Donovan Murphy, a location production sound mixer whose presence in California’s capital city nets him many corporate and government interviews on top of other endeavors that include news-gathering at the Kincade wildfire, following workers who service structures such as dams and wind turbines, and going inside Folsom Prison to document the 50th anniversary of Johnny Cash’s performance there, employs a main rig that revolves around Lectrosonics D Squared wireless systems.
Specifically, his kit includes a DCR822 compact dual-channel receiver, DBSMD bodypack transmitters, and a DPR plug-on transmitter for his boom mic augmented by Digital Hybrid Wireless gear: an SRc receiver paired with SMV and SMQV transmitters. He notes the ratio of output power to usable range at a recent vertigo-inducing outdoor gig.
“I recently worked on a documentary series about rope access — crews who climb towers and bridges, that kind of thing,” he says, “I worked on the California portion in two locations. The first, Foresthill Bridge, is the fourth highest in the U.S. at 730 feet. I’m terrified of heights, but these guys just put on a safety harness and go strutting out onto those beams like it’s nothing. I’m certainly not going out there with them, so I thought range would be an issue.”
As things turned out, it was not. “I certainly wasn’t going to go out there with them carrying my audio bag, so I was glad I’d be able to send dweedle tones to the DBSMDs we had on them to put them in record mode,” explains Murphy, referring the DBSMD’s ability to double as a stand-alone microSD recorder. “I didn’t need to. At 50 milliwatts output power, I was getting great signal at the nice, safe sidelines!”
The second location, New Bullards Bar Dam on the Yuba River, presented a similar challenge. “The dam was interesting because it’s not symmetrical from left to right,” says Murphy. “We went all the way to the bottom to get these wide shots and drone shots of guys rappelling down the dam’s surface. Again, at 50 milliwatts we could hear them loud and clear from about 800 feet away, and that was just using whip antennas [on the DCR822 receiver]. With dipole antennas, we could roam as much as 2,000 feet away.”
Even though Murphy wasn’t personally suspended in midair, the thought of a subject’s beltpack taking a tumble caused no butterflies. “I’m very careful about securing my gear,” he notes. “But Lectrosonics has always been so tough that if one of those transmitters went bouncing down the dam, I’m pretty sure I could just pick it up and use it. The scratches would just add character.”
During the pandemic, Murphy relied on his D Squared system’s range to record with maximum social distancing. “I did a recent project about the post-Covid reopening of the University of California at Davis,” he notes. “A lot of the interviewees were scientists and experts who were testing the air, the groundwater, the sewage early in the pandemic. They were around this stuff in test tubes 24/7, so there’s a real possibility of exposure. I could leave DBSMDs with lavs, then put my boom on a C-stand with the DPR on the back and literally be in another room somewhere.”
Murphy notes that taking such precautions didn’t sacrifice sound quality: “Honestly, the D Squared stuff is indistinguishable from using cables. It sort of keeps catching me off guard, because I thought it was impossible to sound any better than the Digital Hybrid Wireless, which of course I still use and love. But damn, Lectrosonics went and did it.”