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Old April 2nd, 2013, 12:58 AM   #1
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low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

I recently just bought a Sony ECM-44B wired lav mic for some interview project I'm going to be working on. Since I'm shooting on a 7D, I'm running the mic directly into a Tascam-40 audio recorder.

With some preliminary tests, I've got to say, I'm a little underwhelmed by my current set up. I'm not much of an audio guy, but I know the basics. Overall, I'm getting a very low level from my setup, I have to crank the input gain level almost all the way up just to get something acceptable. And yes, I have the headphone monitor level all the way up just so I can hear it above the sound in the room.

Don't get me wrong, it's definitely usable, but I'd say the worst part is, there is also a health amount of noise in the signal. I would be worried that the 44B might be defective, but even when I unplug the mic from the Tascam, I can still hear noise (different noise, but just a noticeable), I'm assuming because the gain on the recorder is turned nearly all the way up.

Am I now going to have to buy an external mixer like a JuiceLink or BeachTek to use as a preamp? If so, what benefit do I get from recording into the Tascam as opposed to just going straight into the camera?
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 06:41 AM   #2
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Battery in the mic verified to be fresh and installed properly?
Mic mounted in proper position on the talent?
Recorder set for external mic in with phantom power OFF?
Recorder set to mono recording mode?

(Note: Preamps are noisier when the inputs are unterminated as when you've unplugged the mic than they are when they are in normal use.)
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 08:32 AM   #3
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

As a no-cost test, I would seek out a friend, coworker or friendly store with an XLR audio mixer that you can connect your ECM-44 with, and test out using your own headphones.
If the results are the same as when connected to your recorder, then the mic may have a problem with unusually low output level.
My guess is you'll have much better clean gain using a mixer or preamp.
The mic preamps of these basic recorders are generally not clean enough for low-output mics in spoken-word situations.
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 09:48 AM   #4
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Steve, everything you mentioned I've already checked. The only difference is that I was mostly recording in Duel Mode, which actually records two mono tracks form the same input, just one is reduced by -6 db as a safety.

I might be over worrying just a bit, the signal level is usable, and I could probably remove the noise in post (although combined, the problem is amplified, as in boosting the level in post will also increase the noise.)

I just expected better out of the Sony 44B. In fact, I get a much stronger signal, lower noise, and frankly, crisper audio out from just using the internal mics from the DR-40 (though also more room noise, wind noise, harsher plosives).
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 09:54 AM   #5
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

I didn't mention it before, but the audio from the Sony 44B, also sounds a tad "flat" at least compared to the DR-40's internals. I might just be nit picking, though from online samples I picked the 44B over the 77B because the 77B sounded too high, dry, and harsh. The 44B sounded warmer and smoother from the samples, but now that I got it, it sounds a tad flat, as though slightly muffled. (Yes going by online samples, is a dubious strategy.)

Is professional audio recorded "flatter" with the expectation that the dynamic range will be stretched back out in post? I've never heard this in audio, but this is done in Cinematography in order to protect the exposure's dynamic range. Record in a "flat" color space, and then stretch it back out on post. Might this be what I'm hearing?
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 10:44 AM   #6
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Are the DR-40's record parameters set correctly? Manual, Mono, Ext. Mic (left channel). Phantom Power engaged and the battery removed from the 44's power module, (or Phantom Power off, battery in place)
The ECM 44 inherently has a rather low output (-53dB) and the DR40 as well as the other budget recorders have 'less the stellar' noisy preamps. Some of the noise maybe from HP amplification, also common with budget recorders.
"I picked the 44B over the 77B because the 77B sounded too high, dry, and harsh"
- Compared to the 44? How did you come to that conclusion? FWIW, the 77 has a higher output. (-36dB) (also more expensive)
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 11:07 AM   #7
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Quote:
Originally Posted by Denez McAdoo View Post
Overall, I'm getting a very low level from my setup... but I'd say the worst part is, there is also a health amount of noise in the signal. I would be worried that the 44B might be defective
I bought a DR-40 and had the same result. I ended up buying an ART USB Dual Pre portable mic preamp and a DR-40 and testing them against the Panasonic GH2's built-in mic preamp.

The DR-40 was simply awful, low levels, very noisy. The ART unit was better, but the output was low and the mic input was seriously non-linear when turned up nearly all the way - which was necessary to get a decent level. I tested both with several different mics (AKG and Sennheiser dynamic, Seenheiser G@ wireless, RODE M3, Oktava mc012, Sennheiser mke300, AudioTechnica Pro70) and used a Sescom adapter cable plugged into the GH2.

To summarize, the RODE M3 plugged directly into the GH2 with a simple XLR to 3.5mm adapter cable provided the best result, with good levels and very low noise. I also had very good results with the Pro70 directly into the GH2. At some point I'm going to test the H4n but based on my results with my H1 I expect it to be significantly better than the DR-40.
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 12:13 PM   #8
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Denez,
That's probably about right for the setup you are using. I bought the Tascm DR-100 and the levels are definitely hotter and cleaner.

Also when you have to crank your headphone level all the way up that introduces a fair amount of noise on the monitoring end that may not be in the recorded piece. I don't believe you said how clean the recording was?

Your issue is more then likely the preamps of the DR-40. I hated spending the extra money for the DR-100, but it was worth it on several levels.
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 12:46 PM   #9
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Rick, yep, I checked all the settings that you mentioned. The Sony 44B will not run off of phantom power (though I think the 77B will.)

I bought the 44B from an ebay seller who had the 77B for sale at the same price. (Yes, the mic is used and perhaps this is it.) I read on some forums that the 44B was more popular with film schools and I found a comparison between the two on YouTube (non-scientific.) All things aside, if the 77B has a higher output, I'm now wishing I had purchased it instead.

Now I'm looking at either a BeachTek or JuicedLink to use as a Preamp, but I'm starting to feel like I'm just throwing money at the problem with out really knowing what's going on.
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 01:31 PM   #10
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

"The Sony 44B will not run off of phantom power (though I think the 77B will.) "
Sorry, I didn't realize the 44's power module doesn't support Phantom Pwr. like the 55 and 77. In that case the PP should be disabled on the recorder. You'll have to check the mic with other preamps to assess it performance. I would suspect the 44's low sensitivity along with the recorder's preamp noise is the issue so a high quality preamp would help and good to have with any mic.
FWIW, In my line level evaluation, any audible difference between my DR40 and 744 is negligible. (all parameters equal in the front end)
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 03:22 PM   #11
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

thanks for the info Rick. What is the 744?

I just talked to a friend who uses the Sony 77B with a Zoom H4N and has similar problem with the low level output. He said he has since used an off-brand cheaper lav mic straight into the camera (though it was through the XLR inputs of a Sony EX-1) and was much happier with the results.

I'm not sure I can afford a "high quality preamp" right now. Could I get away with using either the BeachTek DXA-2T or the JuicedLink RM202, as pre-amps going into the Tascam DR-40? Are they too cheap? Would I get any real benefit going from these pre-amps into the Tascam, as opposed to just going from the preamp straight to the camera? Should I be concerned at all that the output from these pre-amps is just a 1/8" phono jack and not XLR?
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 04:21 PM   #12
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Sound Devices 744 (portable, four-track audio recorder w/ time code)
I have no experience with the the BeachTek, JuicedLink or ARTs. If it's in your budget, the Sound Devices preamps/mixers are arguably the best. However YMMV depending on your skill level.

"Should I be concerned at all that the output from these pre-amps is just a 1/8" phono jack and not XLR?"
-- It depends on what camcorder and/or audio recorder you have. For the DR-40, XLR connectors for sure (@ line level) The same, if your camera has XLRs. If your camera only has 1/8" inputs, use the DR-40.

"Would I get any real benefit going from these pre-amps into the Tascam, as opposed to just going from the preamp straight to the camera?"
If your using a DSLR, the DR-40 would sound much better (with or w/o an ext. preamp). If your camcorder has XLR inputs, an external audio recorder would usually be of little benefit, feeding the camcorder line level from a external preamp.

The DR40 would come in handy just the same, if you need to record additional sound sources, S/FX or other 'audio only' material.
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Old April 2nd, 2013, 05:12 PM   #13
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

Quote:
Originally Posted by Denez McAdoo View Post
Now I'm looking at either a BeachTek or JuicedLink to use as a Preamp, but I'm starting to feel like I'm just throwing money at the problem with out really knowing what's going on.
Denez - this ".. throwing money ... is really not a good feeling. Personally, I'm in the "like to really know what is going on" camp although this can be very time consuming depending on the situation.

One thing to research is if there are any reports of counterfeit gear of the type you have and, if so, how to tell the good from the bad.

Since a recorder like the DR-40 is one of the things on my list of potential things to get I read with interest the comment Al Gardner made earlier about the DR100. A quick Internet check (Amazon) had something interesting on its specs. The 100 has three input Gain settings (Standard input level); High (-58 dBu), Mid (-36 dBu), and Low (-14 dBu). With regard to the DR-40 I didn't find a similar Gain setting specs for the XLR inputs so I couldn't make a good comparison. Since the ECM 44 has a -53 dB output (Note: I don't know what the difference is between dB and dBu), then the DR100 would seem to have a good input match.

As for the pre amp idea, my thought is to minimize the amount of "stuff" in the chain. However, having said that, I'm using a JuicedLink CX211 (their basic unit and a discontinued model) because I had to have a pre amp and a way to go to a mini jack. This is a basic 2-channel model but the nice thing is it provides some controls and features that my camera didn't have so there can be an upside. As one acquires more mics the pre amp can be a nice equalizing factor.
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Old April 3rd, 2013, 10:14 AM   #14
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

might this work? It's the only affordable mixer that I can find that has XLR out:

Azden Pro Audio System - Mixers FMX-20
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Old April 3rd, 2013, 10:36 AM   #15
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Re: low signal & noise - Sony 44B & Tascam DR-40

I've never used Azden gear.
but yes... it would 'work'... but... Azden gear is not highly regarded.. by professional audio folk and on this and other sound for picture forums.
Having a cheap noisy preamp/mixer would likely be worse than the ECM44 / DR-40 by itself or the 44 direct to your non-DSRL camcorder.
I think your best-cheapest option may be to find a higher sensitivity mic.
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