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Perseverance

I was reminded of an invaluable #fieldrecording skill when out scoping locations this week. I found this large scale metal recyclers in Seaview, and walked into their office to ask if there was any way I could access this mountain of metal to record sounds or buy a few props?
THEM: “I’m sorry, we’re corporate and don’t sell to the public. And health & safety regulations mean we can’t let you on the property”
ME: “Oh thats a shame… Hey so what happens to all of this metal anyway?”
THEM: “A ship is arriving September 2nd, so it will all be taken away for recycling”
ME: You don’t say!!
THEM: “We do say!”
ME: So if I turn up on September 2nd and set my microphones up just outside your boundary, I will get to hear that entire mountain be loaded and removed??
THEM: “Um… yes that is correct”
ME: See you then!

The skill?
Refusing to take no for an answer!
Had I not persevered and asked that one extra question, I would have gone home thinking what a missed opportunity it was. But now I can prepare, and will likely go record a few days before incase they start loading early, and to find the best location. And I will stalk the Marine Traffic website days before, to identify the ship and its arrival date. But all of this will only be possible due to persevering and asking the right question! And the right question is one that they cannot say no to!

But the next skill required?
Perseverance!

Based on the above info I loaded up my car with all my recording gear & camera and visited the site last Thursday, thinking they might be preparing for loading… But there was very little activity.

Friday September 2nd arrived and same scenario! Very little activity. Was the ship late? Were they kidding me?

Monday 5th I revisit and they are doing some work in the back of the yard, so I set up my mics and record what I can… I don’t hear anything extraordinary, but it was useful as a test run:

Notice in the photo above, none of my mic stands are actually touching the ground! They are functioning as a counter weight to keep mic mics sitting on top of the fence. But framing & focusing the camera was impossible. I came home at the end of the day and the recordings sounded better, but the video was not great.

Tuesday 6th I am better prepared!

Notice my little stepladder! Standing on it I could clearly see over the fence and as luck (aka perseverance) would have it, a big truck was being loaded almost directly in front of my microphones!!

It would take them about 15minutes to load each truck, and the first few dumps into the empty bin sounded HUGE!!! While the truck was away unloading into the ship, I thought the claw might take a break… But no, he started making metal avalanches in prep for the next truck to arrive!

So today I am heading off for another recording session as I figure they have another day or two of work to move the entire mountain. And now that I have my setup safely organised, I’m going to add the Sanken CUX100K mics to the 8040×2 and 8020×2 that I have been using!

Thank Jah for 32bit float!!
I shot some XPAN from my little stepladder too

Sound Devices MixPre 10-II tip

Late 2021 I took the leap and ordered a Sound Devices MixPre 10-II I was motivated by a number of factors, first was a desire to record 32bit 192kHz with multiple microphones. My old SD 788T is still a rock solid performer, but its hardware limits it to only capturing 4 channels of 192kHz audio. So I mainly use it for AMB recording where 96kHz is fine, and for that it is brilliant. I had upgraded the HD to an 500GB SSD and with NP1 battery I can do long runtime recordings eg yesterday I used it to record 5 channels of 24/96 capturing over 10 hours of real-time recording, swapping batteries every few hours.

I still have my other SD recorders – two 722 and a 744. So I can combine them with C.LINK to do six channel 192kHz recording, but it is not ideal to be powering and monitoring three seperate recorders.

The other feature of the MixPre10 is the Musician plugin. This directly suits a few music projects I am working on. But I will document that once I am further down the track and have some experience with it.

So the new Mix Pre 10 arrived, I ordered a NP1 battery cap for it and have it all up & running, and it is fantastic. But there was one aspect of the MixPre that I could not understand. I read the manual before it arrived and again after I’d used it for a bit and still I could not understand it.

This is so basic, every one of my other SD recorders provides it by default, but the one thing I wanted:

Direct access to the input gain of every channel!

As an example, if I plug a mic into my 722, power it up and hit record. The gain knob on the front of the 722 gives me direct access to instantly control the input gain of the mic. This is essential. Every time I record something the first thing I do is gauge the extremes of volume and set the gain, to cleanly record without clipping.

But for some bizarre reason, this is not how the MixPre is set up, by default. The MixPre has three modes.

1. Basic
This is fixed at 48kHz, I will never use Basic mode.

2. Advanced Mode
I set up a project as 32 bit 192kHz recording. I enabled phantom power for each mic and armed the record tracks. BUT The gain knob on the front of the MixPre does not control input gain! It controls post-record level, for creating a LR guide mix! Now I do appreciate why this is useful: it is essential for every production sound recordist. Delivering a guide mix to the director and to camera is as important as recording the iso tracks. But for me: I never record a guide mix. The LR bus is only of use for monitoring. I work at a fixed monitor level & solo to check mics etc…
With the MixPre in Advanced mode, the only way to access the input gain of each channel takes 3 steps: first select mic input 1 with a click, then click select input gain, and then use the fiddly little knob beside the headphone jack to set the gain. Then do the same for mic 2. Then do the same for mic 3. Then do the same for 4. Then do the same for 5. Then do the same for 6. Then do the same for 7. Then do the same for 8. Even reading that was a pain!

3. Custom Mode
I was getting frustrated by this point. There must be a way!? I read the manual and found Custom Mode, which mentioned one feature that still did not make sense:

Gain
Allows advanced operation of channel gain, including dual gain stage (gain and fader) and Remix.

Huh? What fader?
In frustration, I asked on the MixPre FB Users Group and some lovely helpful people replied!

First thanks to Robert Keilbar, who replied with a handy photo:
“Hey Tim, try custom mode and in the submenu set Gain Basic, that should solve the problem”

Bingo! Problem solved.
But as I said I have used SD recorders for many years. I had read the manual and I was stumped. I don’t consider myself an idiot, but why was this so difficult to discover? Why is there not a default MixPre set up for this, its always been a default?

It seems like Sound Devices decided that production sound takes priority, and everyone else should have to manually set up a custom mode to get it to work, the way their recorders have always worked.

Now someone else commented (thanks Bernard Ulrich!) saying the old MixPre 10 manual was better. They provided a link and I checked. And he is right, the old manual clearly explains it on page 24.

“CUSTOM MODE
By setting the Channel Custom Setup to Advanced and the Gain Custom Setup to Basic, you can use all the Advanced Channel Input features while retaining single gain stage control using the physical channel knobs. This allows you to use the channel knobs to adjust the level going to the ISO tracks.”

Why was this removed from the new MixPre manual?
I would have found that instantly and had zero confusion.

Now someone else joined the discussion at this point, and his comments were very helpful in understanding how the MixPre differs from previous recorders (but it still does not explain that omission from the manual)

Thanks to Dmitry Chernov:
“Even in the advanced mode the knobs do not control Input gain. They are after ADC and control at what level the digital signal is recorded into ISO tracks of a poly WAV file either in 32 bit or 24 bit mode. There is no analog input gain control at all neither in MixPre II series nor in Zoom F6. The only option to choose different levels prior to ADC is switch between Mic and Line level sensitivity.

The preamp has a fixed gain and then the signal goes to the ADC that consists of three 24 bit converters receiving the analog signal at 3 different levels to cover the wider dynamic range. The processor then combines the outputs of the 3 ADC converters to get the best signal-to-noise ratio and prevent digital clipping.”

That is very useful insight. It explains how the MixPre achieves its great results, but it still doesn’t explain the default allocation of knob useage.

I have contacted Sound Devices and provided my feedback. I hope they improve the manual, because I should have solved this myself instantly when reading the manual. Had I read the old manual, I would have solved it!

And it’s not just me. Someone else commented: “Thank you all for this enlightment! I thought there was no way to use the front knobs to adjust gain.”

Please improve your MixPre manual, Sound Devices!

Temperature Inversion

My field recording work is often exterior, so I am often dependent on the weather…
Wind & rain ruin recordings (unless that’s what I’m recording) but checking the hourly weather forecast I keep noticing how the wind always dies down at night… Why is that?

Answer: temperature inversion
Longer answer is here

“The wind speed tends to decrease after sunset because at night the surface of the Earth cools much more rapidly than does the air above the surface. As a result of this difference in cooling ability, it doesn’t take long for the ground to become colder than the air above it. The air in close contact with the ground — say in the lowest 300 feet of the atmosphere — then becomes colder than the air above it.

This circumstance leads to the development of what is known as a temperature inversion. Inversions dramatically reduce the amount of mixing that occurs between different vertical layers of the atmosphere. As a consequence, once the inversion sets up (after sunset), it is much harder for fast-moving air above the ground to mix down to the surface, where it could appear as a gust of wind. During the day it is very easy for the air to mix and cause surface gusts.”

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