Voice recorders

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Judy Long
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Voice recorders

Post by Judy Long »

I would appreciate some advice about what to buy in the way of voice recorders.
I have a Sony HDR CX700 and an onboard Rode Videomic.

I was filming from the outside a circle of people talking the other day. There was noise from one direction from outside the room, people were speaking quietly and the recorded sound is a bit variable. I may have been better with a recorder placed in the middle of the circle.

I am shortly to make a film of the work done in a group of churches. This will involve interviews and people talking one-to-one, which I will probably need lapel mics for; also choirs, a voice from a pulpit, which could be echoey, and various other scenarios.

I don't really want to spend too much, but would like to look at both ends of the price range. What do I need? I'm told you can use an iPhone as a recorder?
Which makes of lapel mics, transmitters and receivers, and recorders etc are best? What am I looking for in the way of spec? Which is the most important bit of the kit?

Any advice gratefully received, preferably in layman's language
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TimStannard
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by TimStannard »

Hi Judy,

I'm certainly no expert so please don't take this as any more than what I've discovered works for me (and sometimes doesn't work).

You probably don't need me to tell you that the most important bit isn't the kit at all, but the proximity of the mic to the sound source. A cheap mic inches away from the subjects mouth will sound 1000 times better than an expensive mic several feet away.

Assuming you don't have the luxury of a sound recordist and boom mics this means either lapel mics or hand held mics. The latter is only relevant if you don't mind the mic being obviously on show and if your interviewer/interviewee can be relied upon to use it correctly (ie only speak when the mic is in position). Most shotgun mics aren't really suitable for this unless you have decent pistol grip with shock mounting as they tend to be rather microphonic. Hand held mics are constructed to reduce handling noise, but unless you are planning to do lots of this sort of work, probably not worth your while buying.

However, if you know people in bands, they may have suitable handheld mics you could borrow. The "singers staple" the Shure SM58 can give good results but really needs to be held close to the mouth - possibly too close for a pleasing looking video.

For the pulpit, a shotgun mic on a stand may work well so long as the speaker doesn't move around too much (like I tend to whenever I speak).

This leaves us with tie-clip/lapel/lavalier mics.
Most are designed for speech, as you'd expect, and respond well enough at those frequencies. The difference in price is really down to sensitivity and the amount of background hiss. Like most things there's a law of diminishing returns. I have a little ATR350 now superseded by ATR 3550. It cost me about £17 and is fine. It produces hiss, but this is easily removed with Izotope RX (expensive, but the piece of software I use most in video making aside from my NLE) and I find no trouble getting acceptable results.

I normally pair this with my Zoom H2 digital recorder. Again with digital recorders, one of the key factors in the price is the quality of the pre-amp and a cheap digital recorder will most likely introduce more hiss than an expensive one. But the hiss isn't too bad. It introduces far less hiss than the amp in my arguably much more professional Canon XF100. Worth checking this our if you plan to run a lav directly into your camera - you may find a separate recorder gives better results.

If I was buying a digital recorder specifically for a lav and I wanted it cheap, I'd probably get A Zoom H1 (wasn't available when I bought my H2). Many people will argue that the Tascam recorders have better pre-amp quality at this price range. As you go upmarket the Marantz PMDM 660 (I think?) is highly rated.

For your two-person scenario, if your digital recorder has a stereo 3.5mm mic input jack, you could buy an adaptor to allow two mics to plug in - one on each channel. This has the advantage of only requiring one recorder and also means you will have only one track to sync with the camera's audio.

The biggest problem with a lapel mic attached to a digital recorder, at least if it's being "worn" by a distant subject is you have no means of monitoring it. Imagine you've wired up the Mayor for his outgoing speech to the Council, tested it and checked for levels, then whilst he makes his way to the Council Chamber the jack plug falls out of the unit, tucked away in his pocket. You have no idea this has happened until after the event. This happened to me two weeks ago. Yes, in retrospect I should have used rubber bands/tape whatever to secure the jack, but then again I needed to do a quick changeover from him to the incoming Mayor. Fortunately I had another recorder with inbuilt mics immediately in front of where he was speaking (and - for worst case scenario, another digital recorder in the middle of the chamber). It's all about redundancy!

Wireless means you can receive the signal where you are which means you can monitor it - either through your camera or your digital recorder (remember - this may have better pre-amps than your camera). However it's expensive and most serious amateurs wouldn't go for anything less than the Senheisser G3 system (>£400) and that's only giving you one mic.
UPDATE: I forgot the recently release Rode system which has had good reviewes, and now this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0SOhCrnB8U. I have no personal knowledge of either though ... but must be worth investigating.



However you go about it, there are many potential points of failure that you cannot see/monitor:

battery in mic (if powered),
connection from mic to recorder
no monitoring (actual sound much higher or lower than when setting levels)
mic becoming unclipped/falling off
battery in digital recorder
battery in transmitter
battery in receiver

For your "round table" discussion, the problem is the proximity, but I'd attempt it with a digital recorder with built in Mics. Try to isolate the recorder from the table by putting it on a suspended stand or bean bag, as it may well pick up the slightest touch.

The choir may well also be adequately served by a digital recorder and inbuilt mics. Incidentally, here you are NOT trying to get the mic extremely close to the source otherwise you will "feature" some singers over others! I'm looking for an opportunity to record such an event with my recently acquired Zoom H5 using internal mics in conjunction with a pair of shotguns. this would give me four tracks and either a choice of mics or the opportunity to mix all four. I bought this to record a school production where all the sound was through a PA. I used the XLR connectors for the audio direct from the sound desk, but this was too clean on its own and I'd take the precaution of recording auditorium sound through the built in mics as well so I could add some ambience back in.

Hope this helps - if only for others to point out where I'm wrong :)
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it
Ken Baxter
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by Ken Baxter »

Hi Judy,
My knowledge of audio recorders is now too out of date to be able to offer advice on this element of the equation, but having specialized in the video recording of choirs, concerts and amdram antics over the years, I have had fair experience of the choice of mics for these activities, and I notice Tim did not mention PZM (Pressure Zone Microphones).

I’m not going to attempt to extol all their virtues here; there are way too many to list. Sufficient to say that I have found this type of mic absolutely perfect for the work I did. Typical case, wedding reception speeches; place a pair on the top table, not only are the mics almost invisible if appropriately placed, but pick up speech from any part of the table and a nice amount of audience reaction as well. Similarly, a pair blue-tacked (one each side) to the proscenium arch at an amdram production will pick up beautifully all stage speech and sound, plus a modicum of audience laughter, applause, etc. (In any typical cop shop drama on TV, in the interview room scenes you will probably see a pair of these mics on the wall!)

Tim states that the most important factor in sound recording is the proximity of the mic to the sound source. For most mics this is true, but it’s not the most important with PZMs, where good positioning is the key factor.

You will have guessed that I am an avid fan of these mics, not least because of their versatility (can’t directly replace a lapel mic, I know, but in many cases can be sensibly placed near to a speaker and achieve equal, or near equal results)

Google “PZM Microphones” and you will get more descriptions, suppliers, ‘how tos’ etc than you can shake a stick at, and I suggest these babies are well worth looking into for your purposes.

Best wishes

Ken
"Even though only an amateur, always aspire to professional standards"
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TimStannard
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by TimStannard »

Thanks Ken. I know of PZMs and understand the principle but have had no experience. A couple of questions if I may hijack Judy's thread temporarily -
1. If you place them on a table at a wedding wouldn't the noise of anything touching the table (cutlery, wine glasses being picked up, put down) not only be audible, but louder than the speakers you are trying to record.
2. Wouldn't using blutac create a space between the wall and the plate thus negating the principle of PZMs?

Really interested in your reponses as at these prices I may well buy a couple to experiment with - I frequently film school productions, many of which have no sound reinforcement.
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it
Ken Baxter
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by Ken Baxter »

Hi Tim
Your point 1. Yes, in practice, PZMs placed on the table can pick up some low level ambient noise, but no more than is ‘natural’ to the ear and certainly no more than any other mic would register (I think the table cloth has some effect here). I have found that the resultant recording is usually better (subjective judgement) than that from a mic on a stand in front of the table, and is most certainly visually more aesthetically acceptable under those circumstance.

Point 2. I know where you’re coming from on this one, perhaps I was somewhat cavalier in stating “bluetack it to the wall”; in practice the plate is held in contact with the surface using a large-ish blob of bluetack over each corner of the plate. In certain places (decorative finishes permitting) it is possible to use gaffer tape instead of tack, and in one or two isolated cases (where the surface has been suitable) I have been able to use heavy duty double sided adhesive tape, but only very rarely.
Generally, the bluetack route has proved to be the most useful as no damage is caused to the wall

In some cases (for choirs and concerts) I have found that PZMs on the walls of the auditorium produce very good recordings (the ‘audience position’ factor), but it is absolutely essential that setup can be done prior to any rehearsal so that positioning can be adjusted if necessary to achieve best results.

Due to my age now, I’m no longer active in the location video recording field, so all comments above come from past acquired experience; systems and methodology have undoubtably changed since my active days, but principles endure!

I do hope your experiments go well, and this route proves useful.
Regards

Ken
The amateur practises to get it right; the professional practices so it’s never wrong.
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TimStannard
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by TimStannard »

Many thanks for all that, Ken. Experience counts for a lot and microphone technology has been stable for a very long time so it is no less relevant now than it was decades ago. I've a feeling my club may have one kicking around in the back of a cupboard so I may be able to experiment without any cost.
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it
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Dave Watterson
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by Dave Watterson »

Can I ask anyone who has experience of using a phone (Apple or other) as a recording device for film sound to contribute?

Judy - a small point: don't ignore the psychology of mics.
A flat plate (PZM) is less daunting than a mic on a stand "pointing at me!"
Lavalier (clip-ons) suggest a businesslike approach because we have all seen them on tv. People always seem to find ways to brush against them now and then, but they do work well and as Tim said they need not be expensive. They are also easy for the speaker to forget and so they talk more naturally.
Judy Long
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by Judy Long »

Thank you all for that.
I shall do some research, and maybe splash some cash
Judy Long
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Joined: Fri May 26, 2017 10:13 pm

Re: Voice recorders

Post by Judy Long »

Thank you very much for those very detailed replies. I shall be doing a bit of research and making some sort of decision. I have discovered that the church has a sound and projection system that I may be able to plug into directly for at least the pulpit sound. I have to go to Birmingham to recce all the locations and I was hoping to be able to experiment with various recording devices on that preparation trip.
Judy Long
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by Judy Long »

Thank you very much for all those detailed replies. I am researching the suggestions made and getting more confused by the minute. I have discovered the church has a sound and projection system that I can plug into directly. I'll carry on looking. Thank you
Peter Copestake
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by Peter Copestake »

Be careful plugging in to the church's sound system not to overload your camera. I found it hard to know whether the output was going to suit the mic or line input to the camera and would always try line first. If no option turn input level of camera down and bring it up gradually until you are getting a sensible level. Thank goodness our club has an expert to deal with htis sort of thing now!

Peter Copestake.
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John Roberts
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Re: Voice recorders

Post by John Roberts »

Good advice, Peter

I would add it's better to under-record the audio than risk clipping the signal if it gets too loud. It's very easy to bring the audio level back up in the editor by normalising and using other techniques, but it's almost impossible to remove the horrid distortion caused by signal overload if the recording level was set too high.

On my GH3 I have the recording level set to manual and always at '1' (the minimum). I've never encountered any issues with noise after bringing up the audio level in the editor, as most recording devices (cameras, sound recorders etc) have such a wide dynamic range and an ultra low noise floor that it's unnecessary to push the recording level to the limit. Similarly on my Tascam DR-05 sound recorder I often have the recording level set to it's minimum when recording live bands and never had an issue with clipping on the recorded audio.

Aim for a low but visible movement on the recording meters and don't use any kind of 'auto gain control' as this will just introduce noise and other unwanted artefacts in any quiet sections when the device tries to bring the audio level up. If your recording device has the option of a 'Limiter' setting (which limits the recording level to ensure it doesn't exceed maximum) then by all means engage it as an extra precaution, but in an ideal world you shouldn't be recording anywhere near maximum level anyway.

Hope this helps :-)

John
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