Monday, April 14, 2014

Mailbag: Diagnosing Noise Issues on the Zoom H4n

Ask any engineer, and one of their least favorite tech support calls is diagnosing "noise" issues. Wilson writes in with this issue concerning his Zoom H4n:

I recently bought a Zoom H4N recorder. I'm generally pretty happy with it, but I do have a question.
You mentioned in the article "Messing Around with the Zoom H4n" that you particularly like it as a USB mic.
However, I've tried hooking it up to my computer over USB and I get a ton of hiss and noise, both with the internal mics and an external mic (which actually sounds much cleaner, though a lot quieter).
Does it require some kind of shielded USB cable or something to get rid of that? I'm not in a particularly noisy environment, so I think that most of the noise is not environmental.

OK. So there are a couple things to look at first. First of all is consistency. You say there's noise being generated via the built in mics and the inputs. Have you tested the H4n under battery and AC power? When it's recording to the SD card is it generating the same noise? I'm also assuming you've played with the distance between your mic and your computer to rule out fan noise? 

Now, how hot are you driving the H4n? All pieces of audio gear generate their own noise. I think the preamps on the H4n are competitive with most portable and "all-in-one" solutions at comparable price points, but they will deliver more noise than dedicated professional studio-grade gear. If you're having to max out the preamps to get the levels you want you'll be delivering significant noise as well. The Olympus LS-100 for example, has an almost -9dB noise floor advantage over the H4n, but comes in almost $150 more than the Zoom. Ditto the headphone volume you're monitoring with. 

If the mic you're connecting to the Zoom is a dynamic, that would explain why it's a lot quieter. Assuming nothing is wrong with the H4n, if you're making the move from a dynamic to a condenser, condensers will pick up a LOT more of your environment. You might just be hearing the "air" of your room amplified for the first time. 

Lastly you can try swapping out different USB cables to see if that makes a difference. You can also check for electrical gremlins by connecting to a different computer, or a laptop running off the battery. Does the noise stay consistent as you move the H4n to different environments?

If the noise or hiss can't be explained or corrected via any of the steps above, it might be time to contact you're friendly neighborhood Zoom representative to see if a warranty or return is in your future. Best of luck. Noise issues are bummers, and they can require a fair amount of voodoo to properly sort out.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Blue Microphone's Kiwi on ABC's 'Nashville', but set up improperly?

Ok, you uber-mic nerds are going to appreciate this one.

Nashville has become one of my favorite guilty pleasures, chock full of nighttime soapy drama, and some great music tracks produced weekly. It's also just fun as a gear head seeing what fancy recording equipment these fictional musicians will be thrown in front of next.

Like this Blue Kiwi, one of my all time favorite studio mics. I like this mic so much, that even my wife caught it as the show zoomed in on actress Chaley Rose singing in front of one.

"Hey it's that green mic you like!" 

I look up from my laptop, enjoy a "hey cool" moment, and start to look back down until I double take back up to the screen. The mic's pins are still in...

You'd have to know your way around this particular mic, but when shipped, the Kiwi has three pins installed to protect the diaphragm during transport. We can zoom in a bit to see them a little better.

Yeah. They look cool, but those things are supposed to be removed before you use the mic. Out of the box there's even an angry little red tag that instructs you to remove those pins. Which means that setting up the shot, someone had to unpack the mic, set it up on a shockmount, look at the red tag, and remove it, all without pulling those guard pins.

It's a small gaffe, but if you actually work in recording, it's a funny distraction.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: The R0DE Classic II Anniversary Edition Tube Microphone

We haven't done a studio microphone review for a while, so it's time to come back with a biggie!

R0DE's Classic II is a modern twist on a vintage-y mic technology. Not only that, the Anniversary edition comes in Darth Vader black, and it's pretty sexy. Let's take a look (and a listen)!
Shop the R0DE Classic II on Amazon.
Save 10% on a Loot Crate by using promo code "SGLOOT" at checkout!

Review: The DacMagic XS USB Headphone Amp

It might be little, but this little USB DAC packs a wallop.

Cambridge Audio brings their audiophile expertice to bear on a tiny portable unit designed to imrpove your listening experience while at home or on the road. Let's take a look!

Shop the DacMagic XS on Amazon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Sound Architect Interviews Some Audio Guy - My thoughts on Voice Over and Technology

I had a great time sitting down with Sam Hughes "The Sound Architect" to discuss Voice Over, home recording, and we took a brief detour through the world of technology. We struggled through a couple technical stutters, but we also managed to answer some viewer questions.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Just For Fun: S#!T Audio Guys Say

I have sadly said every single one of these things...

Wilhelm scream!

(Thanks Kyle Hebert!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Recording Terminology Pet Peeve: "Low Cut" or "High Pass" Filter?

You ever notice how the world of recording can get really dogmatic about an idea? How very often you’ll see someone doing something, but they can’t explain why they’re doing it that way? The answer I most often get in situations like that is usually along the lines of “that’s just the way you’re supposed to do that”, but without any explanation as to why it works. It’s the recording equivalent of doing a rain dance. When it works it’s great…

Even what we CALL a tool can fall into this dogma trap. 

Take for instance one of my biggest recording pet peeves. There’s a hardware process we use to help remove ultra-low frequency noise from our recording chain. It can sometimes be found on our interface, sometimes on a mixer or preamp, or even directly on the mic itself. It’s a godsend for reducing a little rumbling or buzzing in our audio.

What is this magic process called? 

Well, about 50% of the time it’s called a “High Pass Filter”, which makes just a little bit more than absolutely zero sense to me. I like being precise with my direction and communication, and I like knowing what tools are called, that there are standards. Sometimes this is a “High Pass” other times it’s a “Low Cut”, and you can almost always count on the fact that no matter which term you pick, your engineer will use the other term, and will feel compelled to correct you on it. I’ve just about dislocated my eyeballs from rolling them so frequently with every helpful correction I’ve received.

More to the point, the term “High Pass” is just obnoxiously imprecise. What does the tool do? It reduces low frequency sound, often starting the roll off around 80Hz. Even more aggressive filters rarely creep above 160Hz, still nice and deep. The mid range and high end are both left intact and largely unaffected. Is it a “Mid and High Pass Filter”? No. Just a “High Pass”, which makes it sound like the filter should be working on the high end of the EQ, that the filter is affecting the upper bands, which it absolutely is NOT doing.

Why are we naming filters based on what the filter ISN’T doing? 

It’s just so passive aggressive. If I were to walk into a studio and have the following exchange with an engineer:
Me: Hey Mr. Engineer, what part of the EQ are you cutting there? 
Engineer: Not the highs! 
I’d probably never work with that studio ever again. Communication is already hard enough. We’d despise working with someone who defined everything they do by what they’re NOT doing. Even the lunch order would be miserable.
Me: Hey Mr. Engineer, what do you want for lunch today? 
Engineer: Not tapioca pudding! 
So, as we approach a new year, with all new possibilities, it’s time. Time to let go of this backwards way of defining what happens when we flip the switch on our mixers and mics.

It’s time for the Low Cut filter to reign supreme.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where should I host my Voice Over Demo? Can I upload it to Facebook?

I've gotten this question a couple times from friends and colleagues, and I've never had a great answer for folks.

From my pal Curtis:
Hey Juan, Do you know how I can upload my vo demo to my fb profile? Or is it best to link from another page to fb?
So here's the deal Curtis, we've never had great solutions for hosting audio online. You'd think in a world of streaming HD video, there's be SOME place we could semi-permanently host high quality streaming audio files like Youtube.

Recently, services like SoundCloud have become popular, and their bandwidth caps aren't horrible if you're focusing on something like your demos. The nice thing about SoundCloud is that it not only offers a handy place to upload the demo, and tools to embed the audio file on other sites, but it also makes it pretty easy to share your demo with a variety or services and social networks.

The tricky thing about directing traffic to web pages and social networking is you'll find people have very little patience. There's about zero attention span online. If someone finds you through Facebook they might not follow you to another link posted on your profile. Vice-versa if someone finds your web site, and you try to ship them off to Facebook or another service.

I'd recommend trying to make sure the basics of what you do are well represented individually on all services you use. If I find you on Facebook, I should be able to easily find your contact info, and listen to your demo, on Facebook. Ditto your own personal site.

But Facebook doesn't allow audio uploads do they? Well this is where all these streaming video sites might actually come in handy. Come up with a static image, a brand logo, something with your name on it, contact info, and convert that demo to a video file where it can live on Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook Video, etc.

Between SoundCloud and streaming video, you should have plenty of options for making sure that your marketing materials are easily accessible regardless of how someone might find you online.

For the rest of my VO audience, what services have you utilized for sharing your demo? Have I missed anything which might help people share high quality audio? Drop me a comment below!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Saying Goodbye to PayPal, Hello Google Wallet

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote an editorial on how much I hated using PayPal. For years, they were a necessary evil in doing any kind of online commerce. I coach via online video chat, it was just easier to invoice using PayPal, rather than expecting clients to drop checks in the mail in a timely fashion. After a series of frustrating encounters however, I felt it was time to move on.

It's been a struggle. PayPal had the mind share, and while I was successful in moving some clients over to services like Dwolla, or swiping credit cards on Square, neither ever completely upset the PayPal lock-in. Until a couple months ago, still nearly half of my digital transactions were PayPal.

And then Google Wallet got hip.

Wallet was initially built as a tap and pay service for Android phones using NFC. Of course the carriers were working on their own tap and pay protocol named ISIS, so Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have largely refused to support Google's solution. To combat that, Google has recently started pushing Wallet into more of a mainstream online transaction tool.

The killer app for me here has been GMail integration. You can send money using GMail to other GMail recipients with no fees via bank transfer and 2.9% via credit card. You have to set up payment and bank info just like you do on PayPal and Dwolla, and that can take a couple days to verify, but once set up it's easier, faster, and cheaper to do business. Manage all your online transactions and your wallet balance from any Android phone or web browser.

Now to circumvent the phone carriers, Google has delivered a Wallet Card allowing you to spend the funds in your account wherever MasterCard is accepted. That has completely pushed me over the edge. I don't have to sacrifice any of the services I had with PayPal, and I get my invoicing done faster and cheaper.

The last quarter of 2013, I haven't processed a single payment through PayPal. This is a first for me. I'm going to see if I can continue that streak through 2014.

For more info on Google Wallet:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

EWABS Quarterly Audio Masters Roundtable for November 2013!

I always enjoy my time hanging out with Dan and George from the East West Audio Body Shop. It's fun letting my inner crank take over and chat recording and producing with other professionals in this field.

I was honored to join their quarterly line up with "Uncle Roy" Yokelson, Cliff Zellman, and Mike Varela. We hit a number of engineering topics, and hopefully you find the chat enlightening!