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Old January 13th, 2010, 02:57 AM   #1
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Portable Audio Recorder: Good idea? If so, which?

I know there have been a couple postings similar to this one, but Iíll try to provide more information so the feedback is not redundant.

Iím considering purchasing a portable audio recorder. Currently I run my mics (NTG-3 and AKG CK 93) through the Sound Devices 302 Mixer and into my camera, but because my current camera only has mic level mini jack inputs, I donít get to use the wonderful preamps in the 302 and I have to go unbalanced at the end of the cable. The result is that the audio coming out of the cameraís headphone jack doesnít sound nearly as good as out of the mixerís headphone jack. A portable audio recorder seems like the solution.

Iím going to upgrade to a better camera in the near future, one I expect would have XLR line level jacks, but if I ever wanted to use a Steadicam Merlin, I couldnít plug any cable into the camera because it would throw it off balance (right?) Again, it also seems like a portable audio recorder is the solution.

My only concern is syncing up the audio with the video later. If I sync up two long recordings (audio and video) in post, will they eventually get out of sync? I would think not since they are recording the same event, but I donít know if recording devices are slightly faster or slower than real-time during playback.

If my reasons for getting a recorder are correct and my concerns about syncing can be dismissed, what audio recorder, would you recommend for $600 or less? I assume I want to use XLR line-level inputs rather than the 3-pin tape/mix out on the 302. Iím considering the Tascam DR-100 Marantz PMD 661. Is this sufficient or would it not do justice to the sound I can get from my mics + the 302. Any thoughts about the Alesis ProTrack recorder for the Ipod? Also, are there any features I should be looking for in a recorder, or is it all about sound quality because the mixer is where I correct the audio (besides post, obviously)?

Thanks!
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Old January 13th, 2010, 04:32 AM   #2
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Just did a sync test with EX1, Tascam DR07, and DR1.
I align at the end of the clips

This is the zoom in view of head of the clips

So, DR07 is slow by 0.009 sec and DR1 slow by 0.005 sec for 20 minutes clip. Less than 1 frame for 1 hour clip.
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Old January 13th, 2010, 09:17 AM   #3
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I assume you mean "I want to use XLR line-level 'OUTPUTS' rather than the 3-pin tape/mix out on the 302."
If the cable is short, the 302's tape out would be fine, and the difference would be negligible using XLRs.
That said, of the recorders you mention, I believe the 661 is the only one that is 'switchable' to balanced line-level.
I've had a 660 since it was released and has worked flawlessly, though I don't use it in a bag. Marantz has fixed some of the 660's short commings with the 661.
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Old January 13th, 2010, 10:44 AM   #4
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For the price the Zoom H4n looks a pretty good choice.. and is one I'm looking at getting.

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Old January 13th, 2010, 01:14 PM   #5
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According to B&H, the Alesis ProTrack also has XLR line-level inputs. I can't discern whether the Zoom H4n does or not.

Is my intuition to use the preamps in the 302 and record from line-level correct? Or would inexpensive recorders (like the Zoom H4n) have just as good pre-amps?

Anthony, thanks for dispelling my worries.
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Old January 13th, 2010, 02:17 PM   #6
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I think there is a world of difference between the preamps, limiters, etc in the Sound Devices gear and anything you'll find in the low cost recorders.

One potential problem though that comes to mind is that some gear (particularly cameras) takes line level inputs and just pads them down to mic level and then runs them through their own preamps - this would defeat the advantages of using the SD preamps.

Just a thought!
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Old January 13th, 2010, 02:52 PM   #7
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My mistake, the Alesis External Inputs (XLR): +6dB to 49.3dB according to the spec page.
Good point Jim, on the line-in internal pad.
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Old January 13th, 2010, 03:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Andrada View Post
One potential problem though that comes to mind is that some gear (particularly cameras) takes line level inputs and just pads them down to mic level and then runs them through their own preamps - this would defeat the advantages of using the SD preamps...
There's mic level, and then there's MIC LEVEL. Sure, the downstream preamp will need more gain taking in MIC LEVEL than line level, but it's still a lot better than gaining up the raw signal from a low-sensitivity mic at a distance with a cheap preamp.

As an example, the 5D Mark II applies 31dB of gain in the analog section followed by automatic level control in the digital section. Feed it a mic signal through a passive transformer and it's noisy as all get out. Give it some clean, upstream gain, load Magic Lantern firmware, set the analog gain at +10dB and the digital gain at 0dB, and you can get true 16-bit signal to noise performance. It's not audiophile quality, but it can be used in many professional situations without excuses.

Anyway, unless your mic signal is really hot, or your recorder preamps REALLY good, running a high-quality preamp as a front end delivers benefits even at MIC LEVEL.
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Old January 13th, 2010, 04:58 PM   #9
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Did some more research. While most of the positive reviews of the Zoom H4n laud its great external mic pre-amps (for its price range), some negative ones stress that it is not the recorder to use for line level recording. The audio gets distorted. (Perhaps for the reason Jim suggests?) Seems like the Marantz 661 is the way to go.
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Old January 13th, 2010, 06:54 PM   #10
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I'm using a 302 into a 661 and it sounds great.

The 661 is one of the most intuitive recorders I've ever used. The layout of the controls truly makes sense.
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Old January 14th, 2010, 06:03 AM   #11
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At this price range the Edirol R-44 is probably the best of the bunch.

Sound Devices is much better, but a lot more expensive as well.
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Old January 14th, 2010, 08:20 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
At this price range the Edirol R-44 is probably the best of the bunch.

Sound Devices is much better, but a lot more expensive as well.
+1, R44 is the one before my SD 722.

Latest news, Tascam DR680 is coming. Street maybe very close to R44, with 8 tracks ability, It will be a killer.
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Last edited by Anthony Ching; January 15th, 2010 at 01:18 AM.
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