Community Field Recording Equipment – Microphones and Favourite Kits

2016/11/16

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Today’s post features the second of three articles about community field recording equipment. In the last article, we looked at what portable and dedicated audio recorders people prefer, and why. Now we will see what microphones the survey respondents liked, their dream field recording kits, their budget selections, and more.

Let’s get started.

Microphone Questions

There are only a few dozen portable and dedicated recorder models. That makes multiple choice selections easier. However, there are hundreds of microphones, each with their own pick-up pattens, price-points, and uses. So, I asked people to type their answers for these final questions.

To start, I asked about microphones. It’s not easy to divide the vast amount of microphones into two categories. I aimed for two basic categories: ambiences, and specific sound effects. Let’s take a look.

What is your favourite microphone for field recording ambiences?

There was a vast amount of selections to sift through. In the end, one model rose to the top: Sennheiser’s accurate, low-noise MKH 8040ST. This was followed by a mid-side MKH 30/40 combo, often with a few other versions swapped in (MKH 20 or 50, 8020, 8090). The Schoeps CMC5/6 with various capsules were equally as common (e.g., CCM8, MK 4), as were DPA 4060 spaced omnidirectional pair configurations.

Røde popped up a lot, especially the NT4, NT5 matched pairs, and NT55 multi-pattern units. I was surprised to see the $10,000 ambisonic Soundfield ST450 mic appear a number of times. And, there were a decent handful of discontinued Neumann RSM-191is in the list, evenly matched with another stereo shotgun, the Sennheiser 418-S.

Lom Usi Pro

Lom Usi Pro

The remainder of the microphones were scattered, and interesting. Binaural microphones had a healthy presence with Sound Professionals and Soundman units appearing. Other high-value/low-cost choices such as the Lom Usi Pro and Primo EM172 microphones were sprinkled throughout the list as well.

There were a surprising amount of dual mono microphones in this category, including Røde models NT1 and NT2-A, Sennheiser MKH 416s, and Neumann KM 184 cardiods. Audio Technica models popped up as well, but the models were varied: the AT4022 (omni), AT8022 (X/Y), and BP4025 (X/Y) appeared. Line Audio were chosen a few times as well, mostly their CM3 cardiods, with a mention of the OM1 omni-directional microphones as well.

What else are people recording environmental sound effects with?

While the pro community predominantly chose Sennheiser and Schoeps microphones with the odd Neumann and Sanken model, the community had a far broader reach of selections. I was quite surprised and excited to see so many cool, sub-$1,000 ambience recording options embraced by the community. Some very creative solutions here.

What is your favourite microphone for field recording specifics?

What microphone did community field recordists choose to record focused, specific sound effects?

Well, in most cases they simply dropped a channel from their stereo microphones and used that. That’s a great way for a microphone to do double duty: select a solid stereo microphone or matched pair, then adapt that for recording specific sound effects. So, Sennheiser, Schoeps, DPA, and Røde appeared in similar numbers as ambience microphone choices.

Of the distinct set ups mentioned, Sennheiser appeared commonly with MKH 416/418, MKH 4060, ME 66, and MKH 50 and 60 microphones. The Røde NTG3 and NTG4 shotgun were decently represented, too. It looks like quite a few people are nature recording because the Wildtronics parabolic microphone was common, too.

Wildtronics All Purpose Parabolic Dish

Wildtronics All Purpose Parabolic Dish

Additional notable models:

A Dream Recording Kit

We all have budgets, of course. Sometimes we have our eye on equipment we would like, but can’t afford at the moment. So, I wanted to take cash out of the equation. The next question asked: “What is your dream field recording kit?”

Nagra VI

Nagra VI

Sound Devices recorders topped the list. The prized dedicated unit selection was a tossup between a 744T, 788T, and 633 units. A few other outliers sneaked in, including the Nagra VI 8-channel monster, the Zoom F8, Zaxcomm units, and even a colourful Cantar X3. The Sonosax R4+ appeared a handful of times as well. Generally, though, people have their eye on a Sound Devices unit.

Cantar X3

Cantar X3

Handheld portable recorders weren’t mentioned that often, but when they were, the Sony PCM-D100, M10, and D50 were headliners. I found that interesting. It seems that to the community, portables function mostly as a stepping stone to larger dreams.

DPA 5100

DPA 5100

What about microphones? Well, Sennheiser pervaded the list with a wide selection of models. The MKH 30, 40, and 50 microphones were well represented in M/S set ups, as was the MKH 8040ST option. DPA microphones appeared a number of times as well across a range of models (4003, 4006, 4017, 5100 surround model). Schoeps capsules were likewise favoured quite a bit.

Soundfield ST450

Soundfield ST450

The biggest surprise was the desire for a Soundfield ST450 MKii microphone. Ambisonic recording is growing in popularity, possibly due to the interest from the VR and gaming communities. The number of times this ambisonic mic appeared on wish lists nearly rivalled the Sennheiser selections for the majority pick.

Other notable mentions:

  • Aeta 4minX 8-track audio recorder.
  • Nagra EMP2 2-channel preamp.
  • The Lom Elektrosluch 3+ that’s been popping up for recording the sound of electromagnetic fields was mentioned, too.
Lom Elektrosluch 3+

Lom Elektrosluch 3+

Budget Kits

The previous question considered kit if price had no option. What if we look at the other end of the scale? So, I asked: “What would you choose if you had to buy kit on a budget?”

I left the budget unspecified, and the results were interesting.

Sony PCM-M10

Sony PCM-M10

The vast majority of respondents decided to opt for a portable kit. The Sony PCM-M10 was the most common choice, likely due to its reputation as having good sound for a sub-$200 price point. While the Sony PCM-D100 is around $775, it was also common.

Zoom also reappeared in this category, with the H5 and H6 being most common and nearly eclipsing the Sony offerings. I suspect those were chosen because their ability to exchange capsules adds ample flexibility and value for the money. The H2n was well represented, as was the perennial community favourite, the H4n. Tascam had a decent showing here, too, with DR-40, DR-60D, DR-70D, and DR-100 MKii models.

Most respondents cleverly supplemented these units with inexpensive microphones, with Soundman OKM II Classic models being most popular and Primo EM172, Luhd, and Lom Usi Pro versions following. Often these were paired with an outboard preamp, such as a Sound Devices MixPre-D.

Sound Devices MixPre-D

Sound Devices MixPre-D

A few dreamed a little larger and paired dedicated recorders with pro microphones. The Fostex FR-2 LE and Zoom F8 were perhaps the most common. These were connected to a cross-section of Røde (NTG3, NT4) Line Audio CM3, or Audio Technica (AT4022 omni condenser, AT835ST stereo shotgun, BP4025 X/Y) microphones.

Clearly, the idea of a budget isn’t universal. Generally, though, most kept the rate under $1,000, and many under $500.

It was a fascinating to learn how hard field recordists will work to get good sound for their dollar. Many suggestions were quite creative matching equipment, or taking advantage of used gear.

Equipment For Beginners

We began this series to help answer the question: “What gear should I choose?” Beginners often are completely bewildered choosing from such a wide range of equipment options. What did the community have to say about this?

Sony PCM-D100

Sony PCM-D100

The suggestions were a fairly even balance between Sony offerings (PCM-M10, PCM-D50, PCM-D100), Zoom models (H4n, H5, H6), and the Tascam DR-100 MKii. In my view, those are all excellent suggestions. The Sony line provides excellent sound quality. The Zoom units offer versatility. I haven’t used the Tascam DR-100 MKii myself, so I can’t speak to its quality. However it has its persistent fans with 4 microphones at $229, which seems like an amazing value.

Tascam DR-100 MKii

Tascam DR-100 MKii

Interestingly, the Sennheiser, Røde, and Audio Technica microphones seen in respondents’ own budget kits vanished utterly from their beginner’s list. Even lower-budget Sound Professional and Soundman suggestions were absent, although a few people continued to suggest the Primo EM172s as an option. I found these responses fascinating, considering the implication that a beginner’s kit is usually built on a budget, too. Why the difference between the lists?

A thought struck me: if you have time in field, you may know how to ingeniously arrange a used Sound Devices preamp between a mid-range X/Y condenser and a handheld unit, all for under $1,000. That takes a bit more cash, patience, and experience to construct. It’s natural for experienced sound pros to cobble inventive solutions. Is $1,000 and a clever arrangement of kit beyond the ability of new field recording fans, though?

Certainly not. However, by recommending simple, inexpensive equipment, the community showed admirable insight. Their choices displayed both understanding of the first step beginners take in the craft of field recording, and a sensitivity towards the difficulty of choosing great gear with just a little disposable income. The suggestions cut through the confusion that the dizzying amount of equipment creates and provided straightforward solutions. They showed an awareness of the difficulty involved when beginning field recording: that weighing equipment selections and making the best choice isn’t easy.

As I browsed the spreadsheet of the survey, I thought I could read between the lines of the responses. I believed I could see that the respondents recalled their own experiences, and gave beginners the break that they may not have had when they started themselves.

And, in this way, you all helped complete what this series was meant to achieve: helping people who are just now discovering field recording get out into the world more easily, explore the craft, and share excellent sound with us all.

Thank you, everyone, for your help.

What’s next? The final community post shares a compilation of tips and tricks from field recording fans worldwide.

Read More About Field Recording Equipment





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