I hate working without a soundman, or ‘one man band’ as most people call it. Thing is, many producers think it’s only the sound quality that suffers, but actually your pictures suffer too. You’re concentrating on so many other things like telling the story, lighting, finding a parking space, and “where did I leave my kit”… it only needs one extra sound problem to push you over the edge.
And if there’s one bit of sound kit apparently designed to wind cameraman up… it’s the radio mic. It doesn’t matter how well they work when testing kit at home, or how great your (now ex) soundman says that particular model is, when you’re in the middle of a shoot and it won’t stop ‘hissing’… you just look stupid. Radio mics are a black art… you can try praying to the gods or even sacrificing a small animal, but if they decide to have a bad day, you’re finished.
So now I’m getting asked to work without a soundman more often, and my radio mics are so old they’re actually illegal, maybe it’s time to look for some easy to use replacements. I’d heard there were new digital radio mics from Rode but I hadn’t taken them seriously. How can something be any good if costs 1/10th the price of what my soundman was telling me to buy? (or maybe he was just miffed that I wasn’t using him?)
Anyway, for £240 of my British pounds (plus VAT), I thought I’d give one of these new fangled gadgets a try. I bought the RODELink wireless audio system Filmmaker Kit. This arrived complete with transmitter, receiver, lavalier microphone, some clips and an output cable that looks useful for DSLR’s. It’s a shame RODE don’t include their VXLR adaptor as this would immediately widen the appeal of the whole kit to anyone with professional XLR equipment. Once I’d bought one (£5) I was ready to try this bad boy out on my F5.
Unusually, Rode have decided to use the 2.4GHz band instead of the UHF frequencies favoured by most of the pro wireless systems. There are two big advantages to this approach, firstly it’s supposed to be less crowded and secondly there are no licensing problems if you want to use your RODELink worldwide. The downside is the range using 2.4GHz is usually shorter… more like 100 meters max. Although you’ll probably get less interference from other radio mics in this band, there’s also a lot of other portable devices crowding around the 2.4GHz area, as anyone who’s set-up a Wi-Fi router or used a wireless monitor will know.
When I first opened the box I was a little disappointed to see how big these units are, particularly the transmitter. However, when I felt the weight and realised the antennas were internal, things didn’t look so bad, especially as there’s nothing fragile to break off. They are a little chunkier than my old radio mics but nothing that has bothered me in real world use. The lack of weight is also due to the fact that these do feel plastic, but not in a bad way, everything feels solid and well made.
Putting AA batteries in both the TX and RX reveals the first major advantage of the RODELink (particularly for cameramen). It’s really simple to use! Turn it on and you’re ready to shoot. There’s no set-up and both units will constantly monitor and hop between frequencies in real time. This is a press and go system and might even change my view on using radios. At this point I’d like to tell you how long the batteries last… but after some lengthy testing and serious use on three paid jobs, I haven’t changed them yet – so that’s more than 25 hours of continuous use. I’m told I could also power the RX from the spare USB on my F5 but I haven’t needed to try that yet. These are going to provide quite a saving on those little 9v batteries my old system used. I went through so many I was convinced most of my soundmen had converted their homes to run on 9 volt !!!
The big question is, what does the RODELink sound like? I don’t pretend to be a soundman and I’m sure there are technical reasons why they can’t possibly sound as good as systems costing 10 times as much… but guess what, I was really surprised. I’ve been getting fantastic results with the RODELink and I’m very happy with the audio quality. I tried swapping the lavalier mic for an industry standard Sony ECM77 and thought the RODE microphone actually sounded better. The included mic clips and wind gags do the job, but I’m a fan of the sticky Rycote Undercovers which also work well with the Rode mic, particularly if you need to hide them.
So far I’ve used the RODELink on three broadcast jobs and it hasn’t missed a beat, it sounds great, doesn’t use much battery and costs £240. I think the radio gods have smiled on me, so maybe the sacrifice works.
Paul Ream June 16