To start, my name is Jeff Deel and Iíve been working quite a bit with Jon Firestone (JFirestone) and his RED-ONE #232, specifically in testing the audio section of the camera. Iíve been doing location sound work for years and have been quite curious about the audio section of the camera since I first learned about it during NAB 2006. What follows is my personal conclusions on the sound section of the camera.
To help avoid making this sound like a long-winded bitch session, Iíll note the things that I like so far. I love the fact that RED decided to go with 24 bit audio rather than the ancient 16 bit standard. I would have liked to have seen higher sample rate capabilities (96K or even 192K), but for me, 48K is totally acceptable. I like the fact that L and R are independently controllable in the headphone section Ė especially nice when running two different types of microphones. Finally, timecode sync is a godsend. Itís nice to finally be able to use my 744T to its fullest extent.
Now for the gripes and complaints. I realize that a lot of these issues have already been brought up, but I wanted to be fairly thorough about my feelings on everything.
The decision to go with all mini-XLRís is just plain goofy IMHO. How many microphones do you know of that use that connection natively? All this means is that we have to use more adaptors, which introduces more places for things to go wrong (adaptors getting lost, cables breaking, etc.) Mini-XLR is naturally a weaker connection thatís more prone to breakage. What happens when Iím in the field and one of my mini to full size adaptors breaks? Iím much more prone to have an extra XLR cable or two sitting around rather than another adaptor. I would have even been happy if they had done what Sound Devices did with their 7 series recorders and build in two full-size XLRís, then go mini on the other two. Ultimately, I donít know what the inside of the camera looks like or what sort of space constraints RED engineers were up against, but I do know that itís a fairly bulky camera and I donít see any outward reason for the mini jacks.
For me, the monitoring/metering section is somewhat lackluster. Even with the headphone amp cranked all the way up, I only get a comfortable level in a relatively normal environment. More gain on that would have been nice, but Iíve yet to find a camera with a strong enough headphone amp to make me happy, so I guess thereís no surprise there. The meters are nice, but I would like to see an update with the option to make them full screen and more detailed for leveling out with a mixer (similar to the option on a lot of Sony HDV cameras). Iím also noticing a strange echo coming from the dead channel when only using one input. Again, this is most likely firmware fixable, but still very annoying.
The pre-amps on this camera just flat-out sound bad to me. Maybe Iím spoiled because I use all Sound Devices pre-amps in my day to day work, but these sounded worse than the pre-amps built into the Canon XL-2 (and I thought those sucked!) I mean, even at NAB 2006 when RED had nothing more than a tent and some titanium blocks to show, I stressed about the importance of audio, specifically pre-amp quality. My dream was that RED might collaborate with Sound Devices for the audio section of the camera. I even took a RED business card over to the Sound Devices booth, told Jon Tatooles all about the RED cam, then took the Sound Devices card back over to RED in hopes that since theyíre both smaller, independent companies, there might be some collaboration here. Itís apparent that didnít happen.
Fan noise is another major concern for me. I understand that thereís a huge amount of processing going on inside a relatively small space, but still, fan noise in the audio recordings is unacceptable. Iíve worked with film cameras before and have had to blimp them, but in very quiet interior scenes, I still picked up camera noise. With video, up until now, this has rarely been a concern. Honestly, I havenít had a chance to work with RED in real world situations enough to know how much of a problem this is going to be, but the first time we have a blown take due to fan noise, itís going to become a very real issue.
I may sound overly cynical, but IMHO, I donít get why this camera sounds so bad. I mean, I understand that this is really the first time that the public has been able to record 4K images and that the image sensor is entirely new, so thereís going to be some bugs that need to get worked out, but come on Ė weíve been recording 24/48 for years. The process has been perfected. RED doesnít have to re-invent the wheel on this one. As a location sound person, the audio section of the RED cam is totally unacceptable. I mean, even the comment in the manual that states ďDue to the significantly higher precision and dynamic range of 24 bit sampling, input stage limiters or AGCís are not provided by the RED-ONE cameraĒ is, to me, utter rubbish. If that were true, why does my 744T, which is capable of 24/192, have both input limiters and a headphone amp limiter? I donít care what bit rate youíre recording at, peaking can and will happen in real world scenarios, and once youíre audio has peaked, thereís no fixing it in post. Limiters are in place to help keep that from happening and theyíre commonly used with good reason.
In the end, I understand that the RED-ONE is a revolutionary new camera that still has a lot of quirks it needs to work out, however, coming from a location sound background, Iím worried that there are some flaws in the audio section that canít be overcome by firmware updates. In my experience, measuring the dB level of the fans and getting numbers on the S/N ratio is cool and all, but for me, all that really matters is how it works in real world scenarios. Sure, the camera may be quieter than such and such other camera, but if I get fan noise in my recordings, itís a problem. If I can hear audible pre-amp hiss in my recordings, itís a problem. If Iím in a situation where Iím unable to use a mixer and have to run a boom directly into camera and I canít control my levels without digging through layers of menus, itís a problem. If my audio peaks because thereís no built-in limiter, once again, thatís a problem - period. I in no way want to come across as bashing the RED cam. Iím just a concerned filmmaker and sound recordist that is rather disappointed in what could have been a much more robust section of the camera. I know that future firmware updates will address some of the issues that have been raised, but Iím afraid for the others weíll have to wait for RED-TWOÖ