Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

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Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by gazpatcho » Tue Dec 27, 2016 9:40 pm

I'm having a bit of trouble getting good levels using a Zoom H5 with the included XYH-5 mic capsule. My preference is to keep the dial set at 7, which I thought would be fine for recording a relatively quiet speaker from about a yard away. While this person might be called soft-spoken, his voice had enough volume to where I could hear him alright. Throughout the entire recording, the measured levels rarely exceeded -12dB, and hovered around -18dB to -32dB most of the time (estimated). Playback on the recorder seemed fine, but import to Audacity shows a waveform with mostly little amplitude and lacking in playback volume. I feel I've missed something, or am I just overestimating the mic's sensitivity gradient? All recordings were taken at 48kHz, 24-bits, in Stereo File mode, if that's relevant.

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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Fran Guidry » Wed Dec 28, 2016 11:41 am

Levels around -18 dBFS are not terrible if the signal to noise ratio is good, you can simply raise the level in post.

The human speaking voice is not a very loud source, miking from 3 feet is quite far for such a quiet source.
If you observe the usual mic position used with people speaking, it's a _lot_ closer than a yard. Film audio is done either with a lavalier mic mounted on the speaker or a highly directional mic held on a boom as close to the speaker as possible while staying out of frame.

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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by gazpatcho » Wed Dec 28, 2016 11:48 am

Thanks for that info, Fran. One of the things I've noticed is that, when using my little Sony ICDUX333 (a unit I use to record meetings), is that the mics seem much more sensitive than on the Zoom, allowing me to place the recorder quite a distance from the speaker. I really don't know anything about the differences between the two other than what I've recorded, so I just assumed that the XYH-5 mics would behave similarily.

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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Wulfraed » Thu Dec 29, 2016 11:51 am

gazpatcho wrote:Thanks for that info, Fran. One of the things I've noticed is that, when using my little Sony ICDUX333 (a unit I use to record meetings), is that the mics seem much more sensitive than on the Zoom, allowing me to place the recorder quite a distance from the speaker. I really don't know anything about the differences between the two other than what I've recorded, so I just assumed that the XYH-5 mics would behave similarily.
Can't find a UX333... PX333 is a mono recorder, so it only has one microphone capsule (and I haven't located a sensitivity specification for it -- only that is is middling quality MP3 with practically no bass; good for voice memos)[might do stereo with an external microphone]. Documents show no manual control of input levels, which implies that it is running some form of AGC.

In contrast, the XYH5 is -- well -- an X/Y configured stereo head, making it directionally sensitive (if you are at the peak position for one element, the other element will be almost edge on and receiving little; if you are centered you will be about 45deg to the peak of each side). Zoom does provide sensitivity numbers, but without a comparison from Sony, no sense listing them. But they didn't list frequency response -- other than you would have to turn on the "lo-cut" "filter" to reduce the bass response to match the Sony (Sony spec cuts off at 75Hz, the Zoom filter lowest cut is 80Hz)
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by gazpatcho » Thu Dec 29, 2016 1:36 pm

You're right, there is no UX333. I meant Sony ICDUX533. Sorry for that typo.
The ICDUX533 is essentailly the digital eqivalent of a high-end micro-cassette recorder, plainly aimed at speech recording but with a microphone configuration decent enough to make it versatile (it's listed as a stereo S-mic configuration with a frequency response of 50-20000Hz). I've seen it used more than once by journalists in scrums, as it is very lightweight, having few manual controls except for menu options to set three levels (high, medium, low) of mic senistivity, and the ability to record 44.1kHz 16-bits wav files. All in all, a pretty cool little recorder. I was able to set it on a table about 8 ft. from a speaker (not even directly aimed at him, mind you) and record his voice very well, even with my homemade, juryrigged muffler stuck to the mics. Given I'm quite ignorant about different mics and what they do, I thought the XY would behave pretty much the same.
As for the Zoom, that's in another ballpark altogether (that's why I have it), allowing a ton of manual intervention, but simple enough to just hit record on Auto if absolutely nceessary. The recording levels are right there as soon as the recorder is switched on with easy to use physical dials, ready for one-touch recording. No muss, no fuss. It's design and handling are right up my alley compared with the H4N Pro, which I had exchanged for the H5. It's just a matter of learning the limits of XYH mic capsule, which situations it's best suited for, etc.

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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Wulfraed » Thu Dec 29, 2016 6:17 pm

I had glanced at the 533 documents. Not sure what Sony's "S" configuration is -- from the image the elements are spatially separated, and likely aimed a bit outward (what I know as a "W" configuration. The spatial separation relies on Time-Difference-of-Arrival (TDOA) to produce stereo effects (a signal hits one element microseconds before it its the other -- but at nearly the same strength) and the outward aim adds some directional sensitivity (the built-ins on the R16/R24 are just spatially located, and actually aim upwards so in normal use everything is coming in on the side with TDOA the main stereo effect). X/Y try to put the center of the elements at the same position -- which does mean slightly offset vertically. Then intent being to not incorporate TDOA, and only directional sensitivity.

But that's probably not germane to the discussion.

Does the H5 (forgive me for not digging up the PDF manual this time) have AGC? As mentioned, those Sony memo recorders appear to rely mostly on AGC for levels. If you did not have AGC active on the H5, you really would need to monitor the levels during recording... And average peaks of -12dB are the normal recommendation (it allows for up to 12dB pulses that are too short for the meter to respond to be recorded without clipping).
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by gazpatcho » Thu Dec 29, 2016 7:50 pm

"Does the H5 (forgive me for not digging up the PDF manual this time) have AGC?"

Not as far as I can tell: there's nothing said about Auto Levels or AGC in the manual. I couldn't find any setting like that in the menus, either. I wonder if the Zoom H5 has some latent Automatic Gain Control circuitry that's just patiently sitting there, waiting to be employed by some future firmware... That could be a nice feature to have when in a pinch and something the H4N has, so why not the H5?
As for not digging up the manual... Your explainations are better than the manuals I have :) I should be thanking you for looking into the specs and making some sense of them for me!
So I can safely assume the XYH-5 mics are doing the job their supposed to do? By the sound of it, the lower recorded volume when compared with the Sony is inherent to the microphone configuration and nothing to worry about? If it weren't for the fact it's -5 F outside, I'd be finding out how well the XYs can capture the ambience of nature, city streets, etc.

(Edit: I should mention a feature called Auto Record, which the H5 does have, but as you probably know that's entirely diffrent from Auto Levels, which we were discussing. I thought I'd mention that to clarify myself, and to admit that I was fooled by the terminology myself.)
Last edited by gazpatcho on Thu Dec 29, 2016 10:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Jim_Fogle » Thu Dec 29, 2016 8:38 pm

Keep working with both recording units gazpatcho and learning more about each one. Try setting them side-by-side in different recording situations. I'm sure you'll find each has strengths and weaknesses and as you learn them you'll be in a position to advise others.
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Wulfraed » Fri Dec 30, 2016 10:03 am

Page 32 of the manual might be of interest, though still not AGC... You'd be able to run with hotter gain settings and still have a fall-back if you went too high.
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by greenA2 » Sat Dec 31, 2016 7:14 am

There is a compressor/limiter (maybe this is the content of page 32 :P)
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Wulfraed » Sat Dec 31, 2016 11:26 am

greenA2 wrote:There is a compressor/limiter (maybe this is the content of page 32 :P)
No... The page 32 entry is the Backup recording -- where a second file is saved attenuated by 12dB; so if the primary file ends up clipping, one has a chance to get an unclipped reduced level in the backup file.
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by gazpatcho » Sun Jan 01, 2017 3:30 pm

Wulfraed wrote:
greenA2 wrote:There is a compressor/limiter (maybe this is the content of page 32 :P)
No... The page 32 entry is the Backup recording -- where a second file is saved attenuated by 12dB; so if the primary file ends up clipping, one has a chance to get an unclipped reduced level in the backup file.
Hello, and happy new year! I found that in the manual, and intend to use it when recording quiet environs that change abruptly. In fact, one of the first things I did to test the Zoom was record my cat munching away at her bowl (soft, requiring a high gain). Then she turns to the recorder and starts sniffing and mewing... That last part would've been great if it hadn't been distorted. If only I'd known about the feature I could've used the second file to recreate the sound.
What really confuses me is how Zoom spreads features across their recorders. For example, the H2N has Auto Levels while it appears the H5 doesn't. I'm going to have to look into techniques where I'm not "riding" the levels. (Possibly some combo of compressor/limiter and backup file?) Otherwise, I find the H5 beautifully designed.

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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by Wulfraed » Sun Jan 01, 2017 5:21 pm

The H5 is sort of a hybrid... It has the plug-in heads of the H6 but lacks the multi-track features of the H4/H6. Given the XLR inputs, it is also targeted for more "professional" situations, where one monitors in real-time for record-level adjustments OR has enough control of the environment to know it won't exceed the range of the device.

The H2(n) are closer to the voice memo/field recorder style. AGC is not something one would use for music or other professional situations, as it will dampen out any dynamics, and can lead to "pumping" (I once had a RatShack cassette deck -- with no input level control, just AGC; copying "The Night Chicago Died" from 45rpm to tape showed the flaws of AGC... The opening measures are a heavy slow drum beat with "siren" back drop. Every time the drum hit, the siren was pushed down to barely audible, then slewed louder until the next beat). AGC is fine for narration and lectures -- but deadly for, say, stage productions where one may go from a booming tenor ("Hail, and well met, Mercutio") to a soft near whisper ("Alas, poor Yorick... I knew him Horatio").

On the older H2, AGC was of no use -- it took place in the digital side AFTER the microphone pre-amps, so could not prevent A/D conversion clipping (Record level was also on the digital side; all one had for analog control was a three position switch). It could only raise a low signal. The H2n seems to have put AGC on the analog circuits -- but also put the record level/gain control as totally analog. If recording a conference room, the H2n is probably the better choice as it stands up right, and using the 4-channel => stereo mode can pick up one end of the room using X/Y and the other end using M/S, and mix them into a single stereo file.
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Re: Achieving Good Levels w/a Zoom H5

Post by greenA2 » Sat Jan 07, 2017 8:14 am

Wulfraed wrote:The H5 is sort of a hybrid... It has the plug-in heads of the H6 but lacks the multi-track features of the H4/H6.
The multifile mode is sort of a half way between the 4 channel and multi track features of H4(n).It does allow overdub multitracking but is not as smooth at being a four track multitracker as the H4.
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