Hey guys,

So, I recently obtained a Sennheiser MKH416 and have done a bit of testing with it using the Zoom H4n. It seems to record very well when up close, but I have to raise the recording level quite a bit when afar.

When I do so, I get this hiss/white noise kind of thing going on in the background.. What would be the best way to deal with this problem? Should I keep the gain high and try to eliminate the hiss in post, or should I decrease gain to record and raise the volume in post?



When I've used the H4n with an external mic, I find that an input setting of about 35-40 is best (since anything beyond this the noise get's exponentially louder and the S/N exponentially smaller. For loud things like a Union Pac freight train by close up, I'll record more at 20-25 input level. That seems to still give enough hedroom to properly limit/compress in post without too much of a noise issue. The problem is if you turn the gain too high, you'll start clipping or hitting an internal limiter, which will mean that at some point you will actually be reducing your S/N. The 35-40 area seems to be the sweet spot in my experience where you get the most bang for buck in terms of S/N and signal robustness.

But it could also be a P48 issue. As I recall the 416's only power source is P48 (unlike an NT4 I own which can also run an internal 9v battery for its own power source). I've noticed the P48 to be weak on the H4n in my experience, and it drains the battery really fast when I've tried it. So in that case, even though maybe you're feeding P48 to the 416 and it's actually 'working', it may be underpowered, which could essentially lower your S/N and sensitivity range compared to using a robust P48 source like a Sound Devices or FR2 for example, even though the mic still powers on.

My personal thought is to adjust your signal chain during recording to maximize your dynamic range while finding a nice balance for minimal noise (for a signal chain item like the H4n it's more straightforward than say, a chain of 3 gain stages from mic to recording medium) - and then in post do the rest since you have non-destructive control. Whereas out in the field, if you screw up the signal by recording way too low or way too hot, it's already toast. A DAW will introduce such an acutely minimal amount of noisefloor that adjusting the gain in post, especially if you recorded in 24-bit, won't be an issue. That's my personal suggestion.

Noise is relative too. If you master a Foley sound really hot for instance, sure, there may be some noise even on the best of preamp. But if you know the editors always going to drop that sound by something like 20dB when they use it in their edit, that noisefloor all but disappears. not that you don't want to worry about noise, but also consider the relative context of the noise issue to the overall sound in question.

  • Thanks for the quick response! Yes, the 416 does use the P48, and I have heard mixed things about it's performance in conjunction with the H4n. However, I haven't heard anything about the 416 being underpowered in that particular setup, since the H4n is capable of running phantom power at 24V and 48V if necessary. I'm currently running 24V, but I will most definitely try 48V to see if it produces better results. Also, I would be inclined to agree that input 35-40 is good, due to some recent field recordings... but definitely needs more testing.
    – imusake
    Jul 8 '12 at 17:13

The hissy sound comes from the h4n built in preamps. If you want more gain riding, you have to get better preamps :)

As stavrosound says, you have to run the h4n on a really low input gain to get a clean and noise free signal, but that won't work on calm and silent sound fx stuff. I've testet a lot with my h4n, but i din't get a clean signal from my preamps, even with the built in battery from my nt4 and deactivated phantom power.

After long research and experimenting, i deckded, to by a new recorder for sound fx and better quality recording.

  • Agreed! I wish the H4n had just a little better preamps, and then it would be such a go-to machine. But the noise problem just doesn't work for intimate SFX recording. Jul 9 '12 at 21:58
  • Yeah definitely sounds like a pre-amp issue. If getting a new recorder is an option I have had some good results with a Roland R26 and 2 x MKH-416. We recorded some gunfire at fairly low levels at an outdoor gun range, and when compressed to buggery in post to bring out the reverb tails there was no real issue I can recall with noise levels. You do of course get what you pay for with pre-amps but this seemed to be a good match of mic and pre-amp.
    – Squidlick
    Jul 10 '12 at 22:42

Do NOT run the 416 at 24V phantom power... the mic is designed to take proper 48V. Not that there will be any damage to the mic that I'm aware of, but it does significantly impact both the sound and noise floor of most good condensers - including the 416 and the Rodes. I prefer actually using my trusty, if somewhat beat up FP33 mixer before going to the Zoom, but I've gotten decent results going into the H4N directly for less quiet stuff. The preamps are not up to recording really quiet bg's, but for a lot of stuff, they work just fine - again provided that you're at 48V. And of course the tradeoff... 48V will eat AA batteries for breakfast. Expect no more than about 90 min of battery life, less if you're in cold conditions. (I once did sound for an indie film shot outside in the Canadian winter. I was getting about half an hour to a set of batteries!)

  • Wow you got 90 min of P48 for the H4n? I think I maxed out at like 15 minutes when I tried it. Jul 9 '12 at 21:47
  • good lord, 15 minutes?! i suppose it depends on what kind of batteries you use, but wow! that definitely doesnt seem like a very viable position especially for longer filming sessions.. i guess just pack extra batteries?
    – imusake
    Jul 10 '12 at 1:10
  • I did a recording a few years ago at -25 degrees C with the old H4 and was getting about 6 minutes recording time out of one set of batteries. What @Sonsey says about the cold is very true.
    – RedSonic01
    Jul 10 '12 at 19:00
  • I buy Rayovac's in 18 packs before every shoot. THere IS a menu setting for NiMH/Alkaline batteries - choosing the wrong setting in there will result in REALLY short battery life regardless of temperature. NiMH's I generally find to have shorter life than Alkaline.
    – Sonsey
    Jul 10 '12 at 21:50

Hey, I just bought the H4n. I know it's not professional but i could not afford anything else. Is the first one i have and should do the job...

Stavrosound said that he found the sweet spot on the preamps at 35-40 using external mics. Since I don't have any yet and all i want to record is atmospheres using the XY that zoom has I would like to know where the sweet spot is. A good ratio S/N.

How hot should I do my recordings? As I said is basically ambient but I don't have a clue what would be a good level.


  • When using the on-board mics, I can push the input level (if need be) to around 60 - 65 before the noise really becomes a problem for me. I will say that I am usually not recording ambiences with the Zoom, though. It's going to depend on the ambience itself, as well. If you're recording a stadium, noise probably won't be an issue, but if you're recording a quiet room tone or early morning meadow, it could be a different story. Also, note that I'm not recommending 60 - 65 as a "set it and forget it" input level but rather the ceiling of where I tend to still get a halfway clean signal. Jul 13 '12 at 22:55

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