Accessory to Help with Stealth Sound Effects Recording?


I’ve mentioned before that I prefer stealth field recording when gathering sound effects.

The idea of stealth and guerilla field recording is to capture your surroundings as intact as possible. You don’t want to create a ripple in the environment with your presence. That would tinge the recording and make it a bit less realistic.

Damaging the original environment happens when:

  1. the environment changes when reacting to your presence
  2. your equipment doesn’t capture the environment realistically

Because of this I’m always looking for new gear and testing tricks or techniques that help capture ambient sound effects with the lightest impact as possible.

Part of this is being unobtrusive with your gear and physical presence. It often involves disguising your gear.

I just discovered a new accessory that may help.

Sound Devices CL-Wifi Accessory and App

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Sound Devices products. They have smooth and quiet preamps and thoughtful software. The engineering is excellent. Construction is solid and robust. The durability and ease of use is fantastic for capturing stealth sound effects, or field recording in general. I’ve used many of their products, and own a 722 and MixPre.

I just stumbled across a Sound Devices accessory, called the CL-WIFI.

Sound Devices CL-WiFi

It’s not new. However I’m interested in its possibilities for field recording, and stealth in particular.

The CL-Wifi is a small box with an antenna and 6-pin RJ-12 socket which connects via Ethernet cable to the recorder’s C. Link port. It’s $249. It does just one thing: it provides the 788T audio recorder with a WiFi connection.

Why is this cool? Because you can now connect a 788T with an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad using an app also called CL-WiFi.

CL-WiFi App 1    CL-WiFi App 2

This app allows you to:

  • monitor recording levels for up to 12 tracks
  • show recording stats like time code, file name, duration, frame rate etc.
  • add text info that will be embedded into BWAV metadata
  • control the transport (somewhat)
  • route inputs to recording tracks
  • label tracks

I imagine this was designed to help production mixers on set. No longer will you have to lug around a keyboard to input scene names, mark circle takes and so on. Just update info using your iPad.

I imagine it could also be useful for linking to other members of the sound team, and perhaps other crew.

From what I can see it does not:

  • allow you to change recording levels
  • listen to audio

Range is also unspecified.

So how could this be useful for field recording sound effects?

Some ideas:

  • Monitor complex microphone arrangements. Eight microphones hooked up to a car? Writing on tape with sharpie marker to keep track of your channels? Trouble sorting which of your three engine microphones is track 3 or 4 or 5? If you use the app you’ll see track layout at a glance.
  • Let assistants observe tracks. Have you been in a situation where a helper has to dash inside and outside for feedback? Instead of yelling back and forth which mic to readjust, assistants can watch levels and make some adjustments themselves. The recordist will have the final word of course, since they hear everything and actually control levels. However, I could see this being useful in some situations.
  • Record unobtrusively. Set up a microphone and recorder discreetly in a bag and tuck it in a corner of bustling cafe. Monitor levels from a cross the room. No more cowering crowds reacting when they see some guy with headphones wearing a blazing blue Portabrace kit recording their conversations. It would finally put an end to that friendly pedestrian who says “Hey, are you recording sound?” in the middle of a take.
  • Add comments on the fly. Have a flash of insight while punched-in? Need to make a note during a long atmosphere recording but are cannot slate at the time? Want to note an event that happened at 1:22 into the recording? No problem. Just add text on your iPhone and it will be embedded directly in the file metadata.

Now of course there are drawbacks. Range is unspecified. It doesn’t have GPS, which would be a cool frill for recording ambiences.

I sent an email to Sound Devices asking if the accessory was compatible with other 7-series recorders. Their reply:

The CL-WIFI accessory will only work with the 788T, and it will not work with the smaller 7 series units. We’ve had several requests to develop something like this for the smaller 7 series, so I’ve passed it on to our engineers for consideration.

So we can hope!

Thanks to Sound Devices support for the quick response.

Also, the app won’t let you monitor or change levels. So as far as audio is concerned it’s a passive device. I wonder how hard this would be to change.

Perhaps a fader for each track with soloing and muting, in the spirit of the DEVA touchscreen? Is WiFi able to transmit high-fidelity audio to your iPhone? Could it broadcast with low-latency? That would be even better for stealth. That way you could listen to your tracks inconspicuously on an iPhone using a set of Sony MDR-7506 headphones and no one would be wiser.

Here’s a YouTube video by Sound Devices which demonstrates the features:

What do you think? Interesting? Could this be useful when field recording, or recording stealth? Or is it just one more piece of gear to clutter your recording kit? Know any other stealth recording gadgets? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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