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Digital Video Product Reviews: Vive Surround Sound Microphone

This is a review of the Vive Surround Sound Microphone, by Cascade Audio Systems. The mic puts out a stereo audio signal that is compatible with all Dolby sound-enabled audio receivers, including Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Digital 5.1 decoders. As you'll see when playing back the test files, that also includes software media players on your computer that are Dolby compatible. The 1/8"(3.5mm) stereo minijack allows you to plug the Vive into just about any consumer/prosumer camcorder. The technical specifications for the Vive mic include 20 Hz to 20 KHz frequency response and <60dB signal to noise ratio. The Vive was previously released under the name "SSM", but earlier this year was upgraded with better microphone capsules and better mounting options. There is a mono input jack on the Vive for bringing in remote center channel audio from any standard lapel or wireless microphone. You'll probably need something hotter than just a mic-level signal for the center channel input. This Vive surround sound microphone review is not geared towards measuring the actual sound quality of the mic, but rather to show the degree of surround sound capability that the unit is capable of.

The Vive mic retails for $89.95,  Here is a direct link to the mic at B&H Photo-Video  the only retailer who is currently selling it.
Canon Vixia HF11 Camcorder with Vive Surround Sound Microphone

Vive Microphone Testing

In the first Vive mic test video, the author walked around the camera while talking, in an attempt to better isolate each of the three microphone capsules inside of the Vive. The individual mics are located at approximately ten oclock, two oclock, and 6 oclock. If you peel the Vive sticker off, then unscrew the mic cover, you'll see that there is a porous black sheet material that probably acts as a windscreen of sorts. Try to resist the urge to remove the cover, though, because it's attached to the pcb board ground with a thin wire that has an easily broken solder joint.

In the first Vive surround sound mic review test video, the Canon Vixia HF11 camcorder was set to manual audio mode, with automatic gain control turned off. Partway through the video, the author switched microphones, from the Vive mic to the onboard factory Vixia HF11 mic. This was done to illustrate the difference between surround sound and your typical camcorder stereo mic. If you are listening to the video on a Dolby-enabled surround sound system, you should immediately notice the sound bias changing drastically from the rear speakers towards the front speakers when the mics are switched, while the author is still talking from behind the microphone.

The term "bias" was used there because you might still hear some sound coming from the rear speakers with the factory stereo Canon mic audio, because of the way that Dolby surround sound systems work. From the Onkyo TX-SR504 AV receiver manual: "Dolby Pro Logic IIx expands any 2-channel source for 7.1 channel playback... DTS Neo:6 mode expands any 2-channel source for 6.1 channel playback", etc. The point here is that there are a number of things that can influence the effect of the surround sound audio, depending in part on the listening mode of your AV receiver and/or the computer media player being used. The VLC media player works very well for this test. The Canon Vixia HF11 records Dolby AC3 stereo audio, but the Vive surround sound microphone apparently does not have a Dolby encoder in it. If you look at the Cascade Audio website, it never makes the claim that the Vive puts out a Dolby-encoded audio stream. However, the website goes into great detail about directional sound matrixing and such. That is in stark contrast to the Holophone surround sound microphones, which do have Dolby encoders onboard. They use one mic capsule per surround channel, but they cost a lot more than the Vive mic does.

Can you edit Vive Surround Sound Microphone audio?

In order to edit Dolby AC3 audio, you'll need an editing application that is capable of opening up those files. At this point in time, you can't open an AC3 audio file with video editing applications like Sony Vegas Video or Premiere Pro. You can open the Canon Vixia HF11 video files that have audio from the Vive microphone on them, but you won't see any descrete audio channels in your editor, it'll just be stereo as usual. So if you were hoping to be able to tweak the remote microphone center channel track, you'll have to do your mixing before it gets fed into the camera.

The good news is that the Vive surround sound audio retains it's surround capabilities through all kinds of editing. The test video clip was first recorded in Dolby AC3 on the Vixia HF11 camcorder, uncompressed for editing and export, then recompressed into various formats, including AC3, Windows Media audio, AAC, and MP3. All of those formats still played back the same way on the Onkyo AV receiver, in both Dolby PLIIx Movie Mode(SPDIF), and in Multichannel mode via the 7.1 channel analog audio inputs.

Canon Vixia HF11 Remote Microphone Mount

How do you mount the Vive mic onto a video camera that has a proprietary microphone mount on it? In the case of the Canon Vixia HF11 and probably the Vixia HF10, you can go down to your local hardware store and get a carriage bolt, some nuts and washers, and you'll have a stand that is securely bolted to the camera. Fasten a piece of aluminum, or whatever, to the bolt, and the Vive mic will adhere to that with the sticky doubleback pad that comes with the mic. If you are fortunate enough to have a standard mic mount on your camcorder, the Vive will slide right in there. Word of warning with respect to the carriage bolt mount; if you look at the electrical contacts inside the Vixia HF11 microphone mount, you might want to file down the side of the carriage bolt head that faces those contacts. Once you have the aluminum mic mount piece fastened to the carriage bolt, do your filing on the side of the carriage bolt head that faces forward, towards the electrical contacts.

Here is the first page of this  Canon Vixia HF11 Camcorder Review .

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