From Tips.NewTek by Allan Tépper Perhaps you own—or are strongly considering getting—a TriCaster Mini. Either way, you know that TriCaster Mini is a powerhouse production system in a box, and that you can connect it to virtually any set of HDMI cameras for live webcasting and/or live-to-disk recording. However, it may not be so obvious how to create your audio setup. In this three-part series, I’ll cover:
- Part I: The acoustic environment, types of microphones, IFBs
- Part II: On Air lights, audio mixers, audio monitors, and snake cables
- Part III: Taking live telephone calls, sidetone, mix-minus
Acoustic EnvironmentFor ideal results, your TV studio, set, or wherever the action takes place should be acoustically “dead”. In audio terms, “dead” means without echo or reverberation. This is the case in general, but even more when there are to be multiple microphones that are “open” (on) simultaneously. Although the most directional microphones isolate sounds to a certain degree, when the “spill” of one person speaking hits multiple microphones both directly and indirectly (bouncing off of the walls, ceiling, and floor), the compound effect of audio spill gets even worse. That’s why if your desired location is not already acoustically dead, you should strongly consider installing acoustic absorption panels on the walls and ceiling. They are available from multiple manufacturers including Auralex, Primacoustic, and SONEX, and are probably available from the same NewTek authorized dealer where you purchased (or are planning to purchase) your TriCaster. If you are still in the process of building walls, you might consider using a sheetrock alternative called QuietRock. In fact, Creo Productions from Grand Rapids, Michigan, US used 5/8″ QuietRock, as you’ll see here in an impressive testimonial. If the environment is nearly impossible to treat acoustically and/or filled with background sound—e.g. an indoor basketball court or another similar venue—then you should consider very close and directional microphones, like broadcast headsets for your on-camera talent, as explained in more detail later in this article. Another important detail to keep in mind is that for best results, the studio or set should be acoustically isolated from the “control room” where the TriCaster, director, and producer are located.
TriCaster Mini Audio Connectivity
Audio InputsAs you may have read on the NewTek website or in my initial 3-page article in ProVideo Coalition magazine, TriCaster Mini has a single balanced microphone input which is 1/4-inch TRS (Tip/Ring/Sleeve), and a pair of balanced line-level inputs (i.e. a stereo pair), also balanced TRS 1/4”. If you want to use more than a single microphone, you’ll likely be adding an external audio mixer to augment the internal one in the TriCaster Mini. You can take the stereo balanced output of an external audio mixer and send it into the TriCaster Mini. Although a balanced connection is ideal, it is not an absolute requirement that your mixer have a balanced output: you can alternatively send unbalanced line level (or even microphone level) and it will work. The ideal input level is +4dBU (broadcast line level), but it will accept lower (consumer line level) with no problem if your audio mixer doesn’t have balanced or only offers consumer level. Fortunately, the three reference audio mixers I recommend in this article offer both balanced and broadcast level line audio. In addition to the analog audio inputs mentioned, TriCaster Mini can also accept embedded audio over HDMI from each connected camera, if desired. If you are sure that your cameras have good audio quality using their internal microphones or external microphone input—and you only need as many microphones as cameras—you could potentially avoid having to purchase any external audio mixer. However, that approach won’t work if you want to take live phone calls from an analog telephone connection, and will lack other features that I cover in detail in this article. Finally, just as with other TriCaster models, TriCaster Mini can accept audio (and video) via either of its two Network inputs. They are named Net1 and Net2 by default, but you can rename either or both.
- 2 HDMI outputs (together with the video)
- 2 x 1/4” (6.35 mm) balanced TRS line outputs (left & right)
- 1/4” (6.35 mm) stereo headphone jack
- Network RJ-45 Ethernet output (for live streaming, together with video)
MicrophonesDepending upon the type of live program you have in mind, you might use any combination of lavalier (shown below), handheld, desktop, head-mounted, or boom microphones. In fact, RØDE makes an accessory called Lav-Headset (shown above) that converts lavaliere microphones into head-mounted microphones. The choice among those are both esthetic and practical. Any of those microphone styles may be either wired or wireless. Wired microphones are considered to be more reliable yet more restrictive to movement. On the other hand, wireless microphones can be less reliable (more likely to fail or require adjustments), but offer the convenience of freedom of movement. Boom microphones require an experienced and agile operator to follow the action. Boom microphones are also more challenging to your lighting. Wired microphones exist as balanced analog, unbalanced analog, and USB digital. For a live TV show, all of the wired microphones should be analog and balanced for best results and to avoid interference, hum, and RF (radio frequency) susceptibility.
Wired balanced microphones typically terminate in a three-pin XLR plug, as shown above.Whether microphones are wired or wireless, they are often available as omnidirectional or directional. One popular type of a directional microphone is called cardioid or heart-shaped. Directional microphones are much more resistant to audio spill (described earlier), although their positioning is much more critical.
IFBsIFB is an acronym which stands for interruptible foldback, although some call it interruptible feedback, interrupted feedback, or interrupted foldback. It refers to a monitoring and cueing system used in television, filmmaking, video production, and radio broadcast for one-way communication from the director or producer to the on-air talent. In television production, the on-air talent typically listens to the IFB signal through a nearly invisible earpiece like the example shown above from a Clear-Com IFB system, unless the on-air talent is using a broadcast headset (see the example above of the BPHS1 from Audio Technica), since they include built-in headphones. If they are using an isolating headset (one designed to isolate background sound), then they must hear program audio in order to be able to interact with others, interruptedby any cues from the directors or producers. In the next part of this article, you’ll learn yet another potential purpose for the IFB you might want to use.
- On-Air lights, audio mixers, audio monitors, and snake cables
- Taking live telephone calls, sidetone, mix minus