You know the drill. The event is set in a crowded space and it is a big media free-for-all. Of course, nobody remembered to bring a mult box. There is just a lectern, 20 microphones, a boomy PA system and a mile of tangled wire.
Whether the occasion is a political speech, news conference or seminar, the challenge of recording broadcast-quality location sound in such a chaotic situation is always difficult.
Veterans of the game know that the first rule is to get your microphone in close to the subject. This tight miking means one of three things: placing your recording equipment unattended at the lectern and hoping that it all works out well, running a mic cable from the lectern to your seat and hoping that no one trips over it or using a wireless microphone.
The most attractive solution is the wireless mic. This way you can comfortably monitor sound at your seat and mark significant segments for quick retrieval on your MiniDisc or DAT recorder.
Until recently, however, I could never put together the perfect wireless mic system for this kind of job. Pro-quality wireless systems were never small enough or portable enough.
I wanted both a supercompact transmitter and receiver, with long runtimes on common batteries. I wanted a minimum of wire to avoid the spaghetti tangle that always seems to grow in my gear bag. And, I wanted reliable operation and good sound quality.
Out of the blue, I stumbled into what I think is an excellent solution for the run’n’gun news event. It is a unique combination of wireless components from two product lines made by Samson Technologies.
The breakthrough component in my portable news system is the Samson AL1 Presentation Transmitter, a tiny matchbox-size device that includes an internal microphone and operates for up to 14 hours on a single AAA battery. The AL1 is part of Samson’s new miniaturized Airline series of UHF wireless transmitters.
On the other side is the Samson UM1 Micro Diversity Receiver, a lightweight ENG-style device about the size of a pack of cigarettes that runs for 12 hours on a single 9V battery.
Together, this pair makes up the smallest, most hassle-free pro-quality UHF wireless system I have ever used. After recording several events flawlessly with this system in New York City – the RF gridlock capital of the world – I was impressed and surprised by its excellent performance.
As a non-engineer who simply wants to bring home good audio with a minimum effort, I found the Samson system an ideal companion to the standard recording tools in a reporter’s sound kit.
Beyond working well, it is the little things that make this system special. The AL1 transmitter – which feels almost weightless – is self-contained. It has an external microphone mini jack that can provide 2.7 V of phantom power, but you don’t need an external mic. The internal unidirectional electret condenser microphone with metal windscreen works just fine by itself.
The AL1, measuring 2 by 1.5 by 0.5 inches, clips on a pocket, microphone cable or lectern light. It can also stand alone, as its appended spring clip also serves as a built-in stand. On the case are a power switch, power/battery LED, gain control and mute switch. A thin, 3-inch wire antenna drops from the bottom.
The whole transmitter unit is so light you can secure it on a lectern with a piece of Scotch tape. But beware: The AL1’s minuscule size also makes it almost invisible. Like a tiny pager, it is easy to forget or misplace.
You’ll normally see photos of the UM1 receiver mounted on the back of a video camera, but the same attributes that make it ideal for television ENG use make it useful as an audio receiver for radio applications.
Only 4 by 2.5 by 1 inch, this pintsized receiver fits easily into any gear bag. A pair of 3-inch antennas fold out like ears for signal reception. For its diminutive size, this receiver has what is needed to do the job. There are A/B receiver LEDs, a squelch level control and a meter indicating either battery power or the strength of the incoming RF signal.
The receiver is equipped with balanced and unbalanced output connectors, a headphone jack and volume control. A flexible audio output level switch matches the signal to just about any audio device.
A mini jack can feed consumer-type recorders directly. A 600-ohm mini-XLR jack (and an included adapter cable with full-size XLR connector) allows connection with pro gear.
I used a garden-variety mini-to-mini mono cable to connect the UM1 receiver to my Sony MZ-B3 MiniDisc recorder. As for setup, it took only minutes to match and optimize the levels between the transmitter and receiver. Samson provides simple instructions and I found that doing it once was all that was needed.
The main caveat to using this micro wireless system is that it operates on a single, factory preset channel. There is no way to switch to an alternative channel if interference is encountered.
Of the six channels Samson offers with the Airline system (in the 801-805 MHz UHF frequency range), I used U1 (801.375 MHz). Although I encountered no interference during my limited tests, the tradeoff here is there might be certain locations where the preselected channel will not work. In that case, you are out of luck with this system and will have to revert to a wired recording method.
In addition to the presentation transmitter, Samson is offering its Airline technology in a vocalist mic plug-in module, headworn microphone, guitar plug-in and clip-on wind instrument pickup. These tiny transmitters are packaged with a range of receivers, both AC- and battery-powered models. Street prices, depending on the configuration, range from $270 to $500.
For more on the Airline system visit www.samsontech.com/wireless/products_airline.html. For information on Samson in New York, call(516) 364-2244.