The new generation of Sony wireless audio solutions in the UWP-D11 range are amazing additions to the modern camera professionals tool kit. Professional quality audio acquisition is a must for professional video, and the lack of one, or one of so-so quality can easily make or break a video production regardless of budget.
Years ago, such quality was usually reserved for higher-end productions, however today Sony are offering a tremendous value and quality to last you years to come and elevate your work to a new level. Whether you are shooting with the Sony PXW-FS7, or X70 or camcorders or DSLR's from other manufacturers, the UWP-D11 will delivery crisp, clean and robust professional audio for your productions, leaving you to focus on delivering great images.
Sony's UWP-D Series Introduction Video
Renowned DoP, Alister Chapman, who has been doing amazing work reviewing professional video equipment over at xdcam-user.com for the past few years, shares his experience using the new UWP-D range of radio mics and how the clever new features combine together into an even smaller and neater package, giving improved dynamic range and natural sounding audio, even in remote locations.
Check out his review and experience with the UPW-D11 wireless system below:
Choosing the right microphone for the job
For many years I have been happily using Sony’s previous generation UWP-V series radio microphones. These radio mics served me very well, getting carted all over the world from the Arizona Desert to Arctic Norway. They never let me down. So really I was in no rush to replace them. However when I was shown some of the neat features of the new UWP-D range of radio mics, I decided to get the UWP-D11 kit. This comprises a belt pack transmitter with a lavalier microphone, and a belt pack receiver that comes with belt clips and a camera mounting bracket.
As a cameraman, I find microphones a pretty boring subject. But you know what? Audio is just as important as your pictures – some would say more important. Poor quality sound can really ruin an otherwise decent shot. Choosing the right microphone for the job is important: better still, bring in a sound recordist to look after the sound while you concentrate 100% on the pictures.
Sadly however the reality on many of the shoots I’m involved with is that there isn’t the budget for a ‘soundie’. Nor is there the time or space to set up mic stands and fish poles with gun mics. What’s needed is something simple, quick and easy. This is where the ubiquitous radio mic comes into play.
No more cables to snag!
You can clip a lavalier (tie clip) mic on to your subject quickly and easily. There are no cables to snag, and if you want you can do walking/talking shots. I think most camera crews will own at least one radio mic kit.
But radio mics are traditionally a compromise. For years they have used old-fashioned FM radio to send the signal to the receiver… and this has a limited dynamic range and can be prone to noise and hiss. If your budget is big enough you can get around this with a pure digital radio mic system like Sony’s excellent DWX series. The DWX microphones use digital transmission to eliminate hiss. But much as I’d love a DWX system, for the type of work I do they are overkill.
So I wasn’t sure about the UWP-D concept – a hybrid digital mic that uses digital processing combined with traditional FM transmission. That is until I got to play with one.
Compact without sacrificing build quality
The first thing I noticed was the size. The UWP-D series is quite a bit smaller than previous generations without sacrificing build quality. They are made from rugged aluminium alloy. The next obvious thing is the size of the LCD display, it’s much larger, clearer and easier to read. It has a backlight on a timer so it’s easy to see even if you’re working in the dark. The other external differences are a little less obvious, but just as important.
On the bottom of the belt pack receiver there is a special new docking port that can be used to dock the microphone to an adapter for use with many of Sony’s video cameras. The docking port connects the receiver to a cradle. This then plugs in to the MI (Multi-Interface) Shoe that’s now present on a very wide range of Sony cameras, from the A7s to the consumer AX100 and the new XDCAM PXW series – such as the PXW-X70 and Sony PXW-X160 or X180. When you use this cradle the mic is powered by the camera, and the audio passes directly to the camera via the adapter. No more cables to snag! Being able to power the mic from the camera is hugely beneficial on longer shoots or in remote locations.
If your camera doesn’t have an MI shoe then all is not lost, as next to the special docking port there is also a micro USB socket. You can use this socket to power the radio mic from almost any standard USB type power supply such as a phone charger. Many cameras have powered USB ports on them – or you can get D-Tap to USB adapters. So there are lots of ways to power these mics. The belt pack transmitter is the same: it too has a micro USB port that can be used to charge the mic’s batteries if you use NiMH rechargeables.
While I’m talking about the transmitter, it’s worth noting that this can be switched between mic and line level inputs. So if you need to take a remote feed from an audio desk you shouldn’t have any audio level issues – as can often be the case with transmitters that only accept mic level.
Clever features – A true diversity receiver that prevents audio dropouts
Back to the receiver. It’s a true diversity receiver with two antennas. Now, many radio mics have two antennas, but this one actually has two independent receiver sections. The unit automatically switches extremely rapidly to the receiver that’s getting the best signal.
This prevents those annoying momentary audio dropouts that can occur in buildings due to signal reflections and other interference. On the top of the receiver there’s a locking 3.5mm jack for the main balanced output, and next to that is a secondary headphone output that could also be used to feed a second camera if needed.
The UWP-D radio mics have some clever features. The most useful to me is the ability to have the receiver scan for a clear and unused channel. Once it has found a clear channel it can set the frequency of the transmitter to match the receiver via infrared. This takes just moments to do, and is so much easier than messing around trying to manually enter channel numbers or frequencies. Once your frequency’s set, you can if you wish set the transmitter to a low power setting to make the batteries last longer. Although I do find that a set of good quality AA batteries will reliably give me a solid, non-stop half day’s use anyway.
Improved dynamic range resulting in natural sound
So what about the ‘D’ bit in the UWP-D name? To get decent quality sound from an FM radio mic the audio from the transmitter is compressed, making it possible to transmit a wide dynamic range over a single FM channel. Then in the receiver the audio is expanded to restore a natural sound range. This process is called a ‘compander’ (Compression Expander).
Traditional systems do this with basic analogue circuits, but in the UWP-D series the compander is digital. This results in improved dynamic range, allowing the mic to better handle transient sounds like claps, clicks and pops. The audio just sounds more natural. I also find that I have less hiss from these mics than my previous ones.
On the surface the UWP-D may only seem like a small upgrade over the previous UWP-V series. But the improvements are many, and when combined together into this even smaller and neater package it makes them a worthwhile upgrade. Having used them for a little while now, I find them much more convenient and the audio really does sound better. I’m really pleased with them.
For all your Sony Wireless mic needs or queries, feel free to contact our Audio specialists at 0208 977 1222.