Friday, August 30, 2013

IDX NP-7LS Battery- Back From the Dead

    It's a shame when a high quality Lithium-ion rechargeable dies. Throw one away, and there's a lot of sophisticated charging technology you're throwing away with it.
    NP-1's are popular rechargeable batteries for location sound applications. They were originally created for powering professional cameras and VTR's.
    Today, a Lithium-ion NP-1's costs about  US$ 180 to $225, depending on brand.  In the Li-Ion category, chargers and batteries are typically not compatible across brands.
    New cells for the NP-1's can be purchased individually for about eight dollars each. But creating a reliably-soldered series-parallel pack for an NP-1 is probably more trouble than its worth.
    I picked up a couple of VariZoom brand NP-1's before realizing they are not compatible with my IDX chargers. The IDX will charge them partially before exhibiting a fault condition. So the VariZooms collected dust on my shelf.
    Then I was given some IDX NP-7LS NP-1's that had been purchased but never used. About 8 years old, they would not accept a charge. So off to the shelf they go.
   What follows is a happy marriage between the two brands, and a couple of like-new IDX NP-1's for me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Porter Ridge" latest in Redneck Reality wave, impresses!

New reality show -Porter Ridge (Discovery). In the steaming-pile-of-shit category (my professional milieu), Porter Ridge fares well. The dialogue, fed line-by-line to the cast from behind camera, appears almost natural and un-parotted. The lead cast member, entirely boom mic'd (due to lack of a shirt), sounds almost as good (or bad) as the lavs on the remaining ensemble. Lots of explosions. Recommend.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Time lapse Deva Fusion Multitrack breakdown, repair assemble

After a recent rainy shoot, fader #3 started behaving erratically. The fading action would jump around, regardless of the fader's position. I ordered a new pot and replaced the fader, but this did not cure the problem. Going back in, I re-soldered the new pot and also re-soldered a past repair on fader #3, which was probably the issue,a Surface mount resistor. I don't have a proper SM soldering iron, so I had to wing it with a pinpoint soldering tip. Normal soldering tips can obliterate an SM component and the surrounding traces. 
by Pete Verrando

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

R Matte Plus 3 Sun reflector solution for cooling hot 2nd floor in summer. Flat roof home in Dallas Texas

Many N. Texas homes like mine have "attic" type 2nd floors. Commonly known as a "1 1/2 story," The 2nd level is fully finished out with 3 bedrooms and 1 bath.  But the tax rolls define it as a 1 story house.

 The 2nd story has a 7.5' ceiling.  The 2nd level roof  is flat and has a tiny attic space. Since the entire house is cooled by a single 5-ton air conditioner,  the 2nd floor gets uncomfortably warmer in summer, and the AC runs less effeciently.

2 summers ago, I purchased 18 sheets of R Matte Plus 3 aluminum-sided foam sheathing from Home Depot, for about $8 a sheet.  I placed them shiny side up on the flat portion of the roof. The panels are weighed down with strategically placed bricks. In the fall, I stack the panels up in the center of the roof, cover them in a tarp, and weigh the stack down with the bricks. To deploy or stack the sheets takes only about an hour. 

I know the panels may well blow off in very high winds, but the home is in a valley and surrounded by high trees, so the odds are with the panels. This scheme has reduced my home cooling costs considerably, and has equalized the upstairs temperature to the downstairs in summertime. I wish I had started doing it 20 years ago!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Car-to-Car with Lectro's SMV

   Recently, I was on a shoot following bounty hunters around a city every night for about 10 days. Both cars worked together, with two hunters in each. Each car had a camera operator inside,  and both "hunters" were mic'd with Lectro SMV's , transmitting directly to an SRb 2-channel receiver on the camera. 

    Camera mic was on channel 3/4.  Now the fun part-   a plant mic was placed in the car's headliner dead center, and fed to an external SMv transmitter on each car. Both SMv's at 250mw full power, and taking 12 volts  from each car's cigar lighter. Our follow vehicle had two Lectro SNA-600 dipoles mounted about 12" above the roof on fiberglass poles, feeding a Venue Field inside the van. The Field received the 4 officer's wireless, & the two plant mic wireless.  

Rubber band pulls transmit antenna away from car to maximze range. Fixed to glass with heavy-duty Velcro.

Transmitter  then covered in gaff tape 

Follow vehicle SNA-600 antennas fed a Lectrosonics Venue Field inside. 

On the road, the follow vehicle could reliably  hear those plant mics  up to 1/2 mile away from the hunter cars-  sometimes more in the countryside!  In the city, we would routinely loose the cars in traffic, but could usually still hear them.   This made for great follow vehicle IFB, & two clear recorded tracks of car interior when bad guys were loaded in the car. 

-by Pete Verrando

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Good Old Days of Nagra 4.2 and 16mm Film

This was an industrial film for The Associates, basically loan-sharks in hi-rise offices. Cameraman Bob Tullier is in the bag, loading 16mm magazines for his Cinema Products CP-16 motion picture camera. We called it "Sherm", short for Sherman Tank, which is what the noise sounded like from the camera body. I have a Nagra 4.2 full track mono recorder there. The mic was a Sennheiser 816. I am wearing shorts, but this was 1986 (I'm 26 here). Bob and I went to college together, graduating about 1983. So this is us making real money. Thanks, Bob, for hiring me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mailbag- SRb versus SRa+ Huh?

From the mailbag!  Keep those cards and letters coming!

Dave, from Sydney Austrailia, writes:

 I'm considering buying an upgrade SRa (serial # is above 105...)
Are yours upgraded? How have they performed? Do you know if they have the 6 layer board?
"The 80% improvement RF board is 17378-K. The full SRb board is 17378-L"



Hi Dave!
I never owned 1st generation SRa's so I don't have anything to compare, but I've heard that range on those early SRa's was pretty bad. That's why everybody started buying RF amplifiers and sharkfin antennas to hang off their bags. 

Now that the SRb's are available, those RF amps and Sharkfins will probably overload the front-ends of the SRb's. Ha ha. 

Update: I just took delivery on a used SRa- that is pre serial# 105...  Before I get it upgraded, I want to do some comparisons between it and my post-105 SRa's,.. Range tests are pretty simple, but selectivity comparisons are difficult to simulate and measure. I'll probably just take their word on it, and continue to do good freq. coordination. 

All the best!
Pete Verrando
Dallas TX

Hi Pete
Good to hear about your experience. I'll test a 'post-105' or 'SRa+' (as Larry F named it) around town if the dealer will let it out for a day or two. Keen to hear how your comparisons go as well pre and post upgrade.


Hi Dave!
Today I did a walk test comparison of my  SRa to an "SRa+". (same block) I used one SMV transmitter and tuned channel 1 on both receivers to the transmit frequency. I first noticed the open SRa 2nd channel (coordinated) was much more susceptible to swamping when the  transmitter for channel 1 comes too close. The SRa+ showed no evidence of swamping on the 2nd, open channel.  

In a walk test, the two receivers were pretty close in range in open air, but when I placed the transmitter inside a vehicle, the SRa lost it entirely, while the SRa+ was showing about 50% signal level. 

Cheers! (Except I have a vodka martini in my hand)
The saga continues....

-by Pete Verrando

Lectro's New SRb Receiver Antenna Distro WTF

When Lectrosonics released their SR, a dual channel wireless receiver, sound mixers seized the opportunity to load unprecedented piles of these receivers in their sound bags.  The SR's original design, however, and a host of RF interference issues from neighboring gear in their "bags", left sound guys scratching their heads.

These receivers were supposed to be equivalent in performance to Lectro's 401 receivers. Except they weren't. And they were even farther away in RF performance from Lectro's top line 411a.

The SR receivers were less sensitive than the 401's, meaning reduced working distance from the transmitters. And in UHF, working distance is not a linear thing. One could have excellent reception at 40 feet, then the signal disappears at 42 feet !

Those guys who invested heavily in the first SRa's (version with removable antennas) were forced to load their packages down with RF amplifiers and gain-based antennas, to overcome the range issue. Basically, they force-fed amplified signals into the SRa's antenna jacks. Which creates another bunch of problems, but what the hell.

Gavage for the SRa Receiver
Months later, Lectro re-designs the RF board of the SR, bringing the RF performance much closer to the original claims. The SRb was introduced, and Lectro has a very generous upgrade policy for all those hapless mixers who invested heavily in the SRa.

However, now you have guys with piles of antennas, amplifiers, and combiners in their package. And they are chomping at the bit to plug that mess into their SRb's.

Now, that the SRb is a more sensitive receiver, and I bet it is not going to like all that amplified RF being force-fed into the antenna jacks.  The SRb is a much-improved design, but physics is physics, and receivers will squawk like a goose destined for Foie Gras when fed too much RF.  Wait and see.

-by Pete Verrando

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fusion teardown to remove faceplate dirt

Poor R3. Explanation below. 
The Zaxcom Fusion series of touch-screen multitrack recorders are designed for field use, but after a few months, dirt accumulation around the touch-screen can impede functionality. I've torn-down my Fusion to clean the dirt accumulation, and took some photos to document the process. This is more of a documentation, and less of a how-to. I disavow any responsibility to those who attempt to use this as a guide.

There's also some rules broken here that I normally don't break.  I should have had an nice ice-tray to keep all the nuts and bolts organized. I should have also cleaned up my bench before starting ! Also, one should be very careful around Surface-Mount circuit boards as the miniscule components can break off with an errant bump of a screwdriver, and you'll never be the wiser, until you've re-assembled the machine and something doesn't work.

After the main cover is removed, the Fusion presents thusly:
All the knobs get removed as well. Then there's the business of removing the faceplate from the body, attached with side screws. The multi-pin connectors on the back of the faceplate need to be carefully loosened and disconnected.
There's also a pair of wires that must be disconnected from the mic-input board- these are for the slate mic. The connector can be carefully loosened off the input board with a small screwdriver.
The slate mic connector is the small white one right under the 25pin d-sub.
The red-black wires at the bottom are the slate mic wires. The connector is right above the headphone jack.

The front panel, still hanging on by the slate mic wires. 
Once the frontplate is disconnected from the box, the gentle operation of removing the nuts surrounding the circuit board can proceed. A nut driver is preferred. If you use a pair of needle-nose pliers, you risk slipping off the nuts, and crashing into one of the surface-mount components, breaking it. Like I did. 
Lucky I know how to solder surface-mount components. I wacked into R3, very close to a nut. 
For God's sake, use a nut-driver, not a pair of needle-nose, like I did.
Once all the nuts are removed, hold the assembly faceplate-up  for separating the circuit board from the aluminum front plate. If you have it circuit-board up, the LCD screen will fall out of its holder, and hang by its ribbon cable, which is unsettling. So hold it faceplate up and separate the pieces carefully:

Here is the circuit board with the faceplate off. Be very careful, the surface-mount components on the underside are fragile!
The LCD screen will fall right out of its holder, so handle it carefully. At this point I removed all the dirt that accumulated on the screen edges, between the buttons, and around the potentiometers. 
Dirt accumulates/sticks to the edges of the screen.
Dirt surrounding the pot shafts
Dirt around the edges/at bottom of button assembly
And most importantly, I scraped off the sludge that adheres to the underside of the faceplate:
After cleaning, re-assembly is easiest by holding the parts vertically, so the LCD screen doesn't fall out of its holder, and the screws can be lined up through the holes of the circuit board. Then, flipping it over like a sandwich,  All the nuts can then be carefully tightened on the component size of the circuit board.  Careful around those SMT components!!!
Re-assembly is the reverse of disassembly, but it is difficult to get the slate mic connector back on its pins. The easiest way to do this is by loosening the DB25 d-sub output connector, and pushing it in the box. This creates an access hole to push on the slate mic connector. You can also see me adjusting the potentiometer for the audio level of the slate mic. My level arrived from the factory very hot. 
I fully test the machine before final re-assembly, I want no surprises on the job. Remember- in my first attempt, I bumped a pair of pliers into R3, a tiny surface-mount resistor. I didn't realize my error until testing, when fader #3 refused to post fade.  Magnifiers and a steady solder-hand were required to find this problem and repair it.  If I had used the right tools, I'd have saved a bunch of time. 
Maybe I should build a one-room apartment in there...
Even after cleaning up the dirt accumulation under the faceplate, a single dusty/dirty shoot can restart the ingress of dirt inside the recorder. Using fingers, a firm and gentle pushing down of the LCD from all four corners will often free the debris. I believe Zaxcom has recently added a machining process to the aluminum surrounding the LCD to minimize this problem. Of course, if your machine lives on a cart, dirt accumulation is less of a problem. However I just finished a bag job, hog hunting in the Rio Grande. I'm sure I've brought home some of that good red clay inside my Fusion!

-by Pete Verrando

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vox Populi

An interesting thread has emerged on Facebook's "Freelance Sound Mixers & Recordists for TV/Film" regarding VER.  It is a interesting dialogue that speaks to the constant flux of our industry.  It harks back to the days when the major studios provided equipment for sound mixers, until mixers had the audacity to purchase equipment and charge rentals to those productions. 

I see the existence of Jeff's forum, and the Facebook forum, as roughly separated by the old guard/new guard. Yet thankfully, both exist in each. However, the mass-production methods of reality TV has drawn a youthful, albeit impressive voice, high in number, as evidenced in the Facebook forum. They face many of the same challenges as the old guard faced 30-40 years ago. 

If any of our senior members can speak to the days when mixers broke away from the standard of studio gear provision, it may shed some light on today's marketplace, and the distinctions of value and service that we are all obliged to honor. 

Indeed, please speak to any aspect of this interesting discussion.  

The mixer forum on Facebook is open to anyone. Look for the recent thread started by Joshua Baggett. 

-Pete Verrando

Friday, February 1, 2013