Ask the Techie: Microphone recommendations

The Realtime and Technology Resource Committee is taking your questions on topics surrounding realtime and technology. Send the questions you want the Committee members to tackle to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Dear Techie:

I am a court reporter who freelances with several different court reporting agencies. My trusty laptop is on its last legs, so I am going to purchase a new computer and will use my existing machine for backup purposes.

One of my upcoming assignments is a jury trial — a first for me. The courtroom is in an old courthouse and so I am unsure about the acoustics and whether I will be able to hear all of the participants. The voir dire is scaring me to death, actually. There will be no microphones for prospective jurors. I need my backup media to be as clear as possible.

Yikes! Please help! I need some guidance about which microphone options I should be considering.

Muddled Mike


Dear Mike:

Good luck on your upcoming assignment. It’s always good to go in prepared to handle anything. Here are a few recommendations from some of the Committee members.

Myrina Kleinschmidt, RMR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer and agency owner in Wayzata, Minn.: I have used many great microphones. Now I am using the SoundTech CM-1000 3.5 mm Omni-directional Conference Microphone. I use the SoundTech to connect to my separate recorder (Marantz Professional, which is plugged into a power strip). I have connected up to three via daisy chaining down a long conference table. There’s a USB version if you want to connect to a computer and then daisy chain more from there. The microphone costs about $39.

I currently use CaseCat and DigitalCAT, and I have a Dell Latitude; but I do not use a microphone with my computer at this time. In the past, I used the DepoBook Stealth Microphone and that was a plug and play, which worked well with my Latitude. Since all software and computers have different audio systems, it’s best to have your CAT company and the microphone company help you get the settings perfected.

I like the low profile of the SoundTech, the daisy chaining ability, and the fact the SoundTech can be plugged into my computer (USB version), sound amplifier (Pocketalker), or recorder.

I don’t use a microphone connected to my computer. I use the Williams Sound Pocketalker (personal amplifier, $189) on many of my depos. The SoundTechs connect to the Pocketalker as well. I set it all up and have it ready to go — if the deponent is difficult to hear, I then turn it on at the next break, or stop the proceedings and turn it on if need be. When I can hear the words more clearly in the first place while writing, I write better, have a better record, which means that I have an easier time editing and I am less tired at the end of the day.

Recently, I connected a lapel mic (Sony ECMCS3 Clip style Omnidirectional Stereo Microphone – about $20) to a low-speaking witness. The lapel mic was connected to the Pocketalker and then I had an earbud to listen with one ear. Also I recently used the Pocketalker on a two-week arbitration where the background noise was awful. I again connected lapel mics (using a splitter cable so as to have both mics go into the Pocketalker) and had the witness and the questioning attorney wear the mics. The arbitrators kept asking participants to repeat, while I had no difficulty hearing.

Lynette L. Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer based in Memphis, Tenn.: I use the MXL AC-404 Conference microphone. This microphone is designed to capture crystal-clear intelligibility for multiple uses and has easy plug-in-play connectivity. Bonus: There are no drivers to download! It is compatible with Windows and Mac. For my Luminex, I utilize the Martel HGM-2. The cost is about $99, but check online for the best price. Some vendors offer free shipping. My go-to sources are either Amazon or B&H Photo Video. The cost of the HGM-2 is around $179.

I am on Case CATalyst. I find that the microphone settings that get me the best audio quality are as follows:

  • MXL Microphone Sound settings: Speakers Properties: Levels: Balance, 37; Advanced: 16 bit, 48000 Hz (DVD Quality)
  • Audio Settings in my software: 11025 Hz, 80MB/hr
  • HGM-2 microphone sound settings on Luminex: Microphone gain: 52%, Audio Format: ADPCM (14.7MB/hr)

As a freelancer, my court reporting assignments involve a variety of venues: depositions, arbitrations, hearings, and courtrooms. The number-one reason I landed with the MXL microphone is for the judicial reporting aspect. Backup media is an important tool for us. I go into several different courtrooms and am the official court reporter for trials and hearings. I wanted to ensure a seamless way to handle bench conferences. Since the courtrooms are on the small-ish side, it is easier to stay in my seat, slap some headphones on, and I’m ready to roll! Some other court reporters were using Scotch tape to adhere their microphone to the judge’s bench. Needless to say, the finish is wearing off on his bench. This conference mic has a low profile and will lay flat on any surface.

The second reason I bought the MXL was for the sound quality. I’ve utilized several different brands of PCs over the past five years. Each laptop has different specs for the audio quality. With each one of my purchases, though, this mic has always enhanced my BAM with generally no concerns.

The third reason was the USB plug-in-play. I like the idea of never having to install drivers. When I do have the need to switch to my backup computer, I know I am ready to go at a moment’s notice because of the plug-in-play feature.

 

Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR, a freelancer based in Brentwood, Tenn., (and frequent JCR contributor): It depends on the venue. Right now, for most applications, I use my HGMUSB mic and set it up on the table for a deposition or on a tripod at the bench for bench conferences and normal courtroom sound. I also have purchased the SP-USB-Mic-Model-6-Plus from Sound Professionals that I can also use as a standalone mic in depos, or with two boundary mics at the bench and at the witness stand via a 10-foot cord. It sells for about $300 from Martel. The Model 6 plus with the boundary mics was about $525 together.

I’m currently on Case CATalyst, and I use the default settings on the USB mics. Using the noise-canceling feature may work in some really bad deposition suites, but I’ve found that noise canceling will keep you from hearing the whispered bench conferences. Most of the time, I keep the mics at about 80-90 percent, keeping watch on the sound bar provided by my CAT system. If it starts to run to red, I reduce the volume. If it barely registers, I increase it. I set my systems to always listen and set my default audio as the USB devices. That forces you to use an earbud or headphones to monitor or play back. But there’s nothing worse than having your monitor be your system speakers: You cannot stop the caterwauling feedback quickly enough.

I’ve bought the cheap ones and the not-so cheap ones. Frankly, I had a lot of problems because the Lenovo Yoga Power Converter interfered horribly with all of my USB mics. Once I bought a different computer, I could hear again with crystal clarity. So my reasons for setting on the HGMUSB mic were: 1) Reliability; 2) Sound clarity; and 3) Ability to adjust the sound easily. All USB devices are similar. Cost is not a true consideration when a lot of my cases are realtime jury trials. I have to hear. These mics (and a great pair of Bose headphones) allow me to hear the bench conferences without too much difficulty.

As far as microphones for my writer, I use the Martel HGM-2. It’s a condenser mic with a battery that lasts forever, almost. I’ve used this mic on my writer as a backup to the CAT system numerous times. A USB is subject to audio environmental whims more often than I’d like, and the writer backup stays consistently outstanding.

 

Lou Chiodo, CLVS, a videographer who has also earned NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator and Trial Presentation Professional certificates, of New York City, N.Y.: I use the following two types of microphones in every deposition. These particular models are somewhat pricey, but I believe the audio is as important or likely more important than the images. If you want a demonstration of why, put the news on your TV at home sometime and move to the next room; and you will (if audible) hear and understand the information. Try that with the picture only — and even stay in the room — and it likely will not convey the information being provided.

There are a myriad of available models and styles that may work for videographers and court reporters alike. The Audio-Technica AT899 lavalier microphone is designed to be mounted on or hidden underneath clothing. Its slim low-profile design is ideal for depositions and broadcast applications. The tailored frequency response accentuates the frequency response of voices while minimizing low frequency noise, such as the air conditioner in many board rooms where depositions take place. A low-frequency roll-off switch further minimizes noise due to hum, ambiance, and proximity effect. The AT899 features a condenser element with a cardioid polar pattern. The cardioid pattern is effective in minimizing noise and ambiance at the off-axis sections of the microphone capsule. (The most common unidirectional microphone is a cardioid microphone, so named because the sensitivity pattern is “heart-shaped,” i.e. a cardioid. The cardioid family of microphones are commonly used as vocal or speech microphones, since they are good at rejecting sounds from other directions.)

The U841A from Audio-Technica is an omnidirectional condenser boundary microphone for surface-mount applications. It is designed for surface-mount applications such as sound reinforcement, conferencing, television sound, and more. A boundary microphone is essentially a small diaphragm condenser mic mounted in a housing that directs the diaphragm parallel to the surface onto which it’s mounted. You can see a diagram of a boundary mic’s setup in the illustration above. The parallel setup allows the mic to pick up the sound that is reflected off the surface that it’s mounted to, such as a wall or table.

New Orleans to host largest gathering of court reporting, captioning, and legal professionals

A press release announcing NCRA’s 2018 Convention & Expo was posted on June 7 by Global Newswire and Networking@IT Business Net.

Read more.

In honor of Memorial Day: VHP Video

This Memorial Day, please take a moment to pause to remember all who have served in the armed forces over the years to protect and preserve our freedoms. NCRF and NCRA would also like to thank everyone who has participated in protecting and preserving the stories of these war veterans by participating in the Veterans History Projects across the nation in the past 15 years.

Rob Jones interviewed by NCRA President Chris Willette as Tricia Rosate transcribes and Joe Donahoe videos

During NCRA’s 2018 Legislative Boot Camp, NCRA President Christine J. Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC, Wausau, Wis.,  had the opportunity to interview double amputee Rob Jones at the Library of Congress as part of its Veterans History Project. In addition to providing a court reporter and CLVS to record the interview, Planet Depos, based in Washington, D.C., created the following promotional video about NCRF’s involvement with VHP.

Watch the video.

 

The myths, mysteries, and misunderstandings of legal video

Talk Daily News posted an article on May 24 that notes, for the best experience using a legal videographer, firms should chose professionals who hold the NCRA CLVS certification.

Read more.

Five tips to help attorneys, paralegals, and court reporters to build mental stamina

A blog posted May 24 by JD Supra by Kramm Court Reporting offers tips for attorneys, court reportersvideographers, and paralegals to help them perform in their jobs at the highest level.

Read more.

Exploring alternatives to the legal life

An article posted May 15 in The Daily Campus, the student newspaper of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, notes that careers in court reporting and as a legal videographer offer two viable options for someone interested in entering the legal profession. The article cites NCRA as a resource to learn more.

Read more.

Hit me with your best webinar

Since hitting the scene in the mid-1990s the popularity of webinars to share information has defied all communications trends. Their use has more than rapidly grown, thanks to the platform’s ability to allow presenters a cost-effective mode to reach large and specific groups of online viewers from a single location and offers participants the ability to interact with presenters.

Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR

NCRA offers a variety of both live and recorded webinars that members can use to earn continuing education units. But it’s not just the participants who benefit from the value of webinars; the presenters do as well.

“I love webinars,” says Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR, a freelance court reporter from San Antonio, Texas, who was tapped by NCRA to present in a webinar about promoting and recruiting for the court reporting and captioning professions. “I think they are so informative and educational. Court reporters’ and captioners’ schedules are so hectic that it is sometimes hard to get away to a convention. Webinars make a very convenient and flexible way to educate and earn continuing education credits,” Uviedo said.

Steve Lubetkin, CLVS

Steve Lubetkin, CLVS, managing partner of Lubetkin Media Companies in Cherry Hill, N.J., said he presented his first webinar for NCRA after a conversation with staff when he finished his CLVS practical test. The conversation, he said, was about how highly he thought of the program. Since then, he has produced and hosted three webinars for NCRA.

“I enjoy being able to share some of the practical experience I’ve gained producing video and managing my business. I’m proud of some of the tricks I’ve learned to streamline the work, and it’s rewarding to have peers say they appreciate the ideas as well,” Lubetkin said.

Uviedo agreed. “Lending your expertise to other reporters is one of the greatest givebacks you can contribute to the profession.  Many of us are self-employed and do not have an employer to guide and/or train us. Training and guidance via webinar is an excellent way to educate our professionals,” said the 23-year veteran of court reporting.

According to Lubetkin, depending on the topic, preparing and creating a webinar can take some work on the presenter’s part. “For my webinar on the deposition audio chain, I think I spent two or three hours shooting the b-roll I used to illustrate part of the one-hour program. For the others, I spent several hours each on screen shots and display materials,” he noted.

Uviedo encourages others to volunteer to host webinars for NCRA to help increase educational opportunities. “I would say that your webinar is imperative for the busy working reporters who are unable to attend conventions and also reporters who are looking for guidance on information throughout the year. You can just go to NCRA’s webinar website and look for the topic you need training on, and voila! It’s a win-win for both the reporter and NCRA,” she said.

“Webinars are great when people can dedicate the specific time period for the live learning, and engage in interaction with the instructor and participants, but they are also valuable as on-demand recorded programs that people can go back to over and over to review concepts and techniques,” added Lubetkin, who has been a legal videographer since 2014 and earned his CLVS in 2016.

NCRA is always looking for professionals to share their expertise with our membership. Presenting a webinar is a great way to build your résumé, gain a platform for your ideas, and contribute your knowledge to the NCRA Continuing Education library. Presenters may advertise their business at the end of their presentations and will be compensated. For more information, contact egoff@ncra.org.

Registration is open for 2018 NCRA Convention & Expo

Registration is now open for the NCRA 2018 Convention & Expo taking place Aug. 2-5 at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, La. The 2018 event coincides with the celebration of the Tricentennial of New Orleans, which carries the theme “One Time in New Orleans” and encourages residents and visitors to write their stories about their time in the city.

The Convention Keynote speaker is Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (U.S. Army, Ret.). Honoré, a 37-year veteran of active service, served as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, during which time he became known as the “Category 5 General” for his striking leadership style in coordinating military relief efforts in post-hurricane New Orleans.

This year’s convention also features a lineup of sessions presented by top leaders in the court reporting, captioning, and legal videography fields. Some of those include the CLVS Certification Workshop, featuring the Intro to CLVS and CLVS Hands-on Training, the Punctuation Workshop, and the ever-popular CRR Boot Camp. Throughout the Convention attendees can earn up to 2.3 CEUs.

Other exciting events that are expected to sell out quickly include the CRC Workshop, the annual Realtime and Speed Contests, and the new Member Recognition Gala that promises a wonderful night of dinner, drinks, dancing, and celebrating NCRA members.

In addition, this year’s VIP upgrade registration includes a ticket to a VIP reception being hosted by 2018-2019 President Sue A. Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, from Springfield, Ohio, and VIP seating at the Member Recognition Gala.

As always, there will be a number of networking opportunities, including receptions, luncheons, and special events on the Expo floor, where vendors will showcase the latest in products and services for the court reporting, captioning, and legal videography professions.

“One of the biggest reasons I attend the Convention is for the opportunity to meet and talk to reporters from around the country,” said Susan M. Hora, RDR, CRR, an official court reporter from Columbus, Ohio. “I have learned that we experience the same issues and we can strategize together on overcoming those issues. It reminds me that I am not alone in this profession. It reinvigorates my spirit.”

Join other court reporting professionals from around the country and abroad for the 2018 NCRA Annual Convention & Expo. The NCRA Convention & Expo is the largest annual gathering of court reporters, captioners, scopists, legal videographers, trial presenters, students, and other legal services professionals.

For more information about the NCRA 2018 Convention & Expo, or to register, visit NCRA.org/Convention. Register before July 20 to avoid late fees. Attendees are also encouraged to reserve hotel rooms for the Convention at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.

For sponsorship information please contact Mary Petto, Senior Director of External Affairs, at mpetto@ncra.org

Refresh your CLVS skills before taking the Production Exam this June

The next testing dates to take the CLVS Production Exam will be June 8-9 at NCRA headquarters in Reston, Va. Registration is now through May 31. Space is limited, so candidates are encouraged to sign up early.

Something new this year: We are providing candidates an opportunity to do a Hands-On Training session prior to the production exam. Register now to get another step closer to earning your CLVS certification.

The Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS) program sets and enforces standards for competency in the capture, use, and retention of legal video and promotes awareness of these standards within the legal marketplace.

“The CLVS certification is the gold standard for identifying competent and vetted legal videographers and sets them apart from the rest of the field,” said Jason Levin, CLVS, Chair of the CLVS Council. The CLVS Council leads the CLVS Seminar and administers the Production Exam.

The cost of the exam is $325 for NCRA members and $425 for nonmembers.

During the Production Exam, candidates will run the show at a staged deposition and be graded on their ability to follow video deposition guidelines and to produce a usable, high-quality video of the deposition. Candidates must have taken the mandatory CLVS Certification Workshop first, available online through InReach. Candidates must complete the educational components prior to taking the CLVS Production exam. Candidates can take the CLVS WKT at any time, but we strongly encourage candidates to complete the educational components first as questions on the WKT are developed from the education provided.  Learn more about the CLVS program at NCRA.org/CLVS.

The CLVS Production Exam is administered two times a year: spring and fall (depending on interest). Please contact NCRA by calling 800-272-NCRA (6272) for more information, or contact the CLVS Staff.

NCRA members who hold another credential, such as the RPR, can earn 0.25 PDC each after passing the CLVS Written Knowledge Test and the CLVS Production exam.

 

PROFILE: Esrom Jayasinghe, CLVS

Videographer

Esrom Jayasinghe, CLVS

Esrom Jayasinghe, CLVS

Currently resides in: Los Angeles, Calif.
Member since: 1991

JCR | Why was it important to earn a CLVS certification?
JAYASINGHE | I wanted to say “yes” to anyone who asked the question “Are you certified?” I entered the field of legal video production after a stint as a child actor in a TV series and earning a degree in broadcasting. I also had a hobby of photography and videography. Before I was certified, I was already shooting depositions, having being trained by the office manager of a court reporting agency. I became friends with a videographer, Robert MacTavish, CLVS, who I met on a double-booking, and he encouraged me to get certified. After I was certified, I joined the CLVS committee and served for approximately 19 years. I include my CLVS certification in my read-on to remind the participants of that distinction.

JCR | Have you received a job specifically because of your certification?
JAYASINGHE | There have been many instances where I have been hired because of my certification. I cannot quantify the instances as all my marketing includes the CLVS certification.

JCR | Why do you think professional certification is important?
JAYASINGHE | Consistency. As the owner of Verbatim Video, when I hire other videographers in various parts of the state and country, I find comfort in working with other CLVS members as we speak “one language.” No need to qualify them in regards to the number of microphones, back-up recordings, audio for the reporter, backgrounds, or turnaround time.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others considering earning professional certification?
JAYASINGHE | When I interview videographers, I test their knowledge and experience by asking them about their gear. I want to hear specific model numbers of cameras and microphones etc., which helps me determine their knowledge of their gear. A CLVS certification will be a “premium” model number in the basket of gear that they bring to the field of legal video production.

JCR | What has been your best work experience so far in your career?
JAYASINGHE | When I started working as an independent videographer, I quickly realized that I was my own manager. Running my own business is the best work experience I have had. Having the CLVS training reduced my risk on the video production side of the business. Learning the emerging editing software and trial presentation software is rewarding. These programs used to be frustrating endeavors many years ago as they would crash.

JCR | What surprised you about your career and why?
JAYASINGHE | The role of the legal videographer has become complex. The video production technology has been changing rapidly, making production complex. We work with computer file sizes where a day’s deposition can get as large as 100 gigabytes but fit on a memory device the size of a fingernail. To be successful, one not only needs to know how to record a deposition but also have additional equipment for site inspections, knowledge of moving large files on the web, powerful computers for processing/editing video, and training for trial presentation.

JCR | What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?
JAYASINGHE | My company, Verbatim Video, has been serving the Los Angeles legal community for the past 25 years. I have been a legal videographer for the past 30 years. I consider myself quite a lucky guy to “survive” in this highly competitive city. I am very proud of the working relationships that I have maintained with clients and fellow videographers, many relationships ranging as long as I have been in business.

JCR | Is there something you would like to share?
JAYASINGHE | I believe, whether you are a videographer or court reporter, continuing education is what makes one’s job more satisfying. Attending seminars with fellow professionals or watching videos online keeps us energized with new ideas. Learning and sharing new video equipment or ways to configure your gear for emerging client demands, such as picture-in-picture depositions, are ways to make your job more interesting and create additional profit centers.