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Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?

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Gautam Pandey
Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 4, 2011 at 6:23:22 am

Hi..

I'm looking to invest in a field recorder and can see the advantages of having one with timecode, but
havent really understood how 4 channel recording can be advantageous (like in the Zoom H4n)

I am a little confused between 4 track and 4 channel!?

Also any recommendations/opinions between Zoom H4n Vs Tascam Dr 100 vs Roland R - 44

Thanks

Gautam Pandey
http://www.riverbankstudios.com


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Eric Toline
Re: Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:09:57 pm

Channels are paths, tracks are what you record to. You can have a 4 channel recorder with only two tracks to record to. A 4 track recorder allows you to put each of four spoken parts on it's own track so you can mix it later in post. You can also use 1 track as a mix and have 3 iso's or isolated parts for a remix later.


Eric


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Gautam Pandey
Re: Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:24:08 pm

Bing! and the cloud has lifted :)

Thanks Eric

Gautam Pandey
http://www.riverbankstudios.com


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Dave Haynie
Re: Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:55:05 pm

"Track" is just old timey recording engineer speak, dating back from when each channel you could record on was an actual, physical track on a multi-track tape.

The story is simple: how many different inputs can you record simultaneously. With my Tascam DR-1 or any numbers of camcorders, I can have at most two mic inputs at the same time. The Zoom H4n allows four at the same time. If I'm actually recording a band for a "live in the studio" type thing, I bring out my laptop and Tascam US-1800, to bring in up to 14 inputs at the same time.

What's the purpose? A better final mix. You're probably going to mix down to stereo (though you could use a multi-track recorder for surround sound, that's another story entirely). But the more individual inputs you have on the same sound, the more control you have. For, example, my sister plays keyboards in an 11 piece band. I want a mic for the lead, a mic or two for the backup singers, mics on the guitar cabinets, a couple for the brass section, a direct input from the keyboards, at least three mics on the drum kit (two overheads, one on the kick drum). This gives me much greater control over the final sound in that stereo track.

But it's not just for big bands. When I record myself on guitar, I'll put two mics on the guitar (one close, one back a little to take in more room sound), another feed from the guitar's pick-up, and one for voice if it's a live thing (if not, I'll layer the vocals and harmonicas on later).

I actually bought the Zoom H4n over the Tascam DR-100, based on my experience with the DR-1. The DR-1 has great sound, but the mic preamps are pretty weak, to the extent that it was kind of useless with at least some of my dynamic mics (and of course, the DR-1 doesn't support condensers via phantom power, you need an external preamp for that).

The H4n has more usable gain for dynamic mics (I get good levels with the preamp still in a good place, gain-wise), and it's possible to use directly with condensers. It's not perfect -- the phantom power circuit in the H4n (voltage multiplier to take the AA battery power up to 48V) is less efficient than the phantom power circuit in the DR-100. Not an issue if you run on AC (the H4n comes with the power supply, mic stand adapter, and a plastic case; the PSU for the Rolands are extra). What finally sold me on the Zoom wasn't just the 4-track, but the "portastudio" mode... it can work like a four-track portastudio (eg, you can record one or two tracks while playing back the others).

I did not consider the R-44... I was looking for a more capable field recorder, largely to augment video work.. the R-44 is about 3x the price, another category of device.

-Dave


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Frank Nolan
Re: Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:50:19 pm

[Dave Haynie] ""Track" is just old timey recording engineer speak, dating back from when each channel you could record on was an actual, physical track on a multi-track tape.
"


So if this is "just old timey recording engineer speak" what would you call it nowadays? How would you differentiate between a channel and a track?
Your post did more to confuse the issue than to explain it. Eric's explanation in a couple of sentences did more to explain than your entire 4 or 5 paragraphs.
It does not matter whether you are referring to old tape machines or a new digital device, there is a definite difference between a track and a channel.
A mixer has channels or individual signal paths. You can not record onto a channel. A recording device has tracks, to record individual or mixed signal paths on to.
Some recording devices also have a mixer built in which allows you to plug a mic or other device directly into a channel and send it to an available track for recording or mix it with other inputs and record them onto an available track or tracks.



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Dave Haynie
Re: Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 5, 2011 at 4:24:21 pm

[Frank Nolan] "Your post did more to confuse the issue than to explain it. Eric's explanation in a couple of sentences did more to explain than your entire 4 or 5 paragraphs.
It does not matter whether you are referring to old tape machines or a new digital device, there is a definite difference between a track and a channel."


Yeah, sorry, I really did mess that explanation up. I'm sure I had some actual point to make to start with, but managed to dodge that very nicely in that first part.

A channel is simply an audio path. In the real world, this is fixed in hardware: a mixer may have 32 or 48 input channels, eight general output buses (which are also channels), four auxilary buses (which are also channels). In the computer world, you'll have a fixed number of hardware channels in and out of the computer. In software, things are generally more flexible.

A track is basically the recording of a channel. You set up your gear, press "record", you get N tracks of audio in nonvolatile storage of some kind (tape, HDD, flash).

A mixer is a device that aggregates channels: that 48 channel mixer takes up to 48 input channels and creates at most 8 output channels. The purpose is to fit that audio to a smaller channel format: your recorder, your PA system, a CD or DVD, etc.

A switch or distribution amp are devices that multiplies channels: one input channel can become many different output channels.

-Dave


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Gautam Pandey
Re: Portable Field Recorders and why 4 track?
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:23:25 pm

Thanks Dave! lots of info! and thank you for the review cleared up a lot of things :)

Cheers!

Gautam Pandey
http://www.riverbankstudios.com


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