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Old June 29th, 2010, 08:44 PM   #1
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Zoom H4n and live show major issues

OK, been doing reaserch and after much of that I decided to purchase a Zoom H4n for 2 live shows I was set to record. I've had great success taking soundboard feeds directly into my Panasonic HMC-150 but read so much about this recorder that I decided that it would do nothing but improve my audio for videos.

Well, that didn't work out well...

Settings on ths Zoom 4 channel, outdoor with a Rycote deadcat on the Zoom's internal mics, two live feeds from the sound board into the XLR inputs on the Zoom, -40db pad plugged directly into the Zoom from the cables coming from the board as I found that the Zoom only does mic not line and this was what my reaserch told me to do to limit the "hotness" of the board. Set good levels on both the internal and onboard mics, clipping was not an issue...

Zoom positioned on Mic stand about 20 feet directly in front of both groups about 4' feet up, internal mics set for 120 degrees stage outooor ampitheatre. No limiters or compressors set on the Zoom all default.

All through show listened to audio through Sony MDR 7506 headphones, sounded good, listening to the recorder in play back mode through same headphones sounds good.

Pull .wav files into any audio editing software, Vegas, Audacity etc, internal file is complete garbage, Microphone audio muffled, layer both no help....

Help!
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Old June 29th, 2010, 09:59 PM   #2
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Thomas,

It sounds to me like you've been studying how to operate the Zoom H4n when it might have been better to spend a chunk of that time studying how a sound reinforcement FOH (front of house) mixer (both the mixing board AND the human controlling it) operates.

No piece of equipment, no matter how accurate, or quiet, or high fidelity can do anything other than record the signal presented to it. That's a hard and fast rule and NOTHING can change it.

The biggest problem in taking a feed from any mixing console is that unless that console is dedicated specifically to directly feeding your recorder - ALL the choices that the technician makes in operating the console are designed for one thing and one thing ONLY. That's to make the best possible mix for the ears of the audience. Period. End of story.

Simply grabbing some form of two track mixdown from the board may or MAY NOT do a good job of feeding your recorder. Even if the levels are correct, even if the board feed is clean and not infected by anything from ground loops to low-cut filters or high-cut filters that were possibly needed to balance the output of the board with the amplifiers and speakers being used in the VENUE - that feed may have some characteristics that you simply DON'T WANT in the stereo recording you're making at your device. And there's NOTHING you can do about that. You're taking a mix that someone else is determining.

That mix might start as one thing - let's say a nice stereo mix where the drums and bass are well balanced with the vocals and keyboards. And at ANY point in the performance, the board operator may feel that this mix is WRONG for the listeners and boost something or cut something that now presents an IMPROPERLY balanced feed to your gizmo. And again, there's NOTHING you can do about it.

For most FOH mixers I've delt with, they have barely enough time and resources to get their main mix and the monitor mix that the band relies on to hear themselves correct. Then at the very last minute, some video guy like you or me shows up and wants them to suddenly patch in a stereo feed. Making sure that it's a pre-fade, rather than post fade, and that it somehow perfectly balances all the proper sub-groups such that while the FOH operator makes changes in the main mix, that precious STEREO signal that has NOTHING to do with the job the FOH operator is being paid to do remains perfect as well.

The real point of this is that if you want to take feeds from a FOH mixing console, you have a responsibility to learn how to assess what the feed consists of (Is it balanced or unbalanced, line or mic level, is it pre-fader or post fader, if subgroups are involved, how are they patched and what does that mean to the overall balance of instruments, frequencies and channel separation, what about effects and outboard processing - is the vocal track wet or dry? And if it has reverb or other outboard effects applied, is the level set for the audience appropriate to your recording or do you need a patch that presents only dry vocals to your tape so you can set the level of effects later? ) and what each of these aspects means in terms of how you need to cable, pad, set levels, and record at your device in order to maximize the quality of your recording.

Bottom line? Quality sound recording seldom gets the respect it deserves. And this is a good example of why. It's necessarily complex and often less than intuitive.

As to your particular results on your Zoom in practice, it sounds like somehow your recording levels were set wrong and the signals over-modulated - which in the digital domain also means they self-destruct. Sorry.

(But don't trust me - copy the stuff before you erase everything - there are a LOT of things than can make sound stuff sound bad. Maybe you'll discover what's wrong and be able to fix the files later. This is actually supported by the fact that you say you were able to get clean sound off the ZOOM playback. If that's possible then one would expect that you have good files somewhere! (hope springs eternal!)

Good luck.
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Old June 30th, 2010, 12:31 AM   #3
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Thanks Bill and that is part of what I hoped the internal mics would cover as I have read the horror stories about sound guys feeding us bad audio - as you say through no fault of their own, neccesarily but because they are paid to make sure the house is happy. This is why I hoped that if this happened the internal mics would save me but alas even that is not the case...

I've heard "live" recording samples from the Zoom using only it's mics and was very impressed, I know what clipping/over modulation sounds like and this is not the issue on the front mics, or from the inputs it just sounds garbled/muffled heck my shotgun mics on my cameras sound better then what I got off the zoom's internals, which makes me think I did not set something I should have or something is really wrong with my recorder or both.

Files are saved in several places believe me :)
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Old June 30th, 2010, 02:02 AM   #4
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and for a short example of what I'm talking about from the internal mics:

YouTube - zoom.mp4
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Old June 30th, 2010, 09:39 AM   #5
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Ok first and foremost, where is your recorder positioned?

Was it directly in front of the PA stack, up front to the side of the PA stack, or in the rear by the camera.

I ask because if your recorder was by the sound board a good distance away, then what you got sounds about normal for the onboard mics, as large venues for rock shows tend to sound boomy anyway.

The first rule of micing for good audio is placement, the second rule is placement. You get the hint. The close your mic is to your source the cleaner your audio will be. The further away you are, the more your audio source dissipates, especially in certain rooms. The larger the room, the boomier your audio will sound, as the audio is dissipating more. Also remember that your shotgun mic is much more directional than the onboard stereo mics of the H4n.

When I use my H4n for recording, I generally place the recorder as close as possible to my source. if I'm using the onboard mics only, I will place it slightly behind the PA stacks t a bout a 45 degree angle. this tends to cut down on the bass coming from the PA.

Generally I will use the built in XLR inputs and 2 mics (eitehr Rode M3 or Shure SM57) to seperatley mic the PA stack. One on the horn and one on the woofer. Then use the onboard mics (facing towards audience) to record ambient crowd reaction.

If I take a board feed I use the 1/4 inputs and not the XLR inputs. The reason for this is that the XLR inputs are balanced for mics input, and the 1/4 input is balanced for line input. Also for loud shows I tend to also use the onboard "Concert" limiter in the menu. This works pretty good.

As a whole I try not to use board feeds, becasue as was written you never know exactly what you're going to get. So I prefer to live mic my sources (instruments, PA stack etc.) as needed.

The H4n does perform well for live recording, but like anything you must learn how to use it properly in different situations and know it's limitations. As well as learn and use proper audio recording techniques.

For many who have only focused on video and are now expecting audio to be easy, they are sorely mistaken, as it's a whole other art form in which to learn.
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Old June 30th, 2010, 10:57 AM   #6
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Once you pull your audio files into the computer, how are you monitoring then? (I'm at work so I can't listen to your example on youtube.)
Given that you were satisfied with the sound while monitoring during the live recording and first playback from the Zoom, and based on your description of the setup for both internal mics and the board feed, I'd first guess that there may be something else in your post-production setup that's working against you such as a monitoring problem or phase cancellation of some kind.
Can you post here a very short bit of just the board feed tracks unaltered except for cutting them down to 10 seconds worth?
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Old June 30th, 2010, 10:57 AM   #7
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Thanks for the input, and in retrospecdt I should have asked these questions ahead of time, but I'm going to re-shoot both bands so this time I want to get it right.

At that time the H4N was positioned just behind and to the left of the guy in the white jacket (on the left).

Do you use the concert limiter on both the onboard and the mic's/feed?

How do you convert from a XLR input from the board to the 1/4 inputs on the H4N do I still need the pads?

Thanks!

Thomas Moore....
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Old June 30th, 2010, 11:12 AM   #8
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You need standard balanced XLR female to TRS male cables in order to use an XLR line-level feed from one device into the line-level balanced 1/4-inch inputs on the Zoom H4n.
(Most mixers also have line-level outs on balanced 1/4-inch connectors. In that case standard balanced TRS male to TRS male cables are used.)
You may still need a pad for line-level but it would likely be only -5db to -10db normally. It would depend on the level coming from the device, which could range from moderate for an Aux Output that wasn't turned up full volume, to very, very hot for a main output that's being pushed hotter than normal. The H4n's line-level inputs are too sensitive to handle full +4db line-level signals. You'll need to work with the sound mixer person and the board feed ahead of time to make sure of what you're actually getting and how the Zoom is reacting to it.
I use the internal compressor on line-level signals almost all the time and it's rare that I use the internal mics. I just did recently for the first time and was very pleased.
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Old June 30th, 2010, 11:12 AM   #9
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Thomas I do sue the concert limiter even for board feeds. As i helps a little.

As for the 1/4 inputs, the H4n has a dual XLR-1/4 input. So you simply plug in a 1/4 trs input in the XLR port. As I said the XLR input pin configuration is wired for a "Line" feed. This was designed this way most likely becasue Zoom figured that musicians who generally use 1/4 inputs for their instruments, would use the H4n for line input recordings of things like electric guitars, bass etc.

And most would be using the XLR for mic inputs.

So if you are taking an XLR feed form the board, the use a XLR to 1/4 mic cable. Or make sure that you have the appropriate XLR to 1/4 adapter on hand. I always travel with every kind of adapter possible, just in case.
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Old June 30th, 2010, 12:04 PM   #10
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Thanks, so for the adaptors, use these?

Monster Cable - CableLinks Adapter - 1/4" TRS - 600459 -

and add this to my kit for pads - since I already have the -40 pad

Shure - A15AS - In-Line Attenuator - A15AS - B&H Photo Video


Thanks!

Thomas Moore
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Old June 30th, 2010, 12:40 PM   #11
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At work I use these cables:
XLR Female to TRS Male
but the adapters you listed will also work. I use cables instead of adapters because it puts a little less physical strain on the Zoom's internal connectors but generally it's not a problem with full-size 1/4-inch jacks like it can be with 1/8-inch connectors. Using a cable can also give you a little extra length if needed or it can be one less connection if you're located close to the board.
I think you'll need no more than -10db of attenuation, but there are also impedence issues to think about. Most of the readily available attenuators are designed for mic level signals and low impedence.
Others can give better technical comments on this.
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Old June 30th, 2010, 01:16 PM   #12
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Thanks I like ordering from B&H so these cable adapters

Remote Audio - XLR-Female to 1/4" TRS Phone - CAXF1/4J18 -

I'm going to do another "test" saturday so if anyone has any other suggestions I'd appreciate it!
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Old June 30th, 2010, 05:03 PM   #13
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Here also is a "sample" clip of what the board feed sounded like trying to make sure I got all the instruments playing in it.
Attached Files
File Type: wav SampleClip.wav (4.55 MB, 506 views)
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Old June 30th, 2010, 05:15 PM   #14
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Another thing to watch out for is creating phasing issues and "comb filtering" caused by different distances the performers are from the stage mics versus to the recorder with its internal mics. Every foot difference in distance is equivalent to 1 millisecond delay between the pickup on a mic up close to the performer versus the arrival time of his sound at the H4n. That much difference when the two are mixed can introduce a significant phase shift, unnaturally emphasizing some frequencies while cutting others.

As an aside, 30 feet of difference can throw sync in film or video off by a full frame, one of the reasons using an on-camera mic from the back of the house is such an incredibly bad idea - if you were 60 to 90 feet away, not unusual for an auditorium, the sound from the stage is getting to the camera 2 or 3 entire frames later than the light that is forming the images.
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Old June 30th, 2010, 06:15 PM   #15
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First bars took my brain right back to my first live Springsteen concert. Nov 4, 1975. Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University. Some things you never forget.

Anyway the board feed you got is pretty typical. Most of the insturment mix is there. The vocals are obviously "dry" and they likely added reverb in the chain after the board. Unless these are on a separate recorded track, you can't add any after the fact to make the vocals settle back into the mix.

Springsteen is pretty much modern "big band" music. Which is really difficult to balance and get right in live recording. It just won't sound right unless the things that are supposed to solo and "cut through" the mix (the vocals, the horns, the SAX!!!) do precisely that. This implies someone riding gain that knows exactly who's going to play and when. Which is why the only way to get a truly satisfying recording of something like this is to do it the same way it's done for album recording. You mic everything separately and record each instrument, player and singer separately and do a precise mix in post.

There are some folks who like the binaural approach to concert recording. But for me, bands like this have a complexity that shines live, and a single position mic, or even a single position mic with some board tap assistance, will rarely result in a recording that will come anywhere near the concert experience.

To do that really requires the 64 track truck and iso everything so that you can post mix it to sound something like the power and "in your face" qualities of the real thing.

FWIW.
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