WoMP: Sound Recording

This episode of Weapons of Mass Production really focuses on sound recording techniques.  One of the things I was trying to do was make it fairly brand-agnostic.  The only make/model I call out is a cheap piece of crap.  The point is that recording clean field sound is much more about technique than it is kit.  The mic has to be in the right place; the background noise has to be under control.  Sometimes having the fancier kit (like wireless mics) can help you achieve those goals, but it’s all about achieving those goals.  That accounts for the vast majority of your sound quality, whereas mic choice and the specifics of your recorder (so long as you’re using something above the “OK-ish” threshold) account for the tiniest last bit of polish.

To learn about great sound what you should really do is watch the episode again, listening carefully, maybe on headphones, and paying close attention to where the mics are.  If you want to get lost in the model numbers, read-on.

The Boat Opening: That was recorded with my iPhone without an external mic.  I’m amazed it sounds as good as it does.

Where do I Stick This?  The recorder was the Zoom H4n, a very popular all-in-one recorder.  Normally I like to record sound directly to camera whenever possible, but in this world of DSLRs a lot of people are using a recorder like that a lot of the time.

Does Your Equipment Matter? Thanks to Scott Robinson at Sonic Sweets Recording for helping out with that; the intro music is also from his band, recorded in that very space.  We hear a wide variety of mics here, with vast price differences.  The major lesson to be gleaned:  Even the very cheapest piece of crap mic place close to my voice sounds better than a really expensive shotgun on camera.  And this is in the best environment for a shotgun like that to do well– one where there’s basically no background noise.  The cheap mic still doesn’t sound great; it’s got a ton of hiss.  That mostly because it was plugged directly into camera (Nikon D800 DSLR) whereas the other mics all had XLR-style plugs and went into the studio’s pro recording set-up.  So plugging a cheap mic right into a DSLR isn’t a very viable option, hence the need for something like a Juicedlink or Zoom recorder if you’re using a DSLR.  You can get great sound with a cheap mic in the right place so long as you have something OK to plug it into.

The mics we used (all plugged into ProTools HD with the exception of the crappy lav):

  • “on camera” shotgun: Sennheiser ME66/K6
  • Cheap wired-lavalier: Audio Technica ATR-3350.  This is a bottom-of-the-line wired lav with a mini-jack (1/8″th) that can go right to camera.
  • “cheap” pro wireless: Sennheiser G2 100 wireless with (included in package) ME2 microphone
  • High-end wireless: Lectro 211 series wireless with Tram TR50 microphone
  • Studio Condenser Microphone: Neumann TLM103
  • Close Shotgun: Sennheiser ME66/K6 (same mic as on-camera)

Shotguns in the Wild:  Here we’re using a Audio Technica AT4073A, plugged into a Nikon D800 via the Juiced Link RM333.  It is what it is.  Shotguns aren’t magical.

Cheapest of the Cheap:  I don’t quite recommend just buying this <$20 mic for all your audio needs, as it’s a bit too cheap and in particular the camera’s mic input is still noisy-as-hell.  But if a twenty-spot is all you got, then hell yes buy this.  Obviously it’s comically better than built-in camera sound, or any on-camera mic for that matter.

Mic Placement Damnit:  Here we’re back to the Zoom H4n, which I should’ve had a pop filter on when using it like a reporter mic (you can hear me popping a bit right after I introduce Stela).  While pianos do lend themselves to “roomier” sound with an echo more so than dialogue recording, recording from far-away still isn’t ideal unless you find yourself in a space with no background noise.

Movie Magic: The couple by the plane is with the “cheap” Sennheiser from the studio and the same Sennheiser boom.  Why is the wireless so much cleaner?  Because it’s just a few inches from their mouths!  The mountain shot is first recorded with a wireless lav, then subsequently we are listening to the actual recording off the iPhone.  It sounds pretty good.