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Field Audio Recording Equipment Advice Condenser Microphones
Old 12th August 2018
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Field Audio Recording Equipment Advice

I will be traveling to Bhutan to do a video recording of a tradition male musician. The musician will sing and play a stringed instrument called the dramyen.

The recording will be indoors in a room w/ wood/clay walls and a stone or clay floor. There will not be an audience. I would prefer the recording to have a warm sound.

Please review the audio gear list below and recommend some options. Feel free to make other suggestions.

Budget < $1000 for recorder and 2 mics, mike stands

Recorder
Option 1 - Zoom H4n - $200
Option 2 - Zoom H5 - $250
Option 3 - F1-LP - $200
- No phantom power, would not be able to use condenser mics.

Microphones
Option 1 - AKG C451 - $250-300, used
Option 2 - AKG perception 170 - $99, new
Option 3 - Rode NTG 2 - $150-200, new
- Is it worth spending the extra money on the NTG 3, 4, 5 ?
Option 4 - Rode Stereo Video Mic Pro - $300, new
Option 5 - Rode Stereo Video mic x - $450-500, new
Option 6 - Zoom SSH-6 - $150, new
Old 12th August 2018
  #2
Lives for gear
 

We have an H4n and it works well. I saw a video that compared the H4n and the H5 and the takeaway is the preamps on the H5 are quieter.

It might help to know how you're planning on mic'ing the musician. If you're close mic'ing the instrument and the vocal, then you might want two different mics. If you're mic'ing the room, then the shotguns probably aren't useful. A pair of Shure SM-81 ($350 new) and the H5 would fit your budget and offer a lot of flexibility. The SM81 has a really flat response and is frequently used for recording violin.
Old 13th August 2018
  #3
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James Lehmann's Avatar
 

I bought a Zoom H5 for a recent trip to the Borneo rainforest.

It's an excellent unit - very easy to use and robust so far.

For very quiet field-recording work the internal and external preamps are a bit noisy - in other words it's never going to be good enough for ambient sound-library work.

But as a lightweight, cheap travel unit it's great.

There's no substitute for actual auditory evidence so here you go - this is the H5 using its built-in mics:



If I was looking to do serious library work or release quality music recording the next step up would be a Sound Devices 302.

For mics, I'm not convinced that some of the cheaper Rodes on your list will get you enough subjective fidelity improvement to make it worth carrying them vs just using the H5 built-in mics. I like the above suggestion of a pair of SM81s.

That said, I must admit to having a soft spot for the stereo NT4 - it's an extremely convenient form factor and crucially it will work on batteries meaning you won't run down the recorder's own power. The sound is the same as a pair of NT5s in XY - and I'm not a particular fan of these - but somehow the stereo package makes the whole a bit more appealing and I can overlook the inherent boxiness of those capsules. Just don't lose the 5-pin stereo cable!

Last edited by James Lehmann; 13th August 2018 at 09:09 AM..
Old 13th August 2018
  #4
Here for the gear
Sound Devices Mixpre 3 649$
Blue Hummingbird x2 350$ (there is a buy 1 get 1 for free deal here in Europe right now, maybe the US too?)
The Mixpre 3 is really quiet and has lots of clean gain.
The Hummingbirds has 8,5dB self noise and translates field recordings extremely well (smooth highs, excellent mids and realistic lows, IMO)
Old 13th August 2018
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James Lehmann View Post

That said, I must admit to having a soft spot for the stereo NT4 - it's an extremely convenient form factor and crucially it will work on batteries meaning you won't run down the recorder's own power. The sound is the same as a pair of NT5s in XY - and I'm not a particular fan of these - but somehow the stereo package makes the whole a bit more appealing and I can overlook the inherent boxiness of those capsules. Just don't lose the 5-pin stereo cable!
Would the NT4 offer a significant improvement over the Zoom's built in XY mics?
Old 13th August 2018
  #6
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DirkP's Avatar
 

If you already own an iPhone or iPad - even an older model - don't buy a recorder, buy a Lewitt DGT650 for about 600,- instead. Would also work with a laptop. Don't know about Android.
Old 13th August 2018
  #7
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matucha's Avatar
Sound devices recorder
Line Audio mics (super cheap and really good) or old Sennheiser MKHs (very under the radar, often very cheap and still very relevant sounding - not all of them work from phantom so you'd need some power conversion barells - no biggie)
Old 13th August 2018
  #8

A pair of PR30 would be more robust for traveling than capacitor mics...





-tINY

Old 13th August 2018
  #9
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James Lehmann's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by piper View Post
Would the NT4 offer a significant improvement over the Zoom's built in XY mics?
Unfortunately I no longer have an NT4 so I can't offer some WAVs to determine that, and I haven't really used the H5 enough to pass judgement yet.

Hoping to use it a bit more soon!

I was thinking more in terms recording musicians it might be neater to place a separate mic closer to them and monitor the actual recorder next to you at a distance with cans, i.e. in the traditional fashion.
Old 13th August 2018
  #10
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matucha's Avatar
So far I haven't heard any built-in mics to sound at the level of even Rode NT SDC series. It's a different class of mics, the resolution, sound size and noise figs are worth going external anytime you can.

Don't get me wrong, the built-in mics are very useful. Esp. when you need to travel light. I use my sony d50 (which has one of the better int mics) quit a lot on random sfx or atmos. Can't complain about the results, but in comparison to my full rig (nagra lb with various sennheiser mkh or schoeps mk21 mics) it's like a smartphone audio. Lowress, tiny, metalic, brittle transients with little weight. Line audio CM3 are notoriously compared to Schoeps MK21 and these are one of the easiest mics to get great sound with in "just one stereo pair aimed at musicians" type of sessions.
Old 14th August 2018
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tINY View Post

A pair of PR30 would be more robust for traveling than capacitor mics...

-tINY

I've only followed tINY's advice once, but it was the best purchase I ever made.
Old 14th August 2018
  #12
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3rd Degree's Avatar
 

I haven't done a lot of field recording so take my advice with a grain of salt. However, I have recorded various sounds with an NT1a at various places I lived (birds, city noise, trains, etc) and was more impressed by any field recorder I have used. You can buy an M-Audio Profire 2626 for $100 used with 8 pretty decent preamps. You could get a 3 rack space case and carry a laptop, the interface racked, and whatever mics you would need in a not compact, but portable setup. You could then use that interface, and chosen mics for other studio uses as well. The only issue is if you won't have power, and needing a laptop with Firewire.

Field recorders are great for when you need something compact but are far from the only portable option. I used a similar setup for just taking trips, but for a hardware sampler. Easy to transport, just not something you can easily pull out, but if you know where you will be, it will work great. I only think an actual field recorder is worthwhile if you need to pull it out and use the built in mics all the time. That said, I was impressed by the clarity of a cheaper Olympic recorder, but it would not sound good for your purposes, just saying even a lower end, more consumer based unit did capture audio better than expected, and better than I recall a purpose built M-Audio (I believe) field recorder sounded. That was just for the purpose of capturing audio to be transcribed, not for music, however.
Old 14th August 2018
  #13
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matucha's Avatar
Field recorders make it for more compact solutions, designed to run on batteries. Soundcards and notebooks can work well for some more fixed remote setups, but generally it's a bit impractical and with more piece to the puzzle you have more points of potential failiure. Reliability is very important once you're "in the wilderness".

While LDCs can sound good and generally have lower noise figures, the off axis coloration that may lead to problematic sounding atmospheres or acoustics/"reverb". It's similar problem as with shotgun mics. Yes you can get a good results at times, but other times you get mixture of well balanced direct (on axis) sound and some weird color (freq response) on room or on some sounds comming from the sides. It's hard to eq that out because you're hurting the direct sound by doing so. Sometimes it's totaly cool or usefull though
Old 14th August 2018
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3rd Degree View Post
The only issue is if you won't have power, and needing a laptop with Firewire.
I went to record something with my laptop once and driver for the sound card had gotten messed up. Couldn't record.

If you do get a filed recorder, and if you are going to use rechargable batteries, the panasonic eneloops are really better than most other choices. More power.
Old 14th August 2018
  #15
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3rd Degree's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by piper View Post
I went to record something with my laptop once and driver for the sound card had gotten messed up. Couldn't record.

If you do get a filed recorder, and if you are going to use rechargable batteries, the panasonic eneloops are really better than most other choices. More power.
Well, not that driver issues don't just happen every now and then but your portable setup should be dialed in like your studio setup. As said, I don't do field recordings but I do have a portable setup. I test it before I leave town as well as make sure to load a heavy session to make sure I have no hardware or software issues. Not to say things don't come up but my portable setup has never given me issues.
Old 1st September 2018
  #16
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Thanks for everyone's advice!

1. Piper
Your right, I am interested in micing close up, I should be using condensers not shotguns. I will look at the SM81

2 James
I thought audio sample was good, I don't need better for what I am doing.
I will look at the NT4, w/ the built in battery I could use it with a Zoom FL1P.

3. Krokanan
I like the articulated head on the hummingbirds,

4. Dirk
I will certainly take a look at this. It would simply my set up, which many help since I will not be dong field recording on a regular basis.

5. Tiny
The PR30 look like they good reviews for acoustic guitars, and some for vocals. I am trying to find some on line audio sample.
Old 1st September 2018
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James Lehmann View Post
Unfortunately I no longer have an NT4 so I can't offer some WAVs to determine that, and I haven't really used the H5 enough to pass judgement yet.

Hoping to use it a bit more soon!

I was thinking more in terms recording musicians it might be neater to place a separate mic closer to them and monitor the actual recorder next to you at a distance with cans, i.e. in the traditional fashion.
Is it difficult to get a good balance between vocals and guitar with the NT4?
Old 2nd September 2018
  #18
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You might find this recent Sound On Sound article by Ian Brennan interesting reading: Adventures In Field Recording |

His advice - be ready to improvise and take lots of gaffer tape

Second the recommendation of Eneloops. The black Pro versions store even more charge.
Old 5th September 2018
  #19
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James Lehmann's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dfperrault View Post
Is it difficult to get a good balance between vocals and guitar with the NT4?
Like any stereo mic, the NT4 just records what is in the room in front of it - no more no less.

And for this it does a respectable, conveniently-packaged job for the money.

In terms of 'balancing' instruments - that is something you'll have to do the old school way, i.e. getting the musicians to balance themselves playing & singing and moving the mic around to the most practical spot that sounds balanced on your cans. There's no short cut really.

As I said, unfortunately I don't have an NT4 anymore or I could do some proper tests vs the internal mics of the Zoom H5.

Come to think of it I do have some dirt cheap B*hringer C4 cardioids, just to see what one can actually get for €50, so that might make an interesting shoot-out, although of course then it's the preamps of the H5 that come into play too.

Last edited by James Lehmann; 6th September 2018 at 08:28 AM..
Old 5th September 2018
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

I'd tackle this from the point of view of recording location and technique first; then choose the best gear for that location and technique that you can afford with your budget.

Location-wise, the key question I would want to know is humidity. In Bhutan this varies significantly geographically and seasonally, and you don't mention where or when you are going. If going somewhere very humid, I would only take RF condenser mics, such as Sennheiser MKH, since mic capsules suffering from high humidity are no use to anyone. If not very humid, then your choice of gear is much wider.

Technique-wise, a singing dramyen player presents similar issues to recording a singing (acoustic) guitarist. From your responses above - where you talk about close-miking - it sounds as if mics can be visible in the video: if not, this will have a significant impact. Even if recording with a stereo pair of mics (be they built in to a recorder or not), it is likely that to get an acceptable sound that they will be in shot. The key issues arising from a stereo pair will be getting a good balance between the vocals and dramyen (whatever you record will be baked in) and avoiding problems arising from the room, which may be small or otherwise acoustically poor (you mention materials but not the scale of the room). Closer mics and good use of polar patterns (esp. involving fig 8 mics, with their deep nulls) can separate the vocal and the dramyen to a high degree, allowing much more scope for balancing in post and reducing the negative impacts of a small room. For a good discussion of recording a singing guitarist - with sound samples - see Recording A Singing Guitarist |

If humidity is extremely high and you want good separation of vocal and dramyen, then the solution is not cheap (e.g. two MKH 30): that would suggest rental of mics or purchase of used mics then re-sale on return.

If humidity is not at all high and you want good separation of vocal and dramyen, then a couple of LDC multi-pattern mics (say AKG P420 or, better, Rode NT2a) will give you scope for trying close double fig 8s, and, at the same time, allows a range of overall stereo-pair approaches (MS, XY, ORTF etc.). Whatever money is left, use for the best recorder you can afford. if using LDCs, though, you are moving away from a compact set up, which may well be an issue.

If humidity is not high and you are certain that you want a simple stereo pair recording, capturing the room (with potential small room sound) and setting the balance between vocals and dramyen permanently when recording, then your options range from a recorder with in-built mics (e.g. Sony D100); a cheaper recorder (say, Tascam DR70D) and the best mic pair you can afford (e.g. Rode NT55 [cardioid and omni options]); or a better recorder (say, a Sound Devices Mixpre-3) and modest mics (the Line Audio CM3 wide-cardioid mics are much praised on GS: CM3 - really THAT good? ). The last would be a very compact set up as both the recorder and mics are tiny.

Above all, though, if you haven't much experience in this area, I would practice recording a vocalist/guitarist (if you don't have access to a dramyen player at home) and get used to the issues arising.

Cheers,

Roland
Old 5th September 2018
  #21
Gear Nut
There is another forum here on GS devoted to remote recording. You might have better luck there.
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