A Month of Field Recordists: Max Lachmann

2016/09/27

Max Lachmann - Recording Switches on Me109

I first discovered field recordist Max Lachmann’s work when searching for vehicle sound libraries. His sound effects are hard to miss: he hosts almost 90 car, motorcycle, aircraft, and boat sound collections on the respected Pole Position Production website, which he runs with Bernard Löhr and Mats Lundgren. The Web shop also provides collections of weapons, military vehicles, and more.

Lachmann is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on vehicle field recording. His sound fx include such elite vehicles as Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and other luxury and sport cars. Capturing such tricky vehicles is exceptionally challenging, and requires contending with wind, overwhelmingly loud sound, and the complex mechanics of attaching equipment onto the vehicles themselves.

I was curious how Max captured such difficult subjects, and the kit locker he uses to get the job done. I emailed him and asked if he would like to share with us how he began field recording, how his craft evolved, and the role equipment plays in his work. Max graciously explained.

So, today Max Lachmann shares an insider perspective of a rare and specialized field recording discipline, a special tip to help capture valuable sound clips when they appear, and the story behind a rare exclusive field recording Max has shared just with us.

Creative Field Recording: Can you share why you are a field recordist, and how you began?

Max Lachmann: I have always been interested in film and in building soundscapes. However, coming from music, my first experience as a field recordist was before I even knew there was such a title. My company Pole Position Production were asked to record race cars and make game assets for a Swedish racing game developer. Without having a clue how to do it, we borrowed a few different recorders and microphones, and took my colleagues Porsche GT3RS to a track and gave it a shot. This was in 2006 and I still have very clear memories from that very first session. And it just kicked off from that. Today we have recorded vehicles for almost every game there is with vehicles.

CFR: What is your favourite equipment?

ML: Our method and equipment for vehicle recordings has developed over years, along with our learning as well as new equipment being available. We started out mounting small MicroTrackers in GT racing cars, with the two interior microphones or two DPA lavaliers connected to them. We used them because of size, weight and the flash card. We had learned the hard way that hard drives would not last in such environments. Today we use a number of recorders and microphones, and also focus on both onboard and exterior recordings. For onboards we use a Zaxcom Fusion with eight channels. It’s been extremely reliable, we even gaffer taped it on the outside of the pod of a F1 car, and it delivered perfectly! Sometimes we add another two channels with a Sound Devices 702, and mount a number of small hand held devices if we find it useful. We still use DPA lavaliers, but have found that using other microphones with bigger membranes is a good compliment to those, such as PZM Crowns, Electrovoice, Sennheisers etc.

For exteriors we use a Holophone, at least one shotgun such as a Neumann RSM191 or Sanken CSS–5, which mixes really nicely with the Holophone, or a Sennheiser MKH 8060, which is one of my absolute favorites. We also use Schoeps CMC6 and Sennheiser MKH 8040s. Sometimes we bring a Telinga parabolic as well.

For recorders we have a Sound Devices 788, another Sound Devices 702 and an older semi-professional Fostex FR–2, which has really nice limiters for vehicles.

CFR: Why is this equipment your favourite, as opposed to other gear?

ML: There are many reasons we have come to use the equipment we use today, and it’s always depending on the situation. During a very controlled session with a regular vehicle, the only thing you really have to worry about is weather and how the driver will perform. But for more complex recordings, you can run into various unforeseen situations. Hopefully you will do your homework and be prepared for these situations, but it can affect what gear you can use.

When I recorded GP2 cars on a official test day, the only possible space to mount any recorder was below the sidepods, in between the crash bars, a space that was extremely tight. The only thing we managed to get in there were a Zoom H4n on each side, and a few DPA lavaliers. When the engineers found out the cables had phantom power in them they freaked out, since even a very low voltage can set the chassis on fire, so we ended up isolating every cable from the chassis with gaffer tape. Due to FIA regulations we could not mount anything visible or heavy. The Zooms has no peak hold, so every time the car came in into the pits they would have to lift off the sidepods for us, we quickly switched memory cards, and checked the files in a computer to see if the inputs were at a good level, so that we could adjust them the next time the car came in. Vibrations were so bad that the buttons and cables shook loose and even the memory card came out during one stint. I actually contacted Zoom after the session and suggested a peak hold function and XLR connector locks, and they kindly replied and advised me not to use their equipment. Other parameters that can affect your choice of gear is SPL and wind sensitivity. When it comes to recorders, they have to be a hundred percent reliable. You do not want to risk a client spending thousands of dollars on sending us out to record, and then having gear failures. So that and a good quality of the recorded files is very important.

To us, none of the new recording devices are very useful. They either have too few channels, too few XLR inputs or limitations in limiters and kHz. It feels like if the manufacturers are still not considering field recordists a consumer group and are still targeting on site film production with their products, which is very sad. So we are still waiting for a 10–12 track recorder in a good size, all channels with a dedicated XLR input without using another device, with SSD and flash card, recording in 192 kHz and with good preamps and limiters. And in my dreams it comes with an attachable old school tape recorder unit to be mounted on the side of it… We have recently, despite their kind advice, got our hands on a Zoom F8 to evaluate, and so far I am pretty impressed by it’s functionality compared to it’s price, but we still have to evaluate the sound quality and compare it to more expensive recorders. But as an extra eight channels to throw in, or as a backup unit, it’s a no-brainer. And believe it or not, but it even has peak hold and XLR connector locks!

CFR: Can you share a favourite experience or a field recording you captured with this equipment?

ML: One of the sessions I am the most proud of is the recording we did of a Messerschmitt 109, equipped with an authentic Daimler Benz engine, in Germany a couple of years ago. First of all, it’s a very rare plane, at that time it was only five of them flying, and second, the sound of it…. It’s just amazing! It has such a raw and nice sound, and the compressor whine when it flies by is so great! We did two stationary runs with the plane on the ground, and then we did a flying run with the plane coming in just over our heads at various speeds and angles.

Olympus LS-10

Olympus LS-10

At the end of the day, it is what you have at hand that will have to do the job. I was once going in a cab in NYC, and the cab was for some reason an old station wagon with all interiors stripped in the luggage compartment. Going on the bumpy roads on Manhattan made the luggage compartment rattle like nothing else. The only thing I had at hand was my Olympus LS–10 that I was always carrying at the time, so I used that to record it with. That rattle was later to be used for all vehicle chassis noise in the game Just Cause 3. The ride was definitely worth the 8 bucks!


Max has generously shared some fascinating field recordings of a Messerschmitt Me 109 fighter prop plane. Each playlist features a breakdown by microphone.

My thanks to Max Lachmann for taking the time to share his kit and field recording experiences!

Quick Links: Max Lachmann’s Kit

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