Location Recorders | When Two Channels Won't Cut It

Mar 31, 2010 1:21 PM, By George Petersen



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During the past few years, the industry has been flooded with portable “pocket” 2-track digital recorders. But in an increasingly complex world of location recording, two channels are sometimes not enough. Even on a relatively simple job—such as miking two characters for a film/video—the recordist may need to print two radio mics, a hidden set mic, a boom and a couple ambience mics for flavor/walla. Or, unpredictable levels may dictate the need to run several mics at different levels (with/without pad) or placements—even for a mostly mono source. When recording a volcanic eruption, space-shuttle launch or car crash, there’s just no chance to run it one more time to get the levels right.

If you’re seeking a fully portable recording solution—i.e., 100 percent DC-powered—options abound. While outside the scope of this article, there are also laptop-based solutions such as MOTU’s Traveler MkIII or Metric Halo’s Mobile I/O interfaces paired with recording software, such as Gallery Software’s Metacorder or other pro DAWs. Such a rig will certainly do the job, but it’s hard to imagine running down the street to follow fast-moving action with a laptop tethered to an interface.

This article takes a look at current offerings in location recorders, focusing on single-box, multichannel systems. Recorders are lighter, more reliable, better-sounding and more affordable than ever, making this a good time for some shopping.

Aaton Cantar X2 has a built-in 18-input mixer.

Aaton Cantar X2 has a built-in 18-input mixer.

The Aaton Cantar X2 ($13,995) provides 8-track capture to the removable, hot-pluggable internal hard disk or to the onboard DVD drive at 24-bit/96kHz resolution. The unit also has a built-in 18-input mixer and onboard M/S decoding, with nine rotary analog faders and six linear mixer sliders. The swiveling front panel makes for optimal viewing; in addition to its eight analog XLR inputs and two XLR outs, AES/EBU digital, timecode, word clock and FireWire are standard. The latter allows simultaneous recording to both the internal and external drives, while the analog complement includes five preamps and four line inputs. The 18 inputs (XLR mic/line and eight AES/EBU) can route to any tracks or outputs. Weight is 7.5 pounds, less battery.

Systems can be expanded with CantaRem (a compact 8-channel fader control surface) and GrandArcan, a Mac/PC application that remotely controls Cantar, displaying all recording, routing and monitoring parameters, plus metadata associated with each audio file. Cantar automatically generates a print-ready “PDF Sound Report” log that’s archived with the audio files. Circled takes, slate locators, track info, etc., can be entered from Cantar’s control panel, an external keyboard or a wireless (Bluetooth) connected PDA. Metadata is embedded in the AES31 description field that is readable by most nonlinear video editors.

Edirol's R44 4-channel deck

Edirol's R44 4-channel deck

Edirol offers two 4-channel recorders. Its flagship R-4 Pro ($2,295) can slave to or act as a master to any device via SMPTE LTC timecode. Other features include AES/EBU I/O (XLR), 4-channel analog I/O (XLR combo), USB 2 backup, individual monitoring of its four channels and uncompressed recording up to 96kHz/24-bit. Supported sample rates include 44.1/48/88.2/96/192 kHz, and the R-4 Pro can also record 24-bit/192kHz in stereo mode. The R-4 Pro also provides onboard waveform editing capacity via the LCD and jog/scrub/shuttle wheel, as well as cue-point marking during record or playback and an A/B repeat function for quickly comparing any of the audio on any two points for reviewing takes, etc. The R-4 Pro’s internal 80GB hard drive can store approximately 116 hours at 16-bit/44.1kHz in WAV or BWF formats. The four analog inputs include phantom-powered mic preamps with individual gain controls. Weight is 3.75 pounds. Priced at $995, the Edirol R-44 4-channel deck stores to SD or SDHC card media. Like the R-4 Pro, it offers up to four channels of uncompressed audio at 16/24 bits from 44.1 to 96 kHz (and 192 kHz in stereo mode only). WAV or Broadcast WAV is supported, and two R-44s can sync for up to 8-channel recording. It has XLR and 1/4-inch TRS inputs. The XLR inputs have phantom power and a limiter. The high-speed USB 2 port allows for copy and archive to PC or Mac. Digital I/O is S/PDIF coaxial. Weight is 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

Features common to both the R-4 Pro and R-44 include RCA analog outputs, onboard parametric EQ, graphic EQ, noise gating, compressor/de-esser and enhancer effects usable during recording or playback. Also standard are built-in omnidirectional mics and a pre-record function that captures audio before the Record button is pushed. Powering is via an external AC adapter, eight AA cells or a 4-pin XLR DC jack.

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