Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide

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Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide

Field recording equipment

So, we’ve completed the “A Month of Field Recordists” series. That explored the gear that 26 sound pros prefer. How can you use this info? What equipment is best for you?

Well, it depends on your budget, the features you want, and the sound quality you prefer. So, it’s hard to give a concrete answer.

However, I’ll share some viable options in today’s post, drawn from the wisdom of many of the sound pro’s choices.

Ways to Choose Field Recording Equipment

What is the best field recording gear choice?

The truth is that field recording selection doesn’t occur in distinct steps. It depends on the sounds your pursue, your budget, your upgrade path, and more.

For example, you may be just starting out capturing audio beyond the studio. Perhaps you wish to supplement your studio gear with a portable kit. You may be growing from a hand held recorder and want more sophisticated options. So, it’s entirely possible that a field recordist could be anywhere along this spectrum, or perhaps exploring a few pursuits at once.

To consider each of these possibilities, I’ll organize choices with six categories:

  1. Inexpensive with quality.
  2. Portable recorder and microphone combo.
  3. Portable recorder, microphone, and preamp combo.
  4. Dedicated field recorder.
  5. Dedicated microphone.
  6. Foley microphones.

Now, it’s important to note that the suggestions below are not rigid. They’re suggestions drawn from the experiences and preferences of the pros in the “A Month of Field Recordists” series. Instead, the goal is to show that there’s a viable kit for every point upon the arc of a field recordist’s career.

Each option from 1-5 adds better sound quality, recording options, superior build, and so on. Naturally, a $200 recording solution can’t compete with one at ten times its price. So, the options from 1-5 are meant to indicate two things:

  • An increase in financial investment.
  • A typical arc of gear acquisition.

The sixth category didn’t really come into discussion during the series. I added it as a helpful resource to those interested in recording Foley.

Because field recording is such a broad craft, it’s understandable to differ with the list below. There are dozens of viable options to record sound beyond the studio, many of which were not mentioned in the series at all. So, take what ideas you like from each category to explore the best options for you.

Note: prices and models are current as of October, 2015.

  1. Inexpensive With Quality

  2. Sony PCM-M10

    Sony PCM-M10

    The Sony PCM-M10 is a reliable option noted by many pros. This portable recorder is a strong unit with good sound quality for $245. It faces competition from other models by Tascam and Zoom. However, the M10 is generally considered to have superior preamps and sound quality for this price point.

    Røde i-XY and iPhone

    Røde i-XY and iPhone

    Do you have an iPhone? Willing to record predominantly prominent sounds? Purchase an i-XY. You’ll have a 96 kHz/24-bit quality X/Y Røde microphone for $199, and far cheaper if you buy used on eBay.

  3. Portable Recorder & Microphone Combo

  4. Perhaps you want a bit more flexibility. Maybe you’d like to add a dedicated microphone to portable recorder you already have.

    Sony PCM-M10 Zoom H4n

    In that case, buy a Sony PCM-M10 ($245) or Zoom H4n ($199) as the recording device. Supplement this with an inexpensive outboard microphone. Options include:

    Lom Usi Pro Microphone Madness omni microphonesSound Professionals SP-TFB-2 Luhd PM-01AB Soundman OKM II Classic Studio Binaural

    Another option not mentioned in the series brought to my attention by reader Rick are Luhd microphones (£24.90 – £79.00).

  5. Portable Recorder, Microphone, and Preamp Combo

  6. You gain even more flexibility for a future microphone upgrade path by adding a mixer to your portable recorder kit. The idea is to include a preamp as the bridge between a professional microphone and the recorder.

    Sony PCM-D100 Sony PCM-D50 Tascam DR-40

    Buy a Sony PCM-M10 or Zoom H4n as described above. If you have the cash, you’d appreciate the features of a Sony PCM-D50 or PCM-D100 ($795). A Tascam DR–40 is another option at $179.

    Sound Devices MixPre-D Sound Devices 302

    Use a Sound Devices MixPre-D ($929) or 302 mixer ($1,649) as a preamp. It’s also possible to find an older MixPre used on eBay for less money.

    Rode NT4 DPA 4060

    You can attach any professional microphone to this arrangement. The sound pros in this series favoured using a Røde NT4 ($529) or DPA 4060 ($949) microphones.

  7. Choosing a Dedicated Field Recorder

  8. What options do you have if you’d prefer a dedicated field recorder? After all, dedicated recorders are known to have superior preamps, more features, and better connectivity options.

    Roland R44 Tascam DR-680 Fostex FR-2 LE

    The least expensive options pros have used in this series include a Roland R–44 (4 tracks, $795), and a Tascam DR–680 (10 tracks, $489). While not mentioned in the articles, there is also an option from Fostex, the FR–2 LE, for $568.

    Zoom F8 Tascam HDP2

    A slight cash injection will bring a budget to the $1000 price point. At this amount, field recordists can add more tracks, timecode, or hard drive storage. Examples include the Zoom F8 (10 tracks, $999) or the Tascam HD-P2 (2 tracks, timecode, hard drive $999). Thereafter, there’s a pricing wasteland until budgets increase to $2000 which bring the Sound Devices family into view.

    Sound Devices 702 Sound Devices 722

    Most field recordists choose Sound Devices recorders for their durability and preamp quality. The 702 (compact flash, $2,049) and the 722 (hard drive, $2,679) are two-channel options. A 744T ($4,319) and 788T ($6,849) add four and eight tracks, respectively. Note that the 744T and 788T do not include preamps on every channel, so an additional investment for pre amplification may be required.

    Sound Devices 744T Sound Devices 788T

  9. Choosing Dedicated Microphones

  10. Once you own a dedicated recorder, you’ll want to choose dedicated microphones to pair with it. There are dozens of good options. Where do you start?

    Rode NT4 DPA 4060 Line Audio CM3

    There is plenty of choice, even below a $1,000 price point. Many field recordists recommend the DPA 4060 or 4061 lavalier microphones ($949), the Røde NT4 X/Y mic ($529), or a pair of Line Audio CM3s (~$230).

    Sennheiser MKH 30 Sennheiser MKH 40 Sennheiser MKH 50Sennheiser MKH 60 Sennheiser MKH 70

    If you have a larger budget, you may wish to explore microphone combos, such as Senneheiser’s MKH 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 mics ($1,199 – $1,749 each), all of which were popular with many sound pros in the series. A Schoeps CMC 6 U system ($799) with MK microphones ($755+) is another flexible option.

    Schoeps CMC 6 U Schoeps MK 4g

    Finally, the Sennheiser MKH 8040 was universally enjoyed by all pros that used it for its clarity and low noise. That’s much more expensive at $2,399 for a stereo pair, but guarantees to deliver a lifetime of exceptional field recording quality.

    Sennheiser MKH 8040

    Sennheiser MKH 8040

  11. Choosing Foley Microphones
  12. Field recording captures sound effects beyond the studio. However, many sound pros featured in the series supplement their worldwide sound fx with studio sound design recordings. These clips, captured in Foley theatres, require a different approach to recording sound effects. So, for the sake of comprehensiveness, I’ve included an editorialized list of “popular” microphones for Foley recording. Of course, choosing a microphone for Foley recording depends on the acoustics of the room, and often the Foley artist’s style. Use this chart as a general guide:

    Neumann KMR 81 i Neumann U87Schoeps CMIT 5 U Sanken CS-3e

    Manufacturer Model Pattern Price Notes
    Neumann KMR 81 i Supercardiod $1,599.95 A highly-respected shotgun microphone, known for its low noise and more natural, excellent sound quality. Balanced and clear sound with exceptional off-axis rejection. Rich and detailed.
    Neumann U87 Omnidirectional, Cardiod, Figure-of-eight $3,599.00 The U87 is famous for providing a smooth, warm and natural sound.
    Røde NTG1 Supercardiod $249.00 An entry-level shotgun microphone with a decent reputation.
    Røde NTG2 Supercardiod $269.00 A shotgun which competes with the Sennheiser ME 66. Pros appear to prefer the NTG2 over the ME 66.
    Røde NTG3 Supercardiod $699.00 Seen as an affordable, comparable option to the Sennheiser MKH 416 with a slightly wider pattern. Rugged, with an emphasis on higher frequencies. Popular
    Sanken CS-3e Supercardiod $1,450.00 A shotgun of a linear array of three capsules, considered at the same level as the MKH 416 and the MKH 60. Has slightly higher noise than other options, but has a smooth and detailed sound and a decent off-axis rejection.
    Schoeps CMIT 5 U Supercardiod $2,199.00 This microphone is known for its generous axis handling and smooth, full sound that avoids the characteristic “thin” sound that may accompany some shotgun mics.
    Sennheiser MKH 40 Cardiod $1,199.00 A low-noise cardiod option.
    Sennheiser MKH 60 Supercardiod $1,499.95 A particularly quiet shotgun option with high sensitivity and a clear sound.
    Sennheiser MKH 416 Supercardiod, Hypercardiod $999.95 The industry gold standard for shotgun microphones, albeit with an older design. Popular. Emphasis on higher frequencies. Good performance in humid conditions.
    Sennheiser ME 66/K6 Supercardiod $209.95 The ME66 is a highly directional “neutral” capsule powered by the K6 preamp. Pros comment that it lacks the typical Sennheiser quality of more pricey models.

    Sennheiser MKH 40 Sennheiser MKH 60 Sennheiser MKH 416Rode NTG1 Rode NTG3

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