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Newbie. Olympus LS-P4 recording not good. Do I need a better mic? Help!

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Old Friday 10th April 2020, 17:27   #1
Mr Patience
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Newbie. Olympus LS-P4 recording not good. Do I need a better mic? Help!

I need advice about a small mic for the Olympus. I already have the LS-P4 recorder but, at the moment, I want to record all the sounds as I do my daily walk in the wood and on the downs. I live in Surrey, near Banstead.

I used an Olympus ME15 tie-pin mic (it's mono), fixed to the outside of my hat, inside a windshield. Wind noise is not a problem.

I switched in the low pass filter on the LS-P4, turned the recording mode to manual, turned recording sensitivity up to maximum, level 30, and did my walk at dawn.

The recording is OK-ish, but I am not entirely satisfied. In these days of lockdown because of the coronavirus, there are no planes flying. Great! However, to my ears, the recording has a harsh, overly shrill quality about it, which is quite different from what I heard in the woods. Also, I'm not sure if the background noise is the mic or the recorder. The mic is cheap, about GBP22. There seems to be an unpleasant, constant, low-level, suppressed roar (or whoosh - difficult to think of the right word) that does vary slightly depending on how loud the birdsong recording is.

Did I have the recording level too high? Is there some sort of limiter that is producing the sound? Is the mic just no good for this? I don't want a large microphone at the moment, but I am prepared to spend more on a better one.

Any suggestions as to the cause, as to a suitable microphone or otherwise, would be most welcome.

Thanks,
Phil
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Old Saturday 11th April 2020, 02:25   #2
marcsantacurz
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A lav mic will have very low sensitivity. They are designed to pickup the speaker right next to them and not the noise surrounding them. Kind of the opposite of what you want.

The ME15 also tops out at 12 kHz, so depending on the birdsong you hear, it might not pick it up well.

A big mic (i.e. long supercardioid) usually has both sensitivity and off-axis noise rejection. You could get a smaller mic with high sensitivity but with worse off-axis rejection. it would just pick up the sounds of your feet or breathing or sounds of your cloths brushing together. Rode mics (lav or small video mics) will probably be 10dB more sensitive, have much lower noise, and better frequency response.

The ME15 has a sensitivity of -42dB @ 1khz. The two Rode mics I picked at more or less random from the B&H website (a video mic and a lav) were both -33 dB. They were around US$70. That sensitivity is still way under the Sennheiser ME66 (-26 dB I think), bit it is also much smaller and less expensive.

Getting a windscreen will also help, especially when the gain is turned way up.

I don't have experience with the recorder or mics you have, or those rode mics. I use the ME66, which is a shotgun mic. I tried a smaller mic (a different sennheiser), but it could barely record me from across a room in a quiet house.

Here's something you could test at home. Setup your mic and recorder at one end of a large room or such (try to avoid spot with echos). Record. Go to the other end and whistle in a normal volume, like what you might hear from a bird you want to record. Then see what it sounds like. If you cannot get the quality you want from that setup, it won't get any better outdoors in a noisy environment or with fainter sounds.

You can find lots of videos on youtube about people reviewing mics. Look for things like "on-location mic" or "boom mic" or similar to find mics meant to record at a distance.

I hope that helps,
Marc
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 12:39   #3
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Marc is right in what he says. The Rode video mics are not in the same league as the Sennheiser he mentioned, but will be a vast improvement, they are compact and easy to interface with your recorder, it just plugs straight in using the cable supplied. You will find a small handgrip will help enormously with them.

According to my inventory I own an Olympus ME31 small shotgun, which will work and tops out at 15 kHz. and is about 3x more sensitive than your ME15. I havn't tried it with birds and suspect that the Rode VideoMic Pro+ might be better, it certainly has a better frequency range though their sensitivity is nominally similar, as with binoculars, specifications only give you part of the story.

If you have a computer you can download your audio files to a free program called Audacity that can help clean them up removing any consistent background hiss type noise and getting you a bit more amplification.

With most of the microphones you are likely to encounter for your type of usage you are operating well within the capabilities of your recorder, though underperforming microphones will bring out the worst in any recorder, so just concentrate on the microphone (as you intended) as that is where you will get the biggest improvements for your money at this stage.

The ME66 that Marc uses is of course far superior, bigger, and more expensive, you pays your money....

Most shotgun mics are not designed for long range use, they are used fairly close up in studios or on news locations to cut out background noise so you can hear the speaker. This is why many of them do dissapoint when used for birding and most folks end up using identical equipment to everyone else. I have used different video mics for fairly long range video work and been relatively happy with the results, but unfortunately they are both out of production and not made by Rode, so I don't have first hand experience with Rode video mics, though I do use a lot of Rode stuff for other purposes.

Last edited by iveljay : Sunday 12th April 2020 at 12:44.
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 13:59   #4
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Marc and iveljay, thank you very much for your expert advice. It has given me a lot to think about.

I'm more of a bird photographer, but I thought it would be useful to record the birds I hear on my walks. Then, if I heard a call that I didn't recognise, I could check it when I got home. I know that a highly directional mic is the ideal to record birds, but that would mean that the sound recording itself would be the main focus of my outings. Also, it wouldn't then record all the sounds going on around me.

I've looked at the Rode Lavalier Go, which, as Marc pointed out, is more sensitive than the ME15. It is very small, would plug straight in without any additional adaptors, etc. As a start, I have ordered one of them. I also have Audacity, but have used it only at a very basic level so far.

A friend, who happens to be a sound recording engineer, has lent me a 50cm parabolic reflector for a few days to try with the ME15 until the Rode arrives. Like you, my friend argued in favour of a good hypercardioid mic. to cut out unwanted noise and get the best recording. Although I could afford an ME66 and a Zoom recorder, I am loath to do that at the moment. It's more than I think I need, for an activity which is really peripheral to my main interest as a bird photographer.

Anyway, I'm going to try the parabola. It is actually, surprisingly light. I imagined them rather heavier. I'm going to try it out mainly in my garden because of the lock-down. A friend has asked me to do a video of garden bird songs/calls for her Gardening group. As they are all stuck at home because of Covid-19, they are becoming much more interested in birdsong!

Best wishes,
Phil.
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 14:16   #5
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Brief update.

A quick experiment - I don't have a high gain shot gun to hand, but tried the built in mics on the recorder, the ME31 and a cheap long shotgun of Chinese origin. To be honest the results were not vastly dissimilar, all I suspect are better than your tie pin mic. I shall see if I have one somewhere.

By using the zoom feature on the recorder I achieved greater directionality of pickup than on either of the shotguns, however, as shotguns and the recorder zoom facility do not provide any extra gain. The overall signal is reduced and the pre-amp noise is a factor + noise from the mics also amplified. Probably the whooshing noise you commented on.

However loading the file onto the computer and recording another file in a silent room to get a sample of the noise from the microphones and the pre-amps, which was loaded onto the computer. I used Audacity (free) to sample the noise file in the noise reduction tool and used the same tool to subtract the noise from the birdsong file and then amplified it. Easier to do than talk about - step by step instructions can be provided.

Result far more birds with clear recognisable song than heard before and no noise. Target was a large yew with a rooks colony a few hundred metres behind it.

I tend to post process all sound files, but the improvements for zero cost are quite startling, and all done in seconds.
Attached Files
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 15:44   #6
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If you are listening to your recordings over headphones, played back from the recorder, there is an item on the playback menu labelled Noise reduction, that is quite effective too.

A parobolic mic is great to have, they do tend to be a mite expensive, I did a homebuild once, but it lacked the ruggedness I needed and was quite bulky, but it worked well.

As for Audacity, its one of those things that seems complicated until you get the result you want, then you can't see why you thought it was difficult. A bit like trying to find your way through Olympus menus...
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 15:59   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iveljay View Post
Marc is right in what he says. The Rode video mics are not in the same league as the Sennheiser he mentioned, but will be a vast improvement, they are compact and easy to interface with your recorder, it just plugs straight in using the cable supplied. You will find a small handgrip will help enormously with them.
It depends. Rode has budget video microphones and some professional RF biased shotguns (NTG3 and NTG8)

Quote:
With most of the microphones you are likely to encounter for your type of usage you are operating well within the capabilities of your recorder, though underperforming microphones will bring out the worst in any recorder, so just concentrate on the microphone (as you intended) as that is where you will get the biggest improvements for your money at this stage.

The ME66 that Marc uses is of course far superior, bigger, and more expensive, you pays your money....
The ME66 (or ME67, more directional) offer an outstanding value for money. First, it's very sensitve. Which means it will help with budget recorders whose signal to noise relation is not great. Second, it's a proper professional microphone system compatible with any higher end professional recorders.

Quote:
Most shotgun mics are not designed for long range use, they are used fairly close up in studios or on news locations to cut out background noise so you can hear the speaker. This is why many of them do dissapoint when used for birding and most folks end up using identical equipment to everyone else.
Not necessarily. It depends :) Of course in motion picture sound they try to get the microphone as close as possible. But the reason is that voice sound is better.

Shotgun microphones don't actually amplify sound, but they reduce off-axis sounds. So, it won't amplify the sound coming from a far away bird but it can still reject noise from a nearby road (for example).

If you want to pick up far away sounds a parabola is a must.

Quote:
I have used different video mics for fairly long range video work and been relatively happy with the results, but unfortunately they are both out of production and not made by Rode, so I don't have first hand experience with Rode video mics, though I do use a lot of Rode stuff for other purposes.
Rode has three great shotgun microphones:

- NTG3

- NTG8

- NTG5

The three have RF biasing (which means they work in humid places), they are sensitive and they have a very low self noise.

The NTG5 offers a great value for money because it includes a good quality shock mount and windscreen.

They are not cheap (although not as expensive as the Sennheiser MKH competition) but these microphones are a long term investment.

Anyway the Sennheiser ME66 can be found on eBay for less than 250 pounds.
And it's a great microphone for this kind of application.
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 18:51   #8
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In this country NTG3 and 5 are about 450 (new), and the NTG8 about 800 to 950 and are indeed excellent microphones. (An ME66 + K6 + Windshield is about 400) All can be bought for less in a used condition.. I assumed that Phil was interested in relatively low budget, simple, lightweight solutions at this point.

With simple post processing his needs can probably be achieved with lighter less expensive kit, however, he appears to have an experienced friend to help and I'm sure he can assist him in this matter.

I have at least 6 Rode microphones that I use and have great respect for the company and its products.

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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 22:06   #9
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Good evening gentlemen.

Yes, I am looking for a relatively low budget, simple, lightweight setup. I am sure that Borjam's advice would be optimal if birdsong recording were my primary goal. However, I'm looking for an easy way to record all the birds on my walk, for possible later ID purposes rather than for absolute quality. The recording is a secondary activity for me, at least at the moment.

I'm prepared to spend a reasonable amount on a new microphone, and to look into dealing with the small amount of recorder noise in post processing. iveljay, your suggestions in this regard have been most helpful. Thank you.

I don't want to spend 800-900 just on a microphone for my current purposes.

If I should get into serious recording at a later date, I would probably pay the 65 odd for a parabola. I have noticed this afternoon how well it focuses the sound even for the EM15 mic. Do I take it that if I were to use a more directional mic, the avoidance of extraneous sounds would be even more pronounced?

Nevertheless, the parabola is rather cumbersome and needs to be used as one's only activity. It would be impossible to concentrate on recording with such a bulky device and to take photographs as well!

I will let you know how I get on with it in the next few days, and how I like the Rode Lavalier when it arrives.

Thank you again for all your valuable input.

Best wishes,
Phil
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Old Sunday 12th April 2020, 23:27   #10
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All,

I suggested the less expensive Rode mics because they are inexpensive, which is the impression I got from Phil's message. I think most any of them will have much better sensitivity and self-noise than the ME15. They'd be an improvement, but I did not mean to say that they are a good birding mic. Just better than the ME15. The video mics are of interest as they are short shotguns and will have some off-axis suppression.

As one of the other posters mentioned, most mics, including shotguns, are meant for near-by sounds. Maybe a few feet away, even for shotguns. Something you could get from a boom or an on-camera mic pointed at your subject a few feet away.

Very few mics are good for long-distance recording. The ME66/67 does pretty well because of the high sensitivity and good off-axis rejection. They do not amplify the sound, but they are very sensitive to it. Parabolic are the true long-range mics. In any case, I think both those choices are off the table for Phil given budget and ergonomics.

Many parabola mics use lavs or other small omnis in them. They can distort sound a fair bit, and change the frequencies, depending on the geometry and size. But they can have pretty high gain too.

Personally, I got my ME66 + K6 for US$250 on ebay, practically like new. You can find documentary filmers selling them after a project.

This is a nice video about using parabolic mics for bird recordings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRXPy6ybPiA

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Old Monday 13th April 2020, 09:45   #11
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Question:

As you all use a mono mic, you may know the answer to this.

Is there a small adaptor so that the sound is recorded onto both tracks? This seems to me easier than having to do it every time afterwards in Audacity.

I've been looking online but I can't find one. Perhaps that's because I don't know what it's called; if it exists.

Would splitting the mono signal into stereo affect it adversely? I mean, such as changing the impedance?

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Old Monday 13th April 2020, 19:23   #12
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Pre-amp noise, Shotgun Mic

The steady background "whoosh" noise you described when recording on maximum level is the pre-amp of the LS-P4 working hard, in my opinion. I base my opinion on my own experience doing experiments with the recording level set to high, then medium. The background "whoosh" is, for practical purposes, eliminated with the recorder set to medium.

I recently purchased a LS-P4 to record birds, and also found a ME66 mic and K6 power module on ebay that I won for about $150. The ME66/K6 combo allows me to set the recording level to medium, eliminate the background pre-amp noise, and get good recordings of birds. The sound of my recordings seems fairly true to the sound my ears are hearing, especially after use of Audacity to amplify the volume and decrease noise from wind.

There are a lot of ME66/K6 mics for sale on ebay - you might try looking for one at a good price. I was able to find one that I was able to win for a good price, and also a seller who allowed returns (which did not prove to be necessary). Good luck!
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Old Monday 13th April 2020, 19:28   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr Patience View Post
Question:

As you all use a mono mic, you may know the answer to this.

Is there a small adaptor so that the sound is recorded onto both tracks? This seems to me easier than having to do it every time afterwards in Audacity.

I've been looking online but I can't find one. Perhaps that's because I don't know what it's called; if it exists.

Would splitting the mono signal into stereo affect it adversely? I mean, such as changing the impedance?

Phil
Using a LS-P4 and ME66/K6, I find that using a KA 600 cord made by Sennheiser to connect the recorder (3.5mm jack) and mic (XLR jack) produces mono recordings on both L and R tracks.

You can also press the Ctrl and D keys in Audacity to duplicate a track, if you have just one track recorded.
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Old Tuesday 21st April 2020, 05:52   #14
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Having now received the Rode Lavalier Go mic and tried it out for some days, I have to say that I like it.

I used it with the parabola for a few days in the garden and it worked very well, although I think the affair is too cumbersome for me to take in the field with my camera.

I have also tried it out on my walks and the results were perfectly acceptable for my purposes. As I originally said, I am looking for some way to record all the birds I hear on my walks. The setup proved to be very capable of recording even quite distant calls. Whilst these cannot be considered definitive recordings, I had no trouble at all recognising calls from 150-200 metres away. I used the pop filter and a small furry windshield, but this did not stop some wind noise getting through. Maybe I need to use a second, bigger furry mouse.

I can report that the Rode mic (mono) actually provides a signal to both channels on the Olympus LS-P4. There is no need for an adapter, nor to duplicate channels in Audacity.

Thank you all for your valuable advice.

Best wishes,
Phil
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Old Thursday 14th May 2020, 09:09   #15
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Olympus recorders

I have ben using an Olympus voice recorder, Model DM-901 with an Olympus ME51S Microphone. I have been impressed with the sound quality, I have been placing it inside an empty clover butter container, with a small hole to insert the microphone on the outside and then been hiding it in the woodland near where I am living, I set the timer to record for 6 hours to capture the bird sound. I have just purchased the LS-P4 as well to use for video, mine came with a windshield. I haven't used it to record bird sound yet, but I will use the same settings that I have on the DM-901, except the sound quality as they are different.
Record Scene - OFF
Record level - Low
Record Mode - MP3 320
Zoom Mike - -3
Low cut filter - OFF
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