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Equipment for recording neighbour noise

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Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Doveman » Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:15 pm

Although this isn't a question about creating / recording music, I figured that the people on this forum will have a wealth of knowledge about recording different types of noise and the best equipment to use, so it seemed as good a place as any to ask.

The noise I need to record is a mixture of impact noise (slamming doors, stomping on floor, dropping things on floor) and high-frequency screeching noise from water pipes. I can't get a decent recording on my phone as the noise floor is too high, so I've ordered a Zoom H4n Pro/UK as that supposedly has very-low noise mic preamps and I'll give that a go but I understand I'll also need an SPL meter to show the actual noise levels, presumably C-weighted?

Is there anything reasonably priced (i.e. in the low hundreds of pounds, rather than thousands) that combines a low noise recorder and an SPL meter? The only things I've found are these commercial recorders that cost 2-3 thousand.

If there isn't an affordable combined device, can you recommend a reasonably priced but decent SPL meter?

For the impact noise, would it be better to use something like a boundary mic attached to the wall and connect that to the Zoom H4n's external inputs? If so, can you recommend a suitable boundary mic?

I've actually just received the Zoom H4n whilst I was typing this. I've tested it and I'm not impressed, as it seems to have much the same noise as my phone does, which rather swamps out the sound I'm trying to record. I can't imagine anyone could use this to record nature noises, bird song, etc. due to the noise, so I wonder what people would use for that?
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby zenguitar » Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:04 pm

Welcome to the SOS forums.

You're not the first person to ask about recording neighbour noise, and I am sure you won't be the last. To give you any meaningful advice you need to let us know where in the world you live because every jurisdiction has different standards/laws which makes general advice meaningless.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby ef37a » Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:36 pm

As Andy says, they get this a lot!

Hugh has told us in the past that unless you have the right equipment, setup by the right people and for the required time periods, any recordings you make will have little value in court.

I suppose if you make some recordings and play them to the local police they might go and have 'a quiet word' but here in UK the processes are pretty byzantine to get noise nuisance stopped. There was a couple of programmes on UK TV recently showing how much work the professionals had to do to get a result, see if you can find it on the web?

One thing I think we can all agree on? DO NOT retaliate!

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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby resistorman » Mon Apr 06, 2020 9:47 pm

If the noise floor of the Zoom is masking the noise, then it’s so faint you won’t be able to get a reliable meter reading anyhow.
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Doveman » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:19 pm

zenguitar wrote:Welcome to the SOS forums.

You're not the first person to ask about recording neighbour noise, and I am sure you won't be the last. To give you any meaningful advice you need to let us know where in the world you live because every jurisdiction has different standards/laws which makes general advice meaningless.

Andy :beamup:

Thanks Andy

I'm in the UK, Greater London area, with a pretty useless Council but hopefully if I can get some evidence myself I can use that to at least persuade them there's a problem because they have something like a 6-month waiting list for their recorders and then you only get it for a week, which sods law dictates will be the week the noisy neighbours go on holiday!
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Doveman » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:26 pm

ef37a wrote:As Andy says, they get this a lot!

Hugh has told us in the past that unless you have the right equipment, setup by the right people and for the required time periods, any recordings you make will have little value in court.

I suppose if you make some recordings and play them to the local police they might go and have 'a quiet word' but here in UK the processes are pretty byzantine to get noise nuisance stopped. There was a couple of programmes on UK TV recently showing how much work the professionals had to do to get a result, see if you can find it on the web?

One thing I think we can all agree on? DO NOT retaliate!

Dave.

Yeah, I probably can't afford the sort of equipment that would produce evidence that would stand up in court but hopefully it will be enough to convince the Council that there's a problem. The police told me they don't deal with noise nuisance and to phone the Council's out of hours service but when I phoned them they told me they don't have a noise nuisance out of hours service!
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Doveman » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:37 pm

resistorman wrote:If the noise floor of the Zoom is masking the noise, then it’s so faint you won’t be able to get a reliable meter reading anyhow.

Experimenting a bit more with the Zoom, the noise floor seems lower when it's in multitrack mode for some reason but it's still too high to capture certain ambient sounds, or maybe it's just the mics are only really designed to record sources that are quite close to them.

I plugged in my SM58 to the external input though and the noise floor was much better with that. It would seem a bit strange if the Zoom's advertised low-noise mic pre-amps are only used for the external inputs. Anyway, I might be able to use it to capture the problematic noise with a suitable external mic but the SM58 isn't really suitable for that so I'd welcome suggestions for something that would be.

The Zoom is quite fun to use as a song idea scratchpad, especially with the multitrack mode but as the built-in mics aren't going to work for the purpose I bought it for, I might be better off using a low-noise soundcard/mic pre-amp connected to my PC to record with, unless there's another portable device with a lower noise floor when using the built-in mics.
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby James Perrett » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:53 pm

One thing to think about...

Do you own your property or is it rented? If you own it and ever come to sell it you will need to disclose to the prospective purchaser that you have had a dispute with your neighbour. Not disclosing it will leave you open to legal action from the new purchasers.

It is usually best to take a gentle and friendly approach to these issues - have you approached the neighbour and let them know about the problems? It sounds like they may have wooden floors rather than carpet. Sometimes people take up the carpet or install laminated floors without realising the noise issues for people living below. Some leases actually stipulate that floors must be carpeted for this reason.

If you want the environmental health department to consider this issue then you will either need to use their equipment to record the noise or hire similar standard equipment with a traceable calibration. I've just done a quick search and it appears that there are a number of companies that hire out suitable equipment packages.
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby zenguitar » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:59 pm

And thanks for coming back with the extra info. :clap:

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby John Willett » Tue Apr 07, 2020 12:39 pm

In the meantime there are various iPhone (and Android I assume) apps that do noise measurement - even my Apple Watch has it.

You can use these to get a noise level in your room as well as recording it. :thumbup:

I have found these apps to be pretty accurate and within a dB of professional level meters.
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Apr 07, 2020 2:44 pm

I was involved in monitoring sound/noise levels outside a wedding venue just outside Manchester. The problem I had was that what the EHO considered unacceptable 'nuisance noise' was below the level of the background so unmeasurable. Basically, if you could hear a beat or anything that resembled music it was too loud.

So recording or measuring the nuisance noise may not always be possible. Keeping a accurate and detailed log is essential though.
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby CS70 » Tue Apr 07, 2020 7:45 pm

Doveman wrote:
resistorman wrote:If the noise floor of the Zoom is masking the noise, then it’s so faint you won’t be able to get a reliable meter reading anyhow.

Experimenting a bit more with the Zoom, the noise floor seems lower when it's in multitrack mode for some reason but it's still too high to capture certain ambient sounds, or maybe it's just the mics are only really designed to record sources that are quite close to them.

I plugged in my SM58 to the external input though and the noise floor was much better with that. It would seem a bit strange if the Zoom's advertised low-noise mic pre-amps are only used for the external inputs. Anyway, I might be able to use it to capture the problematic noise with a suitable external mic but the SM58 isn't really suitable for that so I'd welcome suggestions for something that would be.

The Zoom is quite fun to use as a song idea scratchpad, especially with the multitrack mode but as the built-in mics aren't going to work for the purpose I bought it for, I might be better off using a low-noise soundcard/mic pre-amp connected to my PC to record with, unless there's another portable device with a lower noise floor when using the built-in mics.

Since I don't live in the UK I have no opinion about the laws where you are, but the fellows here have indeed quite a lot of experience with that type of questions, and if they say that it's moot, it's most likely moot.

On the technical side, if the noise is loud enough to annoy you, it's odd that it cannot be captured by a mic, unless it's really, really low frequencies (which you would perceive more as a vibration than a sound).

And almost certainly is not the preamp noise floor of the Zoom which is the problem, and what you are hearing is the ambient noise in you room.

Dynamic mics (like a 58) aren't that great for high frequency noise as they roll off the highs, but once again it's hard to say what you mean by "high frequency". It seems unlikely that the sound that annoys you is entirely over the 13-15KHz threshold. You might fare a bit better with a condenser mic, which covers more than the entire audible spectrum, but again it's odd that you don't get anything usable with a 58. It has a cardioid pattern so it won't pick up much from rear and sides, but if you point it towards the neightbour flat, it should. You might try a more sensitive dynamic microphone (there's some), or one with an omni pattern.

But might it be that it's more of a perceptive issue, like you're trying to concentrate and suddenly there is a relatively faint but audible door slam which annoys you? Or do you hear it really loud? Because if you do, so it will even the cheapest microphone.

You may also to equalize and compress the recording a little bit to reveal more details, but if you start manipulating it too much it won't be really that valid even as indicative evidence..
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Apr 07, 2020 11:28 pm

CS70 wrote:On the technical side, if the noise is loud enough to annoy you, it's odd that it cannot be captured by a mic, unless it's really, really low frequencies (which you would perceive more as a vibration than a sound).

Nuisance noise, according to the EHO I had the conversation with, does not need to be loud, or even above the ambient noise, it simply has to be audible. The almost imperceptible but rhythmic 'thump' of the bass from the DJ in the marquee ½ a mile away was enough for him to say it was too loud. Even very quiet door closings or footsteps can be intrusive late at night but if it is just people conducting their normal lives in a flat where sound travels between floors that is clearly a different matter to people playing loud music or having shouting matches in the early hours. Context is everything

And almost certainly is not the preamp noise floor of the Zoom which is the problem, and what you are hearing is the ambient noise in you room.

Yes, probably.

But might it be that it's more of a perceptive issue, like you're trying to concentrate and suddenly there is a relatively faint but audible door slam which annoys you? Or do you hear it really loud? Because if you do, so it will even the cheapest microphone.

Yes, see above.

More detail would be useful Doveman please tell us what it is that disturbed you and what times of day/night it occurs. And, as I said above, keep detailed records, they will be much more useful in a court of law than uncalibrated noise meter readings or recording that demonstrate the 'nuisance noise' is below the ambient.....
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Doveman » Wed Apr 08, 2020 2:28 am

James Perrett wrote:One thing to think about...

Do you own your property or is it rented? If you own it and ever come to sell it you will need to disclose to the prospective purchaser that you have had a dispute with your neighbour. Not disclosing it will leave you open to legal action from the new purchasers.

It is usually best to take a gentle and friendly approach to these issues - have you approached the neighbour and let them know about the problems? It sounds like they may have wooden floors rather than carpet. Sometimes people take up the carpet or install laminated floors without realising the noise issues for people living below. Some leases actually stipulate that floors must be carpeted for this reason.

If you want the environmental health department to consider this issue then you will either need to use their equipment to record the noise or hire similar standard equipment with a traceable calibration. I've just done a quick search and it appears that there are a number of companies that hire out suitable equipment packages.

I don't own my flat unfortunately, or I'd sell up and move. I'm a council tenant in a 1-bed flat on the 1st floor of a 3 storey block of 12 flats but I know at least some of the 2-bed flats on the floor above me are privately owned and possibly let out privately. The flat directly above me, at the back of the block, is No. 22 and the one next to that, at the front of the block, is No.21. I had the council investigate noise from No.22 a few years ago and it turned out that was privately owned and rented out and there wasn't much they could do, because at the time the lease was granted there was no stipulation about having carpets. They changed that a few years ago but it's not retrospective.

My block is also attached to the neighbouring block so there's a shared party wall and there's a lot of problems with noise travelling from the flats in that block too.

It's hard to know whether the people in No.22 are being deliberately noisy or not. When they walk about it sounds like they're deliberately stomping their heels on the floor and they always seems to be slamming cupboards and dropping things on the floor whenever they're stomping about but they're not playing loud music or anything like that, so they might just be elephants!

The screeching noise, which is probably water pipes, may be coming from a flat in the adjoining block as it's louder in my bedroom, which shares the party wall, than my living room. I made a 30s recording with the Zoom mic which I've shared here:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LZwryI ... sp=sharing

I used the Zoom's compression for this recording, which probably hasn't done much good as it's boosted the hiss as well as the noise I'm trying to record but at least you can hear it.

I don't think I need to make a recording with professional calibrated equipment before environmental health will investigate. They should investigate based on reports and logs, it's just with this sort of intermittent noise it would be helpful to be able to play them a recording to prove I'm not a crazy person creating logs of imaginary noises!
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Re: Equipment for recording neighbour noise

Postby Doveman » Wed Apr 08, 2020 2:32 am

John Willett wrote:In the meantime there are various iPhone (and Android I assume) apps that do noise measurement - even my Apple Watch has it.

You can use these to get a noise level in your room as well as recording it. :thumbup:

I have found these apps to be pretty accurate and within a dB of professional level meters.

Thanks, I'll see what I can find for my Android phone but it has the same problem as the Zoom's built-in mic, i.e. quite a lot of hiss masking the noise I'm trying to record. I can't even use an external mic with my phone as the headphone/mic socket doesn't work, although I guess there might be some USB mics that would work.
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