you are recording and it is a good signal. I think you’ll find wireless alive and well for some time.

  2. Justin Harrison

    “If you want to be really intrepid, you can attach the headphone outputs of some recorders, to a wireless transmitter, and get a feed to your camera mounted receiver to make sure you are recording and it is a good signal. I think you’ll find wireless alive and well for some time”

    This is an excellent idea – I use it all the time. I happen to own the only wireless system in the world that records at the transmitter. Yes, they’re expensive, but for me it’s worth the cost. Could I use a separate recorder and a cheaper wireless kit? Sure, but the size of the units I use, the fact that I only have to look after 1 set of batteries (that I can see where they are at) and the in-built redundant recording means a lot.

  3. Adam Forgione

    Justin i agree thats a good idea. Is that the ZFR100 from zaxcom?

  4. Marc Wielage

    Zacuto exec Steve Weiss has conceded that the article did have some misconceptions, and was originally written for an audience of primarily wedding videographers. The sound mixers on Jeff Wexler’s JWSoundGroup are in a bit of an uproar over it, mainly because a self-contained recorder has many disadvantages over a wireless mike, mainly because it can’t be monitored. If the actor crunches the microphone, if the mike rubs up against the clothing, if the batteries fail, if the wire disconnects, if there’s any technical issues, you won’t know until you check the recording.

    This technique will work under a handful of unusual circumstances, but I’d never trust it with actors on a day-to-day set, nor would I want to use it for interviews or any pro situation.

  5. Lee Higgginbottom

    Adam, what do you use to connect the Sanken COS11D to the R-05 unit? Is it possible to get it with a 90 degree 3.5mm plug in order to tape it to the unit? I am guessing the Sennheiser connection sticks straight out making the unit bulkier.

    Thanks!

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