Better audio for #DSLR beginners

Better DSLR Audio
Better DSLR Audio

Here’s an understatement for you… “DSLRs are all lacking on the microphone side of things”. There shouldn’t really be any surprises here as they were never designed to capture proper sound alongside their stonkingly good pictures. You’d therefore be a little naive to think you’ll be getting anything other than a crappy, inaudible and muddled soundtrack by relying on their internal mic solution. It’s naff – totally – well maybe just OK as a guide track for linking up pictures in post with your externally recorded soundtrack.

For years serious sound recordists have even mocked those who used proper video cameras with their relatively sophisticated on-board microphones. You can imagine the sniggering that went on when the DSLR hit the scene with their invisible in-built mics and users started moaning about the awful sound they were getting. What a surprise!

Cam with myk
Better DSLR audio

Unfortunately, curing the sound problem isn’t just a case of plugging in a better quality microphone. Circuitry noise in these cameras is heightened by in-built and over active AGC (Audio Gain Control) which boosts the recording level during quieter moments of recording – and in doing so introduces the hissy pre-amp noise. Some later cameras overcome this and there are also modifications such as Magic Lantern which enable you to override the AGC (as well as many other shortcomings on DSLRs).

These shortcomings generated a whole new market in DSLR sound accessories – including camera-top mics, under-camera mixers and external recording devices to fulfil part or, collectively, all of the audio misgivings of DSLRs. Many chose to separate the audio recording process from the camera altogether – but then you’re left with an additional stage in post of bringing the pictures and sound back together (albeit that there are clever bits of software to do this for you).

Australian manufacturer, MyMyk, has recently added to this bunch of solutions with a compact, low profile camera top mic (Smartmyk) and an equally compact adapter (Smartlynk) that has more than one trick up its sleeve. Both can be used independently and both bring new features to the photographer or videographer looking to up their audio recording capabilities.

MyMyk Smartmyk

The first thing that strikes you about the Smartmyk is its size and profile. Attached directly to the DSLR via a cold-shoe connector with its own coiled cable stereo mini-jack, it adds very little to the overall weight of your rig. The low profiling is also neat as it takes up little room on a fully pimped-up DSLR and doesn’t get in the way of the cameras main controls.

SmartMyk
The SmartMyk running bareback on your DSLR

The condenser-type mic has a shotgun directional response. It’s long, thin interference tube helps eliminate off-axis sound – whilst basic wind protection is offered via the slip-on foam cover. To overcome camera handling and any camera motor noise the mic pickup is isolated from the camera body via an internal synthetic rubber shock-mount system. Power is provided by a standard 3V watch cell-type battery which will give around 40hours operation.

There are two basic controls on the rear of the mic – namely an on/off switch and a three position gain switch (+15dB / 0dB / -15dB). This enables you to adjust the output from the mic to match your recording device or camera.

MyMyk Smartlynk

Smartlynk is very compact mic mixer and output device that can be fitted to the cold-shoe connector on top of your DSLR – with an additional cold-shoe mounting slot on top to add your Smartmyk. Again, the unit is extremely lightweight and will add very little to your overall rig – even with the Smartmyk attached.

Smartlynk
Smartlynk giving you additional control

Powered by two AAA batteries (providing around 30-hrs of use), the Smartlynk gives you two mini-jack mic inputs – each with independent level adjustment. The unit provides three outputs including a headphone output, a mic-level output and an APP output (which I will go into more detail in a mo). There are two main controls on the rear of the unit – ‘AGC Block’ and ‘Main Output’.

The AGC Block utility overcomes the AGC issue on DSLRs by sending an inaudible tone down the left channel of the output which stops the AGC within the camera from hunting for a signal and increasing input level (and thereby increasing the hissy noise) in quieter environments.

The Main Output switch has three positions – ‘Off’, ‘Mix’ and ‘Split’. In the Mix position the unit will take the mixed input from both mics and send them to all three outputs. In the Split position the signal from Mic 1 is sent to the Mic output and the signal from Mic 2 is sent to the APP output.

Smartlynk connections
The in’s, out’s and control of Smartlynk

The APP output is designed to work in conjunction with the MyMyk Camera Audio App for iOS (about £3 I think). Connecting the supplied 4-pole mini-jack cable (TRRS) to an Apple device (iPhone/iPad/iPod etc) you can record the output from the Smartlynk (either Split or Mix) and then add recording notes, geotag information and export the audio files back out for further processing and editing. The APP connector has a two-pole switch which enables you to alter between monitoring the input to the App or playback from the App through Smartlynk’s monitor output.

Conclusions

The untested MyMyk App
The untested MyMyk App

As an Android user I wasn’t able to test the iOS App but if it works as stated then it will add another really useful dimension to this combination. The benefits of having a secondary recording of your mixed sound are easy enough to understand, but the added benefit of being able to split the sound coming from the two mic inputs off to two separate recording devices would be a great advantage. Unfortunately there is no news on this App being available to Android users – which is a real shame as I don’t think I’ve yet experienced the best bit about the MyMyk combination.

There’s no doubt that the Smartmyk on its own is a massive improvement over the in-built mics found in DSLRs and would therefore be an excellent option for the relative video newbie. However, it’s not the best mic in the world and, apart from its clever compact design, offers little to those who already have a reasonable collection of quality microphones. Compared to my RODE video mic it seemed to me to be quite tinny and not as responsive to low frequency sounds.

The unit I had for review was quiet susceptible to wind noise. I understand that this is partly addressed by an optional Rycote softie but in my tests the wind noise could be heard when gently blowing on the side of the main body of the mic and not just at the pickup end. Looking at the MyMyk website the Rycote softie only covers the interference tube so the wind hitting the side of the body of the Smartmyk will still be an issue.

Also, whilst the pickup pattern is described as directional the mic also picks up a fair bit of sound from the back of the unit. Talking to MyMyk about this it is apparently a design feature to enable the camera operator to add narration whist filming – but that’s such an infrequent requirement that this drawback would totally outweigh its limited benefit.

Using a combination of both these products will certainly address the common audio shortcomings of your DSLR – and at the same time add some really useful benefits too if you can utilise the iOS App. You can of course feed whatever self-powered mics you already have into the Smartlynk which in itself is a useful addition to any DSLR user.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: More information is available from www.proav.co.uk

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