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Microphones for field recording - urban, nature & birds


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Hi I need your help ;)

I'm new in outdore sounds recording. It's an expensive hobby but want to go with it. Looking for good microphones for ambient sounds recording (outdoors) for nature sounds & birds sounds. Ocassionaly will record urban sounds too.

I have some budget for all my equipment, but want to get some 1-2 microphones for start. Also I love to have gear for years.

As for recorder I will go with SOUND DEVICES MixPre-6 II

As for microphones I found some nice shotguns from shennheiser's:

 

good price:


Sennheiser ME66 (used)
Sennheiser ME67 (used)

 

expensive but affordable:

 

Sennheiser MKH 416
Sennheiser MKH 8070
Sennheiser MKH 8060
Sennheiser MKH 70 (can get used)

 

But what microphone to choose? What to get for recording streams or forest at all?

Other proposals regarding microphones and addicional equipment welcome :)

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For non-stereo capture of individual sounds a long shotgun or parabolic rig. Plant mics can work as well if you know where the subject will be. If most of the sound is low SPL, choose a mic with high sensitivity along with a recorder with quiet mic preamps. Also factor in the cost of wind protection.  A Zeppelin windjammer/ shock mount rig will cost several hundred USDs.

 This is primarily a dialog recording group for movies and such. There are forums and groups specific to nature recording so search those as well.

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You can always start with a Zoom H4N or similar, but it sounds like you want more than that. I have heard some half decent recordings out of that online.

 

For stereo ambience it seems like 2 x cardiods are the way to go.

 

You can check these sites for general info (I just did a google search and these came up):

https://www.wildmountainechoes.com/equipment/microphones-nature-recording-ii-different-microphones-different-situations/

https://www.wildmountainechoes.com/equipment/choosing-microphones-2/

https://acousticnature.com/journal/lowest-self-noise-microphones-field-recording-comparative-list

I also checked this place when doing a bit of research:

https://www.creativefieldrecording.com/2020/03/25/field-recording-gear-and-travel-daan-hendriks/

 

As Rick mentioned, this is primarily a dialogue recording forum. There are a lot of resources online from people who record ambience and record SFX libraries. Search those out. I'll also second his wind protection idea. No sense in recording amazing ambience just to have it ruined by wind.

 

I was able to borrow a Rode NT4 from a friend and used it along with a SD633. I found the NT4 a little noisy for quiet ambience. Maybe I cranked the preamps up a little too much. I was experimenting with ambience recording.

I felt the setup worked well for city ambience.

 

 

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If you look out here and there, you might find a deal for a used MKH 816/815 or KMR 82 with a working windshield. I'd prefer those over an MKH-70 but that's only my taste.

Anyhow, all those long shotguns are excellent to stalk some roaring stag or pick that bird up in the tree (except ME-67). But by their design, suspension solutions and wind protection are a beast. For short shotguns, there are affordable solutions e.g. from Boya and Rode.

 

 

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16 hours ago, Constantin said:

Whatever you do, do not buy an ME-66 or 67. the more expensive options you list will all be ok, more or less. 

 

I am really curious. Why? Reputable sources such as Cornell University recommend them because of their high sensitivity, relatively low self-noise and reasonable price. Some regard them as the workhorses of field recording. 


Of course if you are going to record a dialog it's a completely different world. I mean, when recording human speech we can perceive really minimum nuances that set different microphones a world apart. For other sound sources I don't think a beautiful sound matters that much. 

 

I would give an opportunity to Rode, especially their RF biased shotguns. I own a NTG8 (the long shotgun) and I am really happy with it.

 

The RF biased shotguns are the NTG3, NTG5 and NTG8. 

 

The NTG5 maybe offers the biggest bang for the buck including a suspension and windshield. The NTG8 is a but bulky (very long!) and if you wish to use Rode's own zeppelin you need a special extension and you must mod the suspension with stiffer Rycote lyres. 

 

 

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For compact, lightweight, high sensitivity, RF and high humidity conditions, consider first the Sennheiser MKH-8000 mics, and use Sennheiser MZL cables and connection.   Rycote makes a series with MZL connectors (see B&H - sennheiser mzl | B&H Photo Video (bhphotovideo.com).  I cannot locate the posting at the moment but have seen a pair of MKH-80xx mics with MZL connections custom-fitted inside a gag ball windshield. 

 

The Rode mics are good performers as well, although much larger and heavier when outfitted.

 

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( I am not a working/pro sound recordist)

My advice based on starting where you are many years ago and wasting a lot of time and money;

Good choice of recorder but also consider the MixPre 3 unless you need all the extra channels.

I'd forget about shotgun mics initially for this kind of recording as they are designed to work close to specific sounds rather than capture broader soundscapes.

Look at all in one stereo mics from Rode and Audio Technica as these are easy to use, sound quite good and importantly for outdoor work they can be given wind protection easily and cheaply. 

Don't buy any expensive mics until you know exactly what you want and what works.

 

 

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15 hours ago, borjam said:

 

I am really curious. Why? Reputable sources such as Cornell University recommend them because of their high sensitivity, relatively low self-noise and reasonable price. Some regard them as the workhorses of field recording. 


Yes, on paper they seem fine, but I dislike their sound. It’s harsh, sibilant, and the off axis is terrible and I do find them fairly noisy. Maybe as a backup of a backup. Sure, this matters less on nature recordings, perhaps, but still the sound of the mic matters always. 
If you plan on leaving this mic somewhere, like maybe for weeks in a forest, this could be an ideal mic, because you‘d be less sad if something happened to it. 
 

I agree with you assessment of the Rode mics, though, and as such find them to be much bang for the buck with their slightly higher price

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8 hours ago, Constantin said:


Yes, on paper they seem fine, but I dislike their sound. It’s harsh, sibilant, and the off axis is terrible and I do find them fairly noisy. Maybe as a backup of a backup. Sure, this matters less on nature recordings, perhaps, but still the sound of the mic matters always. 

 

Thank you, that explains it :) I guess bioacousticians don't care much about sound.

 

 

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For nature recording 'accuracy' is probably the  least important factor in choosing a mic. For the human voice which is the bread and butter of most working sound recordists it's obviously the top of the list. This is why the ME is a good starter mic for the former and wouldn't be even considered for the latter.  Rode are a good budget choice for general sound recordist duties but for nature recording they are generally low sensitivity and require a lot of gain which means you need a good recorder.

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16 hours ago, Arcminute said:

( I am not a working/pro sound recordist)

Me neither :)

 

16 hours ago, Arcminute said:

My advice based on starting where you are many years ago and wasting a lot of time and money;

Good choice of recorder but also consider the MixPre 3 unless you need all the extra channels.

I'd forget about shotgun mics initially for this kind of recording as they are designed to work close to specific sounds rather than capture broader soundscapes.

 

It depends on what you want. You can also try combining a shotgun with a figure-eight microphone (or two small cardioids back to back, perpendicular to the shotgun, and one of them phase inverted) in order to get some ambience. The key here is, you can decide how much ambient you want. 

 

The two small figure-eight capsules I know (AKG CK94, probably culled by Samsung with most of the AKG microphones) and an Ambient one are quite pricey. But the hack with two small cardioids can do the trick,

 

 

16 hours ago, Arcminute said:

Look at all in one stereo mics from Rode and Audio Technica as these are easy to use, sound quite good and importantly for outdoor work they can be given wind protection easily and cheaply. 

Don't buy any expensive mics until you know exactly what you want and what works.

 

Careful at least with the Stereo Videomic X from Rode. Looks like a great choice but at least mine is very susceptible to hummidity. Luckily I got it second hand and it wasn't expensive. I don't understand why they didn't make it RF biased. 

 

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Well sure a shotgun with another mic in an MS or double MS can work but I think the OP was thinking about shotguns on their own. Most mics apart from the MKH's have moisture sensitivity but I was thinking specifically of the Rode NT4 or AT 8022 or 4025 for XY stereo in a compact easy to use starter setup. Maybe as a starter the OP would be better off going for an ambient mic like the Ambeo or Rode NT-SF1 which they can later decode to whatever they want.

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Over the years I have found the most useful, thoughtful, experienced and non-dogmatic resource for this sort of field recording to be Magnús Bergsson's 'Hljóðmynd – Soundimage': his blog provides extensive details, includes wav files, and, above all, he has a very wide range of equipment (recorders include Sonosax and Sound Devices) and mics (ranging from MKH, Neumann, Nevaton, Rode etc.) and is not afraid to use any of them (including LDCs) in the field in Iceland. There are lots of useful comparisons: https://fieldrecording.net/english/  Like many he also posts on the very active Field Recording Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/field.recording/

 

Admittedly this is mostly non-urban, and for that the London Sound Survey website might be of interest: it also includes various refs to equipment and technique. https://www.soundsurvey.org.uk/

 

Cheers,

 

 

Roland

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My 2c -- I do dialogue recording & urban ambience recording for films & ads in New York City. I own a Rode NTG3 and would not really consider using it on its own for recording urban ambiences and soundscapes here in New York. (I have not used more expensive shotgun microphones for this purpose so I can't really comment on them) To my ear, for recording individual sound sources, the NTG3 is OK if it's a quiet environment. And it can sometimes complement a stereo recording well. But as I said, I do not like to use it most of the time.

 

I've attached an example of what an urban soundscape sounds like on the NTG3 vs a pair of LOM mikrousi omni mics -- I happened to record a soundscape with both of them this past Saturday morning in the East Village.  Take a listen and decide for yourself!

 

Generally speaking, I would try to rent equipment first and decide which microphone polarity and recording setup you find most pleasing. Or at least find comparison recordings online. Some of the most common ones are (cardiod) XY, ORTF; (omni) spaced pair; (shotgun/fig8) M/S; etc etc.. Each one requires different mics and will provide more or less pleasing results in different environments. There is also the possibility of just getting a Sony D100.

 

And as others have mentioned, excellent wind protection is just as important as a good microphone.

 

 

ambience_NYC_microusi.wav ambience_NYC_NTG3.wav

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I have been impressed with the DPA shotguns.   Omnis can also be great for nature recording - like Sennheiser 8020s.  Lots of bass on those omnis though, so keep that in mind.

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