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Get Better DSLR Audio Quality by Using a Good Preamp: Beachtek vs. juicedLink vs. Zoom H4n

08.27.12 @ 8:32PM Tags : , , , , , ,

The conventional wisdom is that it’s difficult to get good audio when you record straight into a DSLR, and that you’re better off using an external audio recorder. At the very least, an external preamp can help boost your signal so that your camera’s audio system doesn’t have to work as hard to get a clean signal above the noise floor. juicedLink, maker of preamps, has put out a video showing (well, you’ll have to listen) that its preamps are actually capable of recording cleaner audio through a DSLR than using the competitive Beachtek preamp or even a Zoom H4N external audio recorder.

Thanks to CheesyCam for the link:

At the very least, the video will probably teach you something about recording audio. While there’s no question that my personal knowledge about cameras is a lot more in-depth than my knowledge about audio, I do understand that much of the quality of your audio is related to signal strength and noise floor. Give your recording device a clean signal and make sure you never have to raise your audio levels in post, and there’s a good chance you’re going to get decent audio regardless of the recorder (even with a DSLR).

While Robert is probably a little biased since he works for juicedLink, the clips above certainly sound convincing. The one thing you will miss by not using a device like the Zoom is the ability to record higher bitrate audio. You’re stuck with whatever your DSLR is capable of if you choose to record audio in this way. Many have said good things about the BeachTek products, but I would seriously take a look at the juicedLink preamps. If you’ve got a camera like the Canon 7D, you can now set levels in the camera to get even more precise settings.

Below is a video review of the juicedLink RM333 Riggy Micro Low-Noise Preamp from DSLR News Shooter:

What do you guys think? Do any of you own either of the juicedLink Riggy preamps? If so, can you vouch for the quality that we’re hearing?

Below are links to all of the products in the video.


[via CheesyCam & DSLR News Shooter]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 49 COMMENTS

  • Not sure if this is a fair comparison for all purposes – the Juicedlink demo was showing(or “hearing”) the Juicedlink vs. H4n routed INTO THE DSLR. If audio were really recorded separately on H4n(and then synced later via pluraleyes or what-have-you) the audio on it would be much cleaner than what you heard in the demo…..

    • good point. there was definitely an unbalanced connection generation loss in there. the sort that you can hear, by, you know… louder noise floor.

    • FYI… In the second video, towards the end, he mentions that he has intermixed the audio for that interview. Some of it is recorded directly into the H4n, then synced up in post. Some of it is recorded right into the camera via the Juiced Link. I confirned that with Matthew directly. I don’t know which clips were which, but I couldn’t tell the difference.

    • “H4n routed INTO THE DSLR”

      No, that’s not correct. Perhaps, I was not clear in my explanation. The clips compared:
      1) the e835, going into the juicedLink, going into the camera, recorded by the camera, versus
      2) the e835, going into the H4n, recorded by the H4n

      So, if you pulled the H4n clip and synced in post, that is what you would have heard

      I don’t know if it was in this video, or another video. But, I have another clip that shows how you fix and improve the SNR of the H4n. You use the juicedLink as the low-noise preamp of the H4n itself, so the e835 goes into the juicedLink, going into the H4n, recorded by the H4n …

      • Right, as is the second video on this page by Matthew Allard. Matthew also compared Mic into JuicedLink recorded into Camera vs. Mic recorded into H4n only then synced in post.

  • Would there be any advantage to using a pre-amp like juiced link and then record into the zoom h4n? Or would you just be downgrading the signal by doing that?

    • Yes, exactly.

      Here is an old blog post from a that shows how you can improve the SNR of the H4n by about 9dB (while using a shotgun mic like the NTG2) by using the juicedLink in front of the H4n:

    • Yes! The issue with recording directly to a DSLR, even with lots of clean gain, is that you’re recording to 16 bit so you don’t get as much headroom or latitude to edit the audio in post. This is very much like the difference between raw and h.264 or other compressed video.

      When shooting for film or video, you often contend with pretty dynamic sound–really loud to really soft. 24 bit provides some significant advantages over 16 bit in situations like this. You can work with lower gain settings to avoid clipping and in post you have more space to manage noise.

      I’d say either a better field recorder than the H4n or using the JuicedLink preamp into the H4n at 24 bit is better than the scenarios Robert’s using here.

  • Paul Russell on 08.27.12 @ 8:46PM

    “make sure you never have to raise your audio levels in post”
    Fuck off! Amateur hour here. Never heard of doing a mix? Least credible post i’ve ever read. Usually a great source of info and discussion, what other posts should I read again?

    • As a general practice what I’m referring to is recording levels too low, and then being forced to significantly raise them to a proper db level (thereby raising the noise floor instead of lowering it). I’m not sure what’s amateur about that?

    • My friend, nothing screams amateur more than using “Fuck Off!” as a response to a point.

    • Paul, I think your ego has gotten in the way of intelligent discourse we all love to come here and enjoy on film-related things.

    • The whole point of this is that there are 2 things that go into quality SNR recordings:
      1) how good your amps are
      2) you need sufficient gain.

      The juicedLink low-noise preamp fixes the noisy amp problem of the camera (known as the cascaded noise figure of amplifiers).

      But, if you don’t have sufficient gain because you are using a less sensitive mic, or you are doing a wide shot and can’t get your boom mic really close because it needs to stay out of the frame, then that will also degrade your SNR. Hence, the poor SNR from the H4n recording versus the camera recording with the juicedLink low-noise preamp ….

      • Human speech is low bandwidth, low dynamic range stuff. Call me controversial but if you’re recording speech or wildtrack then you’re really wasting your time worrying about pre-amps, connectors etc. Once you hit a decent base level of quality that’s it, you’re sorted and ready to go. The two most important things by a long long way is having the right mic and putting it in the right place. Oh, and don’t hit the red and don’t roll on the floor. If you’re recording an orchestra, concert or something in 5.1 then obviously it’s a different kettle of fish. But my hunch is 99% of the time you’re not, and if you were there would be someone else looking after the sound mix anyway.

        • I agree. Thanks Terry.

        • Russell Petrie on 01.18.13 @ 4:53AM

          This is the most common sense response on here; and it supports the old truth of practical skills and knowledge win over quality of gear in all but extreme cases. If ones knowledge and skills are good enough then one can get the BEST out of any gear.

  • I have a Juicedlink DT414, which isn’t featured in the video, but it’s a pretty good preamp. I bought it to use with my DSLR on documentary style work that I couldn’t waste time trying sync sound for. I’m still working on it’s sweet spot, but it’s done me pretty good so far.

  • I’d like to see a comparison that uses a Sound Devices mixer. I use one with a Tascam recorder and it’s dead quiet during the quiet phases.

  • I used the H4n up until I bought the Rode NTG-3 and experienced a high pitched noise every time I plugged in. Looked into it and other people had the same problem, something about the internal workings of the Zoom H4n. Sold it and bought the Juiced Link Box and have been happy enough with it. I do a lot of ADR and Foley work so the Juiced Link ends up being mostly for on set reference audio. It’s perfect for this because it limits the amount of time/hassle that comes with recording externally. Great sounding audio wrapped up with your video file is a dream come true if you’ve used a DSLR long enough.

    • Good to know. My friend just purchased an NTG-3 and H4n, He can still return the H4n though so I’ll make him aware if he has not found this out already.

  • Although the Juiced Link is a great unit. I will say they have the worst customer service ever. Robert Rozak is the only person answering questions and he can be very short and to the point which was hard for me because I had a ton of trouble getting it to work at first. There is no customer service number to call at all (how do you run any sort of electronics company and not have a customer service number)? The Juiced Link is not an out of the boxy ready unit like the Beachtek. I did finally get the Juiced Link to work but only after talking to DJ over at via email. I must say the unit works great but, I would never recommend it to a noob.

  • I use the DT454 and have done a lot of side by side testing with the pre-amps in my Tascam DR-40. I can’t speak for the H4N, but the JuicedLink pre-amps are much quieter than the Tascam. It isn’t always needed. For instance with my wireless kit, there is plenty of gain coming out of the receiver and I can run straight into a DSLR with the camera’s gain one notch above zero. Lower output mics though benefit greatly. The two units work well together when you have a boom op and want to untether sound from the camera and go double system.

  • I’ve never used a Juiced Link so I can’t comment on how accurate this is, but I have used the Zoom and have never had noise issues like that. So I’m a bit suspicious. He mentions in a linked video that the H4n has a lot of noise because he’s got the gain all the way at 100%, which still isn’t delivering a signal at -3dB, so he’s adding gain in post, which is generating the noise. Part of the reason he’s having to add so much gain is he’s using a dynamic mic – one that nobody would ever use for recording video. But whatever. I did a quick test with an SM57 (which has a similar spec to the e835) into an H4n and did indeed need to push the gain to 100% to get my peaks to -8.9dB. So I added about 6dB to get it to level. However, since it was recorded 24/96, I had plenty of headroom and none of the noise. Then, just to actually push it, I squashed the signal through a compressor (The Glue – not exactly a transparent compressor) to see how far I had to hammer it to get the noise level that he got, and I couldn’t get preamp noise to be audible over all of the other ambient noise.

    Perhaps he recorded to mp3 on the h4n? That might get you there. Perhaps there’s a noise gate in the Juiced? Or the input on the 60D he’s recording to doesn’t have the dynamic range to capture all that hiss over 15kHz (likely)? I don’t know. I do know that I trust a dedicated A/D converter much more than I trust one on board a DSLR. And that the Equivalent Input Noise (EIN) rating for the 60D is around -70dBu. That’s probably usable (especially if the frequency range is pinched as I imagine it is on the 60D), but not ideal. Especially if you then need to boost your levels in post. For reference, the h4n has an EIN of about -104dBu, and recording studios I’ve worked in have pres that hit around -128dBu.

    I find his discussion of “sufficient gain” misleading, too – the real issue is the correlation between the EIN and dynamic range, not how much overall gain is available. Here again, the h4n has about 60dB of dynamic range, as compared to the “Approx 30dB max available gain” of the RM333. Those numbers do not make any sense compared to the results he’s showing in the video.

    Perhaps I’m missing something and there is an explanation for all of this – I don’t know because I don’t own an RM333 and can’t a/b it. But from my experience, this seems more salesmanship than science.

    • Your last sentence could very well be true, but that’s why it’s always best to seek out as many reviews as possible. Thought this test was interesting even if it might not tell the whole story.

    • Yes, the purpose of the test was to stress the systems to their limits. That was the point of using the dynamic mic, to represent low sensitivity mics or when you might be shooting a wide shot (with a shotgun or hypercardiod) and you can’t boom the mic close.

      So, if you’re using a ME66 with 50mV/Pa sensitivity, this wouldn’t be much of a problem for you. But, many people use shotguns more like the NTG2 with 15mV/Pa. The popular Oktava hypercardiod is about 10mV/Pa. A lav is about 5mV/Pa.

      The handheld was 6″ away. I was not speaking loudly. On the H4n at 100% gain, the meters could only register about -20-24 dB (or so). The juicedLink/camera was set so the peaks came in at -12dB. Both clips were normalized in post to -3dB, so the noise floor could be compared.

      No compression or noise gate anywhere. H4n was 96/24 (although bit rate is not really relevant for this test).

      I could have injected a tone, normalized levels, and compared the noise floor. That’s how actual audio analyzers work (HP88903B). But, I didn’t want to be accused of using an arbitrarily low level for the tone. So, I felt using a real mic that represents real levels (for the stressed system) would be more realistic.

      I hope this explanation helps …

      • When I say I was not speaking loudly, I was not speaking particularly loudly. I was not speaking softly. Just normal …

      • Thanks for your response. I realize this is the internet, but in spite of that I don’t want to come off as calling you a dirty liar who’s just like Hitler. It’s well established that these preamps work well, I like the form factor, and appreciate the fact that you suggest bracketing instead of using an inferior limiter. But I do think you’re presenting something misleading. What’s more, I couldn’t reproduce your results, and the specs I can find don’t match up to the results.

        I understand your mic choice in theory (and as a response to a challenge), but why not use a small diaphragm hypercardioid and a quiet noise source? Seems more realistic to me, and the impedance would be more realistic. Plus, it would generate some self-noise, a realistic concern for everyone. A poorly placed lav strikes me as ideal.

        The bit rate doesn’t make a difference, true, but recording at 24bits should help with the noise floor – it did for me.

        In the end, my hunch is that the real limiting issue is the camera’s A/D converters. For the sake of argument I’ll grant that as a dedicated box your preamps are potentially better than what’s included in the h4n. But a dedicated recorder with reasonably good A/D converters will dependably produce better results. It’s up for debate how much that matters to most filmmakers, but I doubt you’d disagree with that.

  • Stu Mannion on 08.28.12 @ 2:25AM

    I’ve used a JuicedLink into my 5D mk2 for years and I’ve been very happy with it. Now that I’m using the Magic lantern I had to do a little tweaking to make sure the levels were still right. It’s a great solution because there’s no post syncing to kill your workflow.

  • if you do your research you will find that H4n is crap recorder, initially people did not know that, once they started connecting NTG-2 or NTG-3 they’ve realized something is wrong?!?!? Tascam DR-100 II has better pre-amps and the best is Marantz PMD661. The best sound is when you record separately on a dedicated recorder and not on your camera.

  • Paul Russell on 08.28.12 @ 6:30AM

    I would rather aim for -18 to -12 on camera and add gain inthe mix rather thanrack up camera hissy amps.
    Terrible terrible post, duff advice.

    • Did you read the post? The JuicedLink is a non-crappy amp so you don’t have to boost the gain on the crappy camera amp. You can debate whether the JuicedLink is good enough (although you’d be mad to suggest that going straight into the camera at a low level and then boosting in post would give cleaner audio than using the JL), but at least criticise the actual content of the post rather than making stuff up.

    • No … sorry … you want to record with as juicy a signal as possible with sufficient headroom (peaks at -12). If you record too low, you’re giving away “signal” in “signal-to-noise”. Then, if you record direct to camera without the juicedLink preamp, you’re using the noisy preamps in the camera. The way you get better signal-to-noise from noisy camera amps is to throttle back the noisy gain in the camera, then replace the noisy gain with clean gain from the juicedLink low-noise preamp. This is know as the “cascaded noise figure” of amplifiers.

  • This has been a great discussion … thanks you all!

    If you have more questions, please feel free to contact me here:

    - Robert from juicedLink …

  • I’ve been using a Juicedlink cx231 with my Magic Lantern ‘firmware updated’ ;) 5d mk ii for about 4 months now, and it’s been fantastic. I have gone through using the H4n prior, and although both of these configurations give me the results I need, the advantage of the juicedlink is that it lets me skip syncing in post, which is actually made pretty easy with FCX, but still makes a big difference for faster paced productions.

    Also, It’s also nice to have a little bit of a gap between my 501 fluid head and the body of the camera. Allows for easy battery release (with my canon) which otherwise I would have to remove the camera from the head for battery replacement.

    my cents.

  • What i want to know is what the audio output level was on the h4n …. because if you record it at 100 vol it sounds like shit … but if you set it at 50 vol it sounds better … just a side not from a actual user … and i wanted to know what the internal capture sound like …

  • This might be a stupid question but does anyone know if there is a way to sync a Dslr with a zoom during production? I’m wondering if you could hook up a master record button that remotely triggers both devices to simultaneously start and stop recording. That would be deadly. Does anyone know if such a device exists or if there is a way to do something like this?

  • Hey guys.

    Sorry about this impending ‘Cool Story’

    Ive been using a Tascam DR100 II for while now with great results. This works great for film stuff where there is maybe another person handy to operate boom and recorder.

    ive just got a dayjob working as camera at busy exhibitions/conferences where I am to record interviews and testimonials. This generally requires a Lapel-mic. Because of the busy workflow taking the sound seperate is not always ideal and my boss wants the Audio and Video as one file. SO my set up is not ideal for run and gun even tho the Tascam is comfortably mounted on my rig.

    Ive been thinking about going for the Beachtek DXA SLR PRO as it looks brilliant and everyone seems to be getting great results BUT – before i drop $400 on it im wondering if you guys know a way i can use the TASCAM AS A PREAMP INTO CAMERA??

    Is this possible through the line out?

  • Stonehouse… While it’s not a perfect solution, it is possible to route the Tascam’s line out directly to the camera but the recommended way of doing this is by using a “line to mic attenuation cable.” It’s essentially pads the line out down to a level the camera can handle. Something like this should do the trick for you…


  • I talked with Harry at Beach-Tek (whom I know well) about this post. He is not concerned. The new DXA SLR PRO does all the above and then some, exceeding broadcast standards. He directed me to his website with some remarkable demonstrations of clean sound. NOW there is super clean sound. Stunning! What makes Beach-tek’s so good are the very expensive transformers he uses and years of refining his other products to very high standards. He knows his stuff well.

    I too, have a Hn4 and I wished for a switch to make the camera and Hn4 start and stop at the same time. But then again – you have post issues. I have lost too many good shots due to forgetting to hit 2 record buttons twice each time, batteries run out etc. The Hn4 will give 4 channels (nice) although I would not say that the built in mics are of professional standards seeing as those mics are above $500 a pop, but they do perform OK. There are lots of settings – but I tell you, for a single shooter, getting it on camera is the way to go. I like the new BeachTek units – they are really really good. and with Magic Lantern, the 5DMk2 have finally arrived.

    On an unrelated comment – I am getting weary of this shallow depth of field on the big sensor. I can’t use the 50mm f1.4 at all up close without most if it being blurred out. The follow focus is a royal pain -the subject moves 6″ and it means refocussing – almost impossible. How many movies do you see with this insane shallow dof? Next to none! For some shots, it might be just fine, but really, the only way to go is by the Super 35mm format – Sony FS100 or Canon C300 examples for great video. Just my 2 cents worth (and experience).

  • This is the guy who said in his comparison between the DT454 with the SD Mixpre-D that he didn’t put a limiter in the DT454 because in noisy situations the AGC of a dslr is fine to use. I am suspicious of his reviews since then- especially as he is ‘reviewing’ his own products.

  • Hi! Great conversation! Any recommendation for a good beginners blogs on how to for DSLR and audio?

  • The place where the H4N excels is that while it can be an on camera accessory, it does not depend on the camera for power and doesn’t “sync” to anything. So it is actually better used as a separate entity.
    I have had a lot of success sticking it in a planter, behind a kettle or other places in the scene where it picks up quality, high snr speech and audio.
    Of course this means syncing and possibly re-recording it so timebases match (again…no sync).
    It’s onboard mics are usable but mostly I stick a lav on it or a SDC spot mic. Or if the situation warrants it, both at the same time along with the built in Mics.
    The other neat thing is that ou can also use your AT or Sony video mics that have those 1/8th’” connectors with the H4N. For prosumer stuff that is pretty cool.
    I have a lot of XLR equipped gear and mics already (I’ve done audio engineering for years) but I can see how that is a big bonus for folks that only started buying mics when they started doing video with their DSLR.