D16 Audio Tests

When I was up in Canada recently, we began testing the hardware for the D16 audio. The firmware is still in progress, so there were some limitations to the testing I could do. But I brought a lot of audio equipment with me from LA, so I was prepared for whatever we had.


There is no quiet room in the office during work hours; the place is abuzz with conversation and equipment. So in order to do these tests, Constantine, our engineer creating the audio firmware, Mike, our CTO, and I stayed late one night after everyone else had left. We shut all the doors, turned off the air conditioner, and tried to make the office as silent as we could.

The firmware wasn’t finished so I could only record at 44.1khz, and there was no Phantom power on the camera yet. So I ended up recording the D16 at mic level with a dynamic microphone, and at line level using an external pre-amp and a studio quality mic. I then did the same tests on the Marantz PMD661MKII, a recorder of very high quality. I expected this to be the best-sounding of them all. I also tested the dynamic mic on an Apogee ONE system and a Zoom H4N.

  • This is the D16 at Line level: 

  • This is the D16 at mic level: 

  • This is the Marantz at Line level: 

  • This is the Marantz at mic level: 

  • This is the Apogee at mic level: 

  • This is the Zoom H4N at mic level:

The Apogee is an inexpensive unit, but made by a highly reputable company so I expected this to be of very good quality too. The Zoom we know is not of the highest quality, but is good enough for what many people need out of field audio.

You guys will come to your own conclusions, but here are my findings:

  • I think the Marantz is the overall winner, as I expected. If you want the cleanest audio possible, a very nice external recorder is still going to be your best bet.

  • I was very surprised by the digital noise in the Apogee unit; it was unusable in my opinion. I used it with a new MacBook Pro Retina with 16GB of ram. I’ll admit I just got this unit so I may have had something setup wrong.

  • The recording on the Zoom seemed a little tinny and sort of hollow. A lot of the base sound was missing.

  • The D16 mic level had the most amplifier noise. We are working now to see if this can be cleaned up, but the good thing is that it had a much fuller range than the Zoom and from my perspective, a much nicer sound.

  • The D16 line level sounds every bit as good as the Marantz at line level to me; there is a bit of background noise, but that is the air conditioner from the adjacent unit. I think if you use an external mic pre-amp with the D16 you can get production quality audio that you won’t have to sync.

As I said before, we will work to lower the preamp noise on the D16, (and I was being quiet so we had it turned up pretty darn high.) In the future we will do further tests with Phantom power and 96khz.

What do you think?

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About joerubinstein

Joe Rubinstein is one of the founders and CEO of Digital Bolex. At Polite in Public, a photo marketing company he also co-founded, Joe was the Chief Technology Officer who worked with electronics developers and software developers to create the Polite in Public Photobooth which helped define modern photo marketing services.

20 thoughts on “D16 Audio Tests

  1. Pingback: October Update; Mechanicals, Calibration, and Sound! | digitalbolex.com

  2. I have always wondered why the zoom h4n maintained its popularity for so long in the dslr world. It is really middling in performance and there are better alternatives out there now
    Will you be including timecode so we can film dual system with a TC enabled deck like a fostex fr2/tascam hdp2/ sd702t or suchlike? That would be awesome for days when not self shooting (I don’t know about you guys but when I am able to work with separate sound, I am much happier =). TC was invented for very good reasons!?

  3. Vert odd. Ken Rockwell gave the apogee duet 2 a huge amount of praise saying it was around 4 bits cleaner than most handheld recorders.
    I’m assuming the new ‘one’ has the same preamps.
    Please re-check your apogee test settings as it should have creamed the rest.

    • That’s what I thought was going to happen, but the Duet 2 is more than twice the price of the One $600 vs $250.
      I will give it another go though when I get a chance to do another audio recording test.

  4. Great test!
    I love how you guys have handled audio on this camera.

    What would be a nice little feature would be to allow to use the D16 to record audio-only clips when needed. Were you planning to do this?

    • Yes several people have suggested this!
      We are planning on implementing a mode in which the top record button controls the audio recording and the trigger from the camera controls the image recording so you could have the audio and image start and stop independently. And still automatically sync in post.
      Would that work for you?

      This may not be available at launch, but would be available through update soon after.

      • Just so I understand, the trigger from the camera would always record audio?

        By trigger of the camera you mean the pistol grip button? But what if it’s removed? Unless I missed something i never saw two record buttons.

        What you could simply do to record audio would be a combination of button. pressing Record and “enter” at the same time for instance.

        • So the Audio will have several modes, one of which will be off. So yes the trigger on the pistol grip will normally record audio and images. There is also a record button on the top of the camera, that would also record audio and images.

          We are proposing a mode in which the record button on the top of the camera control the audio and the trigger control the image recording.

          But again normally you would control both at the same time from either button.

          • But the pistol grip won’t always be attached. In that case, how could the top record button only be used to record audio?

            Since it’s not something people will do that often. I would suggest button combination for audio only recording without having to access a menu to change audio mode.

  5. Thanks for posting this, even if it’s a bit too early to draw any conclusions. Being out of the body, the audio circuity is much more susceptible to interference, so that’s probably what you’re hearing. Do you know what the input impedance is for the mic jacks? That has a huge affect on sound quality, especially with passive mics. In the future, could you simply link mono WAV files to make it easier to download the samples for analysis?

    In the 90s, Apogee was top notch but not anymore. I’ve studied jitter tests and noise+distortion tests on various interfaces and they averaged maybe a step above an M-Box but triple the price.

    Thanks again for posting this.

    • Yeah I was really dissapointed by the Apogee unit. It has now become our audio interface for our Ustream, so it ended up with a good home 🙂
      I had a Rosetta many years ago and it was the SHITE! My college professors were like, “Why do your recordings from home sound cleaner than the ones in our multi-hundred thousand dollar studio?”.

      It is very early to draw final conclusions, we are working on getting the audio hardware in a body, but there are only a few bodies right now.

      More tests to come for sure!

      • I believe it. The early 48K Rosettas were quite good for their time. On that note, I got a free ADAT a while back and tested it against some of my own stuff. I was actually surprised to find that this junk everybody called cold, brittle, overtly “digital” sounding etc, performed much better than a lot of current home recording equipment.

        Oh, your distance from the mic and the force with which you speak seem to vary between examples. The proximity effect dictates that bass is exaggerated as you get closer, so that may be part of the issue you hear with the H4n.

  6. Sound can be 70% of a film, so your attention to audio helps eveyone using the D16. Getting the highest signal to noise performance is far more important than capturing to 96kHz. With a 24 bit digital destination, the path from the microphone to that end point benefits greatly from a noiseless journey. BTW, using a second system to capture production sound means a cable free environment and the opportunity to get the microphone closer to the performance. With a second system, having a really good audio reference captured camera side helps a lot in post and provides a safety track if something goes bad on the external gear.

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