A Month of Field Recordists: Michael Raphael


Michael Raphael and Helicopter

Today’s article features a popular community field recordist: Michael Raphael. Many of you will recognize him from his Field Sepulchra blog, where he has been writing about capturing sound effects since 2007. His evocative articles share sounds and experiences recording widely diverse sound clips in and around his native Brooklyn.

Arriving from a career in radio, Raphael’s fascination with field recording began after recording train and trolley sound effects for a Smithsonian exhibit. Since then, he has released 18 sound fx bundles on his Rabbit Ears Audio website. Launched in July, 2010, his Web shop was one of the first independent sound libraries available to the community. His collections have been met with broad acclaim, providing such diverse bundles as rockets, steam whistles, jet turbines, and helicopters.

I learned about Michael’s approach to field recording in an article here on the blog last year. One thing we did not discuss was his distinctive field recording kit.

I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in sharing his thoughts on how his equipment choices affect the sounds he records. He kindly agreed.

So, today we learn about Michael Raphael’s kit, and his thoughts on how the character of equipment helps him capture especially evocative field recordings.

Creative Field Recording: I see you use the DPA 4060s into a MixPre. What do you think of the sound quality of the 4060s when paired with the MixPre?

The 4060s have a full range and lots of low end but they definitely have a noise floor that isn’t awesome. I think they sound better than any mic of that size on the market. I love the sound of the original MixPre and even older Sound Devices MP–2. The pres with the Lundahl input transformers have a lovely quality to them.

CFR: In which situations would you pull out this kit, as opposed to your Schoeps kit? I’m assuming stealth or mobility.

That is correct. That is what they primarily get used for. That rig makes for a nice stealth setup that will yield nice results without being too unwieldy.

CFR: Your other kit is a Schoeps CMC5/MK4 to a Cooper CS 104 and Sound Devices 744T. Can you tell readers about why you chose the MK4s?

I like the sound of the cardiods while using mid-side. I find that when it is decoded to L/R stereo the imaging feels more natural than say a super-cardiod. Ultimately, that just comes down to preference and the situation. The MK 41 is also very nice but 90% of the time I’m reaching for the MK 4.

Cooper CS 104

Cooper CS 104

When I am recording double-ORTF for ambiences the Cooper and MK 4s give me 4 channels of awesome.

CFR: What do you like about the using Cooper?

I love pieces of gear that have a sound. I think “transparency” in audio is some myth a guy in a marketing department came up with. When I hear something is “transparent” I immediately think “thin” and “boring.” Everything has a sound.

The Cooper has character and is clean. You can push lots of gain if you are recording quiet ambiences and it is built like a tank. It isn’t perfect for everything but it is a flavor I like to have on hand. I wouldn’t have been able to record the Winter Ambiences collection without the mic pre-amps on the Cooper. I was able to push clean gain to the mic and it yielded some lovely results. The same holds true for all of the quad distant perspectives on the most recent Rabbit Ears collection, Port of Call.

Sadly, no one is designing field gear like Andy Cooper did. There is so much energy around 500 series gear and modular gear right now. I’d love to see that same energy end up hitting field recording gear but there is a limited market. Most manufacturers making field mixers/recorders are focused on “run and gun” ENG production. Sound Devices is doing a remarkable job with the 633 and 664. They are providing production sound mixers with lots of flexibility to do their jobs. That is great, but I want someone to build a portable recorder with pres that sound like they were made in 1975.

5-5 - Winter Ambiences

CFR: What’s your favourite field recording made with the 4060s or the MK4s?

I think you can pick any track from the Winter Ambiences collection. Any time I listen to that material I am immediately transported back to those quiet locations. The Schoeps and the Cooper captured the serenity and starkness of those environments. I try to forget how much I froze my butt off. I dragged two colleagues along on those trips so I wasn’t the only one freezing out there. Without the help of Rob Byers and John Loranger, recording in those environments would have been more difficult and much more dangerous.

Many thanks to Michael Raphael for sharing information about his field recording kit!

Quick Links: Michael Raphael’s Kit


Audio Recorders:

Other gear mentioned:

  • Cooper CS 104 mixer.
  • Sound Devices MixPre microphone preamplifier.

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