By Brady Betzel
Since NAB last month month, Blackmagic Design has become the hot topic of conversation in the post world with its latest production and post offerings.
They brought us two game changing cameras, the Blackmagic URSA — a 4K Super 35 sensor and global shutter powerhouse, as well as, the Blackmagic Studio Camera — another game changing UltraHD studio camera. Both of which just so happen to have 10-inch displays!
Don’t forget Blackmagic Design also updated DaVinci Resolve to Version 11, which I am personally excited about because it seems like they have done their homework on integrating a truly workable NLE into their color corrector and online editing system. This is definitely something people should be keeping their eye on.
Blackmagic has disproven the saying, “You get what you pay for.” They consistently offer professional-level products at an increasingly affordable price point, and that is what this review is about: a rack-mount audio monitor that would typically cost post houses well over $3K or $4K — and that sometimes doesn’t even include HiFi or analog inputs.
The Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor is a rack-mount audio monitoring solution that produces crisp high notes and powerful bass notes, but doesn’t forget the clear mid tones. It has a machined-aluminum front panel with a durable, high-quality feel. It has large and clear level meters that can be seen clearly in the dark or in the bright lights of a concert. They have included a headphone jack to monitor from, buttons to switch the inputs, buttons to switch audio channels, solo, mute, a 2.1-inch LCD display, as well as a high-quality dial, which doesn’t feel cheap like many dials seem to do these days.
On the rear of the 9.65-inch-deep and 1.73-inch-tall 1RU audio monitor are the inputs and outputs. Blackmagic seems to always fit in clever-yet-practical use applications into their products, and they have included everything from stereo HiFi inputs to an HDMI output. So if you’ve got nothing to do and want to listen to some music from your iPad, you can plug your mini to stereo converter into the back and jam out.
The HDMI output doesn’t just work on 1080 monitors, it is also UltraHD 4K capable — giving you a 3840×2160 video monitoring solution from an audio monitor, pretty cool. Like Alton Brown on the Food Network feels, single-use tools have no place in the kitchen, and Blackmagic Design never gives you a single-use tool for your editing kitchen. The HDMI output gives you an instant monitoring solution for tight spaces and doesn’t require you to use anything other than the SDI input you are monitoring from and the HDMI monitor you probably already have in your edit bay. Remember: this is not full 4K HDMI output, it is UltraHD. Traditional 4K resolution is 4096 x2160 approximately 17:9 and UltraHD is 3840×2160 or 16:9.
Decklink 4K Extreme
Because I don’t do much tape-based work requiring SDI outputs from home I asked Blackmagic Design to send me an output card in addition to the audio monitor. Sure enough they were happy to send me the DeckLink 4K Extreme PCIe card.
While this review isn’t really focused on the DeckLink 4K Extreme, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the power that it gives you for under $1K. The DeckLink 4K Extreme is a highly powerful I/O card that harnesses dual-link 6G-SDI, HDMI3D/4K, component, composite and S-video connections. It is also an up-, down-, and cross-conversion wizard that will fit into any broadcast workflow.
While it comes with it’s own set of software and drivers, the real power comes when used in conjunction with industry leading software like FCP X, Avid Media Composer, Foundry’s Nuke, Resolve, Avid Pro Tools, and Adobe’s Premiere, After Effects, and even Photoshop.
For this review I used Premiere and After Effects since I am getting pretty excited where Adobe is going. Without getting to deep into the DeckLink 4K Extreme, you can input and output almost any resolution, codec, and frame rate for a very reasonable price. Don’t forget to download the latest software and drivers from www.blackmagicdesign.com/support.
Back To The Audio Monitor
The front has a large, colorful, and bright audio level meter multi-colored with RGB LEDs under each segment of the VU scale. It allows you to monitor between -45 and +3 decibels.
What I worried about most when testing this monitor was that internally it might be boosting or lowering the levels arbitrarily, not giving me the most accurate sound. I did not see anything weird with the levels, they seemed true and bright to me. In fact, occasionally I like to use bad speakers and bad TV displays to really see what my edit or VFX will look like when broadcast and degraded unintentionally. So I loved having the audio monitor hooked up at all times through my headphone jack on my computer to monitor the sound over not the best connection. I also liked that I could monitor my video through the display on the front of the audio monitor as well as through the HDMI output onto my TV sets at home. Pretty sweet to have all this in one little rack mount box.
Switching between inputs and audio channels is a breeze with the buttons on the front. When I want to switch from work audio to my music while I’m working in After Effects I can switch in a second using the input button. If I want to solo my left or right channel I can do that from the front. If I need to mute it I can do that there as well. One little Easter egg that I found was that when plugging in headphones I can turn the audio up as much as I want, and when I unplug my headphones it doesn’t blow out the speakers. In fact it lowers them to not blow out the entire machine room with my Kelly Clarkson playlist on Spotify.
In the end, the Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor is a great tool for the rack. Usually you see this style of audio monitors costing thousands and not really doing much more than being glorified speakers.
Blackmagic has put some effort into not making their products one and done. They are multi-taskers that can handle the most demanding post house machine room or the calmest and quietest edit suite in the baby’s nursery at home. I am so excited to see Blackmagic’s evolution in the production and post-production universe, they are definitely giving the big companies a run for their money. So when shopping for your Pocket Cinema Camera on www.blackmagicdesign.com don’t forget to look at all of their products, there may be some that surprise you.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.