32-bit recording

It is rare that in a particular year there is a huge standout product or piece of music technology equipment. While everything is always getting better and cheaper, often it is gradual improvements to things like recording software or microphones which make the life of a recording musician and composer easier in some way.

However, last year a new audio recorder came out that is particularly worth of mention. The Zoom F6.

Firstly, the basics: the Zoom F6 has six microphone inputs allowing you to record pretty much any kind of small ensemble. It is incredibly small (seriously, it’s much smaller than you would think by looking at pictures of it online). It records to SD card so if you are recording somewhere like the Big Sing, Rockquest or Chamber Music competition you can do recordings without having to also lug around a laptop.

However, what makes this portable audio stand out from the many other portable audio recorders on the market (and there are a lot of them) is the fact that it can record 32-bit floating point audio files. Why is this important? Well, in short, it means that you never have to worry about correctly setting the input or gain levels. It is physically impossible to record too quiet or too loud.

For anyone that has any experience with recording you’ll know that if you set the levels too high on your recording interface then you’ll get clipping or distortion. Working with student bands a common problem is setting your recording levels during their sound check or practice, but when it comes to the actual performance or recording they all of a sudden play twice as loud, distorting your audio signals.

This is no longer a problem with 32-bit audio recording. Here is a great example of someone demonstrating this with the smaller Zoom F3:

In the past we used to always record digital audio at 16-bit quality. This gave us a dynamic range of 96 dB. 24-bit audio quality gives us a dynamic range of 144 dB which is a massive improvement. However, with both of these formats we can never record over 0 dBFS, which is the clipping point. With 32-bit audio though, we have a dynamic range of 1528 dB, including the ability to go a massive 770 dB above 0 dBFS. The greatest difference in sound pressure level on Earth is only around 210 dB! See here for all the math.

I can’t really underestimate what a big deal this if for field recording. In the past while recording students performing outside, or even in situations where I’m recording tutorials in my classroom, there have been times that the input signal controls have accidentally been knocked making my tracks way too loud and distorted and ruining what we were trying to record (and often I only realise that after everyone has packed up and gone home and I’m sitting down to mix!). With 32-bit recorders this is no longer a concern.

To see the Zoom F6 in action here is a recording we made of some students performing at the top of the Port Hills at sunrise:

In this setup I had two microphones setup in a stereo ORTF arrangement, three microphones used as close mics spread out across the performers and the sixth input dedicated for the guitar DI box. The audio levels were all over the place at the time of recording but using the ‘sort of free’ recording software Reaper I was able to balance everything up nicely.

The microphones suffered terribly from wind noise so I had to use the excellent Izotope RX software to clean the tracks up.

So, if you do a lot of recording in different spaces, then I highly recommend you trial one of these units from your local music store.

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