Contributors: Keith Anderson, Videographer and Chris Lyons, Manager of Technical & Educational Communications at Shure
For the videographer who is either earning a living or bringing in some extra income by shooting video for weddings, events or the Internet – audio can present a challenge. You can’t have a bride holding a microphone while exchanging rings or conventioneers tripping over cables in a convention hall where a manufacturer is shooting a new product introduction video. Enter wireless.
How it Works
Wireless systems for video have become increasingly popular in the last few years for their many freedom-of-movement advantages. Think of it this way: a wireless microphone system is really a miniature radio station. A microphone cartridge (dynamic or condenser) converts incoming sound waves to an electrical signal. The signal is sent out by a low-power transmitter, and then picked up by a receiver located nearby, which converts the radio-frequency signal back into audio. The transmitter can be contained in the handle of the microphone or in a small bodypack. A cable then connects the audio output of the receiver to the input of the camera or a separate recording device.
Portable battery-powered wireless diversity receivers, like the Shure UR5, are available for use in situations like the ones above, where both the transmitter and the receiver are moving around. A complete system (wireless mic, transmitter and receiver) can cost between $1500 and $2000, but the benefits for the pro or semi-pro far outweigh the initial sticker shock.
Portable wireless receivers are very small — usually about the size of a deck of cards (or according to Chris Lyons, two iPhones) — and can be worn on the body or mounted directly to a small mixer or camcorder. Size does matter – the receiver has to be small enough to mount on the camera without weighing it down. A short cable connects the audio output of the portable receiver to the audio input of the mixer or camcorder.
The classic application is creating an event video. The talent (or maybe the pastor if it’s a wedding video) uses a lavalier with a bodypack and the battery-powered wireless receiver is mounted on the videographer’s camera. Because the UR5 is a single channel receiver, additional systems are required for additional sound sources. One speaker, one transmitter, one receiver. It’s how Shure records videos like this one.
Here’s Chris Lyons demonstrating the ULX-D Quad and Dual Receivers
Lavalier: WL150, Bodypack Transmitter: UR1, Wireless Receiver: UR5
The first option is the easiest: connect the output of the receiver into the camera’s mic input. Audio quality is dependent on the quality of the audio circuitry that’s built into the camera and for many high–end pro cameras, the audio quality can be pretty good.
The second option is using a separate recording device. Increasingly popular DSLR cameras offer superior image quality but the audio circuits aren’t typically up to professional standards. The dynamic range isn’t great, it’s difficult to control levels and hiss can be a problem. Serious shooters generally use a separate audio recorder.
A key feature of the UR5 portable diversity receiver is that it comes with two output cables – one with a standard XLR connector for a pro camera, recorder or mixer and a second output cable with a 3.5mm mini plug for DSLR cameras. There’s an available cable that will work for any type of camera.
It also offers a separate headphone output, so that the camera operator can monitor the audio through headphones or an earpiece – effectively minimizing or eliminating “what’s that sound?” issues in playback. There are seldom ‘take twos’ in weddings, speeches or corporate events.
Watch the UR5 Portable Diversity Receiver Video
UR5 and Pro Videographer Keith Anderson
We wanted to know what, beyond the powerful Shure image and the sturdy construction, real video pros liked (or didn’t) about the UR5 receiver in a field that’s dominated by two well-entrenched competitors. Luckily, we connected with veteran Nashville sound engineer-turned-videographer Keith Anderson who just a couple of years back, traded in a competitive system that he loved for Shure.
What’s a typical set-up for you?
We shoot a little bit of everything – from high-end weddings to corporate training videos. In fact, I just did the Steadicam work for the Chicago Blackhawks scoreboard video – so I shoot all kinds of different things. There are always two of us and I handle all the audio in addition to the second camera. I’m running four UR5s, four UR1s (bodypack transmitters) and occasionally I run two UR3s (plug-on microphone transmitters) in place of the two UR1s. Most of the time it’s four UR5s and four UR1s.
I always use a separate recording device because for the past three years, I’ve been using DSLRs and they’re not designed to take an external audio signal. They’re just not designed for audio acquisition.
I’ve got an audio bag that allows me to record a total of six tracks at once. I use the four mic inputs to record audio on their own individual discreet tracks and in addition, the built-in stereo microphone gives me the ability to record ambient audio using either the X/Y configuration or omni. I typically record a stereo track of X/Y ambient and the four-tracks being fed by outputs from the 4 UR5s.
What were you using before Shure?
I was using a Lectrosonics 201 system – at the time, it was the only pro solution in audio for film or video.
I’d been through several other wireless solutions before that – an AKG system that was about $600 before I moved up to the Sennheiser system at around $800 and then I finally ended up spending about $3500 on my Lectrosonics system.
I have since sold my Lectrosonics unit. The Shure UR5 gave me that much confidence.
Where’s all this love coming from?
It comes from the confidence of having a device like the Shure UR5 that allows me to visually see the air that’s clean. No wireless frequency issues.
With other devices, I’d keep my fingers crossed. They didn’t offer any graphical representation of the clean frequencies. With the Shure UR5, I’m able to find the clean air really quickly using a feature called Spectrum Scan.
The first thing I do when I get to a venue is run Spectrum Scan and it gives me an instant graphical image of how much clean air is around me. Once I land on a clean frequency, I’m so comfortable with the reliability of the system that I don’t continually monitor the audio anymore.
I run four devices at once and I’ve never had a single problem. Once I run a Spectrum Scan or Group Scan, everything’s been perfect, rock-solid – I’ve never had a dropout once.
Two cameras and lots of systems. How do you sync the audio?
I use a software call PluralEyes®. I go into my NLE (non-linear editor) of choice – I’m an Adobe Premier CS6 guy – and take all the video and lay it on the timeline, take all of the audio tracks (and in my case, they’re already synced in the multi-track recording) and lay those on the timeline. Then I just open PluralEyes and hit the SYNC button. I walk away and depending on the length of the timeline, come back in a little while and it’s all synced up. Enormous timesaver.
Here’s an event video Keith shot using the Shure UR5 portable diversity receiver and with a UR1 bodypack transmitter and UR3 microphone transmitter.
Any unusual applications?
We shot a project where we were spoofing a few movies and I had the UR1 on an actor who was rolling down a hill – he rolled over a few times on the UR1 and not only did it sound great, it came out unscratched. I was really grateful for that.
What about a few basic UR5 tips for our readers?
- Use Spectrum Scan to handle frequency issues.
- Use the same UR5 and UR1 combination in the same type of situation every gig.
Example: Each of my UR1s is set up with a slightly different gain structure. I have a UR1/UR5 combo with the gain setup for a person who speaks loudly or projects and another UR1/UR5 setup for a person who speaks in a quiet tone. When shooting a wedding, I’ll use the UR5/UR1 with the gain set accordingly on the person who speaks loudly. Almost 100% of the time it’s the clergy because the clergy knows how to project. My other UR5/UR1 combo is reserved for the groom. This is designed to capture the softly spoken vows by both the bride and groom so the gain is set a little higher for someone who will probably be speaking softly.
This system is so much better than anything on the market. It’s so much smaller and it offers everything that competitors offer – and more. The battery consumption is much much better and it’s easier to use.
Shure UR5 fan Keith Anderson
Editors’ Note: The ubiquitous Chris Lyons is pretty often our go-to guy for technical posts. He’s the Manager of Technical & Educational Communications at Shure and appears in many of Shure’s videos and podcasts. In 2002, Keith Anderson, after many years in Nashville working as a recording engineer for a prominent producer, found his passion in film and video. He works on a wide variety of projects, but you can see his amazing wedding videos (and they are worthy of DeMille or Coppola) at www.weddingdaycinema.com