thoughts and decisions for a creative edge

Field Recording

Marantz’ CD Recorder. Old dog. Same good tricks.

Besides the Mackie 1402-VLZ Pro mixer that we occasionally use for quick drum mix in the studio, Marantz’ CDR-630 is probably another studio hardware that’s been with me since the hay day.

The Real Plug & Play
Does Exactly What It Says On Box

image

Unsurprisingly though, it’s still a worthwhile investment today considering it’s now more than 12 years old. (And still running great!) Comes handy in a recording studio for both quick demo mixdown, mastering and duplicating. If you don’t have time to boot your PC or can’t afford for it to hang while recording “on the fly”, simply switch on the CDR-630, put in a CD-R/W audio disk, select your input option and press record. No waiting for a window to open, no egg timer, no colored beach ball – just press a couple of buttons and you’re off!

Works awesome for duplicating CD demo or transferring DAT / MidiDisc audio with the CD Sync function from the built-in optical input with selected digital player. Multiple of these units can be “Daisy Chained” optically if you need to produce large numbers of demos. All in all, a good investment for the amateur recording musician or professional alike.

Now go hunt for one on eBay quick! Best be generous on your bid. There’s still some folks who adore this old tech. Especially after reading this blog. 😉

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Video

For the love of music, let me fix it.

Few years back when I just joined Vimeo, it triggered to me that I also can do my part to assist this growing community of video makers. Whenever I visit the site, 90% of the time I’d be listening to the audio via my studio monitors setup.

If you know my background in music, I was 1st Trumpetist with a concert and marching band for almost 10 years throughout my educational years. That said, I came across the video of a classical concerto of violin and piano by Boris Berezovsky playing Carmen.

It was great until when I suddenly hear digital distortion in its forte fortissimo regions.. Somebody must have set the gain up too hot. It’s unexpected if they didn’t know the composition. What a waste of a recording I thought. But I caught myself listening to it a couple of time.s. Then I told myself. I can fix this. If he has different source of audio captures, I can fix it.

The rest was about commenting and emailing sound capture files with 2MakeMovies… 2 or 3 days of tinkering on ProTools with the given audio assets, automation, level controls and geek tweeks, I fixed the audio like the accident never happened. Listen for yourself..

There are video producers and there are sound engineers. Most of the time, its about preparation and separation. Despite all planned, Murphy’s law often plays his part and then your hardwork is ruined. Not all the time as bad. What I did here was solve a problem in post. It’s just one of the things that I am capable of doing as an audio engineer. Manipulating sounds. An audio guy’s work is NOT only about mixing and recording audio, but in this case also ‘fixing’ bad audio that needs to be salvaged for good use.

If you want to know more about what we do, be sure to visit our website at rastAsia because we care to make you sound good.

Just out of interest, here’s another community project that I was involved with. Basically translating a Dutch poetry and reading my translated version into the original clip it was created for. If you never thought audio engineers cannot speak, then think again.

Hasan
Audio Engineer
rastAsia – Netherlands


Link

Sounds we hear..

Finally found time to experiment the use of head-worn binaural earphone CS-10EM with static directional sound in a visual mix. Its very sensitive and highly susceptible to wind noise thus the fluffy beanie helps well in winter as a windjammer. You should notice how it captures the low rumbles coming from the school at a distance and cars driving by. Quiet pre-amps from the R-26 surprised me again here. Mind you these are connected to the Plug-In mic I/O, not the XLR. The XLR connections are much quieter. CS-10EM picks up a full range of 20Hz-20KHz well but I’d only trust the built-in earphone solely for level monitoring and nothing else. And for that, the big gain knob on the R-26 helped greatly to dial in the right level.

For those who are new to Binaural Audio, the next paragraph is a brief introduction about it. If not just skip to the video to hear it for yourself. WAIT!! Before you get to that, grab yourself a good headphone.

Binaural hearing has been emulated in sound laboratories by using mannequin heads with built-in microphones. Except this time, I’m the living breathing head. 🙂 From these signals, human beings can determine characteristics such as inter-aural time and level differences and—based on the listening experience—information about the spatial origin of the sounds being heard. Are they coming from in front or behind, from the left or right, or above or below? This ability to perceive where a sound originates from is referred to as binaural hearing.

Interesting? Read more about binaural audio.

Also noted, that GoPro WiFi app does not work well in snow somehow. It was -5ÂşC that morning and the range was somehow drastically reduced. My iPhone sees an connect to the GoPro ad hoc WiFi connection but buttons initiation does not relay well even at this rope length. It could be either the iPhone or GoPro. But phone is warm in my pocket while GoPro is close to the freezing floor.

Oh well, only the sound matters here..

Tech specs:

Binaural Mic
Roland CS-10EM

Field Recorder
Roland R-26 which also powers the binaural mics internally.

GoPro Hero2 + Wifi BacPac + Dive Housing

Manfrotto Super Clamp

Velbon Alu Mini Ball Head QHD-51Q


Super Sennheiser September

It’s been a great month of getting new toys in this September. After a quick projection on the work in progress, we’ve acquired a list of mics needed in the studio to get the field job done. And you’ve read it – all of them happen to be from Sennheiser.

Sennheiser EW122p G3

We started our month with the Sennheiser wireless lavaliere EW122p G3 series. The frustration from not being able to mic up an interview clearly due to the fact that that last project was in a crowded space helped us make this decision to pick up a wireless lav. The main difference with the EW122p is that it comes packaged with a cardioid ME4 mic. Some folks reckon it might be a hassle to use a directional mic on a lavalier system, but I want to be able to direct the capsule to the talent in a controlled space. If I know that I will be capturing audio from the talent in the open but not in a sit-down-interview situation, then the ME2 mic (an omni) would do best. We got in the T+R packs along with spare BA 2015 batteries and the optional L2015 Dock Charger that should enable us to transmit continuously.

Sennheiser MKH 416 p48

This one is the industry standard. The go to mic that Hollywood or ADR studios would use to make overdubs. It’s a phantom powered hyper cardioid shotgun mic thats been used for over 2 decades and trusted by many ENG works.

I’ve heard so much about it and in fact never planned to buy this mic. Never thought I’d be able to afford one really.. But I got really lucky and found somebody here in Holland that was selling it at a pretty affordable price after giving up an old hobby of sound collecting.. Pretty strange I thought that he used the MKH416 which is mostly best suited for collecting dialogue for TV. No rules in audio they say..

I tested the mic thoroughly when I was there to collect it. I had my Roland R-26 close to be sure that it is able to power the 416.. This way I’d also be sure that my R-26’s circuitry works fine with the mic. It’s the only way that this mic can be powered. Interestingly the guy selling it had a Fostex FR-2LE CF Field Recorder, so we’re happily comparing gears over microphones and tea.. yes microphones.

One conversation led to another, so I asked I asked since he was into ENG and EFP, what else does he have in his collection. At this point he was reluctant, but he finally said he has this vintage shotgun that he is actually didn’t intend to sell. Didn’t intend to sell?? What does that mean.. What was it he had? A pristine 20+ year old combo still-in-box Sennheiser ME80+ME40 with a working K3U preamp.

The ME80 have been a workhorse for some documentary producers. The newer version of this mic is the ME66 which uses the K6 preamp instead of the K3. Click on picture to see what folks of Gearslutz think about it.

Sennheiser K3U pre with ME80 + ME40 Capsule

Wait. Isn’t that the original electret that’s replaced with the new ME66+K6 module?? Yep. That’s the holy grail… I’ve actually read about these. I didn’t know I’d stumble into one.. while purchasing the MKH 416.. what luck. But was he planning to sell it or not was the better question.

Since it was there, I asked his permission to test both mics (or 3 mics considering that there’s the ME40 cardioid capsule there too). And I loved them both!! Instantly with the ME80 you could tell that its got a long throw of pick up. Not as warm as the MKH416 but its clear, crispier in its higher end peaking at 8KHz thus giving it that brighter response. But if you’ve seen the difference in this mic to the newer ME66, that’s where it gets interesting.

With the ME66 you need to use it in close proximity or the mic is not going to pick up frequencies from 2Khz and above. But that’s not the case with this ME80 which has an even response throughout the 10dB difference. SO which one is better you think? Well depends.. If you need sound rejection from the rest in the crowd, keeping this mic close to the voice will keep it isolated while rejecting the background noise further away from the mic. But for Field Recording, the ME80 will give you a gorgeous response in all registers.

The accompanying data sheet (published in 1987) reports the following specifications:

K3U:
Electrical impedance: approx. 130 ohms

ME80:
Frequency response: 50 – 15 000 Hz
Sensitivity at 1 kHz: 5 mV / Pa +-2.5 dB
S/N ratio according to DIN 45 405 and CCIR 468-2: >67 dB

The most important difference between the K3/ME80 and the K6/ME66 is the much higher sensitivity of the ME66 (50 mV/Pa vs. 5 mV/Pa). Thus, the ME80 would require a quieter preamplifier. The equivalent self-noise level of the K3/ME80 is about 6 dB higher than the K6/ME66. The specified S/N ratio of 67 dB corresponds to an equivalent (CCIR
468-3 weighted) noise level of 27 dB (which would be about 16 dBA)

Why yes, you guessed it. I ended up coming home with a bunch of mics. I have to thank Han for trusting me to take over his precious collections. I’m sure he had more in there but I wouldn’t be ready for Schoeps CMIT 5 U. This is bad enough for now.

I’m looking to see if we should enable customers to rent out this mics.. But if you really do need them while in Holland for your shoots, do drop us a note about it.

Next blog will be about our new upgrade for a friendly mixer for both Audio and Video – Avids MC Control v2, the Artist Series


Bluetooth Speakers

Almost here. Hidden Radio & Bluetooth Speaker

I finally backed on something I liked on kickstarter last Christmas. Since I’m always in search of a good mini speaker(s) to lug around when I travel, I figured there’d be something in there that could improve the way we listen to audio coming from our smartphones apart from being attached to cords of headphones and such. Notice how I said audio and not just music? You see, music this days are primarily still mixed in stereo (and I say so coz music engineers rarely do Mono testing compatibility this days) and if your hardware only supports Mono, chances is that you’re only listening to the Left channel of the audio mix. I sure hope that’s not the case with the product we’re gonna be talking about here..

Hidden Radio & Bluetooth Speaker

I’ve been using Singapore-produced X-Mini Max II where ever I roam; to the beach, the park, in Bali, on the boat or just right in the living room with an iPad to listen to webcasts. But last Christmas, when I saw the design from John and Vitor… I thought it’s about time I try something untethered, and a pretty looking one to boot.

What John van Den Nieuwenhuizen said about their design made me want to try their speaker out.

“Radios and speakers are often large and obtrusive, we created the HiddenRadio + BT Speaker using simple, unassuming, intuitive design so it can be loved in any home.”

This is true.. The thing that never got emphasized though is that this radio is an FM based receiver. So I don’t know if it’d receive all stations when you bring it with you across different hemispheres. In Europe the stations are spaced at 9kHz intervals, and in the US they use 10kHz spacing. Most modern radios won’t let you tune between these spacings. Since there is no AM then no problem. Smartly enough, the unit uses simple 2-button Up/Down Scan function to lock on to any good FM transmission available. You’d have to guess what station you’re listening to as there’s no LCD indicator on the frequency you’re on.Thus the name is true, there is a ‘Hidden Radio’ built into the Bluetooth speaker. Something to add about the FM radio, you’d have to plug in an external FM antennae for better reception. Curious why they didn’t use the knob itself as a brushless antennae.

THE LOUDNESS WAR AND IT LOOKS METALLICA

The Bluetooth Speaker would crank audio up til just over 80dB . Pretty loud claim for something its size. There’s a video comparison on the audio quality compared against well known Jawbone speaker. But seeking deep into HRBS site, there’s no where in tech specs that they mention the speaker’s range for Frequency Response. Proprietary 360° sound diffuser.. that’s all that’s written under Audio Specs.

No buttons, just one giant knob to lift and turn. The higher you lift the cover, the louder it gets. That simple? Not so.. Two things..

ONE..

I’m curious how the mechanism is designed for this to work smoothly. They claim that it should be effortless to lift the lid without having to hold the base. There’s gotta be some sort of gummy rubber placed on the base to create friction from the base to spin as you turn the top cap. And if I’m right, then you’d need a little practise to actually do the twist-to-turn-on-and-raise-up-the-volume functionality. Eitherwise it’d be a grab and turn like what I saw on SlashGear’s video review. And notice how the lid is twitsted clockwise to lift? Its counter intuitive on how we always twist anti-clockwise to open a lid.

TWO..

Its a gimmick I think. If you don’t turn that knob all the way up, the sound is bound to be muffled. Looking at the picture again, you see that the speaker grills sit all around under the knob casing. You don’t adjust the volume of a speaker by blocking the face of the tweeter or cones do you? Even when you lower down the volume, that speaker cone needs to be free and unblocked to continue reproducing the full frequency range of audio that you’re listening to. So I’m curious how they’d overcome that issue based on their design. I believe you just have to keep it wide open to get the full range and adjust audio from the playback device. If this falls true, then there’s a huge design flaw against the aesthetic idea. Well even I fell for it!

With AirPlay enabled on the iOS device and paired via bluetooth, HiddenRadio will now appear as one of your external audio device. Switching speakers is effortless.

Hidden Radio Select

Built-in battery is claimed to give about 15hrs of play time. Which I hope is made easily replaceable when shelf-life is reached. I can’t even remember what their final decision was.. as to whether a wall plug would be delivered with the product or not.

Looking further into the design itself I think all is good except for two critical items..

ONE: They forgot to add in a microphone. Kinda defeat its purpose if you have to run back to the phone to speak and listen back via HRBS. It should work fine for Skype and FaceTime video chats fine as you’d have to be close to your phone for video framing anyhow, thus using the mic on mobile device is inevitable.

TWO. I wish they had a Call Answer or Call Reject button. Think about it. It’s almost a ‘speakerphone’ but you can’t talk into it or stop the phone from ringing when somebody dials in.

WHAT ABOUT QUALITY AUDIO

Alternatively, if you’re looking for quality speakers that offer wireless bluetooth functionality which focuses on sound quality as well as functionality apart from clean looks, checkout Soundmatters’ foxL v2.2 speakers. Claimed as worlds best bluetooth stereo speaker, which comes with a hands-free microphone that enables better speakerphone / conferencing. And with no surprise, foxL also comes with one-touch answer/reject/end-call button. Batteries lasts only about 8 hours it makes sense as you get full fidelity stereo sound. Shame I only learnt about Soundmatters’ foxL after pledging for HRBS! Aarrghh!!!

Shame that I cannot do any audio comparison of Foxl against the HRBS right now. But come the time, you bet that I will do back-to-back referencing on the audio spectrum from HRBS. I sure hope it stands to its competitors even if its not a stereo speaker.

We’re just days away before receiving our Hidden Radio and Bluetooth Speaker here in Holland.. and with the new announcement of iPhone5 yesterday, audio is triumphantly one of the most focussed enhancements in recent comm tech developments. High Fidelity audio is the way forward. Not just about being wireless. Not just about sitting pretty. For now, we wait, see and listen.


RED cam in Indonesian Music Video “Behind The Scars”


Samson Zooms forward with the H2

Compressor / Limiter in the H2

Its been a while, since I last wrote a review blog. But since Zoom made something that I fancied, I thought I’d spend some time on this. The last hardware gear I remember having from them was my very first affordble guitar FX. It was grey and clunky and very plastic. And even sounded like the description down to the audio core. But I loved it. It costed almost nothing and it worked for my teen spirit. In fact I still have it til today. Some issues with the 9V battery cable but those things are notorious to have corrosion issues. This my friends was the late 90s with the Zoom 505. Check it out, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.


Once again today 2007 Zoom has hit my limelight. Much have been mentioned about their H4 handheld field recorder. Its been compared against Marantz PMD660, Boss MicroBR, M-Audio MicroTrack and Edirol R-09. And now enters his little brother the Zoom H2.

There’s way too many incredible reviews on this new little devil and the late release in Netherlands gives me no reason to make any further repeated reports on how incredible the Zoom H2 is in real life. But before I go further into my insight of this new gear, I’d like to get you leveled – to have you understand that you’re paying US$199 / EU199 for a gear that can do so much more than ones that you probably would pay multiple times more. So here’s my verdict on this lil’ baggah…

David Stewart of Sweetwater has this basic review on handheld recorders. Compare them with Zoom H2. And then the price tag.

DATA TRANSFERS from the Zoom H2 is slow with its USB interface. Its not built with Hi Speed USB2.0. But easy solution is just to stick your 8GB SD card (yes it takes SDHC cards!!) into an external card reader. USB2.0 transfer speed is 12Mbps while USB2.0 HiSpeed goes at blistering 480Mbps. Go do the maths. I’m not going to the drawing boards to calculate how the H2 would perform as a USB mic. And seeing that its a stereo mic having to rush a 2 channel data onto its A/D converter is more of a mystery right now. Maybe I’ll do further research on it. But that’s a good quick reason to why we’re limited to record at 44.1/48 KHz and not higher.

But there’s a good thing to this. Almost all the reviews on the H2 didn’t highlight the fact that you don’t need either batteries or A/C Power to use it as a USB Mic or a Card Reader! A $200 card reader that is. As I’m writing this I’ve booted up Garage Band to try out the mic. Well, just to check if I am right about the point I just mentioned earlier… And indeed it does.



It does record 2 channels of audio. You can set it to 2 Mono tracks and record separately when using the H2 as an Audio Interface. But here’s the other sweet thing that you can do now. Since it allows 2 channels at once, you can still switch options on using it as Stereo Pan 90˚, Stereo Wide 120˚ and (voila!) as 2 separate mics on each front. Thus in theory, if you record with the 2CH SURROUND mode, you can pan the source anyway you want. If only it was true 180˚Figure 8 polar pattern condenser, I would love to try doing a MidSide recording with it. But we know its not. So I won’t bother pulling out a cardioid.

Audio Interface? Sure. 2 ins 0 outs. It works great as a stereo mic. In other words with the USB plugged in to your DAW of choise. Its functions as a 2 channel mic. AWESOME.

But there’s MORE… Which USB mic (stereo mind ya) do you know in market that comes built in with Lo-Cut filter, Compressor/Limiter and hey, Tuner! for your instruments. This is all possible with the H2 when its USB-powered. No need for internal batteries. No need for phantom power! Record Level or Gain is adjustable with the REW/FFW buttons as per normal use.

I’m already looking to modify a broken shock mount to adapt the H2 in its web. I think as of today we will hear and see enough blogs and reviews about this little gadget. The fact that you can throw in Markers while recording the .WAV (BWF) is an advancement for Zoom for more professionals considering the H2 for broadcast use. This means as you import your audio into DAWs like ProTools or Logic Studio, you will see the markers on the timeline which makes work handy if any quick edit points is necessary. Albeit the fact that maybe there should have been a remote device to trigger REC, MARK, STOP on the H2 would be da bomb. Is this not implementable with the available USB connection? Any Tech-Hackers reading this?

In summary, here’s what I think about the Zoom H2 :

• Its my iPod with Surround Sound capture capabiity! You can throw in mp3 and wav files into the pre-designated folders when you insert SD cards up to 8GB thus use it as a Flash Audio player. And at the same time be able to record is PRICELESS.

• At the price point that Zoom allows it to be in the market, its literally a steal! This will only lead to more good stuffs I’m sure. Competitors will be forced (maybe) to lower down pricing for their goods in future to meet pricing criteria.

• As for Samson, they gotta work on a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection.

• A matched custom shock mount that would fit standard mic threads would also be great to go in Xmas socks. Not Camera tripod threads please. You built an awesome audio gear sir, you stay in the standards.

• If there’s a quieter pre-amp coming in forthcoming production of a Zoom H1 1-bit recorder (maybe?), I hope we won’t see a shocking price bump on that one!

• USB remote adapter to Trigger REC, MARK, STOP and probably control the Mic Gain would be da bomb. I can really see the 5 way remote button function being used in the field. This will eliminate handling noise of course.

• DC Battery pack adapter if we looking at full 8GB or more with SDHC recordings. Despite the 2GB limit today. 4.5 hours is good. MORE is always better.

• I’m in love with this thing. For $200 bucks!? What! Yes way…

• I’ll say that again. You will have fun with it.

Zoom H2
H2 fits handsomely both in the studio and in the (football) field

So before you flash your card for the Marantz671 or a KORG MR-1, maybe you’d like to give this little kid on the block a try. I sure hope it will fit your purpose and your pocket too. And then have your wife and kids some better toy too with what you’ve just saved! LOL.

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To the design engineers in Samson Technologies, Thank You! Nevermind the bollocks coz its been a while that I smiled and laughed like a kid with my new toy. You’ve definitely brought mobile (surround) recording to another level. And that’s sure a big leap since the 505!!

For more information on the Zoom H2. Just google on it. Eitherwise you can Zoom here.