Gear for starting out field recording

I’ve had three emails today from people asking advice as to what gear to buy when starting out doing field recording, and rather reply to them directly I thought I’d write some ideas down here, primnarily so I don’t have to keep answering a recurring question but also so others can comment with their advice, experiences & to also reccomend other resources online. But here is my take on it….

 

To give advice there are a few questions that must be answered first:

 

1. Whats your budget?

 

2. Whats the intended purpose of your recordings?

 

3. How long term are you thinking? Is this a hobby, a whim or the start of a career?

 

These three questions are all related. Your immediate budget will be the primary limit of your options, but Q2 and Q3 will inform how that budget should be considered. One scenario is that you are considering a one off purchase with no intention to spend further money. Option two is that this purchase will be the first of many. In fact if sound recording is to be an important part of your career then you will be starting a journey of endless upgrades, and this fact (because it IS a fact) means it is worth thinking & planning long term, from the outset.

 

BEACHY

 

So the easier scenario to discuss is the one off e.g. you’re a muso who would like to do some field recording for your own work; whether its recording your acoustic guitar/whatever while on holiday or away from computers, or recording demoes, or collecting some ambient or found sounds, or a student on a budget. Likely in this case the best option is a portable handheld recorder, the make and model of which I don’t have time to research & make specific reccomendations, but one thing worth considering is that while most portable handheld recorders have built in mics, if you want the option of using other external mics then you likely have to pay a little more to get a portable handheld recorder with XLR mic inputs, and it may be worthwhile pursuing…..

 

Another bit of advice when buying any audio gear: try it before you buy it! Chances are you wont be buying a serious bit of audio gear very often, so you don’t want any surprises when you do – you want to know what you are buying and you also want to have tested it, handled it, recorded something with it & have a feel for how it behaves & performs. Tell the company you are potentially buying from that you need to test it, if they don’t have a test model available try another company or ask around and find someone local who has one & ask to borrow/rent it for a day. Go record some stuff, load the recordings and have a listen.

 

Also: when you have settled on which portable recorder to buy, do some more research and budget for some proper wind protection for it, like these mini Rycotes. These little recorders often come with a thin foam cover which is maybe useable in very light wind but you do not want to ruin a good recording by discovering the limitations of thin crappy foam. And wind takes many forms apart from the literal eg the woosh/wind gust of a train passing or a bamboo stick swishing or whatever…..

 

 

Now before you dive into researching which model, a little bit of pragmatic advice: you get what you pay for. When I bought my Zoom H2 I was on holiday in Japan and I bought it because when travelling light it was impossible to take my full record kit. I’d done a bit of recording in Tokyo and met up with David Vranken, a good friend who I’ve worked on a couple of films with (Number 2, 30 Days of Night) – he was in Japan working on a film and collecting sounds for it, so he DID have his full record kit, a Sound Devices 744 and Schoeps MS rig. I was buzzing out about having the Zoom recorder and made him have a listen, he smiled and gave me his headphones have to a listen….. and well, it was like chalk and cheese.

 

Tokyo

 

You get what you pay for. Don’t go expecting miracles from a tiny cheap recorder with built in mics. If my Zoom h2 cost US$300, then the mic capsules might be worth US$50. You do not get miracles with a $50 mic capsule. You defintiely can record useable sound with them but don’t expect to be recording very quiet ambiences or very quiet sounds where you need to crank a lot of gain and don’t expect to have the same clarity and definition of professional microphones. You get what you pay for. But in my situation on holiday: without the Zoom h2 I would have recorded no sound, and any sound is better than no sound, even if its only useful as a reference.

 

H2
Zoom H2 on holiday at Naoshima, Japan

 

So here’s a few sites to read reviews and compare portable recorders, just be aware new models are being released all the time.

 

– Renes great shootouts: part 1 and part 2 and part 3

 

Wingfields comparisons with samples and a battery comparison test

 

– Comparison charts: Sweetwater and OReilly and Transom and CNet

 

 

So the second scenario: you’re in it for the long term. I’ll bore you with my history of recorders & mics just so you can see where I’m coming from…

 

When I started out my first recorder was a new Tascam DAP1 portable DAT machine (approx US$1000) and a secondhand 416 shogun mic (approx US$1000). The DAP1 was only 16 bit and had fairly noisy preamps if you cranked them much. But I recorded a LOT of sounds with them that have been in films and are in my library and will be used in other films in the future. (And an interesting factoid for any snobs who disregard gear if its not high 24bit 96k etc: all the sound editing for many Oscar winning films was done 16bit 44.1kHz, just as before that many great films were edited using analogue tape) But its an important side note to remember: its not the gear that records interesting sounds, its the person operating it. I bought my first recorder after spending 3 or 4 years of working full time in sound post. If you are starting out, you need to learn to walk, get some experience, make a lot of mistakes, get frustrated & find determination to keep learning before you should dream of running. Aspirations are good and important, but reality dictates you need to learn through experience, through doing, a lot!

 

My first disk based recorder was a Fostex FR2 – the leap up to 24 bit was instantly apparent and so was recording at higher sample rates. The preamps were way better than the DAP1 and at last I could load my sounds faster than real time (although there IS a benefit to loading off DAT – you were forced to listen to all your recordings in a pass without being about to mess with it). I think it cost me more like US$1500 new. About this time I also bought my Sanken CSS5 mic (secondhand US$2k) After 18 months or so the FR2 died, it wad during 30 Days of Night and I remember the moment: we had gone on a field trip to one of the most revolting places I’ve ever been – a factory that disposes of medical wastes by incinerating it at very high temperatures. We needed these sounds for the ‘Muffin Muncher’ in the film and I was recording with a contact mic on a pipe when it made this weird frequency ramping sound followed by silence… As it turns out it was an ominous silence, after getting it checked out it became apparent it was not worth fixing – the cost was prohibitive. So I was forced to upgrade again.

FR2 RIP!
My FR2 – rest in peace!

By this time Sound Devices were getting a lot of respect for their recorders so I bought a 722 (US$3000 new). It felt way better built than the Fostex, like driving a BMW after driving a Toyota (the Toyota still gets you there but the differences are very significant in operation and results)

Slowly I picked up more mics – a pair of Oktavia MK012s (new), a Trance Audio Contact mic (new), some dynamic mics EV RE27, AKG D112, a cheap AKG (secondhand) then a Barcus Berry contact mic (new) then a Sennheiser MKH70 (secondhand). then I bought a second recorder last year, a secondhand Sound Devices 744. Then a Sennhesier MKH816 (secondhand), then sold it and bought a second MKH70 (secondhand) and also bought a pair of DPA 4060s (new).

The reason I recite all this crap is this: do you see any patterns?

Firstly, I’ve upgraded my recorder four times but the mics I’ve generally added to my collection but (mostly) not sold them. Microphones for a sound recordist are like lenses for a photographer or cinematographer, you may only have one recorder but half a dozen mics. Investing in a good recorder means it will last longer, but they are based on technology that is still advancing fairly rapidly and 2 years after your purchase you may well be replacing your recorder, and its resale value will have plummeted.

Another thing to note: microphones are a bit like cars, you pay a premium to buy them new. As soon as you take them out of the store they lose their value drastically. The last MKH70 I bought I paid US$1500 for it, with full Rycote fluffies etc. Thats a US$1800 mic new, and the Rycote and fluffies would probably add another $750 to it, so I saved approx US$1000 by going secondhand! And other than when a mic is newly released or idiosyncratic/rare & not available secondhand, I would always prefer to buy a better mic secondhand than a lesser mic new. But thats just me, trying to make my budget go as far as possible, and get the best gear that I can afford.

Similarly when I bought my 744, I only had the budget to buy a new 722, but I knew I wanted to be able to record more than four tracks (for multiple mics/perspectives but also for the inevitable 5.1 mic array that I’ll eventually find & use) So rather than settle for two 722s I bought a secondhand 744 and it has served me well, along with a secondhand 302 preamp. Would I prefer to have bought new? Of course yes, but I am a pragmatist (and I made sure I got a 3 month guarantee with the 744 just to be sure)

PS602

So whats my advice?

Recorders: Apart from their build quality, design & features, I personally think the C-Link feature on the Sound Devices recorders is truly genius! It means you can add tracks as you can afford to – start off with a stereo 722 or 702, and when the need arises either buy or borrow another one! And by borrow I really mean contra: its likely you know someone else in the same situation as you locally, so loaning them your 722 when they need it means the same is true vice versa. Buy that C-Link cable! But there are plenty of other options of recorders and everyone has their favourites – my FR2 was a good machine while it lasted. So feel free to suggest others in the comments.

Microphones:
This is where it gets tricky, but you will likely want to get a decent shotgun mic to have the sensitivity & directionality to get satisfying results. My first mic was a 416, I did a lot of recording with it and often borrowed a second one when going ambience recording. I still have the mic but very rarely use it as I like my other mics more – the tone of the Sanken CSS5 is better to my ears and when I need it, the directionality, tonality & reach of the MKH70 is far superior to the 416. But that 416 would still get very good results. Whether you invest in MS or a stereo mic or discrete mics is really a personal choice, and one that you will be making and reconsidering throughout your entire career. I’m very happy with the mics I have, but I would LOVE to try the new Sennhesier MKH8060s and 8070s. I’d also love to trial the Sanken 5.1 mic, and the DPA 5.1 mic. But it will likely take a specific project to justify it.

The other stuff: cables, microphone mounts, wind protection, headphones, bags – these all take research, experience & trial & error to find what best suits you. Its evolutionary, so if you are thinking about starting out and buying some field recording equipment, then know this: you will be going through the same decision making and assessment process constantly. Its not that we are all gear freaks in and of itself, what matters is the results – THAT is what should most inform your evolution. Ease of use & efficiency is important, but if that was all that mattered then we’d be back at scenario one: a pocket sized portable recorder. But the best results come from knowing how to use your gear and evolving it as you learn.

 

So here are some questions for experienced people:

 

What would you give higher priority, your first recorder or the mic?

 

Say you had a US$3000 budget for a starter field kit, how would you spend it?

 

Option 1: Sound Devices 702 (new US$1800) + Sennhesier 416 w Rycote (secondhand US$1000) + Headphones & bag (US$200)

 

Option 2: ?

 

UPDATE: THANKS to all the people who have commented with suggestions!

UPDATE 2: I’m also happy for people to comment with links to trusted equipment suppliers for field recording & production sound, apart from actual manufacturers like Sound Devices or Sennheiser etc I also mean rental and equipment resellers who specialise in production sound.

Here in New Zealand we are blessed to have Sound Techniques which is where I bought both of my Sound Devices recorders as well as Sanken mic and any number of essential accessories

82 Responses to Gear for starting out field recording

  1. Colton Rybus says:

    Nice post!

    My first big-time field recording setup was/is:

    Sound Devices 702 ($1900)
    Rode NTG-3 (used) ($550)
    Rode PG2 & WS7 (pistol grip and softie) ($140)

    I also bought a modified pair of MK012s with all the caps, but that went over the $3000

    My next purchase to add to this would be a Sony D50 with a Denecke PS2 for mobile discrete recording and ambiences and also a cheap, high quality extra 2 channels because I can’t afford another 702 or 744t..

    Not sure what I would do without the Sound Devices. Hands down, best recorder available for the price. The sony battery operation alone is huge! No more 8 AA batteries for the FR2.

    • Steve says:

      Colton, I have a PS2 sitting in a cupboard that I’d be happy to part with. Let me know when you’re in the market.

  2. Enos Desjardins says:

    When purchasing my first field recorder I knew I was in for the long term. I’ve always been one to invest in quality and go for the best I can get even if it means not getting a full kit straight away! So I went and bought a second hand Sound Devices 744T and don’t know how I could live without it! It has never failed on me, it just works, its sturdy, easy to use, packed with features, some GREAT preamps, great limiters….Can’t recommend Sound Devices stuff enough! As Tim mentioned the C-Link feature is great and allows for syncing of multiple 7-series SD recorders making your investment very worthwhile and modular/flexible!

    However I now had no money for microphones! Duh! Happily I had access to a fair selection of mics so started doing all kind of recording with a pair of Neumann KN184’s which I really liked! Soon later as I was going to Canada for the summer I couldn’t afford really top mics but needed something to take with me so bought a second hand pair of AKG SE300 (Blueline modular) mics! They served me well and I still have them and use them as mono spot mics on multiple mic recordings. My next purchase was a Sennheiser MKH 416T which soon got sold and replaced with my current Sennheiser MKH60 (a short shotgun mic) which is great and can work better for FX recording as it has switchable high boost. Shortly after I added a Sennheiser MKH30 (figure-of-eight) and have really been getting into MS recording and enjoying the portability of it (all in one Rycote). Talking about Rycote, I bought three full Rycote windshield kits as well as two Manfrotto Nano stands (which I read about here on the blog!).

    One thing I must say and that is that mic acqisition is way too addictive. Therefore I recently purchased a Schoeps CMC6 with an MK41 capsule and am hopefully adding a second CMC6 or at least another capsule sometime soon!

    I can’t see me replacing the 744T anytime soon but I can see me doing it long before I have to consider upgrading or selling off my mics! Microphones are much more an investment than anything else!

  3. Wow, thanks for this post! It’s very informative. I am just starting out so of course I bought a ZOOM H4n and thought it was the most amazing thing ever(this was less than a year ago) but now I’m finding all of the thing I wish it could do better…like be quieter. I’ve made some great recordings with it but they all need a lot of work afterwards to make them useable.
    Thanks again. It’s really helpful.

  4. Alex Donkle says:

    My first recording setup, as I was a student, was an NTG-3 with a Rode blimp, 2 SM58s, a Sound Devices MixPre, and into a Zoom H4n with a windshield. The zoom’s portability definitely helped me record a lot more than I would’ve otherwise, but the Zoom wasn’t meant to be bagged and made field FX far more cumbersome than they would’ve otherwise been. Definitely would recommended a bagable setup from the start.

  5. Miles B. says:

    Thanks man. Your analogy’s accurate, but the 744’s more of a Lamborghini or something… and the 788’s an Aston Martin. Our school has a 744, so I’ve been a bit spoiled :). But yeah, with a budget of 3000, my top priority would be to get a Sound Devices recorder; probably a 702. Once I finally get my hands on one, then maybe I’ll remember that I need something to connect to those lovely preamps.

    As a side note, how important is it to get a recorder with time code? I figure it’ll depend on a bunch of factors, but how often might someone like myself who’s getting those starting jobs encounter a situation where TC’s necessary?

    • tim says:

      The only use I know of for timecode would be as a production recordist i.e. recording sound in sync on a shoot. As I have never done this I am not one to offer advice on the subject, as its a whole other world where advice should come from those with experience…..

      • Miles B. says:

        Okay, I find that fascinating since my whole conception of field recording was it’s usually done in the context of a shoot unless you’re gathering SFX… I just didn’t realize it’s possible to build a career around field audio without ever needing to dive into production sound. What is it that you do then?

        • tim says:

          Where do you think every ambience, vehicle sound and sound effect etc comes from? Production sound primarily record dialogue (they get whatever wild ambiences and sound effects that they can, but these usually would only provide about 5% of whats required for the ambiences & sound effects in a film soundtrack) All the other elements of the soundtrack are recorded by sound effects editors, sound designers and field recordists, or covered by the foley team….
          I do field recording as a part of my role as a film sound effects editor/designer (and for HISSandaROAR libraries) – I don’t know many/any people who make a living solely from field recording (and I dont mean production sound)

          • Miles B. says:

            I guess working in student films where each department’s a single person, I’ve gotten used to handling all of the above. Haha. If there’s a career to be had beyond production sound and post mixing… wow. That’s cool. I’ve seen credits for what you’re talking about: sfx editor, sound designer. It just seems like a very small and difficult niche to get into.

  6. Miles B. says:

    Scratch that, the 788’s a Bugatti.

  7. Steve Urban says:

    My first rig started small and grew rapidly. It is currently comprised of (in order of purchase):
    PCM-M10 (New)
    Rode NT4 (New)
    Sound Devices MixPre (Used)
    Rode NTG3 (New)
    Rode Blimp (New)
    Barcus Berry 4000xl (Used)
    DPA 4060 pair (New, ARRIVED TODAY!)
    Cables/Bag/Accesories (Owned/New/Used)

    The combo of the MixPre and the M10 is pretty nice. You get the Sound Devices pres and when the M10 craps out I can either get another, or upgrade. Although at this rate I’m hoping this’ll last for a while. I’ve assembled my package over the last year and a half. Including the estimated cost of the items I already owned, I’m about US$50 over the three grand budget. But I’m really happy with it so far. The addition of the 4060 pair is something I’ve really been looking forward to. Stealth recording with a NT4 is possible, but challenging.

  8. Joe Cavers says:

    Fantastic article Tim, well done again.

    @Steve that’s interesting to hear, I have an M10 and was wondering how that setup would work (M10 + MixPre). Is it easy and quick to use when you’re out in the field?

    • Steve says:

      It’s a pretty straightforward rig. Though I’m still figuring out the best way to pack it all together. I just picked up a Maxpedition Sitka based on NoiseJockey’s review, so that’s my next experiment. But for a modest entry point I haven’t been disappointed with my combo. It suits my purposes quite well actually.

  9. robin says:

    Most of the suggestions here are still targeting the big spender. But I’d also like to encourage those on the margins of sound recording to dip into decent fidelity. For 99% of the sound quality of a Sound Devices at one-fifth the price, the Fostex FR-2LE cannot be beat. What is lacking is the tough build quality of an SD, but so long as you are not going to a stressful environment (Amazon basin, Antarctica) that will be OK.

    I also like to encourage the use of hand-held recorders, since they can be with you at all times, even when your serious rig is at home. And they sure beat what your phone will capture. For the lowest noise floor using built-in mics, the Sony PCM-M10 is the ticket. You say “don’t go expecting miracles” from a small recorder, but actually these babies deliver. Worlds better than the junky build and noisy amps of a Zoom. I can also recommend the Olympus units, which have the best build in the business… unless you add a zero to the end of the price. (I have a good number of articles covering these on my blog.)

    Mics are another question. The Sennheiser ME66 Supercardioid short shotgun with K6 power module has the advantage of running off battery power, so you can use it with a portable recorder lacking phantom. Even if the sound quality is not going to touch the big boys, it will be sufficient for many.

    For pencil omnis I use the ultra-quiet Audio-Technica 3032, so good that AT discontinued them and replaced them with a new model at twice the price.

    My kit currently lacks something like the DPA 4060, but the home-brew lavs I use, likely based on the Panasonic WM-61, are decent for binaural recordings.

  10. jeff p says:

    hey guys

    So my ultra budget set up is my sony pcm-d50

    I then upgraded the preamps to the shure fp24 (same as the sound devices mixpre) I find they are cheaper on ebay then the sound devices branded ones. So I go mini out of the fp24 to the mini in on the sony pcmd50 and I bought a robe blimp and (for now as I am thinking long term) a rode nt4 stereo mic.

    The results are way better and the budget is probably around $1300 all in (used prices).

    My next upgrade planned is a m/s mic. Either the sanken css5 or a neumann 191. I need to do some searching as both are rare as hens teeth on the used market.

    After that I plan on buying a sound devices 744 and gain the ability to use the pcmd50 the nt4 and a m/s mic all at once.

    The schoeps double m/s 5.0 matrix plug-in interests me as well and that would use 3 channels to get a 5.0 ambiance.

    http://www.schoeps.de/en/products/dms_plugin

  11. robin says:

    Tim: I think that is about right for a budget setup. Although some might wish to have both the shoulder recorder and the hand recorder — have the former with you all the time and take the latter out when it is called for.

    Of course so much depends on whether you need mono versus stereo and the degree of noise floor that is permissible.

  12. ab-arts says:

    Tim et al, that was inspiring. I upgraded my recorder once, I started with a 80$ crappy-thing, then upgraded to the Olympus LS10. Which I really like. Sound is okay, handling is easy, features are good, and it’s stealth 😉 So small that it can join me on each trip.
    But this article inspired me to look out for a mic upgrade. So I just sent the money for a Beyerdynamic MCE86NCS. Thanks to this article I realized that used mics are really not that expensive at all. I hope that this is a lasting investment and a step forward in sound quality. As soon as it arrives (hopefully this week so I can record next weekend) I’ll watch out for a Manfrotto nano stand and a Rycote, and next maybe a boompole and the rode blimp.

  13. Callum says:

    Cheers for the in information Tim, really helpful.
    I’m looking at a usable small setup for doco’s and short films so the info is really handy.
    I’m also a musician and keen to do field recording to use as samples in my music.
    I think the ZoomH4n maybe a starter with a senny mic and rycote fluffy.
    I’ve been using a Fostex FR2 as a hired kit and quite like it in its simple interface.

  14. milo says:

    I’ve used a bunch of recorders and mikes and I’d say that you always want to buy something that you will use even if you upgrade later. I’ve got an H2 as well, and an SD MP-2. If I get a 744 (I use a 722 at work) then the MP-2 can run as the second pair of pre amps or the H2 can hold up well with the MP-2 as a second location source.

    I’d never buy crappy mikes, they just are not worth it. That doesn’t mean expensive, it just means you should demo everything you can get your hands on and then find out what you like. DO NOT BUY SOMETHING YOU HAVE NOT HEARD. Doesn’t matter how much someone else likes it, listen to it first, on your own gear, with your own ears (be skeptical of shootouts, most people don’t do it right. Rene seems to be one of the few who does it right.).

    For effects recording I’d never buy crappy preamps either. Mediocre preamps are fine for anything in the “normal volume” range but as effects recordists we spend most of our time with things that are louder than standard or quieter than standard. We need the best preamps in the world, no one else needs better preamps.

    I would rarely go in the field without a Sound Devices preamp somewhere in the chain. Used MixPres are around $500 and worth every single penny. No preamp I have ever used has better limiters or clips as nicely. I tend not to run the limiters at all and have never had a problem even with the occasional clipping.

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  18. Chris says:

    what an awesome Blog! and Tim Prebble just discovered your work via your awesomely shot promo videos for your sets of sounds! you sell – what an artist, nice one and generous of you to give back and help out emerging sound effects artists, well you’re a kiwi and “tipping” isn’t part of your culture which I noticed when I was on holiday there, waiters/waitreses were just nice not expectingb anything as were the people, jeez what a different laid back atitude there! awesome people, awesome place!

    I’m looking into the Sony M10 and a MixPre too but the only hassle I see is that I have to mix all the mics first because I don;t have independent track recording in the M10 so if I were recording a lav and a boom mic I’d have to get them right in the mixer first.

    I might get a 702.

    Hey Tim did you ever get that MKH8060? I’m deciding on that or that old school MKH416.

    • tim says:

      thanks Chris

      re the M10, can you not keep mics seperate simply by assigning outputs eg boom Left and radio mics Right?

      And nope, I don’t own an 8060 – I own a pair of 8040s, an 8050 and an 8020 for my Telinga
      I will add a second 8020 soemtime but for shotgun mics its more the 8070s I would go for…
      But the 8070 is not a direct comparison to 416…

      At least there are plenty of 416s around secondhand, so you could likely pick up a good deal with one including its Rycote

  19. Efe Samuels says:

    G’day Tim,

    I have being researching or looking for sound recordist equipment list after watching countless West Africa made-movies and documentaries with poor sound quality despite the great story line.
    As an ex-pat Kiwi living in Aussie and relocating to Ghana next year (don’t ask me why :-)), i need to get an additional source of income (sound recordist for some home movies/big budget films) while i do some IT Consultancy work.
    Sadly, i have no training on sound recording but, would love to do a crash course, invest my budgeted amount of A$3000 for equipments (a few mics including wireless radio mics, boom mics and lapel mics).
    Would really appreciate your input/suggestions on how to proceed. I like the concept of Time Code (TC) as i plan to record sound during shooting. The problem with West African movies is that they prefer ‘live’ recording to voice-overs as it tend to be out-of-synch.

    Many Thanks

    E. Samuels

  20. Sujanth Soosai says:

    Really insightful, thank you for taking the time and sharing this information.

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  22. amy says:

    great Blog!! Thanks to you for sharing this informative article. Check out my Site http://www.soundtechmedia.com

  23. ac13 says:

    Hola, estuve leyendo algunos comentarios y veo que hay varios que no están conformes con el ZOOM H4n y yo estoy por comprarmela. Recién comienzo con las grabaciones de campo pero quiero una grabadora portátil que me sirva bastante tiempo.qué me recomiendan? Muchas gracias por la información. Saludos

  24. Thanks for your straight, incisive, generous advice
    Peter

  25. Curt says:

    Hi

    I do hope i could impose a somewhat “random” question, and realise you may have been swamped by these already, if so I apologise. You did start the post I have just read along the lines of constant questions about this subject. I found the post interesting, and will keep reading in the future.

    Basically I am interested in tentatively exploring options for myself to field record sounds: i have enjoyed alot of music in the past with this as a premise. But it is not my PRIMARY area of interest. These days it is possibly easier to be interesed in and apply many art forms due to the amount of info available. Be that as it may< I wonder if you could advise me on this: could I record sounds wholely digitally with say an investment in an i-pad coupled with a REALLY good field recording microphone? With a fluffy cap on it.. I think thats the question i must ask..

    I could explain more factors but this is the point i must make. It sounds from your post like the upgrade factor is in constant considoration, I am certainly not technically clued up but am aware of the changes in hi-fi.. I own a really great analogue Goodmans amplifier and loudspeaker setup which is possibly older than I am!

    again excuse me if this seems random, I appreciate the time given its considoration and will continue my search in the interum.

    • tim says:

      the short answer: i dont know – i have never used or tried a combination like you suggest… but I suspect you might be better off with one of the new generation of handheld recorders, with built in mics – at least then you can try it out & its not such a big investment (say us$500-us$1k) whereas “a REALLY good field recording microphone” along would cost more than that, then add a good preamp for iPad (does one exist?) and an iPad… It really depends on what you intend to sue the soudns for, the final context, and the range of sounds…

      • Curt says:

        Quite right! I will consider further then!! Or just make a small investment as you say.. I just may have to go for the tablet first! Thanks again

        • Though I have not used these myself with my first generation iPAD, I was {reasonably} impressed with what I have heard done by several “hobbyist” friends, and with the reviews {notably} Sound-On-Sound, and TapeOp, that I will offer this alternative to investing in a handheld recorder/mic combo, as you are just getting started, which will save you some $’s, and still give you some experience.

          http://www.rodemic.com/microphones/ixy

          recording/editing application:

          http://www.rodemic.com/software/roderec

          The recorder/editor is very {VERY} basic, but functional. Have fun. 😉

  26. Sindhu says:

    Hi,

    I’d like to know where you can buy second hand audio gear in the US? Any good online market places or do you always go through people you know?

    Thank you!

    Sindhu

  27. James Langford says:

    Hi! Pretty new to field recording here – I’m currently trying to find high-quality, very stable mic stands for location recording, but haven’t had much luck. I’ve tried stage mic stands in the past but with a blimp on the end, they tend to get blown over in windy conditions unless I put something heavy on the legs.

    Any help would be very much appreciated 🙂

    Keep up the fantastic work!

    -James

    • tim says:

      If I am in such windy conditions as you describe I probably wouldn’t be using a mic stand as I would need to be handheld to find positions that are out of the path of direct wind while still giving access to the sound of the wind hitting objects etc…. When I recorded GALE FORCE WIND Library I was using lightweight stands & didn’t have too much problem if I kept them low to the ground & legs fully spread AND out of the direct path of wind… I was using the Manfrotto Nano light stands as mic stands then… So what I am suggesting is experimenting with technique….

  28. Lee says:

    This article has been a great resource and I’ve seen it a good few times in the last few years when looking into recording equipment… I’ve always enjoyed recording for the love of it and don’t really have any mobile recording equipment (mics excluded). I’ve recently been offered a 744T (around 2 years old) at something around £1700 GBP and I’m struggling to justify the cost when I could get a Tascam DR-680 or something similar for £1000 less. Is the SD recorder still a worthwhile investment?

    • tim says:

      I’ve never used a Tascam DR680, so I don’t have an opinion on it but from what I have read it is plastic & the preamps are not as good as the 744. If you aren’t working professionally it may well be all you need, but may well end up having to replace it 2-4 years from now.

      • Lee says:

        Thanks for the reply 🙂 Going off your experiences it would make sense to invest in the better recorder since it has a solid reputation and will more than likely last much longer. Cheers!

  29. Leonardo says:

    Great article!
    do you think that something like new Apogee MiC could be any good for field recordings?
    http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/mic
    it looks more like an amateur studio mic but from what the demos i heard it sounds pretty good compared to Zoom and Rodes.
    from what i can see the main downside is that is mono but i am also not sure how it would be appropriate for recording around

    • tim says:

      Hmmm. Dont know, sorry… Given the price point it isn’t going to compete with a good shotgun mic in a Rycote, but that isn’t its intended purpose and you get what you pay for….

  30. Joao says:

    Nice article!But anyway im really short of money and i have a h2 zoom,my question is this:theres some kind of micro that i can buy to adapt in the H2 and record any decent ambient sound as wind,water etc??Just to try it as a starter to see what can i do with it…thanx

  31. James says:

    Great read, I’m currently putting together a small sound gathering package just for fun. So far I’ve got the Rode NTG-3 and blimp, ATH-M50x headphones, plenty of cables but still haven’t decided on a recorder. I’m thinking the FR-2LE is my best bang for buck option at £420, The SD702 is around £1700 which in comparison which is insane and well out of my price range. I can’t seem to find anything other than the FR-2LE that give decent results at a decent price with good battery life (phantom engaged). But at the same time it’s a seven year old product….. Does anyone have any suggestions on a recorder?

  32. Chris Allan says:

    Hi!

    I am sound designer and I just started making field recordings with my fr2 and the mics I use in the studio. They are not shotguns: a pair of akg c214 and a pair of neuman km 184. I am happy with the result when using them in ortf stereo setup and also in mono collecting sounds. My question is that a pair of shotgun is a better choice for stereo recording? My goal is to use the ambiences in movies and in games. I know that shotguns can exlude unwanted noises but from the standpoint of realism a pair of omni capsules or two large diaphragm condensers are not a better choice? Great article! You are not only a good field recordist but a talanted writer as well!
    keep up the fascinating work!

    chris

    • tim says:

      There are a number of different issues to consider:

      The first is dependent on what you are actually recording, which is harder to generalise about… each situation requires listening & thinking about how you will capture which aspects…

      Omnis are brighter & offer very little directionality which means you have far less options for controlling a situation eg say you might want to record an airport ambience & minimise the city background. With shotgun mics this is possible, with omnis it is far more difficult…

      Also omnis tend to sound far brighter eg recording the ocean being omni they pickup every wave sound, whereas you may be wanting to capture specific wave breaks & not the general ambience of everything…

      Another consideration is wind protection

      Another consideration is sensitivity

  33. Kevin says:

    Fantastic article!!!
    I was looking into getting either a DPA stereo pair of the 4060’s or a pair of the 2006c’s. What’s your opinion on the DPA mics I mentioned and will they be suffice for nature recordings and sound design?

    Thanks!!!

    • tim says:

      the DPAs are great little mics – they are omni so they pick up everything (the downside is you cant use directionality to avoid unwanted sounds, and they tend to be brighter sounding than more directional mics) – they do have a bit of self noise, so for very quiet sounds not the best (but they cost a third of the price of a pair of 8040s)

      I havent used 2006cs so cant comment on them…

  34. nick harrisno says:

    Thanks Tim, great article and good advice!

    My gear in order of purchasing:

    For making soundscape recordings whilst studying (to use for school assessments):

    Zoom h4n
    Rode nt-4
    Rode ntg-3
    Korg MR1000

    did some travelling with Greg Simmons (on his fantastic GEOS projects) and picked up a recording project as a result so then brought:

    Nagra VI
    4 x DPA4023
    Nagra EMP

    and more recently started picking up a little sound for film work so added

    Sennheiser MKH-60
    Lectrosonics 200 series Tx/Rx
    2 x Sanken cos-11s

  35. andrew says:

    any suggestions on high quality binaural microphones? Either in-ear or dummy head style?

  36. John says:

    Hi Tim! Thx for s great article and also to all the people who shared some knowledge in the comments.

    I am currently putting together a rig for nature ambiences recording. I have purchased a second hand Fostex FR2LE and now I’m looking for a second hand pair of microphones.
    Which ones do you think would be worth considering for my purposes?
    I am willing to spend around 600 USD.

  37. Kevin Durr says:

    My first serious recording setup was a Sound Devices 702T, a pair of DPA 2006c omni mics(Rycote Baby Ball Gag with windjammers x 2), a M/S setup(Schoeps CMC6U x 2, MK41/MK8 capsules, Rycote Stereo Windshield WS AE MS Kit), Sound Devices Mix Pre D fed into a Zoom H5 in case I want to record 3-4 tracks at the same time. I just purchased a stereo pair of DPA 4060 omni mics to experiment with binaural recordings and whatnot.

  38. Iago says:

    Thanks for so very interesting reflections.
    I have used until now a Zoom H2n to do field recording and I want to get a gear which give me better sound quality and more flexibility for mics configuration. A microphone I am interested id the Line Audio CM3, but I have some doubts on the recorder, mainly between Tascam DR 680 MkII or Fostex FR-2LE. I do not want to spend much more (prices of SD) since I am not a professional. Can you suggest me something?

    • tim says:

      Either of those recorders would be a step up… I haven’t used those mics so can’t comment bu I suggest you borrow or rent whatever gear you are considering and do some real world tests eg some loud sounds and some quiet ambiences… See how it feels to use the gear but then go listen to the recordings in studio and compare results with your h2

      It’s only worth spending money if you can hear the difference

  39. Pingback: Onsetoffline | Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide

  40. I have a cheap, all battery powered studio setup that may inspire field recordists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGZTy3fjpUY

  41. sam says:

    How about using apogee one as mic preamp and an ipad with rode ntg-2? I like the apogee preamps, but I’ve never listened to sound devices

  42. Théo says:

    Hi, and thank you for your very useful blog and inspiring work.

    I’m going to buy my first shotgun microphone in the near future. I want to invest in a great microphone that I won’t need to replace further down the line. This also means that I’ll be stuck with only this one mic for a while. I wanted to buy a MKH70, as my main microphone to record isolated sounds. Can it be used for proximity recordings, as well as long reach ones ? Is there a more versatile mic ?

    • tim says:

      The MKH70 is less versatile than shorter shotgun mics – I seriously think you need to rent an MKH70 for a day and try it before committing to it. There are lots of other alternatives, and be aware of the size of the MKH70 and its Rycote – it is not the most portable mic eg if travelling by plane you would have to put it in stowage as would not fit in overhead compartment. Lots of other shotgun mics have been mentioned above – if I was you I would continue researching and try to make a final list of 3 mics, then rent each one of them for a day and have a good record list to test them out AND then compare the recordings listening in a studio. It is the results that matter most after all.

      • Théo says:

        It’s been a few months since your very useful advice, and I finally acquired a second-hand Neumann KMR 81. Your advice has really helped me figuring out what my first shotgun mic should be, so thank you very much.

        Also I wanted to ask, is there someone here who has tested both the rode blimp mk2 and a rycote windshield ? Because I can’t figure a way to do so myself. Is there a real difference, especially in sound ? With windshields in general there is always a bit of high end roll off, is it more obvious with the blimp ? If someone knows that, that would really help me plan my recording set up, and use my budget effectively… Thank you !

  43. Jim Hully says:

    Hi Tim,

    I found this site through Google and enjoyed reading all the suggestions for getting into this type of recording. I have limited understanding of the principles behind sound recordings but I really enjoy listening to the ambient sounds of nature that serve to remind me of my adventures. I’m a birder & photographer who does a fair amount of travel. The one thing I miss is being able to record a dawn chorus, the seashore or simple the night sounds associated with those trips. I have a PCM-M10 with Sennheiser MKE600 for recording bird songs but I want something more practical for recording ambient sounds. Ideally, it is a single piece of equipment that I can put on a tripod or mount on a branch and I can leave for prolonged periods. Carrying a recorder, a pre-amp and microphone rig is one thing considering I usually have a large & heavy camera rig but trying to set that up is going to test my very short patience. When I tried just using the PCM-M10 or the original Zoom recorder the sounds are simply too faint and quickly suffer from hiss if amplified. I’m probably asking for the dream solution but what are my options if I put a $2000 limit?

    Thanks for your input and great blog

    • tim says:

      You are really describing a handheld recorder, which will always be a compromise of convenience over quality especially when it comes to the built in microphones – the photographers comparison would be that of a DSLR cf to a point & shoot camera. The latter can still take great photos but wont cope in low light etc

      While my main gear is based on Sound Devices recorders & a collection of mics, I bought a Sony D100 handheld recorder when in Japan last time. Its close to the top of the line for handheld recorders, and my advice would be to see if you can find someone local to you who has one and rent it from them for a day to do some tests and see if that satisfies you. Generally speaking, a beach or a dawn chorus is not that quiet so you should be able to get good results with it. If you do get a D100 or any handheld recorder, just make sure you also invest in proper wind protection for it too.

      I dont have experience with other handheld recorders (other than my old Zoom H2) so hard to offer more advice than this for handheld recorders…

      The other, far better option, for your budget would be to try & find/buy a secondhand Sound Devices 722 or 702 recorder and then get a stereo mic or a pair of mics. Such a setup is fairly simple to set up, and would be more likely to still be of use to you 5+ years later.

  44. Jim Hully says:

    Thanks Tim,

    My camera gear comes first (DSLR with 600mm) and takes up pretty much all my space when it is on me or getting on a plane. If I invested in those Sound Devices I would have to leave my camera gear behind. I realize it is going to be a compromise but I can live with some noise and I don’t need any spatial separation. I will see if I get hold of a D100 but I really don’t like Sony. My PCM-M10 has it’s good and bad days with the mSD card and after poor Sony service on some ES audio gear, I am reluctant to give them any more money.

    What are your thoughts on Niagra SD with their own clip-on mics?

    Thanks,

    Jim

    Thanks

    • tim says:

      I’ve never used any of the newer Nagras & dont know anyone with one to ask, sorry!

      & yes, I hear you re DSLR & lens – I lug my 5D3 and 100-400 + Zeiss primes almost everywhere I go… along with motion control slider, tripods etc…. & my drone… but each of my specific missions is usually dedicated to one medium or the other… If field recording then its likely only my 5D & 1 lens with me (or nowadays likely only my tiny Sony a6300) and when I have all my camera gear with me its hard to also carry a proper sound rig. I’m planning my next Japan trip & am determined to find some kind of balance between the two mediums… Hate being somewhere amazing & being frustrated by gear, but it gets tiresome always being on max baggage allowance too!

    • tim says:

      Great photos btw – just had a look at some on Flickr….
      Have you read this book? I listened to an audiobook of it, while on a road trip – found it thoroughly fascinating
      Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead
      https://www.amazon.com/Bird-Sense-What-Its-Like/dp/1620401894
      http://bird-sense.com/the-book/

  45. Pingback: Gear for starting out field recording — Nimlos' BLOG

  46. Hi Tim, in both article and comments there is lots of precious info! Since budget and portability are major concerns, I feel definitely inclined for the combination you suggested:

    “Sony PCM-M10 (newUS$220) + Senn ME66 (secondhand US$400-US$500) + rode blimp/bag/headphones etc = total budget US$900”

    I have only a couple of questions. In order to get the Senn ME66 going, I’d need a Senn K6 to power it up right?

    Also the Sony PCM-M10 has been discontinued (and almost impossible to find second hand in Europe) so I’d have to go for the Sony PCM-D100, which is far more expensive, or the Tascam DR-100 MK3. This would allow me to record specific sounds with the Senn ME66 and use the built-in mics for stereo ambiences, right?

    In case I go with the Sony PCM-100, which has no XLR inputs (the Tascam does), how should I connect it to the ME66? With a XLR-minijack cable connected to the K6?

    What are your thoughts on this?

    Thanks a lot for your time! All the best,

    Hugo

    • tim says:

      I didnt reccomend the M10 and ME66 – I have never used either….. I own a D100 but haven’t tried using external mics with it

  47. Keith Dayer says:

    I can still find the Sony M10 recorders, and highly recommend them as an integral part of your initial kit. First, they pair beautifully with the Mixpre and MixPre-D. I used this rig in a small Petrol bag, and used the Sony’s included remote to stop and start recordings, by clipping it to my bag strap where I could see the record LED. Later on when you upgrade, the M10 is invaluable for both recording ambient background on location, or putting on talent with a lav mic like an OST-801, as a kind of poor man’s wireless. It gets excellent results, and the recorder can slip in talent’s pocket. I now have a SD633, and thinking of keeping my Mixpre-D as two extra preamps. If you think you will be expanding your kit in the future, I would not hesitate for a moment in getting a used Mixpre-D and a Sony M10, because they are so darn versatile and compact, you will want them for backup and other uses later on, and they both last. My 6 channel DR-680 I sold once I got the 633, and never looked back. Night and day difference. My NTG-3 was bought off the ‘bay used for about $300. Could sell it for a profit now, but it’s not leaving me. My theory is twofold: Buy once, cry once – is my mantra on new, good gear, like Schoeps and Sound Devices, but if you do buy used good gear, it’s best to buy from a company or individual who will accept returns if the product is not as advertised, such as hidden issues. Don’t buy cheap gear and expect it to hold any value. The DR-680 was such a lesson. I knew about its battery life issues before I bought, but the amount it depreciated was more than what a used SD recorder would likely have in the same amount of time (about a year). So the point is – look at the financial options and weigh those, and read, read, read before jumping in. One last recommendation – Eneloop AA batteries are your friend for SD mixer/recorders. Even my 633 uses them for backup power.

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