Recording at Lake Tahoe

My Current Kit

Sound recording can be a very expensive hobby or profession. Much like photography, professional gear, including microphones, recorders, preamps, mixers, cables, plus the computers to edit the sounds can run into tens of thousands of dollars. But it is possible to start recording on a budget, which is all my finances would allow. I describe the decisions I made regarding equipment in the “My decisions in choosing a sound recorder” page.

Recorders

Zoom H4n . This is a very handy device, which includes some decent stereo mics in an X-Y configuration. Some of my recordings were done with just the on board mics. It is, however, a rather noisy recorder, with rather noisy mics and pre-amps. It does have a lot of features, and includes 48v phantom power.  A newer model is available, with a better build and quieter preamps, the Zoom H4n Pro.

Sony PCM-M10.  This recorder is smaller and lighter than the Zoom H4n, and has better pre-amps. It does not have phantom power.  Sadly, it is no longer made.  It occasionally can be found on Ebay.  Sony has replaced it with the SX2000.

Sony PCM-D100.  This is my latest addition, considerably larger than the M10, but with better on-board mics and better pre-amps for external mics.  I review it here.

Moto G5S smartphone.  I use this for recording ultrasounds and as a backup for emergencies.  See “Options for recording ultrasounds” and “Audio recording with a smartphone.

Microphones

DIY mics made with EM 172 capsules.   I’ve built 2 sets of microphones with these capsules, one a clip-on version that I attach to trees and other “head-sized” objects, and another 2×2 array that I can attach to a tripod.  These are both based on Telinga-style microphones, and work well with the Sony PCM-M10 with no preamp.  The clip-ons are capsules that were fit inside pen caps, with a plastic canvas and fur covering that makes it easy to use clothes pins to attach to strings or small branches.  The 2×2 array consists of two 1 inch wooden dowels in which I drilled and chiseled a trough into the side, and placed two capsules in each (so the capsules fit in the side of the dowel).  The dowels are then attached upright about 6 inches apart on a small wooden board with can be attached to a tripod.  The dowels are covered with a foam and fur windscreen.  I know it sounds totally hillbilly, but these mics work very well.  I have created a page showing how I built these mics (see link above).

spaced array

2 x 2 EM 172 spaced array

clip-on mics

Clip-on “tree ears” made from EM 172 capsules.

Audio Technica AT2022. This is was my favorite mic. It is a pretty quiet mic (to my ears, anyway), with stereo mics also configured in an X-Y. Thus it allows me to have a decent stereo image in a single housing, rather than carry 2 different mics and figure out how to set them up to obtain the ideal stereo image.

Audio Technica AT897. Short shotgun mic. This allows me to better focus a recording by reducing sounds from the side and rear. It is mono, and I mainly use it for trying to get vocalizations of a single species.  I would not recommend this mic for use with one of the smaller recorders, it produces a pretty weak sound, in my opinion.

Dodotronics Ultramic 200k. This is a USB mic that records up to 100 kHz. It’s a bit noisy at the lower end, so I mainly use it to record ultrasounds. I plug it into a Samsung Galaxy S3.

JrF Hydrophone This is a relatively inexpensive, but highly sensitive contact mic for recording underwater.

Pre-amps

Felmicamps SK3.5. This is a in-line amp that takes an unbalanced XLR signal and plugs into the 3.5 mm jack on a portable recorder. Perfect for the AT2022, and boosts the signal at least 20 dB. Because the AT897 is a balanced line, it took another adapter to use the SK3.5, but Felmi Communications provided one at a relatively low-cost. Many of the sounds I record are pretty quiet or far away, so a pre-amp is a life-saver.

Parabolic Dish

A shotgun mic can help focus the sound, but to really bring sounds closer, you need a parabolic dish.  I acquired an inexpensive dish on eBay (no longer being sold), and rigged some Primo Em-172 capsules to fit inside.  This is a great way to record wildlife!

Miscellaneous

Cables (up to 30 ft.), tripods (photo tripods and gorilla pods), a variety of wind gags, plus notebooks and smartphone for recording location.

Camera gear

Keeping with the ultralight theme of my field gear, I pack the very light Canon EOS Rebel SL1, with a 55-250 zoom lens.

What I typically pack on the trail

Sony PCM-M10, em 172 clip-ons, small notebook, smartphone, camera, and extra batteries. Easily fits in my daypack.

Last modified: November 2017.

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