I was a bit surprised at the small difference I heard in recordings made with the Sony PCM-D50 alongside the Zoom H2n in my last post, and both sounded very close to the Rode NT4 reference track to my ear. A pleasant surprise, indeed considering the cost difference. But many folks who recommend the D50 do so because of its ability to handle external mics, a job poorly handled by the Zoom H2.
Rode NT4 Into Everyone
So I turned to the wonderfully flexible Rode NT4 stereo mic as a source, installing the 9 volt battery that allows it to work without phantom power. Then I put together a chain of adapters to connect the mic to a Coleman Audio LS3. I bought this gadget years ago as a monitor switcher, but it also works as a passive distribution box for comparison tests like these. The LS3 gave me three outputs and another chain of adapters turned those into stereo mini plugs for the three recorders.
Capturing the Tracks
As usual I “printed” or recorded a 1 khz test tone at the start of each recorder track. This is a snap with the single mic feeding all the recorders. I planned to create a set of tracks you can download in raw form as well as a set of level matched tracks, so I kept the recorders running while I moved the speaker and fired up my Martin OM-18GE, tuned to taropatch open G. I played a few hard strummed chords, some harmonics, then the first verse of “Sanoe” by Queen Liliu`okalani.
Here are those raw tracks. Please be very careful with your levels when playing these tracks, they contain loud piercing test tones than can hurt your ears and your equipment if played too loud!!
Level Matching Tutorial
I did some level matching on the clips and used the Licecap screen capture program from Cockos, the REAPER folks, to make a video of the process. I’m using the Sonalksis Free G Stereo meter on each track. This not only tells us the level on a fine scale, it allows precise level adjustment separate from the track fader and master fader. I find it indispensible for this kind of work. I also keep my monitor and headphone volumes down. Test tones can hurt your ears and your gear (second warning!) And I turn off snapping since we’re not dealing with beats and bars.
Here are the resulting clips. Remember, our brains love labels and they will affect what we hear based on those labels, so if you really want a clean comparison you need to use a double-blind testing tool like foobar2000 on the PC or abxer for the Mac.
What the Tails Tell Us
I’m usually not too concerned about slight variations in frequency response when I evaluate mics or recorders. I don’t want the recording to sound like it came through a megaphone, but minor colorations don’t seem to me to affect the emotional impact of the recording. I do listen for self-noise, though, because noise is a distraction, a mask over fine detail, and it breaks the illusion of “being there” that I look for in a track. So I often find myself listening to the “tails” of tracks when comparing recordings. For this comparison I went to the end of each track and selected an area after the last note had begun to decay, raised the level a lot, 12 dB, and rendered those for you.
There’s a look at our three recorders when used with an external mic. I’d say it’s pretty clear that the Sony tops the field here in low noise performance, and the H2 is bringing up the rear. In an earlier post I compared the H2n to the Echo Audiofire and was not too impressed, but now that I hear it in the context of other portable recorders, I’m much happier with the new Zoom. At least for the limited purpose of capturing solo acoustic guitar in a small room, the Zoom H2n is in the ballpark with the Sony. If your needs are more demanding, something like nature or sound effects recording, you may find that the Sony provides more clean gain, something I haven’t tested.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 9th, 2011 at 12:42 pm and is filed under Audio, Comparisons, Recording, Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.