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Recording good sound in noisy environments


Sebben
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I find myself in situations where I have to interview people for documentaries within their environments. Which often have a lot of noises. Traffic, air conditioners, strong weather sounds - snow storms, rain, wind. Or are quite reflective.

I have found that I have mostly gotten the best results using lavs, my guess is because the signal to noise ratio is good. However, I have only hired them, and I don't want to buy them because I really don't like the sound the produce at all. Plus the hassle of attaching them to people and the lack of speed associated with that.

Another technique I am considering is to capture establishing shots with a boom mic, and then switching to something like a neumann tlm 102 to record the rest of the interview off camera.

Do you have any techniques or equipment recommendations for me? In the documentary, lightweight, non scripted environment.

I appreciate your thoughts.

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Hi, and welcome...

someone mentioned that since it is a new year, we will be recycling all these discussions again...

as the site search is wonky, try a google search with the first term "jwsoundgroup.net". hint: best mic, best microphone, indoor mic, boom mic, etc.

any of the terms you set up as tags!!

Edited by studiomprd
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Thanks, I have done so, and have read many discussions and was hoping that some one would have something more to add.

Unfortunately I am not located in a country that has access to me trying different microphones, so asking these questions is the best I can do apart from buying everything available and then selling it all at a loss.

Therefore, I value all suggestions for a microphone that really does stand out from all the rest in noisy interior environments.

To be more specific: isolate the voice from the background sound.

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There have been close to 100 posts that have addressed this issue directly (or danced around it quite closely) and I'm not sure anything more can be said about it. Once you understand (which you probably already do) the basic principles of acoustics (the room) and the principles that govern the functions of the microphone, the choices are quite clear. As it has been said before, though, it takes years of experience to get years of experience. After having worked in reverberant environments hundreds of times, the general over-riding principle is that the less directional microphone will provide better results --- this is why a cardioid or hyper-cardioid, rather than a "shotgun" (very directional) microphone, will be the best choice.

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Yes, indeed I agree with all your points.

I guess I need to be more specific: Out of the hyper/cardioids available do any of them have an exceptional ability to isolate the voice from the background more than other models. Or are they all essentially the same?

I guess I am looking for the effect of LAV without it the voice sounding like it is coming from a microphone that is attached to the persons chest.

Or is the answer, simply, that I have no other choice than to use some sort of baffling on location?

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The problem we have here is that your question evokes more questions than answers.

The short answer is Schoeps 641, primarily because it sounds so natural, both on and off axis. However, that answer doesn't cover all the situations and variations we deal with on a regular basis.

But, yes, recording in a space with suitable acoustics is by far the preferable approach. Any improvement to the acoustics is a big plus and often more critical than mic choice.

Also, there are mounting methods (hair mount, etc.) that can make a lav sound more natural -- depending upon the placement and the specific lav, of course.

But, your best "path to understanding" would be in thoroughly researching the numerous times these specifics have been discussed in detail. At the very least it should help you become better informed so that you can ask more targeted questions.

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I guess I am looking for the effect of LAV without it the voice sounding like it is coming from a microphone that is attached to the persons chest.

Can't be done, unless there's significant, skilled post sound mixing to add in ambient reverb (IMHO). I personally don't mind the sound of lavs in an interview situation, which is inherently artificial. If it's a scripted production, it's harder to defend the use of lavs unless there's location problems, lack of rehearsals, ad-libbing, or camera placement issues.

I just did a quickie interview job yesterday, and the director called me today and said he was floored by the terrific sound quality we got in a very reverberant room. Because the two interview subjects were in their late 80s, I chose to use external lavs clipped to their coats, and the cameraman just framed them out of the close-ups. Sounded fine. Just regular OST (Tram-like) lavs. I moved them around a couple of times for best placement, plus I nailed down the cable with a loop and tape to minimize cable microphonics. If I had used a boom -- even an excellent hyper like the Schoeps 641 or the Sennheiser 50 -- we would've picked up much more reverb, which would not have helped with dialogue clarity in this case.

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I think the main problem for the OP is not a reverberant room, but an actually noisy room. Here, apart from a lav which would probably still be the best bet, a cardioid/hyper might be a bad choice. I'd recommend a long shotgun, or my personal albeit pricey favourite, the Schoeps SuperCMIT. For reverberant rooms, the cardioid-ish mics might be better

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Research seems to speak favourably of the Sanken CS3e.

+1

But it can't do magic! This microphone's managed to eliminate a refrigerator at the corner of a restaurant while simultaneously drowning out the sound of a rainy day outside. I was also able to record inside of a room at some college while there were full classes outside with people talking (quietly). I'm not saying it eliminates these noises, but it sure reduces them a lot. At the same time it can't get rid of an industrial strength fridge at a different restaurant or the same college building's central air system in the lobbies.

Beyond certain distances and in certain locations I think the 641 would've been better in these locations, just to improve the quality of some of the nasty echos (like in the lobbies). If only.... Beyond the CS3e's sweet spot, they really hear the same amount of noise. It's just that the CS3e hears more HF content and also picks up a bit more nasty reverb. With that said, I actually think the 641 cleans up better in post production. Unfortunately, it's so hard to judge when you're there. Btw, did you think of post production? Refer to Izotope RX 2.

Can't be done, unless there's significant, skilled post sound mixing to add in ambient reverb (IMHO). I personally don't mind the sound of lavs in an interview situation, which is inherently artificial. If it's a scripted production, it's harder to defend the use of lavs unless there's location problems, lack of rehearsals, ad-libbing, or camera placement issues.

I just did a quickie interview job yesterday, and the director called me today and said he was floored by the terrific sound quality we got in a very reverberant room. Because the two interview subjects were in their late 80s, I chose to use external lavs clipped to their coats, and the cameraman just framed them out of the close-ups. Sounded fine. Just regular OST (Tram-like) lavs. I moved them around a couple of times for best placement, plus I nailed down the cable with a loop and tape to minimize cable microphonics. If I had used a boom -- even an excellent hyper like the Schoeps 641 or the Sennheiser 50 -- we would've picked up much more reverb, which would not have helped with dialogue clarity in this case.

+1000

You seem not to like the sound of lavs. Me too. Maybe you'll like the DPA lavs better. They still require work to attach them, but there are a lot of threads with info of techniques on this website. If not these, then B6s or pin/button mics to ease mounting. The pin/button mics should sound better than the B6s.

Sawrab

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Thank you for the responses.

I thought it best to clarify a few things. I am primarily a documentary film maker, but I have a passion for sound, and this is something I am now actively working on to develop. My preference is for natural sounding audio, and everything we do is unscripted.

I often use noise reduction but would really prefer not to do so. I find attaching LAVs to people really changes things. Even more than swinging a microphone over their heads. I guess it just makes people uncomfortable to have a strange wire attached. Bare in mind that I often work with people from isolated communities where all these gizmos aren't common place.

The only upside to the LAV is the signal to noise ratio, and I am looking for techniques to achieve a similar signal to noise ratio. I can't carry around sound blankets or anything like that because we travel with the minimum of equipment.

Like I mentioned in my first post I am not adverse to the idea of recording audio separately from the image. So setting up a microphone a few inchs from the persons mouth is also an option. I just don't know what microphone I should be looking at for this case. (Neumann TLM 102 or similar)

But, from what you guys are saying it seems that perhaps the best plan of attack is to use a lav in conjunction with a boom and mix the two together.

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For specific mics, follow the above suggestions and read the threads.

I work on some doc/reality jobs where I pick one boom mic for the day. I've also done a lot of series where I am issued a short shotgun and that's it. No MKH50 or Schoeps cardioid mic in the kit. While it's not optimum, if you are working with a 2 camera reality shoot, there are times you need something with a little more reach. that's where you either use what they give you, or use experience to chose the right tool for the job.

I would handle this differently when doing scripted fictional work and had my full kit.

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I thought it best to clarify a few things. I am primarily a documentary film maker, but I have a passion for sound, and this is something I am now actively working on to develop. My preference is for natural sounding audio, and everything we do is unscripted.

I often use noise reduction but would really prefer not to do so. I find attaching LAVs to people really changes things. Even more than swinging a microphone over their heads. I guess it just makes people uncomfortable to have a strange wire attached. Bare in mind that I often work with people from isolated communities where all these gizmos aren't common place.

I suppose it's a matter of culture. Around here everyone's used to getting wired. It's just a matter of course for us. If it's wild, improv doc stuff like they do in some of the more challenging docs (in situations such as interviewing people in Iraq who don't want to be filmed) they use either highly directional and/or highly discrete microphones (handholding it discretely but pointing up, for example). In this case, intelligibility would be paramount over any issue of sound quality. Or lavaliers in the shirt pocket? I actually did this with a Muslim priest once. It's how I recorded his conversations with his congregation without them knowing it. You might have to add subtitles later though.

The only upside to the LAV is the signal to noise ratio, and I am looking for techniques to achieve a similar signal to noise ratio. I can't carry around sound blankets or anything like that because we travel with the minimum of equipment.

Since you're doing docs with interviews, I imagine you won't be moving the wide shot very much. You could stick the boom in and composite it out in the wide shots (if the shot has no movement, and make sure you don't cast a shadow on the subject and maybe certain parts of the wall). The CS3e will do the trick as long as it's close enough. The mediums & closeups will be typical.

You don't like noise reduction? Is it really that bad? Have somebody sit in the chair with everything as similar as possible and at least 30 seconds of rmtone for a noise profile. That should improve the quality of the noise reduction.

Like I mentioned in my first post I am not adverse to the idea of recording audio separately from the image. So setting up a microphone a few inchs from the persons mouth is also an option. I just don't know what microphone I should be looking at for this case. (Neumann TLM 102 or similar)

It sounds unusual to me that you would record audio separately for a documentary project. I don't see how that would work. Maybe I'm not understanding your exact process for doing this.

But, from what you guys are saying it seems that perhaps the best plan of attack is to use a lav in conjunction with a boom and mix the two together.

You got it. The more I do sound and then listen to professional sound from TV and film, the more I realize that it is a mix of lav and boom. That's the aesthetic that defines (most) professional production sound.

If you're definitely going to mix, and you're having a lot of trouble mounting them, I don't see the point of using mics other than B6s for doc interviews. Tell the interviewee to wear an undershirt/t-shirt or whatever underneath. Use Joe's Sticky Stuff in between the two layers. Many actors I use this on tell me they forget the lavaliers are there. Sometimes they even walk off set at the end of the day with them on before I can un-wire them....

You can have the B6 exposed for the wide shot (it will be invisible. Closer, the boom can take over but the B6 should still be usable).

Sawrab

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You don't like noise reduction? Is it really that bad? Have somebody sit in the chair with everything as similar as possible and at least 30 seconds of rmtone for a noise profile. That should improve the quality of the noise reduction.

I do this quite often, also I find using the room tone under the voice helps to smooth things out, especially on edits. I guess my philosophy is to try and get the cleanest sound on capture, rather than try to make things a bit better in post.

It sounds unusual to me that you would record audio separately for a documentary project. I don't see how that would work. Maybe I'm not understanding your exact process for doing this.

Ok, so usually the situation is the people I am interviewing are making/creating things. This is usually one day shoots, with everything done on location. So we need shots of the person introducing themselves to the camera to establish the scene in which they work, and also to establish the sound of the place that the audio is recorded. After that, their interview is basically narration for the rest of the footage, and we don't see them speaking again. This is why I am thinking that switching a microphone to one suited for recording voice from close range could work. The sound would change, but it perhaps it wont be to noticeable, as is would still share the same atmosphere.

Has anyone tried anything like this?

I will look into B6s and see what the deal is.

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I do this quite often, also I find using the room tone under the voice helps to smooth things out, especially on edits. I guess my philosophy is to try and get the cleanest sound on capture, rather than try to make things a bit better in post.

Sure, but sound is extremely difficult. If we could convert everywhere we shoot into a soundstage, I'd be up for it :)

Ok, so usually the situation is the people I am interviewing are making/creating things. This is usually one day shoots, with everything done on location. So we need shots of the person introducing themselves to the camera to establish the scene in which they work, and also to establish the sound of the place that the audio is recorded. After that, their interview is basically narration for the rest of the footage, and we don't see them speaking again. This is why I am thinking that switching a microphone to one suited for recording voice from close range could work. The sound would change, but it perhaps it wont be to noticeable, as is would still share the same atmosphere.

Has anyone tried anything like this?

Well that's diffierent then. You most certainly should record them off camera and close.

EDIT: Maybe you should put a slight visual gap to indicate the start of the narration. People may notice if it's an abrupt cut between two very different mikes, but not if there's just a slow change. In that case, nobody's going to notice. Of course, they might not notice the abrupt cut either.

Sawrab

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Using the best dialog mic for the interview situation makes sense. A lot of popular reality shows follow the formula that the formal interviews narrate the show and the field shooting is almost glorified b-roll (even if the subjects are talking). I would see no reason not to switch up mics between those two shooting situations. The b-roll part may be mostly lav, and that's a creative decision. Definitely has been done many times this way. That's also how you can get away with less than perfect field audio if the location is audio hell. At least you have the interviews clean. Some other shows use narration, but end up with similar results (clean interview / VO).

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Cool, so then the question is: What microphone would you on location use to capture clean interview / VO, up close off camera in a noisy environment.

Or is the combination of a mic mixed with LAV still the best choice?

Thank you for all your contributions. This is most useful to hear your opinions.

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Cool, so then the question is: What microphone would you on location use to capture clean interview / VO, up close off camera in a noisy environment.

Or is the combination of a mic mixed with LAV still the best choice?

Thank you for all your contributions. This is most useful to hear your opinions.

I thought I already answered that -- both in this thread and previous ones.

The problem I see with this thread is that the most important question hasn't even been asked yet: Who is going to be operating this mic and what is their level of professional sound experience? That will make a bigger difference than the microphone.

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As previously stated: I am a film maker and often have to record the audio for the documentary film work that we do.

Lets us assume, that the microphone is in the best possible place within the environment. I am just looking for any recommendations for techniques or models of microphones that can give the clean audio for voice over purposes off camera. Light weight portable solutions are the must.

I don´t have the luxury of working with sound stages, scripted dialogue or actors.

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" I just don't know what microphone I should be looking at "

As JB notes, and even our host has pointed out that it takes years of experience to get years of experience, and now I'll point out my old story about the golfer and golf clubs!

The answer, Sebben, is there is no one single answer, or one single best mic. I see you have adopted the Neumann logo, and even spec one of their mic's... OK, Neumann, now owned by Sennheiser, has a quality line of mic's, not just one "best" mic. as always, it depends.

There is a complication with your unreasonable expectations, as well; you don't like this, you want that, and all these things need to be in a one size fits all, no skill or experience required, plug 'n play. solution... unreasonable expectations, even if you are the Tiger Woods of documentary movies.

Edited by studiomprd
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Sure, if Lavs are the only way to go then now I know. I was hoping to find some advice for different methods. And definitely wasn't expecting a one size fits all solution. Since there is no easy answer I will continue to experiment. In any case, I wasn't looking for a single mic, I was looking for several. But sure, lump me in with the rest.

Thanks for your input mike.

I just hope I dont end up like tiger woods.

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" a different methods. "

this isn't magic, it is physics. S/N ratios...

and, BTW, more folks seem to be nervous about a microphone in front of their face, than one clipped to their clothing, which they usually quickly forget once they begin talking...

if you are a documentary movie maker you'll need to learn that stuff, too.

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Sebben, I don't understand why you feel the need to use two different mics. Something like a Schoeps CMK641 combo will enable you to record the atmosphere at a, say, workshop. Next, for the off-camera interview, you would put it as close as possible to the speaker (while avoiding the proximity effect, of course). It's a great sounding mic, so in the ideal spot it will sound nice. No need for Lavs then. Or get a shotgun mic for one of the many reasons listed above and elsewhere. The aforementioned TLM102 is, in my opinion, way inferior.

If you really need (or want) to buy two mics, get an additional stereo mic, which will make the atmospheres in those work places sound much more pleasant to listen to.

" a different methods. "

this isn't magic, it is physics. S/N ratios...

and, BTW, more folks seem to be nervous about a microphone in front of their face, than one clipped to their clothing, which they quickly forget once they begin talking...

I was just going to say this too. From my experience, people who are on camera for the first time, will almost always look funny at a boom mic, but they will quickly forget about the radio mic.

So, just to add to the confusion.

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and, BTW, more folks seem to be nervous about a microphone in front of their face, than one clipped to their clothing, which they quickly forget once they begin talking...

You could be right there. But it probably depends.

Thanks Constantin,

I will defiantly be doing that and see how far that gets us. Microphones are arriving in a few weeks so I will let you chaps know how it all turns out.

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A directional microphone will give you better S/N compared to omnidirectional lavaliers at the same distance. A really directional microphone like the CS3e at the hairline can all but eliminate the location noise (still after noise reduction of course). A 416T could work too (echos are not that much of an issue at this distance, if you want something cheaper). A hyper could work too at the hairline. It would help to get closer...but they may start getting uncomfortable since they're not actors.

Remember to get another noise profile/room tone of 30 seconds at this distance and pot level.

If the situation is really desperate you could try dynamic microphones, but you trade off sound quality. I personally have never liked the sound of most dynamic microphones for production sound, except maybe the SM7B (though that has a specific use). But desperate situations.... Ed Novick said he used dynamic mikes in scenes with the IMAX camera (at least in Coffey's article for Dark Knight Rises). Shooting sync sound with the IMAX camera is definitely a desperate situation though.

Sawrab

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