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Reviews

$36 Sescom Cable Helps Solve DSLR Audio Monitoring Issues

by Frank Beacham

ImageWhen I bought my Panasonic DMC-GH2 camera, I really wasn't thinking about using it for video. Then―boom―it hit me how good the camera is both for stills and video and how it makes a very, very compact video package that I can carry anywhere.

It was the light weight and low light picture quality that first attracted me, but I was soon rethinking video. Being of the old school, however, one thing bothered me. I couldn't monitor the sound. The DSLR manufacturers―for their own reasons―refused to put headphone monitoring jacks on this category of cameras.

The GH2 has a mic input and decent on-display metering. It also has a tiny speaker, which I found myself holding up to my ear to check recorded song. It was amateur hour all the way with the audio monitoring.

Then I discovered a simple $36 cable from Sescom that has gone a long way in solving the problem. It's called the Sescom LN2MIC-ZMGHN-MON Line Out to Camera Mic In Headphone Tap Cable. (www.sescom.com) There are several variations of it, depending on the kind of DSLR camera you have. But the basic idea is very simple.

The trick is to use a portable digital audio recorder between the outboard microphone and the DSLR. The recorder can be a tiny one. I use a Yamaha W24 recorder, which weighs only 3.25 ounces. (www.yamahasynth.com) I plug a lavalier mic into the Yamaha recorder and then use the cable to interface between the recorder's headphone jack and DSLR.

The cable splits into two directions: one in a 2.5mm jack lead to the camera input that contains a -25dB pad to knock down the headphone level; the other to a stereo headphone jack for monitoring. Simply match the output level of the recorder's headphone jack to the camera's meter and you're set.

This cable model was made for the Zoom H4N & H1 to the microphone inputs of GH2. It measures 18-inch in length, features a male ⅛-inch (3.5mm) mini to 2.5mm sub-mini TRS connection, a female ⅛-inch (3.5mm) TRS headphone tap for monitoring, and a -25dB level attenuation pad for "stepping down" line level audio to microphone level. The cable is magnetically shielded, which eliminates RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) noise from cell phones, PDA's, WI-FI and other sources.

The cable, however, works with many brands of digital audio recorders. There are 13 variations in the Sescom line that fit a variety of connector types and different camcorders. You'll just have to test the cable with your particular set-up. 

I bought a new very low noise omnidirectional lavalier microphone from Sound Professionals for my kit.  Called the MS-LAV-1, it's not only very tiny and essentially weightless, but its has 17dB less noise, 10db more sensitivity and 10dB greater maximum sound pressure level than most older mics.  It's works on plug-and-power from the Yamaha recorder. It's great for quick interviews. The price is $89. (www.soundprofessionals.com)

There are couple of notes about this set-up. The volume of headset output of the audio recorder must be set for the DSLR's input, not the headphones. If your headphones are not sensitive enough, you may not be able to hear well. In this case, either buy more sensitive headphones or add a small booster amplifier for headphone monitoring.

A second note concerns the two audio tracks you are creating. One is for the camera, which is fine for voice interviews and simple work. However, you are also recording a much higher-quality sound track on the digital recorder, which you may want to use for music or other types of recording. If you need the digital audio track, check our DualEyes or PluralEyes from Singular Software. (www.singularsoftware.com)

DualEyes and PluralEyes automatically sync and cut the digital recorder's audio recording into clips that match the video clips. It takes only seconds to move the recorders' audio tracks to the video. Then you can edit the DSLR's video with the better audio quality in the editing system of your choice. It really depends on your applications and how much time you have to work. But this system allows a choice of both.

Of course, this methods only lessens the possibility of an audio catastrophe. At least you can hear what the mic picks up and monitor your best source. And the odds of a problem on the DSLR track is reduced. Until the DSLR makers catch-on about audio monitoring, these solutions are great work-arounds.