Recently I wrote about why audio recording on DSLR’s sucks so bad. While you can fix the audio issues on the 5D Mk II with the Magic Lantern Firmware you are still don’t have a software -based solution for the Canon EOS 7D. JuicedLink has a unique solution with the DS214 Amp. The problem with the 7D is that you cannot disable the 7D’s Automatic Gain Control so what ends up happening is that the cleaner the audio signal, the more it tries to bump up the microphone gain resulting in a lot of noise being added to the audio. The best microphones in the world only make this problem worse by eliminating extra noise, so the 7D fights itself to raise the signal during silent sections. The JuicedLink DS214 solves this in a very unique way as we will see in this review.
Before we get into the one feature I really bought the DS214 for (yes, I bought it, full price from B&H, this is how much I wanted it) let’s go through some of the other features that make this unit such a cool device:
- 2 mic channels via the stereo minijack input
- Audio Input Meters
- AGC Disable (to get better SNR from cameras without manual control)
- 30dB typ max gain
- Headphone Amplifier
- Low-noise preamp
- Enclosure fabricated from Aluminum, Approx 3.5″ x 3″ x 1.7″
If you are not an audio expert, you might not know what most of that means, fear not reader, I will do my best to explain it as I understand it.
Our current video DSLR cameras have a single stereo microphone input but usually our microphones only feed in the audio in a single channel (left or right, sometimes combined). Sometimes, we want to use two mics for real stereo input but the difficulty is getting the audio levels to be level between the two channels. With the DS214 (and a specific cable) you can feed two channels into the amp and adjust the input levels with dials on the front of the unit and use the audio level meters to help adjust the levels. Thanks to a headset jack, you can also monitor the audio stream to make sure it is sounding good as well. By integrating a low-noise pre-amp, you can boost the input levels to ensure a goof quality recording.
That is about as technical as I can get without risking the possibility of being completely wrong, so if someone wants to chime in in the comments to help clarify this, please do.
The final feature is the AGC disable (much more on this latter) which rather effectively disables the aforementioned AGC in the camera to allow the camera to record good clean audio.
There are plenty of amps available with a plethora of features but the DS214 has a feature specific to what I wanted, and this is AGC disable. When you turn on the AGC Disable feature the DS214 mixes both of the left and right channels into a single track that is fed into the left channel while a tone generator feeds a signal into the right channel. The generated tone tricks the AGC system in the camera into thinking there is a lot of noise coming in which causes the AGC to essentially shut off.
While your camera ends up with a really clean audio track on one channel, you also get an unusable right channel that you need to delete in post production. If you are using Sony Vegas or Final Cut, JuicedLink has some instructions for removing the right channel. If you are using Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5, I have come up with the following instructions:
Right click on video clip in the timeline and select ‘Edit Clip in Adobe Audition’
In Audition, right click on sound file in file bin and select ‘Extract Channels to Mono Files’
This will create a file for each channel
Delete the original file and the <filename>_R file
Double-click on the <filename>_L file
Do any processing you want
Imported new sound file back into Premiere
Right click on video clip in timeline and select Unlink
Delete the audio track
Add new audio track into timeline and align with video track (should snap into position)
How Well Does It Work
To be sure that I was going to get the best results I actually read the DS214 Manual which includes a section on tuning the AGC Disable for the 7D. Once all setup, it was time to try out the new system. I connected an Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Microphone ($21) and pinned it up near my collar like normal. The resulting audio was so good you could hear every breath I took. I actually ended up having to move the mic from my collar to about mid-chest and turn down the input gain a little. The result was crystal clear audio at a great volume.
Is It Worth It?
If you are planning on doing a good amount of video work and you really want to save time in post production by not having to sync audio that you recorded to a secondary audio device, the $144 may end up paying for itself in very short order. If I only did occasional video, I probably wouldn’t spend the money, but since I do a large amount of video for different client projects and have a huge amount of video work planned for next year, even saving a few minutes per project will pay for itself many times over.
For me, the DS214 was purchased to overcome a shortcoming in the Canon 7D audio system. That being said, the Canon 5D Mk II had the exact same limitation which was eventually overcome with both a firmware update as well as the Magic Lantern firmware mod. The current firmware on the 7D is not allowing the Magic Lantern team to create a package for the 7D. This could literally change overnight if Canon releases a firmware with the ability to disable AGC or allow a Magic Lantern modification. The question is, does the DS214 becoming nothing but an expensive paperweight when this day finally comes. The answer is….no.
Even when the AGC disable feature is no longer needed, I will still have a great pre-amp with separate audio input controls, visual audio indicator meters, and a headphone jack for live monitoring. With these extra features, the JuicedLink DS214 will continue to serve multiple purposes for my video recording purposes.
What Could Be Improved?
The only real issue I have is dealing with how to mount the DS214 to the camera. For me, almost all of my video work is done in a studio with the camera on a tripod. With a simple adapter, I can put the DS214 on the camera’s hot shoe making it very conveniently placed to plug into the camera’s mic port. What would be ideal (in my opinion) would be a way to mount it under the camera and then attach a tripod quick mount to the bottom of the DS214. This would be more convenient when using the camera off the tripod. If you are using some kind of cage for your camera than you probably have more flexibility in your mounting options.
If you are using the 7D and want to use in-camera audio then you really have no choice right now. Until the 7D has a means of disabling the AGC system, there simply isn’t a way to get really good quality audio into the camera.
B&H: juicedLink DS214 $144
Amazon: JuicedLink DS214 $144