With the growing popularity of surround-sound systems, it’s increasingly important for video professionals to deliver pristine audio. An unsung hero of the on-location team — the boom operator — fills a position that’s vital to capturing good audio.
The K-Tek Zeppelin windscreen is essential for filtering wind noise out of your outdoor shoots.
Camera-mounted mics might be adequate for general ambiance and background sounds, but they lack the reach and versatility of boom-mounted mics. And while today’s wireless mic systems go a long way toward helping you capture good sound, there are many situations in which a boom is a better idea — or at least a good addition. Sometimes a small wireless lavalier mic won’t cut it. Costumes ruffle, there’s RF interference, and actors speak too softly or are too animated, often turning away from the mic. A good boom mic held dynamically over the set can provide a warmer, more realistic, and more flexible means of capturing audio to videotape. After jury-rigging a handful of booms that didn’t end up working, I went looking for a professional boom pole. Recently I tested the K-102 boom pole from K-Tek.
A professional boom operator puts the mic in the right spot at the right time — if not, the actor’s voice is off-axis and sounds off-mike. You must be strong, flexible, and observant, silently moving with the scene. You keep the mic out of the video frame, yet in the proper position for the actors. I’ve used broom sticks, shower rods, long pieces of wood — whatever it took to get the mic out over the talent and pick up a good audio feed. If you think it’s easy, try this: attach a can of food to the end of a broom handle and hold it above your head and away from your body for about five minutes. Not easy. Even though today’s mics and booms are lighter than ever, the downward pull of the mic at the end of the pole can tire even the strongest operator. It’s a problem waiting to be solved by technology.
K-Tek makes the new Klassic K-102 factory-wired boom pole, the Zeppelin fuzzy windscreen, and the KSM shockmount. A division of M. Klemme Technology Corp., K-Tek received an Academy Award for Technical Excellence for its Klassic Boom Pole series of products. According to the company, the K-102 is the most popular K-Tek pole for ENG and documentary work. Perfect, I thought as I was planning a PSA shoot.
The XLR at the wired boom”s handle.
Weighing only 1lb., the pole is only 2ft. 2in. long when collapsed. Fully extended, its five sections measure an effective 8ft. 9in. K-Tek makes six versions of the Klassic Boom Pole, ranging from 4ft. to more than 20 ft. Each is made from eight layers of non-reflective, high-density graphite fiber, making the K-102 extremely strong, yet light enough to be held above your head for long periods. It is dent-proof — rated at C-70 Rockwell, it’s about the same hardness as an emerald. The surface is very smooth, which helps to eliminate handling noise. Extending or collapsing the pole is also quiet and easy. The section couplings’ “captive collett” design makes them dirt- and dust-proof and resistant to jamming, according to K-Tek. A fishnet-like covering at the base of the pole enhances your gripping power and is gentle on the hands, even when they’re wet with water or sweat.
Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises of the K-102 was that I didn’t need to worry about the microphone cable being wound around the outside of the pole, which makes the cable prone to snags. The K-102 and all the Klassic Boom Pole products offer internal wiring as an option. Internal 48V phantom power and 12V “T” power cord wiring and extension sections are also available.
On the set of our shoot I simply attached my Shure KSM44 mic to the KSM shockmount, screwed the mount onto the 1/4in. male thread at the end of the pole, and plugged in the mic, using an adapter to the female XLR plug at the mic end. Then I plugged the XLR male end to my audio cable, running it to a BeachTek XLR/RCA converter box with volume control. Finally, I plugged the BeachTek into a Sony VX2000 DV camera. In less than five minutes I was set up and ready for the talent to hit the set and do a take.
K-Tek offers a range of professional graphite fiber boom poles, starting at 4ft. and extending to more than 20ft.
The set was outdoors, and as the day wore on a breeze picked up. Wind became a problem. While a little wind can add to the overall audio of a scene, too much can be distracting and make the dialogue unintelligible. Enter the K-Tek Zeppelin fuzzy windscreen. The Zeppelin provides wind noise reduction and also offers microphone protection. Made of a layer of high-density, open-cell foam bonded to a body of reticulated foam, the Zeppelin has an outer layer of top-quality synthetic fur. The windscreen simply slides smoothly over the head of your microphone. It comes in three versions for shorter, mid-sized, and larger mics.
The shoot went well. To provide a good reference I shot four versions of the :60 PSA, each with different audio. One used just the on-camera mic (the VX2000 features a stereo mic on top of the camera), one with an Azden wireless lavalier mic, one with the wireless and the boom mic, and then one with just the K-102 pole and the Shure KSM44. Maybe it was the quality of the mics, but in every instance the version recorded with just the Shure mic and the K-102 boom sounded best. Despite its challenges, the wireless picked up dialogue well, but there was usually movement noise. With the boom, the overhead mic picked up not just the dialogue but the whole environment — the breeze through the trees, the water, prop, and talent sounds — adding up to a soundtrack with a fuller, more even audio texture.
While the cost of a professional boom system like this might seem a bit on the high side, its price is comparable to those of competing products. The K-Tek system is definitely more effective than anything homemade. If you are serious about capturing high-quality audio for your videos, investing in a system like this — and providing a dedicated boom operator to keep the mic on target — will make your videos sound as good as they look. With the lightweight yet rock-solid K-Tek K-102 Klassic boom pole, Zeppelin fuzzy windscreen, and KSM shockmount, capturing good audio is well within your reach.
Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a journalist, entertainer, and video creator based in Hawaii.
Company: K-Tek (760) 727-0593; www.mklemme.com
Product: Klassik K-102 boom pole, KSM shockmount, Zeppelin fuzzy windscreen
Assets: Weighs only 16oz., Internal Mic wiring, rock solid, silent non-reflective surface.
Caveats: Consider an optional harness that helps the operator hold the pole on target.
Demographic: Any video creator interested in capturing better audio.
Price: $605 for K-102 boom pole with internal XLR wiring; $135 for KSM; $110 for Zeppelin
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