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February 2023

Audio Gear DIY Projects

If only boom poles could grow legs…

February 17, 2023
Options for mic supports outside: camera tripods, lighting stands and a boom pole.

Field recording can mean mics on a pistol grip for a quick grab of a sound, on a boom pole for something equally quick but harder to reach, or clipped to a bag or hat for some stealthy ambience recording. But much recording outside – and that includes music – requires something more stable and static in the way of support so the mics can stay steady and the recordist can step right way to monitor from afar – not least to avoid capture of rustling, breathing and stomach gurgles from the recordist. Strapping mics to either side of a tree (‘tree ears’) can work, but, of course, there may not be a suitable tree to hand in the right place, so, mostly, it’s a case of taking a stand with you. The trouble with that, of course, is that there are no commercially available stands that have been purpose-built for field recording: so it’s a case of making do with what’s out there. In this post, I’m going to look at the conventional options I have been using in different situations, plus one additional option that I have put together recently and which others may want to try.

Mic stands

Conventional mic stands have little value outside unless in the tamest of environments (think streets, pavements, patios and lawns), being heavy and, with their circular or short fixed tripod bases, have no adaptability to uneven terrain. Not to be sniffed at if you have nothing else – and a short mic stand (the sort you might use for miking a kick drum or a guitar amp) could work fine for recording out in nature with mics near the ground – but not something I’ve found an attractive option.

Lighting stands

Lighting stands are great alternatives to mic stands indoors, not least for getting mics up high for, say, recording an organ, choir or orchestra: obviously they aren’t so good when you want a small footprint, or a short boom arm. They are also useful outdoors, and with a wide range of sizes, can cover a range of uses. When hiking/travelling light I often take a Manfrotto 5002 Nano Plus stand, which folds down to 52cm (it can fit in a rucksack with a blimp), yet extends to 1.97m. It has one slightly extendable foot so has a bit of adaptability to uneven terrain, though nothing very dramatic. It’s the beefiest of the Manfrotto Nano stands (taking a 4kg payload), but I can’t pretend it is rock solid: out in the wind anything above its shortest length is a bit hairy. I tried out the slightly lighter Manfrotto Nano Pole stand in the local camera shop, since it is lauded by some field recordists and looked good on-line, but it was not for me: it was so much flimsier than the 5002 Nano Plus stand and the removable centre column can hardly pass muster as a boom pole. At the taller end of the spectrum, I have a Manfrotto 1004BAC: this is my go to stand for recording acoustic music indoors when not close miking, and I’ve used it outdoors too many a time. It is in a different league than the little Nano Plus stand, rising to 3.66m and carrying up to 9kg (but still only weighing 3kg): it can happily support my chunky stereo bar and, even, my massive windshield for two LDC mics. Outside, though, it has the downside of lighting stands: the legs are designed for a flat surface and the tripod legs only rise a short way up the central pole or column, so it is prone to wobbliness and vibrations especially when extended.

Camera tripods

Many field recordists use camera tripods, and with good reason: the better engineering and, above all, the stability of legs rising much higher take away most of the wobbles and vibrations; many models can collapse far smaller than even the diminutive Nano lighting stands; many models can get mics close to the ground, unlike lighting stands; the legs are adjustable for length and angle, so the tripods can be used pretty much anywhere, even in water; and, of course, they can be used for their primary purpose too (less to carry, say, when hiking to the recording location). Obviously, adaptation is needed to connect mic clips/suspensions, or a stereo bar to the camera head (or remove that), but this is basic stuff: and use of quick-release plates means that you can swap from an audio to camera set up in seconds. There are a few downsides of varying significance: above all, camera tripods lack height, naturally enough being limited to average eye level or a little above; at full height the footprint of the tripod can be a bit large (not really an issue if, say, recording natural ambiences); with no full-height pole/column element, cable routing can be a bit fiddlier; and some tripods can take longer to set up than, say, a Nano Plus stand.

Options for mic support outside, left to right: Gitzo GB3560 carbon-fibre boom pole, Manfrotto 1004 BAC lighting stand, Manfrotto 5002 Nano Plus stand, Manfrotto 055 Pro camera tripod, and, then, the same at two different heights with a boom pole clamped to it (and, no, I don’t have three identical boom poles and three identical 055 tripods…!).

Boom pole with camera tripod

Advocates of the little Manfrotto Nano Pole stand often cite the removable centre column for use as a boom pole as a key attraction, although, as I said above, it’s a very poor substitute for a real boom pole and the stand itself is flimsy too. But the idea has merit: it is so handy having a boom pole in the field (great not just for any dialogue, but also for those hard to reach sounds – once you use a boom pole you will come to appreciate how many such sounds can be recorded, or better recorded, with the reach and the distance from you it provides – or when moving around, sans stand, catching quick close-up sounds) and it’s annoying carrying bits of kit that have very similar – and duplicated – elements to them. So it’s a pity that no manufacturer has scaled up the Nano Pole idea to produce a more stable stand, perhaps with leg geometry more like a camera tripod, with a decent-sized carbon-fibre boom pole at its core (or, better, the ability to incorporate a range of different boom poles from different manufacturers). I’ve looked for tripod legs that could be used to cobble together something with my boom pole, but with no joy. Then I had the idea (doubtless not the first or the last to do so) of mounting the boom pole to a camera tripod head with the bottom of the pole resting on the ground (crucial for giving stability), essentially making a four-legged stand. Looking around, the nearest thing I found to this out there is a tripod pole bracket made by Hague Camera Supports for attaching an aerial camera mast to a camera or video tripod: rather too massive and laborious for the sort of slick set up I had in mind, but it was reassuring to find someone thinking on similar lines. So to my rather smaller and quicker to use solution: a quick-release 30mm rod clamp (made by Camvate) fixed by two 1/4″ screws (i.e. ensuring no rotation) to an Arca-style quick-release plate. Both the plate and the clamp can be fixed to the tripod and the boom pole in seconds, and the pole can be set vertically or at an angle, with its bottom end firmly planted on the ground. It can be used with any of my Arca-fitted tripods – from the reasonably substantially Manfrotto 055 pro with large ball head, down to my little Benro travel tripod. And the advantage? Well I can use the tripod alone for mic support when convenient; I can use the boom pole alone when useful; and I can combine the two in seconds to get a far more stable tall stand than my current most substantial light stand (indeed, at 4m long, taller than my Manfrotto 1004BAC) with completely adjustable legs. It was a very blowy day today, so I was able to confirm stability in fairly extreme conditions (using Rycote Nano Shields with fur as windshields): at the 1.97m height of the Manfrotto 5002 Nano Plus stand it was completely stable, while the Manfrotto 1004BAC had a significant wobble, and the Nano Plus stand was worse still (both given extra stability by a heavy camera bag hung off them); and at the full 3.66m height of the 1004BAC the boom pole set up did wobble a bit, but less so than the lighting stand and, crucially, vibrations/wobbles calmed down much more quickly. Obviously, as would be expected, the advantage afforded by the taller legs of a camera tripod vs those of a lighting stand diminishes as the boom pole gets towards its maximum of 4m and also as the boom pole sections reduce, but it was interesting to see that the lighting stand didn’t out perform it at such height. For £30 for the rod clamp (and others may find/need different and better solutions for their boom pole), I have another flexible set-up to add to the choices when I take my sound gear out into the wilds, especially when I know the terrain won’t suit a lighting stand.

Top left, Camvate 30mm rod clamp; bottom left, the rod clamp (given a little internal lining to be gentler on my carbon-fibre boom pole) screwed to an Arca-style quick-release plate; and right, the boom pole then attached via these to the ball head of a camera tripod.
And outside in high wind with the boom pole fully extended (about 4m). If setting up for longer in such wind I’d have hung my sound bag off the tripod for a bit more low-down weight.

Audio Gear

Small windshields

February 12, 2023

I’m a believer in using decent windshields whenever you can: if you can manage a blimp then use it. My rig placing two omni mics end-to-end in a blimp as an alternative to, say, an AB pair in Baby Ball Gags on a stereo bar is very much following that approach: it also has the merit of being more portable and easier to set up in the field. And my previous tests on windshields confirmed my approach: even in light wind a Classic softie, for example, performed worse than a full blimp. And with more compact blimps, such as the smaller Nanoshields, it isn’t the case that you have to stick a small omni, cardioid or hypercardioid mic in a large windshield designed for shotgun mics. Sometimes, however, its necessary or possible to adopt something smaller than a full blimp. Examples include discreet recording of urban ambiences with a couple of small mics clipped to, or poking out from a bag; an almost still day; where you simply have no room to transport a blimp or two; tiny mics that are hard to rig in a blimp; or where you want to try some mic configuration that doesn’t lend itself so well to a full blimp (e.g. ORTF when you don’t have a dedicated ORTF blimp, or are using longer mics; or tying mics to either side of a tree – ‘tree ears’). I have a couple of options for such scenarios: a pair of Rycote Baby Ball Gags with furry covers, and a pair of the much cheaper and smaller Rode WS8 (furry slip-on windshields). I was intrigued, however, by reading very positive reviews of the cheap Movo windshields, especially the WSTT50 for small SDC mics such as the Line Audio CM4, so I bought one for the princely sum of £9.95 thinking it could be a better performing alternative to the similarly-sized Rode WS8 for those occasions when I do require the smallest and lightest windshield other than a foam. The Movo windshields, with their use of ballistic nylon, look very much like copies of the Rycote Super-Softies, but the WSTT50 at least has the merit of having no Rycote equivalent: it is about half the length of the smallest Rycote Super-Softie and, therefore, an attractive proposition for small mics – ironically such as those made by Rycote themselves!

These tests, therefore, are even more limited than those of my larger windshields. They are far from a comprehensive comparison of all, or even many, small windshields, but, nonetheless, may be of use to someone else out there: I hope so.

When using windshields care needs to be taken to ensure optimum fit. With the Baby Ball Gag it is self-evident, but with small push-on windshields the useful function of a small air gap is in front of the mic is usually beneficial. The following wav files each comprise three short clips separated by silence: first is the windshield pushed fully on the mic; second is the windshield pulled back to create a 10mm air gap in front of the mic; and third is the windshield pulled back to create a 20mm air gap in front of the mic. All other variables remained unchanged. The wind source is a fan, and the mics used were Rycote CA-08 cardioids.

In both cases there is, as expected, a substantial benefit of leaving an air gap in front of the mic. With the Movo WSTT50 this was slightly better at 10mm than at 20mm (about 2dB difference), and with the Rode WS8 the reverse: given that the latter was not very secure when pulled back so far, I have gone for a 10mm gap for both windshields in tests below.

First up, I took the windshields into the garden in very light wind, using omni mics (Rycote OM-08). Both windshields performed reasonably well, although it was evident that there was a little more wind noise with the Movo WSTT50. I had higher hopes for this and was surprised, so I set up the two windscreens over a fan indoors to examine the difference with more significant and consistent wind, and without the distraction of ambience (passing cars etc.). An initial test with Rode NT55 omni mics confirmed that there was significantly more low-frequency rumble with the Movo WSTT50 as evident by comparing the two wav files:

Swapping out the NT55 omni capsules for cardioid capsules produced more wind noise, as would be expected, and the increased low-frequency wind noise with the Movo WSTT50 is all the more evident:

Spectograms for ambience recordings with the Rycote OM-08 fitted with the Rode WS8 (left) and Movo WSTT50 (right). Although recorded at 96kHz the vertical scale shown is only up to 24kHz as I wanted to focus on performance of the windshields in the audible range. The large spikes (left) are from the gate lock, and the small swirly blobs are birdsong.

Back in the garden I noted that there didn’t seem to be any significant audible or, with a spectogram (see above), visible difference between the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50 in terms of high-frequency loss. I was surprised, however, that the (increased) wind noise from the Movo seemed to be extending into higher frequencies than the noise from the WS8. It’s easy to get such things wrong and with the WS8 producing less overall wind noise anyway, it could have all been in my head. So, to explore this more carefully, again I moved inside and this time rigged two cardioid Rycote CA-08 mics on a short stereo bar (turned vertically so the mics were one above the other, about 200mm apart) fixed to the end of a boom pole. Fast boom swings, then, provided a means of just hearing the sound of wind on the windshields, without the effect of wind on the environment or the distraction of ambient garden and street noise, or, of using a fan, any mechanical noise.

Here are the wav files with a few forward-only swings with the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50:

The results are revealing: as you would expect, a very fast boom swing with the WS8 produces a significant amount of low frequency noise, peaking around 25Hz and falling away quickly to around 100Hz; the WSTT50 has the same low-frequency noise (albeit more of it), and, confirming my impression from field use, a lot more above, extending up towards 400Hz.

Comparison of the noise from a forward-moving fast boom swing between the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50.

Making the same test with the WS8 and the Rycote Baby Ball Gag showed two things: first, the WS8 out-performed the Ball Gag when the latter was bare (perhaps not surprisingly as the plastic mesh sphere presents a lot of scope for wind noise generation) and, second, that the Baby Ball Gag with its fur on significantly outperforms the WS8.

Comparison of the noise from a forward-moving fast boom swing between the Rode WS8 and the bare Rycote Baby Ball Gag.
Comparison of the noise from a forward-moving fast boom swing between the Rode WS8 and the Rycote Baby Ball Gag with its fur cover on.

When I did the initial tests there were only light winds, and these then died away almost entirely for the best part of a week: unusual in February in Norfolk. But a week later a brisk and gusty wind returned, providing a good opportunity to check whether the Movo windshield was unfairly tested by very light winds, or the winds created by a fan and boom swings. So I went back out into the garden with a pair of omni mics (Rycote OM-08) on a stereo bar on a low stand as in my first test, and here are short clips of the results:

Again there is a clear difference between the two windshields, with the Rode WS8 handling the gusty and turbulent wind much better than the Movo WSTT50. And here is a visual expression of that difference:

Comparison of the noise of gusty wind recorded in a village garden with an omni Rycote OM-08 fitted with the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50.

For the sake of completeness, I also compared both the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50 to the Rycote Baby Ball Gag (with its fur on) again: the latter hugely outperformed the Movo, and, as expected, was a bit better than the WS8 too. Here are the sound files comparing the WS8 and the Baby Ball Gag:


There’s nothing very radical for me to conclude here in relation to my Rode WS8 and Rycote Baby Ball Gag windshields: the latter with its fur on outperforms the former in terms of wind noise reduction. What was surprising, given some on-line positive reviews, was that the Movo WSTT50 falls so short of the Rode WS8, in a range of situations and conditions, and with a range of different mics. Well, perhaps not such a surprise in that Rode is a more established microphone manufacturer, and its full blimp is not at all a bad performer. Having done these tests, I can’t say I have any further use for the Movo WSTT50 (and am glad I didn’t buy a pair of them!), but, at the price of a couple of pints of beer it was worth a test. Whether others find a use for them, or have had more luck with a different model, is another matter: but if wanting small and cheap, I’d recommend the few extra pounds for the WS8 (c.£23); if having a bit more to spend, perhaps consider the Baby Ball Gags with fur windjammers. But, whatever you use (and there are many other smaller slip-on windshields for SDCs), it might well be worth doing some comparative testing before using in earnest!