Hear today, hear tomorrow

I often film parties as part of the events I cover. Parties have bands and acts, and bands and acts have PA stacks, and PA (Public Address – speaker) stacks make a good place to get shots because not many people are stupid enough to stand in the veritable breeze of moving air beside these things. That’s right, I’m stupid.

So here’s a plea to fellow videographers: think about your hearing, and look after it.

Ever been in a loud environment to shoot, then later feel that your ears are still a bit numb or ringing a bit? That’s damage. That’s permanent hearing damage. So says any hearing specialist.

I didn’t believe it. I thought that hearing was like vision. We may get an afterimage from having accidentally got an eyeful of 2K or caught a glint of the sun in a windscreen or even found ourselves blinking away a green and pink version of that email (no wonder pro-apps have switched to a grey background). Soon it’s gone and life goes on. Hey, tastebuds only last (on average) 11 days, so a couple of weeks after a Scotch Bonnet Salsa, you’re good to go.

But hearing is a little different. Apparently.

Please don’t take my word for it. Go out now and get a hearing test. Find out what you’ve got and how to protect it. Before you accidentally scrape off valuable hearing range.

As you can tell, today I’ve had the lecture from Stuart Roberts of Leightons HearingCare, whilst he tests my hearing and prepares moulds to create the special sleeves that will be made to fit my ear canal. Basically taking a mould of my middle ear following a hearing test. Stuart is usually a Hearing Aid consultant, but works with Advanced Communications Solutions – purveyors of “cutting edge in-ear technology”.

ACS will make custom-fit earplugs and sleeves for in-ear monitoring and protection. Very common in the music industry. We all take hearing for granted until it’s suddenly not as good as we remember it and suddenly it’s too late. If we only recognised the warning signs, knew what was likely to do damage, maybe we’d have less damage to work around later on.

Luckily Stuart doesn’t need to read (or shout out) the riot act as my natural hypochondriac tendencies have kicked in before I’ve lost anything too crucial. My Etymotic earphones will be good for in-ear monitoring and noise protection once I get the custom middle ear moulds for my ear buds – a snip at £90 (on top of the cost of the earphones themselves).

But I am now very aware of how lackadaisical I have been, and I recognise the trait in many of my colleagues. We may have a laugh at the stereotypical aging rocker who wears ear plugs to concerts, but likes-o-lordy, we really need to be risk averse to hearing damage.

Please do look at the ACS earplug range, or at least find some earplugs that work for you. And I wish you freedom from that ringing numb feeling. You never know a good thing ‘til you lose it.

BTW – I will rave extempore about my Etymotic FM2s once Stuarts molds are fitted – and it seems the esteemed Mr Stephen Fry has also seen (or heard) the light – with his ACS.

PS: Once you have custom molded earplugs, they become effective and battery free noise abatement devices as well as cool earphones.

Being a Monitor

Thanks to those who suggested alternatives to the HD25 headphones, which are now repaired thanks to the lovely people at Richmond Film Services. But this debacle has illuminated an interesting angle on things.

Yes, there are headphones that are ‘better sounding’ than the HD25s. Yes, noise canceling is really great, and the HD25 doesn’t do that (relying instead on a vice-like grip that glues your earlobes to your skull, which I hate). Most assuredly yes, there are more comfortable cans than HD25s.

My HD25s are audio monitors. I don’t want them to make things sound good, I need them to tell me what things sound like (Behold, the sound of a stable door being bolted over an empty void).

Ditto video monitors. I can buy a very very nice TV set for the price of my modest 15″ monitor, and it will display beautiful video images. But it’s not showing me what I’ve got, it’s showing me what I want to see. My interlace rant is a good expample: if you don’t check your interlaced footage on an interlaced monitor (CRT), you may never see the horrors of field dominance errors – usually from motion graphics inserted into a DV edit, or DV and higher end formats on the same timeline.

Analogy time. If your doctor took an X-Ray of you, and the X-Ray display device sort of fluffed your bones up and made them look nice and hid some imperfections in the internal organs, it wouldn’t be much use.

So we need to understand why we pay more for a less flattering result. The only trick is knowing how to spot a high quality monitor from a poor reproduction unit. Apart from peer review, sadly it seems to come down to the weight of the price tag.

Analogue Audio, now there's a thing!

In the virtual local pub that is the interweb’s many forums, a few of us gathered to pontificate about HDV audio recently.

Of course, DV audio is all nice and dandy, and HDV has a little taint about it because it is compressed. Oh, I can feel hackles rising and feathers fluffing from here. Purists want ‘anything with pretentions of broadcast or film-out’ to have separate sound recorded onto a proper device. Now, I’ve got no problem with HDV sound for voice, on the basis that I usually record HDV audio at a little higher level than is considered polite for DVCAM (e.g. I allow levels to simmer around -12dB rather than the more conservative -18dB). But then again, we all know that most people set the level in any format so that the little red dot doesn’t get lit. Whatever.

Lots of beard stroking about dynamic range, frequency response, preponderance of ear wax, and so on. But just before it all got too boring and sounding like a pitch shifted playground conversation, somebody piped up that today’s HDV camcorders have audio systems with dynamic range that supersedes Nagras of a decade ago. And yet Nagras are still insanely popular and make great recordings used on the silver screen to this day.

There’s more to good sound than its recording format. In these enlightened times, lots of boxes in the chain (radio mic transmitters, receivers, mixers, camera inputs, ingest methods, audio out in edit, compressed audio in final output) can do lots and lots of helpful things to prevent you from buggering up your audio, but at the same time, their automatic helpfulness can sometimes hide big problems under the virtual carpet. Alarm bells don’t ring, but the audio sounds muffled because… oh. Right. Now you remember – you lent your wireless dongle to somebody who’s upped its levels for mic use, and now you’re plugging in a quiet line level from a sound feed. Sounds a bit fluffy – must be the feed.

No. It was the limiters in the wireless TX. Working hard to make sure that the cloth-eared wouldn’t notice that it was being fed the equivalent of molten lava and passing on pure spring water.

And hopefully my HD25 cans will be repaired soon. Monitoring sound on iPod ear buds is like monitoring video wearing cheap scratched sunglasses.