Bogdan

Travelling kit for ambient recording (silent source)

111 posts in this topic

Heyday world!

I would like to address the Sound Devices users and Zoom F4/Zoom F8 users especially.

I need a new recorder...and possibly a good mic or a matched pair. I thought of a Zoom F4, but also considering a SD recorder/mixer.

I'm about to embark on a loooong journey (years, possibly forever), in a van, all by myself, to capture and explore the beauty of our planet.  (I will start in Europe and slowly drive to Asia). I will actively look for the most quiet/remote places, far from cities or traffic. I will record sound and picture (one man band for now) and create atmospheric observational documentaries... with personality :P Sound will be essential. Most likely I'll add my voice-over here and there. I will also interview interesting people along the way.

I have the budget to sustain myself for about a year. I intend to sustain my journeys from this activity after this time...Living the dream:))

I will focus mostly on recording clear, isolated natural sounds (especially from the low end category) to complement my videos. I imagine distant sounds, or even low-input micro sounds. The more bassy and rhythmical the sound, the better :)). That's something I need to discover... But of course, I would also want to record crickets and frogs in the night or water drips in a big cave... I also compose soundtrack music and would love to create synth instruments using these sounds.

I have good Logic/Pro Tools/FCPX knowledge for post.

Audio equipment >>

What I have already (not much...):

-----------------------------------

1 Rode NTG3 set, bling blips and all :P

1 Sennheiser G2 lavalier set

1 USB battery pack.

-----------------------------------

I didn't include my previous recorder as it's useless (noisy) for what I want to do).

My fixed budget for a recorder and possibly a new mic is around $1900 (£1600)...yes I know. 

Initially I wanted to get an used SD 7XX and 2X Line Audio CM3  and forget about it.

But then Zoom F4 came to my attention... It's not SD quality of course, but because I don't have a dedicated low noise (high sens) mic for silent sources (MKH 30 40 50 or maybe a 8040), getting the SD recorder alone won't help me much. Besides, I'd love an audio interface when I record my voice. SD MixPre 2 / UsbPre 2 can offer this, but their preamps are a tiny bit noisier than a 7XX anyway, plus I'd need a high DR recorder on top of that.

What would you do if you were in my shoes?

At the moment, my plan is to get the F4 + a decent low noise, outdoors mic (or pair) for silent sources (under 16dbA) (aprox $1000).

I've been intensely browsing the net for samples to hear the F4 + NTG3 cranked up to about 60db (75db would most likely be useless) compared to SD + NTG3 at its acceptable noise limit to hear what I'd miss.  Or...samples of F4/SD with a stereo mic (up to $1k) at its maximal level of acceptable noise. There is no such thing on the internet, so it's difficult to take a decision. If I can't get acceptable results with Zoom F4, then I'll get the SD recorder and use the NTG3 (13DbA self noise) and CM3 (16DbA, lower sens) at their max capacity . I also considered taking a NT1 or NT2 instead .... all covered up in fluff to reduce the unwanted brightness).  If you have such samples, or can make some please share! Silent environments with 1-2 main sound sources.

From your experience with Z4/Z8 so far, will I be able to achieve what I have in mind with it? Will I be able to record silent sources at a level that would help me fund my future journeys and possibly upgrade to more pro equipment?

What mic would you recommend in this case?

 

Thanks!

 

 

 

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personally i would rather spend my money on microphones than on the recorder. If you want to get good ambiance recordings find a good mic with very low self noise.

I would not use the NTG3 for anything else than outdoor interviews. For ambiance better get a stereo mic or even better a stereo matched pair. 

For simplicity the audio technica BP4025 comes to mind. The nice thing is you can use it inside your blimp and have a nice stereo image with wind protection. For interviews and dialogue you can use your G2 and NTG3. A used SD device or a zoom f4 should do the job nicely. 

Sounds like an amazing project. 

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11 minutes ago, AnuarYahya said:

personally i would rather spend my money on microphones than on the recorder. If you want to get good ambiance recordings find a good mic with very low self noise.

I would not use the NTG3 for anything else than outdoor interviews. For ambiance better get a stereo mic or even better a stereo matched pair. 

For simplicity the audio technica BP4025 comes to mind. The nice thing is you can use it inside your blimp and have a nice stereo image with wind protection. For interviews and dialogue you can use your G2 and NTG3. A used SD device or a zoom f4 should do the job nicely. 

Sounds like an amazing project. 

Thanks for your  input! Interesting observation about NTG3. I imagined NTG3 would work great if I needed directionality for  a mono sound source which is not very close. For the sake of example, let's imagine I want to record a frog a couple of feet away. If I wanted to isolate the sound of the frog (from the rich ambience around it), the BP4025 would not be as helpful. A stereo frog makes no sense :))  If I wanted to record the whole space around the frog, then yes, it makes sense.

Interview with a frog haha.

But BP4025 seems like an awesome stereo mic and seems responsive to the lower end!! Great suggestion, thanks! I definitely need stereo...

 

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I think you should try to increase your budget and buy better gear. This seems like a lifetime project, and you don't want to be disappointed by bad gear. Look at a used 788 or a Sonosax recorder, and get a very good stereo pair. A pair of cardioids or omnis from the likes of Schoeps or DPA are much better for ambience recordings. Or consider a pair of neutral large diaphragm condenser mics. They are quiet and can be very nice sounding. Have your NTG3 nearby for interviews and for picking out sounds. Also consider surround sound.

Yes, you said you want to upgrade after a year, but what about that stuff you recorded in your first year? Who's going to pay for it if the quality is anything but stellar?

 

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If you only need two tracks, there's more options. A SD MixPre with a lower cost 2 track recorder.

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Did you know:

TASCAM DR-100mkIII (Stereo recorder) S/N ratio of 109dB, EIN -114dBu

TASCAM DR-44WL 4 channel recorder (2 built in, 2 XLR).    If you use the WiFi connection to your phone, the control app captures your GPS coordinates  and puts it into the WAV file's BEXT chunk.   Seems like you'd need to keep track of where each recording was made.

Both have TimeOfDay timestamps, accurate to a few seconds which is all you'd need to get them in the ballpark for video editing later.

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I'd definitely want to buy something that won't break, and a 744 has already proven itself. It also has two top notch mic pres and teo additional line-ins for your lavs. I think that plus a good stereo mic or pair is going to give you ehat you want. Yout rode and g2 will be ok for your interviews, but not the right tool for your ambiance recordings. 

 

 As a side note: you may want to consider recording not just serene silent nature, but also comment on mans encroaching presence everywhere, since there are very few places left without man made sounds. Might make good social commentary. 

 

Just a thought :)

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For this kind of a project I would 100% bring some kind of a MS setup. It will give you the option of stereo but also gives you a very clean mono track. Easier setup than AB omnis.

But how distant is "distant sounds"? As far as I know, at some point your only options are a parabolic (with the associated phase and frequency issues) or a binaural recording like Jecklin disk and some Earthworks omnis. Maybe someone else has more experience with pure nature recordings and would care to chip in on the topic.

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9 hours ago, Constantin said:

I think you should try to increase your budget and buy better gear. This seems like a lifetime project, and you don't want to be disappointed by bad gear. Look at a used 788 or a Sonosax recorder, and get a very good stereo pair. A pair of cardioids or omnis from the likes of Schoeps or DPA are much better for ambience recordings. Or consider a pair of neutral large diaphragm condenser mics. They are quiet and can be very nice sounding. Have your NTG3 nearby for interviews and for picking out sounds. Also consider surround sound.

Yes, you said you want to upgrade after a year, but what about that stuff you recorded in your first year? Who's going to pay for it if the quality is anything but stellar?

 

Cheers Constantin! A valid suggestion.

If I buy all this stuff I may as well buy a gun, a baseball bat or heck, just bring a bodyguard along with me :). Especially in Asia....Not that Europe is any safer lol.  Just a joke, but still... I don't want to be all stressed out about my expensive gear every time I encounter strange people. I'd prefer becoming comfortable in unknown dark places first...

You are basically suggesting I should jump and have a leap of faith in brands rather than my own ears. In my experience, brands are not the answer to quality. Our own senses are much closer to that. If we believe gear is more important than our talent to use it efficiently, we're as good as rabbits:).  

At this point all I would like (I'm sure I'm not the only one) are samples of Zoom F4 vs SD (or Sonosax as you suggest) at their close to max levels with any decent outdoors mic. I tried testing them in a store here in Uk, but they said they don't offer this possibility. Hygiene reasons lol.

I have a feeling some people don't want the truth to come to the surface. There is 'deep silence' when people ask for a Zoom F4 vs SD demo cranked up. Apart from a lightweight comparison on youtube, I've only heard a german guy (I think on this forum) recording a clock, a train, traffic and voice with both Zoom F and SD. There  was a difference indeed, but I'm sure a good chunk of people can tell which one is which.  They can be the ones who will be interested in my not so 'stellar' recordings :P I've actually seen many users praising recordings of people using H4n... They didn't sound as good to me, but I believe these days phone quality rules unfortunately :(  Not that F4 or BP4025 is phone quality...

 

10 hours ago, Rick Reineke said:

If you only need two tracks, there's more options. A SD MixPre with a lower cost 2 track recorder.

From my experience... A good preamp with a cheap recorder attached means a cheap recording. I've also read a good thread on this forum talking about a good and cheap "bit bucket" for a SD mixer. There doesn't seem to be one. The 'line-in' spec of the recorder and the recording  capacity will govern the final recording. Correct me if I'm wrong. Maybe offer samples :P.  I've only seen a guy using MixPre 2 with Sony D50. But that's not cheap recorder. Better get the F4...

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10 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

Lotsa 744s around these days....

Of course...I considered that, as I said. Everybody praises SD no doubt. I just hope one day someone will have the courage to test Zoom F4 and SD in tough situations and compare them, especially in terms of noise, with volumes cranked up.

I personally don't care about digital limiters (SD 788T and 644 has them as well, if I remember correctly), plastic knobs, cheap display or if it brakes if it falls down. Not for now at least...I'm not going to record the sound on Everest or middle of Sahara yet...

SD can brake too, especially used ones... I don't expect to drop it anyway. The actual recording quality is what interests me and no words or numbers can convince me of it but an actual comparison in a difficult situation. That's what I am asking...

I actually laughed when I saw Zoom F4's marketing adds and specs. It's ridiculous and most likely fake. Just as there is no 24 bit recording...SD uses this marketing tool as well. On paper Zoom F4 appears to be better than SD :))

Zoom F4

Frequency characteristics:

10 Hz – 80 kHz +0.5 dB/−1.5 dB
(
192 kHz sampling rate)

A/D dynamic range:

120 dB typ (−60 dBFS input, A-weighted)

SD 702T

A/D Dynamic Range
  • 114 dB, A-weighted bandwidth 
  • 110 dB, 20 Hz – 22 kHz bandwidth
Frequency Res. Mic or Line
  • 10 Hz–40 kHz, +0.1, -0.5 (gain controls centered), Fs 96 kHz

They say 'Frequency characteristics' haha. How vague is that...  That's why I don't want to trust numbers or words....Sound speaks for itself. 

People who have used SD for a lifetime can't trust a cheap digital...I understand. But can you prove it? 

Zoom F4/F8 are relatively new on the market and nobody managed to prove it to be unprofessional in terms of sound quality yet.

6 hours ago, JonG said:

I'd definitely want to buy something that won't break, and a 744 has already proven itself. It also has two top notch mic pres and teo additional line-ins for your lavs. I think that plus a good stereo mic or pair is going to give you ehat you want. Yout rode and g2 will be ok for your interviews, but not the right tool for your ambiance recordings. 

 

 As a side note: you may want to consider recording not just serene silent nature, but also comment on mans encroaching presence everywhere, since there are very few places left without man made sounds. Might make good social commentary. 

 

Just a thought :)

Great suggestion about man's presence. I have this suspicion...I will have a hard time finding a place noise free.

As for "something that won't break" we still don't know if F4 will brake or not. 744 has no audio interface and less tracks.

If it brakes...it brakes.

 

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6 hours ago, jhharvest said:

For this kind of a project I would 100% bring some kind of a MS setup. It will give you the option of stereo but also gives you a very clean mono track. Easier setup than AB omnis.

But how distant is "distant sounds"? As far as I know, at some point your only options are a parabolic (with the associated phase and frequency issues) or a binaural recording like Jecklin disk and some Earthworks omnis. Maybe someone else has more experience with pure nature recordings and would care to chip in on the topic.

Any suggestions on what mics, from experience preferably?

By distant I mean...the sound of wolves and other creatures howling, or the rumblings of a volcano (Stromboli in Italy). Or low input echoes in a forest or valley in a very silent environment (night time).

I've constructed a parabolic myself at some point, just to save a little for my trip. I think I'll use that. I find Telinga equipment pretentious with unjustified expensiveness. I've heard samples comparing the Primo Em172 capsule with Telinga mics in the same configuration...and the difference was minimal...

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F4 good enough for wild, atmos, SFX etc. It's not like you'll have AD next to you saying they "wont go again" and you can buy 2 new 1s for the price of 1 s/h 7 series. Need quiet mics for ambience - Sennheiser MKH series, MKH40 or 50 would be my choice (as I like the switches) and good wind protection. I would also find something I can use discreetly. Eg a spaced pair or binaural with DPA4060 or OKM Soundman binaurals (which can be used as a spaced pair). Might be worth including a decent handheld to give you something you can pocket as well as the F4 (in the bag). You'll get some redundancy and if you go with T. Duffy's recommendation of a DR-44WL you get geo-tagging and maybe a quick way to upload to social media etc. Whole thing sounds like fun, if/when you make it to the steppes of Hackney PM if you want a beer.

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I think John Glenn had the wittiest take on the space program:

I guess the question I'm asked the most often is: "When you were sitting in that capsule listening to the count-down, how did you feel?" Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts -- all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract."

Of course, all those rocket components had to comply with an extensive set of military specifications - at least, I assume that's the case.

Building equipment to  price point yields some obvious advantages. The products are not usually innovative; rather they take advantage of innovations pioneered by others. But they are often able to offer a feature-rich device that capitalizes on tested designs and components mass produced for slightly different purposes. I think the Zoom recorders clearly fit this pattern. They use components made (probably) for portable radios, cell phones and the like and available inexpensively because they are produced in staggering quantity. This sort of re-purposing can yield a recorder that functions well and works reliably.

The purpose-built device is always at a disadvantage when compared with mass produced competitors. Products from the top-tier builders use the best components available, chips that have stable operation over a wide temperature range or offer very long "cycles to failure" expectations. This is a hidden advantage that may not be apparent when comparing products on a showroom counter. And, the world being an uncertain place, there is no absolute guarantee that the advantage will work to your benefit in the field. Sometimes the premium IC will fail prematurely and the cheapo will run forever. But the odds are with the better stuff. 

Also, top-quality gear will often preform better at the ragged edges of performance specs. The best A-D converters may distort a bit less when overloaded than the low-cost alternatives. It's a distinction that is apparent only in extremes;  95% of the time the cheaper components seem to be a performance match.

These distinctions are the reason professionals are leary of using products like Zoom recorders in critical applications although they may be entirely suitable when used as back-up gear.

Now, for your peripatetic project, I would make a completely out of left field suggestion-

I suggest you consider using a Nagra Mezzo. The little Mezzo, made in China but to Nagra specs, is really a product for reporters. 

http://www.nagraaudio.com/nagra-mezzo/

It will give you 24-bit recording in a device you can hold in your hand and slip into a breast pocket. The recordings are outstanding (assuming, as always, that you can get close enough to the sound source). It runs on 2 AA batteries. The built-in microphones are quite good - not Schoeps but certainly fine for anthropological applications. I've heard a recording of the organ at the Los Angeles Cathedral that is really outstanding. It costs $400, a lot if you compare it with the $100 Zoom competitor but a minor expense when you look at it as an all-in solution. It does offer manual recording as well as automatic level control and it has a built-in speaker so you can check your recordings.

Or, if you were to decide to go with a larger package, say, a SD 744 + mixer, the little Mezzo could still be a useful addition for the circumstances where a lower profile was desirable and it could be the "bit-bucket" back-up recorder.

David

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6 hours ago, Bogdan said:

Any suggestions on what mics, from experience preferably?

As I said, I haven't done nature recordings which is why I hoped someone with more experience would chip in. I've used the Sennheiser 30/40 MS setup (but for music recordings), and Earthworks omnis on choirs in AB. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either, when paired with good pre-amps. I've also used AKG 414 pairs for MS (music, again) but I don't think it's useful for this application.

The other thought I had is, if you want to compare F4 and some Sound Devices recorder, why not just hire both for a day and a matched pair of some mics? That way you should have the opportunity to compare apples to apples, identical recordings et al. It sounds like you've got a fairly good grasp on what you want anyway, might give you that final confirmation to your ideas?

 

2 hours ago, daniel said:

Whole thing sounds like fun, if/when you make it to the steppes of Hackney PM if you want a beer.

What, so he gets mugged even before he sets foot outside UK? ;)

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22 hours ago, Bogdan said:

Cheers Constantin! A valid suggestion.

If I buy all this stuff I may as well buy a gun, a baseball bat or heck, just bring a bodyguard along with me :). Especially in Asia....Not that Europe is any safer lol.  Just a joke, but still... I don't want to be all stressed out about my expensive gear every time I encounter strange people. I'd prefer becoming comfortable in unknown dark places first...

Well, if you are worried about security, don't go. It doesn't matter if you'll have a F4 or a 788T, they'll take that off you. Your average robber won't be able to distinguish them anyway. Just make sure everything's insured. 

 

22 hours ago, Bogdan said:

You are basically suggesting I should jump and have a leap of faith in brands rather than my own ears. 

Where did I ever suggest that? I named two brands which I happen to like and which I believe will serve your purpose well. There are many other brands, feel free to try them all out. 

 

 

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I did a lot of the sort of recording you propose to do, with far less hifi gear.  You are overthinking this, and possibly getting distracted from much more real-world concerns regarding your trip.  Will a new F4 work for you?  Probably, if you get lucky with a good machine--as with any new machine it's more or less untried.  Something like a used 744 (properly serviced) or even a used F4 that has been in use for some time has already proved itself-it seems like most issues with digital recorders happen right at the start of use.  Non-scientific non-blind comparison testing of audio gear has nothing to do with "courage", it has to do with confirming the biases you had already.   In all but the quietest recording situations the noise floor of any modern pro recorder will be the least of your problems.

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You seem to have a lot of criteria, but also seem to have made up your mind and want us to support your decision. 

My opinion is that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

Sure, the Zoom may be fine, but as David pointed out the 744T has proven itself for years as a rugged and premium product. The Zoom may also prove to be that. Perhaps you'll be the tester. But if I'm taking a year in the wilderness and spending my life's savings to produce a product that is frankly not unique, I'd want insure it was of the highest quality. Your audience may not be able to tell the difference, but the person you want to pay you to carry on might. 

I'd think a 744T with a quality MS rig would be a minimum for this sort of adventure. If you don't have the money for it, save up a bit longer. Seems risky to spend a year of your life with lower quality untested gear.

I love David's idea of the little Nagra for discrete recording in sensitive locations, in addition to your main rig. 

In terms of security, Constantin is also correct. All this gear will look the same to a thief. 

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As JH (and probably others) suggest, I like the idea of hiring/renting a couple different recorders and mics to see what works best for you. Partly so you can compare audio quality in something like the real world, and also so you can get a sense of what kit you find easy to operate when emulating how you might be working (and when you're rushed). 

Me, I'd go the tried-and-true route of a recorder from SD, Zax, or someone. In fact, just a few months ago I bought another used 744T rather than a Zoom F4 or F8; but that's just me and my workflow. Maybe if you go F4, you could buy two machines, shake down both before you head out (for reasons Phil states above), then have a spare with you if one gets dunked in water, stolen, or whatever. Or at least bring a small Tascam or similar recorder for a backup...

Depending on what you'll be doing, maybe a pair of Line Audio or similar mics for some ORTF stuff would be fun, as would a M/S setup that'll give you some flexibility...

Good discussion and suggestions here so far. Now try out a bunch of alternatives and see what combination lets you actually get tracks at quality you find at least acceptable.  Have fun! Sounds like a great adventure... not the testing; the actual trip :-)

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Great plan Bogdan! You're gonna learn so much on this trip, maybe have some gear stolen, but whatever. I would definitely bring along a binaural mic, because it's the simplest way to achieve full immersion and realistic reproduction of ambient sound (as long as you listen to the recordings with headphones). I use a Soundman OKM mic for stuff like that, record it on an Olympus LS-12. A wool hat on top for windy conditions. If you want to record distant sounds with low noise, I would get a 416 or 816 with wind protection and record mono into a SD 702. Maybe record both the shothgun and binaural at the same time, and build your final sound later. All this stuff would leave you enough money on your budget to buy some cans of beans for the trip. Good luck!

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I'd also consider a recorder that is not too power hungry and preferably runs on AA's. Easy to get and to charge in the car.

If recently build a primo mic, for reference purposes. But it's not that noisy and it could be a cheap way of building a binaural mic that you could combine with a small portable recorder to make quick recordings when inspiration strikes.

Most of all, have a good trip!

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Sounds like a really fun trip.  Personally I think your ability to search out and find unique sounds, and how you go about recording them will have a much greater impact on your final product than what recorder you use.  There is no substitute for good mics imo.   You may find your needs evolving throughout the trip, and you can always ship another piece of gear in whenever you are in a city.  I would suggest not spending your efforts trying to nail down the minutia of differences between a zoom and an SD, and spend your time planning your trip and searching out places to go with unique sound scapes and beautiful scenery.  Some of the best places I've ever been took a lot of effort to find and get to, and even if you capture those moments less than perfectly, you will still have a better end result because the experience will be unique.

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Or you could buy a used SQN mixer and pair it with the recorder of your choice.. (Sony M10 etc)
 

 

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22 hours ago, Bogdan said:

Just as there is no 24 bit recording...SD uses this marketing tool as well. 

Would you care to expand on this a little bit, please?

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One man band, sounds like your mostly going to be slinging a camera around.  Separate sound system seems like it will slow you down and in some cases if it's not convenient enough to wield, risks not being used at all in certain instances.  If your using something like a Sony A7 series or new GH4, they both have decent XLR audio options (i own an XLR-K1M and K2M for my A7s and it does a good enough job for my one man band forays).

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