Last Updated on December 5, 2023 by AG
Whether you are looking to capture the beauty of nature sounds or want to record yourself on the go, choosing the best microphone for outdoor recording is paramount to your outcome.
While any microphone can capture sounds, not every microphone can do it well in the great outdoors. Outdoor environments are laden with unique challenges that indoor studio setups do not face. Wind noise, for instance, is a common nuisance in outdoor recordings, leading to a less clear sound. The right microphone should handle these challenges gracefully, capturing natural sounds, without unnecessary distortion or noise.
Quality and Versatility: What to consider for the best Outdoor Microphone
When hunting for the best microphones for field recording, there are two key factors to consider: sound quality and versatility.
The sound quality is mostly determined by the microphone’s frequency response, and its ability to reproduce sound accurately without any coloration. The frequency response of a microphone refers to how it reproduces different frequencies of sound. It’s essentially a measure of the microphone’s ability to capture high, mid, and low-frequency sounds accurately. When recording outdoors, a broader frequency response can help ensure you capture all elements of the sound source.
Field recording often involves capturing a wide array of sounds, from the rustling of leaves (high frequencies) to the rumbling of distant thunder (low frequencies). A microphone with a broad frequency response will ensure all these sounds are captured with equal precision, resulting in a more natural sound and high-quality audio.
Versatility is another essential factor. In outdoor settings, sound sources can come from all directions. Therefore, a field recording microphone should ideally be versatile in its pickup pattern. It could be an omnidirectional microphone that can capture sound from all directions or a shotgun microphone that can focus on a sound source while rejecting sound from the sides and back.
Additional factors that have an impact on sound quality
Next to the ones mentioned above there are additional factors that have an influence on the overall recording quality, let’s look at the most common for outdoor recording.
Microphone self noise, also known as the noise floor, is the low level of noise produced by the microphone itself, even when no sound is being recorded. For field recording, a microphone with very low self noise is crucial, especially when capturing quiet sounds. If the self noise is high, it can overwhelm subtle sounds and interfere with the quality of the recording.
Microphones with low self noise allow the recording of subtle ambient sounds, such as the gentle flow of a distant stream or soft bird calls, without interference. This results in clear sound and excellent recordings.
Handling noise is the unwanted noise that gets recorded when the microphone or its cable is physically handled. This can be especially problematic in outdoor recording situations where the microphone might be moved around a lot. A good outdoor recording microphone should have features that minimize handling noise.
Many field recording microphones come with integrated shock mounts to reduce handling noise. In addition, using a good quality mic stand or boom pole can help isolate the microphone from physical disturbances.
Wind noise can be a significant problem when recording outdoors. It can produce a loud, low-frequency rumbling sound that can easily overpower the sound you’re trying to record. Microphones designed for outdoor use often come with features to reduce wind noise, like integrated windshields or the option to add external wind protection.
Types of Field Recording Microphones: Capturing the World’s Symphony
To excel in field recording, choosing the right microphone for your specific needs is paramount. Not all microphones are created equal, and they each excel in different situations. Let’s explore some of the main types of field recording microphones: shotgun mics, lavalier mics, and condenser microphones, among others.
Shotgun mics, are a popular choice for outdoor recording, particularly when you need to capture sound from a specific source or direction. These mics exhibit a highly directional pickup pattern, which allows them to ‘focus’ on the sound coming from the direction they are pointed at while rejecting sounds from the sides and rear.
Shotgun mics are especially suitable for capturing audio in situations where the microphone cannot be close to the sound source. They excel at isolating the desired sound from environmental noise, making them ideal for recording musical instruments, speeches, interviews, and wildlife sounds in outdoor settings.
Lavalier microphones, often referred to as lav mics or lapel mics, are small clip-on microphones that can be attached to a person’s clothing. They are an excellent choice for capturing speech in outdoor interviews, presentations, or performances where hands-free operation is needed.
Lav mics are usually omnidirectional, meaning they pick up sound evenly from all directions. This makes them less susceptible to handling noise and wind noise than directional mics, though a windscreen may still be needed in windy conditions.
Condenser microphones, including large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm types, are revered for their sound quality. These mics offer excellent sensitivity and a wide frequency response, enabling them to capture sounds with a high degree of clarity and detail.
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are often used in studios for vocals and acoustic instruments due to their ability to capture a wide range of frequencies and their characteristic warm sound. Small-diaphragm condenser mics, also known as pencil mics, are more commonly used in field recording. Their smaller diaphragm allows for a quicker response to sound waves, capturing audio with great accuracy and detail.
These mics often have interchangeable capsules, allowing you to switch between different polar patterns, such as omnidirectional or cardioid, depending on your recording needs. However, condenser microphones are more sensitive to wind noise and require a power source, which can pose challenges for outdoor use.
Other Types of Microphones
Apart from the above, there are other types of microphones you may encounter in the realm of field recording. Dynamic microphones are sturdy and reliable, handling loud sounds with ease, but they may lack the detail and precision of condenser microphones. Binaural microphones are used for immersive, 3D sound recording, replicating the way humans perceive sound.
Choosing the best microphones for field recording largely depends on the nature of the sound you wish to capture. Evaluating your recording environment, the sound source, and your audio quality requirements will help you select the right mic for your needs.
The right balance between frequency response, self noise, handling noise, and wind noise can make all the difference in achieving top-notch field recordings. Always keep them in mind, while making your optimal choice depending on your specific needs and the nature of the sounds you intend to record.