Category: Gear

Someone commented on this video the other day asking how the CSS-5 performed in quiet situations, more specifically the difference between the self-noise in “Normal” and “Wide” modes on the mic. I’ve never thought of the CSS-5 as a very quiet mic (and don’t ever use it for recording quiet things), but I wanted to give him some examples, so I did a quick A/B compare.

Here’s the original video:

Here’s the A/B:

I just did a quick recording on my back porch, so there are some rural noises in there (distant a/c hum, kids and toys, occasional traffic, etc…).

What are your thoughts?

So I’m really getting tired of answering the question “What’s the best handheld recorder” or “Which one should I get” or whatever permutation of that question gets asked. It’s not that I don’t like helping people, but I get bored of answering the same question over and over – plus, there’s really no right answer – it’s very much based on your needs.

So, a month or two ago, I decided that I was going to do a handheld recorder roundup. Not just one that compares specs and all – that’s as simple as data gathering, and anyone can do it with a little help from Google and your preferred audio retailer’s site. What I want to do is to round up all of these recorders and actually do listening tests, then post my results, as well as the recordings up on the blog.

Sounds simple, right? Well, almost – I need to get a hold of all of those recorders first! Not really an easy task. Fast forward to this past week, where all of the manufacturers and their execs / reps are in the same room. Sweet! So I got a number of companies (including, but not limited to Nagra, Tascam and Sony, plus the Olympus and Zoom I already have access to) to commit to letting me demo their recorders. So expect that in the next few months.

Little Tascam Recorder

There were a few new arrivals from Tascam at the show. One in particular caught my attention:

This little guy records two separate tracks at two different levels. It records the one that you are in control of plus a second track at 12db lower. Great for those moments when an unexpected transient comes along and peaks out your recording. Good for those “only have one take” sounds. Of course, in any serious situation, a 702 has more headroom, and you can tier a Deva’s levels…

I haven’t played with this one in a quiet environment to know how good it sounds, but I’d imagine it to be fairly comprable to a Zoom H2 (minus the 4ch capabilities). This is one of the ones I’m testing on the shootout, so I’ll have a better idea on what it’s about in a month or so.


Big Tascam Recorder

Tascam also debuted their new control surface for their Newish large format portable recorder, the HS-P82. It looks cool, and the system is offered at a good price, but I can hardly see it competing with a 788T/CL9 or a Deva/Mix12/Mix8. I’ll get over the fact that it feels a bit cheap. It’s made out of metal and all, but the buttons and switches just feel cheap. But then again, it’s cheaper than all of it’s competitors. Here’s the thing though – it has a TERRIBLE menu system. I mean come on, it doesn’t cost much to make a user-friendly menu. I played with the machine for about 5 minutes and couldn’t figure out input routing or metadata. So I asked a rep. He couldn’t figure it out, so he asked another rep. Took the two of them 5 minutes to figure out that they couldn’t figure it out. Now, I know it comes with a user’s manual, but I use tons of different recorders – Sound Devices, Devas, Nagras, Fostex stuff – every single day – I know how to navigate menus – they all have the same options, just in different places – it isn’t very difficult to figure out. Why this one is, I have no idea. Maybe in a few firmware updates, this will be better. More difficult to figure out than a Cantar X or a Nagra V.

Big Tascam Recorder

Speaking of Nagra, not too sure why this one doesn’t get more attention. The Nagra ARES series. Perhaps the price point, but it’s cheaper than the Sony D1… My only gripe with this one is that it can only do 48k (why?). You can buy different capsules for this one, making it stereo, omni, cardioid, etc… plus a reporter’s mic on a cable you can buy, and an XLR adapter. Pretty sweet recorder – plus it has Nagra Preamps. Legendary. Again, I’ve never used this one in a decent environment, so I can’t account for it’s recording quality, but I would venture to guess it’s one of the best sounding ones out there. It’s another one on my list to test in the next month.

Oh, and the guy I talked to from Nagra, Steve George (a US Nagra Rep and the US Service Manager) literally tracked me down on the AES exhibit floor the day after I met with him just to give me this sweet Nagra hat. They weren’t giving them away, he just happened to have one with me and knew I was a fan. Now THAT’s customer service :-)

Sony – nothing new to report – same few portable recorders. They’ll both be reviewed.

Zoom, Roland/Edirol, Yamaha, Olympus weren’t represented there, but I’ll still try to get some of those to compare for my lineup.

That about does it for the portable recorders! Again, let me know if you have any specific questions about any of these posts or something that I didn’t cover!

Next up, microphones!

So for the second day of AES, I focused mainly on Avid and Portable recorders. Let’s talk about Avid first.

So ProTools 9 and tons of new fancy interfaces. This has probably been the most talked about topic amongst sound professionals for the past month. TONS of rumors floating around (many of them surprisingly true). So what’s the biggest news about PT9? No more LE and no more hardware! No hardware you say? YES! Shockingly (because I know Avid, not because of common sense), you don’t need to own ANY Avid (or Digi) hardware to run Pro Tools. Actually, you don’t need any hardware at all… you can run it straight off your laptop’s internal mic and headphones output if you’d like. It’s just that easy now.

Other cool news? You can have (almost) all of the functionality of PTHD in PT9 when you add on the CPTK (Complete Production Toolkit), which is a $2000 option. The CPTK does a number of useful things, including increasing your audio track count to 192, instrument tracks to 128, video tracks to 64 (why?), adds up to 7.1 surround mixing (yes, they took surround mixing away from the lower version of PT again…), VCA mixing, advanced automation, more TC options and a few other cools things.

PT9 adds a SMPTE timeline, OMF support, auto delay comp, 192k sampling rates, of course the universal hardware deal I’ve already mentioned, and a bunch of other nifty features. Finally, Pro Tools seems to be a piece of software that can meet (almost all of) my needs and doesn’t force me to use their hardware. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.

Also – Eucon support. All Euphonix surfaces work delightfully well with Pro Tools (natively – not through HUI anymore.) Just be prepared to upgrade firmware and such to get the surfaces to play nice – but once they do – all is fine and dandy from there on out!

Now, is it stable? It appears to be so far. Despite the rush to deliver before AES and reports of a very buggy PT9 just weeks before shipping, I’ve heard very few complaints. Still, I would give it a few weeks at least to see if they keep that up.

Mbox 3 Family and MC Control

So lets talk hardware. Obviously you know about the Avid Omni already – that was announced months ago, so I won’t spend too much time talking about it. Let’s talk about the new Mbox 3s though. They were announced a little big ago, but until now, not too many people had seen them. First thing I noticed – they are incredibly heavy! Avid has changed from the polycarbonate body to a 1/4″ metal body. I don’t exactly know why – but I was told by an Avid rep that it was customer preference. Although he also mentioned that the older style polycarbonate ones were more durable… I know the whole thing about “the heavier the audio gear is, the better it must be!” but I don’t think that really applies to wrapping the gear in a thick metal casing… So, while I was very excited about the prospect of buying a new Mbox 3, I’m now slightly less excited because I’ve realized it weighs 7 pounds… not as easily portable anymore. But it’ll do 192k, and sounds MUCH better than version 2. The Mbox 3 and Mini are the same deal – they sound better, but are heavier than their predecessors. I might add that the buttons and switches / pots are much more solid though. Also the Mbox 3 can do 96k now, and the 3 and 3 Pro have random things like a built-in guitar tuner, on-board DSP, etc…

My only gripe is that they all ship with PT8LE and you have to pay $250 to get into PT9. Lame.

I spent a few hours asking questions about and playing with the new hardware and software, so please, if there is something you’d like to know, ask in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer it!

Avid Demonstration Setup

Here’s the Avid Pro Tools Post Production demonstration from AES 129 in SF last week. Disclaimer: this is very much a scripted demo and it feels like an infomercial. I take no responsibility to how this effects your emotions!

Avid Post Production Demo – AES 2010

More posts on AES to come later today and tomorrow!

My first full day in SF was quite an eventful one. I met up with Shaun Farley (from Dynamic Interference) to head up to Skywalker Ranch for the MPSE Sound Panel. We had some time to kill, so we headed over to Pier 39 because he was told there were some Seals that hung out over there. We got there, and sure enough, there were a bunch! They made all sorts of crazy sounds! Shaun had his Sony D50 with him and I had my Olympus LS-10, so we grabbed some (contaminated) recordings. Too many people around – but it was fun nonetheless. (Side note – went back there Sunday night with Nick Meade with a 702 and MKH60 / 30 M/S rig and boom pole. Much better results then.) I also might mention that it’s not the easiest thing to deal with these animals – very unpredictable, and lots of cross-talk between them. I tip my hat to Tim Prebble on his wonderful seal library – I now have a better idea how much work it must have been…

Pier 39 Seals

So we left the pier, somewhat deflated because of all the crowd noise in the recordings, but all was good. So we’re walking around and Shaun spots a submarine docked nearby with a “Submarine Tour” sign near it, and he says to me, “Hey, want to go get some submarine ambiences?” I figured, “hey, why not,” so we headed over, paid a few bucks each, and headed onto the sub.


I was one of those self-guided tours, and there was nobody else around, so we basically had this entire sub to ourself. We started recording ambiences. A few minutes later, Shaun realized that most of the buttons / switches / levers / wheels weren’t locked down, and made some killer sounds! So we literally recorded just about everything that we found. After all was done, we ended up spending about 1.5 hours on this sub, and only saw about 7 or 8 people the entire time we were down there. I haven’t gotten a chance to edit any of the sounds yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll put some samples up! Who knows, maybe it will become a HartFX library, if the recordings came out!

So we headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge to meet up with Nathan Moody (from Noise Jockey) before carpooling up to the Ranch. To quote Nathan, “I can confirm that there are unicorns and triple rainbows at Skywalker Ranch.” Enough said about that. Any more might ruin the magic around it. But about the MPSE event – amazing. Got to talk to Randy Thom, Gary Rizzo, Al Nelson, and many other awesome people! I won’t expound on the event too much, but I will say that it is definitely worth the 1 hour is takes to digest it. Michael Coleman over at Soundworks Collection had his crew there covering the event. You can watch the panel here.

MPSE Sound Panel

Afterwards, Gary Rizzo gave Shaun, Nathan and I a “nickel tour” of the facilities there, but swore us to secrecy about a certain few things, so that’s all I can say about that! However, a special thanks goes out to Gwen for allowing us to have Gary for another 10 minutes :-)

To top off the night, we had the first ever “Sound Guy Scotch/etc.. Tasting” over at Nathan’s place. I came out liking the “Brennivan” from Iceland the best. Cheers to Gunner from Euphonix for gifting that one to Nathan! Go pick some up if you can – very cool drink. The A.H Hirsch Reserve Straight Burbon Whiskey was very good as well!

Very cool day. Got to traipse around SF, Skywalker, and chill with Shaun and Nathan. Early to bed though, since the exhibits opened the next morning. Next up, some of the info I gathered there!

Wow! Tons of stuff going on this week! Big news from Avid, great stuff from many microphone companies, Izotope, and tons more!

The AES trade show floor was considerably smaller than usual, but there was a lot of cool stuff there. If you spent some time digging and talking to reps, inventors, presidents, etc… there was a lot of cool info to be gathered. I did my best at grabbing pics and info about topics and products pertaining to audio post and field recording / production audio. I’ll cover a lot of it here, but if there’s something I don’t cover that you’re wondering about, feel free to ask me if I happened to come across what you’re curious about!

129th AES in SF

I’m going to categorize my posts by topic, so there will be quite a few between here and Sonic Terrain.

Stay tuned – many posts to come this week!

After about 8 weeks of non-stop work, I’ve finally launched! I have my first library for sale starting today, my Industrial library! I posted a demo a week ago, but here it is again, for good measure :-)

Check it out over at !

Excerpt of the library description from the site:

It’s HUGE. As in almost 24gb of sound. All in 192k/24b. If you played all of the the files back to back, it would take you over 5 1/2 hours to listen to it all. And that’s not even the cool part.
This is kind of a unique library. I recorded with a number of microphone (up to 8 at times) into two Deva V recorders (a single one didn’t like recording 8 channels of 192k/24b!). Then in post, I mixed and matched different mics to make the baddest, beefiest sounding tools I could. But the cool thing is that I’ve also included the separate mics on their own, all time aligned and all, so you can do your own mix, or just chose one perspective you like for a specific sound. So there are over 1000 sounds, but sometimes you have 5 different perspectives of the same sound. Completely customizable! It’s all labelled in the metadata too, so you can search by how many feet the mic was from the sound if you’d like, or from Close, Medium, or Far Perspectives.

I just posted an article about the new Sound Devices USBPre 2 over at Sonic Terrain. It’s a great piece of gear! Go check it out!

Sound Devices just announced a new version of their USBPre this week at IBC 2010 in Amsterdam. It boasts many beefed up features and a new standalone mode. But this is a USB device, so what does this have to do with field recording? I’ll tell you!

Read the rest of the article here.

Also, I’m hoping to be able to get the review model from Sound Devices, so stay tuned for a review!

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