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"Point and shoot" classical recording
Old 18th June 2020
  #1
Gear Head
 

"Point and shoot" classical recording

Hello,

I have been looking for a tool to record my classical singing lessons and performances. I need:
  1. easy setup - sometimes I have just seconds to throw the device somewhere and then need to focus on performing. Often I'm distracted during setup by talking to a singing teacher
  2. good quality - I need to understand how I actually sound and be able to use performance recordings on my web site to get gigs
  3. good for frequent use - happy to pay more for something solid
  4. portable easy and light to carry in a backpack
  5. ideally, works as an audio interface

I used to use a Zoom H5 but found:
  • tinny quality
  • easy to accidentally record an empty file if I've selected the wrong mic input from a prior session (I'm usually distracted during setup)
  • didn't work as a Mac audio interface (Zoom said all H5s fail the same way)

I then switched to a Shure MV88 + iPhone:
  • great quality - good enough to throw on my web site and get gigs
  • frequent recording failures (1) whenever my phone doesn't have much storage left (like other App Store users warned), (2) whenever the mic is just slightly knocked, and (3) whenever I plug in headphones with an external mic (e.g. Apple earbuds). I'm always anxious that the device has failed, and it's a big distraction.
  • can't use as an audio interface

In an earlier thread, some people recommended Zoom F4 + external mic mounted on ORTF bar, which I figured would require too much setup time, but maybe I'm wrong.

Anyway, does anyone have any more suggestions?

Thank you!
Ben
Old 18th June 2020
  #2
Lives for gear
 

Sony PCM D-100.

Of all the portable "shaver style" recorders out there, this one's still the best if you want to use the recorder's own microphones:

https://pro.sony/en_CA/products/port...rders/pcm-d100

Expensive but a simple solution for what you're trying to do and much better sound quality than the Shure MV88 (I have the MV88 and am pretty disappointed in it).

I don't think it works as an audio interface though.

The Rolls Royce solution would be the Sonosax M2D2 into an iPhone or iPod Touch (or into a computer), with a pair of mics in ORTF or mid-side. But that does require more setup time than the Sony recorder. Not much, though, if you use (for example) a Shapeways mount for the mics instead of having to mount them on a bar. Setup can take 5 minutes. To give you an indication of how this can sound, listen to this excerpt of a rehearsal recording I made in our living room a couple of weeks ago of my partner and myself (she's a traditional singer from Brittany), recorded into an iPhone from the Sonosax M2D2 with a pair of cheap Line Audio CM-3 mics in NOS, using the Shapeways NOS mount. I added a touch of reverb and EQ, no compression (I like dynamic range): https://www.dropbox.com/s/cvqtnd8lbu...06-17.wav?dl=0
Old 18th June 2020
  #3
Gear Maniac
I've been recommending the Centrance mixerface (https://centrance.com/mixerface/) for students at the local conservatory. Their onboard mics sounds much nicer than the zoom, you have the capability to add external mics for important performances, and it can act as an interface. Not cheap, but the sweet spot of quality for money. Good conversion, good pres.

Caveat: I don't own one. I have too much other stuff. I have heard the results, and reviews from people with chops and ears who I normally record to a known standard.
Old 18th June 2020
  #4
Lives for gear
 
kludgeaudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post
I used to use a Zoom H5 but found:
I then switched to a Shure MV88 + iPhone:
I thought the H5 also had a mini phone plug interface of the sort that would allow you to plug in
your MV88. That would give you the best of both worlds.

I would recommend one of the little Tascam cheapo recorders with a Shure VP88 or similar
single point stereo mike. The single point mike won't give you the low end imaging that you will
get with ORTF but it will be easier and faster to set up.

But I'd first get the stereo mike and try it with your existing H5 and see how you like it before you
spend any more.
--scott
Old 18th June 2020
  #5
Lives for gear
 
uOpt's Avatar
Sound Devices MixPre. I use a 10T. Switched from a H4N which got fired because the preamps are too noisy.

The MixPre 10T is bulletproof quality and there is never any uncertainty when it records or not. Can be used as a streaming USB interface (in and out). Be aware that only the 3 and 6 can be powered through USB, the 10 can not.
Old 18th June 2020
  #6
Lives for gear
 
kludgeaudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by uOpt View Post
Sound Devices MixPre. I use a 10T. Switched from a H4N which got fired because the preamps are too noisy.
The MixPre is top notch. It is bulletproof, reliable, has excellent preamps and converters, knobs large enough to use without going crazy, and the manufacturer has a long history of supporting older products.

However, it's also three or four times as much money as the stuff that the original poster has been using. This is a case where you get what you pay for, but whether they want to pay that much I don't know.
--scott
Old 18th June 2020
  #7
Lives for gear
 
uOpt's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by kludgeaudio View Post
The MixPre is top notch. It is bulletproof, reliable, has excellent preamps and converters, knobs large enough to use without going crazy, and the manufacturer has a long history of supporting older products.

However, it's also three or four times as much money as the stuff that the original poster has been using. This is a case where you get what you pay for, but whether they want to pay that much I don't know.
--scott
Right. The OP didn't really state a budget, but it is a big leap.

One odd thing is that used MixPre 3 and 6 are relatively expensive, the 10 is relatively cheaper (compared to their new prices). Probably based in people wanting the practicality of the smaller unit and USB powering. For me, wanting more inputs and external sync (BNC) is was a good thing.
Old 19th June 2020
  #8
Lives for gear
 

i assume you have a computer? there's free software,
interfaces are cheap (and good), same for line audio mics; ortf does fine in many situations.
Old 20th June 2020
  #9
Gear Head
 

Thanks for the helpful replies! I'm willing to spend more this time, since all the "cheap" items I've bought so far are adding up fast.

I see two approaches:

(1) Recorders with onboard mics. I imagine these will be more discreet and easier to set up while I'm distracted, though I realize that limits the quality. Is Sony PCM D-100 the highest possible quality I could get with this approach?

(2) Recorders with external mics. These often double as a USB audio interface or can be plugged into an iPhone. (I think Sony PCM D-100 does not?) Sound Devices MixPre and Sonosax M2D2 look very professional, but I think external mics are going to take too much time to set up and will not be discreet enough. I already have Zoom F8 + CM3 and some fancier mics, which I use when I have more setup time, but right now I'm looking more for "mobile point and shoot."

Unless I've overlooked something, I think (1) is better for my needs. Could anyone share acoustic/classical recordings of Sony PCM D-100 or Centrance MixerFace with onboard mics? Any other criteria to help with the decision?

Thanks again,
Ben
Old 20th June 2020
  #10
Lives for gear
 

One thing that would help is to understand why you want the recorder to be able to also serve as an interface. Is it to give you the flexibility to record directly to a computer instead of transferring files from the recorder to the computer? Or is it for live streaming? Or something else?
Old 20th June 2020
  #11
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post
Could anyone share acoustic/classical recordings of Sony PCM D-100 or Centrance MixerFace with onboard mics? Any other criteria to help with the decision?
Konstantine Margaritis, a classical guitarist who sometimes posts here on gearslutz, has some recordings with the D100 on classical guitar here https://www.classicalguitardelcamp.c...c.php?t=128527 including some comparisons with the CM-3.
Old 20th June 2020
  #12
I built a kit for some run n gun recordings a few summers back, and based on that, I think an excellent solution could look like this:

Mixpre 3 II
cardioid mics (cm4, cmc64, km184, etc)
Shapeways ORTF mount (or better yet, just an STMC64 mic)
(2) XLR-F to 5-pin XLR-M adapter
(2) XLr-M to 5-pin XLR-F adapter
15’ stereo mic cable terminated in 5-pin XLR
Tabletop stand and clip
Compact 7’ light stand (Matthews, Manfrotto, etc)
Compact 4’ light stand extension (same brands)
Anker USB battery, SD card

Pack with the mics and adapted cables Pre-attached to the stereo mount. Something like this would fit pretty well in a Pelican roller, or a larger photography backpack with the mics and recorder protected in a smaller pelican Case inside and the larger lightstand strapped to the outside. Foregoing the taller mic stand would allow for a slightly smaller pack.

This gives some good flexibility for a multitude of situations. I prefer to use omnis whenever possible, so I’d add 1’ and 2’ stereo bars built around Sabra som parts to this small rig.
Old 20th June 2020
  #13
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bradh View Post
One thing that would help is to understand why you want the recorder to be able to also serve as an interface. Is it to give you the flexibility to record directly to a computer instead of transferring files from the recorder to the computer? Or is it for live streaming? Or something else?
This is nice to have when I'm traveling and need to do a multi-track recording with myself or someone else. I'm doing that even more nowadays with COVID-19. It's not essential for this device, though.
Old 21st June 2020
  #14
Lives for gear
My reaction to what I've read thus far is that microphone position is still important whether you are using onboard microphones or external microphones.

I don't really know how you position microphones for what you want to record without using a stand.

By the time you use a stand, might as well add cables and a couple of external mics.

The Manfrotto Nano stand is pretty compact when folded.

Instead of regular mic cables, you might fabricate your own stereo mic cable out of star quad cable. That would considerably reduce your cable weight and bulk.

Another option is to get a pair of DPA 4060s or 4061s, a battery box to power them and something like a Sony PCM-M10 recorder (discontinued-good luck finding one). You'd still have to figure out how to position the mics--sometimes I tape them to a music stand or whatever I can find.
Old 21st June 2020
  #15
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post
... Could anyone share acoustic/classical recordings of Sony PCM D-100 or Centrance MixerFace with onboard mics? Any other criteria to help with the decision?

Thanks again,
Ben

Hi Ben,

https://youtu.be/PUwe7omg3Yg

I believe she is using the Centrance recorder with the attached kit mics. All of her quarantine videos should have them.

Good luck!
Old 22nd June 2020
  #16
Lives for gear
 
Plush's Avatar
Anything will do for your use. Buy it at WalMart. Buy it cheap.
Old 20th July 2020
  #17
Gear Head
 

Plush, thanks for the reply. I've already spent years working with and being dissatisfied with cheaper gear (see my original post). Are you saying that within my constraints it's just not possible? It seems like the Sony PCM D-100 seems like the best option for my needs that I've seen, and I'm curious why you would recommend against it.

VillageOp - thanks for sending the test recording. It's hard to judge because of the small room but I *think* it's at least comparable to the MV88?
Old 20th July 2020
  #18
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post
Plush, thanks for the reply. I've already spent years working with and being dissatisfied with cheaper gear (see my original post). Are you saying that within my constraints it's just not possible? It seems like the Sony PCM D-100 seems like the best option for my needs that I've seen, and I'm curious why you would recommend against it.

VillageOp - thanks for sending the test recording. It's hard to judge because of the small room but I *think* it's at least comparable to the MV88?
Plush thinks that musicians should never try to record themselves, so don't take his post too seriously.

--

If you want a self-contained unit with the best sound quality, the Sony PCM D100 is your best option.
Old 20th July 2020
  #19
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post

VillageOp - thanks for sending the test recording. It's hard to judge because of the small room but I *think* it's at least comparable to the MV88?
Hi Ben,

I would say easily as good, if not better. I've been hearing tracks from both the mv88 (which is a relief compared to all the ipad or zoom recordings) and from the Centrence. Clearly not direct comparisons, but subjectively the Centrance has higher quality.

I will also chime in about a post further up from 2manyrocks: Mic Position. Most of these differences can be minimized with good positioning, and any sonic benefits from better gear nullified with worse positions. So consider a stand for sonic improvement.

Just a note on the Sony- the usb dosen't let it act as an interface, just power for the batteries.
Old 20th July 2020
  #20
Gear Head
For recording singing lessons, the Zoom H5 you already have or similar is your best bet with some time reading the manual and becoming familiar with it's functions. If the manual thing bothers you, maybe have a friend great with tech walk you through it. From your description above, it sounds like user error and is a matter of becoming familiar with the gear, how it works and where to place it. The same issues are going to come up with any device. You can spend a ton of money on better, more expensive gear but there is no magic gear bullet I'm afraid. The more you spend, the more complicated they are going to be to operate.
For recordings to get gigs and live performances, I would recommend you hire a pro engineer to do it right a couple of times a year. The extra money on a real engineer with fantastic gear will be worth every penny and cut out the stress of the extra work for your own peace of mind.
Old 21st July 2020
  #21
Gear Head
 

Thanks, all. I understand the sizable benefits of hiring a pro, and none of this would replace a pro recording session. But when a musician is hired as a soloist in a large concert, or when a musician has an important lesson or master class, it's just not possible to bring in a pro recording team or obtrusive gear. That's when these disappointing iPhone and Zoom recordings happen.

Computers used to be scary pro things; now everyone has a powerful one in their pocket in the form of a smartphone. No technology limitation stops an audio manufacturer from creating a "smartrecorder" with higher-end mics and preamps, a big record button, no other knobs, and some simple safeguards to avoid pilot error. If done well, even the pros might occasionally find it useful - the same way that a pro photographer might occasionally use an iPhone to take an amazing candid photo. It seems Sony has come the closest, and perhaps someday "the Apple of recording devices" will arrive and make all these existing devices look like the computers of the 80s.

Looking forward to trying the Sony. Thanks so much for all the help and suggestions.
Old 21st July 2020
  #22
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post
a "smartrecorder" with higher-end mics and preamps, a big record button, no other knobs, and some simple safeguards to avoid pilot error.
Well, there's always the Apogee One (https://apogeedigital.com/products/one), which can record to a computer or iPhone/iPad. It does have a built-in omni mic; I have never heard recordings done with it so can't vouch for it but you could check it out as an alternative. And I still think you're being too cautious about the setup time or "obtrusiveness" of a good stereo pair of mics.
Old 21st July 2020
  #23
Gear Head
Quote:
Originally Posted by bkazez View Post
Thanks, all. I understand the sizable benefits of hiring a pro, and none of this would replace a pro recording session. But when a musician is hired as a soloist in a large concert, or when a musician has an important lesson or master class, it's just not possible to bring in a pro recording team or obtrusive gear. That's when these disappointing iPhone and Zoom recordings happen.
suggestions.
That's where keeping your Zoom H5 comes in or use your IPhone with your other current plug-in mic. Just learn how to use it. It's on the simple side. It's an excellent sounding little machine for your purpose. You just need to spend some time figuring how it works best and pay attention to the buttons you press. It checks off all those boxes you asked about in your opening post and your subsequent ones. Better gear isn't going to help you at all. Your current disappointment is not the gear you have, but the lack of interest in how to make it work. I don't mean to offend in any way, just being as honest and transparent as possible given what you have written in your posts. I'm just trying to help you avoid further disappointment.
Buy a mic stand or a lighting stand to mount the H5 or your phone with your current plug-in mic and call it a day. If anything, add a GoPro camera so you can see all the physical things you are doing while you are singing during your lessons/practice sessions. In fact a better solution might be a GoPro camera with a plug-in external mini stereo mic which mounts right on the camera. Once you have mastered that, and proper recording techniques, if it interests you to pursue recording further, then that's when I would suggest buying better gear.
Old 21st July 2020
  #24
Gear Head
- Gopro camera with your Zoom H5 plugged into the Gopro mounted on a stand I think would be a great setup.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #25
Gear Head
 

My Sony PCM D-100 arrived yesterday, and I did a quick test comparing PCM D-100 vs Shure MV88 vs my proper stereo pair and Zoom F8:

• The proper stereo pair sounds best, but the Sony PCM D-100 is not that far behind. It sounds much better than Shure MV88.
• The Sony PCM D-100 hardware feels well designed: substantial in the hand but not too heavy. Raised dots on buttons allow eyes-free operation.
• With the MV88, you have to launch an app, disconnect and reconnect the mic when connecting some external headphones, and worry about the mic becoming disconnected from the phone or phone storage running low. The Sony PCM D-100 is much easier to set up.
• Small quibble with Sony PCM D-100: pressing record "arms" the device, but you have to press pause to start recording. For point-and-shoot recording, I would prefer if the record button actually started recording.

I'm very happy with the Sony PCM D-100. Thanks for all your help.
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