August 11, 2010
First look: Roland S-0808
by Bryan Dembinski

Recently, I had a hidden camera commercial client come to me with a simple prank idea. They wanted to get people off the street to come into a set blindfolded, then have them walk around and give their impressions of what the room was like. They would be guided through this process by 1 or 2 hosts, perhaps have an actor in there with them, wear a wireless mic and we would also have several hardwired hidden mics around the set as redundant backups in case any of the wireless systems failed. To add to the complexity, the distance from the set to the control room was always going to be greater than 200' ft, with the max distance being 300' ft. Added to this, we also have to set up and break down our control room and cables runs every day because each day of our 3 day shoot we have a different location. And to top things off, I have to get three signals from the control room back to set: one for a Comtek BaseStation/Phonak combo so the director can talk directly to the host; one for a backup IFB/neck loop setup; and one for a god speaker so that the director can talk to the crew, clients, and actors in between shots.

If it sounds simple, as recently as a couple of years ago, this was really a challenge for any production sound team. You could always run tons of long XLR cables as well as long BNC cables for the antennas, but this is time consuming and really frustrating when and if any single cable goes down. Also, it really hurts your RF range to run cables over that distance. It would have taken at least 2 extra sound people and another full day of setup, labeling and coordination before we ever got to set 1. This was time we just didn't have.

Lucky for me, Peter at Gotham Sound in NYC recommended I try out a new product: the Roland S-0808. In one small package, I was able to send up to 8 tracks from set to me in the control via CAT-5. In addition, I could send up to 8 tracks BACK from the control room to the set over the same CAT-5. This meant that instead of running approx 13 cables approx 250+ ft a piece everyday, we could just unspool a single CAT-5 in the morning and be done with it. So much more elegant and easy to work with.

If that wasn't enough, the S-0808 also has a group of additional features that made my job so much easier. First off, it accepts either mic or line level signals and can provide 48v phantom power to all channels so Icould directly plug in my hardwired backup mics straight into the box and didn't need any additional gear. Also, I could run my lectrosonics receivers at -30 db which is my preferred output level. The system also comes with a remote so that during the shooting, I can increase or decrease the pre-A/D gain of the mic preamps so I don't have to worry about any digital clipping from hot signals or digital noise from signals that were too low. This was key; I didn't have to have one of our A2's sitting on set monitoring the system and making tweaks because I could always do it from the control room.

The only drawback of the system comes in the monitoring. There is no headphone output on either the remote control or the S-0808 itself. While I probably wouldn't use this all the time, I would like to have the option of direct monitoring during the sound checks, just in case I felt that there was something going on before I hit my mixing console.

During the 3 days of shooting, the system preformed flawlessly. By day three, I completely forgot I was even using something that I hadn't heard of a week before. It seamlessly and naturally became part of the audio signal change. The mic pre's were more than adequate for dialog and produciton location recording needs, the interface is very user friendly, and the feature set was exactly what I was looking for in this case. I do wish it was a bit easier for the system to go modular for cases when I would need 16 to 24 tracks sent to me and 4 or so tracks sent back. I know a system for this exists, but from my reading, it seemed less than ideal. But for people needing no more than 8 tracks sent/received, I don't think there could be a better solution. My thanks go out to Peter and Roland for letting me try out their fine product.

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Published by Gotham Sound and Communications, Inc.
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