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Tim Dowse
mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 9, 2011 at 7:39:17 pm

If any sound guys want to help me out here I'd really appreciate it...

I'm trying to choose between a Zoom H4n and a fairly basic 4 track mixer, or a 4 track field recorder like the Edirol R44

My total budget is $1000.

The use will be varied, but often small crews (2-man), documentary style shooting, without a dedicated sound guy (believe me, I wish this wasn't the case). I like the idea of a 4-track recorder because then the mix can be done in the safety of the post suite, so as long as I've got the levels on each track close enough, then I can leave them be.

Question is whether that kind of voice recorder is good enough.


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Ty Ford
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 1:39:12 am

Hello Tim and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

Why can't a two person doc crew include an audio person? I work that way a lot.

Why do you need 4 tracks

Regards,

Ty Ford

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





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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 2:23:49 am

Hi Ty,

Well, what I mean is that I don't have a dedicated sound professional who makes his living doing sound. It's me, directing and being sound op too.

I want 4 tracks to give me the flexibility for events that I have to cover where I use more than two mics. For some of the documentary shoots, I wouldn't use all four all of the time, but I want to have the option for other shoots.

I am attracted to the 4 track recorder as opposed to the mixer because then I don't have to make mixing decisions on location. I can just set the levels, monitor that they aren't getting too high or too low, and then focus more attention on directing. Then I can worry about the mix later when there's less pressure and less else to worry about.

I am just concerned that I might be missing something significant by not getting a mixer.

Tim


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Ty Ford
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 3:13:22 am

Well how 'bout this?

Eight reasons why you need a mixer
1. They let you vary volumes without shaking the camera or getting in the way of the camera op.
2. You may need to do that a lot with some people. I ride gain even if one person is talking if their voice fades on the end of each line. You can only do this in a relatively quiet environment, otherwise you bring up the ambient noise.
3. Mixer preamps (good ones) sound better than camera preamps.
4. Good mixers have input transformers that scrape off RF before it get into your audio.
5. Good mixers have limiters that allow you to record hotter, keeping your audio further above the noise floor without distorting.
6. Good mixers have EQ that lets you roll of LF HVAC noise before it gets into your audio.
7. Good mixers have mulitple outputs so you can feed more than one camera, or separate recorder simultaneously.
8. Good mixers make your sound better. If they didn't pros wouldn't use them.

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





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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 3:36:56 am

I understand the pros of mixers per se. I was wondering if those pros are worth the cost of not being able to record to separate tracks, given that I won't be able to devote my full attention to mixing at all times.

With the Edirol, I'll be recording dual system, syncing later (with pluraleyes, and slates as a backup). The Edirol also has a limiter, low cut filter, and some other effects. And of course more sample frequency and bit-rate options than a camera.

I am just wondering if the pre-amps on a $700 mixer will be that much better than the edirol, to the extent that I should give up the safety of recording to several tracks. Unless there was a seriously noticeable difference, I think I'll go with the edirol.


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Jonathan Mitchell
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 7:50:20 am

Hello Tim,

To answer your questions is not so simple one both machines record sound to a lesser or greator degree. Try has given you a very good answer and has produced a very good film on the diferent mics you can use. I think you should keep your recording process as simple as possible. Two tracks is more than enough. If you are going to have a dedicated sound person then they can make the correct descission. If you are going to be camera director and sound op then keep it simple if you get one thing wronge in the filming process it can ruin a film.

Kind regards Jonathan Mitchell


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Ty Ford
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 11:25:32 am

I understand the pros of mixers per se. I was wondering if those pros are worth the cost of not being able to record to separate tracks, given that I won't be able to devote my full attention to mixing at all times.

>>Not in my opinion.

With the Edirol, I'll be recording dual system, syncing later (with pluraleyes, and slates as a backup). The Edirol also has a limiter, low cut filter, and some other effects. And of course more sample frequency and bit-rate options than a camera.

>>Yes, but unattended, or semi attended. Would you shoot unattended or semi attended?

I am just wondering if the pre-amps on a $700 mixer will be that much better than the edirol, to the extent that I should give up the safety of recording to several tracks. Unless there was a seriously noticeable difference, I think I'll go with the edirol.

>>First, can you hear the difference? Second, the quality of sound has also to do with mics and techniques.

The real gamble here is your intent to leave audio unattended. This is not only a gear issue, it's a people issue. I can not in good conscience advise you to leave audio unattended.

Congratulations on your "growing pains." I think it's time to "grow" your crew as well as your equipment locker. Tough love, perhaps, but there you have it. :)

Regards,

Ty Ford

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





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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 1:33:12 pm

Thanks for all your replies, I really appreciate it. Perhaps I wasn't clear...I won't be leaving mics unattended. I will be monitoring levels at all times. I am just talking about mixing in real time vs monitoring levels.

Believe me, I would dearly love to have a sound guy, but I don't have this option. I may have at other times on other projects. I notice that Nick Broomfield runs his own sound...if I must limit my success to that level, I'll cope ;-)

Maybe a better way to frame the question then. The scenario is:

A documentary crew, using two lavs taped to the main "characters" (using moleskin), and then using a boom as a backup, and to record other people who interact with my protagonists. As a matter of course, there is also a shotgun mounted on the camera. What would a sound-pro do? Would he prefer:

a) using a $700 mixer, with a Zoom H4n
b) an edirol 4-track sound recorder.

Bear in mind that the producer is perfectly happy to have the tracks recorded separately, and does not need the sound mixed in real time (because he has time in post), unless there is something about option a) that clearly gives the sound a better quality.


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Jonathan Mitchell
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 5:42:20 pm

As a sound professional I would choose to use a 4 channel mixer such as the Cooper or sound devices or SQN they all have nice mic amps with decent out puts. A two track recorder would be fine I can easily have the boom mic to cover actuality and send it to channel one of the recorder. Channel two can have the mix of the radio mics. I would put a decent camera mic on the camera for synch purposes only and do not reliy on puralise.

From reading your comments you may have sceen a sound operator at work but not picked upon the finer details of there work. The whole point of hireing a sound profesional is to get good location audio. Spending hours in post trying to fix bad audio is frustraiting and a waste of time. it does not matter how many tracks you may have if the sound is off mic distorted or peeking at the wrong moements.

Kind regards Jonathan Mitchell


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 10, 2011 at 6:17:06 pm

Thanks for the feedback. Like I said, I would dearly love to be able to hire a sound op, because I know they will get good location audio. Otherwise I wouldn't want to hire one.

But money doesn't go on trees, so I am trying to figure out the best way of working with what I've got, and what I can purchase to make my job the best it can be, even if that's still below the standard of a higher budget project.

And if I have given you the impression that I don't understand the finer details of their work, you are right. I am not a sound op, nor have I trained to be one. That is why I came here to ask for advice.


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Al Bergstein
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on May 14, 2011 at 11:48:05 am

Tim, all the advice previous is good, and I understand your dilemma.I've used the edirol, and it's great, but if you really need four inputs, you might start with the edirol & save for a Sd mixer down the road. My guess is you won't end up using four mics much, as it's hard to onitor w/o a sound man. However, do you need battery operation? You might be able to get by with pluggeable audio gear,for mixing, which could allow you to buy a two channel recorder. That's what we do on occasion. Surprising how widespread electrical current is these days!

Alf


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Richard Angle
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Mar 23, 2013 at 8:04:18 pm

I'm not so sure that the initial question in this post was ever clearly answered. And it was a very good question. What are the pros and cons in choosing to keep the tracks separated at the recording? Mix it live if you have the man power? Or perhaps go with the luxury and accuracy of mixing it all down in post with possible loss in recording quality. I am not an audio guy at all, but am currently researching the options original discussed in this older post. I too see enormous benefit in avoiding a premix. I would like to resurrect this original posting and see what you all think two years later. Anybody?


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Mar 26, 2013 at 3:23:37 pm

Hi Richard,

I agree, my original question seemed to get lost... Like you, I saw the enormous benefit in avoiding a "premix," and despite trying to find out I never heard any definitive response about the inferiority (or otherwise) of the sound quality on a 4 track recorder vs a comparably priced mixer/zoom h4n combo.

So in the end, I went with the Edirol R44, and I've loved it. It's not perfect, and I'm sure a more expensive option would be better, but it's certainly good enough for the TV and web-based stuff that I'm doing. I have no idea whether it would stand up to the demands of theatrical distribution. It's certainly better than a Zoom h4n. As well as being four tracks, you can control each channel independently with proper dials. I've noticed no difference in sound quality with the zoom (but... I use JBL LSR-2325P speakers for my post, so better speakers and a more trained ear might well notice something that I don't). Also, you can output a mix while recording and send to the camera, which makes synchronizing with pluraleyes a cinch. That said, the output is a rather annoying RCA connection.

Just to state the obvious yet again, clearly hiring a sound pro is a better option and you should do what you can to hire someone who really knows what they're doing. But if that ain't an option for you, then this is a good solution, in my non-sound-pro opinion. And of course, to state the obvious still further, it's all for nought if you don't use good mic technique.


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Richard Angle
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Mar 26, 2013 at 9:14:44 pm

I've been looking into the h4n 4-track capabilities but am still a bit concerned about the lack of true line level input. However, I think that with the use of the proper attenuators, this might be a moot point. I'd like to use the mini stereo plug on the back of the h4n to plug in an old stereo BeachTek adapter/mixer for two separate audio tracks. Independent levels could be controlled through the Beachtek level controls. My concern is whether or not I'd be able to take four independent mono line feeds out of a rock show's mixer board and go distortion free into the h4n. I think it is possible with the right cables (balanced vs unbalanced and using 1/4" phono in place of xlr for the XLR two inputs on the unit. I don't know still looking into it.

So I'd imagine that you're pretty happy with your R44 over a premix any and everyday, huh? It just seems to be a no-brainer to take the option of the post mix if you can. Even if the best sound guy on the planet is there, it still makes sense to me to do it. Why not keep them separate if you have the option? In addition, your initial unanswered question of possible quality loss is what grabbed my attention in the first place. And I still have no idea the answer to that question.

Thanks for the response and happy shootin'.

Richard Angle


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Mar 26, 2013 at 9:37:52 pm

I am certainly happy with a premix any and every day as you say, and that part always seemed to be a no brainer for me. Indeed, a highly respected audio post guy I asked said this:

I'll often get separate iso tracks even on jobs
where there's a competent sound op mixing mono at the same time. The
editor pays attention only to the premixed track, but cuts them all
simultaneously. When it's time for me to mix, I can use the premixed
track if I like it... or go into the editor's muted iso tracks and
pull up individual mics.

It was always a question of the best way to spend $1k. I was always just worried about whether the edirol r44 would suffer a loss in quality so bad as to negate this advantage when compared with a 4 track mixer/zoom h4n combo. The fact that I couldn't find evidence of this potential cost outweighing the advantage anywhere, I went with the 4 track recorder, and I've been happy with the decision. If there is a difference between the r44 and a $700 mixer quality wise, it's obviously not so bad as to have been widely written about.


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Jakob Volver
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 6, 2013 at 4:59:31 am

Hi Tim
I'm having the exact same thoughts on recording audio when shooting either alone or a two man group. So I was wondering now that you have had the edirol r44 for some time what your thoughts are on it. Any limitations or things that bother you?
And just for the record - I do appreciate the fact that a dedicated sound op makes better sound, but that's not an option for me. Some times it's a money issue, other times it's about upholding the intimacy with the talent.

Right now I'm on the H4N and the Sound Devices 302 but the setup kinda bothers me when I have to move fast. I often have to record two radio mics and the cam mic and there is very little time to attend sound once the levels have been set with the individual character. Therefore I like to record in 4 channel mode on the H4N using the ext mic on the back for the cam mic directly. That unfortunately bypasses the limiter and level adjustments on the 302 not to mention that I have to switch cables when I change from a 1 radio+cam mic to a 2 radios+cam mic setup. I'm looking for better setup that makes able to record up to 3 separate channels with quality pre-amps and good limiter.

Looking forward to your thoughts. Thanks.
Jakob


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Ty Ford
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 6, 2013 at 1:48:51 pm

Last year we were a two camera and three person crew doing interviews with women who were breast cancer survivors. You can't get much more intimate than that. I was the sound person. and there was no problem. If you have had such a problem it's a personnel problem, not a number of people problem.

I never just set levels, even when shooting one person interviews. Their levels frequently change or they may move away from the mic a bit and need attention;similar to them shifting in their seats and you need to reframe.

As a result, I go back to my earlier thoughts that something valuable may be lost due to inattention.

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader

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


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 7, 2013 at 1:58:32 pm

For what it's worth, I of course agree with Ty that it's never a good idea to leave levels unattended. One of my much earlier posts seemed to suggest that I leave levels unattended, which I don't. Even when I'm shooting alone.

Jakob, as I stated, I've been happy with the R44, but I don't have a direct comparison with your mixer, or indeed a much cheaper ~$700 mixer as per my original question. For my purposes, the R44 is certainly good. I am not an audiophile, and I'm sure pros on this forum with experience of both will be able to speak more eloquently about it. But in my experience, it does a very serviceable job. For me, the quality of the recording is not noticeably superior or inferior to the zoom h4n. the levels can be controlled independently, there are 4 XLR inputs, with phantom power. all in all it's a good package.

Whether or not intimacy improves with less people is an entirely different question. Yes, it's a personnel problem, but one of the personnel is the subject of the interview, and they may be the ones that would prefer less people in the room. I've been involved in a project where we conducted many interviews on an even more intimate subject than breast cancer, and with some very challenging interviewees. Some subjects were very happy to talk and talk whoever was in the room. Others less so. I did very rarely, and as a last resort, ask the rest of the crew to leave because I felt that the subject would be more open with just me in the room. And on occasion there was a noticeable difference when it was just me. Of course that meant that I was now riding audio levels as well, but it was a risk worth taking to get the content.


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Ty Ford
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 7, 2013 at 2:07:36 pm

Thanks Tim,

What was the topic?

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader

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


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 7, 2013 at 2:09:08 pm

Hi Ty,

Sexual relationships involving people with developmental disabilities.

Tim


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Mihael Tominšek
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:54:17 pm

Dear Ty.

With all respect to You and your experiences, but you are only advocating "your way" with several "look how good I did it" stories. But you never really answered to Tim's question. And after several times he tried to explain the situation he is and budget he have, you still dig in to details to prove your (only proper?) way of doing it.

I had the same question as Tim years before, when I started own videoproduction business. The reason I found this old thread is I do regular searches for any new devices for multichannel recording on market. While I do multichannel recordings, I would like to find even better way of doing it.

I agree with all you said Ty, but it misses Tims question.

I was employed in our national tv station for several years. And one among the program was live coverage of sunday masses. While national TV does that with production truck, 4 cameras, 6-8 microphone and 4 guys sitting in the truck, I'm doing wedding masses, proms and theather plays with only 3 person behing cameras and edit video/audio in post. Obviously I'm way cheaper than hiring production truck and staff, and the resulting movie is much more refined than live output, where all mistakes are written to the mix for good.

Recording audio in 24/96 give WAY enough headroom that microphones can be unattended, and in fact the levels does not vary much (experiences). When some unexpected extreme sound happens (let say altar boy drops the bells on the stone floor) no one can handle that manually. I actually do not even use compressor limiters, because (as manual leveling) I do not want that one very loud drop or something affect all neighbouring audio. It's better to let this brief sound to clip and I cut it out from the final mix in post. That kind of stuff is rare.

In most scenarios I put my recorder(s) to -12dB and it's just great. Actualy recording microphones directly on 24 bit recorder at -12dB results way less noise than having analog mixer (and compressor/limiter) in chain and being able to go at -6dB then. It's rediculus.

I started bussiness with 8-channel MIXER while recording mix into 1 digital recorder years ago. Cameras acted as sound backups. But nowadays I'm using 3 independent digital recorders per microphone pair directly, because it's cheaper to buy/operate and is less equipment to set/gather and gives me all freedom to cut in post.

It's obvious that microphones must be placed right to get good audio, and that right microphones must be choosen, too.

For budget of 1000 for the equipment, there is NO sound adwantage having mixer and only stereo recorder. It's even worse. The only thing I'm seeking is a good and not overpriced 6 or 8 channel recorder. Intil today it is still cheaper to go with 3 separate digital recorders. It's even reducing chance of failure to 1/3 as hawing only one device.

just my thoughts, as I think TIM made correct choice for his situation.

Best regards, MIHAEL


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Ty Ford
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 10, 2013 at 1:27:37 pm

Dear Mihael,

The nice thing about the Cow Forum is that we are able to disagree. I apologize if my answer does not suit you, but it is what it is. I'm completely comfortable with suggesting to people when they ask me if A or B is better, that neither are good and that C is the best approach.

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader

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


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 10, 2013 at 2:15:00 pm

The problem with your approach in this case Ty, was that it wasn't advice at all. Your option C – "grow your crew" – wasn't an option on the table. I was given a budget for purchasing equipment from my employers. I decided, given the capability that we already had in the shop, that audio equipment was worth investing in. I had $1000, and it needed to be spent, or would be lost..

That amount of money wouldn't cover additional audio crew for more than two days. An investment in equipment, however, has allowed me to improve our audio on a large number of shoots.

I would have loved to have been given an option C that was actually actionable for me, for example: "neither A or B are good, but this equipment option C would be good for your needs." Instead I got something like: "you're trying to choose between Toyota and Honda, but what you really need is a chauffeur, because clearly your driving is so laughable that if you can't afford a chauffeur, you'd better not drive at all."

And finally, yet again, just for clarity. I do NOT leave audio unattended.


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Tim Dowse
Re: mixer vs multitrack field recorder
on Apr 10, 2013 at 2:16:21 pm

Sorry, I did want to add that whether or not I appreciated your advice, I DO VERY MUCH appreciate you taking the time out of your day to give it to me. Honestly, to all people who spend any amount of time answering my idiot questions on this forum, thank you very much.


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