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One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget

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Tony Connoly
One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 18, 2010 at 3:59:27 pm

Thanks for Ty and everyone's help so far. I've got the mics that I think I will need (Rode NTG-2, Electrovoice RE50N/D-B and a Sony Lav).

I have $500-600 to spend on a portable preamp and a recorder. I want to record 2 channels. This is an audio for video application, with the camera moving around all the time.

Can you recommend a solution in that price range (or lower of course).


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 18, 2010 at 4:27:29 pm

Tony,

What's wrong with using the audio tracks in your camera?

Regards,

Ty Ford

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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 18, 2010 at 4:42:47 pm

Ty, I tried the camera audio recording.

The biggest problem is hiss, caused by the gain circuitry. Really bad on my camera.

I found a workaround to the hiss: I direct the mic to the left channel and a 19Khz noise to the right channel, which causes the camera to clamp down on the auto-gain control. The hiss goes away. Nice, but:

Problems with this approach:

(1) Clunky. Two wires and an MP3 player dangling from the camera.

(2) No monitoring. Yesterday, I forgot to turn on the MP3 player and ended up recording hiss.

(3) Limited to one channel.

(4) Crossover. I see a faint 19Khz waveform in the left channel.

(5) No gain control means the level is not optimal. Not sure this would work at all with a low-output dynamic mic.

(6) Limited to 44/16 recording. Probably have more distortion and aother bad stuff than with a quality set-up.

Perhaps a better solution to the hiss is to get a better camera, but I would still have (6) to think about--better recorders do give cleaner sound, I think.


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 18, 2010 at 4:45:56 pm

what camera?

Ty

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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 18, 2010 at 4:50:56 pm

Please don't laugh, it's an Olympus E-PL1. It captures very nice video in a tiny package with superb lenses, but its audio capture is not so good.

I am planning to upgrade to a Nikon D7000, Panasonic GH2 or Canon 60D. I think all of these have manual gain controls (don't know how clean it would be at anything but the lowest setting).


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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 5:16:25 am

Any thoughts on preamp/recorder?


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Rodney Morris
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 5:46:15 pm

I would suggest the Marantz PMD661. I have the Zoom H4 (the original, not the newer H4n). The Zoom is a very popular recorder for folks in your situation because it seems to have a lot of features in a portable package at a decent price. But some of the features are useless for your application (I'm pretty sure you won't need a tuner, metronome or phrase trainer, for instance). Plus I've found the Zoom to be not very user friendly. I am considering the Marantz unit myself to replace the Zoom recorder. I've never had good experience trying to input a line level signal from my Sound Devices 442 into the Zoom units without some amount of distortion. I believe the Marantz will handle my needs better. The biggest selling point for me is that the Marantz will accept line level signals on the XLR inputs. I don't think anyone else in this price range has that feature. The PMD661 is $600 though and I know you were hoping for something cheaper. This is just my suggestion, my $0.02 worth. Hope this helps.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Eric Toline
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 8:26:10 pm

"I've never had good experience trying to input a line level signal from my Sound Devices 442 into the Zoom units without some amount of distortion."

Have you tried setting the 442's output to -10?

Eric


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Rodney Morris
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 10:06:22 pm

Yes, I have tried -10 as well. The only acceptable method I've found when inputting a feed to the H4 has been using the XLR outputs of the 442 set to mic level. Even using the TA3 outputs directly below the XLR outs set to mic level will give me small amounts of distortion on the transients. The tape/mix out (an 1/8" jack), which is switchable between mic and line (-10) in an internal menu, also gives me distortion on the peaks, regardless of which level setting is selected. I will readily admit there is the possibility that I'm not doing something right, but it shouldn't be as hard, or as confusing, to feed audio into the H4. That is why I think it is not very user-friendly.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 10:13:06 pm

Rodney,

You have the 442 meter display set to read peaks or peaks and RMS, right?

If it's only reading RMS (which it can be set to do) the peaks will smack anything you put them into.

The sun is down. Where's my beer?

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Rodney Morris
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 11:20:40 pm

Yes, I always mix using the hybrid metering system. I got used to that system with the Durrough loudness meters at my last job. Much more useful information that way.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Eric Toline
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 10:24:07 pm

Rodney,

You're most likely correct about the H4 input not handling peak levels very well. The only thing I could suggest is to try to keep the H4 levels below -5dbfs. I would assume you're using a -20dbfs reference level on the H4. BTW The TA3 output connections follow the settings of the XLR outputs. I have a Fostex FR2LE recorder and feed it line level from my 442 with no problems using the reference settings as above.

Eric


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Rodney Morris
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 19, 2010 at 11:26:38 pm

Yes, I do use -20dBfs for my reference level on the H4. The distortion happens only on the transients. And yes, I am aware that the TA3 outs follow the switching for the XLR. It's crazy that I have such a hard time inputting levels into the H4. I also had a situation this past summer when I was feeding the D.O.'s of two of the 442's inputs into an H4n and I had a lot of trouble getting the sound to be acceptable. Finally had to set the output of the D.O.'s to mic level (menu setting on the 442) and input them into the Zoom through the 1/4" (line) inputs. Nothing else was acceptable.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 22, 2010 at 3:59:54 am

Very interesting dicussion. Thank you. I may look at the Marantz PMD661 to avoid these issues.


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 22, 2010 at 1:19:29 pm

Rodney,

I'm wondering if the HN4 line level is -10 consumer line level rather than 0 or +4. Have you tried using the 442's -10 output and calibrating to -20?

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Rodney Morris
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 22, 2010 at 6:01:45 pm

Yes, Ty I have tried using the -10 line level settings without any success on my H4. The H4n that I used this summer belonged to the client and I was feeding it using the D.O.'s of my 442. When I had the D.O.'s set to mic level and inputting them into the H4n on the XLR jacks (mic level), tone at -20, I got distortion on the transients. When I selected line level for the D.O.'s and inputted into the H4n on the 1/4" input (line level), tone at -20, I got distortion on the transients. The only way I could get acceptable audio was to use mic level out on the D.O. into the 1/4" line level inputs of the H4n. If I have this much trouble feeding audio into the Zoom units, then how much more trouble will an amateur or a non-audio professional have with it?

Again, I could be doing something wrong. Any more suggestions, I'll gladly accept them!

Did you find that beer you were looking for?

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 22, 2010 at 7:13:08 pm

Hey Rodney,

You know, there are a few pieces of gear that make you wonder how the company stays in business. I think you have covered all of the bases. Short of doing an elaborate test to determine at what level the inputs distort and building custom pads for standard mic and/or line level sources, I think you just cuss a lot and shake your head.

The Canon D5 and D7 cameras are funky this way as were the RED cameras.

Regards,

Ty Ford

PS: I upgraded to a dirty gin/vodka martini with three olives. :)

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 23, 2010 at 3:58:32 am

Rodney,

Did the H4 XLR inputs work well for microphones at least?

600 is the top of my budget for a preamp and a recorder, but if I end up keeping it for a long time that would be ok. Some features that I like about the PMD 661 are (i) having two ways to get audio out at the same time (both headphone plug and 2xRCA), (ii) volume dial for the headphones, (iii) more batteries possibly means fewer problems with phantom power, (iv) dials for the L/R input level, and (v) big LCD screen. They are pretty basic things. It is bigger than the Zoom though.


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Rodney Morris
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 25, 2010 at 1:31:12 am

Tony,
I have not used the H4n with external microphones. I'm sure it works very well in that situation. I'm pretty sure that I'm not using the H4 for what it was primarily designed to do.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 25, 2010 at 2:07:34 pm

I opted for the Marantz PMD661 just based on a ergonomics--I looked at the Zoom H4N and the Tascam DR100 at the store and didn't like the build quality, the buttons, and the layout as much as the Marantz. It's great to be able to hang the PMD661 over the shoulder especially with the specially designed case. I know it's probably overpriced relative to its "features" (I guess the price would go down if they moved the production out of Japan like the other two companies did), but the store did throw in the very nice and very useful Marantz case for free.

I am very happy with the audio quality compared to what I had before. Finally, I can monitor my audio while recording it, I get almost no hiss, and the headroom is back to where it ought to be because the record levels aren't set artifically low to control the hiss. Unlike what I'd read on the web, the quality of the internal mics is not bad, at least for dialogue, and there is surprisingly little handling noise while using the internal mics. The sound recorded off of the Rode NTG-2 is excellent.

Thanks for your help.


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 25, 2010 at 3:02:24 pm

Tony said, "I get almost no hiss, and the headroom is back to where it ought to be because the record levels aren't set artifically low to control the hiss. Unlike what I'd read on the web, the quality of the internal mics is not bad, at least for dialogue, and there is surprisingly little handling noise while using the internal mics. The sound recorded off of the Rode NTG-2 is excellent. "

Tony, I'm glad you're happy with your purchase and you certainly seem to have done your homework.

Couple of things. Setting record levels artificially (or otherwise) low would not reduce hiss. If anything, it would increase hiss. Perhaps you could explain what you mean.

I have doubts that ANY recorder's internal mics can be used for professional production work unless you're holding it and putting it very near the people speaking. If that's what you're doing, you must have (or will soon have) forearms like Popeye.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Tony Connoly
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 25, 2010 at 4:24:30 pm

Ty--I hope you're having a nice Thanksgiving.

(i) Here's what I was trying to say about hiss (Although I will say upfront I am not sure whether it's worth figuring out what was happening there, except as an academic matter):

If you recall, I was previously recording into a DSLR with automatic gain control. In order to clamp down on the AGC, I directed noise into the right channel while recording into the left channel. This had the effect of preventing the AGC from changing the recording levels on the fly, and also caused the gain to be set on the lowest level possible. I found that after increasing the volume in post, some of the hiss came back but it was not nearly as bad as the hiss that was produced by the camera's automatic gain control. Maybe there is a simple explanation, maybe there is not, but it's probably not really relevant any more because there are better ways of doing things.

If I understand what you were saying, as a general matter and using proper gear, reducing the record level and then increasing the volume in post will increase the hiss, correct?

(ii) I certainly won't dispute that the internal mics are not for pro work (and that's even though I eat my spinach every day). I was just commenting on the remarks I'd read, which basically said that the mics in the Marantz were "bad" while the mics in the other hand-held units were "good". Based on my brief experience with a Zoom and my current DMP661, the internal mics were not a factor in which one I'd use. But I'll keep eating spinach just in case...

All the best.


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Ty Ford
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 25, 2010 at 10:17:01 pm

"If I understand what you were saying, as a general matter and using proper gear, reducing the record level and then increasing the volume in post will increase the hiss, correct?"

Yes, if you under record the audio will be in the noise floor of the system. As you try to increase it to proper levels you also bring up the noise floor, which is usually hiss.

"(ii) I certainly won't dispute that the internal mics are not for pro work (and that's even though I eat my spinach every day). I was just commenting on the remarks I'd read, which basically said that the mics in the Marantz were "bad" while the mics in the other hand-held units were "good". Based on my brief experience with a Zoom and my current DMP661, the internal mics were not a factor in which one I'd use. But I'll keep eating spinach just in case..."

Good idea.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Eric Toline
Re: One last question: preamp/recorder on a budget
on Nov 18, 2010 at 4:41:49 pm

There are much more cost effective and better sounding lavs than the Sony's. Check out the Countryman line at http://www.countryman.com. Look for the EMW lav there.

Eric


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