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Audio Mixers for DSLR Production--UPDATED 5/20/13

External audio mixers make it easy to adapt XLR mic and line-level sources to the audio inputs on DSLRs. The juicedLink Riggy Assist series of audio mixers are intended to adapt various microphones to be used with DSLRs. They can also provide additional features like phantom power and metering. The Riggy Assist does all this and more.

UPDATED 5/20/13--See page 4 of this article to read about some new issues that arose in further use of the juicedLink on shoots over the last few weeks.

There are many audio mixers that can be used with DSLRs. Some people even use external audio recorders and feed the output of those recorders to their DSLR. I have an external audio recorder, and have found it cumbersome to use on my DSLR shoots because it’s not designed to work with a secondary, external recording device. I also did not want to manage two sets of files for every clip, or have to worry about starting and stopping two devices for every single shot I wanted to record.

I also know videographers why use tiny recorders and place them on the person being recorded. I just can't operate that way because I can’t monitor the audio while I shoot and thus I don't know if what I’m capturing is good. The best time to fix a problem is when you're there in the moment. And with audio, you have to hear it to be able to know there's a problem.

Why juicedLink?

Among the various audio mixers on the market, I decided to try the juicedLink mixers because I had heard many audio tests comparing them to other mixers and they always sounded good. Moreover, the juicedLink mixers are compact and they offered many of the features I wanted.

I specifically asked for the Riggy Assist RA333 for my DSLR because one of the issues I constantly face is juggling audio inputs. I prefer to shoot most video with a stereo microphone. This is not an issue with a camcorder that has forward-facing microphones that provide a clean stereo soundstage.

How I Record Audio: DSLRs vs. Camcorders

Some DSLRs have only a mono internal microphone, or put the microphones on top of the camera. My Panasonic GH2 has stereo microphones on top of the camera--meaning that it hears from behind as well as in front. This has always bothered me. The soundstage clearly lacks the directionality I want.

I also like to use a very directional shotgun microphone or a lavaliere microphone (wired or wireless) for on-camera interviews. This provides the closest, best audio I can get in an event/documentary-type production.

If I were using a camcorder with built-in mics and plugged in a wireless to the XLR jacks, I would use the camcorder’s controls to switch between the internal and external audio sources as I needed them. I'd use the camcorder's dials to easily ride the audio based on the camcorder's meters to ensure good audio levels. And I'd use the headphone jack to listen to the audio the microphones were providing to ensure it was clean audio, not marred by wireless "hits," wind noise, or popping. A DSLR has none of this.

How the juicedLink Benefits My DSLR Audio Setup

The RA333 has three mic inputs (below) so I can connect all my mics and leave them connected. I need only to turn down the left channel of my stereo microphone, and turn up my wireless lav.

juicedLink RA333

Three mic inputs

My DSLR has meters in the camera. These are very well done and surprisingly accurate. I picked the RA333 because it also has meters and these could provide an alternate assessment of my audio levels.

While many of the latest DSLRs have headphone jacks, mine does not. So the only way to know the quality of the audio going to the camera is by using a set of headphones to monitor it. The RA333 has a headphone jack that lets me directly assess the audio as it goes to my camera.

As long as I hear clean audio, and the camera meters don't show clipping, I know I'm good. If your camera lacks meters, you can go through a process where you adjust the RA333's meters to accurately reflect where clipping is on your camera, and then you can reliably use the RA333's meters to assess your audio levels.

Related Articles
This article and accompanying (hear it for yourself) video will compare the results of capturing audio with a $20 Audio-Technica wired lavaliere mic and a $200 professional mic from Sony directly into a DSLR. Is the $200 Sony really worth the 10x cost?