A Month of Field Recordists – Equipment Roundup and Analysis


100 Gear List - Hero

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.

Please note, I am very detailed. This post will take about 14 minutes to read. Click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.

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, January 2017. Prices prefixed with a tilde (“~”) are approximations based on currency conversion.

Manufacturer Model Pattern Mentions Price Recordists
AKG Blue Line Series Various 1 $199.00 - $500.00 Shaun Farley
AKG C411L Contact 1 $129.99 Rob Nokes
Aquarian H2a-XLR Hydrophone 2 $169.00 Giel van Geloven, Michel Marchant
Barcus Berry Planar Wave Contact 2 $297.00 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz, Shaun Farley
DPA 4060 Omnidirectional 8 $949.95 Michael F. Bates, Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz, Daan Hendriks, Colin Hunter, Timothy Muirhead, Martin Pinsonnault, Michael Raphael, Andreas Usenbenz
DPA 4061 Omnidirectional 1 $949.95 John Leonard
DPA 5100 1 $3509.95 John Leonard
Ehrlund EAP Contact 1 Rob Nokes
JrF Coil Pick Up Coil Pick Up 1 ~$24.00 Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen
JrF Contact Contact 1 ~$39.00 Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen
JrF Hydrophone Hydrophone 2 ~$70.00 Daan Hendriks, Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen
Line Audio CM3 Cardiod 1 ~$115.00 René Coronado
Lom Usi Pro Omnidirectional 2 ~$130.00 Mikkel Nielsen, Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen
Microphone Madness MM-BSM-9 Omnidirectional 1 $110.00 Michael Maroussas
Neumann KM 184 Cardiod 1 $699.95 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz
Neumann KMR 82i Supercardiod 1 $1,699.95 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz
Neumann KU 81i Binaural 1 Discontinued Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen
Neumann RSM-191 Hypercardiod & figure-of-eight 1 Discontinued Shaun Farley
Neumann U87 Omnidirectional, Cardiod, Figure-of-eight 2 $3199.00 Giel van Geloven, Michael Maroussas
Primo EM-172 1 ~$60.00 Christian Hagelskjær From
Røde i-XY Cardiod 1 $199.00 Tamas Dragon
Røde NTG3 Supercardiod 3 $699.00 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz, Andreas Usenbenz, Watson Wu
Røde NTG4 Supercardiod 1 $399.00 Watson Wu
Røde NT4 Cardiod 3 $529.00 David Fienup, Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen, Watson Wu
Sanken CSS-5 Supercardioid 1 $2300.00 Timothy Muirhead
Sennheiser MD 441 Supercardiod 1 $899.95 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz
Sennheiser MKH 30 Figure-of-eight 9 $1249.95 Michael F. Bates, Shaun Farley, Daan Hendriks, Thomas Alf Holmemo, John Leonard, Stephan Marche, Nathan Moody, Mikkel Nielsen
Sennheiser MKH 40 Cardiod 7 $1199.00 Michael F. Bates, Shaun Farley, Giel van Geloven, John Leonard, Michel Marchant, Stephan Marche, Michael Maroussas, Nathan Moody
Sennheiser MKH 50 Supercardiod 3 $1199.95 René Coronado,Thomas Alf Holmemo, Nathan Moody
Sennheiser MKH 60 Supercardiod 3 $1499.95 René Coronado, Shaun Farley, Thomas Alf Holmemo
Sennheiser MKH 70 Supercardiod 2 $1749.95 René Coronado, Daan Hendriks
Sennheiser MKH 416 Supercardiod 1 $1249.00 Michel Marchant
Sennheiser MKH-418S Supercardiod & Figure-of-eight 1 $1649.95 Watson Wu
Sennheiser MKH 8020 Omnidirectional 2 $1199.95 Stephan Marche, Mikkel Nielsen
Sennheiser MKH 8040 Cardiod 8 $1199.95 Giel van Geloven, Daan Hendriks, Michel Marchant, Stephan Marche, Rob Nokes, Mikkel Nielsen, Martin Pinsonnault, Andreas Usenbenz
Sennheiser MKH 8090 Cardiod 1 $1199.95 Stephan Marche
Schoeps CMC 5 U Amplifier 2 $849.00 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz, Michael Raphael
Schoeps CMC 6 U Amplifier 3 $1912.00 René Coronado, Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz, David Fienup
Schoeps MK 4G Cardiod 2 $755.00 David Fienup, Michael Raphael
Schoeps MK 8 Figure-of-eight 1 $1045.00 René Coronado
Schoeps MK 41 Supercardiod 2 $755.00 David Fienup, Michael Raphael
Schoeps CMIT 5 U Supercardiod 1 $2199.00 David Fienup
Shure VP88 Cardiod 1 $791.25 Frédéric Devanlay & Cedric Denooz
Sound Professionals SP-TFB-2 Omnidirectional 1 $89.00 Ollie Hall
Sound Professionals MS-TFB-2 Omnidirectional 1 $149.00 Michel Marchant
Soundman OKM II Classic Studio Omnidirectional 1 ~$129.00 Michel Marchant
SoundField ST450 Ambisonic 1 ~$7437.60 John Leonard
Trance Audio Stereo Inducer Contact 1 $699.00 Daan Hendriks

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.

Gear List - Microphone Manufacturers

Gear List – Microphone Manufacturers

And here are the same stats, in list form:

Manufacturer Total Mentions
Aquarian 2
Barcus Berry 2
DPA 10
Ehrlund 1
JrF 4
Line Audio 1
Lom 2
Microphone Madness 1
Neumann 6
Primo 1
Røde 8
Sennheiser 38
Schoeps 11
Shure 1
Sound Professionals 2
Soundman 1
SoundField 1
Trance Audio 1

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.

Manufacturer Model Tracks Portable? Microphones? Mentions Price
Edirol R-09 2 Y 2 2 Discontinued
Roland R-44 4 1 $795.00
Sony PCM-M10 2 Y 2 5 Discontinued
Sony PCM-D50 2 Y 2 4 Discontinued
Sony PCM-D100 2 Y 2 6 $795.94
Sound Devices 633 7 1 $3229.00
Sound Devices 702 3 7 $2049.00
Sound Devices 702T 2 1 $2699.00
Sound Devices 722 2 1 $2679.00
Sound Devices 744T 5 8 $4319.00
Sound Devices 788T 8 2 $6849.00
Tascam DR-40 4 Y 2 1 $179.00
Tascam DR-680 10 1 $599.00
Tascam HD-P2 2 1 Discontinued
Tascam HS-P82 8 1 $2399.99
Zaxcom Deva 10 1 $12,995.00
Zaxcom Maxx 8 1 $2,995.00
Zaxcom Nomad Lite 10 1 $4,150.00
Zoom F8 10 1 $999.99
Zoom H2 2/4 Y 4 1 Discontinued
Zoom H2n 2/4 Y 5 2 $159.99
Zoom H4 2/4 Y 2 1 Discontinued
Zoom H4n 2/4 Y 2 1 $199.00

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:

Gear List - Recorder Manufacturers

Gear List – Recorder Manufacturers

Here is the info in chart form:

Manufacturer Total Mentions
Edirol 2
Roland 1
Sony 15
Sound Devices 20
Tascam 4
Zaxom 3
Zoom 6

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

DPA 4060

DPA 4060

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.

Line Audio CM3

Line Audio CM3

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:

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

Sony portable recorders made the most appearances in a balance between their M10, D50, and D100 recorders. All pros noted their durability, sound quality, and battery life.

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.

Zoom F8

Zoom F8

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.”

Aaton Cantar X2

Aaton Cantar X2

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

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