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Old August 8th, 2010, 01:55 PM   #1
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Zoom and Line Level Inputs

Can anyone familiar with the Zoom H4n tell me how to record a line level input? The house feed I got at a club last night came via XLR. It peaked badly. A -40db attenuator did not help much - still unusable, weak, garbled.

I am a videographer sometimes manning two cameras. When I shoot a band in a club I need to get a clean house mix along with some ambient sound. I thought with the Zoom I could do both. The onboard mics worked well.
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Old August 8th, 2010, 02:35 PM   #2
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I usually connect my wireless transmitter for a board feed but if you use the Zoom it would be the same.
Ask the house sound engineer to give you a feed that is controlled by a volume such as a FX send or Aux. send. Usually, if the Zoom is mounted at the board position with the meters visible, the engineer can adjust the levels at his board.
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Old August 8th, 2010, 02:46 PM   #3
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It's not the levels, I don't think. It is the type of signal. I turned recording level all the way down, but I get nothing but distortion. With an attenuator, I could not get the volume back up enough.

I often have no control over what kind of feed I will get at a club. If i cannot deal with this on the H4n itself, then it is virtually useless. I guess a field mixer might help, but then I am still putting out line level to the recorder. What a waste of an otherwise nice piece of equipment. What were they thinking?

It records the condensers great as well as the onboard mics.
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Old August 8th, 2010, 03:15 PM   #4
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You need to remember that there are two definitions of line level, consumer and professional. The conusumer line level is a nominal -10dBv while the profesional or studio level is +4dBu. Because of the difference in the zero reference point there's approximately 12dB difference between the two. Most venue mixers are going to be outputting the +4 pro level from all except their "tape out' outputs but recorders like the Zoom expect the -10 consumer line level on their line inputs. At the very least you need to put about a -15dB pad into each line in order to avoid overloading the inputs before the signal even reaches the recording level control circuits. In fact, because the "line" levels on the Zoom are intended for instruments such as guitar or keyboards, they're somewhere between mic level and true line level and you might need as much as a -30dB pad in the line to knock the peaks down far enough to avoid overdriving.

You said you got your feed on XLR. You also need to be aware that the XLR inputs on the Zoom are mic level only inputs. If you are presented with a line level, you need to unbalance the feed from the mixer and plug into the 1/4" jacks with TS plugs (XLR pin 2 to 1/4" tip, XLR pin 1 to TS sleeve, XLR pin 3 jumpered to pin 1). The best way to get the levels to match is to use RCA->1/4" TS cables and take the feed from the venue mixer's -10dBv 'tape out' connection, assuming it has one. Of course now you're using an unbalanced feed with the associated risk of electrical noise pickup. Plus the tape outs are usually post fader so your recording levels will vary as the FOH engineer rides gain during the show. If you want to use the balanced XLR inputs, you're going to have to drop the feed from the mixer all the way down to mic level, replacing the aforementioned -15dB pads with something closer to -50dB.
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Old August 8th, 2010, 06:10 PM   #5
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Remember Steve that the H4 1/4" inputs are line level, but that is not the case on the H4n. For whatever reason they changed that feature.

Alex

Bottom line is that the Zoom H4/N is not ready for prime time in the environment you are working in. Maybe with a combination of in-line attenuators, record level, and record gain you could squeese out something, but you shouldn't have to work so hard to get a decent recording. It's got crappy preamp prone to distortion even under more controlled circumstances. Yes it's only 300.00, but that's what you get for 300.00.

An edirol R-44 4-track is pretty awesome, and so it the Tascam DR-680 8 track (6 analogue & 1 stereo SP/DIF inputs). The R-44 goes for around a grand, and for 25.00 more you can get a modified one from Oade Brothers, for dead silent pres. I've recorded shows with the R-44, and you can adjust the input to be line level (not with a switch, but a dial you can adjust). The DR-680 can be had for 800.00 and has been getting great user reviews. No Oade Brothers mod yet... It has switchable line/mic level. Here's a user review.


And as someone who records live events, you should consider more than 2 tracks. The board feed is nice, but that's pretty sterile sounding on it's own. For live events a "Matrix" style recording is better: Board feed, blended with maybe a stereo mic, or multiple mics to get the room vibe, and just some air between the amps and the mic. Yes it's a bit more expensive, but it's also expensive to waste hours trying to record a show, only to have it come out unusable. If you were doing this for a client, then you'd be out of a night's work/pay for you and whomever you hired to shoot the video that goes to the distorted board feed. So if you save yourself one or two jobs from being ruined, you've already covered the cost of a decent recorder.

Not that the R-44 and DR-680 are the be all end all. They're just the only good thing happening between little 2 tracks, and 8 thousand dollar 4-tracks from Sound Devices.
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Old August 8th, 2010, 06:42 PM   #6
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Thanks. I had the ambient sound recorded on two condensers into the camcorder and the Zoom onboard mic. That part came out awesome. Thanks for the tip on the recorders
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Old August 9th, 2010, 12:26 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve House View Post
You need to remember that there are two definitions of line level, consumer and professional. The conusumer line level is a nominal -10dBv while the profesional or studio level is +4dBu. Because of the difference in the zero reference point there's approximately 12dB difference between the two. Most venue mixers are going to be outputting the +4 pro level from all except their "tape out' outputs but recorders like the Zoom expect the -10 consumer line level on their line inputs. At the very least you need to put about a -15dB pad into each line in order to avoid overloading the inputs before the signal even reaches the recording level control circuits. In fact, because the "line" levels on the Zoom are intended for instruments such as guitar or keyboards, they're somewhere between mic level and true line level and you might need as much as a -30dB pad in the line to knock the peaks down far enough to avoid overdriving.

You said you got your feed on XLR. You also need to be aware that the XLR inputs on the Zoom are mic level only inputs. If you are presented with a line level, you need to unbalance the feed from the mixer and plug into the 1/4" jacks with TS plugs (XLR pin 2 to 1/4" tip, XLR pin 1 to TS sleeve, XLR pin 3 jumpered to pin 1). The best way to get the levels to match is to use RCA->1/4" TS cables and take the feed from the venue mixer's -10dBv 'tape out' connection, assuming it has one. Of course now you're using an unbalanced feed with the associated risk of electrical noise pickup. Plus the tape outs are usually post fader so your recording levels will vary as the FOH engineer rides gain during the show. If you want to use the balanced XLR inputs, you're going to have to drop the feed from the mixer all the way down to mic level, replacing the aforementioned -15dB pads with something closer to -50dB.
If my budget allowed I would definitely use R-44 or DR-680... But for now I have to use H4n...

I prefer using a line level RCA tape out feeding into 1/4" input of the H4n via an adapter. If there is no RCA output available, with the use of another adapter you can feed an XLR line out into 1/4" input of your H4n (might need in-line -15db to -30db attenuators). It is not only a matter of the signal level but the input impedance: XLR mic level inputs of H4n are low impedance vs. 1/4" line level, which are high impedance ones - line level outputs have higher impedance than mic ones... Then you can adjust record level in H4n...
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Old August 14th, 2010, 04:09 AM   #8
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The H4n does not have a line in.

as an owner of the H4N, I think I should advise that the H4N does not have any LINE IN jacks. The XLR combo jack is either mic level or instrument level (Hi-Z). Instrument level is NOT the same as line level. Even the third jack on the back/bottom is mic level.

the line output of the board is slamming the inputs on the H4N, hence the reason of the crappy audio.

To go from the LINE OUTPUT of that board into the H4N, you need a reamp box go to from Line level to Instrument level. Such as the Radial Pro RMP Reamping Device (Sweetwater / ZZounds carry them). $99 ea typically. If you want stereo, you'll need 2 of them. Luckily, since the input is hotter than the output, they are passive. (no additional power cords)
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Old August 14th, 2010, 11:39 AM   #9
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According to the H4n specs. (XLR (balanced input) / standard phone
(using balanced input) −10 dBm _ −42 dBm (XLR bal. mic level.)
(using unbalanced input) +2 dBm _ −32 dBm (1/4" unbal. input on XLR/1/4" combo jack)

If the manual specs are accurate, the 1/4" input will handle a -10dB line level input. (typically a RCA/phono type connector)
BUT NOT +4db, professional line level . (typically an XLR or 1/4" TRS /TS on pro & semi-pro mixers)
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Old August 14th, 2010, 10:27 PM   #10
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To take a line feed from a board, do NOT use the XLR connection, but rather a 1/4 TRS connection.

The XLR connections were wired for mic level, but the 1/4 inputs were wired for Line input.
I guess it has to do, that Zoom figured musicians would be using 1/4 connections for instrument recording such as guitar. It might be a good idea to to pad the signal coming from the board via 1/4 input, as a precaution as well.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 02:09 AM   #11
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R-44 On Order!

I ordered an Edirol R-44. I should have it in a few days! The H4n simply could not deliver what I needed. And it was difficult to use while running a camera.

I'll report my first gig
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Old August 16th, 2010, 08:55 AM   #12
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Alex, you will love the R44n.
I had one and always loved the final capture, when ever I used it. The input is clean, and the pre amps are very good and quiet.

I recently sold mine. The only reason I sold it was that I found myself using the Zoom H4n for my recording situations. As I wasn't doing enough 4 track recording as I expected to.

But I know that there will be a time in the future, that I will regret selling it off. I just didn't use it as often as I woudl have liked.
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