Field recordings have become a critical component of modern music. Producers and musicians use them to add character and texture to projects, and it can be a great way to add a personal touch to your sound. Here at Minimal Audio, we record many of our sounds in the field, so we thought it'd be cool to share some of what's inside our recording arsenal and recommend ways to get started on your own.
While collecting gear is a fun aspect of sound design and music production, the practice of field recording does not rely on flashy gear. You can capture stunning sounds with any microphone, and ultimately it all comes down to preference. No matter the equipment you use, your ears are the most crucial factor here — let them be your guide and allow the character of the sounds to speak for themselves.
Below you'll find an overview of our setup, followed by a handful of recommendations for hardware without breaking your budget.
A Look Inside Our Setup:
If you've ever seen our behind-the-scenes videos for our sound packs — namely for Emerge — you've probably noticed our hefty field recording setup. Let's take a look at the anatomy of our setup, its use cases, and audio examples.
Whenever we record in the field or in the studio, we use the Sound Devices Mix Pre 6. The Mix Pre brings unmatched audio quality from a portable interface with custom-made preamps, built-in limiters, and a plethora of control on the LCD screen.
The noise floor on the Mix Pre 6 is extremely low. Recording any signal below about -30 dB may bring in some noise as you crank the preamp gain, but it's usually not a problem. You can record at high sample rates, which retains sound quality as you pitch and edit your audio in post. The user interface is friendly and efficient to work with. Between the onboard LCD and WingMan (a smartphone app that gives you wireless control) you're getting the best of both worlds. The Mix Pre 6 is no longer in production, but the Mix Pre 6 II runs for about $1,000.
To record a lot of our foley source material, we pair the Mix Pre 6 with the Sennheiser MKH 8060 Shotgun Microphone. This compact shotgun mic records audio with extreme detail and has a very 'full' sound. The 8060 excels at capturing highly directional sound sources, including glass, mechanical sounds, and metal impacts. It is also perfect for recording transient-heavy sounds, retaining the clarity and punch of the audio source. The MKH 8060 runs for about $1,500.
Here are some examples of various found sounds recorded with the MKH 8060:
Mid/Side Stereo Setup
When we want to add stereo information to the 8060's mono sound, we hook up a compact 'Figure-8' microphone — namely, the Emesser ATE 208 from Ambient. In combination, these two mics create a mid/side stereo configuration that retains focus with flexible control over stereo width. The ATE 208 model is discontinued, but the 308 model runs for about $950.
A comparison of recordings using the MKH 8060 by itself and paired with the ATE 208. Even though the second example is stereo, its main focus is still in the center.
When recording wide stereo audio such as indoor or outdoor ambiances, liquids, and other expansive sound sources, we use the Rode NT4 Stereo X/Y condenser microphone. This all-in-one mic is preconfigured to capture a wide stereo image with minimal phase headaches. The NT4 runs for about $529.
A newer addition to our setup is a stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040s configured in X/Y. These are a step up from the rode NT4 capturing stereo sounds with next-level detail and transparency. The upside of owning an NT4 is the quick setup and portability, sacrificing a little bit of extra shine and depth that you see with the 8040s. The sounds we record with the 8040s pair very well with our 8060 shotgun mic. The MKH 8040 stereo pair goes for around $2500.
Example of liquids recorded in stereo with the Rode NT4:
Example of Chimes recorded in stereo with the Sennheiser 8040s:
Here's our field recording setup in action. We went to an abandoned mill and found some intriguing, textural found sounds, many of which are included in our sound pack Emerge.
When we seek strange and unpredictable recordings, we use the LOM Priezor. This unconventional microphone converts electromagnetic fields into audible sound, revealing otherworldly sonic textures. It's a perfect tool for any sound designer or musician looking to layer unique elements and noise sources into the mix. If you hold the Priezor near an electronic device such as your laptop or phone, you'll find mysterious sonic content with alien-like character.
Experimental microphones can lead to some of the most useful happy accidents. If you're looking for an inexpensive set of experimental mics, check out contact mics and hydrophones from Cold Gold Microphones.
Here's an example of the LOM Priezor in action. We've set it up in our studio to record noises from a disk spinning in a Playstation 1. The result? Unpredictable sonic madness.
Our setup is constantly changing based on the content we need. Over time, each of these microphones has found a distinct role in our process.
Your Field Recording Journey
Now that we've gone through our recording arsenal, we have some suggestions on where to start with field recording. If you're new to this, we suggest you start small, discover what parts of the practice you like most, and upgrade from there. Let's take a look at some options.
Start With What You Already Have
If you own any electronics with microphones, give them a shot as field recorders. Most phones have a voice memo function these days, and you'd be surprised by how good they sound. We also have an RCA Personal Portable Cassette Recorder laying around in our studio. It has an old, sun-damaged tape in it that drops out and hisses with an amazing lo-fi quality.
These are two examples of ambiances recorded in Tanzania with each device. Note the significantly noisier quality of the cassette tape.
Handy recorders are the next level up in quality and are extremely user-friendly due to their portability. Some recommendations of ours are:
• The Zoom H1n ($100)
• The Olympus LS-100 ($360)
• The Zoom H8 ($400)
• The Sony PCM-D100 ($1000)
These recorders are fantastic options for their respective prices. They all record in stereo, most have flexible input options, and you can't beat their portability. Any of these devices will suffice in kickstarting your field recording journey. If you're looking to record single-subject source material with improved focus, we recommend the Sennheiser MKE600 Shotgun Microphone ($350).
We get a lot of questions about our field recording setup, and we hope this answers them. From foley impacts to relaxing stereo ambiances, we have tuned our equipment to optimize quality for the content we need.
We hope this deep dive inspires you to go out and create sound. If you're starting, focus on finding new and exciting places to record. Experiment with textures on various surfaces and different objects. If you decide that field recording is a path you want to go down, we hope this article presents some fun options to explore. At the end of the day, we'd rather hear a sick sound recorded with a phone than a boring one on the nicest mic in the world.