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Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers

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Jim Dollarhide
Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 4, 2010 at 8:58:39 pm

I have a new H4N and got a Sound Devices MixPre mixer.

The H4N seems to have no line inputs. I tried an XLR - RCA Phone (mono) adapter, and the audio coming into the H4N is still distorted.

What is the solution here. The H4N manual plainly says Line Level Inputs, as well as guitars, bass, and mics. But the manual says NOTHING about line inputs.

No, it is nowhere in the menus.

Jim


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Rodney Morris
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 5, 2010 at 3:41:15 am

The line inputs on the H4N are the 1/4" inputs, not the XLR inputs, and from my experience I've never had good luck trying to feed a line level signal (+4 or -10) into H4 or H4N without some measure of distortion. The best I've been able to capture was by sending a mic level signal from my mixer (Sound Devices 442) into the XLR inputs. That gives me the best sound.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Jordan Wolf
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 5, 2010 at 6:50:17 am

The problem is that the "line inputs" you are talking about are meant for guitars and keyboards. They are unbalanced, high impedance connections and won't do what you're looking for.

In my limited use of them (I'd love to own one myself, mind you), that is my one big complaint. BUT REMEMBER: you have to make your compromise somewhere. They went for the "now the consumer doesn't need a DI box for their guitar or keyboard" instead of "let's put 2 TRS, +4dBu jacks on this thing for the audio pros".

If you are still getting distortion even with the gain all the way down on the H4n, you'll need to lower the signal from the other end of the chain or pad it down inbetween.

Wolf
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Bill Davis
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 5, 2010 at 11:06:53 pm

I don't know many sound practitioners who don't carry a pair of line to mic level pads in their audio kit.

Go to the B&H or the Markertek catalog sites and search for 20db XLR inline pads.

They'll not only solve this problem, but many others when you go to take a "line feed" in a hotel ballroom or other FOH situation and find the level is wrong.

Basic kit.



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Jim Dollarhide
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 6, 2010 at 12:40:38 am

Thanks Bill. I stared this thread. I guess I forgot to mention that I am not a professional soundman. I'm a 35 year veteran cinematographer, and arrived at a need to purchase a simple kit to do sound when shooting with my Canon 5D package. For instance, I might have a four day shoot, a road trip, traveling from town to town, and need to record one sound line. So I am just starting to build my "kit", for very occasional use. Normally I hire professional sound recordists . . . Jim Dollarhide


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Rodney Morris
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 6, 2010 at 2:02:21 am

Bill, I have inline level attenuators and I've tried them. I still do not get acceptable recordings without inputting a mic level into the XLR jacks. I've tried it on just about every output available on my mixer (SD 442) using not only +4, but also -10 line level settings, including additionally using the inline attenuators. I set tone at -20 and still get occasional distortion on some of the loudest transients even though I'm not exceeding 0. I'm referring mainly to the original H4, but I've used the H4n and have found the same problems.

As much as I want to like the Zoom unit, its shortcomings are too much for me to consider it a professional recorder. It's more of a pro-sumer level recorder, with a greater emphasis on consumer. The line level limitations are one thing. The non-intuitive menus are maddening. Granted the H4n is an improvement over the H4, but it's not enough for me to put one in my bag.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Bill Davis
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:32:23 pm

Rodney,

It seems we've had different experiences.

In rough terms, the difference between a mic level input and a line level output is around 40db.

So I guess it depends on the attenuators you use. If you're expecting, for example, a 15db in-line attenuator to make enough difference, you're correct, it simply won't. OTOH a 40db pad should match this circumstance well. I know a LOT of music stores sell pads that end up at around 30db top end - and this MIGHT not be enough to get the job done in normal circumstances - particularly if you're recording something like a rock band.

My XLR accessories box is ALWAYS stocked with at LEAST a pair of 10/15/20 db pads - AND a pair of 20/30/40 pads - it's typical to use one or the other as needed, but I do remember shooting a really weird performance that involved a jet engine powered go-cart and, IIRC, I was worried I'd have to stack the 40 with another pad in order to get the level coming out of my Sennheiser MD-414 large diaphram dynamic wrestled down to something a mic input could handle!

Turned out The 40db pad worked fine by itself.

That's sound for ya!



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Rodney Morris
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:57:17 pm

Yeah, I have the 10/15/20 db attenuators, not the 20/30/40. But I also have line to mic attenuators, which would be a 40 db attenuator, roughly, so I don't worry too much about it.

Just to be clear, I'm not trying to pad a line level with the 10/15/20 attenuator to feed into the mic input of the H4. I've tried using line level out of my mixer, into the 10/15/20 attenuator into the 1/4" line level inputs of both the H4 and H4N. Doesn't work for me. I hear distortion on the loudest transients. Go figure! So I just set my output to mic level and drive on. I've relegated the H4 to just transcription work, but I have used it to record a local celebrity for various radio spots and even Hallmark cards (audio greeting cards) and maybe even for some Sprint ringtones, though I think I may have used my old portable ProTools rig for that job.

Rodney Morris
Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Eric Toline
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 7, 2010 at 5:04:16 am

A 50db pad will drop a "0" line level output to a very useable mic level.


Eric


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Bill Davis
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Dec 7, 2010 at 7:39:31 pm

Just because there are SO MANY new folks here that follow these threads, what you're seeing here is the reality of audio production.

You start with the basics, and as you practice, you keep coming up against issues that you hadn't had to consider before. I remember well the project Waaaay back in my career where I had to dump camcorder audio forever. Up to that point I'd been in relatively RF quiet locations and had gotten away with unbalanced audio extensions for my simple interview mics. Then I hit that location (which happened to be FULL of aquariums with little motors and fluorescent lamps - and everything BUZZED to hell and gone.

I had to pull the plug on the shoot and rent a camera with balanced mic inputs and do REAL audio. Once I faced that - I had to bite the bullet and buy a whole new camera and started collecting balanced audio equipment - much of which I still have and use today.

This is the STANDARD path from amateur to professional. You do the best you can - until some problem crops up that only better tools and learning better techniques will solve - then you either stop growing or re-invest and move forward.

That's why there's NOTHING wrong with using prosumer gear - or with asking for help on places like the Cow. But it's also why when you're confronted by concerns about a problem - and those who've been working professionals tell you there's a "right way" and a "wrong way" to solve it - you're free to choose what someone may opine is the "wrong way" but if you do, you can't complain if something goes wrong later on.



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Ruben DaSilva
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Jan 7, 2011 at 11:58:45 pm

A balanced mic level signal at the correct impedance is the best way to get into the XLR mic inputs of the Zoom H4n distortion "free". Forget the TRS inputs which may be the right impedance for an electric guitar but totally wrong for a mixer output connection.

Most professional field mixers have balanced line and mic outputs. Choose mic level. Line up your tone at minus 20bB below max on the Zoom; peak your conversation at 5 or 6 ppm on the mixer and way to go. Use the mixer's limiters if need be to make sure you don't crunch the digits on the Zoom.

The downside is having to go through the Zoom's mic preamps while recording, but that kind of distortion, though regrettable, is far less severe than gross level and/or impedance mismatches.


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Justin Vincent
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on May 29, 2011 at 10:51:21 pm

Do you think I could send the output from the "Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier" to the 1/4" inputs of the H4N?

I will be in a conference and I need to be able to record 3 people talking at once each with a Lavalier I don't have lots of money to spend, I don't need pro audio quality I just need to get a semi decent recording of all 3 people.

I know that there is a dedicated input for a powered mic so at least one of the mics will work fine... the question is do I need to do anything funky to make the other 2 lavs work without distorting?

Thx in advance for any advice offered!

Cheers,
JV


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Henry Milliner
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Jul 21, 2011 at 11:15:12 am

I've been playing about with this problem for a little while as I wasn't satisfied with the hiss from the H4N's preamps.

Going in to the TRS at PPM4 and setting the record level to 0.6/100 is quieter but working of the backstop is just wrong. Also even when my SQN limiters kick in it's not soon enough to stop zooms limiters crunching it.

My current solution is to put a 20dB pad in line, plug into TRS and set the record level to 12/100.

It's quiet (no preamp) and doesn't clip.

Off to test record some atmos this afternoon.


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Geoffrey Amend
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Jul 29, 2011 at 3:24:15 am

I experimented with the mixpre D today. I ran straight from tape out 1/8" to 1/4" h4n lines gain at about noon and rec levels on h4n at about 13 and got sound that was clean and rich, but might have felt a little hot. But not distorted, just a little noisy (like the H4n always sounds to me).

Then I ran tape out with a -25db attenuator line into the 1/4" and had to ride the rec levels on the h4n up to 60, 80, even 97 with my sennheiser 8060.

Everywhere I looked all I hear is attenuators, so this seems strange. Am I missing something?

Thank you!


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Stacy Doose
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Jan 9, 2012 at 1:58:26 am

Yes I know it's an old thread but I'm kinda new to the Zoom. Yes, -40dB attenuators are in order to manage the overload. I also use this device as a 4 channel field recorder, using an unbalanced 3.5mm TRS breaking out to 2 XLRs. Keeping the runs short and using the old-time prevention methods of keeping the AC lines at a distance, it works great. Cumbersome yes, but for $300?? Such the deal.

Producer/Editor


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Roland Comfort
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Apr 14, 2012 at 4:30:35 pm

For what it's worth, I have finally achieved spectacular sound using a SD-302 into the H4N using unbalanced xlr to phone plugs. The SD-302 set up is -10dbu at the outputs, tone generator set at 0dbu, clip set at +4dbu. H4N sets up vanilla at 48/24 with limiter set at studio, although, I don't think you really need it on the H4N with the SD-302 set at +4dbu. I end up with 0dbu on both devices (using the SD-302 tone generator)with H4N input volume set at 58. I normally record at about -18dbu. This set up puts my SD-302 input trim and fader at about 12 o'clock unity. perfect. When I push it to clip by yelling into the input mic (MKH 416, or potting up, both devices limit at about the same time, with absolutely no distortion. The H4N set up this way produces identical quality vs my Fostex FR 2LE. I couldn't be happier. Thanks for the tip about using the line input to avoid the not-so-good H4N pre-amps.


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Roger Often
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:46:31 pm

Roland Comfort - Your solution worked perfectly for me: Using unbalanced xlr to phone plugs. Thanks.



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Roland Comfort
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:57:47 pm

Thanks Roger. I uploaded a short video about it on YouTube. You can find it by just searching rolandcomfort h4n, it will pop up someplace.


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John Pastuch
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:22:36 am

Yo just wanted to say Roland, your video totally saved me for a shoot over the weekend. It was my first time using a mixer going into the h4n and luckily your setup worked beautifully for me, especially because I'm pretty new and it could have ended ugly.

Thanks to you and everyone in the thread for this.


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Stephen Montgomery
Re: Zoom H4N Line Inputs with field mixers
on Oct 23, 2015 at 8:18:06 am

Is there any difference between using a "DI box" and a "Line to Mic Pad"? In this situation I will be using a FOH desk (line out) into the H4N mic input. DI boxes are a lot more expensive but are they better or am I just going to pay for functionality I will not use?

Another consideration is that I read a lot of pads are for 600ohm kit and the h4N spec says it's input impedance is 1000ohm. Is this going to make much difference if I use a prebuilt pad designed for 600ohm kit? Or do I need to go back to school and read up on articles like http://www.uneeda-audio.com/pads/ to make my own?

Many thanks!



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