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Old March 14th, 2016, 11:17 PM   #1
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Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

As the title suggests, I'm looking to invest in a general purpose audio kit. Mostly for run-and-gun style shooting, but also the occasional corporate gig as well.

Most of my work is live streaming and live multi-cam production. For that kind of work I am well equipped, both on the audio and video side of things. However, I still do some traditional single camera production. For this I have a wireless lav system, and a Rode NTG-1 on boom that has got me through most things in the past.

Due to positive word of mouth (and perhaps too low of day rate) I have found myself booking more and more higher end gigs where the audio requirements are greater than just a single boom mic or radio lav. Sometimes the producers hire a separate sound guy, but frequently I am working for a business where I am 100% responsible for the entire video production. For these gigs I am forced to hire an outside audio tech who has his own gear.

I don't mind hiring someone who has their own gear, but there aren't a lot of good, reliable audio people out there in my area. More than once I have had to make do, having to come up with creative solutions to get good sound, when I couldn't find an available audio person on the date of a shoot.

Considering this, I have decided that it may be time to invest in putting together some kind of audio kit that would be suitable for situations dealing with any variety of situations. I know most serious sound guys go for the Sound Devices mixers, but these are out of my price range. I am looking at trying to keep the entire kit around $1,500.

Here is what I am considering right now-
  • Azden FMX-42a Mixer
  • Two RodeLink Wireless Filmmaker Kits for lav mics
  • Using my current Rode NTG1 and boom
  • 10 pin hirose breakway cable
  • Portabrace mixer case
  • Headphones of some kind, not sure which ones

Anyway, please share your thoughts. Any wisdom would be appreciated.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 01:16 AM   #2
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Grunseth View Post
Due to positive word of mouth (and perhaps too low of day rate) I have found myself booking more and more higher end gigs where the audio requirements are greater than just a single boom mic or radio lav.
Depends on how you personally define "greater". Is that greater flexibility? Greater sound quality? Greater quantity of speakers?

Without knowing that, I'm just speculating. That said, I can say a couple of things I've found to be very true.

First, hiring a dedicated sound guy is almost always the way to go. Good audio is a full time job.

Second, go with a separate sound system and sync in post. The level of effort involved is minimal, the sound quality increase is well worth it.

Third, don't cheap out on your audio gear. Rule of thumb is to expect decent audio to cost you at least as much as you spend on your camera(s). But unlike cameras, the audio equipment will last. If you do it right, mics and recording gear can last your career. Buy once, cry once. Would that it worked that way with cameras. :(

Fourth, wireless is a last resort. Not a first, a last resort. Only use wireless when there's no other way to get it done. Why? Even the most expensive wireless can't equal the sound quality of a $20 XLR cable. That's just the laws of physics. The wireless system will be 10x less reliable. The wireless system will be at least 30x the cost.

Fifth, always monitor your audio. If you're recording, your headphones should be on your head. Without fail. You would run your camera without looking at the monitor, so don't run your audio without listing to your monitor.

So, on the bottom end, look at something like the
Tascam DR60D mkii.
A good hyper like the AT 4053b for sit down interviews. And a c-stand, boom pole, and boom pole holder for unattended operation over the interviewee's position. Just this small amount of kit will be a big step up from the entry level. Then get a good reporters mic like the
EV RE50N/D-B
for situations like shop floors, trade shows, and man-in-the-street work. If you've got to have a lavalier, consider something like the Oscar SoundTech 801/2 with the optional XLR to plugin power converter so you can run it from a phantom powered device like the DR60D. I have my OST 802s terminated in Sennheiser threads so I can easily switch from wired to wireless when I have to. Works a treat. And listen to all this via a decent pair of headphones. In the US, the "standard" if there is one is probably the
Sony MDR-7506s
. Good dialog headphones.

That's about as far as I can go without knowing more.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 01:53 AM   #3
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Watson View Post
Depends on how you personally define "greater". Is that greater flexibility? Greater sound quality? Greater quantity of speakers?

Without knowing that, I'm just speculating. That said, I can say a couple of things I've found to be very true.

First, hiring a dedicated sound guy is almost always the way to go. Good audio is a full time job.

Second, go with a separate sound system and sync in post. The level of effort involved is minimal, the sound quality increase is well worth it.

Third, don't cheap out on your audio gear. Rule of thumb is to expect decent audio to cost you at least as much as you spend on your camera(s). But unlike cameras, the audio equipment will last. If you do it right, mics and recording gear can last your career. Buy once, cry once. Would that it worked that way with cameras. :(

Fourth, wireless is a last resort. Not a first, a last resort. Only use wireless when there's no other way to get it done. Why? Even the most expensive wireless can't equal the sound quality of a $20 XLR cable. That's just the laws of physics. The wireless system will be 10x less reliable. The wireless system will be at least 30x the cost.

Fifth, always monitor your audio. If you're recording, your headphones should be on your head. Without fail. You would run your camera without looking at the monitor, so don't run your audio without listing to your monitor.

So, on the bottom end, look at something like the Tascam DR60D mkii. A good hyper like the AT 4053b for sit down interviews. And a c-stand, boom pole, and boom pole holder for unattended operation over the interviewee's position. Just this small amount of kit will be a big step up from the entry level. Then get a good reporters mic like the EV RE50N/D-B for situations like shop floors, trade shows, and man-in-the-street work. If you've got to have a lavalier, consider something like the Oscar SoundTech 801/2 with the optional XLR to plugin power converter so you can run it from a phantom powered device like the DR60D. I have my OST 802s terminated in Sennheiser threads so I can easily switch from wired to wireless when I have to. Works a treat. And listen to all this via a decent pair of headphones. In the US, the "standard" if there is one is probably the Sony MDR-7506s. Good dialog headphones.

That's about as far as I can go without knowing more.
Hi Bruce,

Of course I always have headphones on when doing anything with audio. I have been doing professional video for 14 years now, most of which was for broadcast, so it's not like I'm just getting started :) However, I have always been much more of a camera guy than a sound guy.

So, to define greater- I mean greater flexibility and the ability to mic up a larger number of speakers. I've actually been quite happy with the audio quality that I am currently able to deliver.

And I fully agree with you about hiring a sound guy. I didn't mean to suggest that by doing this equipment purchase I am somehow negating the need for an audio tech, and I apologize if that is how my post came across. Rather, often I find the local sound guys don't have their own gear, so if I hire them, I need to somehow provide gear for them.

Recording audio separately is great, but often my clients don't want that. I have a Tascam DR40 I've used in the past for shooting dual system, and if I'm editing the project, that is great. However, frequently I had over the footage to the producer and they are very clear about not wanting separate audio files, except for perhaps as backup.

This kind of goes into the wireless thing as well. For a lot of work, wireless is the only option. Sticking a hard wired lav on an actor doesn't work when you are shooting a wide shot of a scene. And, when doing fast pace corporate shoots, about the only way to get it done on time is to leave a wireless mic on the actors.

Now, I wish I could wait until I have enough to get a Sound Devices mixer and high end mics, but I can't. I have gigs scheduled over the next several months. In three weeks I have a shoot coming up where I would like to work with a specific sound guy, but he doesn't have his own gear. My budget is $1,500. I might be able to stretch it a bit, but not by much.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 02:14 AM   #4
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Do some research... is the work 'ACTUALLY' there or are you assuming its there?

What gear does the client NEED rather than dream of?

Run it as a business not as a hobby, there is no point investing many thousands of $$$$$ only to prop up some other persons dream.

Basic professional kit | rtsound
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Old March 15th, 2016, 10:32 AM   #5
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

I concur w/ Bruce and Brian.
For one or two person interviews, good audio can be recorded directly to the camera.. providing it is a 'real' video camcorder w XLR inputs. DSRLs record very poor sound even when fed from an expensive gear upstream.
Like other audio gear spending a few extra $ on cables make a difference, though the quality difference would likely be inaudible in normal conditions, the ease of laying out and wrapping is worth the cost, and should last your entire career.
Azden gear is not highly regarded by audio pros. Will it work?.. probably.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 01:23 PM   #6
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian P. Reynolds View Post
Do some research... is the work 'ACTUALLY' there or are you assuming its there?

What gear does the client NEED rather than dream of?

Run it as a business not as a hobby, there is no point investing many thousands of $$$$$ only to prop up some other persons dream.

Basic professional kit | rtsound
Yes, the work is actually there. For years freelance production has been my sole source of income, I don't do anything else. I have dozens of repeat clients. I have signed production contracts and work orders covering gigs for the next several months.

In regards to what gear the client needs, that depends on the clients. Some of my clients are producers, where I am hired as a shooter and not expected to worry about audio. The same producer who hires me will also hire a sound person.

Other times I am hired by clients who don't know a lot about production, they expect me to produce their video for them. They don't have specific requests for gear.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick Reineke View Post
I concur w/ Bruce and Brian.
For one or two person interviews, good audio can be recorded directly to the camera.. providing it is a 'real' video camcorder w XLR inputs. DSRLs record very poor sound even when fed from an expensive gear upstream.
Like other audio gear spending a few extra $ on cables make a difference, though the quality difference would likely be inaudible in normal conditions, the ease of laying out and wrapping is worth the cost, and should last your entire career.
Azden gear is not highly regarded by audio pros. Will it work?.. probably.
I don't use DSLRs for video. My cameras do have XLR audio inputs. When I do interview shoots, I do indeed record directly into the camera. The challenge comes when I'm doing shoots with multiple actors who all need mics.

I'm not a fan of Azden gear. When I was in high school we had an Azden wireless mic kit and it was just awful. When I worked in broadcast TV, before going freelance, we used Sennheiser mics and they were great. As a freelancer, most of the sound guys I work with use Sound Devices mixers, which also sound great!

I would like to continue to use professional sound guys with their own gear, Sennheiser mics and Sound Devices mixers. However, as I said previously, these guys with this gear aren't always available when I need them. So, I would like to some sort of kit, I guess one could call it a backup kit, for when I have no other options.

Sound Devices gear and Seenheiser mics are out of my price range though. I can't push back the shoots I have scheduled, and I won't have a larger budget for gear before the shoots. So I am looking for more affordable alternatives.

I've used Rode gear in the past, and generally have been pretty happy with the quality. The RodeLink system seems to be highly reviewed, and already being satisfied with the NTG1, so I figured they might be a good compromise.

There aren't a lot of options for field mixers. Sound Devices doesn't have anything in my price range. I have used Rolls stuff before, in school, and it was terrible. The Azden mixer at least as the features I would like, but I am not confident that it is up to professional use.

I am happy to consider other possible solutions, I'm just not sure what else is available in my price range.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 02:19 PM   #7
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

I'm not familiar with the Azden mixer. It seems you know well the consequences if it's not up to snuff. But, you may need to get it in your hands for testing to really understand its limits.

It used to be that the Sign Video ENG-44 was the only lower-priced mixer that was worth using. I see that an updated version is now available from another company, but I've not had my hands on it.

I recommend the Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones for most work, though I, like many pros, have used the Sony MDR-7506 extensively for dialog. Either costs a hundred bucks. The Senn is *really* full coverage, which is great or irritating, depending.

Someone suggested adding an AT hypercardoid. If you're booming interiors you need to have a hypercard in your kit. Period. There aren't many choices.
Slightly less expensive but also excellent is an AKG body with the CK93 capsule.
The only less-expensive alternative is Oktava's hyper, not very well known, not quite as directional, common counterfeits are out there, and you really need a good shock mount. For all that, I like it as a budget hyper!

You need this for interiors because a short shotgun like the NTG1, (all short shotguns outside of some *very* expensive mics), can really misbehave in low-ceiling and/or reflective rooms, due to their lobes of sensitivity at the rear that can pick up out-of-phase reflections in the low-mids that can make dialog sound very hollow.

I hear you about the expected convenience of wireless lavs. I've been that soundie telling some corporate exec that the cheaper and less convenient wired lav I was putting on them was BETTER, not WORSE, when the exec has incorrectly learned that the audio world runs on wireless.

What are you going to do? Not to mention the requirements of the scene, like you described. Nonetheless, every soundie is going to say that a pair of wired lavs IS the first choice in the kit, and they're RIGHT. And, you should expect better of your "professional" collaborators. Maybe you'll help them learn better.

IIRC you can get XLR connectivity out of the Rode lav heads that come with their wireless. This isn't a bad compromise. The combination of wired and wireless built on Rode's lavs is a good value package, in my opinion.

Do be aware that the Rodes will not stand up to any abuse at all in the cable connections to the capsules and connectors. Baby them and don't lend them out.

I do respect the professionalism that a good, dedicated location sound mixer brings to their work, and it sounds like you do, too. And, with low cost mixers, consumer recorders, etc. we are talking about compromises - gotta' recognize that and assure that what you do is good enough for your clients.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 03:46 PM   #8
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Seth Bloombaum View Post
I'm not familiar with the Azden mixer. It seems you know well the consequences if it's not up to snuff. But, you may need to get it in your hands for testing to really understand its limits.

It used to be that the Sign Video ENG-44 was the only lower-priced mixer that was worth using. I see that an updated version is now available from another company, but I've not had my hands on it.

I recommend the Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones for most work, though I, like many pros, have used the Sony MDR-7506 extensively for dialog. Either costs a hundred bucks. The Senn is *really* full coverage, which is great or irritating, depending.

Someone suggested adding an AT hypercardoid. If you're booming interiors you need to have a hypercard in your kit. Period. There aren't many choices. Slightly less expensive but also excellent is an AKG body with the CK93 capsule. The only less-expensive alternative is Oktava's hyper, not very well known, not quite as directional, common counterfeits are out there, and you really need a good shock mount. For all that, I like it as a budget hyper!

You need this for interiors because a short shotgun like the NTG1, (all short shotguns outside of some *very* expensive mics), can really misbehave in low-ceiling and/or reflective rooms, due to their lobes of sensitivity at the rear that can pick up out-of-phase reflections in the low-mids that can make dialog sound very hollow.

I hear you about the expected convenience of wireless lavs. I've been that soundie telling some corporate exec that the cheaper and less convenient wired lav I was putting on them was BETTER, not WORSE, when the exec has incorrectly learned that the audio world runs on wireless.

What are you going to do? Not to mention the requirements of the scene, like you described. Nonetheless, every soundie is going to say that a pair of wired lavs IS the first choice in the kit, and they're RIGHT. And, you should expect better of your "professional" collaborators. Maybe you'll help them learn better.

IIRC you can get XLR connectivity out of the Rode lav heads that come with their wireless. This isn't a bad compromise. The combination of wired and wireless built on Rode's lavs is a good value package, in my opinion.

Do be aware that the Rodes will not stand up to any abuse at all in the cable connections to the capsules and connectors. Baby them and don't lend them out.

I do respect the professionalism that a good, dedicated location sound mixer brings to their work, and it sounds like you do, too. And, with low cost mixers, consumer recorders, etc. we are talking about compromises - gotta' recognize that and assure that what you do is good enough for your clients.
Hey Seth,

Thanks for your reply. I see you are just up I-5 from me. By any chance do you do freelance audio? If so, I might have some gigs in the future I could send your way.

I was not familiar with the ENG-44 mixer until I saw your post. I had just been looking at what is currently available on B&H, so not seeing in there, it wasn't something I was considering. Now that you suggested it, I have been looking at reviews and am intrigued.

Some of the reviews of the ENG-44 make it sound amazing. According to these reviews, it seems to be the best option out there, at any price point, short of a sound devices mixer. Other reviews, however, make it sounds like total trash. They claim it is junk and completely unusable.

Do you have any personal experience with the ENG-44 Seth? It sounds as if you have a positive opinion of it, so I'm curious how you arrived at that opinion.

I do like the Sennheiser HD280 headphones and will probably go with those. And, like you observed, if I go with the Rode lavs I still have the option to XLR into the mixer, I'm not suck in wireless.

When doing shoots my main goal is to have happy clients. This means delivering quality that is acceptable to them (I usually deliver way beyond what they expect), getting the shoot done on time, and being easy to work with. If the client wants to go with wireless for whatever reason, or just due to the pace of the shoot we are forced to use wireless, that is a compromise I am often willing to make in order to keep the client happy.

Well, I'm going to go spend some time reading about the ENG-44 mixer. Thanks!
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Old March 15th, 2016, 05:21 PM   #9
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Grunseth View Post
Hey Seth,

Thanks for your reply. I see you are just up I-5 from me. By any chance do you do freelance audio? If so, I might have some gigs in the future I could send your way...
Thanks for asking! My main gig these days is teaching, so, it would be an unusual project to bring me out. But perhaps worth talking about, if and when.
Quote:
Do you have any personal experience with the ENG-44 Seth? It sounds as if you have a positive opinion of it, so I'm curious how you arrived at that opinion.
We almost bought several for the college, but then were able to step up to the Sound Devices 302 and haven't looked back. At the time, I did a full eval on the earlier version and found them adequate. I've never had hands-on the current version, now from a different manufacturer, so, I couldn't say. Likewise I don't know how either compares to the other low-cost mixers.

I do see that they are a Portland company and have a 30-day money back return policy... If you do end up with one I'd love to know how it does for you.

I have also heard that some like the Wendt mixers, but nothing direct from people I know. They have a good reputation.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 06:18 PM   #10
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

I have an ENG-44 and am quite happy with it.
It certainly isn't as robust as a Sound Devices, but it doesn't bear the same price-tag, either.
The performance is very good, but physically some of the small plastic slide-switches are rather vulnerable.
It would be quite OK if you are careful with it and kept it in a nice case for physical protection.

One could conceivably replace those slide switches with more robust metal toggle switches.
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Old March 15th, 2016, 07:48 PM   #11
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Grunseth View Post
I am looking at trying to keep the entire kit around $1,500.

Here is what I am considering right now-
  • Azden FMX-42a Mixer
  • Two RodeLink Wireless Filmmaker Kits for lav mics
  • Using my current Rode NTG1 and boom
  • 10 pin hirose breakway cable
  • Portabrace mixer case
  • Headphones of some kind, not sure which ones

Anyway, please share your thoughts. Any wisdom would be appreciated.
Skip the Azden and take a look at the Zoom F8 or Sound Devices Mix Pre-D. The Azden is a dinosaur compared to a modern mixer/recorder that you can get for just a few hundred more. IMO the Zoom F8 sounds 90% as good as the sub $1500 Sound Devices mixers and it *records*. Don't get me wrong, I love SD, but we're trying to keep you in budget and give you best bang for buck. Only real downside is the smaller knobs, but heck you could bluetooth into an iPad and have full on faders.

Here's the breakdown that goes over budget, but would be a better long term solution:

$1000 Zoom F8
$800 RODELink QTY 2 +VXLR
$280 Remote Audio ENG Breakaway cable
$232 K-Tek Stingray Audio Mixer/recorder bag
$100 Sony 7506 headphones
-------
$2412

I recently recorded a sample of the RODE NTG-2 going through the Zoom F8. If you'd like to take a listen it would give you an idea as to how it sounds with your RODE NTG-1 (same capsule) and the video goes over the features/benefits.


Also here's what the F8 looks like in the Stingray bag. There is enough room for the 2 RODELink receivers and even a BDS with NP1 or Anton Bauer with D-Tap should you decide to go that route.
Attached Thumbnails
Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?-zoom-f8-ktek-stringray.jpg  
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Old March 15th, 2016, 08:27 PM   #12
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

I am with Guy . . .

Zoom F8 plus accessories.

Sure, it's not $1,500 but lease the items in the kit and you will have good value and never notice the extra $900
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Old March 16th, 2016, 04:16 AM   #13
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Whats the F8 like as a mixer?

90% of my work is broadcast and the need for a mixer far to weighs the need for a recorder.

Will you ever need to feed 2 cameras with the output of a mixer...Do you have enough outputs?
Will you ever need to feed a live link or Satellite SNG unit, is the output level of the F8 high enough?
Is there any 'audio return' availability on the F8 to monitor the output from a camera?

You need to work out what you need, 'a mixer' or 'a recorder' or 'both' and that will ultimately be determined by your / your clients work flow.
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Old March 16th, 2016, 01:37 PM   #14
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian P. Reynolds View Post
Whats the F8 like as a mixer?

90% of my work is broadcast and the need for a mixer far to weighs the need for a recorder.

Will you ever need to feed 2 cameras with the output of a mixer...Do you have enough outputs?
Will you ever need to feed a live link or Satellite SNG unit, is the output level of the F8 high enough?
Is there any 'audio return' availability on the F8 to monitor the output from a camera?

You need to work out what you need, 'a mixer' or 'a recorder' or 'both' and that will ultimately be determined by your / your clients work flow.
While the Zoom F8 looks like a great piece of equipment, $2,400 is a bit more than I wanted to spend right now. At this point I am heavily leaning to the ENG-44a. I found some video reviews of the mixer, and comparing it to the Azden, it sounds noticeably better.

Having a mixer/recorder isn't something that I need right now. For half my gigs it is a requirement that I had over the raw footage to the producer with sound recorded through the camera. The other half is stuff I am editing, so I can go either way. If I absolutely need to record audio outside of the camera, I do have my Tascam DR40 which I imagine I could still feed from the ENG-44a mixer.
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Old March 16th, 2016, 02:03 PM   #15
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Re: Trying to put together a general purpose audio kit - advice?

"Whats the F8 like as a mixer?"
- The F8 does not make a very good mixer for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the front input faders only control the pre amp/record volume. It does have an internal software mixer, but inherently they are not much good for mixing 'on-the-fly', and I don't think a Bluetooth device allows post-record mixing either (according to the product specialist at Zoom NA, a future firmware update may allow the front faders to be assigned to post record mix).
Secondly, the output buses are -10dB, so that would be an issue feeding +4dB devices downstream. The TC section also has some quirks that need to be addressed (TC changes when powered down). Otherwise it sounded decent, the display was nice and was intuitive in my half-day encounter with one.

Last edited by Rick Reineke; March 16th, 2016 at 03:37 PM.
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