Monday, 29 September 2014


OMNI-DIRECTIONAL MICROPHONES: the pick up pattern of omni's is spherical, so the microphone gathers sound from all around the capsule. You can get 2 types of omni microphone - small omni's and conventional size 'barrel' style omni's. Whether you have an entry level hand-held recorder or a professional one, getting a pair of small omni's is the quickest way to extend the range of your set-up. 

If you're recorder is only equipped with a mini-jack input socket that has 'plug-in power' you're restricted to omni's that have a mini-jack and don't need phantom power (P48). If your recorder has XLR inputs then go for omni's that have XLR's and require P48.

small omni's are particularly good for field recording as they have a warm, decent low frequency response sound and reject handling noise. With the well put together ones you can, more or less, shake them around whilst recording and not hear the handling noise at all (though the effect of the sound might make one wobble !). They also let you get your mics in some interesting places that a barrel-design mic wouldn't fit into.

There are decent quality lower cost pairs of small omni's on the market and also mid-price range and very, very good ones at a higher cost. Amongst the better ones are those produced by:

budget:
MM Audio - BSM9's mini-jack/plug in power (around £60-£80 a pair depending on currency fluctuations)
Naiant - X-X xlr / p48  (nb. I no longer recommend these as Naiant have taken the decision not to supply customers outside if the USA / Canada)
Micbooster / Fel - clippy mics with 3.5mm jack (currently £68 a pair)
Micbooster / Fel - xlr em172 with xlr jacks (currently £104 a pair)
in-ear design:
Soundman OKMII (depends on currency fluctuations and which country one is in - around £200 a pair most places)
Sound Professional binaural pair - with 3.5mm jack (currently around £60-£80 a pair)

nb. there are an increasing number of other folks building and selling small omni's mics, most using the same capsules. The ones above are suggested as they offer good quality, professionally built products, good customer service and have a good reputation. Some of the other brands have issues with their products or attitudes. 


mid-range:
Rode Lavalier - can be used with mini-jack or xlr (£150 each / £300 a pair)
nb. there are also other makes at this kind of price level - the Rode wins as it comes with its own, clip-connect windjammers with a built in 'space' and again most of the others in this price range use very similar capsules but can cost more.

the gold standard:
Sanken cos-11 - p48 required (approx £240-£350 each)
DPA4060 - p48 required / xlr and various other connections for pro-recorders / mixers (currently, nov 2016, around £800 for the stereo kit)



DPA SMK4060 stereo kit


Sanken COS-11



Rode Lavalier


MM Audio BSM9's


Naiant x-x omni


having tested and used just about every small omni on the market the DPA's are, quite simply, some of the best sounding mics you'll hear and whilst they might appear expensive to some, when you consider that they sound as good and indeed better than mics costing several thousand £'s they're actually very reasonably priced. 

nb. all prices quoted are UK prices and include possible import charges for the ones that can only be purchased from overseas.

You'll need some form of wind protection for your omni's: you can mount them inside a standard blimp (wind protection cage for microphones) or you can buy small fluffy windjammers. As with all windjammers try to avoid the really cheap ones on ebay and other sites as they're usually just fake-fur rather than proper acoustically transparent material and they'll muffle your sound to various degrees. Of the 'best' ones there are Rycote (approx. £30-£35 a pair) and Bubblebee Industries (approx. £28 each). Personally I use the BBi's as a) they stay on ! (the Rycote's tend to fall off quite easily) and b) they have small bubble inside providing space around the capsule, which also helps with protecting them from wind-impact noise. 

of all the 'barrel' design larger omni's there are, as usual, lots to choose from. If you're on a budget or have a medium amount to spend Rode tend to offer decent mics for the price, as do Pearl, Oktava & some folks also like sE and other lower cost brands. Personally I find Rode and Pearl offer the best value for money at these price ranges. Moving up in terms of cost it is true that there are certain brands that are 'safe buys' - such as DPA, Sennheiser, Neumann, Sanken & Schoeps - these can range from £1000 up to £4000 per mic. 

Omni capsules are often used in Surround / Ambisonic mics - more about this in a future post.



TECHNIQUE: as with all microphones, the craft of using them is (and should be imo) personal. One can read countless books and web pages on the placement of any microphone but getting out there & experimenting is really the only way to learn what works for you and what doesn't. Two particularly good placement techniques for small omni's are binaural and 'spaced omni's'. 

SPACED OMNIS: here the two omni mics are clipped to either the mounting rings of a blimp or some other bar / mount (including oneself, a bag / rucksack or indeed the classic Watson-style coat hanger - particularly useful as it comes with its own handy handle / ground spike). The sound you'll get using this technique has a great sense of space and sound localisation - very 'open' and immersive for the listener.

Omni-directional microphones have a good low end response and therefore can have (depending on which ones are used) a general sound profile that is nearer to the sound we hear with our own ears - hence it has the ability to immediately tap in to your audiences subconscious listening process.

Unlike ‘binaural’ recordings, spaced omni recordings can be played back through loudspeakers, from stereo to ambisonic and multi channel.

You can place a baffle between the two mic capsules and there are various techniques for doing this, for example the classic ‘Jeckin Disk’. Some of these techniques aim at an accurate ‘binaural’ recording and others play with the effects of sound on locations.

BINAURAL: for more information on this technique see: 

Put simply, a pair of decent omni microphones is a very good addition to any recording kit and is rather useful for those starting out who want to extend the reach of their hand held recorder.


in addition:
just to clarify a few things: DPA's (and indeed most decent omni's) don't need to be in a suspension really - they're omni's so they reject handling noise (another good reason to get some !).
Mounting them next to ones ears is one technique yes but the most common use for them across all sectors of field recording / location recording is as personal mics in sound crew work & next to that its as spaced omni's for wider field recording applications.
I’ve heard a couple of people mentioning that using them next to your ears will give you 'sort of' binaural but actually it is full, proper binaural- there's a slight difference of opinion amongst recordists as to whether in ear or out of ear works best for binaural but both are fully binaural techniques. As I said there is a difference of opinion but personally (& i'm not alone in thinking this) out of the ear always sounds more natural - with the in-ear design you are blocking some angles of pick up for the mic and with our ears sound from every angle enters our pinar & psychologically we 'fill in' the missing parts between our ears - therefore with in-ear binaural recordings we tend to hear it as hyper-reality & we perceive it as 'effect', which means we don't connect to it in the same way.
If you want to mount them as a spaced pair with a jecklin disc between, the SMK4060 kit comes with 2 pressure zone rubber circles & one of those works quite well as a light, practical and free jecklin disc (free because the cost of the stereo kit is cheaper than buying two separate 4060's). As mentioned in the article at the above link, a very good technique for mounting them is by clipping or taping them to either end of a coathanger - this allows you to then bend the 'arms' of the coathanger in if you want to alter the spacing, use the hook to hang them from a tree or other point, straighten the hook out & use it as a ground spike etc etc. Its a method lots of recordists use inc. Chris Watson, who started using this technique some years back. 

There’s a myth about the 4060’s that is often stated by some nature recordists, who claim that the self noise rating of them means they are unsuitable for nature recording - this is incorrect. Yes, they have a higher self noise rating than some other mics but they’re also more sensitive, meaning the gain doesn’t need to be turned up on ones recorder. Also, the simple fact is that the 4060’s sound more transparent than lots of other mics & so they sound much better. As i’ve often said one should never choose any bit of equipment on the spec sheet - its how it sounds that really matters. Anyway, when one considers that, for example, Chris uses 4060’s (along with other mic arrays depending on the situation) on quite a lot of his film / tv work inc. the Attenborough programmes it does indicate that they are rather good for recording nature !
The cost of the stereo 4060 kit is currently around £610 (dec.2014) which might sound a lot to some folks - but when one considers that they compete (& win) with mics costing several £1000 each they’re actually very good value indeed. However there are alternatives at different budget levels - they might not be as good in terms of how they sound & self noise, but they're still an excellent way to extend your recording kit.

Monday, 22 September 2014


nice to be asked to write something for issue 3 of 'Reflections on Process in Sound' & some of my daughters (www.pheoberileylaw.yolasite.com/)  photo's are also included.



Issue 3 of "Reflections on Process in Sound" is online now: Viv Corringham gives an account of how her ongoing series Shadow-walks came about, as an amalgam of singing and walking; Riley Frenchconsiders three specific trips he took this year to record telefericas, geological dissolves and other fascinations in Italy and Iceland; Felicity Ford explores how wool and sound come together for her in her project KNITSONIK, with some excursions into feminist concerns; Michelle Lewis-King explains how and why her Pulse Project blends accupuncture with sound; Jo Joseph Hyde considers his take on visual music; Rob MacKay discusses the parameters of the world’s first concert for artificial and human voices.

http://www.reflections-on-process-in-sound.net/issue-3/

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

following the announcement of the 2015 Iceland field recording trip / course (which was fully booked within 2 days) i've also been working hard on planning a new course for Wildeye - this time we venture further afield here in the UK:


Sound Recording in Northumberland
with Chris Watson and Jez riley French

This long weekend field meeting is an opportunity to practice and develop sound recording skills in the company of Chris Watson in his home patch of Northumberland. Audio specialist and artist Jez riley French will also be present throughout to share his experience, particularly with the use of extended field recording techniques including the use of non-conventional equipment such as hydrophones and contact microphones.
The base location is Mounthooley bunkhouse in College valley, Northumberland, UK. Accommodation is shared bunk rooms. The College valley is in one of the remotest and quietest parts of England. It’s north of Hadrian’s Wall in the wild lands once controlled by the Border Reivers.

In the Cheviot Hills and close to the Scottish border this a wonderful location for wildlife sound recording, around here there are many upland birds, roe deer, red squirrels and the possibility of feral goats. This is a great location for recording individual featured species and spatial soundscapes.

The long weekend will include a day trip, arranged around the tides, across to the island of Lindisfarne and the coast where Chris recorded this the CD In St Cuthbert's Time.
This trip is particularly aimed at those who have already taken our Wildlife Sound Recording Course and who want furrther guided experience in the field (but this is not a prerequisite). It is expected that you will bring your own recording equipment, although there will be additional kit you can borrow from the tutors during the trip. Some hill walking so stout shoes required and wet weather gear.
Itinerary
Friday: Arrive at Mounthooley from 3pm but please aim to arrive by 6pm.
7pm - evening meal served.
8pm - introductory chat - who we are, who you are, and what we will be doing over the next two days.
Saturday and Sunday: Practical sound recording activities at various locations and listening/reviewing sessions back at base. Breakfasts and evening meals will be provided at Mounthooley.
Areas of local interest:Weetwood Moor cup and ring marks Great place to begin an exploration of the many remains left by our ancient ancestors to keep us guessing about their daily activities and unknown rituals. This can be followed by a walk up one of the many hill forts in North Northumberland such as close by Yeavering Bell, home of the famous feral goats. 
Henhole A short walk from the bunkhouse this is a great glacial hanging valley of waterfalls cutting through the Cheviot granite. 
Holy Island 
Weather permitting we’ll take one day to explore as far as Lindisfarne / Holy Island - Home of many seaside walks, ducks, seabirds, religious figures, mead and scriptures. 
Monday: After breakfast depart the venue.....you can of course then head straight home or spend the day exploring Northumberland further.
Tutors
Chris Watson - Sound RecordingTutor - Chris is a composer who specialises in recording the sounds of wildlife and the natural world. His freelance career in film, radio and TV has taken him to some of the worlds’ remotest places. Watson worked on David Attenborough’s Life and Frozen Planet productions for the BBC, which both went on to receive BAFTA Awards in the Best Factual Sound.
Chris’s compositions are based on the voices of animals and habitats in the natural world and the built environment such as heather moorlands, tropical forests, deserts, steelworks and the arctic ocean. As well as creating soundtracks for broadcast, Watson produces multi channel sound installations, live performances, public lectures and workshops. His music career stems back to the early 1970s when he was a founder member of the experimental group Cabaret Voltaire. In 2000 he received an Award of Distinction for his Touch CD ‘Outside the Circle of Fire’ in the Digital Music section of the Prix Ars Electronica. The University of the West of England awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Technology degree in 2006, and in 2011 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Arts, London. He has undertaken commissions from Aldeburgh Music, FORMA Arts & Media, the British Film Institute, The Louvre and Museums Sheffield. 
See www.chriswatson.net


Jez riley French - Sound Recording Tutor - Jez is a composer, artist & audio specialist whose output involves elements of intuitive composition, field recording (using conventional & extended methods) photographic images (including their use in photographic scores) and improvisation. He has performed, exhibited and had his work published widely across the world and also lectures in both field recording and the act & art of listening. Recently his work has been exhibited at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Artisphere (USA) & at festivals and galleries in Italy, Japan, Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland etc. He also curates the 'a quiet position' project / facebook group on aspects of field recording / listening.
Jez also makes & sells his own hydrophones and contact mics (http://hydrophones.blogspot.com). In recent years Jez has been working closely on a number or projects that seek to capture a sense of place and moment that is both highly personal and yet offers a fascinating opportunity to look and listen anew to the environments in which we spend our time.http://jezrileyfrench.co.uk

Booking Information


Costs: £375 per person
This includes tuition, 3 nights accommodation, breakfasts and 
evening meals. Lunches are available from Mounthooley for £4.50 or self-catering. .
Note that transport during this trip will be in cars of the tutors and attendees, so it is hoped that enough of you will be coming in cars and be happy to offer lifts to others durting the trip to facilitate this. The longest trip however is expected to be to Lindisfarne which is only 40 mins drive. When you book please mention if you will coming by car and if you are happy to offer lifts to those who are not.
College valley is remote and it has restricted access to cars (but ok for us staying there).
Dates:
8-11 May 2015


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sound Recording in Iceland
with Chris Watson and Jez riley French





Following our previous highly popular sound recording trips to Iceland in 2013 and 2014, for 2015 we’re returning to this fascinating country, this time to the Selfoss region in the South for an opportunity to spend several days recording the sounds of spring in 24 hour daylight with Chris Watson, a leading figure in the world of wildlife sound recording, and field recordist and artist Jez riley French.

Our base will be Hotel Borealis, close to the largest lake in Iceland, Pingvallavatn, and surrounded by stunning locations including the Pingvallir national park and volcanic rift, the Gulfoss waterfall and the famous Geysir geothermal area. Further afield is the moon-like landscape around the geothermal vents of Krysuvik. 

We’re also within a couple of hours of the South coast, with its numerous black sand beaches and the fishing villages of Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri, with its surrounding swamp-like waterways. 
June in Iceland is a time of 24 hour daylight - so we’ll have lots of time for recording, exploring, discussing and, occasionally, sleeping ...
We’re booking all rooms in the main hotel and two separate bungalow style buildings and as well as the friendly hotel staff there will be a French chef (who has lived in Iceland for over 30 years and is an expert in both French and Icelandic cuisine) and two minibuses to allow us the greatest flexibility for recording trips. The range of spectacular habitats will enable us to experiment with surround sound techniques, ambisonic microphones & software, hydrophones, contact mics, geophones, ultrasonic detectors, parabolic systems and a range of stereo and mono recordings. We will also have genelec speakers at our base for reviewing recordings and group discussions. It is expected that you will have some recording experience and your own equipment to bring (although we will have some extra gear with us that everyone is welcome to try).
Some of the many wildlife species we may encounter include: red throated diver, whooper swan, atlantic puffin, himbrimi, arctic fox, arctic terns, whimbrel, golden plovers... whilst we’ll also be hunting for fence wires, bubbling mud pools, abandoned structures, melting ice and spaces with unique natural acoustics.

Accommodation is in private rooms with wi-fi. Most of the rooms are in the main hotel (which we are booking in full) and each room has its own bathroom. Three rooms will be in 2 separate bungalows (each with one bathroom). Breakfasts and two course evening meals are included.
In an interview with Chris Watson in Music Tech magazine (Dec 2012 issue) when asked his favourite place to record Chris said: 'Iceland ! it's a beautiful place, with great people and great culture. What's more, it's relatively noise-poluution free. It's where fire and ice meet, of course, so there's great sound potential there.'


Itinerary
Day 1: Travel from Reykjavik to Selfoss - an approximate 2-3 hour drive in our two minibuses. We’ll break the journey for a rest and also to call at a supermarket for basic extra supplies. We aim to arrive no later than 6pm, in time for an evening meal and to settle in.
Day 2-7: Recording activities - places we are likely to visit include:
Day 8: Depart. We will set off early, after breakfast, for our return drive to Reykjavik, perhaps taking in one last stop along the way. We will aim to arrive in Reykjavik in the early evening.

Personnel

Chris Watson is a composer who specialises in recording the sounds of wildlife and the natural world. His freelance career in film, radio and TV has taken him to some of the worlds’ remotest places. Watson worked on David Attenborough’s Life and Frozen Planetproductions for the BBC, which both went on to receive BAFTA Awards in the Best Factual Sound.
Watson’s compositions are based on the voices of animals and habitats in the natural world and the built environment such as heather moorlands, tropical forests, deserts, steelworks and the arctic ocean. As well as creating soundtracks for broadcast, Watson produces multi channel sound installations, live performances, public lectures and workshops.

His music career stems back to the early 1970s when he was a founder member of the experimental group Cabaret Voltaire. In 2000 he received an Award of Distinction for his Touch CD ‘Outside the Circle of Fire’ in the Digital Music section of the Prix Ars Electronica. The University of the West of England awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Technology degree in 2006, and in 2011 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Arts, London. He has undertaken commissions from Aldeburgh Music, FORMA Arts & Media, the British Film Institute, The Louvre and Museums Sheffield. 
See www.chriswatson.net
Jez riley French is a composer, artist & audio specialist whose output involves elements of intuitive composition, field recording (using conventional & extended methods) photographic images (including their use in photographic scores) and improvisation. He has performed, exhibited and had his work published widely across the world and also lectures in both field recording and the act & art of listening. Recently his work has been exhibited at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Artisphere (USA) & at festivals and galleries in Italy, Japan, Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland etc. He also curates the 'a quiet position' project / facebook group on aspects of field recording / listening.
Jez also makes & sells his own hydrophones and contact mics (http://hydrophones.blogspot.com). In recent years Jez has been working closely on a number or projects that seek to capture a sense of place and moment that is both highly personal and yet offers a fascinating opportunity to look and listen anew to the environments in which we spend our time.http://jezrileyfrench.co.uk


Travel Information
Visas: Please check if you need a visa to enter Iceland (holders of normal British 'European Community' passports do not need one).
Insurance: It is essential you take out comprehensive travel insurance. Whichever insurance you choose please ensure it provides adequate cover for both you personally and also for any equipment you may be bringing with you.











Dates:
9-16 June 2015

Costs:
UK£1,595.00 plus international flight to Reykjavik (which you book yourself - recommendations will be sent on booking). You may have to/wish to arrive a day or so early due to flight times, so you should also budget for accommodation to cover this.
Includes activities, local travel, accommodation and breakfast/evening meal each day.

Booking: If the home page shows that there are places available please complete the online application formand send in your deposit/fee as detailed. Booking requires a deposit of £200, the balance to be paid two months before the start of the trip.
Places are strictly limited so early booking is recommended (as is the booking of flights).


BINAURAL: this is a recording technique that places omni-directional microphones (read the following shirt guide to omni mics here) either side of an acoustic baffle in order to a) represent the pick up pattern of our ears (the baffle there being our head) and / or b) create a stereo recording with a specific sense of sound localisation.

Whilst it is most often done by using the human head, as a technique any 'baffle' can be used and indeed any spacing of the microphones can also be used to play with the effect. For example, one could space the mics to the size of a birds head & whilst we can’t know exactly what another creature (or indeed another human) hears it can be an interesting creative tool to do this. Of course lots of species don’t hear the same range of frequencies as humans so, in my opinion, one should always be careful to understand that when presenting work recorded in this manner.

Because of the way the technique works playback via headphones most accurately reproduces the effect. If played back via speakers the effect is, for example, like having a human head the size of the room / speaker placement.

Certain companies will attempt to sell you 'Binaural microphones' at a considerably higher price than a similar specification pair of omni's, often by placing them in 'in-ear' units to wear like ear-bud headphones. Apart from the issue of cost here it is not at all agreed that using them in this way creates a better binaural effect than simply clipping a pair of normal omni's to a hat, glasses or runners h/phone grips. The reason for this is that, in effect, placing the microphones in the ear canal blocks one side of their pick-up sphere (for those who are perhaps new to microphone pick-up patters, omni's pick up sound from all around the capsule), which to some leaves an audible 'hole' in the sound.

I’ve heard a couple of people mentioning that using them next to your ears will give you 'sort of' binaural but actually it is full, proper binaural- there's a slight difference of opinion amongst recordists as to whether in ear or out of ear works best for binaural but both are fully binaural techniques. As I said there is a difference of opinion but personally (& i'm not alone in thinking this) out of the ear always sounds more natural - with the in-ear design you are blocking some angles of pick up for the mic & with our ears sound from every angle enters our pinar & psychologically we 'fill in' the missing parts between our ears - therefore with in-ear binaural recordings we tend to hear it as hyper-reality & we perceive it as 'effect', which means we don't connect to it in the same way.

(omni directional microphone pick-up pattern)

Thursday, 11 September 2014


BATTERIES: how your recorder is powered depends on various factors but basically there are three groups:

1) recorders powered by conventional AA batteries - sure Duracell batteries will last longer than a cheaper brand, but by far the best option is to invest in some high capacity, power holding re-chargeable batteries & possibly a re-cycling charger that depletes & then restores the cells from time to time. Your standard Duracell battery is 1500 mAh capacity, whereas the better recyclable AA's will be 2100mAh, 2500mAh and higher these days - meaning they'll last, on average, 20-40% longer. Two brands that I personally know to be good are:

Sanyo Eneloop
Recyko

on handheld recorders there are various things that will eat battery power quickly, such as phantom power being turned on - so if you're not using it turn it off in the menu.

2) recorders powered with standard li-ion batteries - some hand held recorders use these batteries & whilst generic batteries can be significantly cheaper, they often don't hold their charge very long or last a large number of re-charges. It's better (& cheaper) to spend a bit more & get a decent one (+ a couple of spares).

3) recorders powered with Sony NPF / L style batteries (such as the Sound Devices recorders). I buy mine from Hawk Woods, which do cost a bit more but seem to last longer than the sony or generic ones. The biggest capacity from H-W is 7200mAh - which gets you about 8-10 hours on a full charge with phantom power on etc.

lots of folks decide to fit a shoe to their recorder so they can use NP1 batteries - these are fairly high cost (from £100-£200 typically + the charger) but provide much longer powering.

With the Li-ion & NP1 batteries there's an increasing problem of taking them on planes in hand luggage - one is usually ok, but turn up at an airport with 4 or 5 in your hand luggage or indeed in your suitcase & it could be a problem - & given the cost of them you don't want to be having to leave them behind at the airport.





CARDS:  as with headphones, this is another item that is often overlooked when it comes to budget.

again, there's a large range - costing a few £'s to the higher spec ones that can cost, depending on size, up to £100.

I could write a long post on all the different brands but its much simpler to say that there's one brand who always, always come out tops for stability and reliability + as long as you buy their fastest, highest class rating ones you won't have any read / write issues:

Sandisc - the prime choice for most folks as they are the most reliable. I've used them for years without any problems for example.

other makes that get good ratings & are quite widely used include:

Kingston
Lexar
Hama (not used those myself though & they do appear to be on the cheap side)

for audio you need cards with fast read / write speeds - don't get ones that are below class II (though this rating system is now increasingly not used) - the card needs to be 24x write speed rated at least, especially for multi-channel or high rate recordings.

AUDIO BAGS: so, you have your recorder, your mics, your cables etc etc. now, what to put them in !
The choice depends on what your field recording interest is. There are 'sound industry' audio bags for example and these are useful for location work because they have various flaps and drop-down sections to allow the rapid connection and change over of mics. They're really good for that & they're very well made & last for years. However they're not ideal for the recordist who wants to go unnoticed in the urban environment or who wants to hike (or even take a short walk) in the countryside. For that you need an unobtrusive bag that also protects your kit and is easy to carry and access.

Personally, I carry my gear most of the time in a decent Camera rucksack - a Crumpler one that's waterproof and has moveable sections inside. Yes, its sometimes less convenient than a dedicated audio bag, but it has lots of advantages - including that its also how I carry my expensive bits of kit in hand luggage when flying. I take an audio bag with me when travelling also and if I know i'll be out recording for long periods of time I often transfer my kit into that. For this reason less rigid cases are my choice.
Of the professional audio bags on the market there are a few 'market leaders' with strong reputations built over years. They're available in various sizes from some manufacturers, to fit specific recorders / mixers etc. and they range in cost from £130 to several hundred pounds.
Portabrace
Kortwich
K-Tek
Petrol
Kata (though I haven't tried their audio bags myself)
KT systems

One downside of these specific audio bags is, especially in urban spaces, you do stick out like a sore thumb and you do end up looking like someone carrying lots of valuable equipment ! Some of the other options help you blend in more easily.
There is a bag that i've written about elsewhere that is a very good low cost alternative to a proper audio bag and that's the Shakespeare Royalty fishing bag (the old design, not the new one). At least any potential thieves will just think its a bag full of fishing tackle and worms !
As I said earlier I actually use a camera backpack - comfy to carry for longer durations, waterproof, fairly easy to access and won't get you noticed if you pick the right one.

Of the dedicated audio bags Kortwich stand out for several reasons: firstly their design is compact but has all the features needed for most folks. Their bags can be customised and they're also very reasonably priced. Do take a look at their website.











Wednesday, 10 September 2014


CABLES: working with long cables is a valuable technique and allows for environments to be mic'd & then allowed to re-settle before a recording is made. I regularly work with 50-100m cables & sometimes 200-300m cables & this is a technique used by lots of recordists in various contexts. Trailing the cables back to somewhere warm & comfy like your vehicle or even a nearby house is an added bonus ! However, the same tips also apply to shorter cables - for example linking a mic mounted on a boom pole.

So, which cables to use ? There's a large selection of different cable & connector brands around from cheap 'standard' mic cable, which is designed for indoor / studio use, to cable specifically designed for outdoor use or prolonged installation (but not standard 'installation cable'). Different coatings & shielding on the cables and solder points on the connectors are employed to reject interference and condensation. As with lots of pieces of kit, buy the best you can afford but in general most folks buy the cable on the reel & make the cables up themselves, due in part to the high cost of decent quality outdoor mic cable. There are certain brands with strong reputation including:
Mogami
Van Damme
Klotz
The cost, per metre (when purchased on 100m reels) can range from £2-3 up to £6-8 & more.
One feature of cables designed for outdoor use is that they stay flexible in extreme temperatures. Standard mic cable will often crack in very cold conditions for example. Mogami even make a cable called 'polarflex' for such situations.
Connectors: Neutrix have probably the strongest reputation & if you are on a very tight budget they also do the Rean range of lower cost, but decent quality connectors. Gold solder points for outdoor cables are a good idea if you intend leaving them on the ground for long-ish durations. This isn't because gold connection points improve the sounds (that's a myth) but because they reject oxidisation and condensation more easily.
If you're working on important sessions away from easily accessible replacements or a soldering iron then its often a good idea to replace connectors every year or so - you can have all the high end mics & recorders you want but if your cables go for the sake of a few quid spent replacing connectors that have corroded slightly then....

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


HEADPHONES: highly important piece of your kit, but often the one that is allocated a fraction of the budget. The thing is, if you're spending hundreds or thousands of pounds on a recorder & microphones but then listening via a pair of cheap headphones that is rather wasting the benefits of all the other equipment - not to mention the fact that it will, often radically, affect the 'act of listening', the amount of time before ones ears get tired and various other subtle and not so subtle aspects.
There are, of course, a vast array of headphones on the market - 99.9% of which are designed for and tested on compressed, conventional music / audio. Only a handful (in my opinion and also based on the views of recordists who've been using them for years are are know for the quality of their listening, both critical and creative) are transparent (meaning they don't colour the sound) in a way that benefits field work and have been designed using location / environmental sound. Additionally, for those interested in extended recording / listening techniques, these few allow for ones ears to adapt to the different listening focuses involved.
Headphones to consider include:
Sennheiser HD25 (have been the 'standard' h/phone of choice for location recording for years now)
Sennheiser HD380 (my h/phone of choice for extended technique work and conventional mic-ing also)
Beyer Dynamic DT1350 (new - seem ok, but i'd still go for the sennheiser's)

If you are on a limited budget & only have £30-£50 to spend then the Sennheiser HD202 is as good as anything of that price range.
'if you walk into a shop to buy headphones & it has a mirror so you can try them on - walk straight out'