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COMBINING SUPER 8MM WITH THE LATEST TECHNOLOGIES
As a not-yet-admitted-to-myself gadget junkie, I would like to offer some comments on the latest technologies out there and how they can be related to Super 8mm filmmaking.
Namely, the MP3 craze and the emergence of the Minidisc!
DIAMOND RIO PMP3000
Well, the little gadget is pretty slick. It can download 32MB of data (songs) and play them back with no danger of skipping since it has no moving parts. An average-length song recorded in MP3 format at 128kps is about 2-4 megabytes in size with an average of about 3.3MB. This averages about 8 to 10 songs. Essentially this is about 30 minutes of music. If you record at the lower rates of 80kps or less, you can get more time but sound quality is greatly affected. Not really a consideration unless you were recording voice only.
What is funny is that the skips I do hear were created by the software from “ripping” off a CD. Notice the new term in use: “rip.” Very ironic.
If you find a 3.3volt 32MB flash memory card, you can get a decent 16 - 20 songs which makes the unit much more usable on a day-to-day basis. I have yet to find one though. Diamond only offers a 16MB flash card so far. Also, the Rio only uses a single AA battery so there should be no problem guaranteeing sound delivery when you are on the road.
With no line-out on the Diamond Rio, I have to use the headphone jack with a cassette converter for my car stereo. I set the volume to a middle setting (11 or 12) and check out the different EQ settings for best sounding playback. The “classic” setting works very well as it keeps the bass from distorting on my middle-of-the-road cassette deck.
But how does this relate to filmmaking?
What I plan to do is mix my own sounds on the computer and mix them down to MP3. Then, simply transfer the MP3 to the Rio and you have a nice, simple package to present sound along with your Super 8mm film originals.
So, after owning the Rio player for a few days, I, as most guilt-ridden computer savvy consumers do, checked out websites on the RIO after my purchase and came across “minidiscs.” I became hooked on another format. Such amazing capabilities for such a tiny gadget! I just couldn’t pass up this new technology either.
SONY MZ-R55 MINIDISC RECORDER
First, these units are now available locally from places like the Good Guys. I bought mine for $299. The previous day the unit was $350 so perhaps I should check again to see if the price fell further? My unit is a “Made for USA” export model and included an all-English instruction manual. It also came with the optical cable, headphones (folding type), ni-cad battery, AA battery pack, 120v wall wart transformer, and the soft pouch. I loved it immediately. Barely bigger than the minidisc itself - WOW!
As for the minidiscs, I have found them at Tower Records for $10.99 for a four pack of 74 minute Maxell’s. Cool-looking gold disks too. Note, 74 minutes is in stereo. That translates into 148minutes mono. Boggles the mind, don’t it? Again, people online are still paying more than $3 a MD. Why?
I immediately recorded a few of my CD’s and played them and was very impressed. While the unit does not pump out ear-splitting volume, the unit goes loud enough for most users. More importantly, the unit has line out, mic-in, line-in (optical and analog combined), and headphone jacks - four jacks in all! This is important since you do not have to give up the headphone jack for a quasi-line-out. For car use, the line-out gives better quality and volume than the headphone jack - even when the headphones are cranked all the way up.
The Sony had a better quality feel to it compared to the Sharp 722 MD recorder, which was also $299. The Sony feels like a tool and not a toy like the Sharp 722 unit. The Sony MZ-R50 was also on sale for $299 but this unit is bigger and the buttons do not have as nice of a feel to them compared to the MZ-R55. It does have a nice jog dial though to facilitate titling. But, you want the smallest unit there is and the R55 is the way to go.
Okay, but what about how it relates to filmmaking?
So, now I have taken what cassettes of assorted sounds I had already taped and transferred them to Minidisc. This way, I can instantly assess whether as sound clip on a Minidisc is appropriate for mixing into a movie soundtrack. I can even name each sound and the Minidisc itself to further help me classify my recordings. I can also split a sound into two parts (or more) and move any part of any clip to another part of the disk (song, sound, etc). What a wonderful tool for filmmaking. Who needs a DAT recorder when you have this!
What about compression - Do I lose anything?
Apparently, the ATRAC eliminates unheard noises above and below the spectrum of human hearing (I assume anything outside of the 20Hz and 20,000Hz range). It basically strips down a song in five stages, stores the data on the disc compressed, and then recreates the original sound from these five pieces. Like the slogan says, Sony IS changing the way we listen to music. Not for the better or worse, just different. It also eliminates sounds that are masked by other louder sounds. Any version of ATRAC at 4.0 or higher is at the point where any improvement probably will not be noticed by the average person.
A minidisc would only hold 15 minutes of uncompressed CD music without ATRAC. Thus, it would be more directly similar to the Rio, although the Rio does not record. Personally, I see the minidisc virtually eliminating any need for cassette tapes. Ahh, never to hear tape hiss again. Not to mention the elimination of Dolby B and C!
I am not very well versed on the MP3 compression technology so I can only offer that the compression ratio is about 11 or 12 to 1. Furthermore, I believe the main difference is that MP3’s do not eliminate unheard noises so perhaps they give a more true sound - but only at 256kps or better. At 128kps, you can discern the difference between a CD and a MP3 - but not without thinking about it.
Any form of compression will alter the original sound.
Why don’t I buy a CD burner instead?
Also, you can’t record live sounds on a CD since there are no portable recorders…yet. The editing features are very crude on any CD writeable since you can only erase songs at the end of the CD. You cannot erase earlier songs, mix tracks, split tracks, etc. So why bother with a CD?
CD portable players cost $50 dollars or less so they do have a definite advantage in price but cannot fit in a shirt pocket. This is where I think minidiscs will come out as the winner since four minidiscs and a player easily fit in the palm of you hand. Try that with a CD player and four discs.
Hey, I thought this was about filmmaking!
All of these recordings will then be mixed onto a metal cassette tape (adjusting volumes, fades, dissolves, overlays, etc), until I can afford a second minidisc home component, and then transferred back onto minidisc. (See, you need two minidisc players to enable proper mixing). Finally, I will play it back into the computer and make a finished MP3 file of the final mix.
As an aside, Sony has just announced (March 4, 1999) that they will be introducing a whole new line of MD players and recorders. Prices will start at $199 for a home unit. This is great news. First reports indicate that even this player will offer a few more features than the MZ-R55 portable recorder. I can’t wait!
Back to my mixing, I will then download the finished MP3 onto the Rio player and use that as a way to present sound with my otherwise silent movies. I will run the Rio through the stereo system, of course. The Rio is better at offering instant sound at the push of a button and is not as fragile as the minidisc player when taking your show on the road.
That’s what I love about this world: So many formats! Keep them coming…
January 2006 Update -
Let's face it, MP3s are here to stay. And so are WAV files (I generally use
wavs for my NLE editing sounds
where possible). Having said that, my Rio player is stuck in a drawer somewhere
with my 1980's Chinon remote microphones while my minidisc player actually
gets daily use. Turns out my Sony minidisc (MZ-R55)is
an incredibly versatile unit. I combine its use with the Sony MDS-JE520.
Note - this is the definitive deck to search out. The later versions by Sony
have disabled most of the digital
in/out capabilities due to copyright issues. However, for our purposes in
recording live sounds, the digital in/out is a mandatory requirement. Also,
I recommend the E-MU
0404 PCI sound card for your computer. Has every connector
immaginable. Perfect for the musician and filmmaker alike.