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Zoom h4N and Mixer Question

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Nick Karner
Zoom h4N and Mixer Question
on Apr 30, 2014 at 9:28:44 pm

Hi everyone. Hope you're well. If I want to do an interview, two mics, zoom h4n, should I plug directly into the zoom h4n and get the levels right even if I need to bump them up to say 75-80 to get between -6 and -12db, or, since I have a mixer, would it be smarter to plug the mics into the mixer, bring those mixer levels up high, and then pull down the zoom levels so that way there's way less background noise but the speakers would be coming in strong. Any opinions? Thanks.

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Ty Ford
Re: Zoom h4N and Mixer Question
on May 1, 2014 at 12:15:47 am

Hello Nick and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

I have never used an H4N, so I don't have a clue as to how good or bad it's preamps are, but it sounds like you have it sussed out. If your mixer is a good one, like most Sound Devices mixers, use their preamps and go line level into the h4n, if you can.


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Brian Reynolds
Re: Zoom h4N and Mixer Question
on May 1, 2014 at 12:23:12 am

Most mixers.... even cheapies have better preamps than the H4n.

Mics to the mixer then mixer to H4n at line level.

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Bill Davis
Re: Zoom h4N and Mixer Question
on May 1, 2014 at 1:48:46 am


THis is a classic "gain structure" question.

When setting gain structure, the typical process is to do the following.

Say you have a mic, a mixer and a recorder.

Start with ALL the gain controls on the Mixer set to OFF. That means the slider or pot on the mixer input strip, but also the TRIM or GAIN controls that determine the level of the signal as it enters the channel strip. Also set the MASTER control slider(s) or pot(s) to OFF. Next set the input controls at the recorder to OFF.

Now start at the END of the chain at the recorder - and set it's input to it's optimal setting. That's typically between 80 and 90% of the way away from off and toward full on. Now the H4N does not have rotary or slider controls - so you have to rely on the LCD meters of set the mic inputs at about 80%.

Then work backwards - move back to the MASTER pots on the mixer and set them to 80% - then the channel strip to 80% of it's linear travel or rotary setting.

The point of all this is to set all the signal volume "gates" to be "mostly open" to pass as much signal as they can - with just a very modest amount of boost available at each stage.

Finally, you start your signal and use the first stage "gatekeeper": level control - the small input or TRIM control at the start of the chain on the channel strip - to allow enough signal so that everything downstream shows signal peaks at the optimum level.

If something is wildly out of balance - if for instance the master record level at the mixer shows way too high - check to make sure you don't have a your recording device set to MIC level input while everything else is set to LINE level. If the settings are all correct, you can tweak things a bit, but generally this should set up every circuit to pass the signal optimally.

The point of the entire exercise is to set everything downstream of the channel TRIM (or GAIN) control to it's optimum position, then open the initial gate so the signal passed through everything else at the proper level.

Setting a solid gain structure is the basis of all audio recording when you have anything but the most simple of audio chains.

Hope that helps.

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Roger Van Duyn
Re: Zoom h4N and Mixer Question
on May 1, 2014 at 12:38:15 pm
Last Edited By Roger Van Duyn on May 1, 2014 at 12:41:45 pm

I'm no audio expert, but what Bill said is more or less what I try to do with my H4N and a venerable old Shure M267. But there is one difference to the approach I've been using.

I send tone from the mixer to set up the H4N, with headphones plugged into the H4N and then leave the H4N alone. Then I adjust the mic settings and output settings from the mixer. It's much easier to make the adjustments on my "antique" mixer. Wish it had bars instead of needles though. Still, it's been a pretty good alternative until I can buy something better.

From all my years in the medical laboratories, we calibrated our instruments with calibration standards. That precise tone from the mixer is the calibration standard I use to set up whatever it's sending the signal to, whether the camera, or in this case, the H4N.


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