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Old September 26th, 2009, 06:24 PM   #1
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Best digital portable audio recorder? How to record multiple tracks through mixer?

I use a CANON XH-A1 w/ adaptor and a K-tek boom with interchangable Sennheiser ME-66 and ME-67 mics.

As of now, I have simply been attaching the mic straight to the XLR inputs of the camera and recording on tape.

Internet forums have beat into me the notion that a field mixer is a must-have for superior audio (and for when I start using lavs). So I was shopping around and found that there's quite a consensus for the ENG44 being a great "bang for your buck" mixer. If anyone here has other suggestions though, within the ENG44 price range or slightly above, please do share.

Does using a field audio recorder actually preserve a higher quality of sound that would be lost on a Canon miniDV? One major benefit of using a portable audio recorder is that the sound guy now becomes a one-man-band and doesn't have to be the camera's siamese twin. This alone makes me curious about shopping for one.

The one thing that I'm uncertain about, and this may be a stupid question, is how to record multiple tracks at once (another benefit of a portable audio recorder) if most mixers (such as the ENG44 ) only have two XLR outputs. Do I just pan one to the left and one to the right? That allows me to only record on two tracks, correct? Does this ruin the "stereo" aspect?

Assuming a price around or slightly below 1k, what would be the best recorder? I heard the Zoom H4 does not sync sometimes, and that the Tascam HD-P2 has limited space.
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Old September 26th, 2009, 07:08 PM   #2
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I just recently started shooting double-system sound, using an Edirol R-44 with a Sony EX1. I put lav mics on four people and have an AT-4051a on-camera.

The recorder is running constantly, creating BWAV files that have time-of-day timecode. The camera also uses TOD timecode.

With SequenceLiner I'll sync the camera's clips to the continuous BWAV audio files, and manually fine-tune lip sync. If I were really smart I'd slate each shot with a hand clap, or at least do it everytime I change batteries or every half hour or so.

Keep in mind that it's possible the sync will drift over time. Testing will tell you how much. If you're shooting takes that don't last a half-hour, it should be OK. But if you're shooting a concert, it might be a problem without providing for occasional corrections in post. The reasons for sync drift are nicely explained here:

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But I'm still sorting out the details of this workflow. I'm a one-man band so there's no soundman to ride levels. To keep things simple I have the receivers and recorder running off a single battery and make sure the battery is OK. Otherwise each receiver and the recorder would require battery changes during the day, along with all four bodypacks. And that would be very inconvenient.

For now it has been working nicely, giving me 4 independent lav audio tracks plus audio from the camera as a backup.

The lav receivers -- or a mic -- goes directly into the recorder. No mixer. The sensitivity and level knobs are easily accessible and the meters are readily observed. It feels like a mixer.

If you decide to get an R-44, consider getting the modified one from Oade Brothers (OADE BROTHERS AUDIO Field Recording Experts, Sony, Tascam, Marantz, Fostex, Compact Flash recorders). The mic preamps have been modified to be quieter. I haven't tried one out myself, but I have heard that recommendation from others. Of course I read about it AFTER I got one!
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Old September 26th, 2009, 09:40 PM   #3
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So with an R-44 and a need to record multi-track, a mixer is truly unnecessary? The R-44 has low-cut and limiter. Is there any feature it' missing from a good mixer? How is the pre-amp on yours?
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Old September 26th, 2009, 10:12 PM   #4
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Well, it may be a case of stating the obvious, but mixers are designed to mix and recorders are designed to record.

So the issue gets down to the differences between mixing and recording

Mixers often/usually have more than two inputs and allow you to pan each input right or left or center - or (depending on the mixer) anywhere in between. I.e. you can have input 1 panned hard left, input 2 panned between left and center, etc etc.

Mixers usually have controls that are more optimized for easily varying the gain of individual tracks and are easier to operate and adjust on the fly as well as usually having easier to read level meters, etc.

Recorders are basically designed to just take what comes in the front and write it to some medium such as hard drive or flash card. Your camera can basically function as a recorder (albeit generally not a really great one)

Where much of the confusion comes from is that there is some overlap in function between products sold as mixers and recorders. If you're only using two inputs, for example and recording to only two tracks or stereo, then you probably have no need for a mixer - except for the previously mentioned ease of use functionality. And if you're satisfied with the quality of the two tracks available on your camera, then it IS a recorder, and you have no need for an external unit UNLESS you want more flexibility in choosing output media or want a backup to your camera in case of a problem of some kind, or want a higher quality recording than a camera can deliver.

Just the tip of the iceberg and sort of broad brush but I hope it helps to focus the discussion.
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Old September 27th, 2009, 03:55 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Kyle Novak View Post
So with an R-44 and a need to record multi-track, a mixer is truly unnecessary? The R-44 has low-cut and limiter. Is there any feature it' missing from a good mixer? How is the pre-amp on yours?
The preamp on the R-44 is very good, I thought. Sounds clean enough for what I do. If you're recording a symphony or a string quartet you might want absolutely quiet preamps. I can't say there's anything objectionable with the stock R-44 and other reviews seem to say the same.

The R-44 also has four independent tracks with independent phantom power, sensitivity adjustments, level controls, limiters and meters. Sensitivity and level adjustments are laid out like a field mixer. With it in a shoulder or audio bag all the knobs are right up front where they would be on a field mixer (including the monitor level knob), and the meters are very readable in all kinds of lighting.

If you need more tracks you can slave a second R-44 to get eight tracks of discrete audio.

I can't see a need for a mixer unless you need more than four inputs and will mix down to four. Or if you need to EQ in the field. Personally I'd rather record straight and do any EQ work in post.

I'm no soundman but if I had to do a multitrack job and was equipped with an R-44 I'd be happy with the setup. The only concern is that the R-44 goes through the built-in AA batteries fast and I strongly recommend using an external power source. I built 13-volt, 2.3 amp-hour packs using nano-phosphate A-123 cells, and those will run the R-44, plus two AT-1801 receivers, for about 4 hours.
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Old September 27th, 2009, 04:48 AM   #6
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R-44 is a cool device for basic multi-tasking and bang for buck. I had an opportunity to use an R-4 pro for 2 weeks during a recent shoot and was glad I got the chance to use before almost buying. Given the R-4 is a bit bigger than the 44, I did not like the angle the display was at.. always pointed away from me so that i had to tilt my audio bag back towards me to read it. I find the display to be very cluttered, typical roland type menu system that you have to navigate with your hand all the way down inside your bag, again tipping it back to see what you're pressing since all those buttons are found on top of the machine pointed away from you. The most important buttons are up front at least, but having to scan around takes, and delete or name takes becomes annoying if you're using the 44 within a bag of other equipment as well.

For this particular shoot, I had scenes that required 6 inputs many times, so I used my promix6 as the front runner and mixed out to two channels of the R-4. Lav's were mixed to the Right channel, Booms x2 to the Left. My idea was even though I could get more inputs separated by using 4 tracks instead of just 2, having control of each mic through the mixer was a greater priority. The post editor will just have a bit more to do is all... which is myself anyways :P.
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Old September 27th, 2009, 08:23 AM   #7
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I shoot a few concert type of events. Feeds from the house desks are problematic at best and worse than useless more often than not. Typical problem, no drums in the house mix because "they were loud enough".

I'm seriously thinking of investing in the Allen and Heath ZED R16 to solve this problem. That unit means the house can mix whatever they want for the house and I can have 16 tracks prefader for me to mix in post. It does seem an extravagently expensive bit of kit but then again no point spending an even larger sum on cameras if the audio undermines the quality of the video. It seems that A&H may add Word Clock to this which could mean the ability to genlock the desk and camera(s).
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Old September 27th, 2009, 09:55 AM   #8
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Best digital portable audio recorder
Sound Devices, IMHO

Quote:
How to record multiple tracks through mixer?
If you got more tracks than your inputs, why do you need a mixer? You need good pre-amp.
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Old September 27th, 2009, 04:29 PM   #9
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If you got more tracks than your inputs, why do you need a mixer? You need good pre-amp.
I worded it wrong.

Putting the R-44 aside for a second, I'm trying to find a field recorder to work with a mixer, but one that doesn't replicate its features and become unnecessarily expensive. I'm trying to not lose any quality, so I suppose a DAT recorder is not a possibility???

Does anyone know if the Zoom H4n truly has syncing problems for a 24p camera? That's what I heard. If not, then it seems like an okay buy.
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Old September 27th, 2009, 09:03 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Kyle Novak View Post
I worded it wrong.

Putting the R-44 aside for a second, I'm trying to find a field recorder to work with a mixer, but one that doesn't replicate its features and become unnecessarily expensive. I'm trying to not lose any quality, so I suppose a DAT recorder is not a possibility???

Does anyone know if the Zoom H4n truly has syncing problems for a 24p camera? That's what I heard. If not, then it seems like an okay buy.
Forget DAT, there're too many problem. Motor driven system will drift without timecode lock. Occassional dust will drop some sound sample that you have spend a lot of time at post.

As soon as your take is not very long, such as more than 10 minutes per take, sync shall not be a problem with most of the file based audio and video recorder. Even if it drift, it is very easy to stretch at post.

I got R44, it stayed sync with EX1 for very long shot. I haven't experienced any sync problem for classical music concerts. Each take is very long in these concerts.
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Old September 28th, 2009, 01:00 AM   #11
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So, assuming I shoot on 24p. (for syncing issues)

Which buy do you guys think is more beneficial to me?

-Edirol R-44 Super

-Zoom H4n w/ ENG-44 mixer

????
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Old September 28th, 2009, 01:28 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Kyle Novak View Post
So, assuming I shoot on 24p. (for syncing issues)

Which buy do you guys think is more beneficial to me?

-Edirol R-44 Super

-Zoom H4n w/ ENG-44 mixer

????
I tried ENG44, I used Zoom H4, and I own R44. Consider the cost is about the same, I will go for R44.
The R44 pre-amp got gain control, which ENG44 doesn't. If you get good pre-amp attached to the R44, the sound is even better.
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Old September 28th, 2009, 10:25 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Anthony Ching View Post
Sound Devices, IMHO
Agree with Anthony here
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Old September 29th, 2009, 12:56 PM   #14
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I upgraded from a M-audio MicroTrack to a Fostex FR-2LE, the Fostex has a better power source (easier to rig an external power supply and can also use alkaline and rechargeable batteries). I also prefer XLR mic inputs instead of the MicroTracks TRS inputs. The Fostex has better control switches than the MicroTrack smaller buttons.
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Old September 30th, 2009, 02:15 PM   #15
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Mixer + recorder

My soundman had me buy a Sony PCM-D50 to go along with my SD 302. So far the results have been excellent. No frame drift in any of the hour long tests we did (and he slates each take from the 302 anyway).

With the PCM-D50 remote clipped onto his Portabrace 302 bag, and the recorder in "locked" mode sitting in the bottom compartment that Portabrace designed for a NP battery it's all pretty convenient and compact. The PCM-D50 will still answer to the remote even when in locked mode, nice.

We looked at a lot of compact recorders to go with the 302 (we use a Nagra LB with the SD 442), but almost all of them (the Edirol R-44, Tascam HD-P2m, Zoom H4n, to name a few) will not accept the unbalanced line level output that the 302 sends, into their XLR inputs (and that's not made clear in their fact sheets), so that is something to take into consideration if you are using a 302 in front of everything. Since we could not use the XLR inputs anyway on the other recorders we tested, the Sony made sense for us.
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