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Old October 30th, 2011, 01:24 AM   #16
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Note that virtually all equipment that has both mic-level inputs and line-level inputs simply have internal pads which knock the line-level signal down to mic-level, so it STILL goes through the mic preamp. Even $35,000 pro video cameras do this.

IMHO, using an external mic preamp as a universal panacea to "improve the sound" is vastly overblown in these indie circles.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 02:24 AM   #17
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Crowley View Post
Note that virtually all equipment that has both mic-level inputs and line-level inputs simply have internal pads which knock the line-level signal down to mic-level
Really?! You mean they don't change the amount of negative feedback around the input stage, to lower the gain? It would be interesting to look at the actual schematics for the cameras... but I'd think they'd be hard to come by.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 04:57 AM   #18
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

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Originally Posted by Alex Payne View Post
Because I've got a year to figure all this out, and I don't mind doing my homework to learn it on my own to save a few bucks. Coming here and asking questions is part of the homework! Also, if I don't have to, I'd rather not rely on someone else... but learn it on my own and make sure it's done right. I've gotten burned before, by trusting someone who, turns out, didn't know what they were doing.

edit: not that that isn't good advice. but it's also more impractical for me because the shooting schedule will be all over the place... it will be nearly impossible for me to find a professional who will be able to come and shoot at the drop of a hat, and i can't afford to just pay someone to be on retainer.
You're going to have to rely on someone else, actually several someone elses. There's no way you can handle sound recording AND working the camera AND setting the lighting AND focusing on the performance in order to direct the talent, all at the same time and do all the jobs properly. Film making is a team sport.
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Last edited by Steve House; October 30th, 2011 at 07:29 AM.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 07:24 AM   #19
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Crowley View Post
IMHO, using an external mic preamp as a universal panacea to "improve the sound" is vastly overblown in these indie circles.
It depends on the recorder. When recording into a top recorder, the need for an external preamp/mixer is overblown. When recording into a DSLR, an external preamp with gain is critically important.

And Steve nails it. When directing and/or operating a camera, you can't operate a boom, a recorder, and a mix at the same time.

The basic rules for audio are simple:

1) Use adequate equipment,
2) Make sure to start and stop the recordings at the right time,
3) Set the proper levels, and
4) Position the mic optimally.

That's it! The challenge is in...

1 )Knowing what the right equipment is for the specific situation at hand - and having the equipment at the ready,
2) Knowing the equipment well enough so that when you think you started the recording, you are actually recording in the desired format,
3) Not just knowing that you need to set the right levels, but being able to do it, and
4) Executing proper mic technique.

An amateur gets it right when they are lucky. A pro gets it right - and tells you when the conditions won't allow a good result before you start shooting.

Step 1: define the full range of the shooting conditions and the full set of requirements.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 10:35 AM   #20
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller View Post
Really?! You mean they don't change the amount of negative feedback around the input stage, to lower the gain? It would be interesting to look at the actual schematics for the cameras... but I'd think they'd be hard to come by.
I have examined the schematics of several medium ($10-15K) and high-end ($20-30K) cameras and only a few of them change the gain. Remember that the higher-end camera (where they could afford the more complex circuit switching) the less likely they are to make audio a priority because it is assumed that higher-end productions ALWAYS use double-system sound recording. The highest-end cameras have no audio at all. Although that is not as prevalent now that film is dead.

Visit the discussion forums of some of the high-end "boutique" cameras (RED, et.al.) and see the frustration of using audio systems that are quite obviously never a design priority of the developers. And seemingly designed by video engineers who apparently know almost nothing about audio.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 10:43 AM   #21
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fairhurst View Post
... When recording into a DSLR, an external preamp with gain is critically important...
When recording on a gadget with auto-level, you would be FAR better off spending the same $$$ on even a modest separate recorder with manual level control vs. a gold-plated preamp/mixer into a sow's-ear recorder (DSLR). Any chain, including (perhaps ESPECIALLY) audio, is only a strong as its weakest link.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 02:08 PM   #22
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve House View Post
You're going to have to rely on someone else, actually several someone elses. There's no way you can handle sound recording AND working the camera AND setting the lighting AND focusing on the performance in order to direct the talent, all at the same time and do all the jobs properly. Film making is a team sport.
Absolutely, and let me clarify... I don't mean that I'll be running the audio myself, but when I say I don't want to rely on someone, what I meant was (and excuse me for speaking poorly) I don't want to rely on someone I don't know. I'm not at the level where personal recommendations mean anything, and IMO anyone can come up with enough good clips to put on a sound reel, even if they came across them by accident. The people I'll be relying on will be friends and other film students I've worked with before, with whom I KNOW know how to do things, AND will work for free... caveat being, I know they don't have any gear, so they'll be using mine, and indeed I figure I may need to teach them some of my skills (once I've developed them) to make sure things are getting done properly, to my liking. I guess what I mean is I plan on relying not on reliable sound people, but on reliable people.... who may or may not (but probably don't) have the gear knowledge AND the gear to be able to operate entirely independently. That may seem a little silly to a lot of you, but it's the best bet for me right now.

Furthermore, I need to know if my gear is even capable of producing the level of quality I need or if I'll need to upgrade.

Which brings us to...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fairhurst View Post
It depends on the recorder. When recording into a top recorder, the need for an external preamp/mixer is overblown. When recording into a DSLR, an external preamp with gain is critically important.

And Steve nails it. When directing and/or operating a camera, you can't operate a boom, a recorder, and a mix at the same time.

The basic rules for audio are simple:

1) Use adequate equipment,
2) Make sure to start and stop the recordings at the right time,
3) Set the proper levels, and
4) Position the mic optimally.

That's it! The challenge is in...

1 )Knowing what the right equipment is for the specific situation at hand - and having the equipment at the ready,
2) Knowing the equipment well enough so that when you think you started the recording, you are actually recording in the desired format,
3) Not just knowing that you need to set the right levels, but being able to do it, and
4) Executing proper mic technique.

An amateur gets it right when they are lucky. A pro gets it right - and tells you when the conditions won't allow a good result before you start shooting.

Step 1: define the full range of the shooting conditions and the full set of requirements.
And that's what I'm seeking here. So thanks for all the info once again, guys.
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Old October 30th, 2011, 03:53 PM   #23
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Crowley View Post
I have examined the schematics of several medium ($10-15K) and high-end ($20-30K) cameras and only a few of them change the gain.
How incredibly stupid! Building a pad requires a few resistors and a switch. Changing the gain requires a few resistors and a switch. Same amount of hardware, same price. Reducing the gain lowers the noise and distortion. Using a pad does neither.

Sounds as if there are too many bit-jockeys, and not enough knowledgeable analog people designing this stuff.
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Old October 31st, 2011, 06:05 AM   #24
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller View Post
How incredibly stupid! Building a pad requires a few resistors and a switch. Changing the gain requires a few resistors and a switch. Same amount of hardware, same price. Reducing the gain lowers the noise and distortion. Using a pad does neither.

Sounds as if there are too many bit-jockeys, and not enough knowledgeable analog people designing this stuff.
Yep, even with many of the high-end pro cameras, audio is often an afterthought on the part of the designers. Done right, switching the input to line level would re-route the signal path to go around the mic preamp to go direct to the main recording amp, completely bypassing the preamp circuits. Alas, that's not what they do. Doing so would require two stages in series or two separate input stages with different sensitivities. Always routing the signal through the mic preamp and simply putting a pad in front of it to avoid overload when the input is set to line level reduces the cost significantly. It just seems wrong to me to pad a signal down in level only so you can immediately raise it back up again in the very next stage but that's what they do. Apparently $5 in parts can affect the total manufacturing costs by hundreds of dollars.

Directors, DPs, and camera designers all seem to think of sound as the black sheep of the on-set family - no wonder so many mixers get cranky now and then.
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Old October 31st, 2011, 08:07 AM   #25
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

It was my understanding that once you got to that level, it was assumed you were serious enough that you pretty much always had a dedicated sound system, so why even bother with sound in a camera... sort of a "Cameras are for shooting video, make them really good at shooting video and nothing else... sound recorders are for recording sound, make them really good at that and nothing else," mentality.

Interesting to see that that's not quite the case.
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Old October 31st, 2011, 09:04 AM   #26
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Steve:
It's not even that complicated. If you use a switch and a resistor to change the gain of the input IC, you change it from being a mic-level input to a line-level input. Changing the feedback of that one IC will reduce its noise, and will raise its input threshold so it won't clip as readily. You effectively make it a line-level input. That would be much better than adding a pad, and would take exactly the same parts count. So apparently the designers just don't understand audio.

Alex:
By the same token, why put a cigar lighter in a Mercedes? Your personal valet should be there to light your cigar for you.

I think they put the audio input there because they can. Most high-end users will shoot double system, but someone might occasionally use the cam for run-and-gun; or someone might just record a backup track. My point is that, given that they're including an audio input, why not do it right, for the same manufacturing cost? The only answer I can think of is: they're clueless about audio design.
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Old October 31st, 2011, 11:35 AM   #27
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Alex, I'm not trying to dump on you, I'm just being realistic!

If I understand correctly... You, who has such a limited understanding of audio for film that you have to come to a forum to have a basic question answered, are going to teach your friends the craft of location sound so you know it will be done right and be of quality to play in theaters?

Rather than worry about gear purchases and theater runs, why not just have fun making your film.

All the Best!

Dave
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Old October 31st, 2011, 05:17 PM   #28
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Always trying to learn more. Thanks for the advice, guys!
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Old November 4th, 2011, 11:05 PM   #29
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

My H4n went out on a job the other day to do a record, the people were running a Rode NTG3 shotgun mic to track 1 and a Lectro VHF radio mic to channel 2, reports there was hum and distortion on the radio mic feed... it turns out the radio mic RX doesn't like phantom power fed back into it.

As I said when they picked up the gear "Take the MixPre" as an input mixer.....but no they didn't want to!!!
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Old December 5th, 2011, 07:37 AM   #30
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

How's the quality of a Rolls mixer?
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