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ARSCLIST  December 2010

ARSCLIST December 2010

Subject:

In the category of if you want it done right, do it yourself ...

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 18 Dec 2010 16:47:30 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (59 lines)

We often discuss portable digital recorders on this list and I want to report how pleased I was with 
the recent conference-audio recordings I made for my company using my M-Audio MicroTrack II 
recording at CD resolution for the master and my Zoom H2 set for 192kbps MP3 as the backup "in case 
all else fails" recorder up on the stage. We had a disaster outsourcing the recording at last 
winter's conference and so I took on the role of supervising the recording at our summer conference 
this year, which takes place at a different venue. Part of that supervision entailed making a backup 
recording using the M-Audio recorder, with a line-level feed from the recorder buss of the venue 
mixer. It turned out, I got a better recording because I could pay attention to just the recording, 
set levels correctly, etc. The venue-sound guys are generally not very familiar with whatever 
digital recorder is provided by their company and NYC union rules mean their main focus is on the 
board and room sound system (which I cannot touch). It occured to me, these guys are pros at those 
aspects -- delivery of the live sound -- and recording is a low priority and something one guy won't 
likely pay much attention to. So I decided for the winter conference, since we had so much trouble 
with that venue in 2009, I would take over the recording and "own it." I asked the sound guy in 
advance to provide me a 1/4" balanced line feed of what he was feeding the house sound system. We 
also discussed how he was mic'ing things and how he must watch the action on-stage and not do dumb 
things that were done the previous year like leaving lav mics "live" after someone is finished 
presenting. Turned out the sound guy was relieved not to have to handle recording as well as 
venue-sound and he put in the extra effort to do a very good job in the room. He gave me a 
rock-solid quiet-running feed and I was able to walk out of there with high-quality mono WAV files 
that required minimal editing to produce our transcript CDR (for which the WAV files are chopped 
into individual presentations, things like time a guy takes from being intoduced to when he starts 
are edited out, and post-presentation Q&A is edited out so as to provide an incentive to attend the 
conferences live).

My key learning in this has been that the venue-sound guys treat the recording as a low priority 
since they are judged on how they do getting people heard and getting presentation audio and video 
across in a live situation. What should be as auto-pilot as feed the recorder from the "tape out" 
and hit record is not always done correctly. Also, the kind of live-sound boards provided and how 
individual technicians use them varies greatly. So if you want a known-good transcript of something, 
you need to take charge of it yourself. Pre-planning and pre-communication helps a lot, the sound 
guy and I knew our roles in advance and we got along very well during the day. He liked having some 
direction by one of the "event producers" sitting next to him, and I liked his professional manner 
and problem-solving skills.

As far as the recorders, both worked flawlessly. I ran both on AC power and produced raw files by 
hitting record before each period of 2-3 presentations began and hitting stop when beverage breaks 
occured. I was able to have reference MP3 files to myself and my colleague to write our summaries by 
the middle of the following day, and it took me less than a day overall to produce finished WAV 
masters and MP3 copies for the transcript CDR. I set both levels conservatively, but engaged AGC on 
both recorders just in case. One annoying thing about the M-Audio recorder -- it does not remember 
the record level you set after you hit stop, so you need to re-set the record level if you're adding 
any gain (STOOOPID). The Zoom machine doesn't remember any record settings when you turn it off, but 
does keep the same settings after stop before the next record as long as the power is kept on. Best 
practice for both recorders is run on AC power, keep the backlighting on all the time and keep them 
powered on between recordings. The little Zoom was sitting there unobtrusively on the stage and it 
made usable-in-a-pinch recordings with its built-in mic with the windscreen over it. My biggest beef 
with all of these little recorders is that the level-metering is terrible as far as 
visiblility-usability. I know why this is done, to keep to a small low-power screen and to save the 
power it would take to drive LEDs, but it means if you're in a high-fidelity critical situation, you 
need to either pre-match levels to a mixer with good metering, or you need to record at highest 
resolution and assume you'll have low to very low net levels if you want to avoid digital overs. 
Final comment is that in tests I did before the conference, me and all my colleagues preferred the 
Zoom's AGC set at "voice" vs. the M-Audio's AGC system, which is not variable.

One man's experiences and opinions ...

-- Tom Fine

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