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Using DSM Mikes & Ten Very Useful Recording Tips

1) Double check that the microphones plug(s) is inserted all the way into the microphones jack before recording.  It's happened to just about everybody that a recording is partially missed because the microphones were not firmly plugged all the way into the input!   If possible, secure the mic. cord between the deck & deck's carrying case (shown here); this keeps the cord from tugging on the plug/input jack during recording.

2) Check that your recorder is not in the pause/standby mode when you might think otherwise!  Yes, the VU's are indicating, the recorder is humming, but no recording!   Everybody that I know has done this at least once!  The record button should be all the way in with the pause button all the way out on analog cassette decks. You can practice for the feel of proper position of these important and useful recorder functions in the dark without even looking away from the action.

Digital DAT (and MiniDISC) decks DO NOT immediately go into record with the 1st push of the REC button; instead, they go into a REC SETUP MODE (MiniDISCs go into PAUSE mode) that allows setting up recording levels without recording. Pushing a DAT's PAUSE button (1st time) loads a tape into position; you're still NOT RECORDING as yet until pushing PLAY(1st time on MD decks).... or as with D100/M1 Sony DAT, push PAUSE again (2'd time).

NOTE: A good way to insure a DAT deck is actually in record mode and recording is by selecting one of the tape time display MODEs.   I prefer the useful A-TIME  or ABS (absolute time) or REMaining (tape time available) display.  These show easily visible seconds 'ticking away' while tape is moving in PLAY or REC modes.  With the 'REC'indicator is displayed along with changing media recording time, you can be much more sure that you are making a recording!

Practice this several times

3) When using an analog cassette recorder, be certain that the tape type and noise reduction switches are correct.   It's easy to forget if you are using type I, II, or IV tape if you use different tape types infrequently and are not in the habit of setting up these functions every time before recording.  To make matters worse, once set, these switches may be easily bumped to a different setting during level adjustments!

With DAT and MiniDISC decks, accidentally pushing a button can stop the recording without notice. Fortunately, ALL digital DAT and MD decks have a lockout switch labeled "HOLD" that is your best friend to prevent accidental interruption of your recording. USE the HOLD function after you've set all the display functions and have started the actual recording. After being sure the recording is proceeding correctly, slide the HOLD switch to ON, making sure any button push when handling the deck is ignored. When in HOLD, DAT decks still allow REC Level adjustments via the rotating level knob. MD deck lock out all button functions and require the HOLD switch to be in the OFF position before allowing manual recording level adjustments.

One way to avoid disappointment with having a slide switch move on analog decks is to tape over these switches with a short piece of black electrical tape after correctly setting the positions.   This will insure the setting will not change after proper positioning.  Also placing an easily removable piece of tape from the back of the recorder to across the top of the recording level control knob will prevent it from moving after you found that perfect level setting described in tip #10); this also works for level adjustment knobs found on all DAT decks.

CAUTION: MiniDISC decks MUST BE KEPT virtually motionless while recording

ALL small MiniDISC decks are extremely sensitive to skipping, leaving blank disk spaces if bumped or moved even a little while recording. Blank spaces can easily make your minidisc jump from playing one track immediately to the next track (if you are lucky to have another) during playback. Do Not put MiniDisc decks in purses, equipment bags, or pants pockets while recording. Instead, place on a steady and secure (table) surface or HANDHOLD very gingerly, keeping all necessary deck movements very slow and deliberate.

If you often find yourself standing in an active crowd where getting bumped is usual or sometimes like to be moving around while recording, consider using a DAT deck instead, Mini-DAT's can usually hit the ground without audibly interrupting the recording; noted from personal slippery fingered experience on several occasions!.

4) Use the ATTEN/MIC SENS switch setting!  This switch is near the mike input jack on Pro-style recorders that reduce or increase the mic. signal level before the recorder's REC LEVEL knob section so that superior recordings are possible under varied loudness conditions and microphones sensitivity. Recorders have either 0dB/-20dB or (H)high gain/(L)low gain designations.  

The ATTEN or MIC SENS should be on the highest number (-20dB) or (L)Low gain level for moderate to loud sounds.  This should allow a manual REC LEVEL KNOB setting at least half (that's 5-10) up towards full.

CAUTION: When the REC LEVEL knob is turned down to #4 or less, preamplifier clipping distortion is a good possibility with most 'consumer' recording decks!   ONLY when the VU indicator shows more signal gain is needed (VU peaks are below 0dB/+3dB for analog or -12dB f/DAT) and the REC LEVEL knob is at #9 or #10 full-up, should more gain be switched in.   This procedure greatly reduces the chance of preamplifier clipping distortion; also allows better L/R channel balance with single REC LEVEL knob decks.  (More on this Topic HERE)

5) Avoid recording in high winds.   Most available mic. wind screens that work well in stiff winds can be enormous, create other noises, and/or reduce the sound fidelity!  Although there's no harm in recording in windy areas, best results are in ó 5 MPH breezes.

TIP: If you must record in a wind, hold an opened umbrella to your backside, close to your head and shoulders or wear a very large brim 'sombrero' style hat to form a wind-quiet area.  

FOR EVEN BETTER RESULTS:  Use the DSM-WHB windscreen headband accessory

6) Use ONLY fresh Alkaline batteries whenever recording important events.  Best results are guaranteed when battery life is estimated to about 2/3 the manufacturer's maximum recording time on a fresh set. If the battery life is stated at 4-5 hours, figure you should record about 2-3 hours and change batteries. The still useful used batteries are great for less critical playback.

Recent DAT Decks now have more accurate LCD 'battery gage' features that give fair warning when batteries are about exhausted.  These new gages tend to allow 'pushing' battery use/capacity closer to maximum run times.  

HOWEVER, these are only accurate if using the exact type of battery recommended; other battery types will make these indicators very unreliable and will often result in the deck shutting off with little or no indicated warning!

For more Battery Tips & more reliable,  longer run times for Mini-DAT decks,

 see the External Power Systems Page

8) When recording important events in a crowd of people, keep your perspective to maximize everyone's enjoyment.  DSM mikes will record what you yourself are hearing in a very optimum way.   You rarely have to worry that sounds in the near vicinity are ruining an enjoyable recording.  

The rule here is:  If you can hear and enjoy the event of interest moderately well (while trying to forget your also making a sound tape record), the recording can be at least as enjoyable as you remembered hearing it.   So please make that extra effort to remember, the event you're recording is many different things to different people while simultaneously sharing space.  

So stay cool, let yourself be a part of whatever is happening!  It'll work out fine 95% of the time; when it doesn't, at least you'll have a much better chance to really enjoy your event, those happening folks sitting nearby, and be much better off for the experience.

9) Metal tape (type IV) may be the ultimate recording media for analog cassette. ...but..... it takes the very best, highest power, and latest decks to fully use the promise of most type IV tapes.  The truth is that mostly all portable decks to date cannot power type IV tape without a significant increase in distortion and decrease in resolution.  Your best bet for maximum performance is the type II tapes.  The top of the line type II is best for portable recording in terms of lower noise/distortion. Batteries & tape heads will last longer too!  By all means, try different brands and types. Brands made by the deck's manufacturer is the best in terms of optimized factory settings for tape bias & tape sensitivity.  These two settings affect high frequency performance and noise reduction (NR) tracking accuracy.  Other brands of tape can give better results depending on your personal preferences.  

NOTE: A good example, Sony's UX-PRO, UX-EX types were known as excellent on Sony decks; manufactured specially correct for DOLBY B & C recording decks; bias is factory set & sensitivity is calibrated'

10) Setting the recording level is thought to be a black art of the adept!  I will attempt to make it a simple and infallible process for you to get professional results easily.

First rule:  Don't ride the gain by adjusting for a Peak VU indication more than necessary.

On portable analog decks, it's not necessary to adjust for a VU indication when the sound has dropped below your VU indicators range.  The truth is that your average peak reading LED VU indicator is a very shallow device on most all analog recorders!  It's only good for one purpose, the setting of the maximum recording level to avoid tape saturation distortion.  It will serve no other purpose.  

Only adjust the LEVEL to set the for the peaks of the sound, then forget it.  

The recorded sound is then free to express the loudest sound without overload, and the softest expressions without excessive tape noise.  Occasionally, the sound man, during a live concert, turns up the volume when it seems safe, then not change for a very long time, if ever again.  Or, during an ambient recording, a new sound unexpectedly appears that threatens an overload.  Only at these times should you re-adjust the level setting for the new peak in a slow and smooth manner, then leave the setting alone.  

NOTE:  The newest Sony TCD-D100 & PCM-M1 have a switchable 'mic limiter' feature that allows those unexpected 'overrange' sounds to be compressed,  recording undistorted sound for the duration of the overload.   Use limiters like this only for 'unexpected' overloads of long duration and not for 'impulse' or very short duration sounds for the least 'audible pumping' type effect on sound quality.  

It's important to know what the maximum level indication is on your particular recorder to avoid overload distortion.  This also changes when using Dolby noise reduction.  The peak level when using Dolby on some recorders is marked at the 0 DB level (this is really +4 DB when in the Dolby setting!).  

This generally means that 0 DB is the maximum average recording level peak you should set on analog cassette decks; leave it alone until it is exceeded on an average basis.  Momentary low bass sounds (like kick drums and the like) can be expected to push safely into +3 DB and produce a brief indication at +6 DB without producing audible distortion (especially with 'Dolby C' on).

Digital DAT recorders have a much more dynamic VU display that's not shallow like the typical analog deck.  More importantly, DAT decks usually indicate true peak signal maximums so that the peaks can be safely run all the way to a maximum of 0dB; shortly above this, digital clipping distortion occurs.  The exception: Sony's TCD-D7/D8 deck with VU's that do not always indicate true peaks.  To complicate this a bit further is the fact that the analog input circuitry on most portable DAT and MD decks have no signal handling headroom beyond the digital 0 dB VU maximum. This situation results in cleaner sounding DAT and MD recordings that keep VU levels much lower than the 0 dB VU theoretical maximum.

Bottom Line: If you adjust for digital recording VU levels that average at -12 dB VU (about 50% or half VU scale) with occasional maximum (bass) peaks no higher than -6 dB VU, you will usually produce an overall lower distortion recording due to the recorder's analog circuits operating in a more linear fashion. Using an external high quality mic preamplifier to the DAT and going in analog LINE input will ease or nearly eliminate the need to limit VU recording maximums.

The secret to proper level setting is to set for maximum peaks and sit back; keep your hands off the controls.  Your recordings will indeed be very professional.

Important: Advice In Protecting Your Deck/DSM From Heat and Corrosion Damage

As with all precision electronic instruments and equipment (mics,tape recorders, radios, cameras, etc.), avoid any prolonged exposure of the Deck/DSM to sources of high heat (above 120ºF; i.e., a closed parked car in the Sun) or prolonged direct Sunlight heat exposure.

Storage of microphones and electronic tape recorders in High (>50%) Humidity conditions increases the risk of corrosion occurring. Industrial and ocean salt spray laden atmospheres are very likely to deposit corrosive particulate inside microphones and electronic instruments. Condensing water (moisture) from high humidity activates this acidic material to cause corrosion of delicate metal surfaces and electrical contacts inside these instruments. To avoid this, it is suggested to store microphones and other sensitive equipment inside a moisture proof container (minimum is a Zip-Lock freezer bag) with an adequate quantity of silicon gel desiccant to keep the everything inside absolutely dry.

NOTE:  DSM-WHB accessory protects the DSM from direct Sunlight heat exposure, wind noises, and momentary rain/water spray.          

  © 1998 Sonic Studios


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