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BBC Location Recording

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BBC Location Recording

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:20 am

A while ago there was a thread somewhere in these annals about location recording and what was used by BBC Radio 4.

I responded with my direct experience of being involved with one of these voice 'out and about' programmes, indicating that on that occasion the recorder was a digital Nagra and the mic a Shoeps stereo shotgun in a decent Rycote Blimp...

... What I didn't mention was that a few years ago a BBC Local Radio reporter thrust a mic in my face asking for a comment on a topic of the day. I was taken aback to see that it was a Zoom H1. "Ah well", I thought, "Local Radio, small station, what can you expect?"

Then yesterday I came across some photos taken on location for Clare Balding's "Ramblings". The mic set-up looked as classy as one would expect... could have been an XY rig in an appropriate Rycote Blimp... but in one photo the recorder was a c.£100 handheld all-in-one job - one of the Tascams, Zooms or Panasonics by the look of it - possibly a Tascam DR05. Whatever, almost certainly no XLR inputs... (There were other photos of an 'over-the-shoulder' "professional" recorder, but the one with the small handheld leapt out...)

Two observations:
1) "Ramblings" is not just a potter-about, but some serious walking. I guess one wants to keep equipment weight to a minimum.
2) Here we sometimes agonise about whether a particular piece of kit is 'good enough'. Used sensibly, leaving sufficient headroom, these days even quite modest equipment is capable of 'broadcast quality' results.

Discuss...
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby CS70 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:38 am

As I just wrote in another thread, my take is that sound quality is simply not so crazy important for the general public. We agonize because we are nerdishly interested (and proudly so! :)) but the average joe/jane has "can hear" "can't hear" modes and that's about as far it goes. I suspect they always had.

Besides, now the instagram- and YT- fueled trend is more and more towards realistic-looking segments which don't appear staged at all. Even if the audio is not perfect, it's just a plus.

That this makes productions cheaper and easier is, of course, an added advantage.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jul 11, 2019 10:00 am

In the 1970s the term 'Broadcast Quality' related to real technical specifications and standards. That has long since gone by the wayside...

As it happens, there was a thread on a professional broadcast sound forum I frequent about the very topic of Ramblings and Radio 4 in general....

Common recording systems used by various national and regional bits of the Radio 4 machine currently include (to the best of my knowledge): Smart Phones (some with the various plug-in adaptors for external mics), the old HHB Flash Mic, Nagra ARES M and BB+ recorders, the Zoom H4 & H4n (and probably other models now, too), various Tascam/Sony/Fostex SD card recorders and, for the more esoteric jobs (or old-school recordists), Sound Devices 744T & 722 (a mainstay of the drama and classical music departments). Where multiple mics are being used these might be handled by the odd SQN4 or Sound Devices 302 mixers etc. But that's not an exhaustive list by any means...

The range and variety of mics is equally broad and depends a lot on the job requirements (or just what's left in the cupboard) but would typically include Beyer M58 for mono vox pops (or its unbalanced line-level cousin the MCE58 (with an XLRf to 3.5mm cable to work with the cheaper recorders), Sony ECM 959 or ECM 979 for simple stereo and
atmos work (a hang-over from the Minidisc/DAT days), Shure VP88 (again a hang-over), pairs of Sony ECM77 or ECM88s for split-track work, Sennheiser ME66/K6 gun mics (cheaper than a MKH60, can be battery powered, and OK on a 3.5mm cable).. and more besides.

Recording techniques vary from simple mono vox with stereo atmos added in
the edit, to talking across the top of a stereo pair built-in on a hand-held recorder.

As for Ramblings, there are lots of ways it could be done, but I don't know the actual technique used in the current series. Years back it was done with radio mics on the presenter and contributor(s), feeding back into an SQN mixer along with an MS stereo atmos rig, and the whole thing was recorded on a Nagra 4S, all lugged along by the recordist staggering along a few feet behind. I shudder to think of the weight of it all now!

A colleague told me that a more recent solution was to use a stereo mic on a boom recording into a stereo DAT (okay -- so not that recently... :lol: ) with the boom being operated by a recordist walking behind to hang the mic between Claire and the contributor guest (mic facing back towards them). No faffing around changing radio mics, and contributors could come and go to Claire's side without disturbing the momentum of the walk. Stereo wild-tracks recorded along the way.

Today, I imagine the producer (or even the presenter) would be recording the whole thing themselves, probably with something like an Olympus LS11 or a little Zoom or similar, with a windjammer and a Rycote grip or short boom. The primary concern would be to keep the tech as lightweight as possible so that it doesn't impeded the walking or interfere with the contributors, and to just grab the audio on the fly.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby blinddrew » Thu Jul 11, 2019 2:03 pm

Without going into the specifics of the BBC set up, that a) Hugh and Mike have covered and b) I know nothing about, I will just lob in a couple of comments from the lower tiers of the recording hobbyist world.
Firstly I agree with CS70 that most of the audience are uninterested in the niceties or technicalities. Something is either good enough or not. 'Good enough', of course, varies according to what, how, when, where etc, but it's just not a driving factor for a lot of people.
In fact I'd argue that music as a whole (and even the audio aspect of video) is just far less important than it used to be for the general punter.
Secondly I agree with Mike's hypothesis. Basic kit is now so good (and arguably some professional standards have fallen, I'll leave that bit for Hugh ;) ) that more than ever it's about how you use what you've got.

If I were to swap kit with one of the many pros we have on this forum, and they and I were to record the same act/band/performance, me using their nice expensive kit, them using my cheap as chips stuff, I have absolutely no doubt who would end up with the better result.
Hint, not the writer of this comment... ;)
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby MOF » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:35 pm

I think that the quality/cost/weight of digital equipment has allowed managers within BBC News, in particular, to allow their adoption but they haven’t followed up with the necessary training (for camera operators and indeed video editors who don’t know how to deal with audio) and providing a sound recordist where one is plainly needed, such as the necessity to use a boom mic’ to pick up sound from a large group of people.
I regularly complain about not being able to hear people (interviewer or interviewees) because they don’t have a personal mic’ on.
The reply to a recent complaint was, paraphrased, we think that when two interviewees are sharing one personal mic’ that is good enough for Broadcast TV.
Mic’s without windshields in high winds or buried under so many layers of clothing that it’s badly muffled and of course distortion/heavy compression.
Then there’s the basic ability to listen to the environment before doing a voiceover, I complained about one on BBC News at Ten last night, it had a prominent high pitched whine in the background, not the first time I’ve complained about this. I will get a fob off answer no doubt.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jul 11, 2019 3:36 pm

blinddrew wrote:If I were to swap kit with one of the many pros we have on this forum, and they and I were to record the same act/band/performance, me using their nice expensive kit, them using my cheap as chips stuff, I have absolutely no doubt who would end up with the better result.

Paul White and I did a double recording of a violin and piano at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham a few years back*, comparing the results from a recording setup built from typical modest budget gear, contrasted with high-end pro gear. Although there was an audible difference when listened to critically with a good monitoring system in good acoustics, the results were actually quite hard to tell apart!

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/recording-violin-piano

*Shocked to see it was actually 15 years ago! I sold the Genex off long ago and use a Nagra VI now for small jobs, or a SADiE LRX for larger ones. But the ISA and GML preamps are still used, and I still use all the same mics apart from the SoundField SPS422B which has been replaced with a SoundField ST450mk2.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:01 pm

Thanks for flagging that article Hugh. A very enjoyable read! :thumbup:
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby hobbyist » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:14 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:.....

Two observations:
1) "Ramblings" is not just a potter-about, but some serious walking. I guess one wants to keep equipment weight to a minimum.

2) Here we sometimes agonise about whether a particular piece of kit is 'good enough'. Used sensibly, leaving sufficient headroom, these days even quite modest equipment is capable of 'broadcast quality' results.

Discuss...

It is plenty good enough for all but a few golden eared snobs.

It is certainly better now, than a million dollar (usd 1960s) studio was back when I first got interested in recording, but only could afford a lafayette tape deck.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby MOF » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:23 pm

I’ve just re-read that article Hugh and wondered if the ‘50 feet’ was a typo, I didn’t spot it first time? “Symphony Hall....was designed to have a very low noise floor. This was achieved by sitting the entire hall...on 2000 rubber pads (50 feet thick)...Rumour has it that cats are used to track down rats that might try to eat the rubber!
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:28 pm

I spotted that a few minutes ago and googled for the construction details, not found anything useful yet but maybe Hugh can clear it up for us?
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:37 pm

MOF wrote:I’ve just re-read that article Hugh and wondered if the ‘50 feet’ was a typo

Not sure. I've checked my original copy text from 2004 and it says 50 feet in that, so if it was a typo it was mine originally... but I can't believe I would have included a fact like that without having a reliable reference for it because 50 feet is obviously a lot!

I've removed that number from the online article for now, and will try to get some confirmation as to how thick the isolating pads actually are. :-)

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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby MOF » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:44 pm

Paul White and I did a double recording of a violin and piano at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham a few years back
One thing I spotted of interest was the lack of hard-drive space to allow 88.2khz sampling, amazing how the cost per megabyte has fallen.
I’m sure if you were doing that recording now you’d be at double that rate and not even considering storage space. I presume classical recordings are done at top PCM rates or DSD these days?
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:25 pm

MOF wrote:One thing I spotted of interest was the lack of hard-drive space to allow 88.2khz sampling, amazing how the cost per megabyte has fallen.

Yes. Moore's Law and all that... PW often regales the story of his first hard drive, bought to allow CD mastering in the early 80s. An 800MB SCSI drive back then cost several thousands, even at trade prices!

I’m sure if you were doing that recording now you’d be at double that rate and not even considering storage space.

Quite so. All of my gear routinely records and processes at 24/96 and I don't think about storage at all. My Nagra has a 128GB hard drive (I must get around to changing it for an SSD), and that's backed up with a 128GB Compact Flash card. When I'm recording with the LRX I use a couple of 500GB drives, or sometimes 1TB drives.

I presume classical recordings are done at top PCM rates or DSD these days?

A lot are, yes. Personally, I don't see -- and can't hear -- any benefit in going beyond 96k, but whether for marketing reasons or genuine belief in sonic benefits, a lot is done at silly rates and (even sillier) DSD... :lol:
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby CS70 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 6:32 pm

MOF wrote:
Paul White and I did a double recording of a violin and piano at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham a few years back
One thing I spotted of interest was the lack of hard-drive space to allow 88.2khz sampling, amazing how the cost per megabyte has fallen.
I’m sure if you were doing that recording now you’d be at double that rate and not even considering storage space. I presume classical recordings are done at top PCM rates or DSD these days?

These days there's plenty of shows on the moon landing.. they all include the unexpected "error 1201" and "error 1202" on approaching the moon. The reason of these errors was a bug causing a little more memory to be used by the craft's computer, without anyone noticing - a subsystem was sending data at a high rate even if wasn't supposed to.

1201 and 1202 were essentially two "out of space" errors (for two different storage block types in the control software) and led to a system reboot (four times, actually).

Now, the amount of that memory was two kilobytes of ferrite magnetic cores :D
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jul 11, 2019 6:37 pm

Yep. I think my desk calculator has more memory than that today, and my Smart Phone is many orders of magnitude smarter than the navigation computers on the Command and Lunar modules!

So if they could control a spaceship to the moon and back on just 8kB of memory, why the fricking heck does a simple Windows 7 update need 135MB of data? :protest: :lol:
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby CS70 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 6:39 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Yep. I think my desk calculator has more memory than that today, and my Smart Phone is many orders of magnitude smarter than the navigation computers on the Command and Lunar modules!

So if they could control a spaceship to the moon and back on just 8kB of memory, why the fricking heck does a simple Windows 7 update need 135MB of data? :protest: :lol:

It's all these nice landscape pictures :bouncy:
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby hobbyist » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:49 pm

MOF wrote:
Paul White and I did a double recording of a violin and piano at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham a few years back
One thing I spotted of interest was the lack of hard-drive space to allow 88.2khz sampling, amazing how the cost per megabyte has fallen.
I’m sure if you were doing that recording now you’d be at double that rate and not even considering storage space. I presume classical recordings are done at top PCM rates or DSD these days?


Rate is an interesting question. Some gear will do 96/192/384 and I think I have heard of 768 and even higher although rare.

Theory says that the higher rates are better. Engineering says that A/D sampling accuracy and time clock jitter limit the value of faster rates. And cost will limit how good you would be willing to get better A/D and clocks.

*IF* your A/D and clock stability warranted it then higher rates are the way to go. Storage is dirty cheap now so that is not the constraint we had a couple decades ago.

The downside is that such quality gets expensive. So is it worth it overall to achieve that quality at all? How accurate will your media and playback be? Does anyone consuming your product demand better quality to justify trying to achieve it?

Dont pay no never mind to folks like Lavry who claim that higher rates are not better. He uses logical fallacies in his analysis.
Higher rates may or may not be better depending on your gear.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby hobbyist » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:52 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Yep. I think my desk calculator has more memory than that today, and my Smart Phone is many orders of magnitude smarter than the navigation computers on the Command and Lunar modules!

So if they could control a spaceship to the moon and back on just 8kB of memory, why the fricking heck does a simple Windows 7 update need 135MB of data? :protest: :lol:

It depends what they are optimising.

Windoze is optimising ease of coding and speed to market.

NASA was minimizing weight and power and was willing to do more programming effort to use a smaller computer.
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby James Perrett » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:52 pm

hobbyist wrote:Dont pay no never mind to folks like Lavry who claim that higher rates are not better. He uses logical fallacies in his analysis.

Would you care to explain these fallacies?
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Re: BBC Location Recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:58 pm

hobbyist wrote:Theory says that the higher rates are better.

Does it? Better in what way, exactly?

Obviously a higher sample rate gives a wider bandwidth, but how wide is wide enough? ;-)

Engineering says that A/D sampling accuracy and time clock jitter limit the value of faster rates.

Yes, I've heard that too... :lol:

Don't pay no never mind to folks like Lavry who claim that higher rates are not better. He uses logical fallacies in his analysis.

Care to enlighten us?
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