As established audio professionals working in various industries, we generally have access to the resources we need. We have access to mic lockers, field recording kits, sounds libraries, etc. And with these resources comes the opportunity to learn more about sound recording and to improve our capabilities. And of course, the income we receive helps give us the ability to continually build out and improve upon our own mic collection, recorders, and other hardware. But can you remember what it was like before you had access to these resources?Early in my career, I was finishing school and working nightly at restaurants to try and support myself through education. I was serious about starting to build out a field recording rig, but strapped for budget. I needed a solution that was simple and cost-effective while also providing coverage. At the time, I remember doing research into different microphones and recorders, but without advice to help point me in the right direction, I was lost. I ended up purchasing a microphone that was ineffective and not cost effective.
With these lesson from the past in mind, I recently started asking this question to a few experienced and very talented designers and recordists: If an inexperienced person, who wanted to start becoming more serious about sound recording, came to you today and ask for a recommendation for a starter field recording rig, what would your answer be?
Senior Audio Designer, Jason Wolford, said that the rig he would recommend would be one that allows for mid/side recording capability. Personally, he loves the Sennheiser Mkh 40/30 pair. The Sennheiser Mkh 40 has a cardioid polar pattern while the Sennheiser Mkh 30 has a figure-8 pickup pattern. When vertically aligned using a specialized suspension, you get a mid/side setup. The strength of this setup is that you’re not locked into a mono or stereo recording. In fact, you are given control over the width of the stereo spread after recording has taken place. MS recording techniques also provide true mono compatibility by giving you the ability to remove the two side channels, leaving a perfectly monaural signal.
Peter Comley, an accomplished designer and recordist who has been working in AAA games for over a decade, had valuable insight into quality, priority, and gear. “The first rule is to get the absolute best stuff you can afford. Bad gear just means frustration and wasted time. It’s hard to know what the ‘best’ stuff you can ‘afford’ is is when you’re just getting started, but don’t knowingly cut corners if you don’t have to.”
“If you’re on a tight budget or not sure how committed you really are, get an all-in-one stereo recorder. This is the appropriate answer for just about anybody starting out (unless they have a very large budget). There are very many of these available now and models go in and out of production regularly, so I don’t know what to recommend. Personally, I like the Sony stuff. The Zoom brand seems to be aimed at beginners and semi-pros and they are very popular, but I’ve never used them.”
“If you have more cash or really want to go for broke (er, so to speak), go for a high-quality component system. IMO, in order of importance, it goes like this: Microphone, preamp, recorder, accessories. But you won’t really want to cut corners on any of these things. You want reliable, sturdy stuff that’s easy to use and works well outside, regardless of the weather conditions. The hardest choice is what type of microphone to get (or, rather, get *first* as there are lots of reasons to have many), and this is mostly determined by what type of subject(s) the recordist in question is most interested in. I can’t easily break all that down, but there are many, many great articles out there on that subject already.”
“I can only speak for myself. If all my stuff got destroyed tomorrow and I got a fat insurance settlement to get the basics replaced, I’d get pretty much what I already have as a core rig (minus the rare or discontinued stuff I can’t easily replace):
- A Sound Devices two-track recorder or similar (their product line has changed considerably just last month, so I’d have to think about it anew).
- A Sennheiser MKH40 (or an MKH8040 upgrade, hrrrm… fantasy shopping is fun!) and MKH30 mid/side rig, and a Rycote housing built specifically for that mic configuration.
- A lightweight tripod, over-ear headphones, a water resistant shoulder bag made for photographers, and the best, most flexible mic cables I can find.
- A backup or secondary rig in the form Sony D100 (to replace my D50 and M10, both discontinued) with a windscreen add-on and low-cost mini camera tripod.”
In speaking with both Jason and Peter, I found it interesting that each preferred the Sennheiser Mkh 40/30 MS rigs. But that’s not always the case. For my first rig, I didn’t have the ability to purchase two microphones. But like Peter said, I knew that it was important to prioritize quality as much as possible. So, I purchased a used Sennheiser Mkh 418, an MS stereo shotgun.
There are always new people joining our audio community, and by helping support them, we, in turn, strengthen our industry and help it grow. So if you are new to the community and looking for advice on rigs, please comment!! And if you have any advice, or would like to share your own story, that will only help turn this small thought piece into the beginnings of a resource of ideas and suggestions.
Happy Sunday, everyone!