I decided to round up some of my mics and my 3 field recorders to do a little experiment. I wanted to compare the perceived noisefloor between different pieces of gear :

  • a pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040 in ORTF into the Sound Devices MixPre-6 ( center 8050 not used in this example )
  • a pair of LOM Usi Pro into the Sound Devices MixPre-6 ( a.k.a LOM XLR below )
  • a pair of LOM Usi ( non pro ) into the Sound Devices MixPre-6 3.5mm aux input ( a.k.a LOM 3.5 below )
  • Zoom H4n onboard mics in XY
  • Sony PCM A10 onboard mics in XY

Before you listen to the sound examples I’d like to add this : I know this is not a super scientific way to compare S/N ratio and self noise. I don’t pretend giving a thorough review of the listed gear above, consider this post as a quick comparison between 5 setups in 2 completely different situations.

These are all configurations that I used a lot / still use in various recording situations, this comparison is not meant to declare which equipment is fantastic and which is crap as this would be irrelevant.

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The first example is a simple apartment roomtone with construction works outside , I matched the recordings level based on the perceived loudness of the distant hammer hits,  I switch between the tracks every 10 seconds or so, my good friend Bob will remind you what you’re listening to :

So ? What do you think ? With this first example only I’m pretty sure everyone must think the same… Click below to read what I think.

To me the 8040 + MixPre-6 combo is the obvious winner here, followed by the two variants of the fantastic LOM mics which weirdly perform pretty much the same way while one pair is plugged via XLR / 48V and the other via 3.5 mm Jack / Plug-in Power.

At first “glance” it seems like the LOM mics are quite noisy but to be honest I’ve been using them for a long time now and they are really good versatile mics, especially for the price. This roomtone + level match doesn’t do them justice. You can hear them all over my sound libraries or free sound packs.

The ” losers ” are clearly the H4n and the PCM A10 which are way “noisier” than the others and not well suited for such quiet recordings. You’ll note that the noise is distributed differently across the spectrum though.

Keep in mind that what you hear is the sum of the mic + recorder preamp.

Well okay the Zoom goes SHHHHHHSSHSHSHHSHS while the 8040/SD combo goes shhhh, but you can’t stop there to make a statement.

To me the only conclusion that we can draw from this first example is that high end gear like Sennheiser mics and Sound Devices recorders are better equiped to capture clean/quiet sounds than the small handheld recorders. Does that make the H4n and the A10 bad recorders ? I don’t think so.

I made very good recordings with my trusty old H4n, sounds that I still use and edit and I also recorded crappy sounds with my Sennheisers into good preamps, even though each 8040 is worth 6 times the H4n…. In short, the gear doesn’t make everything, it’s more about the ability to adapt to the recording situation and your equipment than the gear itself.

PS : the sound level of the files here is not a “normal” roomtone level, in a sound editing session, a roomtone would sit at a way lower level than this, thus the noise perception.

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The second example is quite different, I played around with a leatherman and keys in front of the mics, both have lots of sharp transients and a very dynamic/unpredictable quality. The kind of sound with which you want to keep a lot of headroom while recording.

Not so obvious this time right ? They do sound different obviously but with a sound like that, noisefloor is not a problem anymore, at least in my opinion. If I had to choose, for this particular sound, I’d probably pick a mix between the Zoom XY + LOM “AB” over the 8040s.

If you want to grab the full length, high res files to compare, click the link below :

Now, of course for any serious recording session I would choose the Sennheiser LCR setup in the Cinela,  I’d also take my pairs of Usi, and MixPre-6, no doubt it will give you better results. Oh shoot, I also need power, wind protection, a mic stand, …  You get the idea ? The whole kit doesn’t fit in less than 2 bags.

The Sony PCM A10 ( + a small wind protection ) fits in the shoulder bag I carry everyday, the best recorder is the recorder you have.

There are plenty other combinations that I didn’t cover here, but for example a Zoom H4n ( or equivalent ) + a pair of LOM Usi + a small USB powerbank + one of these = super lightweight kit and quality kit to travel with, perfect for recording clean ambience sounds on the go.

aXL.

extra :  two exterior sounds recorded with the PCM A10 onboard mics just to give you an idea