45dB Boost on Quiet Track Sounds GREAT!

I recently upgraded some equipment I use for ambient live recordings, and wanted to share how it worked out in a recent session.

I replaced some aging equipment with a TASCAM DR-60D mk II recorder and a 3DiO binaural mic over the holidays. I used them to record a live event recently (a meditation session) and used an AT PRO 8HEx headset mic to record the facilitator’s voice. I forgot to bring an extension for the mic cable, so the facilitator was only about 6 feet from the recorder and 3DiO mic.

I use the 8HEx specifically because it’s a dynamic mic, so it has no self-noise. The DR-60D mk II supposedly has improved low-noise pre-amps on the XLR channels (ch 1-2), and the 8HEx was plugged into ch-1 with the mic gain all the way up.

I did a sound check before starting, but for whatever reason, the levels of the headset mic were exceedingly low. I think the mic was just too far from the speaker’s mouth — not to mention the tendency for speakers in these situations to talk rather quietly anyway.

I ended up with a mono channel and a stereo channel. When I went to edit them, the mono signal was so low that I had to boost it by ~45 dB. Usually that results in a really noisy track with tons of background noise and the speaker’s voice really mushy and barely audible above it. In this case, because of the cardioid pickup pattern and the lack of self-noise, combined with the extremely low-noise pre-amps in the DR-60D mk II, it actually sounds amazingly clear! Not as crisp as I’d like, but workable.

The amazing thing is that when I mixed it into the binaural track, it allowed the voice to come through really clearly while preserving the amazing ambience that binaural recordings are known for. The voice in the binaural track is audible, but relatively low; so mixing in the direct vocal from the headset mic really pulled it out of the background and punched it up.

The DR-60D mk II is a really unique device in terms of its packaging. It’s designed to mount on a tripod with a DSLR camera mounted above it. It’s nice to see how vendors are finally venturing out in terms of more innovative packaging, since the technology they’re using has pretty much made every type of recording device equivalent in terms of technical specs. (Just look at the wide variety of TASCAM portable devices that record to SD storage, and you’ll see how they’re all virtually identical in terms of their specs. It’s the packages that now distinguish products rather than their tech specs.)

The 3DiO binaural mic is a really goofy looking contraption that captures realistic ambient recordings using binaural mics mounted inside of a couple of silicon-molded ears. It’s not as anthropomorphic as a Neumann Head, but highly effective nonetheless (and a whole lot cheaper!). It has a tripod mount beneath it, allowing it to be mounted above the DR-60D.

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