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Portable recorder for outdoor interviews

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Danny Kane
Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 8, 2017 at 2:59:22 am

Audio noob here. I need advice on a portable audio recorder that I can use for an interview-based show that will be taking place mostly outdoors. The types of locations I'll be at will have a fair amount of ambient noise (crowds, live background music, wind, etc.).

Any suggestions on a good recorder that will help to eliminate some of the background ambient noise?


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Richard Crowley
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 8, 2017 at 3:32:46 am

Its not the recorder that can improve your "signal-to-noise ratio" (SNR). It is the microphone(s).

You did not reveal whether this is "run-n-gun", hand-held brief encounters, or whether this is more formal sit-down interview style. You also did not reveal whether this is a dialog between the interviewer and the subject, or whether you only need to capture the subject's dialog?

Getting the microphone close to the talker's mouth is an excellent way of increasing the SNR. Using headset/earset style microphones will get the mic as close to the talker's mouth as possible. And that may be the best way of picking up the interviewer. But it is not necessarily the easiest way to mic a subject.

Using a very directional (hyper-cardioid or "shotgun") microphone is another way of increasing the SNR. There is even a small, portable recorder with a shotgun mic attachment. See the Zoom H-6 with the SGH-6 microphone.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recording audio without metering and monitoring is exactly like framing and focusing without looking at the viewfinder.


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Danny Kane
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 8, 2017 at 4:44:56 am

Yes - I should have been more specific. Let me describe it a bit...

This is very much a low-budget gig as it is going to be a YouTube based show - more of a hobby than a professional show, but we'd still like to have a good quality production. My partner is a highly skilled music video editor and I have worked with him on a few video projects before, but this new territory for both of us.

I guess these would be "run-n-gun," informal interviews done (mostly) outdoors. Interviews will be a dialog between both the interviewer and the subject.

We need this to be as portable as possible as we'll be on the move a lot during the course of shooting and there are just two of us. We will both be hosts of the show, but the interviews will only have one interviewer and one subject as the other host will be operating a moving camera during the interview. For that reason, I'm not sure that a directional/shotgun microphone would be ideal as there will be times when the subject will be speaking but will not be in the shot while the camera moves around.

We had originally planned to do this with lavaliere microphones and purchased a couple of A.Lav mics. During our two "test" shoots we found these had decent quality audio considering we were just doing the recording onto a smartphone. But these were a little inconvenient to set up for the interviews. We had originally wanted to stay away from handheld microphones mostly for aesthetic reasons, but we're giving in at this point. Either way, we knew eventually we'd want to record into a proper audio device rather than just the phones.

Which I guess is why I asked the question. I know that many of the portable recorders have the omnidirectional microphones built-in, but I was wondering if there is one that has a decent built-in microphone that could be used for this style of shoot. Would it actually just be easier/better to use a handheld mic plugged into a portable recorder? If so, what would be a decent budget choice?


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Richard Crowley
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 8, 2017 at 6:17:39 am

With the exception of that Zoom SGH-6 micropnhone, NONE of the little hand-held recorders have particularly directional microphones. Most are nominally "cardioid", but probably not even as directional as a Shure SM57. Some might work OK if you used the recorder itself in "hand-held" mode and held the built-in mic up to the subject (no more than 12 inches, or even closer in noisy situations). But that becomes a bit unwieldy holding the whole recorder up.

I have heard others say that they didn't want to use hand-held mics "for esthetic reasons". but I have never heard any justification for that that made any sense to me. If you want to get good SNR in a noisy ambient, then you must use a very directional mic or else get the mic pretty close to the subject. There is no shortcut around the laws of acoustic physics. Proximity effect is your friend.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recording audio without metering and monitoring is exactly like framing and focusing without looking at the viewfinder.


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Peter Groom
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 8, 2017 at 10:51:25 am

What kind of camera are you using. Id try to record audio direct to the camera to save time / effort re syncing .
If youre using a proper video camera this will work. If youre using a DSLR then forget that.
Peter

Post Production Dubbing Mixer


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Ty Ford
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:35:24 pm

Hi Danny and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

Richard and Peter have given you very good advice. From where I sit, your explanations read that you need to read up a lot about audio.

Good audio is seldom plug and play. A good audio person can frequently get acceptable results from average gear. An inexperienced audio person can have the bridge of the starship Enterprise at their command and still not get good audio. The difference is in how much technique a person has learned; how much experience they have.

You can't ignore the laws of physics and expect good audio. I agree that going right to camera makes life simpler. My concern there is that there may not be anyone paying attention to the audio.

Lesson #1: When you shoot video (normally) you're looking though a viewfinder at what you shoot. If someone is not listening to the audio ALL THE TIME, you can expect undesirable results. That means someone has to be wearing headphones. My preference for this sort of work are Sony MDR 7506, - NO EXCEPTIONS. They will tell you what you need to know. Also, you need to develop a discerning ear that allows you to be confidant that what you're hearing is what you want.

Lesson #2: Shotgun mics are NOT like zoom lenses on cameras. They do NOT isolate a person's voice from 20 feet, 15 feet, 10 feet, or even five feet away if the ambient noise is too loud.

Perhaps Richard, Peter and other regulars here will chip in additional lessons. Don't expect it. They are busy guys who have real lives. Expect to grab onto audio and learn yourself so you can help yourself and others. ☺

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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Bruce Watson
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 9, 2017 at 7:42:52 pm

[Danny Kane] "Any suggestions on a good recorder that will help to eliminate some of the background ambient noise?"

That's not how it works. Really. While the human ear/brain audio system can in fact ignore a fair amount of background noise and let you listen to just the parts of incoming sound that you're interested in, no audio system behaves this way. Nor can one. All the audio system can do is record what the microphone hears. Which is everything that comes its way.

The "trick" to audio is signal-to-noise ratio. And that in turn usually devolves down to microphone location relative to the sound source that's most interesting to you. For example, if you want to hear a single person in a crowd, you need to get the mic close to that person's mouth so that what (s)he says is loud compared to the crowd noise. This is why you see ear-set mics used in Broadway shows, putting the mic just a few cm away from the corner of the actor's mouth. That placement is all about signal-to-noise ratio. This is nothing more, or less, than the laws of physics. You can't break 'em, or even really bend 'em much. They just are what they are.

An alternative example is what happens when you want to record a violin soloist in a performance hall. Part of what you want when you do this is to record how the violin sounds in the hall -- so you have to record some of the hall sound. That means backing up from the violin. Many experienced engineers would say that you don't want to be any closer than a meter, and probably farther back that this, for two main reasons. One is to let the various parts of the violin "blend" into a coherent "violin sound" (your signal), and the other is so that you pick up the right amount of hall reverb (your noise). If you do it right (listen, then move your mic(s), listen again, move again, until you find the "sweet spot") you can make amazing records -- there are many records, CDs, and mp3s that illustrate this.

So will a simple "shaver" recorder miraculously eliminate some of your background noise for you? No. But proper placement of said recorder will go a long way toward reaching that goal. But you're probably not going to get really good sound until you divest yourself of the all-in-one recorder idea so that you can place microphones where they need to be to record good sound.

And what Ty said about monitoring your audio. Every. Single. Time. Not monitoring your audio is like not watching the viewfinder of your camera. This is why everyone who does this long enough learns that audio is a full time job just like video is, and that one person can't do a first class job of both at the same time. One will give you attention blindness for the other. Happens all the time to everyone who tries it. Not that anyone will admit it of course. That's always something that happens to "the other guy", right? Sure...


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John McClary
Re: Portable recorder for outdoor interviews
on Mar 13, 2017 at 10:54:18 pm

An investment in someone to always monitor the audio levels (or at least the cameraman) - with a good set of headphones - is an investment that you will appreciate in post production. The only way you can ignore your audio levels when recording is if you set good starting levels AND have fairly expensive limiting equipment (only the best stuff like the limiters in Sound Designs preamps are undetectable).

Instead, if you cannot arrange/afford an extra person to ride the audio levels, try setting a good level at rehearsal and then record TWO tracks of every audio source with the second one recorded 6-10dB lower. This way, if at any point they are louder than the rehearsal then you will have a second copy recording at a safe level to use in post production. Surprisingly, the inexpensive 4-track recorders like the Tascam DR-60/70D/701 all do dual-track recording (though they eat the batteries) as do the Zoom H5/H6/F4. All these have digital limiters, unfortunately.

John McClary


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