Sonos Locus on why recording audio for Master Distiller in a barrel house was no sweat

Alex Haralson heads up Sono Locus, a leading location sound company in Knoxville, a city that looms large in cable and reality TV due in part to the legacy of Scripps, the once-parent company of such channels as HGTV, Food Network and The Travel Channel. This year, Knoxville earned sixth place in the USA on Moviemaker magazine’s list of best places to live and work in production. His recent work includes the competition series Master Distiller and films Secret City and A Hard Problem. From high-profile productions such as these to a never-ending flow of documentaries, commercial and corporate work, he explains how he has trusted his wireless needs to Lectrosonics for over 25 years.

In particular, SRc and DCR822 receivers accompanied by SMDWB and HMa transmitters, plus SMV and SMQV transmitters feeding R1b body packs for communications.

“When I rebuilt my system a few years ago, I landed on the SRc in particular because for a lot of the projects I was working on, my gear had to be compatible with other mixers’ packages and other wireless gear manufacturers,” Haralson explains. “I knew that on the road, I would run into Lectrosonics more often than not.”

Haralson’s relationship with Lectrosonics far predates the SRc, however. “When I got my first job for Gannett at the local NBC affiliate, the wireless setups in the studio were Lectrosonics,” he recalls. “For anyone who had to move around the studio, we had the UCR211 [receivers]. When I moved over to Scripps, each field package had a couple of Lectro UHF packages with an older VHF system as a backup. So yeah, I’ve been with them a while!”

Between radio carrier frequencies being directional by nature and the surprises reality TV can throw at any production, Haralson is grateful for Lectrosonics’ reception and range.

“I worked on a barbecue show a couple of years ago,” he says. “Sometimes we would be set up on this large field and one of the pitmasters would be clear on the other side. We’d pop an antenna mast up and depending on how far away they were, up the transmitter to 100 milliwatts output. We got great range and coverage.”

You can see the distillers dripping with sweat; the SMWB and SMDWB just keep on truckin’!

Productions don’t need to be outdoors to draw on these same strengths. “Master Distiller on Discovery is a competitive reality show, sort of like Chopped but for making spirits,” he explains.

“On Master Distiller, our bags contained the newer Lectro DCR822 receivers. We were shooting in a converted warehouse, basically a big metal box, so RF bounced around. We had two identical sets side by side as we worked on multiple shows at the same time. Range and coverage were a concern there.

“I set two of the diversity fins up – one outside each stage – and ran cables back to our mix station between the two. The farther away of those two stages involved a 75-foot cable run and inline amps. Then I had a mast we’d pop outside the back door, which also used a 75-foot run and amps – for shooting on the outdoor set.

“The studio could get hot, with southern summers and the stills running on propane,” he points out. “We shot season 2 in a barrel house that wasn’t climate controlled, because part of the process of aging whiskey is that seasonal temperature changes draw the liquid in and out of the wood to create the flavor profile. In the summer, you can just see the distillers dripping with sweat. So, I love that the SMWB and SMDWB are well sealed against this kind of thing. They just keep on truckin’!

The whispers sounded like whispers, the shouts were shouts, and post was happy with all of it.

Meanwhile, on Secret City, a short about the Manhattan Project, the need for dynamic range in tight interiors called for nimble – meaning wireless – boom work.

“I use HMa transmitters for wireless booms,” says Haralson. “My boom operator gets very good sound this way. There were moments in Secret City with some pretty quiet lines, but with this setup, we got them perfectly cleanly — the whispers sounded like whispers, the shouts were shouts, and post was happy with all of it,” he smiles.

Dynamic response that rivals a cabled microphone is just one of the sonic virtues Haralson attributes to Lectrosonics’ across-the-board devotion to sound quality, which he sums up as follows:

“All wireless has to fit a wider dynamic range down a narrow pipeline, and in many of the cheaper systems you can hear the pumping effect of companding. Lectrosonics is transparent and frequency response is also excellent,” he adds. “The microphone itself is the most important part of any signal chain, so the idea is that wireless transmission doesn’t take away any information you started with. Lectrosonics performs very well here. Start with a good mic, and Lectro is not going to chew it up.”