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Zoom H4n and stage mics

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Colin Kelly
Zoom H4n and stage mics
on Aug 10, 2011 at 2:31:54 pm

Im shooting a wedding and have another gig recording a stand up comedian. My question is this. I have a Zoom H4n recorder. I've never used this device before. What will I need in terms of plugs in order to record from the stage mic (normal stand up mic)? Do I need XLR cables, or is there another set of cables that would work better.

Thanks in advance for your reply!

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Mark Suszko
Re: Zoom H4n and stage mics
on Aug 10, 2011 at 9:19:02 pm

This seems to only use a mini-phone 3.5 mm input, no XLR apparent. Not surprising, as it's designed to mostly use the built-in capsule mics. You can go to radio shack and get a cable with a mono, 3.5 mm male mini plug on one end, and a male XLR on the other.

That XLR can then be plugged into a second hand-held "stick" type mic on the same stage mic stand, or attached to an output from the mixing board, which would be far more likely. A performer will not like a second mic on the stand he can't fiddle with. It may throw off their game. And you'd have to be close to the stage to operate the Zoom or watch it. Better to sit by the board op and tap his feed.

Venue mixing boards are chronically short of spare XLR's, and more so the closer you arrive to show time. So also get a radio shack ten footer or so cable with the mini male on one end and a 1/4 inch male "phone" (guitar) plug on the other. The back of the mixer board will more likely have a spare 1/4 inch mono output, than it will an XLR.

This leaves one other issue: impedance level. You don't know if the board operator is going to give you a mic level impedance or a line level signal until you hear it. Often, they tell you it's one but they actually feed you the other. Or their version of a mic level is very hot. If you're set for mic level and the sound seems loud and distorted, he's given you line level. If you can't hardly hear anything and the input gain is maxed out, you're probably set for a line-type source, but getting fed a mic-level signal.

Read your Zoom unit manual carefully, bring it with you, to understand how to select between line and mic level inputs on short notice. If you're going to do this kind of thing a lot, it would also be wise to invest in a line matching transformer or at least an in-line attenuator, with the appropriate gender and type plugs on the ends. Radio Shack will also sell you those, at inflated prices. If you have the time, buy that attenuator unit online for less. Shure makes a handy little one that is idiot proof and immortal, around 40-50 bucks last I checked.

Also read the Zoom manual to find out if that mini input jack takes stereo. or only mono.

If stereo, it might be good to make up a 2-headed, single tailed cable so you can put an ambient audience mic on one channel, and the board feed (which sounds much dryer and less well-attended) on the other.

Then mix the channels in post to re-create the best live-sounding mix with crowd ambiance. A comedian is less funny if you can't hear the live audience laughing, and the stage mic will not pick up all that much of the audience generally. Take the unit to Ratshack, politely explain you are not there to buy a phone, then find the oldest guy in the place, tell him what you're trying to do, and bring a printout of this thread with you.

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