A few elements I have tried, used and liked, or have seen/heard used by people I know.
A personal and temporary view on possible options
(Why record? a question to keep asking?)
This is the first unfinished draft of a document which I will keep updating. Feedback and comments are welcome. firstname.lastname@example.org
‘All in one’ portable recorders
I won’t talk much about ‘all in one’ portable recorders, they are really useful, and there is plenty available to choose from. Tascam DR 40 and Zoom recorders of all types are useful, as well as Olympus, Marantz, Roland, Sound Devices etc..
I would now favour the ones which allow the possibility of recording with good external microphones which will require XLR sockets and phantom power, although this tends to make the recorder bulkier.
Small size and light weight have advantages though…
Recorders come up on the second-hand market, sometimes cheaply.
(OK and not too expensive…)
I have enjoyed the qualities brought out from using microphones which do different things, placed in a space in specific and varied ways. I will limit myself here to two types of capsule/condenser mics. There are plenty of other types of course.
Practically, apart from the big names and the cheaper copies, there are now small makers (sometimes working from home), who cater more for the field recording and the ‘special effects’ community. These are well worth looking at.
There are a few firms who make very good small omni-directional microphones based on the omni-present (!) ‘EM 272’ mic capsule:
in the UK: F.E.L. (who also sell all bits if one wants to construct mics oneself from scratch)
and also very good L.O.M. in Slovenia
These can be hung loosely to do spaced omni recordings, without having to resort to using heavy stands etc.
Spaced omni stereo recordings have the quality of reflecting the whole space where the sound takes place in quite a soft way, (which does not mean they are not precise). I think omni microphones are a really good, satisfying and kind entry in the world of sound recording: sounds in a space with all that goes on within it, with the possibility of creating easily a naturalistic stereo image, and they can also be used to move much closer to the source.
With a bit of DIY, or buying dedicated attachments or clamps they can also be very useful for close-mic-ing of instruments.
Cardioid pattern small diaphragm mics are useful to explore a more focussed approach to sound recording, and, if used as a pair, to construct a convincing stereo sound image. Combinations of placement in the space, angle and distance will yeld different results. If placed very close to the source, they will favour bass frequencies.
There are dozens of makes. I believe that as they are a bit less foolproof than omni microphones to manufacture, one ought to spend a bit on them! One can sometime find on Ebay, or on ‘Sound On Sound’ magazine readers’ ads, pairs of AKG C451’s, Beyer MC930, Neumann K184, Rode NT5, or Calrec mics, Schoeps, Oktava, all with slightly different characteristics, which would be eminently suitable (prices vary a lot).
A good friend of mine uses a small Swedish manufacturer called Line Audio, and he is very happy with what they do.
This is just a small start with ‘air’ mics suitable for recording. [I haven’t said anything about dynamic mics, ribbon mics, valve mics., large capsule mics..and nothing either about other configurations like figure of 8, spatial arrays etc..]
As is the case with photography, recording can tend to gravitate towards creating realistic images, which are illusions of course, and the increasing sophistication of the technologies (which has been and still is astounding) has been geared towards this illusion based end from the beginning.
Yet..this is only part of what can be explored. Afterall the whole world resonates and vibrates, not just air.
If you want to delve into contact mics, hydrophones, magnetic field pickups etc…
talk to Jez riley French! His making -which is quite artisanal- is informed by a unique musical practice as a field recordist and musician. His things sound good.
Also it is possible to buy (for next to nothing on ebay) piezo contact mics and stick them to anything which resonates (what doesn’t..?).. This is a rich vein to explore.
To record directly onto a laptop:
As for most computer manufacturers it isn’t a priority to deal well with the delicate operations of amplifying and transforming analogue sounds into digital data and vice versa, it is necessary to use an interface for processing the sounds which are being recorded. For many purposes, a ‘2 mic inputs’ interface will be sufficient, but I think it is also a minimum, as it allows to do stereo recordings, or to use more than one microphone or line to record one instrument.
When connected to a Digital Audio Workstation software, or recording software, as well as the D/A A/D conversions, the interface can serve a variety of functions delegated to it by the computer, so it will need to be resonably good at all of them:
- Preamplification of microphones
- Preamp for monitor speakers and for monitoring (or listening) headphones
- Some mixing capabilities (using a virtual mixer which becomes visible when the interface is plugged in)
- Volume control for inputs and outputs
There are plenty of makes. I know of two : Audient id14 and Focusrite 2i2 3d Gen. I use the Audient myself and I am pleased with it, and the Focusrite has been highly recommended.
They can take a little bit of setting up but once in place, everything runs seamlessly just turning the thing on. (monitor speakers, headphones, mics, DAW software, even sound for Zoom meetings! )
These use a USB connection, but possibly other connections are possible, do check the compatibility with the computer you use.
Cables and stands:
K&M for mic stands
Nutrik sockets and plugs on XLR cables
- Audacity: very good for basic editing, and fantastically intuitive for cutting/pasting, volume envelope, OK for multi tracking.
- Cakewalk: full fledged DAW.. amazing that it is now free to use. Just heard about it recently from Clare, and looked it up.
Cheap for what it is:
- Reaper (DAW), has very high quality effects, and is reasonably user friendly for something so broad in its scope.
These will all work in conjunction with the interface which has been connected to the computer.
Set-up can be done through fishing for words like audio settings/ configuration/ preferences/options It should get you there!
On Reaper at least, if /when asked by the software, do set up the audio as ASIO, (pick that option), which bypasses the computer’s own audio channels in favour of the interface. The names of the inputs and outputs of your interface should appear in the list of options.
I am having difficulty saying anything here: this is so dependant on the space one does things in. Space is important: how the sound bounces in the room will influence the choices one makes. (Ask others in OI for advice…)
A few (non- commital) points:
The cheapest option (which is very respectable as a start in my view) is to use a decent fairly neutral second-hand HIFI stereo amplifier and a pair of OK speakers, making sure that the settings are as neutral as can be. The outputs of the interface can be plugged into the AUX input of the amp. There is a lot of choice on ebay for stuff like this, and the sums involved are small.
Powered ‘computer speakers’ are likely to be disappointing unless one pays quite a lot.
Dedicated powered monitors (with integrated amps) come in all price ranges.
The general aim is that they ought to not be too flattering, have a decent frquency range and be truthful. Cordelia rather than Goneril.
Mackie, KRK, Genelec, etc…
A very good sounding set of closed back headphones (used by many engineers I know in many situations):
Beyerdynamic DT 770.
There is a site (from the top manufacturer DPA) about what mics actually do:
Also this from another leading manufacturer:
designed to encourage you to spend a lot of money with them, I mean, a lot of money. Informative all the same.
new book out about Decca recording techniques: