Sunday, 21 October 2012

Buying, Selling and Prevaricating

As I do a little bit of lecturing for Lincoln University, one of the most common questions I get at the end of lectures, or by email, is with regards to buying equipment. Inevitably when starting out, money is very tight, but I always quote the axiom of "Buy Well - Buy Once". And more often than not advising people against buying a mediocre recorder (which is more often than not what I'm asked about), but to buy a good second hand mic (either a sennhiser mkh 416 or mkh 60 with full rycote) and to buy a good second hand small mixer (more often than not a sound devices 302).

All about the Pre-Amps

Tristan Ofield and I did some very non scientific tests a couple of years ago, to try and find the weak spot in his recording chain. He had a beyerdynamic shotgun mic and one of the Zoom H4n recorders, and he was having a problem with the amount of hiss on his recordings. I've had a Zoom H2 pocket recorder that I carry round with me as an ultimate backup / emergency recorder, but I'd been actually quite impressed with the noise floor - but the key thing was that I was using a 302 as the pre amp. We played about swapping microphones over (and both the sennheiser mics (416 and 60) did have a lower self noise compared to the beyerdynamic), but it really became so clear just how important those microphone pre-amps are, as it gets the signal into the recorder at line level - giving a reduction in the noise floor, and the huge benefit of the incredibly smooth limiters that can prevent digital distortion.

Buy Well - Buy Once

And I'm starting to realise that I really should start to listen to my own advice. I've had a very busy year, and it has meant that I've had to invest a (more than) fair portion of my earnings into kit, and I'm starting to realise that I'm now in the position of replacing kit that I bought when I started out - as the original kit simply not good enough. The first location mic I bought was an ME66 (and I also had a ME64 module) and when I sold it a couple of years ago I really was pleased to get rid of it - as I had just come to hate the sound of it. And I'm not even going to mention the Sony WRT805 radio mics that I bought, that were truly, truly useless. I'm currently in the process of buying an MS stereo MKH 50 / 30, as I've never really taken to the sound of the pearl stereo mic (the MSH10) that I own (see blog entry) - and the huge advantage with this new set up is that it gives me an MKH 50 to use on interior dialogue, and I can change the nature of the stereo image by using a MKH 60 as the M element, which can be incredibly useful when working on documentary (nice tight M mic with the 30 as the S mic to provide a nice stereo fill).

Retail Therapy

I'm currently looking at buying a very simple / portable audio interface that I can use with my new shiny MacBook Pro for the simpler playback requirements that we get asked to do on location. And this time I'm determined to Buy Well and Once. I've been looking at getting a cheaper and simple interface (something like the Focusrite Saffire 2i2, but why don't I put this money into buying a high quality one (Apogee Duet 2) that I can actually use as an additional to my Digi 003+ rack in the studio - especially now that Pro Tools 10 allow aggregate interfaces, and works with different manufacturers. And the quality of those pre amps and converters will be brilliant....but do I really need this for a playback rig.... But then....neither of these have a MIDI interface....and then I've just seen that Apogee Quartet....and that has a USB MIDI input.....sorry where was I? I think I need some advice about buying kit - do you know anyone?

21st October 2012

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