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Hi all,

I've been lurking for a while and have seen similar questions but not exactly the feedback I'm hoping to solicit. I'm transitioning over to the world of audio for film and I'm looking into a good sound kit. I have some funds and plan on building a good one over time, but I'm curious where you would recommend investing first if choosing between either a quality recorder or mics.

I come from a studio background and when we first built up our space we had a couple very nice microphones but our recorder wasn't great -- we compromised ease of capturing takes for having the takes be really good going in. When we finally got a good recorder it was a serious improvement to our workflow, and we already knew our mics really well. Should I take a similiar approach with my kit?

I'm looking at picking up a quality boom mic and rycote, some quality lavs and a wireless system...then maybe an h4n to start?

Or should I bite the bullet and get a really nice recorder up front, get some middle of the road mics and know the recorder inside and out?

If I'm working on a production I'd imagine if they desire higher quality than the zoom they'll be open to renting an SD 722 or something in lieu of me having one if I have quality mics to plug into it, right?

I don't want to buy twice, so I want to be smart up front in choosing where I sink my initial funds. Just based on my previous experience I'm leaning towards having quality mics that I know how to use and acquiring a great recorder and pre's later on, but I've never had to be on site capturing sound -- is a more reliable field recorder wiser?

What would you do? What did you do? Any and all feedback is deeply appreciated.

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Hello there! Well, I would go for great mics first, then splash on a recorder later. I mean, great mics have been pretty much the same (makes, models, technology) for decades, while recorders keep getting better, smaller, cheaper every year.

OTOH, if working on a production requires a recorder with timecode, then a Zoom won't cut it...

  • Hmm, I guess that pretty much confirms it. I'll likely go with nice mics for now, and though the H4n isn't the best I think it will cut it for what I'll be working on for now. Thanks for the feedback! – e_murphy May 8 '13 at 22:34
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Mic > recorder in most cases. Mics have more variation in quality and price:quality correlation and you generally get what you pay for and you get your money's worth. Many/all recorders above a certain threshold are all very good quality or "good enough" and in that case the recorder won't matter as much as what the mic connected to it is and investing more money to recorders won't bring as drastic differences as it brings in microphones. Mics also come in different shapes (polar patterns etc.), whereas recorders are "universal" (get one and it serves all uses). Mics are also long lasting. If you treat them well, they'll last and can even hold their monetary value pretty well.

Even when money is the issue, mics over recorders:

Practical example:
1. SD702 and a cheap mic and perhaps no accessories (booms poles, wind protection etc.).
OR
2. Fostex FR2-LE and an excellent mic (or multiple mics or including accessories) for the price difference between SD702 and the FR2-LE.

-> 2. is better.

The only issues in recorders are if you immediately require features like timecode or more than two channels, which tend to be features of more expensive non-pocket recorders.

  • Thanks! I think that pretty much affirms what I'll do. Having a quality mic/rycote/boom/etc seems like the ticket for now. I don't think I'll be working on anything in the immediate future that would need timecode that wouldn't have a small budget to rent something. PS The Fostex FR2-LE seems cool, I'll have to look into that more... – e_murphy May 8 '13 at 22:32
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Is it for location sound e.g. shoots? Sound/effect acquisition? Voice work?

If 1 then a set of mics and preamp, if 2 then maybe a good portable recorder.

Some of us do: affordable but carefully picked recorder, good portable preamp/mixer, good value microphone(s). Enough separate pieces and you can start combining them as the situation demands. On smaller/DSLR shoots you can run cables from the mixer to the camera and forgo timecode. Then there's recording direct to laptop. So you have options.

p.s. Beats me why Zoom H4n and not Sony PCM-D50.

  • "p.s. Beats me why Zoom H4n and not Sony PCM-D50." PCM-D50 has no built-in XLR, nor phantom 48V. Add external preamp? -Well why'd you pick PCM-D50 then? Add just phantom power and XLR? -Be prepared to drop $100-$200 for a Denecke PS-1A / similar. – Internet Human May 8 '13 at 21:57
  • I did consider the PCM-D50, but I think I want something with phantom built-in for the moment. I could be swayed into something besides the H4n, I've just used one and they seem ok enough. Plus I feel like I can get one for a bargain nearby. – e_murphy May 8 '13 at 22:27
  • For a recorder I'd recommend looking second hand and go for a fr2 - you can find them on e.g. bblist.co.uk for around 400 pounds without timecode a few hundred more with... second hand mics are also an option ;) – RedSonic01 May 9 '13 at 6:11
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    @e_murphy the one thing to note, in my experience with the H4n, is it burned through battery very very fast when P48 is enabled (abnormally fast even). Yes it will give you P48, but it's very safe to say that it won't be the same as the power draw efficiency that you see in something like a 702. I know firsthand the R26 is an outstanding recorder. It does take 4 AA instead of the 2 AA that the H4n takes, so it might be more reliable fr P48 and better input pre's – Stavrosound May 9 '13 at 7:45
  • some good mics out there without phantom and quite a few that don't require the full 48V, that's why I asked... P48 + noisy preamp = what's the point? – georgi May 9 '13 at 8:41
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I would say go with two mics for versatility. I use a Schoeps MS set up and love it but there are situations where I would rather use an XY or ORTF configuration if I had the option.

Another thought to consider is when summing a decoded MS recording back to mono you are cancelling out the figure 8 or side component completely. Essentially this means you've just recorded in mono as there is no stereo information left. An XY recording will have slight phase cancellations when summed back but you are retaining the stereo information.

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I recently made the same decision, investing some money on recording gear to increase overall quality of my recordings. I bought a SD702, a Sennheiser MHK416, a Rode Blimp and a boom pole, spending around 3k euros. My opinion (based on my experience) is that a good quality recorder, with excellent preamps and converters, makes the difference. I compared two recordings made with a cheap SE2200A using a MOTU 828MKII and SD702, where SD702 wins without any doubt.

My 2c, Luca

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A couple poeple touched on this indirectly, but I think it's worth emphasizing that not all recorders produce a true '48V' phantom power at the preamp. While some mics function fine in any situation, high-quality condensers that expect the full drive will perform strangely with the lessened voltage. This has been a problem with the Zoom H4 series before. Preamp circuitry (and overall build) quality is the reason I sprung for a Sound Devices recorder off-the-bat.

An external preamp is also always an option—an H4n with a Sound Devices MP-1 is quite affordable compared to the 702.

My $.02,
~Matt

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