Category Archives: Reviews

The New Edirol R09HR and Microtrack II reviews

At Oreilly.com they have reviewed the new Edirol R09HR and M-Audio Microtrack v2 field recorders.

What’s New, Pussycat?

Here’s a quick rundown on some of the physical changes in the new models. Both M-Audio and Edirol continue to upgrade their products via free firmware updates. Visit their sites (M-Audio; Edirol/Roland) to make sure you have the latest.

MicroTrack II vs. MicroTrack

  • New color: Black
  • 48V phantom power
  • Analog limiter
  • Improved battery with longer life and faster charging
  • Selectable One Touch or Record Ready/Record operation
  • Extended input range
  • Records files larger than 2GB
  • USB 2.0 Hi-Speed transfer
  • Monitor S/PDIF input via headphones while recording
  • Add markers while recording
R-09HR Battery Compartment
Edirol replaced the rickety battery door on the original R-09 with a sturdier hatch.

Edirol R-09HR vs. R-09

  • Case covered in black silicone rubber
  • Wireless remote
  • Supports up to 96kHz WAV files
  • Improved microphones
  • Isolated Adaptive Recording Circuit (I.A.R.C.; separates audio and power circuitry to reduce noise)
  • Built-in speaker
  • OLED display
  • Table stand

Read the whole review here

Camcorders

So, you want to publish video of your recordings online.  To do so, a good camcorder is a must-have to capture good video.  I’ll cover a few options including the camcorder that I use for my videos.

Just like with audio recording, there is a trade-off between money, the amount of time you are willing to devote to processing the video, and the quality of the resultant video.  Finally, consider your final product.  If the target is just a youtube clip, then lower quality will probably be fine.  If you intend to produce DVDs then higher quality is a must.

Quick and Easy

20pogue.2.190

A new camcorder format has recently picked up in popularity.  These are typified by the Flip Video series ($130-$180). It is very small, the quality isn’t perfect but is good enough, and records in a format that is suitable for uploading to youtube.  Most people do not edit the content produced by this recorder. 

The New York Times has a great review of this unit.  This would be great to grab clips of your harinam party, temple kirtans, and other events where a short clip is sufficient. 

Since it is flash based, copying the video to your computer is faster than real-time — a big problem with tape-based camcorders. 

DV Camcorder

zr950 The next step up is a mini-DV tape based camcorder.  These camcorders have been around for years and are very reliable.  The quality should be better than the flip, but not as good as an HD camcorder.  Price should be in the $250-$500 range.  In general I don’t recommend these anymore.  Technology is moving forward to the next generation of camcorders.  On the other side, if you are on a budget, you might be able to pick up a used one cheap at a garage sale, Craigslist, or eBay.  You’ll also need some video editing software and a firewire connector on your computer.  A decent model would be the Canon ZR950 ($250).

Do not buy any DVD based camcorder.  The quality is substandard and the media is pricey.  I’d only recommend one for someone that has no intention of editing the video after recording. 

HD Camcorder

Sony HDR-SR11 60GB Hybrid HDD/Memory Stick High Definition CamcorderThe next step up is an HD camcorder.  I shoot all my current video using a Sony HDR-SR11 ($1100).  This records in full HD (1920x1080i) to a 60gig hard drive (or to a memory stick if you want).  The low-light performance is fairly good.  You can also manually adjust the exposure to increase the brightness in a darker space.  The camcorder also has the option of using an external mic, a headphone jack, and an external zoom control.  I’ve been very pleased with this camcorder.  The only thing I don’t like about this camcorder (and is common with the last Sony HD camcorder I used) is that it is slow to focus in low light.  This can be frustrating when out on a night harinam. Oh, and there is no native progressive recording mode so I have to convert to progressive as part of the editing process.  But, for 90% of what I record, this camera is perfect. 

Flash HD Camcorder

I mentioned above that Canon makes a very good competitor to the Sony including better low-light performance.  The Canon Vixia HF10 ($820).  This is a flash based camcorder with 16Gig built-in and a expansion SDHC slot for additional space.  I used to use a flash based Sony camcorder (Sony HDR-CX7) and definitely appreciated the small size and low weight.  The drawback is that if the class goes long and you are recording at high quality, then you have to stop and change the flash card  part-way through the class.  The CX7 used 8gig cards — perhaps the 16gig cards reduce the possibility of running out during a long class, kirtan or other performance.  The flash memory would still be limiting for all-day events like Rathayatra or Janmastami. 

Semi-Pro Camcorders

The next step up from the regular HD camcorders are the semi-pro HD camcorders.  Most are tape-based and record to HDV which is a variant of mini-DV.  These camcorders tend to be physically larger and perform VERY good in low-light conditions. 

No matter which camcorder you are interested in, research the camera online.  A very good website for camcorder reviews is at camcorderinfo.com

Also remember that each step up in quality requires a more powerful computer to edit and render the final video with the exception of HDV.  Computer resources go up from flip->minidv->HDV->AVCHD (flash and hard drive based HD).  If you do not have access to a high performance PC or Mac, then stick with the flip or minidv type camcorders.

Next week?  Lighting.

Mixers

If you have more than two microphones and will be recording to a 2-channel recorder, then you’ll need a mixer to mix the source audio to 2 channels.  For recording a class, there is no need for a mixer.  However, when directly micing instruments for bhajans one will have more than 2 mics.

I usually have my bhajans setup with 1 mono vocal mic, 1 harmonium mic, 2 drum mics and perhaps a backup vocal mic.  I also use a stereo room microphone.  All but the room mic are then mixed down to two channels and recorded to my digital recorder.  The stereo room mic is recorded on my camcorder. 

So, what mixer to use?  Mackie makes some of the best mixers — if a bit pricey.  I like the Mackie VLZ3 series of mixers.  Pick the one that has the right number of XLR connectors for your expected count of microphones.  A good size model in that series is the 1402-VLZ3.  This has 6 XLR connectors for future growth, very good quality pre-amps, and nice controls.  If you are always recording bhajans in the temple room, this would also make a great mixer for the temple PA system.

There are smaller mixers in the VLZ3 series which might be better suited to your budget.

536170jpgIf you looked at my equipment list, you’ll notice that I don’t use this mixer for my own recordings.  Since I record at many different locations (home programs, indoors, outdoors, etc) I cannot always rely on power being available so I needed a mixer that could be battery powered.  Other than the Behringer that I ended up purchasing, I could only find very expensive field mixers in the $2500+ range (eg: Sound Devices 442).

The mixer I use is a Behringer Eurorack UBB1002 portable mixer ($99).  Behringer doesn’t generally get very good reviews for the quality of their pre-amps.   Behringer claims that (at least) for the first 2 channels on the mixer the quality is very good.  My experience is that for recording bhajans it has been good enough.  If someone can show me an alternative to this I’d appreciate it. 

The unit itself works as expected.  It is powered either an AC adaptor or by 2 9-volt batteries that last about 4hours.  The phantom power is provided by a third 9-volt battery.  I use rechargeable batteries so I don’t keep throwing away batteries.  The battery compartment is a pain to deal with.  It is a metal plate that is screwed on.  The opening for the 9v batteries is cramped.  It works, but could be better designed.  It has 5 XLR connectors which is just right for my normal setup. 

Like any decent mixer, you adjust the initial volume using the gain knobs at the top.  You can then do fine tuning adjustments using the faders.  You can also adjust the pan (left/right mix) of each channel.  There is a 3 channel EQ as well.  There are 4 outputs — each using standard 1/4″ jacks.  A stereo out which I feed into my digital recorder.  There is a mono monitor jack which I feed to my powered PA speaker if we’re at a home program and using amplification.  A mono FX jack — I don’t use it.  And a stereo headphone jack which can be used to monitor your mix.  I generally monitor at the recorder not the mixer so…  that is not used either.

Each channel has a clip light so you can see if any particular instrument’s gain is too high.  And there is a overall level meter for the final output mix. 

I’ve been pleased with this mixer.  Nothing fancy and gets the job done.

Next week?  I’ll start covering video equipment starting with camcorders…

Microphones

Choosing the right microphone is probably the most significant way to improve the quality of your recording.  I will cover the microphones I use for my own recordings and the reason behind using them.

First some basic terminology.  There is a great article on microhones on Wikipedia

There are two basic types of microphones.  Dynamic and Condenser.  Most temples use dynamic microphones for the PA system.  These microphones are generally very durable — a quality that is very important for a temple microphone.  Dynamic microphones are generally less responsive than a condenser microphone.  A Condenser microphone generally has better quality but are delicate.  Condenser microphones also require a power source — either provided by a built-in battery or through phantom power provided by your pre-amp. 

Another characteristic that is important to consider is the pickup pattern of the microphone.  A cardoid microphone is directional — it’ll pick up what you point at and will not pick up sound that is coming from a different direction.  An omnidirection microphone is just that — it’ll pick up sound from any direction. 

Lecture microphones

The Audio-Technica Pro-70 ($99) is a great cardoid condenser microphone.  The length of the cord is 6 feet (1.8m).  This is just right to put the microphone right next to the main temple microphone and have the battery box sit on the floor.  The cable is not removable so you can’t easily extend the cable.  If you are handy with a soldering iron, you could cut the cable and extend it yourself with the appropriate cable.  The box includes an XLR connector to connect to a microphone cable to your recording equipment.  The box also has a ‘low-cut’ roll-of switch which, when enabled, should minimize the handling noise when the speaker adjusts the microphone or accidentally touches the microphone or cord.

Normally I use my wireless recording equipment for lectures.  This minimizes the time to setup/tear down and also gives me more flexibility in where to place my equipment.  I’ll do a full review of the wireless equipment I use (Audio-Technica 1800 Series) in a later article. The microphone I use is the Audio Technica 831cW ($75).  This microphone is the wireless (rough) equivalent of the Pro-70 mentioned above.  It is a cardoid condenser microphone.  It comes with a very nice tie-clip — nicer than the one that comes with the Pro-70.

Kirtan microphone

I have been very pleased with the Sony ECM-MS957 ($190) Stereo microphone.  This is a condenser “Mid-Side” microphone.  It handles loud kirtans well and has a switch that converts between a 90 degree pattern (narrow) and a 120 degree pattern (wide).  The microphone can also be rotated up and down so you can point the mic properly.  The microphone does not use phantom power.  Instead it uses a single AA battery to provide power.  I’ve not had to replace the battery in the last year (but keep a spare anyway!).  It comes with two cables.  One is a 5pin XLR -> 1/8″ mini jack.  This would be used with the cheaper recorders that do not have XLR connectors.  The other is a 5pin XLR -> 2 3pin XLRs.  It is a pigtail cable so it is fairly short.  If you want to run the cable some distance, then either use 2 regular XLR cables, or you can purchase a 5pin XLR cable of the appropriate length.  They are fairly expensive though, about $50 for a 25 foot cable.  Sony also makes a lower end version of this microphone that only terminates in a 1/8″ mini jack.

Bhajan microphones

You can certainly use the above Sony microphone to record a bhajan.  You’ll eventually find that the vocals are quiet compared to the instruments or the drums are not crisp and clear.  The next step is to use separate microphones for the different instruments and record each on a separate track (ideal) or use a mixer to mix the microphone levels live and then record to your 2-track recorder.

Sennheiser e825SI currently use a  Sennheiser e825S ($80) Vocal cardoid dynamic microphone.  It is fairly low end and will be Audix i5replaced at sometime with something better but has served me well.  It has a on/off switch which the leader will probably appreciate.

For the drums, I use a pair of Audix i5 ($100) microphones.  One for the small head and one for the big head.  These are also cardoid dynamic microphones that can handle significant volumes (what you need for a drum).  Be careful not to put them too close to the large head though.  Even these will distort at high volume.

For the harmonium, I use the Audio Technica Pro-70 listed above.  I affix the microphone using either the tie clip or the (included) guitar clip.  Just find a place that gets it close to the reeds and then affix it so that the microphone will be steady. 

Finally, I use the Sony microphone listed in the Kirtan section to capture a stereo “room” mix.  I record this separately from the instrument/vocal mix.  In my case, the camcorder accepts a microphone input, so I feed the signal to the camcorder.

Alternatives

For lectures, the key is use a microphone.  It can by any microphone, but lapel or lavalier microphones are the easiest to place close to the speaker.   Be sure to get a cardoid or directional microphone.  This will ensure that room noise will be ignored.  Unfortunately, it will also make recording the questions difficult — I’ll cover possible solutions in a future article for dealing with that.

For bhajans and kirtans, again, most good microphones will do.  Just be sure to choose cardoid (directional) microphones for your instrument mics so that you only pick up that instrument and not the rest of the room.  For recording the overall sound mix of the bhajan or kirtan, use a stereo microphone.  These are either Mid Side (like the sony above) or XY microphones.  Eit
her will do, though XY will generally be in a fixed pattern and so can’t be adjusted to capture just the sound of the bhajan party.

Next week?  I’ll cover mixers.