What do you call the audio equivalent of home movies?

So we’re back from our trip and I’ve got several hours of recordings. Something I’ve been trying to figure out is how to turn the recordings I make of my family into more of a finished product. Over the years I’ve accumulated something over 600 recordings. Just like a huge stack of photos or a bunch of videos, the recordings are fine by themselves to a point, but they are often long and have lots of dead space in them. Or they may be full of just ambiance, but it’s 90 min and really 3-5min is more than enough.

How to edit this down? How do I make this something that is more entertaining, and has more of a structure?

The normal process is to start with a story idea, go collect audio based on that idea, then piece it together in a way that tells the story. But what if there’s no story at the start?

The good news is that the audience is very forgiving, if a bit small – me and my family, maybe a bit of extended family – and the story doesn’t have to be of NPR or even podcast caliber.

The bad news is that there isn’t an established process for forming a story from a bunch of raw audio. At least, I haven’t found one. So I’ve come to a basic strategy and we’ll see how it works:

  1. Listen to the tape, and see what the common themes emerge. For example, on this recent trip I made much more of an effort to get family banter so there is more discussion of the ‘Are you recording this?’ line along with discussion about which is better, audio or video in the beginning and then the discussion changes over the trip as recording became a bit more accepted (or they just got resigned to it). Another was that as we drove from one part of main to another we started to run into places being closed and it became a running joke.
  2. List these themes and the chronology of events.
  3. Form a story structure of the events & themes.
  4. Go back to the audio for the bits that support those items & pull the clips.
  5. Assemble the piece, using narration to fill the gaps as necessary.

I have no idea if this will work or no, but it’s the best I can come up with so It’s what I’m doing.

For what it’s worth, I’m using Hindenburg Journalist to do most of the editing, with Reaper being used to split up some of the polywav files.

Last but not least, what do I call the result? In the interest of helping whoever else might be trying to do the same thing, what do we call the audio version of home movies or a scrapbook?

Powering the MixPre – reconsidering the options

The SoundDevices MixPre recorder comes with a battery ‘sled’ that holds 4 AA batteries along with an AC adapter. A set of 4 Alkaline batteries might power the MixPre for maybe 20 minutes, which isn’t really useful for anything. Four rechargeable batteries fair a lot better – over an hour in my experience – and are useful for short recordings. Anything longer though, and you’re looking at needing to either swap batteries or use some other power source.

The crafty folks at SoundDevices added a USB C port to the MixPre, and it can be used to power the unit as well. The USB A port can also be used, but with limited capabilities.

While planning a recent vacation trip I recalled the last time I’d taken a recorder on vacation and decided to re-examine powering options. Going through my notes from last time I learned some things about what I used and didn’t use:

  • I brought some USB power banks (Anker 10,000mah, and 26,800mah), along with a cable to connect to the MixPre6ii. Both power banks can do Power Delivery, so they were the obvious source of power, except the only bag I had at the time was the Orca and I decided not to bring it. As a result, the recorder had to live in the backpack when using the power banks.
  • I really like using the recorder with the AA sled & strap. I’m usually carrying just one mic and ‘phones, and it’s a very simple setup. No trouble getting to any controls on the recorder, and it’s nice & small so it fits in whatever bag I’m using to haul all the other stuff when I travel.
  • The AA’s are a very bulky and heavy power source. Spare batteries require big pockets or a bag, and the charger is pretty big and requires access to AC.

In reconsidering power options for the next trip I decided on a goal of a total 6 hours of record time per day, although not necessarily in one recording. That’s to cover recording, listening back in the car, entering metadata, etc. So that’s enough battery to cover six hours, and the ability to charge it overnight.

Here’s a table that shows how the options I considered compare.

Recording lighthouses

What do you do when your spouse wants to see a bunch of lighthouses? Well if you’re me you record them! And since we’re on vacation I’m trying to record the trip in the same sort of way that a photographer or videographer would.

Getting family banter is easy. Getting good sounding family banter while in a restaurant in a way that doesn’t mortify my teenaged daughters is a bit more challenging. Tucking the mic under the flap keeps it a bit discreet, and putting the bag on the table at the end of a booth works, but restaurants are noisy places. Really, the Zoom H2n would be a better choice in that specific instance. The car and hotel room, along with walking around are better times to try to capture good sound.

Lighthouses are also surprisingly noisy places. Lots of people, wind, ocean, birds, and people. And the cars they leave idling while taking a quick snap of themselves.

Amazingly, not many have come up and asked me what I’m doing. Usually, holding a mic with a windscreen is obvious enough to draw questions.

Amazingly, my daughters still walk up to me as I’m recording to ask “How’s the recording going? Oh, sorry!”

Still, it’s not too hard to get a minute or so of decent ambience out of 5 minutes. My standards are not too high – I’m not waiting for silence, just the absence of loud people and vehicles. Distant boats & planes are part of the soundscape in my ears.

More to follow…

More on The Strut Case

I decided to take the strut case on our trip, and it’s working out fairly well.

The AT4022 tucks under the flap for storage, but recording from there works also
The AT4022 tucks under the flap for storage, but recording from there works also
Unused cables can be left connected but tucked through the belt loops - very handy!
Unused cables can be left connected but tucked through the belt loops – very handy!

I’ve got the Talent cell in the bottom battery wrap, and it’s had more than enough power for my needs. The AT4022 is plugged into mic 4, and I can keep the mic wrapped under the cover for storage, but still record with it there if I want to.

I plugged my stereo cable into the 1 & 2, and tucked it into the belt loops so it’s ready when I want to record an ambiance.

Lighthouses are noisy places - lots of people
Lighthouses are noisy places – lots of people

I brought my clippy mics with the plan that I’d clip them to the ends of the bag and they would go into the aux input 5/6, when I want a stereo image on the go. I haven’t tried it yet because I haven’t felt the need, the wind has been too strong for the little furries they have, and I’m rather liking working with mono.

I’ve brought an AT8010 to use, but haven’t brought it out yet but will soon because the AT4022 does have a fair bit of handling noise and cable noise.

Anyway, back to the Strut case. It is working quite well. The velcro is annoying, but it holds well and I don’t know what would be a better choice. I’ve been using Etymotic earphones for monitoring because regular ‘phones aren’t hat-compatible, and they fit in the pocket just fine. So I can carry everything with not to many cables hanging out. I’ve been carrying the charger for the TalentCell with me just in case, but today that will be left at home so I can move the battery to the pocket and try things that way.

I’ve also learned that the Rode WS8 works well but is no match for the BBG with furry, and the Etymotics don’t reveal wind rumble as well as I’d like.

Strut MixPre6 Case

The Orca OR-270 is a nice bag, and it’s great for some stuff but it’s aimed a sound-for-film, and it doesn’t really protect the recorder much while it’s in use.

So, I decided to give the Strut STR-MP6 MixPre6 case a try because it looks like a better bet for the kind of work I do. Strut cases are made in Vermont, and they make a variety of cases with many aimed at smaller recorders.

Where the Orca OR-270 has some structure to it, the Strut case is fabric with some foam in the front and back. It comes with a harness, but no shoulder strap.

No rigid structure in this bag, but a lot of features and utility
No rigid structure in this bag, but a lot of features and utility

The recorder attaches to the case using little straps that go around the top pillars.

The ends have short sleeves that extend from the end of the recorder, and seal with Velcro. On the side that rest against your body, there are little zipper openings to get to the power and volume controls. Getting to both is a matter of feel. Of course, tearing open the velcro will give easier access but that is neither easy nor a single-handed operation.

Access to the power switch through a small zippered opening. It’s about as hard to access as it looks, but can be done.
Access to the power switch through a small zippered opening. It’s about as hard to access as it looks, but can be done.
The volume knob is a bit trickier than the power switch
The volume knob is a bit trickier than the power switch
Much easier access with the end opened up
Much easier access with the end opened up
Same on the other side
Same on the other side

The bottom of the bag has to overlapping velcro flaps that cover the open bottom, and serve to hold a battery. However the ends are open, so the bag comes with an adhesive velcro patch that you’re supposed to stick to your battery so it stays in place. One advantage of the battery ends being exposed is that it’s very easy to get to the battery for charging.

The bottom sealed up with no battery
The bottom sealed up with no battery
Opened up and ready to wrap around a battery - you can see the included sticky-back Velcro that is supposed to be stuck to the battery to keep it in place
Opened up and ready to wrap around a battery – you can see the included sticky-back Velcro that is supposed to be stuck to the battery to keep it in place
With the battery in place. It sticks out a bit, and the cord is exposed.
With the battery in place. It sticks out a bit, and the cord is exposed.
The front pocket holds the same battery with room to spare, making it a much better choice. There’s a small (i.e. 15x40mm) pass through opening to the main compartment
The front pocket holds the same battery with room to spare, making it a much better choice. There’s a small (i.e. 15x40mm) pass through opening to the main compartment

The removable cover has an integrated clear window.

The wrap around cover has a vinyl window attached
The wrap around cover has a vinyl window attached
With the outer cover peeled back. There isn’t much opening at the ends.
With the outer cover peeled back. There isn’t much opening at the ends.
All wrapped up, it’s pretty nondescript and reasonably stealthy (minus yellow mic cable of course)
All wrapped up, it’s pretty nondescript and reasonably stealthy (minus yellow mic cable of course)

Here’s my thoughts:

  1. Getting to the power switch and headphone knob are more difficult. Like, really difficult. I found that with a USB C battery plugged in it was almost impossible to get to the switch, and the headphone knob was reachable but barely, and very hard to use in the cases where a single click as to be hit like setting a high-pass filter. Using a hirose adapter it’s more workable, but not as easy as the OR-270. If the bag is hanging from the shoulder strap the recorder moves downward and the strap that strap-rings connects to moves out of the way. But, if you wrap the bottom tightly the recorder pulls that same strap downward, covering up the power switch/volume knob. See the two pics below to see the difference. In fact, with the 8AA case, the bottom needs to be opened up a little to provide the necessary slack so the recorder is hanging from the straps.
With the recorder pulled downward by a tight battery wrap, the switch gets covered up
With the recorder pulled downward by a tight battery wrap, the switch gets covered up
But if the recorder can hang freely, there’s more room to get to the switch
But if the recorder can hang freely, there’s more room to get to the switch
  1. The sides can be sealed up well, and the bottom seals pretty good. I would not hesitate to use this case on a beach with blowing sand. I would hesitate to use it in a driving rainstorm, or out in rain for a long time. I would not want to set it down on sand, or in a puddle. While better than the OR-270 it’s still not close to waterproof.
  2. The integrated rain cover because it’s not in the way if you don’t want to use it, and always there if you do.
  3. A nice front pocket to hold wireless or batteries, or even a pair of cans (albeit a tight fit). It’s large – probably large enough to hold both the Anker battery and a smaller talent cell at the same time. The pass through opening is much small than on the Orca, so small items stand a better chance of staying in the pocket but the flap cover leaves gaps at the ends and isn’t going to keep small items in when the bag is upended.
  4. The bag is stealthy looking and nondescript, mainly due to it being black with a pretty small logo as well. Many would take it for a man-bag or murse. Personally I’d prefer something in khaki or some other less tactical color.
  5. Keeps the heat in very well. I don’t really worry about the recorder getting too hot to function, SoundDevices builds very robust equipment. I do worry about it getting too hot to handle. That and melting any snacks I might stash in the pocket.
  6. There are Velcro patches here and there so no matter how you have the cover configured it’s not flapping around.
  7. With so much Velcro, it’s a noisy bag when you’re getting things set up and making adjustments.

I really want to like this bag more than I do. It ticks a lot of boxes and in many ways it’s a better fit for me than the Orca OR-270. The problems are the volume encoder and the power switch. To be fair the only way SoundDevices could have put those two items in worse positions is if they put the power switch in my neighbor’s basement and the volume control in the middle of last week. Bag makers are facing a challenge when trying to enclose a MixPre recorder in a way that leaves power and volume accessible. Still, Orca managed to do it, and turning the recorder off while in the Strut is like giving a ferret a prostate exam – it’s not exactly fighting you, but it’s not helping either. Add a USB cable proving power, and it starts to get entertaining for anyone watching you.

Where does this leave me bag-wise? Later this year I’ve got a trip to the coast where I’ll be making recordings while on a family vacation. Originally I was planning to pick just one bag, and leave the other but now I’m thinking I may take them both and see which one wins.

Orca bags OR-270 and MixPre6

On our way to Florida in June, 2019, I stopped by Gotham sound in Atlanta and picked up an Orca Bags OR270 sound bag.

The Orca OR-270 - no exactly stealthy, but designed with purpose
The Orca OR-270 – no exactly stealthy, but designed with purpose

I’ve been using the MixPre3 with just a strap for a while but kept feeling like a bag would be a better choice. It could provide storage and some protection for the recorder. It would also make using external power more of an option. I’m not a sound-for-film guy, so I don’t use wireless mics or have time code thingamadoojer’s or a battery distribution system hanging around.

I bought the OR-270 and have been using it on and off since then. While it’s a nice bag, it’s not ideal for some situations but very good for others.

Here’s my thoughts:

  1. It fits both the MixPre3 and MixPre6, although the 3 cannot use the lower mounting straps because there’s no opening to run the webbing through.
  2. Easy access to all connectors, the power switch and the headphone knob.
Easy access to everything with the side zipped down
Easy access to everything with the side zipped down
No trouble getting to the power switch - at least no more than usual
No trouble getting to the power switch – at least no more than usual
  1. The sides unzip easily and there’s a handy velcro patch to hold them in place when fully unzipped.
Nice velcro spots keep the side flaps tidy when open
Nice velcro spots keep the side flaps tidy when open
  1. The back pocket holds a big (26,800mah) Anker battery snugly, and has a slip pocket for smaller items.
Even the large Anker battery fits the back pocket
Even the large Anker battery fits the back pocket
  1. The front pocket has straps for wireless receivers, and a giant pass through window. Don’t consider this pocket available for storage because anything you put in it ends up in the main compartment with the recorder, and then ends up falling out when you unzip the sides.
The front 'pocket' is really just elastic bands for holding wireless, or batteries. Large pass through to the main compartment.
The front ‘pocket’ is really just elastic bands for holding wireless, or batteries. Large pass through to the main compartment.
  1. It is dorky looking – the color, shape, and prominent label all make for a rather obviously strange looking bag. No one is going to mistake this for a simple fanny pack. Most of the time I could not care less about this, but in some circumstances it’s better to look more amateur.
  2. There’s plenty of ventilation space around the recorder, which is nice when it’s warmer out.
  3. The clear plastic window/raincover doesn’t really have enough space to get in to actually mix anything. Not an issue for me, but for some it might be.
The rain cover provides good coverage, but not a lot of access.
The rain cover provides good coverage, but not a lot of access.
  1. The inside and outside of the bag – basically all the blue fabric – is the fluffy side of velcro. This makes it easy to stick things to the inside if needed.

Where the bag excels is in good conditions, and when access to the sides is really important. The bag really opens up, and it’s barely more difficult to get to things than with no bag. Power is no problem, it’s easy to fit a battery in the back pocket and route a cable to the USB-C jack, or to the bottom if using a Hirose adapter. Whether on the shoulder or sitting on a table, everything’s easy to get to. With the giant Anker battery, I can go all day easily using a mic or two and also be able to charge my phone, iPad, or other stuff.

Where the bag lets me down is when conditions aren’t so good – rain, blowing sand, etc. The bag doesn’t seal up very well with any mic cables leaving the bag. It is possible to zip up one side and have the cable leave the top of the bag, but it looks awful and puts a sharp bend in the cable along with pressure on the connections. If you have two cables coming out, forget it. The recorder is suspended off the bottom of the bag, so if you put it down somewhere wet the recorder isn’t going to be sitting on the wet ground, but the bag isn’t designed to keep liquid out.

So where I ended up was that I like the bag for times when I needed external power, but don’t use it much otherwise because it doesn’t offer any real benefit over going naked and makes the recorder much, much larger. This bag was clearly designed for someone using some wireless in a sound-for-film context, which isn’t the context I’m in.

Testing the TalentCell battery

The SoundDevices MixPre6 is a great audio recorder, but it’s fairly power hungry and on the journey to find the best power solution for me I bought a TalentCell battery from Amazon here: TalentCell battery (yep, that’s an affiliate link).

The battery was less than $40, and with the addition of a Cable Techniques Hirose connector from B & H, it was ready to use after some charging.

First unpleasant discovery was yesterday, when the recorder just shut off. This was disturbing because when using the regular AA battery sled I get plenty of beepy warnings that I’m about to run out of power.

The abrupt end makes sense though, considering that the recorder was still getting more voltage than it would from AA’s when the battery itself decided to shut off.

So hence the test today to see how much recording time I can get before it dies.

Over 2 hours so far, but I expect at least double or triple that.

UPDATE: I got a total of 495min and 7sec before the battery shut things down. The ending was abrupt as it was last time, and a bit disturbing because there were clearly two lights out of five on when the battery died, same as last time. So, when I use this battery I’ll need to keep an eye on the record time, or just treat two lights as a signal to charge.