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Indie Movie Sound Kit Recommendations

LAST UPDATED 2/10/14

The following are notes on sound-recording equipment suitable for independent filmmaking. I know this list is far from complete. Please use it as a guide and then seek out experts. I have found that the people who work at sound equipment rental companies are generally very friendly and helpful. Explain your budget, explain what you need to do, and they can give you options for what you should buy or rent.

Generally you will need the following: A multi-track recorder capable of (at least) 48k, 24 bit sampling. A recording mixer. A boom mic (with “dead cat” windscreen if working outdoors). Lav mics for every actor who speaks in the scene and a wireless system for transmitting their sound.

Recording Systems

Zoom H4n / Zoom H6
H4n $269.99 at B&H / $217.04 at Amazon
H6 $399.99 at B&H and at Amazon

For small projects, Zoom recorders can be an all-in-one recording system. You can mount it on a pole as its own boom or mount it on the camera and still plug in XLR mics. In my experience, it’s very versatile and reliable, although not quite as reliable and versatile as the Sound Devices recorders. The H6 was released in 2013 and it’s main advantage seems to be 2 more XLR plugs with the ability to add 2 more.

MORE:
Philip Bloom forum discussion

Sound Devices 744T
Buy at B&H: $4,095

I’ve used this; I like this. It can record four tracks at once and has two quality preamplifiers with phantom power in case you want to go in directly from the mics. The digital files it generates are dumped via Firewire 400.

MORE:
Sound Devices Website

Sound Devices 788T

Buy at B&H: $6,495

This adds Firewire 800 and USB as output options and will probably become standard since Firewire 400 is getting phased out rapidly.

MORE:
7 Series Comparison Chart

Field Mixers

Sound Devices 302
Buy at B&H: $1,295

Mixes three channels, has phantom power.

MORE:
Sound Devices Website

Sound Devices 552
Buy at B&H: $2,895

Five inputs, records to SD cards. I’ve used this and it’s worked great.

MORE:
Sound Devices Website

Boom Mics

Sennheiser ME66 + K6 power module
Buy at B&H: $500 mic only / $540 kit

From what I’ve heard, this is the movie standard for boom mics. Not that there aren’t fancier ones that are regularly used, but this is one that has a sound that people associate with how movie dialogue is supposed to sound. Note also the ME67 capsule, which is even more directional.

Shotgun Mics

Røde Video Mic
Buy at Amazon: $150

This is designed to mount on a DSLR for run-and-gun style audio. It’s not as good as having a boom guy, but it is better than the crappy mic that comes on most cameras. I have one for my Canon T2i and have gotten good results. Don’t expect the world — it feels as cheap as it is, and no mic attached to a camera is going to be able to reject all camera noise.

Røde Video Mic Pro
Buy at Amazon: $229

This smaller, more expensive version of the Video Mic released in 2011. It supposedly sounds better than the Video Mic.

MORE:
Philip Bloom review

Wireless Transmitters / Receivers

Lectrosonics

Definitely don’t want to cheap out on this. I have yet to find a cheaper brand that performs with the reliability essential for a film production. Even the Lectros sometimes get interference. When we were shooting way up on the top of a peak in Griffith Park, we experienced drop-outs on some channels. That’s why it is important to monitor audio.

Lav (Lavalier) Mics

Tram TR50
Price at B&H: $310

These give a “movie dialogue” sound and are much cheaper and less fragile than other lav options, like the Sanken COS11 (~$449).

Countryman B6
Price at B&H: $280

This is another popular movie lav mic, extra small so it can hide in hair and other places.

Expendables

Moleskin

For preventing fabric noise on lav mics taped inside of clothing, moleskin is a great tool. It also comes in handy when someone on set gets a blister.


Extra Batteries

Most pros replace the batteries at the start of every day, just to be sure they won’t run out during a take. I’ve found that batteries generally last three times longer than the people at the rental place advise leaving them in. If you want to use rechargeable batteries, I like the Sanyo “low-self-discharge” Eneloops and their knockoffs, which hold a charge a lot longer than other rechargeable battery technologies.

Storing modern batteries in a freezer to help them drain slower has been debunked.

2 Comments

  1. Nice guide dude! I’m starting out filmmaking myself, WHAT AN ANTHILL TO CLIMB! But, sound is the primary focus I want to look at. Nothing makes a film feel cheaper than bad audio! Nice post.

  2. I still do not understand why so many leave off the Tascam DR680. it is a better option for a sound kit than the zoom. It’s form factor means that it can be adapted to bag work infinitely easier. The ergonomics on the zoom are just all wrong. I would hate to use it in the field.

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