Mass Effect 3 and its Ending

So, tonight, after almost a month of play, and after completing all missions on Hardcore difficulty, I am now onto the final mission of Insanity difficulty. That, in itself, is probably not the biggest statement, however, this is coming from a guy who traded a burger for the first title in the series, and then subsequently broke his computer multiple times to try and complete it, he fell in love with it that much (I finally completed it when I simply didn’t turn my computer off or exit the game at any point during my play through), who pre-ordered the second title in the series as a Collector’s Edition months in advanced, and ended up buying a second copy anyway because I couldn’t get it fast enough. So, I suppose, tonight was the completion of a long and galactically fraught journey that started almost five years and hundreds of hours of play, ago. As the credits rolled, I felt a heavy weight in my heart, it’s kind of the weight you feel when you’ve heard about the loss of a friend. (Keep in mind, as you read this, if you haven’t finished the game I may accidentally roll in a spoiler or two).

And this is probably an appropriate time to talk about Mass Effect 3’s ending(s), and the furore that currently surrounds it (well… singular because they’re all basically the same). Hehe, smooth segue…

You would probably expect a gamer, like me, no less an amateur scholar of the medium, to immediately pan the lack of diversity in outcome, but, as a film-maker, I can also see the narrative and ethical depth of that single (modified for each of the three outcomes) ending, and I can respect the intention of the developer.

I think one of the most glaring issues that arises from this debacle, and, no, when I refer to the debacle I am not referring to the ending itself, rather the rancorous reception by the game’s playing community, and media coverage, alike, is how it detracts from the image of the “stereotypical gamer” (I know, problematic), how it further ingrains into society that, while we are, on average, chronologically at age 28, we are, mentally, all aged below 13.

Here is the thing. While cinema is not an interactive medium per se (although, some would disagree with you, what I am trying to get at, is that it does not use interactivity as a primary means of conveying a message, although how that message is received is a story for another time), it is an expression of art. And, in the expression of art, whether it be literary, filmic or fine, the audience is often made to confront the ideas they find most uneasy within them, with this tension creating that inexorable engagement (like watching car crashes). We view art in this way to further explore these dark corners of our mind, in the safe knowledge of being within an escapist parameter, and through this uncovering of deep seated inhibitions, new and radical ideas are allowed to flourish, our minds are able to expand, be reinvigorated and grow. Art is a safe path to enlightenment.

In that vein, I see Mass Effect 3 as Bioware’s attempt at enlightening the average gamer. But many gamers will cry, “But, ahhhh! What about my choice?! What about my wants?! What about the money I paid for this?! What about my notions of idyllic grandeur?! I want to have my cake and eat it too!!!” And here lies the other side of the coin (or our minds, should I say).

Subscribing to any kind of dogma, whether it be fundamentalist religion, radical secularism, extreme capitalism, naive socialism, or, in this case, selfish and elitist gaming conventions (and, yes, there are conventions, automatically dictated by the extreme reliance on quantitative scoring outcomes, the dichotomy of the gaming public, “play” and what is “fun”, and the incessant juvenility of the industry and the media that surrounds it)  automatically narrows the mind. The rules and messages portrayed as lifestyle conformation only serve to deprive the mind of independent thought, for a given situation, the dogma dictates a given response, there is no thought for consequence, there is no thought for improvement, and, most importantly, there is no thought for the situations and thoughts of others, nor yourself. The only way for a mind to be invigorated and active is to open it to abstract thought, and unstructured medias, the most accessible of which, is art.

Gamers may decry that games are not art, nor are they technical works – that they conform to no other medium. However, as said above, in subscribing to the dogma of being a “gamer” (problematic terminology, I realise), there is (probably, and this is an unfortunate blanket statement) the need to be unique after such unceasing scapegoating the video games industry and its proponents have endured within society since its inception over 50 years ago (depending on how you define video game. Modern video games are popularly viewed as having started with PONG (1972)). I see games as a medium of convergence though, as both at the cutting edge of technical brilliance, and, yes, the most fantastic expressions of art (you have to ask yourself, if they were not to be interpreted as texts conveying artistic expression, the most obvious question is, why the massive art departments on triple A games? (I agree, the answer is also as obvious)).

Returning to Mass Effect 3, viewing it as a brilliant and technical text of artistic expression, the latest zenith within the genre of recent epic narratives, I can see it as a fundamental critique of human society, of the inevitable cycles of war that occur with disparate class grading, and of the self-destructive nature of basing societal structures on the very worst aspects of the human psyche: perpetual and absolute destruction (refer the Krogan, actually, haha, just realised, the entire history of Krogans could be an analogy and future vision of our own), and the corrupting power of absolute control, neither of which are warranted, no matter the cause.

In the end, the right choice is unification, and the end of  disparities. It is only through finding common ground that we can all create an understanding of co-operation. However, as indicated by the furore surrounding this (nuanced, and provoking (only my opinion)) ending, human society is not ready, and too blind to accept this outcome as it does not present the best outcome for either party (game theory and a story for another day).

What a deliciously ironic truism.

Taegukgi – Humanism and Antihumanism

It probably doesn’t happen often in anyone’s lifetime, and, more so, perhaps, in my own cynical one, that a media text resolves in a way to reveals to you a pivotal shift in your world view.

I just finished watching Je-Kyu Kang’s Brotherhood (태극기 휘날리며, 2004), and I had one of those moments.

Firstly, it dawned on me that Korean films, and, by extension, contemporary Asian cinema, notwithstanding language barriers, and issues with Asian films made for Western audiences (叹息, misguided producers), are prolifically adding some of the most powerful and honest titles to the world’s filmic canon (another Korean film, in all of its populist chick-flick glory, that I adore is 써니 (Sunny) which came out last year (2011) to record breaking Korean audiences). And, these aren’t just niche arthouse experiments, these include box office exploding populist films. Oh why, oh why, is Australia an English speaking nation…

Secondly, as I get further sucked into the film’s narrative nexus, barring the occasional ham-handed moments and slightly overpowering John Williams-esque soundtrack, Brotherhood did something to my thought process that very few films manage to do to me these days. Film connoisseurs (or snubbery, depending on whichever point of view you decide to look at it), will often turn there noses up at films that don’t aim to force the mind into contemplation, either through complexity, pure profundity or just explorations into confronting material (a truly terrible film(s) that comes to mind that would fit the bill would be… All of the Step Up films), while a 13 year old high school kid (or just a human being with the mind of a 13 year old… yes many adults would fit into this category) would either be mindlessly bored, or repulsed by films that aren’t escapist, populist fare (films such as Schindler’s List, or a little more out there like Eraserhead / Anything Lars von Trier/Terrence Malick, or more recently, and closer to home, Snowtown). What Kang managed to do (in the case of my viewing) was not only create a populist sentimental sob-fest epic, but also a plot that would eventually lead to only one result somewhere mid-way through the film – that of provoking deep contemplation.

The Korean War is well known for being the war that many forgot, the main reason for this was the fact that, despite it being a civil war on a massive scale, it was as proxy war for the rival thought paradigms of the time of Capitalist Democratization and Communism/Socialism. Anyone who says that the Cold War was a war in which not a single shot was fired forgets the political maneuvering required to get other smaller nations to fire those weapons for the dominant nations of the time (USSR and the US). However, the brutality with which war is portrayed in Kang’s film, and the barbarism to which all involved are reduced to, made me realize that this was not a film about the clash between Western and Communist ideals (as is so often portrayed in American films (don’t forget, at this time, the US film industry was subtly creating propaganda to support the ideology of the time, with or without government intervention, think Stallone’s films). This has continued today, although the face of the enemy has changed from Russian to Middle Eastern Terrorist), this was a film about the tension between both Humanism and Anti-Humanism. Between ideological parameters that reduce people to conflict over arbitrary issues, and the universal concept of human dignity and family relationships (a prominent part of most Far Eastern societies, arising from an agrarian history).

In fact, to put it in to perspective, all of the conflict our world is experiencing today is motivated by a clash of ideologies. Kang’s film got me thinking, rather than assess an ideology as either right or wrong (in either case, there is the possible consequence of self-righteousness), shouldn’t we be assessing the concept of ideology as a whole? If paradigms inherently lead to conflict (for example, think about the track record for all Religions), then should these views be considered valid at all, especially when in comparison to the human condition.

Push it, baby – Beyerdynamic DT150 / 250 Ohm

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto…

This is definitely not a pair of headphones you want to stick into a youngsters iPod. Not that you would really have that problem… Really. To make an analogy the Beats headphones from Monster could be considered the Lamborghini Countach of cans: very pretty, but about as useful for everyday driving as a condom in a nunnery, while the Beyerdynamic DT-150 would be your Volvo 245 from the mid 70s. If you have never seen a 245 then let me put it to you this way. Think of the boxiest car you can imagine, make it a cumbersomely large station wagon, and, finally, paint it with your choice of snot green, poo brown or phlegm orange. The Volvo 245 was never the prettiest car on the road, nor was it the fastest, but it held a lot and was enough to get you from point A to B. Also, have you ever seen one of them break down? Neither have I.

And, that is basically what the DT150 is. The design of this pair of cans has changed little from its predecessor, the legendary DT-100 that ruled the recording studios of the 1980s (you probably saw more than a few of these used as props in movies from that era). It is still as ugly as ever, but Beyerdynamic have seemingly addressed some of the issues that were apparent in its original incarnation. Whether or not that warranted a completely new model is open to debate; I, for one, am sitting on the fence about it.

Spartan is a theme that strikes you as you crack open the smallish cardboard box (small considering the price range these headphones find themselves in). Inside its flimsy exterior is an equally flimsy usage manual. The headphones, themselves, are all on their lonesome, with no extra packaging cradling them, the 1/8″ to 1/4″ screw in adapter and the chunky straight 3m cable (which comes with a screw if you dont intend to remove the cable from its socket anytime soon). Not that they would need  that much protection.

Which brings me to their design and build, the DT150 has lost none of the utilitarian charm and ruggedness of the DT100 (if you haven’t already guessed, my opinion on style vs. function is that style is for wusses). The ear pads are now thicker to create more distance between the drivers and your ears, the headband is slightly thinner, and they now sport an all-black dithered finish. It’s almost as if Beyerdynamic thought that simply making the treads a bit wider and painting it black would be enough to herald in the new era of the Sherman Tank of its headphone line (reminds me of the late night commercials where a phoenix company would unveil its newest old product, “now in black!”).

I call it the Sherman Tank of its headphone lineup because no other headphone coming from Beyerdynamic, or arguably, anywhere else, has had so much go into its durability and finish. Every part feels as if it was built to withstand a nuclear attack, and the peices that do fall to the wayside are all modular and replaceable. Shear the cable? No problem, order another and plug it back in. Snap the headband? Also not a problem, pull off the sleeve and cups and slide another one in. Break the actual driver itself!? Well apart from it starting to look like you’re a bit accident prone, you can order another one from Beyerdynamic, plug it in and slide it back onto the headband. This, on paper, is THE perfect pair of cans to wear onto set. When you are bound to come across some dangerous environments, undoubtedly, these will weather the storm better than you will.

Although what I am saying applied to the DT100s as well, not that much needed to be changed in my opinion, although its relatively low key presence on the internet indicates that users of these cans either love it or hate it, although those that hate them, I would argue, haven’t used them long enough or just completely misunderstand them. For me, the cavernous design hugs my ample moon shaped head well. Its heft is, while not as comfortable as the AKG K 271 MKIIs, are by no means posture destroying, and this provides me with the assurance that they are built to last (seriously though, if these are too heavy for your head you actually might want to get your neck and spine checked). Finally the larger pleather ear-pads are super comfy, albeit, they tend to get a bit sweaty from prolonged use, which brings me to the final, and, arguably, most important facet of any pair of cans.

The larger ear-pads have been a sticking point in many a critic of the DT150s online. Some hate them, preferring the smaller ear-pads of the DT100s, others love the extra luxury they offer (like me). But it isn’t simply a comfort factor, and the larger ear-pads show a careful attention to detail by Beyerdynamic. See, one of the drawbacks of the original DT100 was the fact that, while they picked out dialogue, vocals and higher pitched instruments, the bass response was… well… wimpy. It is clear that the DT150s have received a healthy lumping of bass this time around, and how do thicker ear-pads help with this? Well, apart from providing excellent isolation (approximately -18dB), the thicker ear-pads remove the ear from being so close to the driver. This provides a couple of benefits. Firstly it allows the beefier bass response air to “flesh itself out”, which is demonstrated by the very apparent punchiness of it upon listening, and, secondly, it allows for the creation of a expansive soundstage – stereo sounds like stereo and not just a pair of speakers pressed up against your ears.

However, that being said, if you feel that Pioneer or Monster “Beats” headphones are your idea of what is a portable hi-fi experience, then these headphones are probably not for you (and, also, you are a bit of an idiot… to be fair). These headphones would be considered one of the very best… if it was the 1980s, but with the rise of the bass and volume wars, these suckers will probably not provide you with the “doof doof” you like, especially considering, at 250 Ohms resistance, you need to plug them into an amp just to get the full nominal SPL, so it would be unlikely you would get the full experience if they are being juiced by your iPod Touch (which would make your “rappin’ beats” (is that what you call them these days?) seem a bit anaemic) although more powerful devices such as mixers (which will be where I primarily use them) will power them fully with no problem.

But, make no mistake, these cans are far from wimpy, they’re still a Sherman Tank, it’s just the driver likes to listen to the climax of Beethovens 9th on loop. And that’s exactly what they are. They are still built like a brick, the bass is still punchy, but the overall experience is still nuanced, and the low-end does not overpower. That being said, however, compared to my K 271 MKIIs they are much more… meaty (you could say darker)… Think of the K 271 MKIIs as a McChicken burger, while the DT150s are a double Quarter Pounder with extra ketchup. It’s still a burger, as opposed to a greasy mess, it’s just “more” burger.

Long story short, if you like durable headphones, that produce enough oomph to rival cracking thunder, but not the woofiness of rolling thunder, these may be for you. Keep in mind, however, to get the full experience, you will need to plug it into something that can overcome that 250 Ohm barrier.

I might follow this up once these have had a good going over on-set. For now I am content to continue burning these babies in on a steady diet of Iron & Wine (the band, no I don’t literally feed it bits of metal and alcoholic beverages).

Transmission type Wired
Headphone design (operating principle) Closed
Headphone impedance 250 ohms
Headphone frequency response 10 – 30.000 Hz
Nominal sound pressure level 100 dB SPL
Construction Circumaural (around the ear)
Cable & plug Coiled connecting cable with mini-jack plug (3.5 mm) & ¼“ adapter (6.35 mm)
Net weight without packaging 240 g

RODE Lavalier. First Impressions.

So I’ve just gotten off a week long set of an American short film production with a couple of these puppies in tow. I got them literally two days before the principle shooting begun and didn’t even get proper adapters for my Sennheiser G3 transmitters until two days into the production (will talk more about that later), so, I was using these, in every sense of the words, rough and ready.

As always, when I have received any RODE product, I have always been impressed by the emphasis placed on durability by the company, and the RODE Lavalier is no exception. Apart from the small cardboard box you get it in,  the microphone and all of its accompanying accessories (of which there are many compared to other vendors of lavalier mics) are housed within a sturdy little plastic trauma case, which you will probably keep it in. Included with the microphone is a cable management clip (so you can clip it onto someone’s shirt or tie), a windjammer and a pop filter/foam wind jammer, as well as an adjustment tool (to adjust what I am not sure yet… Haven’t used it so far).

All of this is pretty cool considering some of these accessories i.e. the windjammer, could set you back as much as $50 from Rycote, but the most exciting thing to find in the box is the microphone itself, and the most exciting thing about the microphone, apart from its sub miniature form factor and COS11D resemblance (which opens up a plethora of accessories you could use for it, which were designed for Sankens venerable mainstay), is the fact that it is MODULAR.

It wouldn’t be so impressive except for the fact that, as a professional sound recordist, I have often wondered why this wasn’t the case for all lavalier microphones. Previously I have favoured Countryman lavalier microphones particularly the EMW or B6 variety depending on the situation (EMW’s are cheaper so if they break no big deal, B6’s are incredibly tiny and easy to hide), but there have been many occasion where, for some reason out of my control, either the talent I have rigged it up on has done something stupid, for example, go to relieve him or herself without notifying me and then somehow breaking it in the washroom, or not allowing me to de-rig them properly, either through supervision or personally doing so myself, and ripping it off themselves the first moment they can and dumping it in an unsafe area. For all of the conveniences of Countryman Lavs, their one fault is their incredible fragility (although it is not limited to this brand per se). Often I may go through 2 or 3 of them per year purely because of talent breaking them, and over a five year period that really starts to hurt the bank balance.

The fact that the RODE Lavalier was modular was a big, big reason why I switched over to them (look to see more of these modular systems arriving). If the microphone capsule breaks, simply order another one from RODE. The cable is made of kevlar, and apart from the fact that adhesives stick to it to no end (grr) it is practically unbreakable, the standard size you get may be a bit too short for my liking but you can order a longer one from RODE (genius), so depending on where you put the bodypack you can minimize the amount of slack. Now, here is a big one, MiCON connectors.

MiCON connectors… Are amazing… For the first time, a Lavalier has been made where you, the recordist, can hot swap different terminations that are designed to fit anything from XLR to Sennheiser, to Sony, to Lectrosonics. It allows an incredible amount of flexibility, which means you don’t need to buy a new mic for every new system you buy, and, best of all, these connectors only cost like $30 a pop. Speaking of which, I didn’t have workable connectors until 2 days into a shoot I was doing last week. It seems that the first batch of MiCON 1 connectors (made for Sennheiser G2 and G3 systems) were incorrectly made so that the thread on them doesn’t quite fit the bodypack. That’s probably the reason for all of the hullabaloo about poor handling noise, pops and hissing that a lof of people have experienced. I simply called RODE and they promptly sent out another set of MiCON 1 connectors free of charge (they are aware of the problem), and voila, they work perfectly. Annoying that it didn’t work right out of the box, but nothing brains couldn’t fix.

In terms of the sound (and this is where RODE has typically fallen down in the past), as a person who has worked with Countryman in the past, I like the wide dynamic range provided by the RODE Lavalier mic, which matches well with my existing set of Lavalier microphones. It is significantly brighter than say a TRAM TR50 or Sanken COS11D, but it has incredibly low self noise (even lower than I have observed in Sennheiser MKE-2’s and definately lower than ME-2’s) and maintains body with sparkling clarity, so it is able to pick out dialogue extremely well even in harsh environments, while still maintaining depth i.e. not resorting to it sounding like everyone is using their head voice (used this on one of the windiest days I’ve ever seen in Melbourne… Playing havoc with my boom operator). The best thing, however, is it achieves this sound at a great price point (AUD$300) considering all the goodies you get along with it as well. It mixes in well with the Sennheiser MKH8000 series mics I have recently switched over too.

All in all, for the first time RODE have released a product I am truly excited about. It sounds excellent, just as good as microphones twice its price, it comes with a box of goodies, which make it rugged and set ready basically out of the box apart from your chosen MiCON connector, and, of course, the modularity and MiCON connectors make this a lavalier mic that is designed to stay in your kit for the long haul. Finally… A RODE product I would recommend (I would still buy this even if I had enough money to buy a bunch of Sanken COD11D’s). I think we have a winner…

FBI kills Megaupload. Precursor to SOPA/PIPA?

Two days ago, Wikipedia, along with a host of other influential online identities, such as Google, Wired, WordPress and Mozilla (responsible for the advent of Firefox), instated a 24 hour blackout in protest of the SOPA/PIPA bill currently making its way through the US legislature.

As of 4.25pm yesterday, authorities in New Zealand acted on warrants issued by the FBI to shutdown established file hosting service Megaupload and arrest its four owners.

As an Australian caught in the middle of this crossfire, I maybe inclined to simply duck my head and avoid getting caught up in all of it, especially after the infamous “Net Nanny” ISP level firewall failed to pass through Australian parliament last year, with resigned sighs.

However, the reality is, the internet is… the internet. While there are gateways through which most of the data coming into and out of a country do pass through, the sheer amount of information being shared globally, and the speed at which it can proliferate makes us all interconnected. An American online has no more a national identity than an Australian – in the realm of the virtual we are all global citizens (or netizen if you really want to be trendy). That is the very reason why, as a global citizen of the Internet, I should stand to attention.

Its not the fact that SOPA/PIPA is gaining political momentum (although its highly unpopular to the mainstream) that should worry us. And it is not the fact that the FBI’s recent coup of Megaupload being unrelated to the legislative movements in the US, that should lead us to apathy.

The thing that worries me is that this is the culmination of a concerted increase in the intensity of those stakeholders seeking to monetize the digital medium, particularly in the last decade, indicated by the increasingly difficult to distinguish separation of state and media interests.

Despite immediate retaliation by hacktivism a la Anonymous, with such an impending calamity it’s a wonder that we place our trust in an amorphous legion that is… anonymous. Either that, or we gravitate towards massive online entities that overshadow most governments, such as Google, Apple and Facebook. Where are the charismatic humanitarian leaders of yesteryear? All of the troubles, such as climate change and social inequality, and this, are man-made and, hence, inherently human.

The reason for this, and both the advent of SOPA/PIPA and the FBI involvement in Megaupload are indicative of the result of a paradigm that was first reared its head in the first empires of our species, with its current incarnation initiated by the political pairing of a British chemist and an American movie star. Their names were Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

the prevailing political and economic paradigm has always swung between laissez faire and centralised markets throughout history, however, for the first time in history we stood at the precipice of the economic exponential curve… And we just happened to take the wrong route at the right time.

In a quest to reach the top (or bottom as you would have it) as fast as possible, in our pursuit of satisfying certain economic indicators of growth, we ignored the underlying instabilities, until the entities racing became so large they became indiscernibly and inevitably entangled with the state, and the unstable foundation it grew on began to crumble with no person or group big enough to support it.

And so we come to the actions of the FBI and the legislature in the US. No person can truly say that the representatives of the mainstream public and their protectors are doing this for the public’s own good, nor can anyone truly say that media interests are clearly not involved. You can no longer accuse either party, because both parties have become so entangled. In a case like this, one does not have the democratic or social tools to negotiate this situation as all of them were originally designed with exclusivity in mind.

Yet we, as mainstream society are also not entirely without blame. In the prevailing economic paradigm, we collectively “poked the bees nest”. The reality is this is a circular and vicious cycle of class warfare, but with the demonisation of Marx’s principles, socialism and communism, one side of the conflict has become decidedly impotent. We have become too apathetic to stand up, we have become too scared of being labeled a hippie, a communist or socialist or anti-[insert nation] (dream (sic)), to strike out. It is not the reliance on these interests and the state that has made us unable to react, it is a social stigma.

One last thing. For those of you who quip and say that the actions of these open sharing avenues is stealing the intellectual property of the media, of not supporting the “struggling artist”, I say to you… You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and are clearly disconnected from that industry in every way or are so disconnected to that “struggling artist” you can’t possible have a relevant opinion on the matter.

The reality is, as a media production professional, I partake in an industry that is, by far (and this is, in a massive way, due to the incessant deflation of culture as a currency of society due to the widespread paradigm outlined above) the most ridiculously stratified industry ever seen in the history of man, transferring human qualities such as passion, in monetized form, to a superior on the hierarchical chain of media production, leveraging it like slave labour, similar to multi-level marketing schemes (think about the language used when you are pitched to about career opportunities in this field and compare it to multi-level marketing seminars i.e. the all to often used line of “if you have the passion, you will succeed…”). I mean, seriously, how can you take an industry seriously when your success depends on getting a “break” rather than on the accords of your own merit (which, in so many cases, more than often, ignored), which can take up to 7 years.

Until cultural exploits come to the fore as a respected and reinforcing influence on society, until the generation of cultural capital is given the same weight in social currency as the finance and commodities sector, aiding the top-down nature of the industry (with SOPA/PIPA and Government agencies) won’t create jobs, won’t protect jobs, won’t spurn innovation, and certainly won’t aid the many thousands of professionals working under the selective echelon of recording and film industry elites (simply those with the financial capital to exploit cultural capital to further reinforce their own monetary situation).

The reality is, those pirating or stealing are stealing from those than can afford to be stolen from, and until the profits of our ventures (our refers to those who actually create –  who write, who film, who perform, who record, not simply those who leverage off that creation and market, buy and sell) are more equally distributed, we simply do not care.

Also, we need to simply step back. There is something fundamentally wrong with the world we live in when someone convicted of negligent manslaughter can get 15 years, and the owner of an open hosting website (that actually tried to adhere to existing the DMCA Act) is looking at 55 years in prison.

New year, new toys, and lessons I learned from 2011 – Part Deux

So, to the second and happier part of this mini-series of a blog post (this is taking forever!).

With all of that rage swimming throughout my head during the inevitable downtime in the film making season around new years, I summoned up to courage to finally go “big” in updating my microphone kit.

With great trepidation (and possibly stupidity, who knows, this could seriously backfire) I ended up getting these bad-boys:

Don’t know what they are? If you’re not a sound person you can probably be forgiven, but if you are a sound person… Well, I won’t dwell on that.

To clarify, these are the new MKH-8000 series of microphones, coming from Sennheiser. There has been a lot of web chatter about these compact condensor mics, and, in response, Sennheiser has been equally evasive about their technical specifications (although their marketing department was going bonkers). Even after talking to the Sennheiser representative for the Sydney area for about an hour, Peter, I was none the wiser as to their true worth in the field (for that is where I aim to unleash them).

But, despite all the confusion, and the claims of a “new industry standard” (although that claim is partially true… Sennheiser aren’t exactly a small manufacturer), little has been written on the more film friendly MKH8060 and MKH8070, the spiritual successors to the venerable MKH418 and MKH816 beasties.

So, I have taken a giant leap of faith and jumped on board the bandwagon, a defining factor of which was the fact that as RF condensor mics, they were, theoretically more durable than the traditional AF condensor mics a la Neumann.

Currently, my experience with them is limited to 2 hours of playing around with them at the Lemac store in Sydney (much thanks to Ross Boyer there, cheerfully helping me fulfil my gear slut dreams).

So far my first impressions are this…

I am in love with the MKH8070, less so with the MKH8060, but for practicality I opted to purchase one of them as well.

Why am I in love with the MKH8070, typically the more lumbering of the two, you ask? Well, there are several reasons. In comparing it to the MKH816, I was pleasantly surprised that it was, probably not amazingly light, but significantly less hefty than its predecessor. Properly balancing it on my Rycote mount and I think I could happily boom with it for hours.

But that wasn’t the best thing about it. The MKH816 was notoriously difficult to boom with. Apart from its weight, and its narrow pickup pattern, I found that, when an 816 went off-mic, it was immediate and jarring. The MKH8070, however, was different. In the two hours I was able to play with it, I found its mid and low range lovely and warm, there was definitely more character in this new mic, which can be good or bad depending on the user, for me, I could not complain, while it was as clinically nuanced as any Sennheiser I have ever used in the higher frequencies. Despite its warmness, it was still able to “pick out” dialogue from longer distances of 3m or more (I think, didn’t actually get the measuring tape out), even with a rumbling air conditioner threatening to swamp it, which I attribute to the slight bump up starting around 1Khz. Pending logistical and usage issues, I hope this becomes a common tool I employ when recording external dialogue. The one thing I was pleasantly surprised with was the extremely smooth roll-off when going off-mic. It was beautiful, really, the control over the colour change despite its pickup pattern was something to be in awe of.

In regards to the MKH8060, I was less impressed with it. In general use it is probably a quibble. On mic, it was as gorgeously luscious, but nuanced as its big sister, and I expect would be quite easy to mix in with the 8070 in post (a problem I have experienced in the past as ranted about earlier). One thing I noticed was that the 8070 was significantly more sensitive than the 8060, in fact, when I plugged the 8060 in I had to dial down the fader by about 30% to even maintain a usable level. The only issue I have with the 8060, and I don’t know how big this is, I suppose it all depends on the boom operator, but there is a severe drop off in the higher frequencies when the subject moves off mic on an 8060. I would call it “cliff-like” it really was that pronounced (“I was like woh, woh, woh… what just happened!?). Subject one moment… Barry White the next.

Anyway, these are just musings in a unrealistic environment. My next job is starting next Tuesday, and I should have more to say about my new babies after that. For now, I’ll just sit here and gloat…

Full Disclosure: I have no association with Sennheiser. I am new to sound recording having only done it professionally for 3 years. None of my opinions here may be relevant to anything, at anytime, anywhere, take them with a grain of salt (now to dust of my hands, that’s my arse off the line).