Backpacking

Posted: 23rd May 2018 by Cheap in Camping, Hiking, Outdoors

As a kid, I grew up camping with my family.  Car camping, we would call it now, in a tent.  We camped mainly in our home state of Missouri, and farther north for relief from the heat, in Michigan and Wisconsin mostly.  We were limited by how far we could drive, and our drives were limited by the tolerance of the kids.  I was in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts for a couple of years, and I primarily enjoyed the camping opportunities they provided.  Those were also in Missouri.

More than fifteen years ago, my sister graduated and relocated to Denver.  There she quickly got into the Colorado outdoors, including backpacking.  She invited me to come out for backpacking one year.  I had never gone backpacking, and I was a bit daunted, but I purchased some gear and we spent the night camping at the Maroon Bells.  I enjoyed it, especially the scenery, but it was also a rough experience for me.  I was more out of shape at that time of my life, in my naivety and frugality I had an excessively heavy pack, and I was not at all acclimated to altitude.

This experience is undoubtedly part of why I didn’t go backpacking again until this year.  Also were changes in my lifestyle.  I didn’t camp again in any form until 2015.

I have driven I-40 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few times now in the past several years.  The first time, we made a couple of stops and walked around.  I decided then that I wanted to backpack in those mountains.  Years have gone by, and I still haven’t.

Last year, in 2017, I went on a camping road trip to Glacier National Park.  The place is beautiful, and it speaks to my soul.  However, very little of the park is accessible from the road.  The place is made for backpackers.  I only had a couple of days in the park, so I didn’t have time for backpacking, even if I had been prepared.  I went home dreaming of giving up my job, moving to live close to the park, fully exploring the park, and then selling my services as a backpacking guide.

I didn’t believe that was realistic, but it did help motivate me to get back into backpacking.  I had been hiking more, training for Glacier (after failing to train properly for the Grand Canyon the year before).  I had been camping more.  I started to buy newer, lighter gear.

Earlier this month, I went backpacking for the first time in over fifteen years.  I am going to do it again over this Memorial Day weekend.  Assuming the confidence and experience I get this year, I am planning a week long backpacking trip next year in the Great Smoky Mountains.  And if that goes well, I’m thinking about going back to Glacier in 2020, to experience it the way it was meant to be.

Screening Film Gigs

Posted: 21st May 2018 by Cheap in Filmmaking

I am beginning to think I need to figure out how to screen film gigs.  How do I decide whether a gig is one that I want to work on or not?

I had an unpleasant experience on a film in January.  The director tried to film a thirty page script in two evenings.  He technically succeeded, but they were long, grueling evenings, and the production quality was poor.  It wasn’t a well-written script in the first place, and I am beginning to doubt I will ever see the film.  After that experience, I didn’t want to work with the filmmaker again, but I thought maybe he deserved a chance to do better.  So I had a conversation with him about scheduling, and I let him book me for another shoot.  The next shoot was worse.  It was another poorly written thirty page script.  He had a schedule this time, but he blew it immediately.  A three day shoot, we didn’t get started any day for hours, and two days had delays in the middle lasting additional hours.  Worse, there were no lights.  When I accosted the director about this, his response was, “I can’t think of everything!”  I was the sound guy, but I was salvaging the shoot by trying to creatively light the sets with flashlights that I happened to have in my car.  I was wearing a sound rig, but I was the guy schlepping “lights”, dressing the set, placing marks, etc.  He doesn’t know anything about lighting, but he kept vetoing all reasonable lighting suggestions made to him.  I gave him 26 hours of my life, all of which were miserable, and if I ever see the final product, it know it will suck.

I worked a handful of student films a couple years ago.  I decided that film students were too arrogant and deaf to advice to work with, although in hindsight, it might only be Webster students who are that way.

Up to now, I’ve basically been taking any non-paying film gig, as long as I’m available.  I have decided that it is time to be more discriminating.  But how do I make an informed choice?

Length

I definitely want to work with new and inexperienced filmmakers.  I can tolerate inexperience, poor production quality, insufficient crew, insufficient gear, and probably even a bad script — as long as I don’t have to give up a huge part of my life for it.  One long day, or a couple of short days.  A script that is five to eight pages is probably ideal.  If it’s longer, I need to have assurances that it is a good team with some experience.

Crew & Equipment

Is there going to be a reasonable crew?  At minimum, there should be a director, a DP, a gaffer, a location sound recordist, and at least one PA.  There should be reasonable camera, lighting, and sound equipment.

Release Plans

I need to be able to see the finished film at least once.  I’d like to see it in a theater, and then I’d like to be able to watch the film in the future indefinitely.  Submissions to film festivals are good.  If it’s not going to be posted online, then I’d like to receive a disc.

I’ve never actually sought out footage for a reel, and that’s because so few of the films I’ve worked have produced footage I’m proud of.

Payment

I don’t want to be paid.  However, I don’t want to work for free if others are being paid.  If anyone is being paid for their time, then I’m not interested.

E85

Posted: 11th May 2018 by Cheap in Camping, Travel
  • My vacation was fraught with problems, the biggest one being the sudden and massive coolant leak in my truck.  That’s fixed, but now I (probably) have a blown head gasket.  I wasted days of my vacation on it, and ultimately I had to coax it home despite chronic misfiring.  I will end up spending weeks working to repair that, and ultimately I may not be successful.
  • The second biggest problem was the wind at Padre island.  30-35 mph winds are evidently fairly common.  I have a tent that can handle that, but that’s not the tent I brought.  I didn’t get much sleep my second night there, and finally I took the tent down in the middle of the night for fear of it tearing.
  • I bought a second car.  I’ve been wanting one for a long time, mainly because it is such a hassle when someone’s vehicle is down, as will be the case for weeks while I’m rebuilding the Ranger.  I bought a Ford Focus in a hatchback configuration.  I’ve figured out that I’m not much of a sedan guy, being just me, and I’ll be glad for the cargo space when I’m working on film projects.  I’m actually quite impressed with this vehicle.  I expected an under-powered economy car, but the 2.0 liter motor is surprisingly effective, yet somehow the thing averages 34.5 mpg.  I measured 42 mpg on a recent highway road-trip.  It is a flex-fuel vehicle, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for E85 and give it a try.  It is a 2012, so the thing is seven years old, but it’s very clean, inside and out, and I still haven’t found a single thing wrong with it.  I went a little outside my arbitrary budget, but I’m glad I did.
  • At the beginning of March, I started seeds for five varieties of hot pepper plants, including Carolina Reaper.  They are doing well now.  They’ve all been transplanted into bigger pots and hardened in preparation for being moved outdoors.  I have planted one of each variety in my garden, which is really not a garden, but simply the landscaping in front of my house.  I don’t know how well they will do here, because the only part of the yard that gets full sun all day is out front away from the house.  I don’t think the neighbors will tolerate a vegetable garden there.  It looks like something, such as a bug, has been eating the Carolina Reaper plant.
  • I have a new backpack, a Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10, and I am nearly ready to attempt my first backpacking excursion of the year.  My pack, fully loaded for an overnight hike, weighs 36 pounds, which is quite acceptable.  There’s quite a bit of extra room in the pack.  I think I will order a smaller version of this pack and save this one for longer treks.  I’ve also finally found a holster that basically works for the sidearm I intend to take backpacking, an SP-101 with a 4.2″ barrel.  I’m also going to get to try out my Eureka Spitfire Solo for the first time.
  • I just saw some information about the most popular national parks.  Glacier was #10 in 2016 and 2017.  Great Smoky Mountains is far and away #1, and Grand Canyon is #2.  There are two on the list I’d never heard of, and two more I know nothing about.  I guess I don’t know my national parks.  When I got to Padre Island, I was surprised to learn that it is run by the National Park Service and wasn’t more like a national forest.  Next year, I am planning to backpack at the Great Smoky Mountains, which is probably the closest and most accessible national park for me.

Being Single on Television

Posted: 5th May 2018 by Cheap in Film, Men and Women, Television

As a single guy in the real world, I am surrounded by couples, married and unmarried.  Among my friends, I can’t name anyone who doesn’t have a significant other.  It’s obviously a factor in why I’m alone.

In fiction, it’s never like that.

I have long been aware of this problem, the laughable improbability of the male and female characters in fiction both being available and both being interested in each other.  A love interest is a standard requirement in fiction, and writers don’t bother to make it realistic.  The worst thing that happens is that, for honorable reasons, they don’t act on their feelings.

I’ve been binge-watching The West Wing.  The entire cast of characters, with the exception of the president, is made up of single people.  If they could have gotten away with a president without a first lady, I’m sure they would have done that too.  All of the characters are available to develop romances with other characters, and indeed all of them have, some of them several times.  It’s completely unrealistic.  Look at the senior staff of any white house administration, and they’re almost all married.  And even if they were single, all of them would be in relationships nearly all of the time.

I find it quite frustrating to watch all of this easy romance, given how non-existent it is in my real life.

  • I am building a workbench using mortise & tenon joints.  Somehow, this is the first time I’ve attempted to do so, despite owning a mortiser and a tenonning jig for two decades.  I’m finding that they are both well suited to fairly flat tenons, one width of the chisel, or up to two if the mortise is symmetrical.  The tenonning jig can’t handle thick workpieces, and the mortiser must be readjusted for different distances from the edge of the workpiece.  I’m thinking now that I would have been better off cutting both the mortise and the tenon with a router, but it’s a little late for that now.  I should look into jigs for doing so in the future.
  • I’m beginning to watch The West Wing.  I suppose I understand the appeal.  Smart, fast-talking dialog with dry humor, combined with a very likable character for the president.  However, it is very short on realism.  They did an episode on a gun control bill, and it was all I could do to sit through the whole thing.  The writers don’t know about guns, and they probably don’t know about politicians.  Also, as a filmmaker, the Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk shooting style is getting old fast.  I guess it is a logical choice for this situation, but it was already wearing on my sense of taste only five episodes in.  I’ll watch some more and hope that the series matures, but so far I’m not in love.  I will say one thing though: a show like this with a bunch of liberals doing good things in the White House couldn’t be made today.
  • I have finished doing sound for a third short film this year.  I’m relatively happy with all three of them, although in all cases I’m aware of how I could have done better.  I desperately need to practice wiring actors with hidden lavalier mics.  I am organizing a team for the 48 Hour Film Project.  I am trying to identify key crew persons, and then it should be all downhill from there.
  • My spring vacation has snuck up on me.  I had skipped weekend camping the first weekend in spring due to the weather.  That was two weekends ago.  I knew my vacation was coming up, but I wasn’t really paying much attention until eight days before I’m scheduled to leave.  Now I’m scrambling to get ready.  Fortunately, there isn’t much to prepare.  I just need to stage my gear and get my meals together.
  • For this trip, I’ll be camping on the beach.  There’s a good possibility that I will have to stake out my tent in sand.  It’s also fairly likely that my tent and screen room will have winds to contend with.  I figured I should acquire some better tent stakes to be prepared for sand.  I ordered some MSR Cyclone stakes, and also some MSR ToughStakes.  The ToughStakes are huge.  I ordered them in “medium”, but they are much bigger than I expected from the photos.  I guess if I need a small shovel at the camp site, I’ll have these.  Update: The ToughStakes work extremely well in sand.  They are quite amazing.  Gusts up to 39 mph against a big cabin tent, and they didn’t budge.  However, if the sand is more of a soil mixture, the top edge of the stakes get easily mangled driving them in, especially when using the metal MSR hammer.  The Cyclone stakes however are worthless in sand.
  • I went to see Ready Player One in the theater.  I really enjoyed the novel, but the film was very ho-hum.  Aside from the basic premise and most of the characters, they completely gutted the story and replaced it with a boilerplate one.  Nearly all of the 70s and 80s computer and gaming nostalgia was dropped, and the quest was dumbed down to something any remedial third grade student could figure out.  Without those things, the book would have been nothing, and that’s pretty much what the film was.  I highly recommend the novel, but you should probably skip the movie (unless you’re in third grade).
  • I ordered a t-shirt commemorating Brian Aitken‘s Pardon Shootout (which, sadly, I cannot attend).  While I was doing so, I thought about how I would explain the t-shirt if anyone asked about it, and I realized that the term “political prisoner” applies.  In the United States.  Over an issue about which I feel strongly.  And he’s not the only one.

Infinity Reference RC263

Posted: 7th April 2018 by Cheap in Technology

For years, I had no home theater system at all.  I had a television, with its pathetic built-in speakers, and I connected a DVD player and a VCR directly to it.  When I finally built a system, I chose a Definitive Technology ProCinema speaker system.  It was a staff pick at Crutchfield, and it reviewed well.  And indeed, it sounded pretty good to me when I hooked it up.

A couple years later, I needed to build a new home theater system for my mother.  She had been using an analog system with two speakers.  The receiver had been acting up, and then the speakers literally crumbled apart.  I wanted to get her a pair of floor speakers that were decent but not terribly expensive.  After doing some research, I bought her a pair of Infinity Primus 363 floor speakers, in part because they were half price.  They arrived at my house, and before I took them to her, I hooked them up to my own system, just to give a listen.  I ended up rather upset, because they sounded better than my more expensive speakers in almost every way.  More and richer bass, more detailed and accurate high-end, a smoother mid-range, and they were noticeably louder.  Being louder surprised me, and as a result I learned about sensitivity as a technical specification for speakers.

Shortly afterward, I moved, and I moved my home theater system from a smallish living room to a larger living room that was part of an even larger open floor plan — about 880 square feet in total.  Suddenly, my system seemed woefully inadequate (it wasn’t really; I had plenty of head room in my system, I just needed to use it).  I bought myself a pair of the Infinity Primus 363 speakers, and my front speakers became surround speakers, which also upgraded me from a 5.1 to a 7.1 surround system.  I was happy with the results, except that my center channel speaker, a Definitive Technology ProCenter 1000, seemed comparatively under-powered.  This isn’t the speaker you want to be under-powered, since nearly all of the dialog in a film comes from this speaker.  I had planned to solve this problem by purchasing an Infinity Primus PC351, the larger of the center channel speakers in the Primus line.  However, before I got around to doing that, the entire product line was discontinued.

I simply lived with this.  Every now and then, I would poke around at available center channel speakers, but none impressed me.  However, last week I found the Infinity Reference RC263.  There weren’t many reviews, and it appears that the product is either discontinued or has been dropped by retailers.  However, all the reviews were very good.  In fact, the only review that wasn’t a five-star review was from someone complaining about a lack of banana connectors.  I ordered one at half price from the manufacturer’s own web site.

I can’t tell a difference.  I had hoped there would be more presence, more bass, maybe even more clarity.  For a short time I thought there was all three of those things, but it turned out I was just watching Frontline.

Second Thoughts

Posted: 28th March 2018 by Cheap in Cuisine, Television, Uncategorized, Woodworking
  • I’m already having second thoughts about buying the Canon C200. For one thing, I’ve been reading the manual and doing online research, and there are tons of exceptions and weird things the camera won’t do. For example, it records 4K, but it won’t output 4K on the SDI port. It supports free run time code, but there’s no word from Canon about whether it will stay in sync, and the word on the street seems to be no (though it’s a general belief rather than specific knowledge about this camera). The color output isn’t intended to be used without modification, and it’s a whole new level of complication. For another thing, if I buy the camera, there are a bunch of additional things I’ll have to spend money on: expensive batteries and memory cards, and a wider zoom lens, not to mention a production monitor. There’s also the fact that I’ve really been enjoying sound, and if I buy a camera, I’ll feel like I’ve wasted my money if I don’t shoot a bunch of films with it.
  • Wow.  Talk about forgettable characters.  I was just watching an interview with Jeri Ryan, talking about her character Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, and she mentioned Chakotay.  I had totally forgotten about him.  Looking at the IMDb page, there are several characters I had forgotten about.  Oddly, when I think about Voyager, I really only think about Janeway, Seven, and Tuvok.  And I didn’t even like Tuvok.  Somehow I completely failed to have an emotional connection with any of the other characters, and less than four years later, I didn’t even remember they existed.
  • The season finale of Star Trek: Discovery was thoroughly anti-climactic, not to mention logically implausible.  It was also entirely too soon.  Sixteen episodes.  Only six since the mid-season break.  I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth for my CBS All Access subscription.  The show needs to get better writers, too.  There are at least five recurring characters on the bridge that no one has bothered to even introduce to us, but Harry Mudd got two whole episodes devoted to him.  I fully appreciate most of the updates they’ve made to the show, but they’re also letting me down in several other ways.  Part of me wishes there won’t be another season.
  • I watched the full first season of Mindhunter, which was pretty good.  As usual, one season didn’t feel like enough, but evidently there’s another one coming.
  • I have developed an addiction to Festool products.  It started with a track saw, which I am very happy with.  Then because Festool uses proprietary connections for their dust extraction system, I started looking for adapters, which led me to learn how amazingly effective Festool products are at handling dust.  So I relented and bought one of their dust extractors.  Of course, then I wanted more tools to use that with.  I had already been eyeing one of Festool’s routers because they can be used with the guide track that came with the track saw, so I got one of those.  And then today, I had some sanding to do, so I went out and got one of their sanders.  The salesman at the store told me to expect the dust collection with the sander to be 97% or 98% effective, and he wasn’t exaggerating.  And the Systainers seem a little silly, especially at the price they charge for them, but they’re actually really useful.  At this point, I’m prepared to believe any claim that Festool cares to make about their products.  I’ll probably get one or two more of their sanders, and then I need to try to cut myself off.
  • I love Smucker’s Mixed Fruit Jelly.  I first encountered it at a restaurant in one of those single-serving packages while I was traveling somewhere.  I was thrilled to discover it later in jars, not at my regular grocery store, but at others.  I bought some now and then for years, and then it disappeared from shelves.  I searched on Amazon, and they had it, but for an unreasonably high price.  I concluded that it had been discontinued.  This was perhaps a year ago.  The other day, I was whining about this fact to a friend of mine, and to illustrate my point, I did a google search.  Boom.  There it was on a Smucker’s online store.  I thought maybe it had come back, but I checked the stores, and it’s still not there.  So I ordered a few jars today.  And, uh, I ordered some Smucker’s Mixed Fruit socks for my friend while I was there.
  • Speaking of silly food purchases, Amazon threw an ad on Facebook for a Johnsonville Sizzling Sausage Grill.  My brother eats a lot of brats, but he doesn’t grill them.  It has been a challenging search for him to find good ways to cook them.  They sputter way too much to broil them in the oven, for example.  So I ordered this thing for him, and it arrived today.  It’s actually pretty well designed.  A package of brats cooked in eleven minutes, tender and juicy on the inside, nicely caramelized on the outside.  I guess we’ll see how difficult it is to clean.

Festool TS 55 REQ Track Saw

Posted: 23rd March 2018 by Cheap in Woodworking
Tags: ,

When I chose a table saw, I considered getting one with a 48″ fence – a fence that could accommodate a 48″ wide work piece.  Thus I’d be able to do just about anything with 48″ wide sheet stock on my table saw.  There were practical reasons I decided to get a smaller table saw, and most of the time I am glad I made the choice that I did.  However, there are times I’ve regretted, and it’s always when I’m working with plywood.

To make cuts with plywood that exceed the width of my table saw fence, I have mostly used a circular saw with some kind of guide.  There are problems with this approach.  For one thing, precision is limited, especially when it comes to squareness.  There’s also an extra bit of math involved, compensating for the distance between the blade and the guide, which is one more opportunity for mistakes.  However, the worst problem is the quality of the cuts.  The cuts are much rougher than my table saw.  The circular saw is a little prone to binding and burning.  And of course the circular saw tends to chip and splinter the work piece rather badly, especially with birch plywood.  Scoring the work piece before making the cut is absolutely mandatory, especially when cutting across the grain of the outer veneer of plywood, but even that is frequently not enough.  And in any case, it leaves an edge that isn’t ideal.

I discovered track saws through an online advertisement for DeWalt’s track saw.  I could see right away the simplicity of using a track, but I didn’t realize what the other advantages were over the circular saw.  It just seemed like an expensive, special-purpose circular saw.  I didn’t think I’d want one.  Then I did another project with plywood.  The plywood I used splintered worse than usual, and I had real problems with pieces being out-of-square.  I was rather frustrated, and as a result, I looked at track saws again.  This time I read some reviews, and the subject of splintering was discussed.  They seemed to be implying that splintering was virtually eliminated with the better track saws, and described results that were even better than I was getting on my table saw.

I chose the Festool TS 55 REQ, mainly because of this review at Woodworker’s Journal.  I got it with the 55″ track, and I also bought the GRS-16 Guide Rail Square from TSO Products, and a pair of Festool’s quick ratcheting clamps.  This has started me down the rabbit hole of Festool products, and I now own one of their routers and a dust extractor, and I am eyeing their line of sanders.

My first use of the TS 55 REQ was on a 1½” yellow pine bench top.  I had jointed together some solid yellow pine, and I was ready to cut the ends square.  For this, I used the 28-tooth “universal” blade.  I didn’t use a chip guard.  For each end, I measured and made a single mark.  Then I laid down the track on the mark, using the GRS-16 guide rail square, and clamped it place.  The cut was effortless, and when I was finished, I had an incredibly smooth, straight cut with nice sharp edges and no splintering at all.

One thing I hadn’t understood from all the reading I had done is that the rail goes right up to the cut.  I assumed there was some gap, so that the blade wouldn’t make contact with the rail, and that gap would need to be offset in my measurements, just like the guides I had used with circular saws.  That isn’t true.  In fact, there is a small gap between the metal of the track and the blade, but the track includes a polyethylene strip that extends beyond the edge of the track.  The saw cuts through this with the first use, which results in the plastic edge of the track corresponding exactly with the cut edge.  This is the edge that you align with your mark.  No math necessary!  Furthermore, this edge is part of the magic that prevents splinters.

The track also has a foam rubber grip surface on the underside.  Though I used clamps, they are probably not necessary most of the time.  The friction of grip surface holds the track firmly in place with just the weight of the track.  The clamps provide only added peace of mind.

I am looking forward to using the saw on some plywood, and also testing the squareness of the square using the five-cut method.

Going Viral

Posted: 8th February 2018 by Cheap in Filmmaking, Television
  • Having just completed two long nights working as a boom operator on a film, I am astonished to discover that my calves, rather than my arms, are complaining.  I guess I haven’t been hiking enough.  I do need to build up the endurance in my arms, though.  There was one long scene for which I eventually used a stand.
  • I need to practice wiring up actors for sound using lavalier mics.  I either forgot something important in what I read, or I did it wrong, because I kept getting significant clothing noise.  I did manage to get great results in one actor’s hair, but her hair happened to be well-suited to it.  I never did get perfect results with the other actor, and I feel like I failed.  I’ve just acquired a second mic and radio set, so I won’t be held back by having only one, but expensive equipment is useless if I don’t know how to use it correctly.
  • I have watched all of GLOW and The End of the F***ing World.  Both were pretty good in their own ways.  I mainly watched GLOW for Alison Brie, who happens to look fantastic in an eighties leotard, but the story and the humor were good too.  The End of the F***ing world was hilarious.  I wonder how much direction Jessica Barden received to make kissing look ridiculous.  I’m back to watching nothing but ST:DIS.
  • Speaking of ST:DIS (no spoilers), last week they actually managed to reveal a plot twist that impressed me.  Up to now, the writing has seemed haphazard and reaching, but now it’s starting to look like they may have had a master plan baked in from the beginning.  It’s difficult to be sure, but I can say I’m more interested than I have been for a while.
  • I have fairly well decided to spend my bonus money on a digital cinema camera, the Canon EOS C200.  Currently, my best camera for filmmaking is still my 5Dmk2, which was the first DSLR to enable video, and which I’ve had for more than seven years.  I was going to get a Panasonic AF100, and then I didn’t.  Later, I was going to get a Blackmagic URSA 4K, and then I didn’t.  The timing of Canon’s offerings, my finances, and my renewed activity in filmmaking appear to have converged.  The C200 will bring my game up to where I want it to be, and I hope I will be happy with it for a while.
  • My YouTube channel, which hasn’t had a new public video posted to it in two years, is blowing up for no reason I know.  Views have been on the climb since the beginning of the year.  I don’t know how far it will go.  I had more than twenty-five thousand views on Monday.  Tuesday, I had more than thirty-thousand.  It seems to be mainly one video, spilling over to views of other videos, but it wasn’t that video when the trend began.  I don’t know what’s going on.  I’ve had brief spikes of a thousand or two thousand views when a video of mine was linked on some high traffic site, but this is something different.

Samson R21

Posted: 15th January 2018 by Cheap in Filmmaking, Technology
Tags: , ,

I have a gig to record sound for a short film.  This one is unusual in that all of the actors will be speaking into visible microphones (a PA system in an auditorium).  I’ve been asked to supply microphones that will be used simultaneously as props and to record the dialog.  I had a few handheld dynamic vocal mics, but none that match.  In an effort to avoid a mishmash of microphones, I figured I would buy a second and perhaps a third Shure SM58.  However, I stumbled across the Samson R21.  After reading and listening to some reviews, I decided to buy some and give them a try.  I will admit, this decision was motivated by cost.

Samson R21, Shure SM58

Samson R21, Shure SM58

When they arrived, I made some recordings for a side-by-side comparison.  I was surprised how similar they sounded.  I’ve compared other handheld dynamic vocal mics, and they have all had very distinguishable personalities.  Even the SM57 sounds different from the SM58, even though internally they are basically the same microphone.  However, the R21 sounds almost identical to the SM58.  Clearly, Samson made an effort to duplicate the sound, and they have succeeded quite brilliantly.  In a side-by-side comparison, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one is which — with one exception: plosives.

Both microphones have a built-in windscreen / pop filter.  The one on the SM58 works reasonably well.  The one on the R21 does not.  The R21 picks up an enormous amount of plosive, and it rumbles quite a bit just from breathing.  And this was an in-studio speaking test; imagine a heavy-breathing performer on stage.  I assume the difference is mainly caused by the distance from the inside of the windscreen to the front of the microphone element.  The R21’s element is right up inside the windscreen, while the SM58’s is set low, in basically the middle of the cage.  I was able to record with the microphone offset to the side, out of line with my plosives, and produced much better results.  However, I can’t rely on this technique for my application.  For me, this one difference is a deal-breaker.

It seems that most people don’t realize that the Samson R21S is a different model of the same microphone, but with an On/Off switch.  A switch may sound like a good idea, but in practice it only creates trouble.  Users are always switching it off, which then confounds the next person to pick up the microphone.  In such situations, the audio engineer is helpless to assist, except to gesticulate in an attention-grabbing but somehow non-insulting manner that communicates the necessity of having the mic switched on.  The only handheld microphone I own with a switch is the Sennheiser MD 431 II, which can be mechanically disabled.

Aside from all that, the existing reviews seem to be fairly complete.  The R21 weighs much less than an SM58.  You shouldn’t expect the R21 to survive being used as a hammer or dropped for effect.