Mobile audio recorders are packing more and more into small spaces – and affordable ones at that.
In keeping with that trend, Zoom has just announced their all-new H5 Handy Recorder. Coming in June 2014, for a MAP of $269.99, and loaded with features, the H5 should prove a useful asset to field recorders experienced in working with audio for video, broadcast, and podcasts.
Musicians, producers, and sound designers that want to add more real-world sounds to their productions may also give this new Zoom a close look.
Here are more details on the H5, as provided by Zoom:
Like the company’s flagship H6, the H5 employs a system of interchangeable input capsules, allowing the best microphone to be used for every recording situation. In addition to being fully compatible with all Zoom input capsules, the H5 comes with a new X/Y stereo capsule, featuring extended signal capacity—up to 140 dB SPL—and shockmounted microphones for reduced handling noise.
The H5 allows four tracks of simultaneous recording directly to SD cards up to 32 gigabytes in a variety of MP3 and BWF-compliant WAV file formats, including 24-bit / 96k high-resolution audio. With the use of an optional adapter, it can be mounted directly to a DSLR or camcorder and requires just 2 AA batteries for power, with alkaline battery life of more than 15 hours. Dual XLR/TRS combo jacks enable the connection of external microphones or line-level devices. Each input has its own dedicated gain control and pad, as well as phantom power in three different voltages.
Additional features include a stereo Line Out for connection to camcorders; a headphone jack and built-in speaker; onboard effects, metronome and chromatic tuner; adjustable playback speed and pitch correction; and Pre-record, Auto-record and Backup-record functions. A USB port enables data transfer to and from editing software and allows the H5 to serve as a multichannel audio interface for computers and iPads.
Talk about exiting your comfort zone. Brooklyn post-punk band Butter the Children were a million miles from home in Austin, TX, recording a song they had never heard before – because it hadn’t been written yet.
After just three hours with fellow artist/songwriter Ben Arthur, BtC had a jangly rock tune in completely in the can. It’s hard to believe that the wisened hooks of “Made” were created almost simultaneously to when they were recorded in an Austin home (located via AirBnb) during SXSW amidst the Subway Sessions – but that’s exactly the point of the video series SongCraft Presents.
SongCraft Presents documents the creative process musicians and songwriters, uncovering the magic that happens when two artists are thrown together in a recording studio to write and record a song – make that a great song — in a single day. Past episodes have featured author/singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, celebrated cellist Ben Sollee, and GRAMMY nominee/Latin film star Ximena Sarinana.
After Arthur helps the artist create the song — verse, chorus, and bridge — from the ground up, the world-class producers Al Houghton and Mike Crehore of New York City’s Dubway Studios track what happens.
“Butter the Children have this great wild energy, and their tonality is so different than a lot of what we work with on SongCraft, so I was excited to get them in the studio with us,” Arthur says. “Like all the sessions we did down in Austin, the challenge is baked into the process: we only had three hours to write and record the song, so there’s really no choice as far as pulling the song together quickly. Either it comes quickly…or there’s no song.”
You heard it here first: The premiere of “Made” on Songcraft Presents
How Two Pros Tracked it in No Time
Session veterans Creore and Houghton are the perfect pair to have on hand for SongCraft Presents, keeping a steady hand on the tiller through every phase – from selecting the location, to curating a mobile recording rig, and the mix that comes afterwards. Meanwhile, the sharp video you see here was made by director Matthew Hendershot and Joshua Park.
“It’s extremely hard to tell what you are getting into booking a house in Austin for SXSW through AirBnB!,” Creore laughs. “I have a pretty good sense of space in three dimensions from my work designing and building much of the last two iterations of Dubway and other projects over the years. I pushed hard for this house on the south side of Austin due to the dimensions and the separation from other buildings — as much as we could — as opposed to the craziness of the downtown scene.
“Acoustically, it was very live,” Crehore continues. “I brought along three ribbon mics just in case – they are much more forgiving and proximity affected. Telefunken lent us some great mics as well, but I really only used their AR51 for vocal duty after the song was laid down and their M82 for vocal during tracking (like an RE20). Also their M60 FET prototypes which were really killer on the drumset, which was made from a Genelec box and a tissue box! The drummer didn’t even have sticks with her, so she played with bbq skewers taped together.”
Crehore also brought along a Metric Halo ULN 8 audio interface, which fed both Pro Tools and the camera rig for audio sync later on. “And we picked up a $100 monitor from Best Buy for more screen real estate – that 13″ screen just doesn’t cut it for these old eyes!” he says. “The ULN 8 has incredible mic pres and a beautiful DI, so it really is my go-to box for everything I do at this point.”
For Crehore and Houghton, an assignment like this means knowing when to unleash their expertise, and when to go virtually vanish. “Al and I have the same approach to bands I think: Let them do what they do, and try to be as transparent to the process as possible,” notes Crehore. “Since the writing process is being documented both with video and audio, Al was manning the wireless lavaliers and doing a bunch of the mic placement as I was tracking on the fly.
“The artists feel a little in a fish bowl, but luckily we have enough experience at this to see where things are going, talk amongst the two of us about the best way to get there, and actually start setting things in motion while the band is still writing. We always try to take the band live if at all possible – “warts and all” I like to say- so that we can get the initial feel of the song. Especially a new song. Remember we wrote and tracked the basics in less than 3 hours.”
According to Crehore, the biggest “no-no” is for the engineer to impart their vibe on the situation in a bad way, which shuts down or intimidates the creative process. “I like to tell the young engineers that are obsessed with gear,” he says, “to get over it quickly – 95% of the process in the studio or in a makeshift studio like the one we worked in in Austin, is people skills – 5% is technical. If you get a great take that isn’t 100% perfect, it is so much better than a so-so track that is perfectly recorded and lacks life.”
“As an engineer in this high-pressure and unpredictable situation — for both artists & producers — the best play is to be as invisible as possible,” Houghton adds. “Keep our problems to ourselves, and impact as little on the artists’ head space as possible so as not to distract.
“We were hyper-attentive to the artists, stepping outside this engineer ‘cloak of invisibility’ only to address issues affecting their comfort and ease with the physical environment and recording situation. Basically, as hosts, we endeavor maintain a very respectful, yet friendly vibe.”
Mix and a Match
Back in NYC, Crehore imparted only what was necessary to bring out the natural goodness of “Made”, which is a love song in disguise. “I mixed the song in my cellar lair here in NYC,” Crehore explains. “I wanted to keep all the great energy that the band provided, but have a big drum sound, so I used Massey DRT to replace the Genelec box and the tissue box drum kit with a Toontrack Superior drummer kit I built for the song. I left the live tracks in the mix, but the drumkit is mainly Superior.
“Ben did a synthy pad to help flesh things out and I overdubbed three quick guitar parts in the bridge to take it up a notch. The acoustic was Ray from the tracking day, the bass was live as well. The vocal was the first or second take as well as a group vocal on the choruses including Ben as well. I mainly left the song as it was, made them sound as good as I could and added just enough to make it rock.”
For Ben Arthur, who’s overseen more than two dozen lightning-fast collaborations, making “Made” maintained his amazement with the SCP process. “I love it when we stretch ourselves stylistically,” he says. “That we’ve done not just singer-songwriters of various stripes, but also an Afrobeat song with Kaleta, and an electro-pop song with Ximena Sarinana and Alex Wong and a sardonic country song with Steve Poltz, and a hip hop track with Hired Gun, makes me really happy. I can’t wait to do a metal song!”
Look for an upcoming series of tutorials on Ask Video featuring the songs SongCraft Presents wrote and recorded with Turin Brakes Elizabeth and the Catapult, and Butter the Children, accompanied by remix contests. Prizes will a Telefunken microphone and Genelec monitors, so stay tuned.
– David Weiss
With CES currently unfolding, and NAMM on the way, expect manufacturers to be upping the ante on existing offerings, along with the myriad new product rollouts. For the former category, observe Apogee Electronics’ MiC 96k cardioid condenser digital microphone for iPad, iPhone and Mac.
An update to their MiC mobile microphone that was first introduced in 2011, the new MiC 96k features the same look and portable form factor as the original, but now provides the ability to make recordings up to 24-bit/96kHz quality. An iOS Lightning cable plus microphone stand adapter are also now standard accessories. As with its predecessor, the MiC 96k also includes an iOS 30-pin cable, Mac USB cable, and table-top tripod stand.
Priced at $229 and available now, MiC 96k is designed to be a pro-level mobile solution for iPad/iPhone/iPod touch/Mac to record vocals, voice overs, acoustic guitar, piano, drums and more.
Here are more tech specs, from the audio peeps at Apogee:
MiC 96k Highlights
- PureDIGITAL connection for pristine sound quality
- Designed for voice and acoustic instrument recording
- Studio quality cardioid condenser microphone
- Up to 96kHz, 24-bit analog-to-digital recording
- Works with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac
- Includes iOS Lightning cable, iOS 30-pin cable, Mac USB cable
- Simple setup, you can start recording in minutes
- Apogee engineered microphone preamp with up to 40dB of gain
- Control knob allows easy input level adjustment
- Multicolor LED for status indication and input level monitoring
- All metal construction
- Microphone stand adapter included
- No batteries or external power required
- Compatible with GarageBand, Logic Pro and Pro Tools
- Made in the U.S.A.
A new record label today needs a standout artist, high aspirations, and a unique angle to get off the ground – Brooklyn’s Better Breakfast Records has all three.
An “analog recording company” founded in 2013 by Chris McFarland, Better Breakfast is debuting with the naturally appealing single “Smoking Gun” by the southern-tinged NYC rock band Momma Holler. “Smoking Gun” is a prime cut from Momma Holler’s full-length record You Got What You Wanted, slated for a September 7th release.
To make the record this past winter, McFarland – a young piano virtuoso who’s wise beyond his years – knew he would have to take the band out of the NYC cold to reach their comfort zone. Momma Holler’s singer, Ally Pekins, hails from Tallahassee, FL, which made a down-south sojourn a natural choice.
The chosen destination: New Orleans, where Momma Holler, McFarland, and his all-analog mobile recording rig decamped to the Oak Street home of engineer Turbo Tenev to make You Got What You Wanted. It’s a refreshing collection for ears in search of space and simply good Southern rock songs, cleanly delivered with just enough grit.
Check out the video for “Smoking Gun”, which features plenty of in-studio footage. Then be sure to read on for McFarland’s account of their old-school approach for laying down this toe-tapping track.
This song was recorded with everything live except for the slide guitar and the backup vocals, which we did 10 minutes after the tracking of the tune was finished. We work on an 8-track 1″ machine because I love the limitations it puts on the music. I am not a fan of having 10 guitar tracks, or 10 guitar parts for that matter, and eight mics on the drums, it never sounds good to me.
The drums here have three mics: two Coles 4038′s — one over the drummers shoulder, one in front of the kick and snare — with an additional 57 underneath the snare for a good measure of cracklyness. We were low on tracks so we dubbed the backup vocals and the slide on the same track (old school) just mixing the levels pre-take. These are the best-sounding backups I’ve ever recorded, I love how they sit.
It is really my recording philosophy — and it may be cheesy to say but I mean it — that if it doesn’t sound good with the band all together in the room it isn’t going to sound good after the mix. Well, maybe I should say it won’t “feel” right, because sounding “good” does not necessarily mean the vibe is right.
We work in time, meaning that we made snap decisions on what will be the “final” sound of the recordings right there in the studio, rather than multiple mics on everything to have options later.
We listened just to sounds for almost three weeks before we got any final takes! It took us three weeks for me to feel like our drum sound felt right, and also to get the band to play parts that really made the songs. All of the music Momma Holler does come from lyrics and melodies first, then arrangement and riffs to add to the songs — this is very different than a lot of what I’m hearing these days.
We have a very open relationship with our productions, so we just work and work until everyone is happy with the sounds. That’s something that we usually can’t afford, but because we own our own gear, and record in outfitted houses we have the luxury to do it.
– David Weiss
Sound wasn’t meant to stand still.
Neither, it seems, is Steve Remote, which may explain his love affair with the audible force that rushes through the air at 1,126 feet per second.
And while the mobile production fleet that he’s created may not look supersonic, it’s adeptly kept Remote in the race – for decades on end.
Based out of Queens, Remote and his dedicated team of engineers have built up nothing less than a national resource for audio: Aura-Sonic, which was founded in 1977 and today stands as the oldest operating, single-owner mobile recording company in the USA. The shows and sheds captured since then are countless, including Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Dave Brubeck, Frank Zappa, Green Day, Herbie Hancock, Interpol, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, My Morning Jacket, Neville Brothers, Queens of the Stone Age, Radiohead, Talking Heads, UB40, Van Dyke Parks, Wilco, XTC, and Yo Yo Ma, just for starters.
And there’s no sign of slowing down, especially with the summer music season now in high gear. With voyages to the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival right around the corner, and a solid schedule of live recordings at venues nationwide on the books, Aura-Sonic has its work cut out for them. Which is exactly the way Remote likes it.
“Designing and fabricating a killer truck and doing a great job is what motivates me,” Steve Remote says. “Imagine having a hobby that turned out to be your gig. Even if I have a slow month, it doesn’t matter: I have plenty of things to do.”
Constructing A Flexible Fleet
How do you achieve such high mileage in the ultra-competitive, and incredibly labor-intensive, sector that is mobile audio?
It would be easy to chalk it up to a road warrior mentality, but there’s a lot more to it than that. In Steve Remote’s case, his palpable passion has many energy sources: a deep love for live music, a curious mind bent on invention, and a technical mastery of his craft. If he can dream it, he really can do it, provided he’s got the time and resources at hand.
The proof is experiencing Remote in the Aura-Sonic field shop, an intriguing HQ where military-spec organization and a creative vibe magically coincide — step inside, and you’re face-to-face with his rolling creations.
First you’ll find The Bread Mobile, a GMC/Grumman Kurbmaster Stepvan (Exterior: 25.5′ L x 11.5′ H x 96″ W) that espouses Remote’s “Open Architecture” philosophy of full flexibility, allowing it to be customized for everything from VO/ADR sessions to a full 56-input mobile recording studio.
Parked alongside this venerable vehicle is Cosmo, a 36-foot long Hino 268A rig (Exterior: 36.0′ L x 11.5′ H x 102″ W) originally owned by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug “Cosmo” Clifford and Stu Cook, and then owned and operated by Phil Edwards Recording. Aura-Sonic is currently in the process of converting it over to the Open Architecture design, and it’s set to debut in the first quarter of 2014.
The next level is Elroy, a 33,000-lb Mercedes expando truck (Exterior Expando Dimensions: 22.0′ L x 11.5′ H x 14.0′ W) where the Open Architecture Platform is maximized, to say the least. Designed with extreme input/output capabilities, Elroy can do far more than just location sound – it’s a rolling recording studio where virtually all things audio/video are possible: It can serve as a broadcast control room, music mix suite, post production/editing suite, video assist, ADR/VO, live studio space, machine room, rehearsal space, high-tech green room, demonstration show room…plus anything else that Aura-Sonic’s clients can think of.
And there’s nothing Steve Remote seems to like more than a new idea.
All of Aura Sonic’s mobile environments can be a strong complement not just to a live concert but also to promotional content and events for a brand. In one example, Aura-Sonic captured several adventurous on-location live music videos for the Converse “Ready, Set Get Lost” series with The Bread Mobile.
Taking it a step further, Heineken had Aura-Sonic bring The Bread Mobile out to Manhattan’s Pier 22 – Heineken placed their logos on the truck, after which people outside listened to beats and wrote lyrics. Next they were invited to come inside The Bread Mobile and record their lyrics, then instantly come away with their new song on a USB flash drive.
Wheels of Invention
“I want to make this distinction,” says Remote, whose unlimited energy goes into overdrive within the expansive inner space of Elroy. “Yes, I’m a remote recording engineer/producer/mixer, and Aura-Sonic has remote trucks, but the key is that we’re like an automotive industry: That’s because we’re designing and building every one of our trucks. If something isn’t already made, I’ll invent it and we’ll fabricate it here at the shop, to meet whatever our needs are.”
As an example, check out the entrance door to Elroy. Amidst the thousands of live recordings and broadcasts he executed, Remote knew that megastars often come back to the truck to review the live mixes. To ensure privacy, Remote wanted a door whose glass could be privately opaque, and then totally transparent at the touch of a button later on. Further, the door had to be able to withstand the unique rigors of being attached to a road vehicle.
So Remote designed Elroy’s unique door with a laminated Suspended Particle Device (SPD) Smartglass and Liquid Crystal (LC) Polycarbonate privacy glass panel assembly. Applying electrical voltage to the SPD film via regulation of the 120V, users can observe a wide range of light control. The exact level of transparency can be dialed into the SPD Smart Glass, from opaque to totally clear. Remove the current, and the glass returns to the frosted “private” state.
“My friends have said to me, ‘Why not buy a door that’s all ready to go?’” Remote relates. “We could do that, except I wanted something special. Moreover, I want to learn how to build it, and therefore how to fix it. So I take these things that have happened to us, and say, ‘How do we think of a better way, and make sure we’ll never have an issue?’”
Space Ship Elroy
While all of his trucks have their high points, Elroy is a uniquely versatile mobile unit, providing Aura-Sonic and its clients with an inspiring hub to create in – or branch out from, as the case may be.
A dual-expanding wall truck that’s been evolving non-stop since 1999, Elroy is designed to be configurable to any media production need, and in a highly efficient form. Its interior can accommodate multiple operator positions all in one space, and the main mixing position is pre-configured for 5.1 surround monitoring.
Input/output possibilities are absolutely huge: Elroy’s passenger side “Inside Universe” patch bay has 2080 points that can connect to the flexibly assembled “Main,” “Aux” and “Outside Universe” rack panels. The driver side “Guest Area” patch bay provides a completely independent system with the capabilities of connecting to the “Guest” and “Outside Universe” rack panels. The “Guest Area” power is completely isolated from the main power via a second isolation transformer.
Being inside Elroy, it’s easy to forget you’re in something that can easily move from city to city, and state to state — the feeling is one of being in a decently spacious studio control room or broadcast/post suite. People have plenty of room to walk around, or can scoot around in their chairs.
If preferred, a band can set up inside and be recorded in a world-class studio environment, right on the spot. We can tell you a thousand more words about that or you can see for yourself how well it works in the live music video below, where the six-man NYC band Hey Guy records their melodic metal without any overdubs:
Note the pro video production for the video, which is not something Aura-Sonic farmed out. Knowing full well that live video streaming to the Web is important to today’s content producers, Remote has designed Elroy to be a turnkey operation that drives up and then provides all the audio, video and production capabilities needed. Elroy can also be paired up with one of their rigs or any other remote recording facility to provide an on-location mobile studio space and control room environment.
“I look at it as reinvention – now that we’ve got this mobile environment, how can we use it?” Remote explains. “People are starting to see that this truck can do all these other things, beyond music and television production. What do you want it to do? It’s about new ideas. This truck can come to a big event, but it’s not just there to capture a show – it’s a part of the event.”
Recruiting A Competitive Crew
Naturally, Steve Remote doesn’t do this alone. He has a staff of full-time and freelance associates that keeps the fleet humming.
Not surprisingly, getting into the Aura-Sonic system is a rigorous process. Remote launched his own career in 1976, when he showed up at Max’s Kansas City with an eight-channel Sony MX-20 mixer and a two-track Studer A700 tape recorder and talked his way into recording the New York Dolls that weekend. Just 18 years old at the time, Remote went on to record many other live shows at the storied club.
All the while – on the way to taking part in the recording of three Grammy Award winning albums and winning a 2009 TEC Award — Remote was studying audio fundamentals and training himself to be self-sufficient, a trait he passes on to his staff as they train and move through the ranks: Audio Utility, Audio Assistant, Recording Engineer, and ultimately Engineer in Charge or Music Producer.
“We take the old British recording studio approach,” he says. “When I take on an intern or an apprentice, they learn from the ground up: how to build a cable, wire stuff, fabricate tables and racks. You pass that, then you move on to help us prep a gig – that’s an Audio Utility, a person who made it out of the shop and knows what they’re doing enough to move cables and gear. Moving up from there, you’re setting up recorders or microphones.
“It’s not about how much time you’ve put into it,” Remote continues. “It’s about how much you’ve learned. When you do a live broadcast and you’re going out to ten million homes it’s got to be right – you make a mistake and its forever. We’re only as good as our last gig.”
A Live Life
No matter what directions Steve Remote’s explorations lead next, it all circles back to the same source of nonstop excitement for him.
“The stimulating part of it is the live thing,” Remote says. “That special performance can never be redone. The one-shot nature of it all. You can’t get that as vividly in a studio as you can in a mobile or on location situation. That’s what’s great about this business: It’s always about going to these interesting locations, and making it as good as it possibly could be. Bring out the best.”
– David Weiss