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Location recording with ENG mixer?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by Bob Boyer, Jul 20, 2011.

  1. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    Looking for a little advice from anyone who may do this sort of thing on occasion.

    I'm putting together an all-analog package for a rather remote, week-long location recording/archiving session next summer and, while unable to afford the Nagra route, I'd still like to get a rig compact enough to fit in the trunk of my Miata that will still capture things nicely. Once I get back in town, I'll bounce the tape over into my computer for any touch-ups that are needed and for archiving.

    The space is a gorgeous large log church with a very high roof. The music will be all acoustic - mostly bluegrass, or a variant, I expect. I've got the guzintas and the guzoutas covered: I'll be using an X/Y pair of KEL HM-1s for the stereo spread and a centered KEL HM-7 for the musicians to step up to. I'll be recording to a Marantz PMD-430 portable cassette. I'll probably bring along my Focusrite Sapphire 40 interface and the laptop more for an extra couple of mic preamps and to bounce things over if I find I have some spare time, but if they won't fit with everything else, they won't go.

    So I'm curious about how to get from point A to point B. Remember, all this stuff and a week's worth of clothes are fitting into a Miata (there's lots of curves where I'm headed and I've got some time built in to drive them). My mixer options in the $400 - $500 range look like this (if I can't afford the Nagra, I'm sure in no position to purchase a Sound Devices 302): Mackie Onyx 820i board or Rolls MX 422/Azden FMX 42 ENG Field Mixers, based on their size. I'm inclined towards the field mixers as I don't use a lot of EQ on recording anyway and they are a bit smaller than the Mackie, but I'm wondering about other features you may find useful in the field - on either side. I'm also interested in your experience with any of the field mixers in general.

    I know I could do the inteface/laptop thing but this entire archiving project has been predicated on a tape/analog approach and I'm planning to keep that ethos with this project. (I've got a blog at Further Adventures in Recording that might provide some context for these questions.)

    Anyway, thanks in advance for your collective wisdom.

  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Sounds an interesting project. You haven't said specifically whether there is mains available at the recording location or whether that phase of operation has to be all battery-powered. If there is a PA system in use, then mains should not be a problem, but does that mean there is also a house mixer that you could take an Aux stereo mix from? I've used a Shure battery-powered mixer for this type of thing in the past, but I think those have all gone the ENG route these days.

    Given that you want to have an all-analog recording path, I won't comment on the use of a cassette recorder, even a top-end unit like the Marantz. Under similar circumstances, but stretching the all-analog requirement, I would be leaving out the 6-packs of beer and putting in an HD24XR instead, or maybe keep one pack and put in a Zoom H4N.

    Also, I've no idea what a Miata is (a backpack?), so it's not easy to relate things to your size/weight limitations.

    Let us know how you get on with it all.
  3. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    Hi Boswell,

    Thanks for the input. Mains are available. There is a PA system there, quality isn't too good. But power is available.

    Sorry about the reference to the car - over on your side of the pond, a Mazda Miata is an MX-5, I think. Small car. Small trunk. I tried fitting a Teac 2300 in there and while it fits nicely, it still takes up too much space, so reel to reel is out since I don't have the funds for a Nagra. I do have not only the laptop and Focusrite for backup but an Olympus LS-10 PCM recorder I can take as well. It's nice and tiny, though not analog.

    No beer being taken. Bottle of whiskey, perhaps. More efficient on several fronts.
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    As far as a mixer is concerned, I would definitely go with the Onyx. My personal experiences with anything that has the Rolls name on it has not been good at all. The Onyx would also give you a viable Firewire interface to the laptop if you so desire.

    And as a past owner of a Miata and a TR-6GT, I feel your pain....no Alesis 24-track will fit in THAT trunk! But, like Bos stated, that cassette recorder is not really a viable alternative, either. Check out some of the newer digital recorders from Edirol and Marantz.
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Given that you want to keep your analog ethos, keeping it itty-bitty, one of those old 4 track Porta Studios that can run at 3 3/4 IPS will get you a lot closer to what you want. But this is not something you can conveniently run down to your corner store and find anymore. You might even want to look into getting a new pinch roller in order to keep down wow & flutter to a minimum. Because that ain't pretty, at all.

    How about just using one of those Zoom H4n's? You get 4 tracks, limiters, effects, the ability to bounce. And then when you get back, you can transfer it to a nice old Bridgeport Scully for that nice warm analog sound. You could even take 2 of those Zooms and have a versatile 8 track studio the size of a couple of cigarette packs. You already got your other microphones and they have reasonable microphone inputs on combo XLR inputs along with the ability to use its own little XY gizmos built in. You can use those and externals simultaneously should you so desire. And then we'll still have room for your girlfriend, or, boyfriend.

    I love on location
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  6. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure the trunk (or 'boot' as you would say in the UK) of a Miata is a spacious as the average backpack :)

    I have an old Tascam 244 "Portastudio", [4-track on cassette at 3 3/4 ips] that hasn't seen the light of day for 20+ years. As Remy says, if you were to find such a device it would need completely serviced with new belts, idler tires, and pinch roller. Also, since you get 22.5 minutes from a 90 minute tape, it would take a load of high-quality cassette tapes to record a long weekend session, and I hear tapes are getting scarce.

    I know you're trying to maintain the analog tape vibe, but if you're going to take the cassette to the computer when you get back - I don't see why it would matter if you use a Zoom or similar and degrade it via cassette when you get home.

    Best of luck.
  7. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    Thanks. I've got access to that Olympus pcm field recorder (would cost nothing) and could bump back to reel to reel when I get home - which is my main capture method in the studio here at the office. Definitely worth considering.

    Still - the mixer question remains. The ENG mixers are about the size of the Marantz cassette deck, which is mighty small. The Onyx, while small, isn't in that category so I guess I'd be trading off size for EQ capability. Thoughts?


  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I wouldn't sweat the EQ until you were ready to transfer to the analog deck. I've had no problems making lovely recordings with just API 3124 microphone mixers that had no EQ. Most of it is in your microphone selection & placement. I think it is still pretty funny that I just looked at Bob Boyer from NBC-TV where I used to work on Facebook. His son Eric I believe also used to work there as well. No relation I guess?? Is there?

    Looking at my friends from NBC on Facebook
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    Thanks. The Mackie isn't very large, but the others are even smaller and that's what's needed with three mics in two cases plus the other stuff in a little trunk. I try to avoid using EQ on tracking in the studio - it's an old audiophile habit - preferring to let the different sound of the different mics do that for me. Wish I could afford one of the Sound Devices mixers and a Nagra...

    And is that NBC network or WNBC? Not that I'd be related either way, though there are more of us in the northeast than down here in the waay-too-hot southland.
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    There's a company that makes a number of broadcast products of these itty bitty "stick on" audio devices. Everything is pretty much the size of the palm of your hand. They send me their catalogs all the time and I generally throw them out and I can't remember their name right now. I'm having a senior moment. For instance, just the microphone mixer you need is the size of a pack of cigarettes. Cool little items. I just never had a need for it. So, if you need tiny, why not build something up? Plenty of reasonable chips out there. All the parts you need are at Radio Shaft. Four 9 V batteries should get you through for a few hours.

    I worked for NBC Washington DC, 3-81 through 2000, network news and their O&O WRC 4, WRC 980 AM & WKYS 93.9. I was a first call A 1 audio guy and studio maintenance, designer, technician, operator. One of the favorite shows I did was John McLaughlin and The Group. Now I ain't talking no guitar playing dude and his band.

    A little bit of trivia. Back in the early days of radio, there were only 3 call letters used, originally. WRC actually stood for Washington Radio Corporation since NBC was owned by RCA (Radio Corporation of America). Even though W was subsequently used as the prefix for all stations in the US east of the Mississippi with the exception of KDKA, Pittsburgh, PA. And so you are not that Bob Boyer I know. But this is totally cool. Now I have to tell him that I know another guy with his name that's interested in ENG! So cool, which is what Bob did for NBC. He was one of our field guys with a camera on his shoulder most of the time. And if this wasn't cool enough, I just bumped into a friend of mine I haven't spoken to for over five years on the HD 24 Yahoo site. Fran Bennett is a former big-time West Coast disc jockey. Check her out at FRAN BENNETT MEDIA VENTURES . And there she was with problems with her HD 24 on Yahoo where I also hang out at. It's a very small world.

    My cat chewed my new shoes
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  11. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    There's a company that makes a number of broadcast products of these itty bitty "stick on" audio devices. Everything is pretty much the size of the palm of your hand. They send me their catalogs all the time and I generally throw them out and I can't remember their name right now. I'm having a senior moment.

    They're called Henry Engineering. Both Rolls and Azden just aren't very good for real music recording, lack of headroom, they're really meant for announcer's mics. Also, the phantom power that they provide (esp. the Rolls) is whimpy. But if the Mackie is too big (even their newest littlest Onyx? C'mon...)...:(
  12. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    If you really need to record more than two mics and you have only a two-track recorder, then there are several field mixers that crop up from time to time on Ebay. For example, there's a Shure FP42 4-input stereo field mixer at a low price there at the moment.

    One of this sort of mixer running into a Zoom H4N or just a two-track recorder in the field would give you a recording capability that you could then smudge to sound more analog by running it though the record-replay heads of a tape machine back at the studio. By doing the record and replay in one pass, you get the tape tonal and compression effects while avoiding a lot of the wow, flutter, stretch and other mechanical aberations associated with conventional tape operation.
  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Ya Henry engineering. Moonbaby knew what I was talking about. However I thought you might find this interesting Bob? That FP 42 is a fine little mixer that can handle a myriad of applications. Not inexpensive because they were designed to withstand the rigors of ENG news gathering and were quite popular with the NBC guys, while I was there. Although I never particularly cared for the M 67 which I personally had 2 of when I was a teenager. But it was better than nothing back then and I had to have 2 for stereo. A couple of XLR Y cables made center channel capture possible (i.e. single microphone into left & right separate mixers). Of course that loads the microphone down but who cares? And that was around 1974.

    And here's the Bob I know (Dead Link Removed) and this is why I couldn't figure out why you are asking these questions. He still lives here in my neck of the woods in the DC metro area.

    I'm straightened out now (like that'll ever happen?)
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  14. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    I think I've seen those itty bitty mixers somewhere - I'll look around. Thanks for the tip. And thanks for the heads-up on the Azden mixer - I was afraid that might be the case, Moonbaby. I'll see what the Henry stuff looks like before deciding. The baby Onyx is pretty small, so it's not out of the running.

    Sooo...(total thread hijack here, Remy) you know the DC market. Do you remember a cat named Gary Wordlaw? He was a photog for the ABC affiliate here in Chattavegas in the late 70s and early 80s while I was in radio news here and then moved to north Alabama to become the first hired liar at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. He took a gig as News Director at one of the affiliates in DC in the early to mid 80s, I think. I'll mention that he was African-American so as to set up the next part of the story - he had weekend duty in 1978 here when we all had to cover a KKK rally some miles north of Chattanooga one Sunday evening. David Duke was the main speaker (this was before the Feds busted him in Alabama for trying to invade some Caribbean island and set up a new whites-only country). Made for an interesting evening, to be sure.

    And, FWIW, my full name is Robert C. Boyer.
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Well geez Bob, at least I got 2 out of 3 right?

    And I don't remember that guy, Gary?

    Boy oh Bob Boyer
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    And darn close on the third...

    You would have enjoyed meeting or working with Gary. Don't know whatever happened to him.


  17. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    An update. I decided on a Mackie 802. Decent price; small enough to fit into a computer/document bag I had left over from my photography days. So here's the rig - in a chair in my office. It fits the trunk fine with plenty of room to spare.

    The complete kit includes a KEL Audio HM-7 and a pair of KEL Audio HM-1 mics, the aforementioned Mackie mixer, the Marantz PMD 430 cassette deck, an Olympus portable digital recorder for interviews, a Macbook, a Focusrite Sapphire 24 interface, and some Sennheiser headphones. I'll be looking for a couple of light stands that will go 12 - 15 feet high and still pack down into the trunk over the winter, but that pile of stuff and some mic cables are pretty much it.

    Will keep you posted as we look for some grants and get ready to head up there next spring.

    Thanks for all the advice so far.

    Attached Files:

  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    You really should be taking some Uni & Omni-Directional dynamic microphones as well. Humidity can greatly affect condenser microphones more so than any dynamic. And that's one of the reasons why you have seen the Electro-Voice 635/RE 50 series of dynamic microphones with reporters on location during hurricanes. So don't be dumb. There is no embarrassment or shame in this. But take it from someone who has been outside during blizzards & hurricanes trying to make recordings or at least trying to stay on the air with live news. We don't know when you're going to be surprised in the third act by God? Be a good audio Boy Scout and be prepared.

    I don't care how many fingers you salute with
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  19. Bob Boyer

    Bob Boyer Active Member

    Thanks, Ann. Will do. We've got some decent workhorse dynamics in the concert hall; I may be able to appropriate two or three of them for the trip since this is a quasi-official operation.

    And yes, I've driven my share of tent stakes with EV-635s... :biggrin:

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