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Old October 5th, 2009, 10:36 AM   #1
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Using the Zoom H4N - Recording Levels?

I bought a Zoom recorder only a week ago just for geting ambient room and outside locations sounds for my docs.
Well yesterday I decided at the last minute to run over to a seminar to interview someone and when I got there, it was a ten person speaker panel lecture - not what I was told to expect. I had my lavs with me but no boom/mics or lengthy cables, but I did have my zoom. The resident media person only had a 24 inch cable himself, so I plugged the Zoom into the mixer board - and it worked like a charm - I recorded from a line-in and was free to shoot video down near the lecture panel.
Here's my question - I had no idea about the recording levels? I listened via headphones to the Zoom and it sounded really loud and the meters showed off the charts - I toggled the RH side REC LEVEL down but this did not appear to do too much. I am incorrect? How does one adjust recording levels accurately on the Zoom?
I just checked the recording and the first parts are at zero and booming but I can see my adjustments kick in later (I think) because the audio goes from -6 to -3 which seems fine and sound pretty good.

However I still feel I was all over the place with the levels!!
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Old October 5th, 2009, 02:28 PM   #2
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I received my H4n a few days ago & used it on a shoot this weekend. I set the compressor/limiter to the Vocal presets and the level controls on auto, this worked very well for me. Unless you have a dedicated sound engineer working a mixer auto is your best option for one man camera gigs. You can always boost the levels in post however there is not much you can do to distorted audio.
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Old October 5th, 2009, 05:27 PM   #3
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Thanks - my levels were set to auto and now I wonder if thats why I felt the manual level lever was not working - I will check this out.
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Old October 5th, 2009, 06:12 PM   #4
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H4 levels are tricky and aren't explained to my liking in the manual. Two important concepts to understand.

1. Auto levels don't behave like your video camera. A camera set to auto levels means it will constantly adjusts levels as needed, while auto levels in the H4 means it will sample and set the levels once before recording based on the sound at that given moment. That level setting will remain fixed through out the recording.

2. There are two types of levels: the first is the physical switch on the side (L,M,H) this controls the mic pre-amp gain and the second level control is buried in the Menu which sets the gain after the mic. If you are at a loud setting like a concert and you set the pre amp to H (high) the sound will be distorted no matter how low you set the levels in the menu. Like wise for a quiet person talking L (low) will be too quite no matter how much you increase the menu level.

The biggest difficulty with the H4 is the levels are not easily accessed for adjustments and the buttons employed are extremely noisy forcing you to either to purchase their remote or to use an external mic. As a consequence when left unattended, like at the podium, its easy to set the wrong levels because of the small margin of error. Like someone said you try to error on the low end because too high and its all distorted and worthless.
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Old October 6th, 2009, 11:52 AM   #5
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Pete you are right on the money with "auto levels" and the Zom recorders.
But your info to Jon isn't correct for the rest because you are talking about the Zoom H4.

Jon has the newer Zoom H4n which doesn't have the LMH switch on the unit. But you can also access the recording levels directly form the outside of the unit instead of having to go into the menu.

The H4n has much better manual controls and pre amps than the H4.
Now there are no LMH pre amp settings on the unit, but you are able to adjust the volume down below 0 if needed for every loud situations and prevent clipping. Or as you mentioned if you have time to get a proper sound check you could use the "auto levels" and set your levels before you record.
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Old October 6th, 2009, 03:42 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete Cofrancesco View Post
1. Auto levels don't behave like your video camera. A camera set to auto levels means it will constantly adjusts levels as needed, while auto levels in the H4 means it will sample and set the levels once before recording based on the sound at that given moment. That level setting will remain fixed through out the recording.
So what are pitfalls of the Zoom's auto leveling system, not too clear on this...
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Old October 6th, 2009, 05:23 PM   #7
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.... And I spent an hour this morning scratching my head while looking for the LMH button!!

I want to clear the rec levels up before I leave for a lengthy shoot in japan. Anyone know what a good starting point would be and what exactly does control the rec levels? Cheers.
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Old October 6th, 2009, 09:55 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Jon Braeley View Post
.... And I spent an hour this morning scratching my head while looking for the LMH button!!

I want to clear the rec levels up before I leave for a lengthy shoot in japan. Anyone know what a good starting point would be and what exactly does control the rec levels? Cheers.
Zoom h4n has the world's worst manual. Wtf? Useless it is!
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Old October 6th, 2009, 11:30 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Michael Liebergot View Post
Pete you are right on the money with "auto levels" and the Zom recorders.
But your info to Jon isn't correct for the rest because you are talking about the Zoom H4...The H4n has much better manual controls and pre amps than the H4...
Right you are. Sorry about that, I overlooked the "N".
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Luce View Post
So what are pitfalls of the Zoom's auto leveling system, not too clear on this...
The pit fall is auto levels don't adjust if the volume the source changes. Which basically makes it useless since most would rather set their levels manually to be in fully control of the amount of head room they desire.
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Old October 7th, 2009, 10:54 PM   #10
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We are discussing level management of the H4N on another thread and I thought I would see if any of you fine folk could clarify something for us. Can you control the level for each of the XLR inputs separately? For example if I have 2 board feeds, one mics and the other music and I want to tweak one can I do this on the H4n without affecting the other input? The other thread can be found here:
Looking for a portable digital recorder and would like some recommendations.
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Old October 8th, 2009, 06:25 AM   #11
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Haven't used either a H4 or H4n but this auto level behaviour you're describing doesn't make much sense to me. Let's say we're recording a concert of Beethoven's 5th. The auditorium is silent as the conductor raises the baton and we push the "Record" button. The Zoom has been hearing the slight rustling of the audience and sets itself as if that's the sound we're trying to record. The baton drops for the forte opening bars - Ta Ta Ta Daaaa - clipping all over the place. In fact everything subsequent in the recording would likely be clipped or distorted because the gain is full up from being set while trying to record silence and locked to that setting, while the sound you're trying to record is actually quite loud. This doesn't sound like a useful feature at all.
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Old October 8th, 2009, 02:35 PM   #12
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After reading both the manual and the posts here about it, and playing with the unit a little bit myself, I think I understand it a little better, and it does actually kind of make sense. In the scenario above, in fact, the Zoom would lower the levels on the opening loud bars and leave them there for the rest of the recording, so as to prevent both clipping of loud noises and the compression of the dynamic range that most people complain about when using auto levels. What the machine does not, do, apparently, is raise the levels during quiet passages. So if you set up the unit during a sound check right before the performance, the unit seems to manually lock in a level that it determines automatically, if that makes any sense.

It does also have both a limiter and a compressor, so you could combine these functions so it acts more like a standard "auto-level" camcorder. But you don't have to. There are three different compression settings, which the manual says do in fact raise soft levels. And there is also a NORMALIZE function you can apply after the file is recorded.

At least that's the theory. How well it works in practice is open to debate.

Last edited by Adam Gold; October 8th, 2009 at 04:08 PM.
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Old October 8th, 2009, 02:38 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Bryan Daugherty View Post
Can you control the level for each of the XLR inputs separately? For example if I have 2 board feeds, one mics and the other music and I want to tweak one can I do this on the H4n without affecting the other input?
After experimenting with the unit myself, I can definitively say: maybe. In MTR (multi-track) mode, you definitely can. In Stereo or 4CH mode, no; the INPUTS are ganged together.
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Old October 8th, 2009, 05:00 PM   #14
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After experimenting with the unit myself, I can definitively say: maybe. In MTR (multi-track) mode, you definitely can. In Stereo or 4CH mode, no; the INPUTS are ganged together.
Actually, I think there's some debate about whether you can in MTR mode as well - I read somewhere that the individual level settings may only affect playback and not actual record levels. So the answer in general appears to be no, you can't change levels of the two mic inputs separately, which is a pretty big limitation of the unit.
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Old October 8th, 2009, 05:45 PM   #15
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Well, the dang thing is pretty cool as a stereo or dual stereo recorder, but it doesn't stop there.

When in 4ch mode, look for a now-accessable menu setting to turn on the "mixer". Doing so gives you true 4ch. mono recording, with individual level controls.
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