IMPROVING DSLR AUDIO: THE 3rd WAY

ETSLAN PA912

Better audio in your DSLR, like any ENG video camera? We always dreamt about that but nobody has found the ideal solution. Typically, we have 2 options:

  1. Separate audio recording (via Zoom H4n, Tascam DR-40, …)
  2. In Cam recording improved by a field audio mixer (Beachtek, Juicedlink,…)

In both cases there are disadvantages: separate audio recording is time-consuming and messy in post production and audio field mixers are not very comfortable to work with DSLRs. Extra batteries, extra care for dual button pressing, extra attention during shooting; extra weight, loss of ergonomy… they are a solution but definitely not definitive.

Besides, both options are not cheap, so before deciding for one or another you should think twice.

Then there’s third way, the cheap compromise that everybody wanted to work better because it’s the logical way:

“you need audio? plug in a cable and a mic.

And you’re done.”

This 3rd way has also and issue, it usually doesn’t give the best audio…

But why?

We could start a technical explanation of why simple XLR -> mini jack cables do not offer the optimum quality. But there is quite a lot of casuistry involving different cameras, cables and microphones. So if you want to learn more about it, follow the links at the end of the post.

In brief, there’s the big problem of balanced to unbalanced audio signals. Professional mics, balanced audio. DSLR, unfortunately unbalanced inputs.

Transformation of this audio signal is not so easy, and

“some cables do it better than others,

and some even don’t do it at all.”

I haven’t tried so many cables but what I see in DSLR community is that the 3rd way is not very explored.

And this is what I wanted to do: explore and test a better solution for me. And this is how I found ETSLAN, a balun manufacturer in California. I heard they build superior quality baluns. Baluns? This stands for Balanced to Unbalanced transformer, a passive device designed to convert signals between balanced and unbalanced modes of transmission, and it DOES transform the audio signal properly.

The product is called PA912 and it has 2 channels of XLR to stereo mini jack. There’s also a PA911, the mono version. And it does not take a lot of space, you could even think it is a standard XLR cable.

So I’m going to test the 3rd way, and I will publish the results here. If it does what I expect from it, it could be my ideal solution for improving audio in my Panasonic Lumix GH3: cheaper, easier, faster to work with, and quality… we’ll see.

GH3-PA912

If you want to know more…

4 ways to go unbalanced (read 2.3. The best way ->Transformers):

http://www.jensen-transformers.com/an/an003.pdf

The only kind of review I found of ETSLAN PA911:

http://kurtlancaster.com/20/10/2011/run-and-gun-dslr-work-at-occupy-wall-street/

FAQS about ETSLAN PA910 Series

http://www.etslan.com/FAQs/FAQs_PA911_DSLR%20Camera%20Balun.pdf

10 pensaments sobre “IMPROVING DSLR AUDIO: THE 3rd WAY

  1. I too have a Panasonic GH3 and I’m looking for a practical but good audio solution for my Shotgun microphone. I’m interested in hearing the signal to noise ratio from this cable [PA912. When do you think you can post audio samples of a shotgun microphone?

    1. I’ll be testing several mics starting by now. I could post this weekend but it depends on how many mics I can test. Some mics I’ll try to test:
      -Rode Ntg-2
      -Sennheiser mk416
      -Sony ECM66B
      -Sennheiser G2 ew100
      Any suggestions on howto test?

      1. That’s good. look forward to hearing the results. The only suggesting I have would be to do a test so that we can hear the noise floor during silence.

    1. I’m not an audio technician, but once you recorded it, you’re done. There are some tricks in audio posproduction, depending on what the problem is: kind of noise, equalization…

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