Mozegear’s new audio-for-video tools pack a punch.
Mozegear has been shaking up the production sound world over the past couple years, with its affordable, compact timecode and preamp products that are machined, tested, and serviced at their facility in Southern California. Now they also want to focus R&D towards the camera department, and the blurred lines of what is increasingly being demanded of videographers, videojournalists and owner/operators.
Their upcoming products are the TIG Qbit, currently the world’s smallest timecode generator sync box, and the CaPre, a single channel preamp designed to drive dynamic or battery-powered mics for weaker camera audio inputs.
Over this Summer, we field tested both with our camera department friends, exploring how these products can be useful in a production. Here’s what we found:
TIG Qbit – tiny timecode for camera rigs
About the size of a 9V battery, and built like a miniature tank, the new TIG Qbit is Mozegear’s new “invisible” timecode sync solution created for camera rigs that have on-body or battery power distribution.
The Qbit is meant to be externally powered via its 4-pin Hirose DC input, but also stores a 4-hour internal backup battery. The key word here is “backup”. Because of Qbit’s size, there is no room to fit a decent mobile lithium battery or house a replaceable battery compartment. So it relies on external powering while still ticking during camera battery changes, meal breaks, or other downtime.
While its battery life is too short from a production sound viewpoint, Qbit’s ultra compact footprint could be a game changer for camera setups that need to be as weight efficient as possible, such as Movi, Steadicam, or quadcopter rigs.
Unlike other micro timecode solutions, such as the TentacleSync or NanoLockit, the Qbit features only hardware switch control, and doesn’t rely on existing wireless ecosystems or mobile apps. In fact, there are only two controls: a power switch, and a SMPTE frame rate selector. Three red LED’s indicate battery level, free running timecode, or confirming jammed sync.
Qbit has two different product variants for timecode I/O, either a full-sized locking BNC or a 5-pin Lemo connector. Regardless of what camera(s) are in your production, or cables you already have, you can count on a stronger connector on both ends. Personally, a BNC connector tends to be easier to work with on set, especially if you’re using a sound recorder as a master clock, and need to quickly jam sync multiple cameras.
Upon bootup, Qbit will listen for an incoming timecode signal to jam to, and only if it’s compatible with its frame rate selection. Otherwise, the red LED’s will flash in error. One flash per second indicates successful sync and output. Connect the Qbit to a DC power source with an appropriate Hirose or D-Tap cable, then connect its timecode cable to camera. From there, check that your timecode settings are correct, and you’re all set.
Because of its size, mounting the Qbit is very easy, and should stay snug with a piece of Velcro. Additionally, Mozegear will also manufacture a slightly wider body version with mounting access for camera accessory plates.
Head to head
There are pros & cons to each “micro” timecode solution currently available, and the Qbit has a very specific target audience in an already focused market. Here’s a side-by-side look at each system:
|Dimensions||28 x 53 x 15 mm||34 x 50 x 16 mm||36 x 65 x 31 mm|
|Weight||25 g||30 g||75 g|
|3.5 mm TRS
WiFi & App
|Output Signals||SMPTE||SMPTE, LTC, U-Bit||SMPTE, LTC, MIDI, U-Bit|
|Powering||DC 4-pin Hirose
3.5 ~ 4.25 hours
|“Up to 40 hours”||“Up to 35 hours”|
|Included Cables||n/a||TRS cable, USB setup cables||Lemo-5 to 3.5 mm cable|
$30~90 per cable
The Qbit offers no-frills hardware control, a tough construction, solid BNC or Lemo-5 connectivity, and dependable performance when used with a camera that has a DC power distro.
The TentacleSync TS1 has all-day battery power for about the same base price, but with less durable construction and connectivity, and more dependency on custom cabling and external app control.
Add another $100 to your budget, and you could explore Ambient’s NanoLockit as an even better all-day solution, also housed in aluminum, with Lemo-5 connectivity and full timecode signal support.
The Qbit is different because it’s more of a camera department solution, focused on feedback primarily from camera owner/operators, rather than sound professionals. It’s a nearly invisible and inexpensive timecode piece built to handle the rigors of production, with very simple operation.
It may not be our master or all-day sync box, but Qbit can still excel as a shot or project-based tool where footprint is extremely important.
CaPre – compact preamp for on-camera mics
Want to get the most out of your prosumer camera-mounted mic, but don’t want a bulky box mounted underneath? Mozegear’s upcoming CaPre miniature preamp is designed to provide cleaner and easier gain control to electret or battery-powered microphones, bypassing the often depressing quality of camera audio inputs.
With up to 60 dB of gain, and an additional 16 dB of headroom on top, the CaPre can be a powerful addition to DSLR or camcorder packages that need a stronger, dependable single channel of audio. Professional production cameras that lack decent input control benefit from CaPre.
Note that CaPre does not provide phantom power. For those who need a portable full-featured solution including 48V, high pass filtering, limiters, and full-sized XLR and alternate powering, Mozegear also offers their Mini PAPI series.
Ins & outs
Controls on the milled aluminium CaPre are very simple – there’s a power switch, maximum gain selector, and a rotary post-gain knob for variable adjustment. There are also power, signal gain and peak LED’s for easy viewing.
Mozegear currently plans to produce two standard versions of the CaPre: one with 3.5 mm (unbalanced) input and TA5 output, and a balanced TA3 input version with options for TA3 and TA5 outputs. Outputs on both versions are line-level. Other input and output connection types may be available upon special order.
The 3.5 mm version with have a dual channel output from a TA5 connector, with one safety channel padded at -18 dB. This could be useful for videographers that cannot (or choose not to) monitor audio on the fly, and could benefit from a backup channel. The TA3 version could also be useful for extra level control for wireless receivers.
The CaPre is powered by two AAA batteries. On its highest gain setting, using Duracell Procell alkaline batteries, the CaPre lasted an average of 15 hours during our field testing. With AA being the most abundant type in a production, those who can benefit from this tool also need to consider keeping another battery type in their arsenal.
Stronger preamp, cleaner sound
On paper, the CaPre is a low-noise, low distortion, and full 20 Hz ~ 20 kHz fidelity preamp. Its line-level output effectively bypasses low-quality camera preamps, for much better gain staging and signal to noise.
We tested the CaPre with popular cameras and audio-for-video mics available today. We minimized any extra features on battery powered models, such as high-pass filtering or signal padding. We set the camera’s gain to line-level, or the “volume” setting to as low as possible, while still achieving proper meter levels. The CaPre post-gain knob is set to 12 o’clock, with my voice peaking at +0 to +10 dB on its LED meter.
Most of the difference in audio quality you’ll hear are the variations of different mics. We’re listening for signal to noise, and appropriate amplification of each mic.
Listen to the demonstrations below with headphones:
DSLR – Canon 5D Mark III
DSLR’s weren’t originally designed to shoot video, and the internal audio always stinks. But by using line-level signals from the CaPre we can turn the camera’s gain all the way down, resulting in cleaner signals from these prosumer mics.
Operators will appreciate having immediate gain knob control and indicator lights right at their fingertips, without clumsily diving into camera menus, and make fixes on the fly (hopefully, while actually monitoring the audio). One downside is finding a good place to mount the CaPre, while wrangling the extra cables required in this setup. Cold shoe mounts on the top and bottom faces would be perfect.
Camcorder – Canon XA Series
One of the more popular “video-journalist” or “lone producer” cameras is Canon’s XA series, and are often part of field kits for NPR, VICE News, and other organizations. But alas, while its audio inputs offer phantom power, the sound is pretty rough for broadcast. One of our operator friends need to resort to using a Beachtek or similar interface that mounts underneath the body.
Again, we struggled to mount the CaPre and its cables neatly to camera body, but at least its much smaller than a full-sized preamp box.
This is a test of the CaPre’s self noise at its 60 dB gain setting. According to Adobe Audition, noise levels hover well below -80 dBFS.
Is it production friendly?
The CaPre is housed in the same casing as Mozegear’s TIG Q28 timecode generator, with smooth and rounded surfaces for more durability. Because the CaPre will be used in conjunction with an on-camera mic, we were surprised that there aren’t any camera shoe or thread mounting options available at launch.
During all camera testing, the CaPre could have benefitted from a cold shoe mount on both faces, so that it could be sandwiched between camera body and mic, with short cables and easy access to gain control – simple and neat. The best option now is to attach it with Velcro or rubber bands, and to attempt securing the unit and cabling somewhere to the camera body. Mozegear is exploring future optional mounting accessories.
The CaPre will also require custom cabling that is not included, and will need to be sourced elsewhere. TA3, TA5, and other adapted cables could cost an additional $70 each or more, unless the you’re handy with a soldering iron to DIY. Mozegear is also considering cables for special order.
A TA5 dual output connector, with a padded safety channel, could be useful for those who can depend on a single microphone or source of audio, because most cameras only have up to two audio inputs. Videographers and producers may need more than one audio source: one on-camera microphone, and at least one wireless or wired reference feed.
Because cameras have at least two audio inputs, maybe a two-channel version would make more sense for this market.
Despite some design shortcomings and cabling requirements out the box, the CaPre is still a functional, well-built compact preamp for those who need cleaner, stronger signals and simpler control of on-camera mics. The CaPre will be available this year for about $250 USD, at your favorite dealer.
Mozegear wants to innovate for both sound and camera departments, while steering away from the prosumer market. It’s marketing new products as being “RED” or “Alexa-Ready”, and continues to keep all manufacturing and operations locally in Irvine, California.
Soon, Mozegear will be releasing a new compact phantom power supply for boom poles or wireless plant mics. We look forward to checking them out too!
Want us to test and review other production audio products? Drop us a line anytime on our contact page!