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Which Sound Recorder to buy? A guide to various indie priced sound recorders in 2017


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Am I right in thinking it's the rear lobe of the shotguns that picks up room reflections. Perhaps the NTG3 might be a little better here than some others, with a wider pickup pattern and a smaller rear lobe, hence fewer reflective sounds indoors?

 

Sorry if I've contributed to the drift off the OP topic here.

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Wrote up a little guide for people new to this and looking to buy their first recorder. And is the way I see the world of low budget recorders is they're ranked like this (starting from worst/cheapest

Yeah..... if you're using a Zoom H1, then you're not a production sound recordist. Which is the perspective I'm writing this from. (and from that perspective, *any* of those which I mentioned will mak

The Tascam DR-10CS/DR-10L is even smaller. It only records mono, but I like using it for lavs or shotgun mics which are mono anyway.

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6 minutes ago, Kisaha said:

For people not having a good experience with booming, this is an advantage. For me, soundman since 1999, I would prefer the 416 anytime. I used the NTG-3 for a couple of years when it was first out, and then I bought the 416 and never looked back again. Rode is an excellent brand, and I would recommend their products easily, but Sennheiser is my go to brand. Very serious about sound for a century now!

You need a different microphone for indoors, this is like the mistake 101 most people do, even if a shotgun sounds ok on 1 room, 8 out of 10 it could be a nightmarish experience. It is just physics.

Rode being Australian, I could buy 3 NTG-3s for the cost of one 416 here, so that was a purchase decision factor too. If I was working as a sound recordist I'd definitely go the 416, but for my personal narrative work the NTG-3 works for me. And yeah, there is no swiss army mic.

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18 minutes ago, Richard Bugg said:

Am I right in thinking it's the rear lobe of the shotguns that picks up room reflections. Perhaps the NTG3 might be a little better here than some others, with a wider pickup pattern and a smaller rear lobe, hence fewer reflective sounds indoors?

 

Sorry if I've contributed to the drift off the OP topic here.

That, and what IronFilm said a few posts above.

No, it isn't a better solution. You need a (super) hypercardiod, and a few top professionals use even cardioid microphones.

Ones I recommend (from cheapest in Europe, in US Audix is cheaper):

Oktava 012

AKG Blue line/CK93 capsule

Audix SCX1HC (stands for hyper cardioid)

Audio technica 4053B

Sennheiser 8040/8050

Sennheiser 40/50

Schools CMC6 MK41

I have limited experience with Sanken and DPA (I do use lavalier and shotguns from time to time) but DPA microphones can be near the top in all the categories they compete.

My choices from poor to richer would be Oktava - Audix - Sennheiser (yeah, without a number after it!).

@squig just excellent microphones. As I work in Europe, Sennheiser is a more safe bet, and more desired by producers/directors.

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9 minutes ago, Richard Bugg said:

Am I right in thinking it's the rear lobe of the shotguns that picks up room reflections. Perhaps the NTG3 might be a little better here than some others, with a wider pickup pattern and a smaller rear lobe, hence fewer reflective sounds indoors?

 

Sorry if I've contributed to the drift off the OP topic here.

You really need a hyper or super-cardioid mic to get good sound indoors, any shotgun is going to sound a bit thin and reflections are going to be a nightmare. The Sanken CS-3e short shotgun may be the closest to usable inside but I had a listen to some tests and it didn't impress me for indoor use.

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2 hours ago, squig said:

Hehe, I've still got my H4n, haven't used it since film school. I know the new Zooms sound way better, but I've got very good ears (I was a record producer in a past life) and I love the sound of Sound Devices. I was doing 16 track digital recording in the 90s and we used to put everything through valves to warm up the harshness of 16 bit.

Very likely because you've only had experiences with a Zoom H4n or other such handheld recorders, which is badly influencing how you view Zoom and Tascam's other products

I can assure you the likes of a Tascam DR680 mk2 / Tascam HS-P82 or Zoom F4 / Zoom F8 is nothing at all like those other ones.

It would be like looking at the Sound Devices MP-1 (one of their earliest products, when Sound Devices was viewed as this strange unknown cheaper outsider) and using that to cast your judgement on a Sound Devices 688!!

 

Note: I'm not at all saying a Sound Devices 702 is a bad product!! Far from it, as it is a top notch product for its time. Just in the context of 2017 and for a newbie sound recordist starting out, it wouldn't sense to buy one today (unless it was offered at a truly crazy low price!).

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5 hours ago, IronFilm said:

Very likely because you've only had experiences with a Zoom H4n or other such handheld recorders, which is badly influencing how you view Zoom and Tascam's other products

I can assure you the likes of a Tascam DR680 mk2 / Tascam HS-P82 or Zoom F4 / Zoom F8 is nothing at all like those other ones.

It would be like looking at the Sound Devices MP-1 (one of their earliest products, when Sound Devices was viewed as this strange unknown cheaper outsider) and using that to cast your judgement on a Sound Devices 688!!

 

Note: I'm not at all saying a Sound Devices 702 is a bad product!! Far from it, as it is a top notch product for its time. Just in the context of 2017 and for a newbie sound recordist starting out, it wouldn't sense to buy one today (unless it was offered at a truly crazy low price!).

The Zoom F4 is indeed much better than the H4n (I have both and both are for sale! (also have a DR100 MKII for sale)). The noise floor is now usable on the F4, though still not as good as Sound Devices. If that's all that matters, then sure, they are close on noise, even more so with highly compressed online streaming listening.

When it comes to sound quality, especially with decent speakers/headphones, any Sound Devices is in another class compared to the Zoom F4/F8! If you can't hear the difference, what headphones or monitors are you using? ;) I'm using the amazing-deal Focal Listens (closed back) and the best-bang-for-buck Stax SRS-3100 w/ Ultra mod (Socas adapter plates and Brainwavz Hybrid Memory Foam pads (also have thick ZMF Lambskin angled pads, though currently prefer the thinner Brainwavz)). Previously: Sony 7506 and Audio Technica ATH-M50 (old model): both are also excellent for the money (and both still used for recording/location monitoring). Headphone amp is Sound Devices USBPre2 (excellent). These are pretty good demos which illustrate the sound quality differences: 

It's not always about price, sometimes is preference. I always found the RME Fireface 800's mic preamps a bit sterile and digital sounding (harsh). I replaced it with the comparatively cheap Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (over 10x cheaper) which has nicer preamps- smoother, more natural, and more analog like. While the Scarlett has sufficiently quiet and smooth mic preamps, the Sound Devices USBPre2 mic preamps are much fuller and more detailed across the spectrum.

Finally, a professional life-saver feature of the Sound Devices products is the analog limiter- it's basically unclippable. Even if you're very careful and set levels safely (e.g. -12 dB), sh*t happens and you're going to get clipping, especially for live/location/doc work. Using a safety track can help but that's more work in post and still not as good as SD (or higher end) analog limiters.

For the price difference between the F4 and MixPre6, there's no way I'd recommend the F4, even if I was a brand ambassador for Zoom. If one needs more channels and doesn't have the budget for equivalent Sound Devices or similar gear, the Zoom F8 makes sense. For indie/hobby work, digital limiters (or no limiter) recorders work fine, as it can be no big deal to go back and re-record once you have reviewed the recordings and find you've got some problems. If time is important or one is paid by someone else, analog limiters are really helpful.

Regarding Brand Ambassadoring for Aputure: it's cool to promote products one is compensated for, however as others have noted there are some issues with the current Deity: noise floor and off-axis rejection. While it does sound similar to a 416, it's much noisier, and side & rear rejection is much worse than the 416 and NTG-2. I've only listened on YouTube, however this review says the Deity is noisier than a $249 NTG-2. It appears Aputure tuned the Deity with high gain (hotter, more sensitive) and the budget ran out to keep costs and noise low at the same time. It's a fair compromise, and in noisy environments the noise won't really matter, or noise can be removed in post (FFT/spectral or simple expander/noise gate).

Regarding mic placement and usage: there are NO RULES! There are guidelines, however what matters is how the mic and placement actually sound for the conditions- that's it. Mic on camera? Absolutely for run&gun and it can sound great. It's totally fine to use a shotgun indoors in a non-reverberant room. The 416 is also an excellent VO/indoor mic. As long as the room's reflections aren't causing the shotgun to 'phase out' (sh*tty sounding phase effects), they can work great. It only took one time after many years of using the NTG-2 as my main mic to hear nasty reverberant phase effects to finally add a hypercardioid. I picked up both the Audix SCX1-HC ($500) and the Schoeps CMC641 (a lot more). If I 'squint my ears' ;) maybe I can hear a difference between these two mics. I ended up keeping both to do stereo recordings. Even though they aren't matched, they work pretty well together (all the indoor Cosmic Flow shoots use both these mics as a stereo recording on booms above talent. Can you hear the difference?). At that time I also finally upgraded to the CMIT5U, which works well outdoors, indoors, and on camera too! Someone criticized plugging a Schoeps directly into the C300 II- as if it could only be mated with a Sound Devices or better lol. When I'm running both camera and audio, simplicity and reliability are first priority. For critical location shooting for playing clients, the higher quality preamps and analog limiters of a Sound Devices mixer would totally make sense.

Here the NTG-2 sounds better indoors than the normally excellent Audio Technica 4053b (one of Curtis Judd's favorites): 

The 4053b and SCX1-HC tested for dialog here: http://www.4kshooters.net/2016/06/28/five-affordable-boom-microphones-for-capturing-high-quality-indoor-dialogue/

Cables: Neutrik connectors are great and after using cheaper cables really appreciate Mogami quality.

Over the years I started out with the best low-cost gear I could find (Rode, Audio Technica, Zoom, Tascam) and slowly upgraded to better gear (Sound Devices, Sennheiser, and Schoeps). You really appreciate the quality of the higher end gear after learning on the budget gear. The Audix SCX1-HC is a special gem- fantastic quality for the price. For internet streaming and listening on a cellphone (where most people consume low-budget/indie/free content), the budget Rode and Audio Technica gear is plenty good!

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1 hour ago, squig said:

You really need a hyper or super-cardioid mic to get good sound indoors, any shotgun is going to sound a bit thin and reflections are going to be a nightmare. The Sanken CS-3e short shotgun may be the closest to usable inside but I had a listen to some tests and it didn't impress me for indoor use.

Sometimes I use my Sanken CS3e indoors when the conditions I'm given are truly TERRIBLE, such as in an active busy restaurant. Thus if the location was perfectly silent (HAHAHAHA!!), my Sanken CS3e wouldn't be the right choice, but because of the sheer background noise levels I use it anyway rather than a hypercardioid.

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1 hour ago, IronFilm said:

Sometimes I use my Sanken CS3e indoors when the conditions I'm given are truly TERRIBLE, such as in an active busy restaurant. Thus if the location was perfectly silent (HAHAHAHA!!), my Sanken CS3e wouldn't be the right choice, but because of the sheer background noise levels I use it anyway rather than a hypercardioid.

Also, "active busy restaurants" have enough bodies, coats and other stuff to cut reflections anyway! Human bodies are very good to kill sound and light waves. Not radiation so much! CS3e is a special mic anyway. 

Sound blankets are a good tool to help a bit.

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32 minutes ago, Kisaha said:

Also, "active busy restaurants" have enough bodies, coats and other stuff to cut reflections anyway! Human bodies are very good to kill sound and light waves. Not radiation so much! CS3e is a special mic anyway. 

Sound blankets are a good tool to help a bit.

You can also rent self-propelled sound blankets

Llama2.jpg

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3 hours ago, Kisaha said:

Also, "active busy restaurants" have enough bodies, coats and other stuff to cut reflections anyway! Human bodies are very good to kill sound and light waves. Not radiation so much! CS3e is a special mic anyway. 

Not so many human bodies around however if it is just the start of the day when the kitchen is busy making a racket but the rest of the place is just hard surfaces!

3 hours ago, Kisaha said:

Sound blankets are a good tool to help a bit.

Yup! When you're not a one man sound department and juggling too many things as it is... :-/ 

3 hours ago, jcs said:

You can also rent self-propelled sound blankets

Hahaha! :-D Love it. 

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Tons of great info here, thank you all! I haven't used the Zoom F4/F8 but I have a Tascam DR701D, and the Tascam is WAAAAAAY better than my Zoom H5. I'm not a pro sound recordist or anything but it's immediately obvious the difference in quality. Obviously it's quite a bit more expensive, but it's one of the few times where you can genuinely get double the quality for double the price.

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Speaking of soundrecorders... has this totally gone past all of us? There's a new H1 version in town, the H1n (*video below was posted by them 4 weeks ago)

Hum... it looks cool, that's for sure.

--- ah, I've found you back in the Newsshooter article comments...

Quote

Low budget wedding shooters really should choose a Tascam DR10L instead which is vastly superior for their purposes as it is actually designed for the task

Mmmkai. Fair enough. Still think it can have some application though (personal music recording), as it's also just a mic itself and it's cheap, lol.

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15 hours ago, Cinegain said:

Speaking of soundrecorders... has this totally gone past all of us? There's a new H1 version in town, the H1n (*video below was posted by them 4 weeks ago)

I really like the H1 for how convenient it is to use with the built in microphones, but the lack of sound insulation for the microphone made the built in mics unusable for outdoor use. Wind hitting the handle would be enough to distort the sound. I hope the H1n has improved that part. As a pure recorder I find the Tascam DR-10 to make more sense.

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20 hours ago, Cinegain said:

Speaking of soundrecorders... has this totally gone past all of us? There's a new H1 version in town, the H1n (*video below was posted by them 4 weeks ago)

Nope, it didn't go past me! I knew about it even before it was officially announced. 

But it is just very uninteresting and unappealing. Thus I didn't talk about it. 

 

3 hours ago, Kisaha said:

In film school we were told that sound and sight are 50-50. Just count your image spending money, and then the sound. What is the percentage? 99,8 to 0,2?

I don't think I want to add up the money I spent last year on sound gear so I can calculate the ratio.....   as the total would be scary!

But I can safely say the ratio would be high indeed!

Because on the camera side of the equation: I purchased the Z Cam E1, think I might have got a couple of lenses or so, oh and the Samsung Gear 360VR camera. Plus a few bits and bobs like a variable ND filter and a VCT plate/rails. However that is pretty much all I did for the year when it comes to camera gear! But sound gear? Oh boy, a lot....

 

20 hours ago, Cinegain said:

--- ah, I've found you back in the Newsshooter article comments...

I don't *only* post to EOSHD ;-) 
 

20 hours ago, Cinegain said:

Mmmkai. Fair enough. Still think it can have some application though (personal music recording), as it's also just a mic itself and it's cheap, lol.

Yeah, but there is no shortage of options for small portable handheld recorders like that. (I for instance own a Zoom H1 original and the Tascam DR22WL)

And this new model is no great leap forward over the original H1

 

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3 hours ago, Kisaha said:

In film school we were told that sound and sight are 50-50. Just count your image spending money, and then the sound. What is the percentage? 99,8 to 0,2?

Probably like lenses: 60%, cameras: 30%, rest, well yeah, 10%. :tounge: Mostly like low entry tiers RØDE, Zoom stuff and super low budget Chinese stuff. Most expensive audio gear was probably the Ohrwurm X. Do think you can make quite affordable audio solutions work if you know where they really suck and avoid ever being in that position... speaking of which, positioning is the thing that makes most of the difference. Considered an Aputure Deity and a fancy smancy recorder... but... can't be upsetting the ratio now... lol

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On 1/21/2018 at 6:30 AM, Cinegain said:

Probably like lenses: 60%, cameras: 30%, rest, well yeah, 10%.

Well at least you spent double the amount on lenses than you did on camera bodies, that is healthier than the other way round!

 

On 1/21/2018 at 6:30 AM, Cinegain said:

Do think you can make quite affordable audio solutions work if you know where they really suck and avoid ever being in that position...


Yes, picking good locations for audio (when you have that control) is winning half the war. 

 

 

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