If you’re a DSLR video shooter using the Zoom H4N, you’ve probably heard the Sound Devices MixPre can take your audio recording to the next level. But what, exactly, does the “next level” sound like? I recently purchased a MixPre, and I’ve been asked by a couple readers of my blog to post sample audio. And that’s what I’ve got for you today.
Here are three recordings which test the following scenarios:
AT875 mic -> MixPre -> H4N line-in with -10db M-Audio attenuation pad (recording level on Zoom H4N set to 19)
AT875 mic -> MixPre -> H4N line-in with -25db Pink Noise attenuation cable (recording level on Zoom H4N set to 27)
AT875 mic -> H4N sans mixer (recording level set to 82)
NOTE: It’s necessary to use attenuation of some kind between the Tape Out on the MixPre and the Zoom H4N’s line-in, because the signal the MixPre sends to the Zoom is too hot otherwise, and will cause the Zoom to clip before the MixPre’s limiter’s kick in. I blogged about this previously here.
The recording environment: my finished basement, which is very quiet and covered in carpet. It was a windy day today, though, so you can occasionally hear neighbor’s wind chimes in the background. For this test, I read the first paragraph of a Paul Bowles short story, so it’s your basic male dialog.
Equipment: AT875R mic on stand, 10″ away from my mouth; Sound Devices MixPre; Zoom H4N (with latest firmware update).
Hypothesis: It shouldn’t really make any difference whether you use a -10db pad or a -25db cable – you just have to raise the recording level a bit when using the -25 cable. But I am wondering whether the -25db cable sample will be noisier because of need to crank up recording level on Zoom H4N. It shouldn’t be, because I’m told that plugging into the line-in on the Zoom bypasses the preamps on the Zoom completely. Finally, the Zoom H4N should be noisier without the MixPre in front of it, because the preamps on the consumer Zoom H4N are said to be crappy by comparison with the professional Sound Devices MixPre.
After reviewing the results, here’s my thoughts:
As expected, the MixPre does improve the quality of the audio recording compared with recording directly into Zoom H4N. There is less hiss, and the sound is richer. Still, the Zoom H4N all by itself is not bad. And to my surprise, the -25db Pink Noise cable seems to have less noise than the -10db pad, although I think that’s down to relative recording levels being different (although I tried to make them the same – the audio waveforms are taller on the -10 pad file). As I’ve posted previously, I far prefer the Pink Noise cable over the -10 M-Audio pad, because of it’s ergonomically angled 3.5mm jack, which allows it to lay flat in my sound bag.
So these test results do nothing to change my preference: recording audio with MixPre in front of my Zoom H4N, connected with Pink Noise -25db cable.
Of course, sound is a very subjective thing. What do your ears tell you?