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During the next month in Valencia (Spain) is taking place a fest in which the main act everyday is a massive burst of firecrackers in the main city square. This event called "Mascletá" is widely regarded as a really loud event (100 to 130 dBs aprox.).

I want to record it in many different ways (since is happening everyday during three weeks) but the only thing that worries me is the security of my modest gear.

I have a Zoom H2 and Zoom H4 and a pair of in-ear mics Soundman OKM to use and a bunch of homemade contact mics.

So the question is: it is safe to use the Zoom H2 or H4 and the binaural mics under those circumstances? or should I take precautions?

And another question more open would be: how would you record this kind of event??


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8 Answers 8

First, 100db is really not that loud. That is about as loud as a subway train passing by 3 meters away.

Second, you gear is not going to get damaged. The worst that will happen is the recordings will be distorted. I've recorded guns (160db+) and other loud sources numerous times and never damaged my gear.

What is the max SPL rating on the mics? If they spec'd at over 130db, then the mics SHOULD not crap out.

The Zoom H4 could be an issue because you don't have a lot of control of the gain. The low or medium setting would probably be ok.

I would try and run a test before the event. Try and find a train or something else really loud and see what your recordings sound like.

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Yes, probably the info I got of the loudness of the event is inacuarted, though. H2 says that it can handle a max SPL of 120 dBs, will see what I can get,... –  edu comelles Mar 2 '10 at 9:25
You could take some 6db or 12db inline passive mic pads with you - they go between the mic & the recorder... I read of people recording onboard F1 cars with an SM58 & they had to use lots of inline pads as the sound was so loud that the SM58 was output volts instead of milivolts... they had to pad it down to a level that the recorder could handle.... –  user49 Mar 3 '10 at 22:02

You can use an air horn to test the high SPL response of your mics before you go record.

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thanks guys!! I will see what I can do! –  edu comelles Mar 2 '10 at 9:13
That's a good idea... From what I read, it's around 120db. So that could work. Although I could not picture myself in an apartment blowing an air horn. –  Andrew Spitz Mar 2 '10 at 9:59
That is an awesome idea. Lately, I have been OCD about recording the train that runs by my house, the one time I did manage to catch it, I left my gain too low, and the recording was for the most part, useless. Blowing an air horn next to a set of train tracks might me look crazy, but I think the dude standing next to the train tracks, holding what looks like a dead cat on a pole has hit the 'looking crazy' cap, I don't think this will make me look any more crazy. –  Edward Mowinckel Mar 2 '10 at 12:21
I've done the air horn test before recording a Space Shuttle launch and Cruise Ship horns, etc... Make sure to get the air horn pretty close to the mic. –  Colin Hart Mar 3 '10 at 4:45

Tim Prebble alluded to this above but I wanted to emphasize it. I have tried to use the Zoom H2 to record very loud sounds (racecars... IndyCar, F1, Dragsters, etc.) and have found that it's not up to the task. The reason is that it does not have an analog limiter. Any limiting is done after A/D conversion and is therefore fairly useless. The solution, as Tim mentioned, would be to pad the source before it even got to the H2.

I'm not sure what the recorder market is like now, but two years ago I found that I would have to spend quite a bit more money to get a recorder with a true analog limiter built in (which I did... I went with a Marantz PMD620).

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As Chuck says, your equipment should be safe. The worst will be some distortion on your recording.

I think the OKMs have a pretty high SPL rating, so you should be safe. Does the OKM not have a pad included? I seem to remember that you have a -20db attenuation pad. If yours does, then definitely switch it on.

Don't forget to protect your ears too...

For the question on how to record the event with your equipment. I'd use the Zoom H4 to record specific angles/areas with it's on-board mics, and use the binaurals to get the reflections, decays and surrounding space. But because it will handle the loud bang of the fireworks probably better the the H4, I'd use them to get right up close (out of your ears though) so you can have added layers for when editing the sounds. Just some ideas.

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m-audio sells a -10db pad which is useful in such circumstances

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FWIW, I'm a fan of switchable pads...I have an Audio-Technica model that switches between -15dB and -30dB. Very handy to just carry one per channel. –  NoiseJockey Mar 10 '10 at 2:50

There is a good article on the gamasutra site re recording guns which might be useful:

One thing I took away from it is that the bang is only a fraction of the entire sound and the tail is just as important in capturing the character.

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With really loud sources and powered mics you will be demanding from the voltage powering your microphones so they don't distort. Typical plug-in voltage with portable recorders tends to be between 3 to 5 volts which is not enough..

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I believe your db levels are a little underrated. If that you may not have enough time to thoroughly test the environments ahead of time and just going to use what you have available to record the events.

I would recommend installing an app on your phone if you may have a good quality phone to give you a more precise ready of the db levels. Just encase you have mic failure during this recording. So that you would have a more accurate reading of the dbs to gone when you try to manage something to withstand those levels without failure the next time.

Just a little of recorded events in the past to better evaluate your circumstance.

  • Rock concerts db levels are 120 - 130 dbs
  • The bursting charge in the fireworks have and average rating of 145 - 150 dbs
  • The Space Shuttle from a half mile away has been recorded at 165 - 170 dbs
  • A Nuclear Bomb at 250 ft away has been recorded at 210 dbs whether the dbs made any difference at that distance. It would probably been minute at that moment.

And here is one of the links that I pulled to get an average [][1]

But if your wondering what db levels that are fataly Lethal to humans and life it is concidered to be around 185 - 200 dbs and this link should shed some light on this [][1]

But if you should find a suitable solution for recording your events I would like to know what you came up with cause every time I would record the fireworks I made the videos worked quit well until the sound failed to give the experience of being there at that time. Or the sound would completely go dead at that moment of the burst.

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