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Old October 14th, 2011, 06:00 PM   #1
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Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

I'm gearing up for a super low budget feature soon and want to make sure I'm set on audio (most important part of a movie). Everyone knowledgeable I've asked has pretty much said a mixer is a necessity for feature-quality audio.

I picked up a zoom h4n a while ago and I'm really liking the quality it can do for the money. The real question is whether or not this is going to cut it in a theater. (I don't know; I haven't played any of my audio in a theater)

It's my understanding that the MAIN asset with a mixer is that it increases the audio while keeping the noise down, ending with a large signal/noise ratio. But the zoom h4n has no line-input, meaning to go into it from a mixer i'd need to find a way to drop that signal back down to microphone level.
(Am I understanding that all correctly?)

So it seems like the only benefits of a mixer would be whatever features the mixer itself has, i.e. easier audio control, faders, extra channels, etc.
Which seems nice and all, but given that I'm on a super tight budget, that doesn't sound worth it to me. It may be a little harder, it may take more preparation and time... but it'll be cheaper, and that's key.

So the real question is: Am I going to be okay with just the zoom h4n? Should I get a mixer for it? Should I spend more for a better recording device? Of course there are many, many factors for these questions, and obviously better equipment is going to give me better audio... but what I'm looking for is the cheapest-- not easiest-- way to get acceptable audio. I'd really rather not buy a new recording device, but if the zoom h4n isn't going to cut it, i'd rather not shoot a whole movie that ends up unusable because i didn't get the scratch together for a recorder.
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Old October 14th, 2011, 07:59 PM   #2
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

The zoom absolutely has line inputs. They are the 1/4" jacks inside the xlr's. The advantages of having an extra mixer would be easier control of levels and some eq that can be dialed in easily. And if you need to feed more than 2 channels of audio to your recorder.

You may be misinformed on the benefits of adding a mixer. The pre amps in decent mixers will sound better than the zoom. But the more electronics you add into your signal chain, the noiser it gets. You can absolutely get a good signal to noise ratio with just the zoom. There's plenty of other cheap recorders but none are a huge improvement. Tascam makes a few but if you already own the Zoom I wouldn't bother.

You don't mention what mics you have and that can make a huge difference noise-wise too.

If you're on a budget, your biggest issue will be finding a mixer that doesn't add noise to the signal. And that's gonna be a tall order as even Mackie and Allen and Heath (two of my fav inexpensive mixers) have a noticeable noise floor. Don't even utter the word "Behringer" as a 747 during takeoff is quieter! Ha ha!

If you can get away with 2 channels of record, stick with the H4n and record to WAV files at the highest rate. If you need more channels or finer control and EQ, then get a mixer and run the 1/4" cables to the H4n line ins and youre set.

Soundcraft, Allen and Heath, Mackie are decent budget mixers.

Shure, Sound Devices, Fostex, Wendt are the not so budget friendly but really nice mixers.

Consider renting a really good mixer that has battery power so your rig can be portable.
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Old October 15th, 2011, 12:23 PM   #3
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Thanks for the info! I'm sure you're right, I probably just misunderstood some things. I thought that yes, the zoom can accept line inputs but only if you take the signal down to a mic-level signal, which would negate the advantage of pre-amps on the mixer.

But it sounds like, so long as I do some homework, I'll be able to get quality sound without a mixer. Yeah?

Thanks again.
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Old October 15th, 2011, 12:37 PM   #4
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Yup! The H4n and others are popular for a reason. They are inexpensive solutions for getting decent audio.
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Old October 15th, 2011, 06:14 PM   #5
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Fantastic, just what I was hoping for. That's what I heard when I picked up the h4n, but I was getting a little worried constantly hearing "You need a mixer."
While we're on the subject, the mic i'm using is a rode ntg-2. To my ears, I really like what it gets from outside, but the indoors stuff often sounds relatively unacceptable. Am I going to need to put up some $, or is the ntg-2 capable of doing inside as well if I make sure the boom work is good? Of course, there are many factors, but again, can it be done?
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Old October 15th, 2011, 06:32 PM   #6
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

I use the NTG-3 indoors quite often and it's fine. The NTG-2 is very similar. Sounds like you need to experiment with mic placement techniques. :)
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Old October 15th, 2011, 07:36 PM   #7
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

While no you don't need a mixer, BUT..... in a short time you will find by adding a mixer you will be able to do things better, like riding levels, mixing multiple mics to 1 track, putting mics to different tracks and keeping the levels under control...easily.
I have a H4n and love it...
I recently did a job that was to be directly recorded to the camera but also did a back up to H4n it involved 5x radio mics and a boom pole. The 2 hosts were sent to [L] the 3 guests were sent to [R] and the pole was to cover FX of the walking. You can't do that without a mixer ;)

My final comment get a case for the H4n it saves the bumps and scratches...
Case for ZOOM H4N
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Old October 15th, 2011, 11:30 PM   #8
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Ha! Like I can afford five mics!

But yeah, I totally understand what you're saying. That day will come.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 02:11 AM   #9
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

5 mics.... give it time ;)
Just something to keep in mind probably 80-90 % of my freelance work records direct to the camera or is live and the H4n doesn't get used.
A good sound mixer will open up opportunities for you rather than being locked into one style of productions.

The minimum kit here is....
Mixer + H/Phones
Boom Pole
Sennheiser 416 or NTG 3 with blimp
2x Radio mics
Breakaway Cable for mixer- camera + return
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Old October 24th, 2011, 11:53 AM   #10
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Better mixers will have a switch on the main outs to take them down to mix level. I have a Mackie that does that.

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Old October 25th, 2011, 08:59 AM   #11
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

I use the H4n mainly as my digital recorder. I have gone straight into it with my Sennheiser ME-67 shotgun and boom with no worries. If you have just the one boom mic, try it without the mixer. Bring the audio into your system and see (listen to) what it sounds like.

I also have a SignVideo ENG-44 mixer. Not the best, but definitely not the worst. I've used it when recording from two wireless lavs and the boom. The mixer can definitely control levels and add phantom power where necessary and save on batteries for the boom! I also rent out the whole shebang from time to time which helps pay for it as well.

I guess what I'm saying is that a mixer is a good to have item... but depending on what you're doing, not a need to have item.
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Old October 25th, 2011, 03:16 PM   #12
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

I actually have the Sign Video Eng44 mixer too. I adapt things a bit differently though. I shoot with the 5D. My boom operator in my narrative shoots uses a simple Tasca, DR07 or Zoom H 1 as recorder, fed line in from the Eng44. Either of the records is just velcroed to the mixer.
We adust levels into recorder using Eng 44 tone generator and then ride mic inputs, and mixer output as needed. Either of the recorders has a phone jack so boom operator can actually monitor what is being recorded. This set up is light and clean.
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Old October 29th, 2011, 11:26 AM   #13
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Payne View Post
I'm gearing up for a super low budget feature soon and want to make sure I'm set on audio (most important part of a movie). Everyone knowledgeable I've asked has pretty much said a mixer is a necessity for feature-quality audio.

I picked up a zoom h4n a while ago and I'm really liking the quality it can do for the money. The real question is whether or not this is going to cut it in a theater. (I don't know; I haven't played any of my audio in a theater)

It's my understanding that the MAIN asset with a mixer is that it increases the audio while keeping the noise down, ending with a large signal/noise ratio. But the zoom h4n has no line-input, meaning to go into it from a mixer i'd need to find a way to drop that signal back down to microphone level.
(Am I understanding that all correctly?)
Just where are you getting your information from? A mixer does not guarantee anything except the mixing and the control of multiple signal sources in the field.

Simply, degradation of S/N Ratios can result at any point in your recording chain for a number of reasons. However, that established from the mic to preamp is where most consideration is needed. But if you want to do things "budget" then don't expect to do theatre.

:)
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Old October 29th, 2011, 12:38 PM   #14
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

Here is my advice, take it or leave it... You admit that audio is the most important part of the movie, you are very green on the subject, but you want the audio to be theatre quality.

Why not involve someone in the production with practical audio experience and gear?
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Old October 29th, 2011, 02:59 PM   #15
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Re: Should I get a mixer with zoom h4n?

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.
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