Zoom H1n As Only Recorder

In late 2021 we took a trip to my wife’s childhood home of Miami, Florida. We spent several days see some sites, visiting some folks, and spending time with her mother.

After the trip to Maine earlier that year where I brought the MixPre6ii and multiple mics, I decided to try the other end of the spectrum. I brought only my Zoom H1n.

For wind protection I brought a foam I’d bought online, and over that the Zoom furry from my H2n. I’d figured it would be enough. Only half right. It worked ok for mild breezes, but the 10mph on the beach required the high pass filter and even then wind was audible.

Sitting in the 3rd row of a minivan trying to catch banter between the driver and front row passenger doesn’t work very well, but noise reduction helps – more on that in another post.

Handling noise is not so great. It’s pretty intrusive to the recordings vs. a normal handheld mic. The noise can be avoided with careful handling, but any movement between hand and recorder is noisy.

Startup time is a problem with large memory cards, and with smaller (4GB) cards its down to 4 seconds.

Sound quality is good enough for clear intelligibility, I didn’t really have an issue with the sound quality while listening back. With music it might be different but the combination of voice and general sounds came through ok. The MixPre6 has less noise, and it paired with a ‘real’ microphone sounds better, but not game-changing better.

The level control is a bit fiddly – between 5 and 7 it doesn’t seem to have much effect based on the meter, but above 7 it ramps up quickly – so I just left it at 5-6 and that worked for most everything. I did not use the limiter, but did use the high pass filter sometimes.

Setting the filename to be the date & time made post processing pretty easy. It would be better if I could add meta data to the recording while it was in the recorder, like the MixPre. I missed the bluetooth functionality a bit.

I started out using nimh rechargeable batteries, but picked up lithiums during the trip.

Warning: If you set the battery type to lithium you will not be able to use nimh batteries until you get it set back. This may require a fresh set of lithiums to get the battery level high enough to allow the recorder to run

Battery life with lithiums was enough for most of not all the trip. I will definitely use those going forward.

I like that the H1n is small enough that it doesn’t attract much attention. It can be set down on a bench or thigh, or even tucked into a shirt pocket (with substantial risk of noise when moving) for hands-free operation.

I don’t like the wind protection. It obscures the level control, and isn’t strong enough in anything more than a stiff breeze. I’ve purchased a Rycote windhover, which seems to be more effective.

Would I take it again or is there a better alternative?

While the H1n is small enough that it’s not much bother to take along, I think there may be better options that would have me very tempted:

Tascam DR-10x

Bigger package, omni mic, better wind protection, mono only.

Zoom H2n

Better wind protection, front and back stereo could be mixed to mono, has pre-record

MixPre + regular mic

Best sound quality, very big package, better metadata and longer pre-record.

Tascam DR-10x Review First Looks

Just got a Tascam DR-10x to play with. I was looking for something with lower handling & wind noise than the H1n, less size than the MixPre, and wasn’t concerned with stereo for a lot of what I do. $137 delivered.

Mixed bag so far, but I don’t think I’ll be sending it back. Size is awesome. Starts fairly quick even with a 32gb card. Headphone output is pretty minimal, but I wasn’t expecting much from an AAA powered device.

It is designed to work with dynamic mics. No phantom power, and there are four mic gain settings: EXT, Low, Med, High. The manual says that EXT is for ‘external input, Hot pin unbalanced.’ So, I had confined myself to the other three settings and started testing the mics I have.

Beyer M58 – Works well on low or mid gain, virtually no handling noise, but it feels like I’m holding a billy club. With the foam on it’s pretty windproof but it is comically large.

AT8004 – Lots of handling noise, best on low gain, same meh sound I always get with this mic.

SM58 – Same as the AT8004, but with better sound.

AT8010 – Hot output, even low gain can be clipped with loud talking. Low handling noise, easy to protect from wind.

ME66 – Super hot output. Low gain a must but even then useful only for quiet stuff. Really needs to be in a blimp for use outdoors.

AT8035 – Low gain is fine, reasonable handling noise for a shotgun, same as the ME66 for wind, needs a blimp.

The AT8010 was what I’d planned on using it with, and I was really hoping it would work out but even low gain was too sensitive. So I tried the EXT setting just to see, and that dropped the input by 10-20db and that solved the clipping problem, but at the expense of increased noise.

The limiter proved to be the answer. Normally I never use the limiter on inexpensive recorders because they don’t work very well, but I decided to try this one and so far the results are acceptable.

It’s small and light enough there’s no reason not to bring it. With the mic attached it fits in the bags I carry. The lack of wires and no headphones gives it sort of a film camera vibe because I have to listen back to see what I got. For what I’ll use this for I can’t make any changes anyway, so monitoring has less value.

The BWF data in the audio file includes a lot of info on the settings like mic gain level and low cut filter, auto level, and limiter settings. This is nice.

I need to use it more before I decide on the sound quality, but for now I’m thinking this is a keeper.

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?

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.