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To avoid running into an XY problem, here is the problem I really have: I have a RODE NTG2 microphone, and a Zoom H4n Pro recorder. The NTG2 has an XLR output, balanced, and it operates from either a single AA battery, or 48V phantom supply.

The H4n is a portable recorder that records to SD card, up to 24bit/96KHz uncompressed WAV or MP3. It has a combination XLR+1/4 jack input. If you plug a 1/4 connector, it is a line-level, unbalanced input. If you use the XLR connection, it's a mic-level balanced input. The recorder automatically switches between inputs depending of what type of connector you plugged.

The general consensus on the web is that this mic isn't "hot enough" for this recorder, as the recorder expects higher inputs. For example, I have to set maximum gain input in the recorder and speak right into the microphone to get -12dB peaks in my recording. This is not acceptable since this is a "shotgun" microphone and you're not supposed to speak right into it.

Also, when using the microphone with 48V phantom power, you get more gain out of the mic. Apparently +6dB. I havent accureately measured, but indeed, switching phantom on and off, the mic sounds "much louder" with phantom than with batteries.

The solution proposed by most people online is to use a device called FetHead that will boost the mic +27dB and this makes it manageable for the Zoom. But this device is almost $100 and I don't live in the US so it's a long delay for shipping.

So I googled for several options and, as usual with audio circuit googling, I ended up on ESP's site, particularly in the Project 66.

In this project the first stage is two discrete amplifiers based on regular NPN/PNP general purpose transistors, and a opamp-based balanced to unbalanced stage.

Why does he use a discrete preamp? Is this just an old design?

Then I googled for other options. I found others with discrete preamp stages, others with instrumentation amp stages, another circuit with JFET, etc.

I have all sorts of ICs in my junkbox: NE5532, OP177, OPA2134. JFET I only have BF256. I also have BC847/857 for SMD. I don't have the more exotic THAT1512 which seems like an ideal solution.

Finally the question: Should I use a balanced input/unbalanced output opamp, and take the mic-level output from my mic to line level? My recorder doesn't have line-level balanced inputs.

Should I just boost the signal from the mic from mic-level balanced to mic-level balanced? I was thinking I could use just the first stage of Project 66 for this. Leave out the opamp section.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The NTG2 is pretty normal for a microphone - it's about 4 dB less sensitive than my Rode microphone (NT1A) and I never operate at full gain on my mixer. My advice is that to improve your question, you state that sensitivities of the microphone and the range of signals that your Zoom can operate from. Then compare that with other (shall we say industry standard) microphones. At the moment, nobody but a muso (like me) will bother to try and decode all the info and this severely restricts who might offer a decent answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Jan 6 '17 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd also suggest you start formally accepting more answers - this is the currency that attracts folk to give their free time to help you and others. The answers to this question are clear for instance: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/127343/… as is this one: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/120797/… \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Jan 6 '17 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not an answer involving actual circuit design, so lets call it a suggestion. You need a low noise pre-amp, and you'll eventually find that some compression (about 3:1) is a good idea for microphone recording, especially for music. And if you want results on your first try, I suggest you BUY this time rather than build. A decent basic mixer/pre-amp (such as the Behringer Xenyx Q802USB) will already have a couple of VERY quiet Mic channels, plenty of gain, phantom power and even compression. Probably as little as $60. Unless you're an expert designer, building better is unlikely. \$\endgroup\$ – Randy Jan 6 '17 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka well, most specialized sites recommend the NTG3 since NTG2 and NTG1 have much lower output. But NTG3 costs $500 more. Others suggest the AT875R which is in the same range as the NTG2 but have a "much hotter" output. \$\endgroup\$ – hjf Jan 6 '17 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Randy maybe in the future. right now this is more about finding if what the internet says is true or not. There is a lot of contradicting informations in forums where they discuss this microphone and recorder. Ranging for "you're an idiot, they are great" to "ntg2 is the worst microphone in history. period". I don't mind if it's a little noisy. First I want to straighten the levels issue, then we can move on to hiss and hum. \$\endgroup\$ – hjf Jan 6 '17 at 17:32
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A discrete stage (with PNP input transistors) into a medium-noise opamp like the 5534 is a common way of getting low noise, without the expense of low noise opamps. With a bit more care, it's not hard for a discrete stage to even beat the THAT Corp amp you linked.

NB the secret to low noise in this simple configuration is to keep the emitter resistor (R9/VR1) low - and that means high gain, which means overloading and distortion on strong signals. So set the gain for the performance you need.

I prefer to switch between different values of R9 (with VR1 shorted) for 10dB steps in gain, the last thing you need is a noisy volume control, though R14 helps there. If you do this, keep the highest value R (lowest gain) permanently connected, like R14, and switch other R's in to reduce it, or you can expect DC thumps.

Your BC847s will do for Q2,Q4. The 857s may be a little noisier than their recommendation; I'd try, and upgrade them later if you need.

If you can hear or measure the difference between R9=22 and R9=68 ohms there, with 68 ohms being noisier, (after allowing for the gain difference) then there's not much point improving the transistors Q1,Q3 over your BC857s.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you recommend using only half of project 66, that is, only the discrete part and feed into the mic-level input, or build it completely with the opamp and feed into line-level input? \$\endgroup\$ – hjf Jan 6 '17 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can of course try the first stage on its own but my preference would be to keep the design as-is, and reduce the opamp gain if necessary ( e.g. R12=R13=22k) \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond Jan 6 '17 at 18:04

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