Review: JuicedLink RA333 Preamp

I am quite often a perfectionist, or possibly lazy, or maybe a combination of the two. Whichever it is, I want to spend less time in post production by getting things right “in camera”. The problem when shooting video is, more often than not, getting good audio. Unfortunately, getting really good audio (no noise or hiss) is not easy or inexpensive. I have certainly tried to get good audio on a tight budget and no doubt wasted more time and money than if I had done it right the first time. Getting more and more frustrated I turned to Robert over at JuicedLink for advice. He suggested the JuicedLink RA333 Preamp and an Audio-Technica AT875R microphone. After using it for a month, how did the JuicedLink RA333 hold up? Well, that’s the point of this article so continue reading to learn more.

What is it?

The RA333 is an audio preamp designed to take input from microphones and deliver a good signal to the recording device. The RA333 has three XLR inputs with Phantom Power, a mic line output, a headphone output, level controls for each input, and a headphone output volume control.

On the bottom is a plethora of additional switches for controlling the Phantom Power, input gains, Automatic Gain Control Disable, Meter Calibration, and a few other controls, most of which you are not likely to have to use.

Who is it for?

The RA333 Preamp is a professional grade preamp designed for videographers that want to record clean, clear audio with a minimum of post production.

Normally, you have to take any audio clip and run it though a noise reduction process to remove the underlying hiss that is there. This process adds to the time and resources needed to do editing, makes it harder for multiple clips to be matched together, and often removes some of the subtleties of the audio and can even make it sound “tinny”.

If you are wanting to get the best audio you can, then you are going to want to take a serious look at the line of preamps from JuicedLink.

How Does It Work?

Now I am not an audio engineer but I will do my best to explain what happens from mic to camera to help explain where the JuicedLink RA333 comes in. During the recording process there are several points where things can can wrong. First there is the subject to the microphone. The further away the microphone is from the subject, the lower the audio signal that will hit the microphone. For you more advanced photographers, this is identical to the inverse square law for lighting. The less signal that hits the mic, the higher the gain has to be to pick up the voice, which will result in more noise added to the signal.

Second, the mic to the camera comes into play. Something has to amplify the signal from the mic and the amps that are built into most cameras simply are not that good. As the lower quality amps try to boost the signal from the mic, they add additional noise into the audio signal.

Where the RA333 comes in is to take the signal from the microphone and amplify it to proper levels using top quality components to prevent adding additional noise. On the camera side, you turn the recording level as low as possible (to prevent noise) and let the higher quality and stronger signal from the JuicedLink RA333 boost the signal to the right levels.

To get the RA333 setup, I popped in a 9v alkaline battery and then turned to the RA333 online manual.  The following is a quick bullet list of the settings I used:

  • LiPoly/ALK to ALK - this is for proper battery metering
  • MIC/LINE to MIC and GAIN on HI for the L1 channel
  • Power set to 12v
  • AGC DISABLE:  On for Canon 7D / Off for use with Canon Vixia camcorder

The final step is to calibrate the meter to your particular camera. Instead of trying to walk you through this, I have simply included Robert’s video on how to do this set.

How Well Does It Work?

I don’t really want to say that I was skeptical that dropping close to $700 for a mic and preamp would solve all of my audio problems, but in the back of my mind I simply couldn’t imagine a world without audio post production. What ended up happening is that it worked a little too good. Not only did the audio for my video work turn out much better, but I am using the same setup with the addition of a Zoom H4n as a USB Audio Interface (with the input gain set to 1)  for recording the Camera Dojo podcast.

The Final Verdict

The old phrase “You get what you pay for” most certainly goes for audio equipment. Yes, you can get “ok” results for less money but about the best you can do is reduce noise to a point that the noise reduction in post production doesn’t hurt the audio quality discernibly. Even the best results I was able to get before still required noise reduction even if it was minimal. With a good mic, the RA333, and keeping the mic as close to the subject as possible, I rarely need to do any post production.

In the following video, the microphone is just outside of the frame for the best signal pickup, sent through the RA333 and into the camcorder. This video required absolutely zero post production to remove noise.

The RA333 really delivers on its promise to deliver high quality audio. At $469 the JuicedLink RA333 preamp is not a cheap product, rather, it is an investment in your equipment that works great and will last a long time.

JuicedLink Website: http://juicedlink.com

KerryG

Kerry Garrison is a wedding, portrait, and product photographer living in southern California. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 3 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms. Kerry's work can be found at http://kerrygarrison.com and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/KerryGarrison

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