Location Sound & Zaxcom

LOCATION SOUND & ZAXCOM

Real World Examples From the Field

Production workflows naturally evolve as technology advances over time. The days of recording dialog on single channel Nagras are long gone, and a slew of options using complex modern technology are available for the production sound mixer of today.

I recently worked on Season 1, Episode 9 of Boat Buyers for the Travel Channel using Zaxcom gear exclusively, and it was routinely part of our crew’s workflow in ways that I hope illustrate why I’ve chosen Zaxcom as my go-to gear for production sound mixing.

First, much of the show took place on fast moving boats out on the water, with our crew on one boat and our cast on another. The ability to remotely gain stage my transmitters using my digital recorder as an interface to communicate with the transmitters became paramount almost immediately. When the boats were still or moving slowly dialog was at normal levels, but as speeds increased dramatically dialog levels went through the roof. My digital recorder, a Zaxcom Nomad 12 has a proprietary 2.4 GHz network called ZaxNnet built into the machine which allows Zaxcom's line of digital recorders to communicate with their wireless devices. So when the boats sped up and things got loud I was easily able to adjust the cast’s transmitter levels remotely without having to get out of one boat and into another on open water in order to physically access their transmitters and make adjustments to prevent the transmitters from clipping. If a situation arose where I was unable to get within ZaxNet wireless range to remotely gain stage a specific transmitter, for example if I was on a follow boat that slipped out of range temporarily, I was then able to rely on Zaxcom’s NeverClip, which is a system that ensures an extremely high level of headroom in the sound files recorded directly to the transmitter onto an on board Micro SD card. NeverClip ensures that the files I’m delivering to editors directly from these transmitters are undistorted and clean, even when the situation in the field temporarily deteriorates.

In relation to on board recording, we also routinely sent a single camera operator off with the cast alone on a smaller boat that would not support other crew members on board, either from physical size or because the camera operator wanted to shoot parts of the boat which crew could not be seen standing in. Zaxcom Recording Wireless was used to record directly to the Micro SD cards on the TRX transmitters in these cases. It is important to note that those files are master files that are all timecode stamped and perfectly in sync with my master digital recorder and any cameras that have been timecode locked. This means that they fall directly in line with the established timecode heavy workflows that large post production teams have had in place for years. Here I'll note that I also use a ZaxNet capable device, Zaxcom's ERX2-TCD to receive continuously jammed TC from my digital recorder and send it to cameras along with a wireless reference track to one or both channels of the camera/s. What ZaxNet and Recording wireless transmitters allow me to do is essentially have a controlled communication and recording environment in the field, all accessible through the digital recorder in my hands.

I have come to trust the TRX transmitter recordings deeply after using them in extreme environments on multiple jobs ranging from extreme cold to extreme heat and physical shock, and because of those experiences I routinely use them as primary digital recorders. There is no backup to those files, and in my opinion none is needed. I can put the transmitters into Record mode remotely and then also remotely verify that the transmitters have indeed received the ZaxNet command and been put into Record mode by looking at my QRX receivers for the Record indicator on the receiver’s OLED screen. Once Record mode has been verified I know that even in the event of total power loss all of the transmitter files are being written in Zaxcom’s proprietary MARF file format, which is a robust file format that ensures I will not lose any audio in the event of a power failure. This gives me the confidence to allow talent out of wireless range for hours at a time without worry of batteries dying while out of my control. As it often goes with Zaxcom, each technological innovation in their equipment adds to the capability of the system as a whole. 

On scenes shot on much larger boats I was often on the same boat as cast but hidden in a stateroom below, or in the galley inside the boat while our camera crew and field producers were on another boat shooting directly at the boat me and the cast were on. In this way I was able to stay below and remotely gain stage and adjust talent transmitters as the boats came up to speed, allowing me to capture dialog in high SPL situations and then transition directly to normal speaking voices as the boats slowed down. The editors receiving my master sound files had less work to do in post, dailies and rough cuts from camera footage were much easier to view and my field producers had cleaner Comtek feeds for field production because of this capability.

In this episode there is also a scene of our cast members driving their vehicle while discussing the type of vessel they might want to buy. This scene is a great example of my improvement in workflow speed and something my field producers learn to rely on. The reason is that the transmitters are recording directly to Micro SD in this scene with cast well out of wireless range, however when the scene ends and cast shows up back on location in their car I’m still wearing my sound bag and rolling, and I’m able to transition out of that scene directly into the next one without pause. In other words, they can get out of the car and walk right into the next scene to perform another action without any break whatsoever. In this way our team can capture moments that would have to be split and staged if I had to go to the vehicle to retrieve my sound bag.

Another extreme benefit on Boat Buyers was the ability to remotely change frequencies of the cast transmitters. We were on boats moving long distances through the water, and although rare, more than once I did have to change frequencies on one or more talent transmitters if we moved from one location to another when distances turned from a few hundred yards to many nautical miles. But when I did have to change frequencies I would simply ask for a few moments from my team if required and then proceed to scan for clean frequencies on my receiver, plug the data into FreqFinder to prevent intermodulation issues and then change the required cast’s transmitter to the desired frequency remotely using Zaxnet, all without physically touching any cast or moving off of my vessel onto theirs.

The producers and camera teams I work with come to understand the capabilities my equipment affords our team, and I am routinely called again and again for jobs which require my workflows and technical ability to provide them with content that is unable to be captured in other ways. As I mentioned earlier, each of Zaxcom's innovations over time adds to the overall system capability and allows the production sound mixer to implement complex workflows in a controlled manner, yielding excellent results from the field.

For the purposes of real world demonstration as it relates to this episode of Boat Buyers, I have chosen to focus on Zaxcom Wireless. In combination, Zaxcom Wireless along with their line of digital recorders and other support equipment provide a robust technological platform that has changed the way I, and many other sound mixers work.  

All location dialog for Boat Buyers Season 1, Episode 9 was recorded using Zaxcom wireless and Zaxcom digital recorders using many of the methods described above. For questions or comments, please reach out to me using the contact form on this website.