A month ago, we found ourselves asking these questions:
"“Which is the best handheld recorder?”
“What are suggestions for my first field recorder?”
“Which microphone is best?”
That began a series that examined field recording microphones, recorders, windshields, and other equipment for recording sound effects. With the help of 26 sound pros, the articles sought to answer the question: “What is your favourite field recording gear, and why?”
I originally planned to gather the tips into one article. As the sound pros generously shared their thoughts with me, I realized that a single post wouldn’t do justice to their shared wisdom. Instead, the articles spanned more than two dozen posts and over 25,000 words of knowledge.
That’s a lot to digest. So, today’s post is a summary of the combined info the sound pros have shared. It includes charts listing stats of equipment, their prices, and how often gear was mentioned during the series. It has links to the manufacturer websites and to each field recordist’s post so you can investigate the kit yourself.
A number of fascinating patterns emerged during the series. I’ll share my thoughts on them.
For those of you who want a quick list of options, I will include a shortlist of field recording equipment suggestions by price point in the next post.
Looking to learn which is the best field recording gear for you? Check out the Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide for an update-to-date list of current equipment options.
A List of Field Recording Microphones
What microphones do field recordists use? Below is a chart of all microphone models mentioned in the series. It’s listed by manufacturer, model, pattern, price, and includes a link to its Web page.
I’ve also included the number of times that gear has been mentioned. You’ll also notice a list of field recordists that use each microphone. Click their names to visit their post and hear sound effect samples from that mic.
Note: these stats list only the gear field recordists used in their main kit.
Note: prices are sourced from the manufacturers and from B&H Photo Video, May, 2020. Prices prefixed with a tilde (“~”) are approximations based on currency conversion.
A List of Field Recording Microphone Manufacturers
Which gear manufacturers are the most common in the field recording community?
Here’s a pie chart of the number of times microphone manufacturers have been mentioned in the series.
And here are the same stats, in list form:
A List of Field Recorders
What about audio recorders? Which portable and discrete recorders did the sound pros mention in the posts?
Below is a list of the recorders by manufacturer, model, Web page link, number of tracks, and price.
Comparing audio recorders is a bit tricky, since some recorders include microphones, too. So, there’s an additional column that mentions whether the unit is portable, and how many microphone channels it includes.
The chart also lists how many times each unit is mentioned in the series.
A List of Field Recorder Manufacturers
Following the same approach to a similar list for microphones, this chart shows which manufacturers are the most common choice in the field recording community.
First, let’s look at the pie chart:
Here is the info in chart form:
Field Recording Gear: Decoded
What trends do the lists present?
Well, first, it’s important to note that there isn’t only one correct field recording kit. It depends on a field recordist’s approach:
- Their profession.
- Sound effect subject.
- Their methodology.
You can learn more about these distinctions in the series’ introductory post.
These choices inform the “mentions” stat. Gear selection isn’t a popularity race, of course. The most important consideration is that equipment captures sound well for the way a recordist works. So, think about the number of mentions less in terms of trendiness. After all, each recordist works differently. Instead, in my interpretation, “mentions” indicate two things:
Sound subject specialization. Just because a microphone is mentioned once doesn’t mean it is a poor choice. It may simply indicate that it is specialized.
For example, the JrF hydrophone is mentioned as a main kit only twice. It makes sense that this isn’t more common, as hydrophone recording missions are rare.
Recording methodology. Conversely, popular microphones don’t necessarily mean they are better than anything else on the list. Instead, they indicate many field recordists work similarly.
The Sennheiser MKH 30 and MKH 40 are mentioned the most. This is because they’re often paired together in a single kit for “standard” recording. The Sennheiser MKH 8040 is mentioned commonly as well, as is the DPA 4060. They are used for “conventional” recording. A stealth kit such as Ollie Hall’s Sound Professionals SP-TFB–2 binaural microphone will be more rare simply because stealth binaural is a highly specialized technique.
Given that, what trends do we see?
Thoughts on Field Recording Microphones
Sennheiser microphones were by far the most popular mics in the list. The MKH 30, 40, 50, 60, and 8040 microphones appeared commonly in the articles. Overall, Sennheiser microphones were prized for their quality and low noise. Any pro that used these microphones wrote passionately about them. Sennheiser has dedicated fans.
Schoeps mics appeared less frequently, but still had their ardent fans. Often they were used in inventive ways. In particular, the CMC 5 U and CMC 6 U system was admired in the way it allows capsules to be swapped easily for others, creating a flexible kit.
Another microphone heavyweight, Neumann, appeared rarely. This was not an indication of low quality. Instead, it indicated how those microphones were used. The recordists that choose Neumann microphones used them in exceptionally specialized ways, such as the KU 81i binaural dummy head, the RSM 191 stereo shotgun, or the U87 microphone.
Australian microphone manufacturer Røde appeared many times in the articles. In particular, the NT4 was seen as a good value. It was often considered as an “honourable mention”, and a microphone to compliment a growing kit. The NTG3 was mentioned often as an inexpensive shotgun microphone option for capturing focused, specific sound effects.
Another notable entry was DPA microphones. The Danish company’s most prevalent mentions were its 4060 and 4061 mics. These lavalier microphones received high praise for the diminutive size, portability, and high-quality, well-rounded sound. In particular, these microphones appeared especially flexible. Many pros used them with portable recorders, and continued to use them in specialized ways even after their kit evolved.
Continuing with the popularity of the DPA 4060 and 4061 mics, there also appeared to be a trend of using microphones with a smaller form factor. The Lom Usi Pro, Microphone Madness MM-BSM–0, Primo EM–172, Soundman OKM II Studio Solo, and Sound Professionals SP-TFB–2 and MS-TFB–2 are all smaller microphones that were used interchangeably for stealth recording, portability, and ease of use. Each of these had an attractive price point, and delivered impressive results, creating a good value of the money. Notably, they played an important role in a pro’s relationship with audio recorders. Many pros initially purchased handheld recorders as standalone devices. Later, they augmented the electret mics built into the handheld units with these small, external mics. This gave the recorders a longer lifespan for very little money.
Another community favourite was Line Audio’s CM3 microphones. There appeared to be a lot of buzz about these microphones, primarily because they achieve excellent sound quality for a low price.
Of course, there were dozens of other microphones mentioned. I’ll list a few here that I found were rare or unusual entries that you may enjoy reading about:
- Soundfield ST450 system.
- Sennheiser MKH–418S stereo shotgun.
- Røde i-XY.
- AKG C411L and Ehrlund EAP contact microphones.
- Neumann RSM–191 stereo shotgun.
- Neumann KU 81i binaural dummy head.
- Sanken CSS–5 supercardiod stereo shotgun.
- Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone.
- Trance Audio Stereo Inducer contact microphone.
Thoughts on Field Recorders
There were far fewer audio recorder manufacturer options in the series. Sound pros tend to use the same half dozen brands. That does make sense, since there are fewer recorder models than microphones available.
Let’s take a look at them in two sets: portable, hand held recorders, and dedicated ones.
Portable field recorders are distinguished from their dedicated brothers in four important ways:
- Size. They’re small. You can hold them in your hand, and often fit them in your pocket.
- Microphones. All portables include onboard microphones.
- Preamps. Dedicated recorders place extra emphasis on sophisticated preamps.
- Price. With a few exceptions, portables are all less than $1,000. Most are less than $500. Most dedicated recorders are above $1,000, although one or two are only slightly north of $500.
So, given that, what do find?
Portable Field Recorders
Zoom is another popular brand. Various incarnations of their H2 and H4 recorder appeared in the posts. They were seen as a good choice to pair with smaller, outboard microphones (say, the DPA, Sound Professionals, Microphone Madness, Lom, Soundman, or Primo mics), especially when using an external preamp.
Dedicated Field Recorders
Sound Devices 7-series audio recorders found themselves in the most field recording kits. The 702 and 744T were favourites, while the 722 and 788T appear occasionally as well, as did a mention of the newer 633 mixer/recorder. While they’re not listed in the chart above, pros also admired Sound Devices mixers, as well. The MixPre, MixPre-D, and 302 were mentioned. Any pro that used Sound Devices gear wrote emphatically about the preamp quality. Durability was another favourite feature.
The remaining dedicated audio recorders included offerings by Tascam (DR–680, HD-P2, HS-P82), and Roland (R–44). Zaxcom also made an appearance with its Maxx, Nomad Lite, and premium Deva recorder. There’s a lot of buzz about the new, affordable Zoom F8, as mentioned by Daan Hendriks in his kit. Giel van Geloven shared with us a special treat: the Aaton Cantar X2, known as “the Stradivarius of audio recorders.”
This concludes the “A Month of Field Recordists” series. My thanks to every field recordist who took the time to share their thoughts and advice! Thank you also to everyone who read the series, and shared it with others.
What’s next? In the following post I’ll share gear recommendations based from this list that can apply to any budget or style of field recording.
Read More About Field Recording Equipment
- Discover pro field recordist equipment choices in the “A Month of Field Recordist” series (2015, 2016).
- Read an analysis of those pro equipment choices (2016).
- Browse community field recording gear picks (audio recorders, microphones and recommended kits).
- Find the best field recording equipment for you in the Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide.
- Wallet a bit thin right now? Learn How to Record Sound Effects on a Budget.
- Learn how to decide upon an audio recorder in the Digital Sound Recorder Buyer’s Guide.
- Interested in capturing sound effects on the road? Check out What Gear You Need To Record Sound Effects Worldwide (part 1, part 2)
- Learn more about specialized microphones in The Unconventional Microphone Buyer’s Guide.