Audio for Amateurs: Wireless Wonders

Ayrora Temple
I've been feeling a little restless lately and thinking not only about getting back in front of the camera — but possibly behind it as well: not to churn out the same old in-and-out, but to produce unique, artistic and compelling visual entertainment — adult or otherwise…

As part of this process, I've been looking over my current resources: including the mini-DV video cameras, lighting and audio equipment that I have available to me; as well as my personal experience and comfort levels.

While I have had more experience being in front of the camera than behind it, I know what I like and what I don't like; and so I turned a critical eye towards my existing pile of production equipment and the material that has been shot with it: Was the image sharp and steady? Was the color vibrant if not accurate? What about the technique and timing?

What about the sound?

Easily overlooked by many amateur adult producers, quality audio content can be nearly as compelling as its visual component — just close your eyes the next time you play your favorite porno scene and listen to all the 'oohs and ahhs' delivered with digital crispness, and 'see' for yourself — or not…

Sadly, some of our earlier video work falls into the latter category; suffering from flat, unintelligible audio that was recorded using the built-in on-camera microphone in less-than-ideal conditions. Even if you can get past the ceaseless droning of the air conditioner running in the background, the fire truck passing down the street and the rustling of my clothing and bed sheets as the action got underway; the fact that my audio was much more of a distraction than an erotic benefit was all too obvious. While some of this noise is characteristic of 'real' amateur productions, it might be a bit "too real" for something you want folks to pay for.

Sure, better results might be obtained by using a small, camera-mounted 'shotgun' microphone (or "mic") when doing handheld adult POV-type shoots; but once you're more than a few feet away from the subject, the on-camera microphone's limitations render it a poor substitute for a better solution.

In more 'formal' setups, we've used hard-wired microphones on adjustable mic stands to get in closer to the action and deliver better sound under more controllable circumstances, but the space and set-up time needed makes this impractical for the quick "Hey, I feel like fucking, so grab the camera!" type of shooting that is the hallmark of amateur adult.

While pre-planning and executing more formal productions would allow for a blending of the on-camera and hard-wired microphones in a way that would deliver the best of both worlds as far as 'traditional' amateur porn goes, today's market and marketing methods mean that alternative techniques and technologies need to be explored.

For example, mainstream social networking websites such as MySpace can be great avenues for amateurs and other personalities to reach their existing audiences while attracting new ones; but these site's terms of service (TOS) typically bar adult material — making savvy marketers seek compelling, but not explicit, content to use on these venues.

Enter personality-driven content that could involve any number of scenarios outside of the typical bump-and-grind, and that may very well be filmed from a fairly considerable distance that could extend up to a few hundred feet away from the camera; depending on the set-up, location and content goals.

In these situations, neither camera-mounted nor wired microphones will do; what is needed is an additional asset in the production toolbox — a wireless microphone setup.

While there are many types of microphones available to handle nearly every conceivable audio recording situation, in some circumstances, only a decent wireless setup will work. Think of it as a "mini radio station" with a transmitter and a receiver.

There are actually several basic components to a wireless microphone setup, including a receiver mounted on or near the camera; the microphone itself; and depending on the type of microphone used, an external transmitter. Let's take a closer look:

Receivers do much of the heavy lifting, so to speak, and come in a variety of flavors including single and multiple channel units and "diversity" receivers that use dual antennas to pick up a single signal in hopes of obtaining a crisper signal.

Some receivers are quite small and lend themselves to camera mounting using a cold shoe, custom bracket or Velcro. Larger receivers can easily be mounted onto a tripod or monopod leg to improve balance. In either case, a cable will connect the receiver to your video camera's audio input; while having easy access to your channel selector switches and to adjustable antennas also needs to be considered when mounting your receiver.

For our purposes, compatible microphones include our standard handheld mics that were originally designed for use with cables but now use an add-on transmitter module; as well as handheld microphones with built-in transmitters. Better suited to interviewers in their handheld roles, these mics can be easily mounted on stand or booms.

Lavaliere mics, on the other hand, tend to be quite small and use an alligator clip to attach themselves to the subject's clothing — a major concern when your subject isn't wearing any clothing! These mics either come with a hard-wired transmitter (cheaper) or plug into a transmitter (better) — either way, the transmitter is typically around the size of a pack of cigarettes and worn on the subject's belt or otherwise concealed within the clothing.

As with all production hardware choices, your budget will play a big role in selecting a wireless system, with one of the biggest factors being the setup's operating frequencies — VHF systems are cheaper, but have less 'broadcast' power and thus shorter ranges, poorer signal quality, plus increased susceptibility to 'cross-talk' and other electronic interference; such as buzzing from certain lighting systems, taxi radios, garage door openers and other devices using the same bandwidth. UHF systems, on the other hand, while more expensive, are less prone to the problems of their lower-frequency cousins.

Evaluating my options, budget and content goals, I decided that using a small, readily concealed lavaliere mic that could easily be hidden, even under light clothing, was best. Since I wanted the option of running two microphones at the same time, I went with a dual channel receiver that had a built-in mixer and stereo output. Because we'd be out on location shooting in a wide variety of uncontrollable situations, I wanted the power of UHF and the choice of multiple frequencies to help ensure a clean, clear signal. Battery power was also a concern, as we'd be on the move and away from an electrical outlet.

Flexibility is also important to me, so I wanted to be able to configure my system to the day's production requirements; so the ability to use one or two 'lavs,' or a handheld mic and 'lav' together was a requirement.

These needs eliminated the bargain-basement systems, such as you might find at your local 'big box' electronics retailer; while the cost of high-end systems, which run into the thousands of dollars, was prohibitive.

As a result, I chose a mid-line system from Azden, a popular manufacturer of wireless products, well-known for their lower-end systems that are widely used by wedding and event videographers. The particular model I chose was the 200UPR, which is a discrete dual-channel UHF setup that can operate across 63 separate frequencies.

Larger, better built and better performing than its entry-level cousins, yet a fraction of the price of the company's high-end systems, I was able to score the 200UPR in a kit with two lavaliere mics from B&H Photo/Video in New York for around $600. Sure, a few hundred bucks more would have bought an even better system, but this one will perform well enough and met my budget — and since I need some new lighting too, the money I saved will go to a good cause — but that's a story for another day.

Maybe you'll want to use a wireless handheld mic mounted on a stand or boom just to get another wire off the floor and out of the way — or maybe you just want to be kinky and attach the alligator clip of a lavaliere microphone onto your subject's nipple to capture some authentic groans — but however you use them, quality wireless mics are a valuable part of every producer's kit and can take your productions to the next level.