Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thoughts On Recording Music Instruments At Home

My Home Studio
I was recently asked about how to approach home recording of acoustic guitar. How much does the quality of the gear matter? How much does the space matter?

While all of that is important, your most powerful tool is how well you understand what you hear and how you work with that to get a good recording.

People with a lot of critical listening experience will do better with gear that's not so good. You can have the bridge of the Starship Enterprise at your finger tips, but it you don't know where the SUCK BUTTON is, your recordings will suck.
Sony MDR7506

For me, the process normally starts with a good set of headphones that you can come to terms with. I like Sony MDR 7506. Are they flat? No, they are a little bright and the low end is a little big, but I understand them. They make sense in my head. 

I move mics and players around accordingly until I hear what I want to hear. Do a rehearsal of sorts until I'm happy. Provide a good headphone feed for the players and singers and then hit the red button. When I listen to playback, yes, that's what I wanted to hear!

Recording Blumlein with Mike, Dave and Van 
Jazz recording engineers used to make great recordings with the group all playing together in a relatively small space. Yes, there was bleed, but it didn't matter. That's because they understood the sacred geometrical relationship of multiple mics (mostly figure of eight ribbons) placed properly among the players.

Rudy Van Gelder from Hackensack, NJ was one of these guys. He died last year.

Reading about him taught me a lot. I had the opportunity to do some Blumlein recording with a pair of AT4080 ribbon mics a few years back. In one session, with Mike White (guitar & vocals), Dave Mattheiss (guitar) and Van Ertel (pedal steel). I had a pedal steel speaker cabinet, two acoustic guitars and a vocalist all going at the same time to two tracks – a stereo master if you will.

As you can see from the picture, I positioned the players, paying particular attention first to their guitars. Mike, the singer/player was a right hander, so the body of his guitar was a bit to the right. I put Dave, the other guitar player to the left to balance that – so their guitars were physically and electronically "panned" prior to recording. I had to do some experimentation with the right height for the pair of mics to get the voice to guitar balance level right. I also had to deal with relative loudness and had each player move in or out a half step till I got that balance right.

I put Van's Pedal Steel speaker at 180 degrees, directly opposite to Mike's vocal, so it was centered, but on the back side of the mics. I then moved it closer or farther until I got the right level. I recorded each mic to a separate track. Afterwards, I panned each track fully and added some 10k shelf and a little reverb. You can hear the clacking of the pedal steel pedals in the first few moments of the recording. Here.

Additional thoughts:

Square rooms are bad. I think there's data to prove that rooms with a 3:4:5 ratio also suck, but I can't find it right now.

Where you sit in any room makes a difference.

Windows normally are bad unless you are clever with mic placement. And even then noise from the outside can get though most single pane. Even then, enough glass can make otherwise well thought out equipment and placement a futile effort.

Your space should have the right balance of absorptive and diffusive surfaces. I'm not in your space, so I can't really tell you what to do about that here, but simple stuff like where you put a couch, what art and book cases are on the walls and what's on the ceiling all combine to make up the sound of yor space.

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Technique, Inc. © Copyright 2017 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 16, 2017

AES - NYC 2017 Part 2

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
By thursday, day two of the AES show, crowds were lining up at the on site Starbucks to prepare for another assault on the AES Exhibit Hall at the Javitz Center.

As I mentioned in the first of this series, NAB - NYC was in the space adjacent to the AES Exhibit Floor. Plenty to see. Next October, AES will be back at the Javitz, and will not be on the West Coast until the January NAMM show.

This year I was pleased to find a greater number of "so new we haven't even priced it yet" gear. The Triad-Orbit Starbird mic stand was one. This is a reversioning of the original George Starbird stand from the 1960s. Updated parts, new well-implemented ideas, bringing this stand into this millennium, not only for microphones but also for lights and cameras.

As demonstrated in the video below, this stand is designed with a pneumatic lift, so when you have heavier mics or other gear at the end of the boom, you just twist the clutch open on the mast and it slowly rises as a result of pneumatic pressure. Very useful and very cool.

Next is an accessory piece from Cloud Microphones. I reviewed and had some helpful design comments with their JRS34 a few years ago. Roger has a box that I'd heard about but hadn't had my hands on yet; The Cloud Lifter Zi. The Cloudlifter Zi is a phantom-powered box that incorporates variable impedance control into an active DI for low output balanced mics, guitar players, bass players, keyboard players. The Zi provides up to +25dB of gain for XLR microphones and lo-z sources and up to +15dB for 1/4” instruments and other hi-z sources, via the Neutrik combination dual-input connector and Hi-Z to Lo-Z CineMag instrument transformer. I'll let Roger tell you more about it.

Lectrosonics has been a major player in location sound for many years. Leave it to them to respond vigorously to the changes in technology and the market. One of their new systems is the M2R and M2T wireless in-ear monitor or IFB. Here's Lectro's Karl Winkler to tell you more about it. 

Now for something completely different. Still in Beta testing as of October 2017,  RackFX empowers you to hook up with a studio somewhere across the Internet and send them files to be processed by their equipment, then the files are sent back to you. This includes the idea of using a certain mic and a certain amplifier AND being able to move the mic in front of the amp to get the sound that makes your "happy light" turn on. Watch as David Jones of RackFx.Com walks me though this new concept.

Not for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket, The API Legacy AXS console begins at $200k. It's obviously for "grown up" recording facilities, or kids with way too much money. Listen, though, as Todd Humora walks us through the "High Cotton" of this great console.

From the "Ain't seen nothing quite like that" department, Here's Zaxcom's Glenn Sanders with the Zaxcom ZMT3-HH hard-wired, wireless mic that even has its own recorder. What!? A wireless hand-held mic with an XLR connector for hardwiring? Then, Glenn gives us a tour of what's new with the Zaxcom DEVA 24.  Glenn's mic was feeding a small amp and speaker in his booth and, unfortunately, you can hear some of the cancellation depending on where we were standing. (Sorry)

Zaxcom takes first and second place in the ASNQLT department with the new ZMT recording body mic. (below) So amazingly small, yet so feature packed.

Schoeps' ORTF-3D Outdoor Ambiance set up uses 8 supercardioid studio quality microphones: 4 * CCM 41 + 4 * CCM 41 in a rather amazing enclosure that creates a plug and play solution for capturing 3D ambience. Schoeps' Helmut Wittek gives a great explanation of this new array and demo files can be downloaded here.

Schoeps MiniCMIT
As I wrap up this report I need to mention a few items I saw that you should know about.

First is the Schoeps MiniCMIT miniature shotgun microphone. It runs on 12, 24 or 48 V DC Phantom Power. I haven't heard it yet but hope to soon. At $2K USD, you probably won't see many of them out there, but they may be just the ticket for some discriminating buyers with discriminating ears.

The TASCAM DR-701D is a four track recorder that also has two additional internal mix tracks plus SMPTE Time Code in and out.

It has four XLR/TRS inputs with Phantom Power, dual built-in omni mics, brackets on top and bottom for DSLR mounting. It records to SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards up to 128 GB and can be recorded at resolutions of up to 24-bit, 192kHz. 

In addition to the four XLR/TRS inputs, a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack input with optional plug-in power is provided for connecting an external stereo mic. DR-701D audio signal can be output to an external camera or recorder from the HDMI OUT or line output all for a ridiculous $449.99 USD!

sE RNR1 Ribbon Microphone
The sE booth was very interesting. This RNR1 ribbon microphone caught my eye. (How could it not!)

It's the first mic Rupert Neve has designed and will be part of the sE Rupert Neve Signature Series. It's a straightforward figure of eight pattern with a high-pass filter. It's touted as having a frequency response approximately 3 times wider than competing ribbon mics, giving it a performance similar to a condenser mic. Again, I did not hear this mic but would very much like to. By comparison, The Audio-Technica AT4080 ribbon microphone that came out several years ago has the sensitivity of an AKG C414 condenser microphone.

Taytrix Stackable Gobos

You don't think of Gobos until your ears tell you that you need them. Stackable Gobos by Taytrix just seemed to make a lot of sense. Every studio should have a few of these around to make your life easier and make your sound tighter. 

Taytrix Stackable Gobos
That's about it for me for AES 2017. As usual, it was a great show and I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new ones and learning once again that there's ALWAYS something new out there.

Please subscribe to my Blog and YouTube channel to keep up with the changes. Thanks for continuing to read me and do let me know if there's something out there you'd like to see reviewed.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

AES - NYC 2017 Part 1

Big Time Building on NYC/s West Side
Autumn in New York City. Great weather for walking the 11 blocks to the Javitz. We stayed at the Stewart Hotel on 7th Avenue which was on the AES short list and enjoyed the Niles restaurant within the hotel.
Stewart Hotel Lobby

Even from our 17th floor room overlooking 7th Avenue, the noise of New York was plainly audible. I had my own ear plugs with me, but noticed that the hotel had provided two pair in the desk drawer. The Stewart Hotel web site gave an "enhanced" impression of what the rooms were like. They were clean and well maintained but a lot smaller than those rooms shown on their web site. 

The Javits Center is perched on the west side of town overlooking the Hudson River. Until 2015, that part of town has been somewhat isolated because there was no subway service. Clearly, if you build it (the mass transit system) they will come. At AES 2015, I reported the opening of the 7 Train stop, a block south of the Javits. As I walked the 7 Train stop and on to the Javits this year, I was taken by the large scale and very tall developments being built. 

The sight reminded me of flying into Las Vegas one year for NAB and seeing the recently completed Luxor Hotel languishing in the middle of nowhere. One year later, it was completely surrounded by other buildings that ran all the way to the ever-expanding Las Vegas metropolis. BOOM!

AES Show Floor
Next year, October 2018, the AES will NOT be in LA or SF. It will be back at the Javits. This breaks a long standing tradition of AES shows bouncing from coast to coast each year. Why? I think the Internet has finally begun taking its toll on trade shows.

NAB Show Floor
This was also the first year for the NYC NAB show at the Javits at exactly the same time as the AES show. The show floors were right next to each other with a connecting concourse. One ticket got you into both show floors. Huddling together for warmth?

Per the shots to the left taken Thursday afternoon, the AES floor was a lot busier than the NAB floor. Did bridge, tunnel and parking fees keep local and regional people away? Hard to say. I heard the Friday attendance figures were much higher. Maybe there was too much work during the week and some took an early weekend on Friday.
AES and NAB join forces

Some folks said the NAMM show is now the big west coast audio show and that pro audio has combined with the more MI (Musical Instrument) market segment that NAMM used to attract. BTW, going forward, AES will fold into NAMM on the west coast. The January 25-28, 2018 NAMM show at the Anaheim Convention Center will include the AES. And the AES will join NAB again in 2018 at the Javitz Center October 17-20.

AES Exhibit Entrance

Sorry for the preamble, but it's all part of the experience for me.  Yes, the AES exhibit hall was buzzing with new circuits, hardware and software. As I entered, the first booth I walked into was Avid's. I'm a Pro Tools user, always looking for something new to help me in my workflow. I saw a lot of plugins dealing with mastering and surround. I'm not so much interested in them at the moment, but something else caught my eye.

Audionamix @ AES
Audionamix. They make a line of software that allow you to change the vocal and music levels in mixed audio. It lets you change the level of melody instruments in a mix. I don't have a need for this technology at the moment but maybe you do. There are six versions of the ADX software; ADX TRAX, ADX TRAX PRO, ADX TRAX SP, ADX TRAX PRO SP, ADX VVC and ADX SVC. Here are their online demos. They sound pretty impressive, but I always wonder how long it took them to find the perfect material to make the demo shine, and how long it took for them to do the work to make the demo sound as good as these do.

Stepping out of the Avid booth, my next destination was the Manley booth where I ran into EveAnna Manley and her new $3,780.00 Manley Silver Reference studio mic. I'll let EveAnna tell you about it. If everything works out, I may be reviewing this one.

My next stop was Mark Fouxman at the Samar booth. Mark makes special ribbon mics and transformers. This year he also came to the show with two new mics and mic isolation gear that aren't even on his web site yet; one for a mic, one for a mic that includes acoustic decoupling of the XLR connector and one called Omni Puck that can be used to isolate mic stands from the floor or as a very nifty drum head absorber. Check out our conversation for the details!

David Bock's booth was not far. I had reached out to him earlier this Fall and he told me about the Bock 67, his newest studio condenser. Again not even on his web site yet!! Here's what he had to say about it.

Anyone who uses professional mics is aware of Lundahl transformers. I was surprised to see Per Lundahl himself at a booth and stopped by to ask him a question about toroidal transformers that I've been researching this year. If you're a designer or manufacturer, check out the Lundahl web site for more information.

One of the things I like best about AES is that you just never know what or who you'll run into. I've managed to encounter Les Paul and his son, George Massenburg and folks I meet online in the many forums in which I participate.

It's not always about main stream pro audio. Paul Ackel of Ampridge was showing an intriguing small shotgun mic that can be matched with a smartphone. There are film festivals for films shot only on cell phones. Here's a very incomplete list

Here's Paul to show you how this little sucker works,

Paul also had a nifty little Blue Tooth clip on omni mic; The Mighty Mic W+. I can see that being useful for many things, including SAG-AFTRA members who sometimes do selfies to audition for film roles. Mics with cords don't work because the cords are cumbersome and sometimes too short. You link to your phone, clip the mic on yourself, start an app and hit the record button. Check it out. I finally got one to play with and found the fidelity of the lav over Blue Tooth wasn't that great for demos, but maybe you could use it in a pinch.

More next time from Alan Hyatt at Trident Audio Developments who has a new console. A brand new mic from Eric Blackmer at Earthworks. An 8 channel 3D mic array from Schoeps' Helmut Wittek. A digital wireless hand-held mic and a mini wireless body mic from Glenn Sanders at Zaxcom. A new console from Todd Humora at API. David Jones from RackFM with a new way to rent your outboard effects gear to anyone anywhere in the world that's very ingenious. More wireless technology from Karl Winkler at Lectrosonics. A variable impedance front end from Roger Cloud at Cloud Mics. Innovations in mic stands and mounting hardware from Ryan Kallas at Triad-Orbit. Next time.

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© Copyright 2017 Technique, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Aston Origin Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Aston Origin and Spirit
Both the Aston Origin ($299) and the Aston Spirit ($449) have been out a while. My life intervened and demanded that I do other things. I’m back, I think, and thanks for your patience. The first Origins and Spirits, delivered just before my life left the road for parts unimaginable, were pre-production models. They arrived Pin 3 High. When I alerted the company, they told me that these were just pre-production models and the production models were Pin 2 High.

I was then sent production models, an Origin and a Spirit, both Pin 2 High. This time the Spirit worked with my Sound Devices 442 and 664 Mixers and my GML 8304 Classic preamps, but not with the mic input on my JVC HM650 camera. There the signal would waft in, stay for a few seconds and then waft out for a few seconds and repeat. It’s the only time my camera has shown such a problem. I reported it to Aston and they were very interested to find out what THAT was about. Perhaps it was something in the input topology of the camera preamp, but the Origin worked fine, so it had to be something to do with that particular Spirit. A new Spirit was sent and works quite nicely with the camera. Maybe the current requirements in the Phantom circuitry of the wafting Spirit were somehow on the hairy edge. Aston said 4mA was a good feed for the Spirit, which the JVC is capable of. My Schoeps CMC641 need 4 mA and they work quite well into my JVC HM650 camera. Go figure.

Both the Origin and Spirit are large diaphragm, externally polarized, studio condenser microphones. I’m a member of the “Brighter Is Not Better” club. These mics are not over the top bright. They’re just, well, solid. More on the Spirit later. In this review I want to focus on the Origin.

Moving On

SMT on Origin Circuit Board
It’s obvious that Aston has taken great care to do a bang up job on this mic. Per Aston’s website, they did a notable amount of listening research with double blind testing on capsules and associated PCB boards. After the larger group vetting, five final capsules were chosen after more vetting, and then they narrowed the combination down to one for each model. The Origin is solidly built and has some nice features. The Origin circuit board uses state of the art SMT (Surface Mount Technology) and everything looks quite tidy under the hood. 

Rubber-Lined Shell
The inside of the body shell is lined with a section of black rubber sheeting to reduce body resonance. A clever steel mesh and inner screen sit inside the wavy outer headgrille, providing RF and pop protection. The mesh continues across the top of the mic. 

Double Mesh Headgrille
Origin Capsule Front
The Origin features a one inch, center-terminated, large diameter diaphragm with a transformerless output. Lots has been written about how edge-termination and center-termination affect the sound of a mic. Because of the other design differences in play, the decision as to which one is better is far from clear. Aston seems to have gotten it right in how they implement the center-terminated capsule.

The Origin capsule sits on a flexible yoke. (Note the cable tie at the base of the flexible capsule post.) It's supposed to help in isolating the capsule from the frame. My Neumann U 89 i “boinked” louder than both the Origin and Spirit when directly tapped. The base of the capsule is flat and metallic. That would normally be a reflective surface, yet I don't hear any obvious reflections. Perhaps the mesh provides enough diffusion to prevent that.

Origin & Spirit w/Triad-Orbit M1-R Adapters
Both the Origin and Spirit bodies are made with a standard 5/8” threaded socket in the base to allow for mounting to a boom arm or mic stand. Unless you have adapters on your stands, boom arms with adapters, or something like a Rycote Lyre suspension mount, this limits the ease of placement for these mics. The Rycote Lyre suspension mounts are very functional, but I find they take up a lot of space and are a bit fussy for positioning LD studio condenser microphones. Placement is, well, EVERYTHING, so, what do you do? 

Triad-Orbit M1-R
Atlas Swivel Mount
I have several Atlas Sound SB 36W mic stands with triangular bases on wheels. At the end of the boom there’s a swivel mount knuckle with a four inch stub and a standard 5/8” thread. This allows mics to be positioned very precisely. 

Atlas used to make 5/8” to 5/8” knuckle adapters for smaller boom arms that have a 5/8" thread, but unfortunately quit making them some time ago. I found some very nice adapters at Triad-Orbit, a US company in Kingston, Washington. They make a wide variety of stands, arms and associated hardware. The Triad-Orbit M1-R was perfect for the Aston microphones, allowing me to attach them to my smaller DR Pro mic stand boom arms that have the standard 5/8" stub. The MR-1 provide an excellent way to position these mics so you can get them exactly where you want them.

The Origin’s 23.7 mV/Pa Sensitivity is .7 dB hotter than the Neumann TLM 103. That makes them two of the hottest mics on the planet. The Origin has a selfnoise of 18 dB-A weighted versus 7 dB-A for the TLM 103. Comparing the Origin and TLM 103 in the quiet of my studio, I could hear the difference in selfnoise, but it didn’t sound as great as 11 dB. Yes the .7 dB extra sensitivity mitigates some of the selfnoise difference, but not 11 dB worth. The shape of the selfnoise of the two mics is also slightly different. The Origin has a bit more high frequency content than does the TLM 103; a SSSS as compared to a SHHH.

I have a AA battery-powered wall clock in the studio. It ticks very quietly every two seconds. The selfnoise of the Origin almost masked the ticking. The lower selfnoise of the TLM 103 revealed the ticking quite plainly. This begs the question of how quiet a mic has to be. If you’re recording rock and roll with amps turned up to eleven, I don’t think you’ll notice the selfnoise. How did the "back-in-the-day" masters deal with a 17 dB-A selfnoise? Analog tape hiss did a great job of masking the selfnoise.

If you check out the polar response of the TLM 103, you’ll see that the front lobe stays very constant from 125 Hz to 8 kHz. I’d call it a “generously wide and uniform” cardioid pattern. Both mics getting more narrow over 8 kHz. A simple Hiss Test reveals that the TLM 103 pattern is wider around 6kHz than the Origin. Past about 25 degrees each side of center, the HF response of the Origin begins to roll off. The TLM 103 goes wider, almost to about 70 degrees with very soft shoulders. There are no awkward lobes of noise or phase anomalies at the shoulder of the Origin pattern; the highs just go away. 

As the diagrams below indicate, on the low end, the Origin begins to roll off at about 125 Hz. The TLM 103 at 70 Hz. Both mics begin to rise at about 3 kHz. The TLM 103 gets up a bit faster, hitting +4 at 6 kHz. The Origin gets to +4 at about 10 kHz. I've had more than one vocalist with excessive energy at 6 kHz when they bear down on a note for emphasis – enough so that I need to pull that energy out with parametric EQ to keep them from sounding harsh. I didn't have them here to test the Origin, but I'm guessing that I'd have to pull down a bit less.

The TLM 103 hangs on to 15 kHz before dropping to -4 dB at 20 kHz. The Origin begins to fade at about 11 kHz and drifts down at a less severe angle to 20 kHz. At the end of the day, the TLM 103 should be brighter and will have more bass. In the Hiss Test, the differences in high frequency response were negligible, perhaps because the low end of the TLM 103 was filling in more of the lower frequencies.

TLM 103 Frequency Response
Aston Origin Frequency Response
Because the Origin has a center hot spot for high frequencies, you may be able to take advantage of it by turning the mic directly toward or slightly away from the source to increase or decrease the high frequencies it picks up.

Aston Origin Polar Response

You can hear that in the video below as I check out the polar pattern and frequency response of the mic and compare it to a Neumann TLM 103.

I’ve spent over thirty years doing voicework for radio and for numerous freelance projects with a lot of critical listening. As a result, I can tell a lot about a mic using just my voice. The voice doesn’t have those upper frequencies, though, and because of that, I turn to my acoustic guitars. In this case, I used my D28s Martin. The standard D28 has a huge bottom. The D28s is much more balanced across the strings. You can hear that as I try different positions with the Aston Origin in the above video. On my MacBook Pro speakers, the low end sounds slightly overdriven due to the limitations of the speakers. As more and more work is done for small speaker playback, we need to be more careful about EQ. 

Josh Polak With The Grand J-28 LSE Martin
Josh Polak has been here recording a CD project. I was comfortable enough with my experience with both the Origin and Spirit to use them to record Josh. I had Josh play as I moved the two mics around while listening to a pair of Sony MDR 7506 until I got the right stereo image. I had the Spirit in cardioid. He used my now discontinued Grand J-28 LSE baritone Martin for several pieces. Its strings are 17-70 and I keep it tuned at least four semitones below standard E-e guitar tuning. As such, it has a huge sound. I had to pull the mics a bit farther back than with a standard acoustic six-strings to capture it properly. As shown in the picture, here's Josh playing the Martin with both Origin and Spirit mics deployed for a stereo capture. The audio file I recorded is proof that the speakers of my MacBook Pro are not worthy to play this piece because the bottom end of the Martin is just too darn big. Sounds great on my home system though. How about yours?

In The End
What we have here is an underpriced mic. The Origin is a mic that’s performing above its retail price and is well-designed enough to be used on a variety of sources. This doesn’t happen that often! Thanks again for your patience and please subscribe to this blog and my YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for my review of the Aston three-pattern Spirit. 

Stay tuned! I just got back from the AES show in NYC. Gimme  couple of weeks and I'll have video demos and other associated content. 

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Thanks to Kathy Phelps for her editing help. We are still not in agreement with one sentence. Find it and win a nickel!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Audio-Technica AT8024 - Good Things In Little Packages

Audio-Technica AT8024 on a JVC HM 650
The landscape is littered with little “shoe mics”; those mics designed to slip into the hot or cold shoe of a DSLR or other digital camera. 

Each time I see one, I look for improvements in sound, suspension mount and ease of use. Today I’m looking at the Audio-Technica AT8024, which comes complete with separate foam and very effective furry wind covers and lists for only $249.

The stereo signal from the AT8024 is derived from a set of electret condenser Mid/Side capsules; a front-facing mono capsule and a side-facing figure of eight capsule behind it. That bulge at the base of the interference tube is where the two side-facing capsules sit. 

AT8024 Body and Switches
One of the switches on the AT8024 has three positions; Off, Stereo and Mono. In Mono, the mic employs the Mid capsule only. In stereo, the mic uses both Mid and Side capsules and has a internal matrix that provides a fairly narrow stereo pattern to the 1/8” TRS plug.

These features allow the AT8024 to be used with cameras with either a 1/8” mono or stereo input jack. This is a real problem solver because some DSLR cameras have a mono input and some have a stereo input. Pugging a standard mono mic into a stereo input often results in the audio going only to one channel in the camera. No problem, just switch to Stereo. Switching to Mono puts the center capsule audio on both the tip and ring and results in Mono.

AT8024 Pop-out Battery Sled

The mic is powered by one AA cell that lasts for 80 hours. The pop-out sled is very well designed and easy to use. The green LED indicates that the mic has been switched on. When the LED turns red, it’s time to change the battery. 

In every audio forum I participate in, including the Creative Cow Audio forum I lead, are warnings about camera-mounted microphones. As a professional location sound practitioner, I know that the best spoken word audio recordings happens with the microphone within 18” of the person talking, with the right boom mic, a boom operator and a mixer to feed the camera or record separately. Once you get more than two feet away from the talent, most of the quality of the even the best mics begin to fade. I was, therefore, impressed by how well the AT8024 fared.

Built-in, on-camera mics have two additional problems. First, they conduct even the most casual handling noise and that noise becomes part of the recording. My JVC HM 650 camera, which uses SD cards, has a very distracting fan motor noise that is conducted through the body to the built-in mic. In addition, if the camera operator talks or makes noise, the mic will pick up those noises. Second, I don’t know many camera manufacturers who use really good capsules for an on-camera mic.

To reduce handling noise, you need a separate mic with a suspension mount that isolates the mic from the camera body. The AT8024 has that and it’s sturdy and simple. As my video demonstrates, while there is some hand noise transfer, it’s extremely small compared to the built-in camera mic. 

There’s a switchable, 12 dB/octave, 80 Hz low frequency roll off to reduce low frequency noise. There are also a 10 and 20 dB pad. These pads are very useful for run and gun shooting in wildly varying volume levels. Yes, you do have to figure out the best gain staging for camera and mic levels, but being able to knock 20 dB off at the mic should let you get in front of some pretty loud machinery or a rock band without clipping.

I recorded a set by “The Old Part of Town” at Edith May’s Paradise, a house concert venue in Jessup, Maryland. I was about 20 feet from the stage, used the 10 dB pad and had no problems capturing sound from the amps, acoustic instruments and PA. The AT8024 has a very pleasant sound with music. If you find it a bit too organic, running the audio through a limiter in post and just catching the peaks can put a nice polish on the track. I didn’t do that for this particular clip.

My good friend Brian Glock helped me test the AT8024 during the Towson, Maryland July 4th Parade. He had the AT8024 set at -20 dB and the camera audio input set to Auto for this clip. He was doing lots of run and gun that day and didn't have time to manually adjust the camera audio. Drum and bugle corps by their very nature are VERY LOUD and the horns are frequently "blatty." The Auto feature on Brian's camera cranked the volume up and I think I can hear some of its processing, but when I pulled the waveform up, I only saw one flat top.

We also tested the AT8024 at Atwater’s, a local soup and sandwich shop. At a distance of 18 inches, you can hear that the ambient noise is distracting against a normal speaking voice, so, as always, there are limitations. 

Meanwhile, down in my acoustically treated studio, the AT8024 surprised me by how well it sounded at distances of three feet or more.

I could talk all day about how good or bad the custom made AT8024, wind protection accessories are. In a word, they are invaluable. Here’s some outside footage that confirms how well the foam and especially the fuzzy work.

Capsule frequency response is smooth and the the mono and stereo patterns behave nicely.


Down to the small hook at the base of the mic that allows the cable to be snugged close to the body to keep it from flapping around, the AT8024 is an example of thoughtful design. If you do need a camera-mounted mic, look hard at this one for the above reasons. And at $249 for mic, foam and fuzzy, what’s not to like?

Technique, Inc. © 2017 All Rights Reserved

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The CEDAR DNS 2 Portable Dialog Noise Suppressor --- The Sound Of Silence

There were a few “Wows!” and even a few fluttering hearts at NAB 2016 when Independent Audio debuted the new CEDAR DNS 2 portable dialog noise suppressor. It was followed by a stinging sensation as a result of the $4K USD price tag. CEDAR has the well-earned reputation for making expensive ($10K to $50K, USD) but effective audio restoration and forensic noise reduction software and hardware devices and winning awards for them since 1989. 

Fraser Jones and Independent Audio Staff
Fraser Jones, head of Independent Audio, a distribution company here in the USA, has always had a keen eye and ear for audio gear, (and recently some video gear) as demonstrated by the names on the Independent Audio line card; Audessence, Audio & Design, Audio Developments, Coles, DACS, Merging Technologies, Pearl, Sonifex and Thermionic Culture.  Not what you might consider mainstream, but slightly boutiquey. It was no surprise to see CEDAR on that list. 

Eric Toline
Professional Sound Services
A CEDAR DNS 2 was making its way back up the east coast from Eric Toline at the Fort Lauderdale office of Professional Sound Services to Independent Audio in Portland, Maine and landed here for a few days. I quickly put together an ad hoc gathering of Washington and Baltimore Location Sound pros; Bernie Ozol, Jim Gilchrist, Len Schmitz and Jonathan Cohen answered back quickly and the date was set. 

Len Schmitz
These are four top shelf mixers with many years of experience and incomparable ears. Some of us, myself included, had watched a YouTube video demonstrating the CEDAR DNS 2 and were concerned that either YouTube encoding had compromised the audio or that better adjustments on the mic or DNS 2 would yield better results.

Bernie Ozol brought a 12 V DC battery, cup and female, four-pin XLR powering rig, so we wouldn’t be tethered by the wall wart that is included in the DNS 2. The two-channel DNS 2 has identical controls for each of its two channels.

Jim Gilchrist and Jonathan Cohen listen to playback.
The DNS 2 XLR inputs can be easily hard switched for Mic, Mic with 48 V Phantom Power or Line Level. The DNS 2 operates in 48 Khz, 24-bit mode, however, with external AES sync, it will lock to 44.1kHz, 48khz or 96khz, The DNS 2 also has an AES3/AES11 digital input and AES3 XLR connections.

Analog output from the DNS 2 via XLRs, is at line level only. That means the DNS 2 has a pair of preamps. Our first concern was the mic pres in the DNS 2. All five of us judged that the preamps were as good as the Sound Devices MixPre D we were using during these tests. Although we liked the sound of the preamps, we liked the idea of having a mixer for better control between the DNS 2 and the camera. Again, we’re location sound guys; of course we want more control. Several folks thought a headphone jack would have been nice, but we got along just fine with the headphone jack on the camera and on the MixPre D.

CEDAR DNS 2 Analog In and AES/EBU I/O
Gain range on the DNS 2 preamps is +18dB - +78dB. Dynamic range: >102dB (at 36dB gain). Each channel has its own independently switchable Phantom Power supply. The line input nominal level is +4dBu with 20dB headroom. 

Gain range is a very wide -6dB to +54dB with a dynamic range of > 102dB. The DNS 2 runs on 8VDC to 17.5V DC (nominal 12V) and consumes 4.0 to 6.0 watts. The DNS 2 is about the size of a Cracker Jacks box and weighs just over a pound. It has strap poles on the face that allow it to be  connected to other gear or a sound bag. 

CEDAR 4-pin XLR Power and Line Level Analog Output
Our first chain was CMC641>DNS 2>MixPre D>JVC HM650. We later went CMC641>MixPre D>DNS 2>JVC HM650 but heard no appreciable difference. 

The analog input level was already set very well for the Schoeps CMC641, so we didn’t have to touch that. The input sensitivity level can be easily adjusted by depressing the SetUp button and spinning the control knob.

CEDAR DNS 2 Front Panel
I live in Baltimore Country. An arc of the I-695 beltway semi-surrounds me from about a mile away. As a result, I can easily hear a constant low level pad of distant internal combustion machines. More locally, the cicadas were singing nicely the morning we did our tests. The Light Rail was running and we also had the occasional car-by and flights to and from BWI Airport. We also ran a test with an umbrella sprinkled by water from a hose while micing from below. 

The “Learn”  procedure is very simple. Hit the “Learn” button. It can be turned off or left on. We chose to leave it on most of the time. The Noise Reduction control is variable from 0 to -20. After SetUp and Learn, you simply engage the filter and use the rotary control to vary the amount of noise reduction.

I couldn’t find latency figures for the DNS 2, but Cedar’s DNS1500 sports a latency figure of Ten Samples; not milliseconds, but samples. My guess is that this short a latency figure is due to the zippy SHARC processors and Cedar’s algorithm. The DNS 2 is designed with 24-bit A/D and D/A conversion with 40 bit processing resolution and 1.2 GFlops (Floating Point Operations Per Second). That may not be a lot given where computer power has gone and continues to go these days, but it’s pretty damn fast. The result; a very powerful tool.

A Schoeps CMC641 with Schoeps B5D and Rode Dead Kitty was set on a locked down boom. We shot to SD cards in my JVC HM650 HD camcorder and did a few playbacks. We didn’t have enough headphone outputs to go around, so we share shared a pair of Sony MDR 7506 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50 as we shot and took the card down to my studio to listen for more detail over my Event Opal monitors.

Our first test was determining how much cicada noise we could reduce. Even before that, engaging the noise reduction dropped the distant mostly low frequency beltway noise right out. In most of our tests, the best results were when the noise reduction knob was midscale, somewhere between three and seven. Any more than seven and we could hear artifacts or the background would drop out so completely that the voice sounded like we were recording inside. That was eerie and surprising, At some point, when reduced to excess, the voice sounded like the person was talking through a tube.

While one of us was on-camera, talking for the test, the rest of us were making side comments off mic. Those comments were louder than the background noise, but not by much. As we increased the amount of noise reduction, those voices began sounding “watery.” If you were shooting a scene in a noisy location and wanted human “walla” in the background, this would be a problem. The “walla” didn’t sound right.

There was a general consensus among the five of us that use of any noise reduction required extremely astute listening. Astuteness that might not be easy on location and being close enough to the talent to have their voice “in air” adding to what we were hearing even with the closed back Sony and Audio-Technica headphones.

Jim Gilchrist came up with a good solution if you’re recording double sound. Use a spare track on your mixer/recorder and feed the noise reduced audio to that track and perhaps feed that to the camera as well. Also record a track without the noise reduction in case post has a problem with the processed track.

We all felt that putting both unprocessed and processed tracks on a camera was asking for trouble because of the opportunity for post to simply mix them together. That not only can happen, it has happened. If you’re doing all of the work yourself, then have at it!

Next was the “Umbrella Test.” Since it was not raining, I used a garden hose. We repositioned the boom to below the talent, aimed up at the umbrella. As such the CMC641 was hearing the talent and all of the umbrella above the talent’s head quite well. Again, we were all very impressed by how well the DNS 2 pulled the low frequency background noise as well as the voice out of the rain noise. And, again, moderate settings seemed the best. 

These two tests demonstrated the ability of the CEDAR DNS 2 to learn a fairly complex but consistent noise pattern and cancel it so well without the “underwater” artifacts most noise reduction devices create when pushed too far.

In some cases, when more Noise Reduction was applied, there was a spooky kind of feeling. We knew we were outside, but the audio was so quiet that it sounded as though we were inside. Just past that there was point there was a slightly phased “tubular” sound, as though the voice was speaking through a cardboard or plastic tube in between the voice and the microphone. 

Bernie Ozol (L) and Len Schmitz (R) set up an interior shot
Our indoor test was less dramatic. We set up in my living room, the room with the most echo in the house and positioned the mic first a proper distance and then purposely two feet away to get some room ring. While not a miracle worker, we were impressed by how much room the DNS 2 could wring out of the audio. I didn’t have time to test the DNS 2 in a really large hall to see how well it might extract large room sound.

Jonathan Cohen echoed Jim Gilchrists thoughts, "This gear raises the question of how much we, as sound mixers/recordists, should be effecting the audio we record. I broached this same question many years ago to a CAS forum; where do we draw the line on 'artistic license?' Is it our job simply to record the cleanest audio tracks possible and let Post do the boosting and cutting and effecting? Lastly, and I only thought about this today, I would like to have heard how it handled clothing noise on hidden lavs. Does this magic box work well on this too?"

As we wrapped, we talked about using the CEDAR DNS 2 on the set. At $4k USD, close to the price of one high-end wireless system, how would we charge a producer for that? If we brought it along and found it got us out of a jam, we could let the producer hear the before and after. If the producer approved the noise reduction, we thought a $100 USD charge would be nominal. Would they be prepared to pay the extra hundred? If so, it would take forty uses to pay for it. If the producer already had noise reduction capabilities in post, then he/she might not want us to use it in the field, for the extra cost and that we might use it too aggressively. Our final thought was that in the right hands and in the right situations, the CEDAR DNS 2 would be a winner, even if it was in post. In the wrong hands with the wrong ears, not so much.

Incidentally, there is an eight channel, CEDAR DNS 8. The DNS 8 was originally an AC powered device, but now also has four-pin,12 V DC powering. The DNS 8 costs $10K, USD.

CEDAR DNS 8 Live Hardware Dialogue Noise Suppression

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