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Old October 14th, 2011, 11:55 PM   #1
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Different mixers producing different outputs?

So, I'm going to try and give the best description of this scenario as possible, so please bear with me. When working audio, I use the Sennheiser 416 P48. Love the mic, love what it can do, love what it has done so far. I have been working with the Zoom H4N to power it, and have been pleased with its performance. Recently, I've been working with the Azden FMX-42 mixer. Seemed to work well enough for me, though I have to admit that I have a moderately novice knowledge of mixers. Anyway, I was on a shoot a couple of weeks ago, and (this is where it gets fuzzy), I was using a far superior sound mixer. My phone's search history didn't go back far enough to me Googling the make and model, but I do remember that it retailed for $4999, that it was two channel, all the readouts were digital, and that it recorded directly to the mixer, having a 160GB hard drive inside. If anyone here is from California Institute of the Arts, it's your sound mixer I'm talking about!

They were also using a Sennheiser 416 (though admittedly, in a blimp), and I can't seem to get the sensitivity on my gear as that mixer seemed to be getting. It's as if it was super charged. I could be standing 25 feet away and be able to amp that thing up and listen in on conversations, I could hear cars coming from a half mile.

I can't emulate this on the zoom. I can't emulate this on the Azden. Am I doing something wrong? Or is this just another example of "Top dollar produces top quality" The experience with working with this mystery mixer just gave me such an excitement to work with audio again, when I started working with the Zoom, and the Azden, I was a bit deflated when I realized I couldn't come close to emulating it. Not sure if it was the blimp helping to focus the sound, or if the _____________ mixer was just on epic steroids.
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Old October 15th, 2011, 12:27 AM   #2
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

Tis all in the mic pre! A single channel high quality pre can cost thousands of dollars. The one in our zooms just can't compete. If you want to step up to the next level without breaking the bank, check out the Sound Devices MM1. It turns my Rode NTG 3 into a monster. Way nicer than my cameras pre's or the Zoom pre's. I even use it when I'm recording music projects. It's that much better than the stock pre's I have on my audio interface.

Was the recorder you used a Nagra? They are among the best recorders out there. Sound Devices makes some really nice ones too but not quite in the $5k price range.
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Old October 15th, 2011, 07:40 AM   #3
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

I'll certainly check that out. Outside of the Zoom, which I figured wouldn't be able to do near what the other did, it seems like the Azden would have been able to do something. Based on what I'm hearing, it doesn't seem like the Azden is doing anything but add additional noise. Maybe I'm doing something wrong with the Azden? Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate it!
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Old October 15th, 2011, 08:30 AM   #4
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

There's some who are fans of Azden but I am not one of them. I consider them to be rather poor in the audio quality department. Ive used a few of their products and they all seem noisy. For the
money they may fill a need but I'd rather rent a Shure or Sound Devices until I saved up enough to buy one. Sorry to be so negative but as your ears have told you, once you hear what a quality piece of gear can do, it's hard to settle for less.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 11:09 AM   #5
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

A expensive preamp and/or other recorder is not going to get you 'good sound' from 25 feet away. Unless you just wish to to make the sound louder, which can easily be done in post on most NLEs. You will still have surveillance quality at best, regardless of the initial recording level.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 11:22 AM   #6
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

I don't think he meant that he wanted to use the mic from 25 ft away...just that he could hear stuff the inexpensive gear wouldn't reveal. And actually that goes back to the noise floor. Yes you can pump any signal up in post but a good mic pre with low noise can produce much more useable gain. ;)
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Old October 16th, 2011, 11:25 AM   #7
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

It's not that I want to be able to hear things going on 25 feet away, it's that I was able to. After going from that back to my original setup, it just makes me feel like I am not capturing fully.

On the Azden, I use the tone to set the peak, and then when I capture sound, the needles barely move. If I bump up the gain, I get lots of noise. On the side of the Azden, there are three settings on a switch:

+4
-30dBu
-55

I normally have it set to -30. When set on -55, there's lots of noise. When set to +4, I literally pic up nothing. In the end, I'll most likely just use the Zoom by itself, but I was under the assumption that using this mixer was going to give the output of the mic a far more powerful. The wave form barely has anything on it. Obviously I'm doing something wrong.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 12:09 PM   #8
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

Well, let's do a bit of troubleshooting. I'm assuming you are feeding phantom power to the mic. With the gain switch set at -30 And your mic plugged into channel one, bring the inner knob of channel 1 to the noon setting. Also set your master knob at noon. Make sure the outer knob of channel one is set to the middle (centered) Plug headphones into the monitor out on the side of the Azden. make sure the monitor switch is in in the L/R position and slowly bring up the headphone volume. With those settings you should hear what the mic is feeding just fine. Forget the VU meters for now. Also make sure the limiter is off.

What you want to do is set the gain structure of the Azden before plugging it into the Zoom. So adjust input for the mic but don't move the master out from it's noon position.

Next I'm going to guess you have XLR cables from the Azden to the Zoom. If this is the case, the master output switch needs to be set to -36 which is mic output. If you are running 1/4" inputs to the Zoom then the switch needs to be at the +4 setting for line level.

Once those are plugged into the zoom, set the input level and you should be all set. Monitor with headphones at the Zoom.

Hope this helps!

Oh, the Azden looks like it has a 1k test tone which you can use to set the Zoom levels. You should set between -10 and -6 on the Zoom meters with the tone. That should leave enough headroom.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 02:44 PM   #9
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

Robert, first off, thank you for taking time to troubleshoot my setup here. I went through and checked all the settings that you recommended. The only one that was different from what you had suggested was this:

"Next I'm going to guess you have XLR cables from the Azden to the Zoom. If this is the case, the master output switch needs to be set to -36 which is mic output. If you are running 1/4" inputs to the Zoom then the switch needs to be at the +4 setting for line level."

I switched it over, but did not see any real change in output. I ran the 1K tone, made sure it zeroed out on the VU meter. On the zoom, I set the tone so that it would reach -6. Still having the same effect. When I speak directly into the mic, as in, it's 6 inches from my mouth, the VU meter actually responds, but not up to zero at all. When I move the mic back to about a foot, or 18 inches, it drops off considerable.

In the past, I've received a rather decent input from my Zoom, and perhaps I'm stressing over nothing, but it just seems that after using the high dollar mixer/recorder, it makes me believe I'm doing something wrong, even with the Zoom. I just plugged the mic directly into the Zoom, and it's getting a far better sound (less noise) though I can't say that the gain is really what I was looking for, but it's certainly better than with the mixer. If anything, it just feels like the mixer is just another layer that the signal is having to go through, and thus, limiting it (and yes, the limiter is turned off, hehe). Case and point, it's a cheaper mixer, and perhaps that's the problem here.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 04:31 PM   #10
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

Hmmm...and did you increase the mic gain on the Azden or did you leave it at noon? If you turn just the mic gain up with the other things the same it should be working. Some of my pre's require me to turn them almost all the way up, others work half way, and it varies with different mics too. May be that you have a bad cable? Maybe the mic has an issue? Since I am not physically there it's a bit of shooting in the dark. That's about all I can think of at this point.

And a quick note... on the VUs you really don't want to see 0 that often as you may not leave enough headroom. The meters on the zoom are different. If you can get the peaks around -6 you have enough level.

For the record, I can tear my head off with the gain I get from my NTG3 straight into the zoom. If I use my MM1 preamp, it's even more insane. At 6" your mic should be very similar. Just looked at the specs and Rode definitely aimed at the 416 when designing the ntg3. They are almost identical on paper.

And you're welcome! That's part if what the forum is here for!
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Old October 17th, 2011, 09:00 AM   #11
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

I did increase the mic gain on the Azden and did notice that there was some gain. And you're right, I did see that it had an effect on the peaks of the Zoom. Either I live in the noisiest apartment ever, or there's just a lot of noise. I've tested the cables with the mic directly into the Zoom, and don't have near as much noise. A thought though:

I did notice that when my Zoom was running low on power (because I bought cheap batteries, because I'm an idiot), I noticed that while the record button was flashing (while monitoring), I could actually hear a noise pulse as the light came on and off. Replaced the batteries and bingo, fixed that. Now, I have these same kind of batteries in the Pre. Any chance loser batteries could be causing trouble, say, if there wasn't adequate power getting to the amp?

Interesting that you comment on having the MM1. I actually own a BeachTek, from back when I was porting audio from my mics into a camcorder (needed the 1/8 input). I'm wondering if I just go from the mic to the Beachtek, to the Zoom. Assuming my Beachtek isn't crap, should function the same way, right? And it runs off 9vts, which I didn't skimp on. I'll have to give that a shot over my lunch break, see if that improves what I'm looking for. Again, I'm not looking to capture sound from epic distances. It's just that the sound with the $5K monitor was far more crisp, and I would love to have my Sennheiser perform as strongly.
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Old October 17th, 2011, 09:38 AM   #12
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

Yeah, weak batteries could cause issues too. I'm a nut about batteries and change them out in any gear I'm using on a shoot. Rather have a pile of slightly used AA for my kids toys than risk a shoot.

Don't know the Beachtek that well but it could be another test to check signal paths.
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Old October 17th, 2011, 01:11 PM   #13
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

Well, guess I screwed up there. Went home and checked the Beachtek box. Apparently it only has 1/8 out, and the Zoom doesn't have an 1/8 input. Just two XLRs. For some reason I thought it did; the hole at the bottom is actually DC power. Ah well. This has to be user error, or batteries. I know the mic works well, and it produces a good sound with the Zoom. I might go grab some not-bottom-of-the-bucket batteries tonight, just to see if that makes any sort of difference. Otherwise, I'll just return the Azden (borrowed from a friend), and look into either shooting directly to the Zoom, or seeing what other affordable options are out there. Regardless, thank you very much for your troubleshooting!
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Old October 17th, 2011, 06:04 PM   #14
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

I think the Zoom has a 1/8 input on the back.
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Old October 17th, 2011, 10:06 PM   #15
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Re: Different mixers producing different outputs?

That it does, thus qualifying me as an idiot. I did 3 tests: the mic directly into the Zoom; the mic into the Azden, then into the Zoom, and the mic into the Beachtek box, then into the Zoom. I could certainly tell that there was a gain increase going from the Beachtek box into the Zoom, over the Zoom by itself. But with great gain comes great ...noise? Sorry, couldn't get that reference to work. Anyway, the Azden didn't seem to perform any differently with different batteries. I think just going with the Zoom by itself will be my plan of action until I can get my hands on something a little more beautiful, sound wise.

The only other element, which I've neglected to mention, was that the original setup that I was working with, also had a blimp. Though that greatly reduces noise from the sides, I don't think it actually focuses sound coming in, correct?
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