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Contact mics and Hydrophones


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Hey Guys,

I'm looking to buy some contact mics and hydrophones for a little bit of experimentation in SFX recording. Can anyone with some experience give me some recommendations?

At the moment I'm thinking I'll go with a pair of Trance Audio contact mics and possibly a pair of Aquarian Audio H2a hydrophones. I've also been looking at the JrF models.

If you have any experience with any of these or with some alternatives then let me know what you think!



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I do a bit of sfx recording myself. The tc series from ambient are the top of the line hydrophones that you can go out and buy (or order). Although I am slightly curious if there are any designed for scientific purposes that have more impressive specs? Maybe custom made?

If you don't want to drop about $5k per hydrophone then the h2a is great fun. I own two. Their frequency response curve cuts off pretty quickly so you won't get the beautiful high end in your recordings like the tc series, but they can still be used to gather some useful sound effects. Get the longer cables version and definitely get at least two for stereo. I tend to space stereo mics underwater much further than on land for a decent stereo image so it's nice to have the extra feet so you don't have to tape your xlr connections that go underwater.. I have done recordinga where the hydeophines are placed hundreds of feet apart and they tend to sound better than when they mics are places closely. Also beware that they tend to pick up am radio especially when close to major cities.

For contact mics I prefer the Barcus Barry planar mic of which I also own two. It's designed for attaching to the soundboard of a piano or harpsichord so it has a great frequency response curve that is pretty darn even. It also comes with a preamp that is designed at the proper impedance for the mic with xlr in and out. Contact mics tend to be noisy, with its own preamp this one is not. Sounds great especially for the price. I think around $200-$300 or so a pop? You will need to play with different methods of tape to stick on the contact mic so it will stay put. It is a bit heavy and unwieldy sometimes but an arsenal of tape will make it work on all types of surfaces.

Have fun hope this helped.

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I've also heard good things about the trance audio mics although I haven't heard them yet. Actually went to order them when I got my h2as and he said it would be three months so I went with the barcus berry. If you go with the trance audio contact mics ask him about the special version he makes designed for sfx recording.

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Thanks for the amazing response brandon! I would love to be able to spend the money on a pair of ambient hydrophones. I think ill be going with the h2as at this stage though and if I really get into using them I can look at upgrading. Do you use the matched aquarian preamps with yours? I record to a 702 so wondering if they're needed.

I got a reply from Trance this morning about the custom contact Mic system which I think ill be purchasing as well.

ill start building an arsenal of tapes and adhesives now!

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I'm not sure they even offered those pres when I got my h2as. After a look at the website it looks like they will improve the quality tremendously. They allow for longer cable runs and match the impedance properly which helps to exterminate noise in recordings of low level sounds. I'm going to call them when I get a chance and find out which one is the best one offerd on their website as they have some choices including other manufacturers. I have used them with a 702 and a fusion and they can be pretty noisy if you have to crank them in either recorder. Hoping that the preamps might alleviate some of this unwanted noise floor I have experienced in the past..

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One more hint.. Blue poster tape is a tape not normally used in sound but works well with the barcus berry. That sticky thick stuff works quite well for objects that will move around alot or are struck with some force like a cymbal or what have you. The vibrations will still make their way through the tape quite well and you can experiment and move the mic around while it still maintains some stickiness.

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+1 for the Aquarian Audio mics. I own several, as I was looking for a surround setup. Never got around to actually doing that, though, but I have used one a lot. They sound really good and with a bit of EQ they can achieve that typical underwater sound. I have rented one to a friend who recorded whale songs with it. Sound amazing.

DPA build an underwater mic, too. It's probably quite good, but price-wise it's more in the Ambient realm.

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Cheers for the link Brandon. I stumbled across that blog during my research. I'd love to buy a pair of the Ambient Hydrophones, they sound so crisp and clear!

In other news I got a response a couple of days ago from Robb Nichols of Aquarian Audio:

"The H2a-XLR should work great with your SD recorders. These have very good preamps in them, so it is doubtful that you'll get better results by using our PA3 unless you need to record very high SPLs or want to run long balanced extension cables. If you were to use the PA3 amps, I would recommend that you buy the H1a hydrophone and the PA3-P48C1 amp. The H2a-XLR will use less current from your phantom power, so your battery will last longer than it would using the PA3.

Make sure to order at least the 9-meter cable length to be sure you have enough for field recording and for best bandwidth and surface noise rejection when working in deep water. Also be aware, if you're buying two hydrophones, that sound travels 4.5 times faster in water than in air. So when recording in stereo, you'll want to space your hydrophones further apart than you might in air. This can also place extra demands on cable length."

Based on this great response, yesterday I placed an audio for two of the H2a-XLRs with 9 meter cables. I got an email this morning letting me know that my order has already been shipped! Amazing customer service if you ask me, especially over the holiday period!

I'm also waiting to hear back from Trance audio about placing and order for their custom made stereo contact system. I'll report back with the results there.

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I've got some great recordings of Chris Watsons hydrophones when we buried them in a beach for a documentary and listened to the waves crashing over - it sounded very cool. Whatever he uses I recommend!

I have two of Mr. French's C-series contact mics & enjoy them quite a bit. I think they're really high quality for the price. He also makes hydrophones, which I haven't tried.


When I met Chris Watson he was using DPA hydrophones and Jez Riley French's contact mics.

We A/B'd the DPAs against a pair of Aquarians.

Personally I didn't hear much difference except that the Aquarians were much hotter than the DPAs.

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@constantin- have you tried the h2as with the preamps?

No, I have only used them with the 788T and 744T. Oh, and a friend of mine has used them with a Zoom H4. They all work really well, the 7series more so of ocurse.

By the way, I use a Rycote Invision INV1 Mic holder with the H2a. It's for the Schoeps CCM series and holds it by the plug near the mic. I have put the cable of the hydrophone in there instead so the invision grips the cable and holds it

firmly in place. This way you can use a boom fully extended and the mic will drop down where the boom ends. So, for example, if you are recording at a river you would normally drop the mic into the water and it'll sink right there (it's quite heavy) near the bank. By using the boom you can easily get it several feet away, possibly nearer to the action. This also works great if you are on a boat, so you can get at least some distance away from the boat. The shockmount aspect of it does not work though, the cable is pretty conductive (or is it conducive?).

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  • 3 years later...


there are one or two tests online between JrF hydrophones & aquarian, dolphin ear & the no longer available DPA's (the Ambient ones are very similar). 

wanted to comment on one or two points in the thread:

1) there is a vast, vast difference in performance between the aquarian & the DPA's - massive. That's partly down to the pre-amp in the DPA's + the superior capsule & cable but also they are built for use at depth & so they react differently to pressure & the effects of that on sound transmission. The signal from AQ's is around 1/4 of that from the DPA's so i'm not sure how someone in this thread got a higher level from them - but perhaps phantom wasn't turned on (which is needed for the DPA's).  I have a pair of aquarians (2nd pair as first set failed & aquarian refused to repair or replace after less than a year) but there are two main issues with them: the handling noise is quite poor due to the way the cable is connected to the capsule & there's an issue with background noise caused by impedance matching issues (same goes for the new Dolphin Ear pro's & the Cetacean Research hp's). Some folks also report that there's a rusting issue on the newer aquarian's & the same water ingress issue over time. 

2) The Trace contacts have a number of issues, which others might be able to comment on. They're a bit noisy & have thin mid & low freq. response. The Barcus Berry's are good mics but they're built for instruments so are calibrated to omit some frequencies that those of us interested in abstract sounds actually want (surface resonance etc). 

Working with building mics with these technologies over the years have been interesting on various levels, such as how to get much better mid & low frequency response (which involved using ceramic welding & various construction methods).

both contact mics & hydrophones can really open up totally new sound fields - they're useful for altering ones perception of our surroundings etc.


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  • 6 years later...

Hi guys, I'm looking for a mic that I can use both underwater and buried in the ground, mostly for recording mangroves.


I'm interested in sounds from life, water and mud movements but also would be great if I could pick up some of the sounds of human activity in the area, such as seismic soundings for hydrocarbons explorations, boats, drilling.


I'm in the creeks of the Niger Delta, exploring what's left of nature here and how we, humans have synthesised these landscapes. 


I was thinking of buying the dolphinear/pro hydrophone, as it has balanced connection and I believe I can used it directly into something like the zoom H8 or another of my portable recorders, without the need for a pre amp to match impedance.


I have a hydrophone with unbalanced output and without an amp the sound loses all the low frequency content. I need to be agile and semi inconspicuous and have the least bulky or fiddly gear i can get away with it, because of safety concerns when in the oil producing creeks of the Niger Delta. 


Another consideration is that the dolphinear/pro hydrophone spec says it can be both buried in the ground and used underwater, which seems perfect to me, in theory. 


Has anyone here used one? Does the mic really do what it says it does? Do you have anything better to suggest based on experience?


I'd be grateful for any informed response - Ana 



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According to the Dolphinear/Pro Hydrophone specs, it has an XLR plug for a balanced XLR input and It does not require Phantom Power. The specs also state it has blocking capacitors in the plug, so either way the F8 should work with or without Phantom Pwr enabled.. The lack of low frequencies could be the F8's high pass filter is engaged and set too high, disable it or set it to100 Hz or below.. depending on the environment

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