Update: I’ve revised the info here to reflect gear options and prices from mid 2021.
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.
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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 ($2,599). This was followed by a mid-side MKH 30 ($1,249)/40 ($1,200, discontinued) combo, often with a few other versions swapped in (MKH 20 or 50 ($1,200), 8020 ($1,299), 8090 ($1,299)). The Schoeps CMC5/6 ($1,865) with various capsules were equally as common (e.g., CCM8 ($2,122), MK 4 ($855)), as were DPA 4060 ($999, discontinued) spaced omnidirectional pair configurations.
Røde popped up a lot, especially the NT4 ($529), NT5 ($219.00) matched pairs, and NT55 ($829.00) multi-pattern units. I was surprised to see the $10,000 ambisonic Soundfield ST450 mic appear a number of times (now discontinued, with a similar version offered by Røde as the NT-SF1 ($999)). And, there were a decent handful of discontinued Neumann RSM-191 is in the list, evenly matched with another stereo shotgun, the Sennheiser 418-S ($1,649).
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 Uši Pro (€125) and Primo EM172 ($60) microphones were sprinkled throughout the list as well.
There were a surprising amount of dual mono microphones in this category, including Røde models NT1 ($269) and NT2-A, Sennheiser MKH 416s ($999), and Neumann KM 184 cardiods ($829). Audio Technica models popped up as well, but the models were varied: the AT4022 (omni, $349), AT8022 (X/Y, $399.00), and BP4025 (X/Y, $649.00) appeared. Line Audio were chosen a few times as well, mostly their CM3 cardiods (now replaced with the more modern CM4 model), with a mention of the OM1 omni-directional microphones as well.
What else are people recording environmental sound effects with?
- Beyerdynamic MC 930 cardiod condenser ($849.00).
- 3Dio FreeSpace binaural microphone ($399).
- Earthworks TC-20 omnidirectional microphone ($399).
- Naiant x-x miniature omnidirectional microphones ($34-$150/pair).
- Studio Projects C4 capsule system microphones ($349/pair).
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 ($999)/418 $1,649, MKH 8060 ($1,499.00), ME 66 ($459, discontinued), and MKH 50 ($1,200) and 60 ($1,499, discontinued) microphones. The Røde NTG3 ($699.00) and NTG4 ($369.00) shotgun were decently represented, too. It looks like quite a few people are nature recording because the Wildtronics parabolic microphone was common, too.
Additional notable models:
- Nevaton MC48 X/Y condenser microphone (€1,149).
- Beyerdynamic MCE 85 shotgun ($499).
- Schoeps CMIT5U supercardiod ($2,299).
- DPA 4011 (cardiod, $1,799) and 4017B (shotgun, $1,799).
- Audio Technica AT3031 (cardiod), BP4029 (stereo shotgun, $799.00).
- J. Riley hydrophone (£55.00) and contact (£28.00) microphone.
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?”
Sound Devices recorders topped the list. The prized dedicated unit selection was a tossup between the (now discontinued) 744T and 788T, and the current 633 ($3,575, discontinued) unit. A few other outliers sneaked in, including the Nagra VI 8-channel monster, the Zoom F8 (now updated with the Zoom F8n ($1,099.00)), 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.
Handheld portable recorders weren’t mentioned that often, but when they were, the Sony PCM-D100 ($774, discontinued), 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.
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 ($2,339), 4017 ($1,799), 5100 surround model ($3,509)). Schoeps capsules were likewise favoured quite a bit.
The biggest surprise was the desire for a Soundfield ST450 MKii microphone. Ambisonic was growing in popularity at the time of the survey, and has no become mainstream due to the interest from the AR, VR, and gaming communities. The number of times this ambisonic mic appeared on wish lists nearly rivalled the Sennheiser selections for the majority pick. While the ST450 was bought out by Røde some time ago and is no longer available. The NT-SF1 ($999) is a simpler replacement for substantially less money.
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.
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.
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 its sub-$200 price point at the time. Other Sony units have attempted to fill the gap, such as with the PCM-A10. While the Sony PCM-D100 is around $1,129.71, it was also common.
Zoom also reappeared in this category, with the H5 ($299.99) and H6 ($349.99) 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 ($179.99) was well represented, as was the perennial community favourite, the H4n (now updated to the H4n Pro ($249.99)). Tascam had a decent showing here, too, with DR-40 ($193, discontinued), DR-60D ($199.00), DR-70D ($229.99), and DR-100 MKiii ($299, discontinued) models.
Most respondents cleverly supplemented these units with inexpensive microphones, with Soundman OKM II Classic ($129) models being most popular and Primo EM172 ($60) and Lom Uši Pro (€125) versions following. Often these were paired with an outboard preamp, such as a Sound Devices MixPre-D (which although discontinued, can be found used).
A few dreamed a little larger and paired dedicated recorders with pro microphones. The discontinued Fostex FR-2 LE and Zoom F8 (which Zoom has updated to an F8n ($1,099.00)) were perhaps the most common. These were connected to a cross-section of Røde (NTG3 ($699.00)) Line Audio CM3, or Audio Technica (AT4022 ($349) omni condenser, AT835ST stereo shotgun, BP4025 X/Y ($649.00)) 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?
The suggestions were a fairly even balance between Sony offerings (PCM-M10, PCM-D50, PCM-D100 ($774, discontinued)), Zoom models ( H4n Pro ($249.99), H5 ($299.99), H6 ($349.99)), and the Tascam DR-100 MKii (discontinued)/MKiii. In my view, those are all excellent suggestions. The Sony line provides excellent sound quality. The Zoom units offer versatility. The Tascam DR-100 MKiii has its persistent fans at $299 (discontinued), which is an amazing value.
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.
Please note that this article is not a list of endorsements or recommendations – after all, there’s no way I could personally test every model listed here! Instead, the post is intended as a handy list of options you can explore yourself. It’s always best to rent and test field recording gear before making an investment, if you can.
Read More About Field Recording Equipment
- Discover pro field recordist equipment choices in the “A Month of Field Recordist” series (Year 1, Year 2).
- Read an analysis of those pro equipment choices (Year 1, Year 2).
- Browse community field recording gear picks (audio recorders).
- 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 a 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.