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Jin Zhu

Wireless lavs or recorders for 20 ppl around table?

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I have an upcoming gig that involves a conversation between about 20 people around a huge rectangular table in a very reflective, bright concrete space. I usually do interviews and small panels, so I'm used to using 3-4 mics, but am a bit worried with issues that I can't anticipate if I try to use wireless lavs for 20 people. I've been also considering using a tiny Zoom or Tascam recorder for each speaker, and sync all the tracks in post and bounce down to a stereo mix.

Are there interference issues with using that many wireless mics? I know you can set them to different channels, but some of the manufacturers only have a limited number of preset channels and I wonder if it's going to be a struggle to find enough usable channels. The location is somewhat isolated but very near a major metro area, and there will be a small audience of about 50 people - do I have to then worry about cell interference?

Any thoughts appreciated. Thanks!

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Well, there are plenty of solutions, but they would all need to be rented of course due to cost. 

For wireless transmitters, almost all of the higher end ones have enough frequency selection for 20 channels. 

Then you'd simply rent a few 8 channel recorders/mixers on the market from zoom to sound devices. You'd probably just use three 8 channel ones and record lavs and then a few booms to the recorders with timecode sync. It's a lot of work for one audio guy, I would for sure have a few guys doing it and not 100% rely on the lav's. 

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I think at that point, we'd just rent a 24 channel mixer with timecode and record to a stereo track with one recorder. I don't think the speakers are going to be talking over each other much, so there would just be one person at the board.

But it good to hear that interference won't be an issue. Thanks!

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8 hours ago, Jin Zhu said:

I think at that point, we'd just rent a 24 channel mixer with timecode and record to a stereo track with one recorder. I don't think the speakers are going to be talking over each other much, so there would just be one person at the board.

But it good to hear that interference won't be an issue. Thanks!

The problem with a 24 track mixer is that you must have someone listening and managing the levels. If just one of the mic's is distorted or has an issue it ruins everything you've done. So I never recommend doing a "mixdown" from set recording, it never works right and it always causes complications up the road. Just imagine if there was some RF interference in one mic mid way through, but you needed to keep the dialog just incase? I mean I personally wouldn't risk it, if the content is important and can't be duplicated easily. 

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That's a good point. That was partly why I thought about little recorders and lavs. We'd label each recorder with the name of the speaker and each recording would be separate without needing anyone to monitor, which is its own blessing and curse. I've never had a problem with using the Tascam DR10L though, since it has a safety track, but the problem there is I can't find any place that rents them. Dunno that the client is up for buying 5k worth of recorders upfront and then returning them. That leaves the Zoom H1n, but that has no safety track. Yikes.

Table mics were considered, but I think it might disrupt the tone of the event, which is a group of people gathering to talk about personal experiences. IMO half of people never quite use handheld or table mics correctly though. These won't be trained professional talent, but just regular people who had a common experience.

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If the peoples are sitting at a table it doesn't need to be wireless Lav's since they aren't moving around. Wired lavs would be much cheaper and risk less interference, for a static position cable managment wouldn't be too hard.

If you are mic'ing each person individually you need to record each one to a separate track, or you would have no way to isolate coughs and mic rubbing. So you'd need at least 20 record channels. I wouldn't use separate recorders - you risk phase issues if the sync isn't bang on.

I would use a 24 channel audio interface:

https://motu.com/products/avb/24ai-24ao

A simple live 24 channel mixer could be used to level the mics and feed the interface

Record on a laptop running ProTools or Logic...simpler that buying stack of field recorders - would sound better too. There are lots of 24 track recorder options, since they are standard in music production

If it were me you probably do just as well with a few boom swingers. The more live mics you have in a room the more noise and reflections they record. If you have a 24 track mix to do, thats going to be time consuming.

20 people aren't going to be able to talk at once, so it could perhaps be covered by a few excellent TV studio style boom ops. Simpler audio edit...

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

How many cameras?  Do you really need off screen dialogue?

First, hire a sound mixer, and do what they recommend.

I personally, assuming my vision of what is happening matches reality, would use 3 boundary layer mics on the table, left, center, right to capture more or less the whole group.  If it is single camera, then a boom operator and utility (so he can wrangle problems mid-stream or swap out with boom op since long form event).  If two cameras or more, at some point booms become problematic, but less so if you have good crew and are ok with booms busting any wide shots.

Yes, coordinating 20 wireless channels in a metro area can be problematic.  Yes, cell phone interference is a thing, but only participants and crew, not from audience.  I own the Tascam 24 mentioned... pretty cool mixer, but not the right tool for the job here - again consult sound mixer who will use something like the Zoom F4 or F8 at a minimum, but probably something Sound Devices or Zaxcom more appropriate.  I don't see any scenario where I'd willingly bring a computer to set and rely on that for primary recording (unless you are crazy enough to rent 20 wired lavalier mics).

Edited by Tom Visser

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