Portable field recording at a conference with the ZoomH4n

I had a great opportunity to travel from Australia to Singapore to deliver a presentation this week.  At the conference I wanted to capture some field based interviews for my Yammer podcast.  As I was only going to be in Singapore for about 47 hours, I decided to travel with carry-on luggage only.  The small and light nature of my Zoom H4N
and my two microphones made traveling and recording a breeze.

I have taken the ZoomH4n through airport security at least eight times now – I thought due to the design of the voice recorder (and specifically the stereo microphones on the top of the audio recorder which look similar to the silhouette to a stun gun) my bags would be stopped for closer inspection more regularly.  To be honest it has only been picked up once, and that was by a trainee xray machine operator.

At the conference I wanted to capture a few different pieces of audio.  Firstly, I captured some background noise – the vibe or buzz of the conference room that we were speaking in.  To do this I turned on the Zoom H4N
and then used the built in stereo microphones.  After pressing record, I checked the levels and notice they were a little low, so I used the “rec level” button to push up the sensitivity of the recorder.

After I had captured the ambient noise of the room, I decided to record my the introduction / preamble / monologue for the podcast.  To do this I switched from the built in stereo microphone on the Zoom and instead used my Audio-Technica AT2005USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone
connected via its XLR connection.  The sound was fantastic – despite the loud voices in the room from the 10 tables of 8 people working on desk exercises in the room – I could talk with my normal voice into the Audio-Technica Microphone and get a very good recording.

Finally I plugged in another Microphone – my Behringer XM8500
– to do some 1 on 1 interviews with some of the conference organisers and attendees.  Again some great conversations were captured with next to no issues.  Despire the loud background noise of all the people speaking in the room the ZoomH4n coupled with the two microphones did a stellar job!

You can check it out for yourself – listen to Episode 8 of The Yaminade at http://www.theyaminade.com

Is the ZoomH4n any good for recording the sounds of nature?

If you have been reading any of the other articles at The Best Voice Recorder you will know that the Zoom H4N Portable Digital Recorder
is a great piece of kit for recording research interviews, podcasts, or your kids first off key notes :)

This week I am on leave from my day job, and have a great opportunity to see how the Zoom H4N
goes recording the sounds of nature.  I will be at Hamilton Island, which is in the Whitsunday Islands off the Queensland Coast in Australia.  A beautiful part of the world.   I am going to put the Zoom to the test to capture the sounds of the beach, the rain forest, the birds in the sky and a lot more.  Not only that, I will capture some of the ambient sounds around the island. The goal is to see how the ZoomH4n handles different ambient sound recording scenarios.

Whilst I would love to be recording with microphones like the Rode NTG2 Condenser Shotgun Microphone, on this field trip I will be simply putting the Zoom H4n’s built in stereo microphone goes in the wild.

I will post the results and sample recordings from the trip once I am back!

Recording Skype / Lync calls for Podcasts with the ZoomH4n

It has been about 8 weeks since I kicked off recording my new podcast – The Yaminade – using the Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder.  Previously I have posted about how I use the voice recorder to capture  my voice, and the voice of my guests in person using the Behringer XM8500 and Audio-Technica AT2005USBmicrophones.  In person this set up works brilliantly!

But for the past three episodes of the podcast, I have interviewed people that I couldn’t sit down with face to face.  For example, with the episode where I interviewed Stan Garfield from Deloitte about how they use Yammer as part of their knowledge management strategy – because he lives in Chicago and I live in Australia, I had to record it over Microsoft Lync, or Skype.  Sure, I could have used a call recording application for Skype… but to be honest my biggest fear was if the app crashes half way through an interview.  I wanted to use the ZoomH4n so I had a robust hardware based recording solution.  So how can I record a Skype call using a hardware based voice recorder?

One way I discovered online was to use a very clever hack using the Audio-Technica AT2005USB.

First – plug in the USB cable you received with the Microphone and connect the microphone to your computer. This basically sets it up as your skype Microphone. Which means the person you are interviewing will be able to hear you.

Second – plug in the microphone using your XLR cable into the #1 input on the bottom of the ZoomH4n. That will enable the ZoomH4n capture your voice when you are on the Skype call. Your voice is going both to your PC or Mac for the Skype call, but now also to the ZoomH4n to be recorded.

Third – because there is a headphone jack on the microphone (so you can hear what you are saying) your PC or mac treats the Audio-technica USB/XLR microphone as both a microphone, and a speaker. Which means you can use a CMS105 1/8 inch TRS to 1/4 Inch TRS Adapter Cable to connect that headphones jack directly to the second input on the bottom of your ZoomH4n. This will enable you to record the voice of the person or people you are interviewing on the Skype or Lync call.

Finally – we need to be able to hear the person talking! Plug your headphones into the headphones jack on the ZoomH4n, and hit the record button once so you can test your levels and hear the people on the other end. When you are ready to record (with the permission of the people on the call)… hit record again!

Here is the YouTube video from Ray Ortega which inspired me to buy this gear, and has enabled me to quickly record some great guests on the podcast

Recording a podcast in a noisy café with the ZoomH4n

Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of recording episode 2 of “The Yaminade” – my new podcast about Yammer and Enterprise Social I am working on. The guest is a good friend of mine and we organised to meet at the café we normally catch up at. It has a good blend of inside dining, and alfresco outdoor long black sipping options. I thought we might find a quiet spot in the café to do the recording.

Unfortunately because it was Friday morning at 10:30am, a lot of people had ventured out from their offices for morning tea and some extra caffeine to finish off the week. Which meant our quick and hopefully quiet catch up to record a podcast episode was starting to turn into what would be my worst nightmare…. BACKGROUND NOISE! But not just any café background noise… we were seated right beside 4 lanes of city street (which you can see in the background of the photo below!)

Now… If I was recording on an iPhone, on the built in microphone, USB headsets or even an entry level digital voice recorder, this may have been a disaster. But to be honest the ZoomH4n absolutely showed how valuable a tool it is. Especially at one stage there was so much noise from the road as a large B-Double Truck/Lorry as it hit the brakes as it went past that we couldn’t even hear each other talking!!! When you listen back to the recording you will wonder why on earth we paused and had a good laugh as the truck is only just audible in the background

Here is the process I went through to make sure we got a usable recording.

  1. Turn on the ZoomH4n, and plug in your external microphones via the two connections on the bottom of the device. I was using my Behringer XM8500 and Audio-Technica XLR/USB Dynamic Microphone. Note that without the external microphones in this case we could not have captured the conversation without all the noise. Whilst the built in stereo microphone (which is awesome by the way) would have done well… the background noise would have still been significant as we were simply conversing across a tall café table
  2. Plug in some headphones into your ZoomH4n
  3. Hit record once so you can start to check the levels. I tried a few settings using the recording levels button on the side of the ZoomH4n – at 80 it was definitely too noisy. At 30 the vocal’s from myself and my guest were just too weak, down on the left hand side of the level monitor. I settled at Rec Level 50 – a good balance of audible voice, and little background noise.
  4. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best as I hit record to start the interview!

The result was pretty surprising. I though the background noise would have totally detracted from the interview and we would have had to re-record the episode. But as it turns out the background noise was nearly non-existent. Apart from the soothing very low level clatter of cups and teaspoons and saucers every now and then – which just added a bit of atmosphere to the recording… you can’t hear much at all. It is chalk and cheese compared to the noise we heard whilst recording. In hindsight, the biggest challenge was being able to hear each other to have a good conversation… the ZoomH4n coupled with external microphones did all the heavy lifting!

You can listen to the finished product where we talked about how a government agency is using Yammer to accelerate cultural transformation. Note that the only post processing on this was the application of the Compressor effect in Audacity – no background noise removal was done at all!

Recording your kids singing with the Zoom H4n

Today was a pretty lazy Saturday and my girls wanted to put on a “singing show”. Usually I just sit on the couch and watch (after one of them charges me a pretend admission) but today I thought I would step it up a bit and let them loose with the Zoom H4n and my microphones.

It was a lot of fun. After turning the ZoomH4n on and then plugging in the Behringer XM8500 microphone into plug number one (held by the little tiara wearing princess on the left hand side), and the Audio-Technica AT2005USB into plug number two (held by the street smart hoodie wearing princess on the right hand side) I checked the levels and then started recording. For this I had the recording level set at around 80

The biggest challenge with four year olds and microphones is ensuring that they have them close to their mouth as much as possible so you can capture their voice consistently. My two in particular decided they wanted to throw some dance moves in which impacted the volume of the recording as they moved the microphones away from their mouths… but to be honest that doesn’t really matter does it!

After our puppy got tangled up in the XLR cables we decided to try singing using the built in stereo microphones on the ZoomH4n. After packing all the microphones and cables away, I sat with one of my daughters on the couch to record her tunes. The first thing to remember is that when you switch from external microphones to the built in microphones on the Zoom, you need to press the “Mic” button (the small red button on the left hand side of the Zoom in picture). Otherwise you will not capture any audio at all!

In this scenario where I had a very enthusiastic four year old, with the microphones so close to her mouth I needed to reduce the recording level down to about 40. Otherwise it was just hitting the limits when she was starting to belt out a tune!

Recording my first Podcast with the ZoomH4n

So today I took the big leap into podcast production. It was a secondary goal of mine when I first purchased my ZoomH4n – and now that most of my research interviews are done for my Masters degree (only a few more to go) it is time to start exploring the podcast angle.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts recently – and have found a few that I really like the style of. I am really enjoying the informal interview style of the likes of Tim Ferriss’s new podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show“, as well as Pat Flynn’s “Smart Passive Income“. Whilst my topic is different… it is all about how to create and grow engagement on enterprise social networks like Yammer… I love the style and I wanted to replicate it.

Ironically – I was listening to a back episode of Smart Passive Income tonight – Episode 110 where Pat interviewed Tim – and Tim talked about how he uses the ZoomH4n as his “out and about” recording device. AWESOME I think I have made the right choice!!

So… here is a quick and dirty look at how I bootstrapped my first (just be published) podcast episode… “Welcome to The Yaminade

Setting up for the podcast recording

In this case I was recording what I call “Episode 0″ – basically a monologue which sets the context for the ongoing podcast series. That makes it a pretty simple process to capture the recording – one voice means only one microphone! To set up I simply:

  • plugged my Behringer XM8500 microphone into the ZoomH4n using the XLR cable;
  • placed the microphone into a little desk microphone stand that I have;
  • turned on the ZoomH4n

To make sure that there wasn’t too much background noise I closed the office door – then put my fluro yellow ear buds in. Hitting the record button once (as you will know by now) gives you a change to check the levels and ensure you are recording with the right microphone at the right level. In this case the recording level was way too high and I was capturing a lot of noise. I turned it down using the Rec Level button on the right hand side – down at about 60 percent it sounded good. Then…. I took the leap and hit record again

*NERVES KICK IN HERE*

Then I fumbled through talking about the target audience for my Yammer Podcast, the goals of the podcast, and the real reason why I wanted to start the podcast (basically to go deep into topics that matter to people who manage Yammer networks and communities for their organisation)

So… I will be honest… it took 14 takes to get my very first 5 minutes recorded at a standard I was somewhat happy with. And I am sure in 6 months’ time I will look back and thing “WHAT WAS I THINKING THAT IS RUBBISH”. But hey it is a start. I have shipped the first episode of my first podcast.

 

As for how to do all the other stuff with publishing a podcast – like setting up the platform to publish on (I prefer WordPress), Podcast file hosting (Libsyn), and editing (Audacity) – that can wait for another post at another time J

Transfering recordings from your Zoom H4n to your computer

Transfering files from the Zoom H4n

The Zoom H4n makes it easy to record the sounds of people and places – wherever you are in the world.  But there is no point keeping those recordings them on the device – you are recording that audio to share with the world.

For example, last week I was recording some interviews for my University Research.  There were two interviews that I recorded that day and I wanted to transfer them to my computer so I could then transcribe the audio.

Removing SD Card from Zoom H4n Handy RecorderWhilst you could use the USB cable that comes with the Zoom H4n to transfer recordings from the device to your PC or Mac, I found it easier to use a SD Card reader.  The process is pretty simple:

  1. Power down your Zoom H4n (hold the power switch down for a few seconds before the device turns off)
  2. Open the cover with the SD HC logo on it – be careful as if you open it to violently it could break off
  3. Push your SD card in slightly with your finger, it will pop out making it easier to remove from the device
  4. Remove the SD card from your voice recorder
  5. SD Card in USB Card ReaderInsert the SD card into your USB SD Card Reader… and assuming it is plugged into your PC …
  6. Your audio files will appear.  Navigate down through the file hierarchy to find your recent recordings, and then simply drag and drop them to a folder that you want to store them in.

Once on your PC you can simply store them (boring), or you could use a tool like Audacity or Adobe Audition
to produce your raw recordings into masterpieces!

Storing your Zoom H4n

Zoom H4n Voice Recorder

I must admit I am a bit clumsy when it comes to handling electronic equipment.  Usually if I get a new phone my screen will have a crack in it within about 3 months!  Which is why when I was purchasing the Zoom H4n I was interested in what case it came with.  Unfortunately there were not many good reviews of the case that came with it – my favourite comments were found in this forum!

Zoom H4n in case - built in microphoneWhilst there are a number of Zoom H4n cases available on Amazon.com, I wanted to see what the plastic case was like that shipped with the product.  Well, I’ll be honest, I had to chose between a 2nd microphone and a new case – and my new Audio-Technica Dynamic Microphone
won out in the end!

The standard case has not been too bad so far.  It is good enough to protect the Zoom H4n recorder from small knocks and bumps.  It certainly isn’t water proof, and it wont survive a drop from a great height – but for some minor protection from the elements the voice recorder may face in a back pack or satchel, it does the job.

Zoom H4n case clipUnlike other reviews which suggested the tab on the case breaks easily, I haven’t seen that happen yet.  But I can imagine due to the amount of use my Zoom is getting at the moment that the clip will break sometime soon.

So – should you invest in a 3rd party case or storage solution for your Zoom H4n?  To be honest, if you are nice to your equipment and are not traveling around much with it, you don’t need to make the additional investment.  But who am I kidding!!!  If you are buying the Zoom H4n voice recorder you are out on the street doing vox pops, you are podcasting from your friends garage (or a bar, or a sports field), you are in weird and wonderful places recording interviews for your research, in the office doing a new voice over, or you are recording sounds in the middle of a wildlife reserve.  A sturdier case that can hold your Zoom, as well as your other accessories like your microphones, wind shields and XLR cables is important.

I’ll be buying one soon, and I am sure you will see a review about it as soon as I can post one.

Recording Qualitative Research Interviews

Qualitative Research Set up with the Zoom H4n

As a Master of Business (Research) (Management) student I have just commenced the most exciting part of my research – data collection!  My study is qualitative in nature, with my data being captured through approximately 30 interviews.  With about 20 questions, each interview will probably go for up to 60 minutes.

After a lot of discussion with my supervisor regarding interview technique, and revising the interview question schedule a few times, we were finally ready to go.  The last piece of the puzzle was a RELIABLE way to record how the subjects of my research were responding to my questions.

There are a few different options – I could have:

WP_20140702_001In the end, I went down the path of a dedicated piece of audio recording hardware – for me it reduced the risk of losing data.  This was really important for me – as a part time research student I don’t have the luxury of time (and to be honest the patience) to go back and re-interview people if I lose the data due to a software crash.  After an exhaustive look at a lot of different voice recorder options from brands like Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, TASCAM and more… I settled on the Zoom H4n.

Recording an interview with the Zoom H4n

With the room and my subject’s calendars booked, it was time to set up for my interviews.  I used a reasonably relaxed, out of the way room in our office.  My room setup was pretty simple – with me I had my laptop (which had my interview questions loaded on it), my notebook and pen, a class of water… and my Digital Audio Recorder to capture everything that both the interviewer (me) and my interviewees say.

WP_20140702_004One of the things you need to try to do in any qualitative research interview is to ensure that your subject is as comfortable as possible.  The Zoom H4n does look a little imposing at first sight – which could raise the heart rate of any one you talk to.  In fact one person commented when they first saw my Zoom H4n that it “looked like a taser!”.   Fortunately this can be overcome by using the windshield which comes as standard with the Zoom H4n.  Simply cover the built in microphones with the wind shield, and the device looks like a much friendlier microphone.

As I wasn’t near a power point, ensuring that you have a fresh set of AA batteries on hand is very important.  The Zoom H4n should record for about 6 hours on a fresh set of good quality AA batteries.   Switching to the stamina mode by popping the battery cover off and sliding the Stamina switch on will almost double the life of the device – perfect if you plan to spend a bit longer in the field, or have some of your interview subjects telling some very, very detailed (or very waffly) stories!

WP_20140702_007Just before my first victim subject arrived, I turned on the device to do a quick test run of the audio.  I got out a pair of earbuds which came with my mobile phone, and plugged one end them into the side of the Zoom H4n, and the other ends into my ears.  To test the recording levels I simply pressed the “REC” button once.  I sat in my “interviewer” chair and said a couple of the questions out loud – it sounded very clear and had good volume.  I then sat in the “interviewee” chair and repeated the process.  Again sound quality and volume was very good – I was good to start.  I removed the headphones as I wouldn’t need them for the rest of the day, and hit the “STOP” button.   Now just a few more nervous minutes needed to pass until my first interview candidate would arrive.

WP_20140702_006Once they arrived and were seated, I confirmed that their interview consent form had been signed and ran through a few of the context setting discussions for the interview.  When I was ready to collect data, I looked across at the Zoom H4n, and:

  1. Pressed the “REC” button once
  2. Checked that the “MIC” button was lit red (to ensure it was still recording from the built in stereo microphones
  3. Checked that the levels were appropriate for the volume that the interviewee was speaking at (in this case they were a soft talker so I increased the recording level by 10 using the switch on the right hand side of the unit)
  4. Checked that I had enough empty space to record the entire interview (with my 32gb SD Card I had another 46 hours of capacity left so that shouldn’t be a problem!)
  5. Checked that the battery indicator showed that there was plenty of juice left
  6. Crossed my fingers, took a deep breath, pressed “REC” for a second time, and then commenced the interview

My first interview went for approximately 45 minutes – lots of great content and very vivid stories which will contribute to a some great discussion in my thesis.  Once the interview had finished, I simply hit the “STOP” button and the recording was saved to my SD card.

The Zoom H4n really did it’s job!  I just wish it could transcribe the recording for me as well!  The good thing is that the quality of audio is so good that it really makes transcribing a breeze – whether you do it yourself, try to use machine based transcription, or outsource your transcription to a 3rd party provider.

 

Recording a quick voice over with the Zoom H4n

Recording a voiceover with the Zoom H4nToday in the office we had a bit of an impromptu request from one of our Executive team.  “We have a video from one of our partner organisations – we have permission from them to add our own audio on top of it – can we do it, and if so how?

Luckily I had the Zoom H4nand my Behringer XM8500 Microphone
on hand.  We found a quiet room in the office, and whilst the “talent” rehearsed their 90 second script, I set up the voice recorder and microphone in about 30 seconds.

 

  1. Plug the XLR cable into the Microphone and into the bottom of the Zoom H4n.  Note it doesn’t really matter which XLR port you plug it into – generally I pick the one of the left – #1
  2. Place the Behringer XM85000 into a microphone stand.  The one I use happened to come standard with my other microphone – the Audio-Technica AT2005USB- but any desktop microphone stand will do!
  3. Turn on the Zoom H4n and wait for 15 seconds for it to boot up
  4. Check to see that you are using the right inputs.  In this case we were using the #1 XLR input, so I had to ensure it was lit up.  If the “Mic” light was on, it would have used the built in stereo microphones and picked up a lot more ambient sound in the room (the last thing I needed for a good quality voice over
  5. Hit the record button once to check the levels.  In this case I watched the LCD panel on the handy recorder and noticed that the levels were a little low – simply because the microphone was a little too far away from our “talent”.  We couldn’t really change the distance unfortunately, but I could increase the input level slightly by using the input switch on the right hand side of the voice recorder.   Normally I have it set to 80, but in this case I bumped it up to 90.
  6. (at this stage I should have put some headphones on and checked the sound that was coming in via the Microphone, but I didn’t have them handy.  Luckily in this case it turned out alright!)
  7. Hit record again and wait for the mandatory 3-12 run throughs until your hastily arranged voice over guy or girl gets it right (or close enough)
  8. Hit stop when you are done!

Behringer XM8500 with the Zoom H4n Handy Recorder

In this case there was a little editing of the audio required to join a few good parts from different takes together.  So I plugged my SD card reader into my Surface, popped the SD card out of my Zoom H4n into the card reader and transferred the .wav file across.  I then opened up Audacity to do the edits.

In Audacity I did a few things to ensure the final audio was of as high a standard as possible.

  1. Noise removal.  Select a bit of “dead air” on your track.  Goto the effects menu, and then click on Noise Removal.  Click “Get Profile” and then click ok.  Select the entire track, then go back to the Noise Removal effect via the effects menu.  Click ok to apply the noise removal effect across the entire track
  2. Whilst the entire track is still selected, go back to the effects menu and then click Compressor.  This gives the voice a much better “radio” sound.
  3. Finally, in this case as the microphone was a little too far away from my talent, I used the amplify effect to add an additional 10db to the audio.

Once happy, I simply exported to a .mp3 file, and handed the audio over to the Exec who did his best to add it to the video using none other than Windows Movie Maker.

Total process from “we should do a voice over” to “voice over applied to video” was less than 60 minutes.  With a “broadcast quality” voice over that we could not achieve with a standard USB microphone/built in laptop microphone.