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    ZOOM h4n preamps are crap
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    Senior Member Blackout's Avatar
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    Well there you go. The title of the post says it all.

    I had some very major equipment stolen. Sound Devices recorders and mixers amongst other things. The only piece of equipment that managed to remain unscathed was my mic, the Sanken CS-3e.

    I had a film coming up and I did not have money or credit to buy new gear to replace my stuff or even to rent (my credit is destroyed) but I took the gig anyway, and in desperation bought a Zoom H4n and hooked it up to my $1450 super cardiod Sanken CS3e.

    Well, the results were GOD AWFUL and it now convinces me that the Zoom H4N is a piece of $%!T and anyone singing its praises is deaf.

    If you use it's on board microphones to record ambiance and nat sound, it's fine, but GOD forbid you plug a REAL mic into it's XLR inputs and use phantom power. I don't even know how to fully explain how bad the sound quality is because people will probably think these samples I am going to post are GOOD, but make no mistake, they are utter crap.

    Mic choice is superb - a sanken cs3-e, mic placement is superb, just about one to two feet away. YET, for some reason, on the Zoom H4N the recordings sound stale, distanced, echo filled, bassy, and just plain LAME!

    They were so bad, that we coudln't use them on the film and had to go INTO THE CAMERA xlr on a Sony Ex1.

    These are samples of during the shooting with the Zoom h4n that had to be discarded because the producers were unhappy:

    http://www.blackout.com/blackout/zoom/MONO-000.wav

    http://www.blackout.com/blackout/zoom/MONO-004.wav


    Mind you, this is the best mic in the world right next to the actors faces and it gets the equivalent of "gh1 MUD" but in the audio.

    The same mic to a Sound Devices 702 or even a mixpre was a different beasy entirely.

    How people say they are using the Zoom H4n in professional productions blows my mind.. it sounds like crap. No if ands or buts.


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    You sure you've pointed the mike to the mouth every time ? And you're sure you weren't pointing above the heads or behind the persons ?

    And you've selected only the input 1 and not MIC and input 1 and 2 at same time ?

    It also depends on the location...you can't remove "natural reverbs".

    But maybe if you post it with image it's easier to hear
    SOUND EDITING - SOUND DESIGN - AND ALSO SOUNDRECORDING

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    Senior Member Blackout's Avatar
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    The positioning of the mic was perfect, and very close, I know my mic and how it best captures dialog. The room was not too reverby. Regular large room with carpet floors, the scene was a dinner party., and they are discussing a script, they have a storyboard out.

    Upon taking the xlr out of the zoom and going into the camera's input, the sound suddenly became fine. it really blew my mind how muddy the zoom sounded and I thought I was insane. Again this is a $1400 Sanken cs-3e mic. Top of the line. I also put in fresh batteries just in cas eit was the power that was off. I made sure it was on phantom 48 not 25.

    The EX1 is not that great either but compared to the zoom it was leagues ahead, as soon as I plugged into that all was clear. I tried pluging the mic into both input 1, then input 2 of the h4n. They were both selected though, not both mic and input 1 & 2, but input 1 & 2. I couldn't get just one of them to light up/ work in mono mode.. could that be the issue? Am I missing something? Scanned through the manual and couldn't seem to select just input 1 or 2, they both light up... then I monitored in mono mode. Also the input level was very low... this is a hot condenser mic.. I don't get it, I had to have the input up to near 100 and the conditions were perfect. I find it hard to believe that the $20 on board mics sounded better than my $1400 sanken super cardiod.

    I am going to return this h4n with the slight chance it is defective but for some reason I doubt it, I bet it just sucks. That or I have gone fully insane.

    I had read some reviews and figured the preamps aren't going to be stellar when I'm used to my sound devices pres but I didn't think they would be THIS bad. I would love it if I am just completely missing something and made some user error... tell me it is so... tell me I am insane! One of the guys listened and said the sound was great but he has no idea what he is talking about.. to him just being able to make out the words is great sound. I can't post the same take from the camera because they have the footage but it is infinitely clearer.
    Last edited by Blackout; 11-21-2009 at 04:46 AM.


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    Senior Member Tim Joy's Avatar
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    I realized that when monitoring the live input there's a weird echoey 'out of phase" quality to the sound, but when you play it back, it sounds 'normal' again.
    Also, judging the sound quality from the headphone output is not possible, because it has much more noise than the actual recording when you play it on a proper monitoring system. It probably has it's own tonality too. In short- YOU CAN'T TRUST what you hear from the headphone out.

    I don't use the preamps, as I go in from a SD 302, but was happy with them for messing around doing scratch tracks.


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    - To add to this conversation -
    If you plug the zoom into a mixer (at a concert lets say) and the stereo mics are also picking up sound - upon playback, you will get a crazy echo, that sounds horrible. But when you import onto the computer, the seperate line in track will sound perfect. The same with the stereo mics.


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    #6
    Resident Preditor mcgeedigital's Avatar
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    If you want the best sound out of the Zoom with a phantom powered shotgun you MUST use a mixer in-line.
    Matt Gottshalk - Dp/Editor
    McGee Digital Media


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    Senior Member Gohanto's Avatar
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    It's possible you have a defective unit. The preamps aren't stellar (I've tried low level Foley work with an NTG-3 through the XLR, level at 100, and the hiss was way too loud for a professional recording) but going through my MixPre it was fine.

    Hiss is the only issue I've got with it though, and not any of the echo/bassy issues you've described.
    I invented the "remove echo" audio filter. And only people that boom their actors closely get to use it.

    Alex Donkle - Sound Designer -


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    I always use mics with small devices like the Zoom that have variable voltage input. For example, the Schoeps MK41 with a CMC6 body will happily run in the 12-30 volt area which is where most tiny recorders operate, depending of course, on load.


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    I've gone directly into the H4n with a couple of different phantom power mics, and the only significant noise present was the self-noise of the mics themselves. Then again, I'm a noob. I've got some side-by-side recordings using an Alesis MultiMix 8 FW going into BoomRecorder, and I certainly can't tell the difference between. The Mixer function on the H4n, which is a bit non-intuitive, seems to be a better way to make level adjustments (especially in 4-channel mode) than the main level controls. Maybe me taking advantage of those has something to do with it.

    My suggestion is to use what works for you. For what I'm doing, the H4n is certainly acceptable for most any situation where I don't have time or opportunity for a full system. Would I rather use an R44? Of course. However, at the current price point, I'm baffled by anyone complaining about the sound.

    Then again, maybe it's just that I'm a 48 year-old deaf guy who thinks that he can still hear. - Tim


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    #10
    Senior Member Blackout's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Joy View Post
    I realized that when monitoring the live input there's a weird echoey 'out of phase" quality to the sound, but when you play it back, it sounds 'normal' again.
    Also, judging the sound quality from the headphone output is not possible, because it has much more noise than the actual recording when you play it on a proper monitoring system. It probably has it's own tonality too. In short- YOU CAN'T TRUST what you hear from the headphone out.

    I don't use the preamps, as I go in from a SD 302, but was happy with them for messing around doing scratch tracks.
    The 'out of phase' quality you are talking about is the slight delay of sound to your headphones from processing time, so you are hearing a tiny few millisecond echo when monitoring in headphones on the zoom.

    That's not what I am talking about though, I have imported the files, even at 24bit 96khz mic sanken mic sounds like poop and I know it's not the mic so it must be the on board zoom preamps just can't hack it or there is not enough phantom power goign to the mic or something. I plug the mic into a high end mixer and it's night and day.


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