I first became aware of Radius Windshields this spring, and a bit of delving showed a familiar figure at the helm – Simon Davies, formerly of Rycote (and whose mother, Vivienne, had succeeded the founder, John Gozzard, as owner). Evidently Simon hasn’t lost the bug for designing and manufacturing shock mounts and windshields, and, along with his wife Odette and daughter Megan (both with strong Rycote credentials) and a small team, has tantalized many of us with details about the nascent business, its ethos and, increasingly, the steps on the road to its first products. As I understand it, the new company is focused on making its products locally (Radius is based in Devon, with some production in Stroud) and on working closely with its customers: it very much sounds as if the plan is to stay small, so I doubt if we will see another company offering the huge range of Rycote’s products – at least in my lifetime!
After all the social media updates on the fledgling company it was good to receive examples of the first two products and put them through their paces. These are a pair of microphone shock mounts geared for the end of a boom pole, one – the RAD-1 – being for interior use and the other – the RAD-2 – being for exterior use. Both come with two pairs of suspension hoops: 72D shore standard hoops in black, and more compliant 62D ‘lite’ hoops in a light blue. The hoops can be mixed and matched, and can face either way (but – the included notes say with obvious reason – always opposing). The mic clips hang from the top of the hoops – so are inverted compared to a Rycote lyre – and have rubbery straps: as the (comprehensive) instructions note, these are primarily designed to retain mics in the clips when in transit, so optional when in use. The hoops fit to the mount that is evidently designed for use with a boom pole, and which has an integrated XLR holder. The angle of the shock mount can be changed by a pivot knob that does not just rely on friction. The injection-moulded thermoplastic construction feels very precise and good quality. So far, so good: they look great (OK, perhaps the Cambridge-blue of the lighter hoops isn’t everyone’s cup of tea…) and feel great. And, the details, such as the retaining O-ring on the pivot knob, the cable cleats, and the boom pole mount, all show careful – and experienced – design. But, and this is the crux, how do they perform? On to some tests then…
RAD-2 exterior shock mount
First then to the shock mount designed for exterior use: the RAD-2. Evidently designed for a softie type slip-on windshield (Radius are producing the Nimbus softie imminently), I set this up with a Rycote Classic Softie (18cm) alongside the Rycote Classic Softie kit (18cm) on a short stereo bar on the end of a boom pole, with a pair of Rycote’s excellent HC-22 shotgun mics. Recording into a Sound Devices MixPre-3, I held the boom in a conventional manner with the mics angled down as if booming normally, and then moved the mics up and down and then side to side: these were rapid movements, clumsier than normal. And finally, I held the boom pole vertically, bumping it (lightly!) repeatedly onto a carpeted floor to send shocks up the pole. Obviously, all this was something of a stress test for the shock mounts and essential since in smooth and gentle operation, both performed well and were impossible to differentiate. Normally, I include wav files with my tests and reviews, but I think with these tests numerous sound samples of me wobbling a boom pole would make for pretty tedious listening, and the following spectrograms – which very much reflect what I could hear in the field and when listening back – make the findings more easily digestible.
The tests with the classic softies then show fairly consistent results, with noise from motion and transmitted via the boom pole all, as would be expected, at low frequency and, if wild movement was to be attempted for real, easily removable with a, say, 80Hz high-pass filter: this would likely be needed for wind noise anyway. One thing is evident in that the RAD-2 has a slightly more base-heavy profile, which opens up scope for a slightly lower high-pass filter. But I’d be happy using either: evidently choice would come down to whether you want a pistol grip too (the Rycote) or prefer the more boom pole-friendly RAD-2.
RAD-1 interior shock mount: standard (black) hoops
Moving then to the shock mount design for interiors – the RAD-1 – I first compared the mount with its stiffer 72D shore hoops against the Rycote InVision 7 with its, standard, 72 shore lyres. I used the Rycpte HC-22 shotgun mics again, with the same stereo-bar on boom pole set up, and repeated the same three sets of movements. The spectrograms below show the results:
Again the first two tests showed fairly similar results, with the InVision 7 just slightly shading the RAD-1 in terms of peak noise, but with the RAD-2 showing a lower frequency weighting: this was subtle, however, and not evident in the boom bumping test. With both mounts, the noise was very low: even a 40Hz high-pass filter removed it.
RAD-1 interior shock mount: ‘lite’ (blue) hoops
So much for the 100g HC-22 shotgun mics: I was interested to see how the RAD-2 worked with lighter mics, so mounted a pair of my CA-08 cardioids (69g): the CA-08 weighs the same as my SC-08 supercardioid and, evidently, use of a light supercardioid or hypercardioid (perhaps with no more than a foam cover) is a likely use for interior booming. With the lighter mics, I switched the RAD-1 to its light blue 62D shore hoops, and the InVision 7 to the softest (i.e. 62 shore) lyres. The tests were as before and, again, the results can be seen in the spectrograms below:
In the two mic movement tests, the RAD-1 has the slight edge in terms of overall peak noise levels, although this is matched in the boom pole bumping test: and there is again a slightly bass heavier element to the noise from the Radius shock mount. But both perform well, and the noise, even from such extreme mishandling, is very low in frequency and easy to remove with a high-pass filter (which, again, would be necessary on wind grounds for any rapid boom movements indoors).
RAD-1 interior shock mount: ‘lite’ (blue) hoops vs Nano Shield shock mount
I have been impressed by the new lyres designed for Rycote’s Nano Shields. In use I have found they perform better than the older lyre designs used in Rycote’s Cyclones, modular windshields and InVision mounts, as indeed intended. In particular, I have found the most compliant 55 shore Nano Shield lyres to be the best performers for Rycote’s own lightweight (i.e. 69g) SDC mics, outperforming the 62-shore soft lyres (my previous best fit for such light mics). At present the new lyres only fit the mount within the Nano Shield full basket windshields, so the comparison – unless you also own a Nano Shield – with the RAD-1 is a bit spurious, but, in for a penny in for a pound!
My expectations for the RAD-1, even with its most compliant 62D-shore hoops, against the 55-shore Nano Shield shock mount were low. Indeed, the Nano Shield suspension outperformed the RAD-1 on the side to side test, where the lateral resistance of the new lyres proved most evident; but the difference was more subtle with the up and down motion (and the RAD-1 again had more of its energy at lower frequencies); and, surprisingly, the RAD-1 was slightly better in the boom pole bump test. So a much closer match between the two shock mounts than I had assumed would be the case.
The results of small differences in such specific tests and with such specific mics, cables and boom pole should not be overstated. From these tests (and broader testing that I have undertaken with the shock mounts), however, it is clear that the RAD-1 and RAD-2 perform well and, also, close to the Rycote equivalents, insofar as there are exact equivalents. Indeed, it is the physical differences between, and different features of, the shock mounts that are likely to determine which model anyone could or should choose: the XLR plug holder and better pivot knob of the Radius shock mounts vs the more minimalist InVision series shock mounts (which make the latter more suited to acoustic music recording, for example); or the more boom pole geared design of the Radius shock mounts vs the Rycote InVision softie lyre mount with pistol grip? Of course, as Radius introduce new models, those differences will change. Pricing will come into play too, although the different suspension hoops included will make up for the slightly higher pricing of the Radius shock mounts for many. Anyway, it is good to see such a high-quality start to Radius Windshield’s production, to have another UK manufacturer, and to have more choice in terms of shock mounts and suspensions. I’m also glad that all the experience embodied in the team hasn’t been lost to some unrelated business or the golf course! It will be interesting to see what comes from Radius over the next few years; what their first full basket windshield is like; and, with my personal interests, what they produce in due course in the way of suspensions for more esoteric uses such as mid-side mic pairs.
NB Although I matched the mics and gain in each set of two-mic test, the signals were normalized in Reaper so that I could get a decent level of shock mount noise for each comparison: therefore, please don’t compare noise levels across the different sets of tests or, indeed, start thinking that the shock mounts are all noisy! All the shock mounts I used here are ones I would (indeed, do) happily use and are excellent: this was very much about accentuating any differences between mounts in each set of tests.
Back in October 2022 I posted a blog article on some tests of various windshields I have: these included the Rode blimp, the Rycote Nano Shield and the Rycote Cyclone. The tests were all about performance in wind, but, of course, windshields also vary in terms of their suspensions. This matters to some degree with field recordings with mics on static stands (where vibrations can travel up the stand), but is especially relevant to mics on boom poles, be that for field recording or, more commonly, production sound for film or TV. With the Cyclone just edging the Nano Shield in terms of pure wind performance (and the Rode blimp not actually far behind), I was interested to test whether it also edged its smaller but newer sibling in terms of handling or other transmitted noise: in general use I wasn’t certain as conditions/use never quite match. Does the floating basket design of the Cyclone outweigh the newly designed lyres of the Nano Shield? How crucial is lyre compliance? And I must admit my curiosity was also raised further by some negative rumblings about the handling noise of the Nano Shield, not least on JWSound (a forum for sound production professionals): was I missing something?
So to some tests. First off, I should clarify what models I have tested: the Cyclone is the medium model (a 2021 model), while the Nano Shield model is the NS4-DB, with the improved sock design (using the same 3D-Tex material as used on the Cyclone) and the modified swivel arm for the suspension: both these updates were part of a free kit supplied by Rycote to address a resonance issue that some experienced with the original design (though some sound production professionals have suggested with only partial success). For mics, I used Rycote’s own HC-22 shotgun mic, for the reasons that I have a pair of them, they have an unusually good low-frequency response (useful for highlighting handling noise and exposing the limits of any suspension), and they have low self-noise (8.5 dBA) that helps reduce any distracting hiss when cranking up the gain to hear and measure handling noise. Needless to say, I didn’t use any high-pass filtering to remove the low frequencies for the purposes of these tests, and, of course, I double-checked to see if the mics really did produce the same level output by using a 1kHz test tone. The mics were mounted on a short stereo bar (at 175mm centres) mounted to a Gitzo carbon-fibre boom pole extended to 2.6m (8ft 6″). All tests were done indoors to reduce distraction of environmental noise and to remove wind from the equation.
The Cyclone vs Nano Shield without baskets
First up, I tested the bare suspensions: that is the mics mounted in the windshield suspensions, but without the baskets. With the Cyclone I also removed its chunky C-arm, which is only necessary to support the basket. With the Nano Shield I used blue-lined lyres, which are 62 shore: the 100g weight of the HC-22 shotgun mic is within the range of mics that Rycote suggest should be used with such lyres (ranging up to the 150g MKH60). Using the stiffer green-lined lyres (68 shore) certainly made for more handling noise, so you need to be careful – as always with Rycote suspensions – not to use too stiff a lyre. With the Cyclone, the choice was a bit harder, not least as the shore numbers across the two different lyre types do not equate: for example, given that the Rycote mics are not yet on any compatibility chart, the Rode NTG1 (at 105g almost the same weight as the HC-22) is shown as compatible with 62-shore Nano Shield lyres and 72-shore older style shores (as used in the InVision mounts and in the Cyclone). Initially, I carried out these tests, therefore, with 72-shore lyres in the Cyclone, but the results were poor compared to the Nano Shield, so I swapped out to 62-shore lyres and results for the Cyclone improved. I can see why Rycote recommend 72-shore lyres for such mic weights, however, since manic/very shaky movement of the Cyclone suspension when enclosed (i.e. in later tests: see below) caused the mic to wobble wildly, generating a lot of noise and with obvious danger of hitting the basket. So, to summarize, for all tests I used the recommended and appropriate lyres in the Nano Shield, but for the Cyclone I used a more compliant lyre than recommended, but which gave better performance in all but the most extreme test: in essence, I used the suspensions I would choose for such mics in normal booming for dialogue or field recording.
With the bare suspensions I did four simple tests:
1) holding the boom pole statically in the H position (above head, arms bent nearly ninety degrees at elbows);
2) holding the boom pole in the less flexible but easier crucifix position (i.e. pole behind neck, arms extended horizontally along the pole);
3) holding the boom pole under one arm, which is rather harder, but allows control of mixer; and
4) the H position again, but tapping the pole near its base to test louder noise/stronger vibration transmission along the pole. Here is the sound file arising for the Cyclone (there is a brief silence between each of the four short clips):
And here is the sound file arising from the Nano Shield:
In each case you can hear a distinct difference: the bare Nano Shield suspension is producing significantly less handling noise than the Cyclone. Looking at one of the tests in a spectrum analyzer, as a typical example, we can visualize the differences:
The sound is all very low frequency (below 80Hz ) and peaks around 25Hz, with about 10dB difference between the two in this example. It represents transmitted noise resulting from straining and shaking muscles and, of course, would be less with a fresh, fit and experienced boom pole operator: it is not often than being a weakling and an amateur is an actual advantage, but a worse-case scenario is useful here to highlight differences. There was, as expected, a smaller difference (around 3dB) in the more stable – and muscle-relaxing – crucifix position. Of course, a mic with more bass roll-off would exhibit less handling noise, and even what was recorded in these tests can be removed by use of a high-pass filter.
The Cyclone vs Nano Shield with baskets fitted
To compare the Cyclone and Nano Shield with their respective baskets fitted I expanded the tests (still using the boom pole at 2.6m (8ft 6″) extension) rather, not least as I now had wind protection for the two mics, as follows:
1) holding the boom pole statically in the H position (above head, arms bent nearly ninety degrees at elbows);
2) holding the boom pole in the less flexible but easier crucifix/cruciform position (i.e. pole behind neck, arms extended horizontally along the pole);
3) holding the boom pole under one arm, which is rather harder, but allows control of mixer;
4) the H position again, but tapping the pole near its base to test louder noise/stronger vibration transmission along the pole;
5) cueing (quick rotations of the boom pole as if moving aim of the mic from one speaker/actor to another);
6) boom swinging – 3m/10ft horizontal arcs;
7) moving the mics up down around 1m (3ft) quickly, as if making a sudden adjustment;
8) holding the boom pole in the H position, but shaking it quite significantly (about 25mm/1 inch) up and down, to really push the suspensions; and
9) testing cable slaps (again rather exaggerated) at the base of the boom pole to test transmission of potentially different frequencies;
Here are the sound files arising (again, there is a brief silence between each of the short clips):
As with the sans basket tests, the Nano Shield significantly outperformed the Cyclone in eight of the nine tests. The one exception was that there wasn’t a lot of difference in the outcome of the underarm static boom pole holding; and I repeated the tests several times to check. The most significant difference was with the shaking test, but, as discussed earlier in the post, this is very much the consequence of the 62-shore lyres in the Cyclone allowing major lateral and vertical movement of the shotgun mic with such extreme handling.
Here are the spectrum analyzer screenshots for each of the nine tests:
While my previous tests for wind performance favoured the Cyclone, these tests of the performance of the suspensions showed that the Nano Shield has the edge. This is reassuring in terms of booming: since getting two Nano Shields I have much preferred them at the end of a boom pole (due to smaller size and lower weight) to a Cyclone, but had wondered if I was losing out in some way, especially given the online rumblings. Of course, these tests are limited in range and by the models of windshield and, indeed, mics used: whilst I can be confident that the Nano Shield is a good choice vs the Cyclone for booming with my HC-22 shotgun mics, other sizes of the two windshield types and different mics may produce different results. I’d be rather surprised if results were reversed, but it can’t be ruled out. Why some others are getting problems with the Nano Shields is unclear: evidently, seriously skilled professional boom pole operators may do things with boom poles that are beyond my usage or imagination! In some cases it may be that the upgrade kits haven’t been applied or, indeed, that too stiff lyres are being used for the mic in hand: both would seem unlikely in the hands of an experienced professional, but, in the absence of any details of the exact set-ups causing issues, perhaps one shouldn’t make assumptions. Certainly, I must confess that before these tests I was using the stiffer green-lined lyres (68 shore), rather than the more suited blue-lined lyres (62 shore). For very light mics, it is the red-lined lyres (55 shore) that will be needed, and these are neither supplied with the Nano Shield kits nor, indeed, easily available.
For anyone who has been following the foray of long-established and respected maker of mic windshields and suspensions, Rycote, into manufacture of mics themselves, the announcement of the BD-10 fig 8 at NAB 2023 is an exciting development. With two shotgun mics produced in 2021 and then, in 2022, omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics, a fig 8 mic was undoubtedly the most hoped-for mic to give a reasonably complete range. You might wish for a wide cardioid too (or variations on the existing polar patterns – a free-field omni mic, for example), but there is no doubt that a fig 8 mic is vital to Rycote’s range of mics for several reasons: first, Rycote’s established customer base is founded on field recording and, especially, those recording sound for film/television, where mid-side recording – and a fig 8 mic – is a key tool; and, second, the company needs a full range if it is to tempt users away from more established manufacturers. That there are few such complete ranges, with a fig 8 mic in the sub-£1000*mic category adds to the significance of the BD-10: with the recent demise of AKG’s competent Blueline mics (launched 30 years ago), I can’t think of another manufacturer producing mid-priced SDC mics with a fig 8 in the line-up other than boutique Taiwanese mic-maker B9Audio (with almost no reviews and mics only available direct from a private address in Taipei, B9Audio is not viable for most) and, possibly, respected German manufacturer MBHO (I say possibly, since the MBHO website has long since failed to list the KA 800 fig 8 capsule, pricing is uncertain, and, again, distribution is not similar to most mainstream mic manufacturers: for example, I can’t find any MBHO mics in stock in the UK). And one-off SDC fig 8 mics (i.e. not forming part of a range of polar patterns) in this category are rare too. Perhaps more surprisingly, not all mic manufacturers producing SDCs in higher price brackets have succeeded in producing a fig 8: most obviously, Sennheiser has never managed to bring a much-anticipated MKH8000 series fig 8 to market (although the excellent, albeit large for an SDC mic, MKH30 has remained in production since launched in 1987), and DPA similarly has no SDC fig 8 offering.
*NB: though Rycote has yet to announce pricing, it will almost certainly be in this category, but perhaps a little pricier than its £670 SDC siblings.
The Rycote BD-10, on paper, then looks like it will be a welcome addition to the market, when it becomes available (probably not until the autumn). Its self-noise is comparable to that of the Schoeps MK8. It is a little (22mm) longer and heavier (15g) than Rycote’s omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics, but not radically so. This reflects the capsule design, which, I understand, is a pairing of 11mm diameter diaphragms one above the other with a waveguide to blend them: the polar pattern graph shows a very symmetrical result from this arrangement, but, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, what is the mic like in reality? On to some field tests and trials.
NB The mic tested was a prototype, and the final specs of the BD-10 in production may differ slightly.
As with all mics, I was interested in the impact of radio frequency interference (RFI) on the BD-10. Living in rural Norfolk, much of my life is outside or on the edge of mobile phone reception, where some models of phones transmitting at full power can cause notable interference on mics at up to, say 1m/3ft: not a problem with mics on a stand, but I’ve had this become a real issue with handheld shotgun mics and a phone in my jacket pocket (on those rare occasions when I forget to turn my phone off). And this could be a problem with ENG work too (not least from the phone of an interviewee). So I was glad to find that in testing, as before, with several different phones on the absolute fringe of reception (i.e. working at highest power) the mic showed no sign of RFI even at close distances (100mm): the other Rycote mics are similarly resistant to RFI.
Self-noise and sensitivity
With an 18dBA self-noise figure the BD-10 has significantly more self-noise than its stablemates, which are the HC-15 and HC-22 shotguns at 8.5dBA; the omni OM-08 at 11dBA; the supercardioid SC-08 at 12dBA; and the cardioid CA-08 at 13dBA. The previously released Rycote mics, however, have unusually low self-noise, and higher self-noise for SDC fig 8 mics is normal. For example, at 17dBA the Schoeps MK8 has a very similar self-noise figure to the Rycote fig 8, and, again, 7dBA more than its MK 2 omni capsule counterpart (10dBA). In short, the BD-10 is in good company and 18dBA self-noise for a fig 8 is respectable.
A check on the reality of the 18dBA figure – by recording the sound of nothing (the mic buried deep in duvets in the airing cupboard, with all doors and windows closed and the mains electricity turned off, recording into a Sound Devices MixPre-3 [EIN -130dBV/-128dBu]) and with reference to other mics – confirmed that the self-noise is indeed around that stated.
Testing this in the real world, I rigged the BD-10 as an MS pair with a cardioid CA-08, and a second SDC fig 8 in the form of the AKG CK94: the latter, although just discontinued, is a rare example of another sub-£1000 SDC fig 8 mic with a full frequency range.
First off, recording the ambient sound of my nominally quiet Norfolk village street (yet again!) even in the quieter parts there is no evident difference between the two Rycote mics, but hiss from the AKG CK94 is clearly discernible, which reflects its 22dBA self-noise spec.
Turning to a quieter environment, it was useful to test the BD-10 indoors, in this case with some sound effects/indoor ambience: the mic was set up as a mid-side pair with the cardioid CA-08 in the middle of the kitchen, with various household noises – and some silence – recorded. The AKG CK94 was also paired with the CA-08 for comparison. Here are the two MS tracks and then the three iso tracks for the cardioid mic and the two fig 8 mics:
During the sounds such as cutlery being placed in a drawer the two fig 8 mics are both very usable, but in the quiet passages, such as near the end, the hiss of the AKG CK94 is, again, fairly evident.
The specs state the BD-10’s sensitivity as 14.2mV/Pa (-36.95 dBV). This means that the BD-10 is the least sensitive of the Rycote mics (the next being the cardioid at 24.3 mV/Pa or -32.3 dBV), but its output is still healthy. For example, it is more sensitive than the Schoeps MK8 (12 mV/Pa or -38.5 dBV) and the AKG CK94 (10mV/Pa or -40 dBV). A consequence of this is that the BD-10 has a couple more dB max SPL than its stablemates, but the more practical reason for being aware of its sensitivity is for level matching against different mics when using the BD-10 in an MS pair (matching sensitivity in the recorder in such use giving an easier starting point for monitoring and in post).
Frequency response and ‘sonic signature’
Fig 8 mics generally have a poorer bass response, although some, such as the Sennheiser MKH30 are exceptions: in this case pretty much flat down to 40Hz. The main competitor pricewise to the BD-10, the Ambient Emesser ATE 308, has a marked bass roll-off from 100Hz (if not higher), which is fine if matching for MS to a shotgun mic that has a similar roll-off, but is not ideal for other use. More surprisingly the much-loved Schoeps MK8 has a steady fall off starting from above 200Hz, and, according to its frequency response graph, is down 8dB by 50Hz: at the high end there is a sudden fall-off from 16kHz, so that the response is down by 20dB at 20kHz. The more modestly priced AKG CK94 has a less curtailed frequency response than most of these examples (bar the MKH30) being down about 3.5dB at 50Hz and a similar amount at 15kHz (with no published data beyond). On paper, the Rycote BD-10 looks hopeful: the frequency response graph shows a very gradual roll-off from 200Hz so that it is only -1dB at 100Hz, -2.5dB at 50Hz, and -4dB at 20Hz. If the graphs are correct, then this suggests, a little surprisingly, that the BD-10 has a better bass response than the cardioid CA-08 and supercardioid CS-08. At the upper end, after a little rise around 12kHz, the BD-10 is down about 5dB at 20kHz.
So much for the theory: now to reality! First, a different take on the ambient recording, in this case with the two fig 8 mics (i.e. Rycote BD-10 and AKG CK94) oriented so that in each case one of their lobes faced the rear of a parked car and, in a separate blimp, the SC-08 cardioid likewise facing the car, which was then started. The resulting mono tracks show all three mics capable of rendering the lowest fundamental (at the lowest engine idling speed around 24Hz), with the BD-10 showing more low frequency response than the AKG CK94, but slightly less than the cardioid CA-08: this isn’t a surprise in terms of an expectation of a fig 8 mic versus a cardioid, although it is not what would be anticipated from the frequency response graphs. Graphs aside, though, it is clear that the BD-10 has a good bass response for a fig 8 mic, which suggests good capability for, say, music recording or effects and field recording with a bass component.
At the upper end, it was interesting to see if the BD-10 had any of the extended high-frequency response found in testing of the other Rycote SDC mics. As with the comparison of the Rycote OM-08 and Sennheiser MKH8020 omni mics for extended high frequency response, I recorded a street ambience at 96kHz instead of 48kHz, in this case including the OM-08 and the AKG CK94 alongside the BD-10 for comparison, with levels adjusted to reflect the different sensitivities. As with the omni mics comparison, again the spectrograms are revealing: they show the extended high-frequency response of the omni OM-08, as now expected, with, for example, the gate latch-shutting sound (that tall spike near the right-hand side of the spectrograms) reaching about 48kHz, and the wider spike of the passing tractor (towards the left-hand side of the spectrograms) reaching around 35kHz, and, as would be expected, with much more low-frequency content. The BD-10 shows both clearly, showing that the different capsule design for the fig 8 mic still has a very respectable extended high-frequency response to near 48kHz: moreover, the BD-10 is like the OM-08 in that it is consistently low in terms of self-noise up to the top of the graph (around -136dB at 48kHz) in stark contrast to the previous comparison of the OM-08 and Sennheiser MKH 8020 (where the Sennheiser had considerable self-noise in the extended high frequency range, although not, of course, in the human audible range). The AKG CK94 has a rather lower extended high frequency response, although rather better than anticipated from previous tests on the other Blueline capsules, and has a little more self-noise at such frequencies (as, of course, it does in the audible range). As discussed previously, extended high-frequency response might seem entirely academic outside those recording at high sample rates and pitching down in post (e.g. for bat recordings, or for sound effects), but there are those that argue frequency response over 20kHz is important for high-resolution recording (such as David Blackmer of Earthworks mics in this article). If so minded, there is no doubt that the Rycote fig 8 is a respectable performer over 20kHz, comparable to the other Rycote SDC mics, and with much lower self-noise a useful benefit of the not quite as far extended high-frequency range as found in the Sennheiser MKH 8000 series mics.
Putting this good low and high-frequency response to practical use, I tested the BD-10 on a guitar to cover a wider frequency range. At the same time, given that the previously produced Rycote mics are described by the manufacturer as having ‘a tonal and sonic signature that makes them cut together seamlessly’ and that this relates to frequency response, I also included the omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics in this test, placing mics at the relevant increasing distances to allow for their different polar patterns to reduce the impact of different reflections: the omni mic was placed at 400mm, the cardioid and fig 8 at 680mm (distance factor of 1.7) and the supercardioid at 760mm (distance factor of 1.9). To make comparison most straightforward the wav file has a single strum from each mic in turn (omni, cardioid, fig 8 and supercardioid in turn), followed by a short space and repeated another three times. This was carried out in a normally furnished living room, with a low ceiling.
It is hard to draw definitive conclusions from this simple test. Matching levels was extraordinarily difficult given the different frequency content and different reflections resulting from the different polar patterns, distances and frequency responses: in the end I settled for calculating the impact of the differences of distance and sensitivity. There is, as would be expected, a slight change in the sound as the polar patterns and distances change, and, despite being at the same distance, there is a difference between the fig 8 and the cardioid mic: to a significant degree this is the impact of the greater bass response of the cardioid. Interestingly, the fig 8 and the supercardioid have a very similar sound, doubtless reflecting the reduced bass response of the latter (and, of course, its greater distance: less proximity effect). In short, though, the ‘sonic signature’ for the mics is close enough that I wouldn’t hesitate in using the BD-10 with any of the other mics in a mid-side or double mid-side array.
The BD-10 will have a wide range of applications, but this is likely to include use on a boompole in a MS or DMS rig, so handling noise performance is relevant: all other things being equal, fig 8 mics are the most susceptible to handling noise. Testing for handling noise transmitted via a boompole involved some deliberately clumsy booming, aiming for transmission of vibration to the mics. Three mics were included in the test (i.e. rigged together on a Rycote Invision suspension with back-to-back clips) to allow comparison: the Rycote BD-10, the Rycote SC-08 (supercardioid) and the AKG CK94 (fig 8). Gain levels were adjusted for relative sensitivities.
When holding the boompole still only the BD-10 showed any significant handling noise, which peaked at -38dB, with LUFs at -68.7dB. Evidently this was trembling/vibration from the boom operator’s muscles holding a steady stance, and was all low-frequency energy below c.35Hz: a high-pass filter – a pretty essential adjunct to booming – removes such energy. In the second recording of boompole handling an 80Hz high-pass filter was applied and the low-frequency content in the BD-10 recording is absent: in this case, however, some medium clumsy handling transmits more to the mic than to either the SC-08 or the CK94, which perform very similarly (about 10dB lower noise in terms of LUFs compared to the BD-10). In the third boompole handling test, with extreme rough handling – rather implausibly so! – the difference between the BD-10 and the other two mics remains similar at around 10dB. While previous tests against the AKG CK93 and Oktava MK012 hypercardioids revealed the SC-08’s ability to cope with handling noise rather better, it is clear that the BD-10 doesn’t perform as well as its stablemate or, indeed, the AKG CK94 fig 8, but, other than that sub-c.35Hz transmission – which can be easily cut off by use of a high-pass filter at 40Hz or above – it should offer no problem to the user given a suitable suspension and experienced boom operation (not forgetting that capture of stereo ambiences on a boompole is usually for incidental B-roll, camera perspective stereo etc., not whilst executing complex and rapid boompole movements for dialogue recording!).
Fig 8 mics are especially susceptible to wind noise, so it is interesting to explore this aspect of the BD-10’s performance. To get a base line, a triple rig of BD-10, SC-08 and AKG CK94 was used again, this time, however, with the mics in separate Invision suspensions, spaced along a stereo bar so that no mic was shielded from the wind by the others, and mounted on a boom pole. Fast boom swings were made to generate wind noise, not to represent typical usage of a fig 8. Gain was set as for the handling noise tests (see above). Swinging the bare mics produced overwhelming rumble, as would be expected: the SC-08 and BD-10 performed very similarly, while the AKG CK94 performed rather better (about 13dB better in terms of peak and LUFs). Of course, such use is unrealistic: even with a modest amount of boom movement indoors (or the gentlest air movement around a static mic indoors) at the very least a foam windshield would be used, so the test was repeated with the manufacturer’s original foams on all three mics. Again, the two Rycote mics produced similar levels of wind noise, with the AKG CK94 maintaining an advantage of around 13-15dB. Applying an 80Hz high-pass filter on the recorder in the third test evened things up rather, with wind noise much reduced and with the AKG CK94 having around a (reduced) 5dB advantage over the two Rycote mics. As was noted in the previous SC-08 wind tests against the AKG CK93 and Oktava MK012, it performed between these two mics in terms of noise and, in extensive use since, has not proved problematic. That the BD-10 performs similarly, despite its fig 8 pattern, is reassuring: of course, better wind (and handling) performance at the level of the CK94 would be welcome, but there is no reason to think that the BD-10 isn’t suited to use in wind given, as with any mic, suitable wind protection for the use and conditions.
Following up on this and placing the mic in high wind for an ambient recording confirmed this. I took a mid-side rig with the SC-08 and BD-10 mics in a medium Cyclone windshield up to the north-facing Norfolk coast on a windy day (about 20 mph or more), recording in one location on the inland side of the shingle spit, facing westwards into the wind (including some walking nearby on the shingle), and in a second location on the beach (the wind coming from slightly rear of the left-hand side of the Cyclone). Finally, back in the garden with the same rig and with the wind still blowing (but inevitably not as hard as at the coast), I then did a further recording. For the recordings, I include the individual SC-08 and BD-10 isos, along with the decoded MS and then the latter with an 80Hz high-pass/low-cut filter applied.
It is always hard to translate and communicate conditions let alone those in high wind. In none of these cases would I have attempted a nature/ambience recording as set-up for these tests: I would have sought some shelter from the direct blast of the wind (e.g. in the lee of the pillbox on the beach, or in the lee of the garden wall), not least to reduce vibration of the mic stand. But what the tests do confirm is that the BD-10 is in the same ballpark in terms of wind noise as, say, its supercardioid counterpart. In short, I’d have no hesitation using the Rycote fig 8 for outdoor field recording.
A bit of music
I recently wrote a blog post about a simple video of a singer-songwriter (Lucy Grubb), for a competition entry, and, though I mentioned use of a variation of double mid-side recording, I skipped over just what fig 8 mic I was using. As it is no longer under wraps, it is good to be able to clarify that I used the new BD-10 alongside its supercardioid (SC-08) and cardioid (CA-08) stablemates. Using the three mics, the fig 8 was set conventionally pointed at Lucy, just above the top of her guitar, so that its lobes faced left and right; immediately below this the supercardioid pointed upwards to capture the vocals, and immediately above the fig 8 the cardioid pointed downwards to the guitar – aimed around the 12th fret.
When Rycote followed up on its initial two shotgun mics of 2021 with its omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics the following year, this gave real hope that a fig 8 might follow. Evidently, the capsule design is very different to that used in the other mics, so all the more credit should go to Rycote for persisting. As I said at the outset, a fig 8 is critical to the use of so many recordists that use Rycote’s windshields and shockmounts; and it is important if Rycote wants to be seen as a real contender as a mic manufacturer. That Rycote has come up with a fig 8, and fairly quickly, is good news: that it performs so competently means that it is a great counterpart to the rest of the range. Over a couple of months (intermittently) testing the mic, I have been impressed: I will, however, continue to work with it, not least putting it through its paces on more musical sources, and more field recording. Hopefully, it won’t be long before Rycote clarify availability and pricing.
Lucy Grubb wanted to have a video made of her acoustic performance of a new track ‘Magpie’, to enter the GemsOnVHS annual contest – #GemsInTheRough2023. The requirements are an original song and a video specifically made for the contest. If you are not familiar with it, Anthony Simpkins’s GemsOnVHS was begun about 12 years ago and comprises a mass of field recordings (or, rather, videos) of what might be broadly described as folk musicians. The musicians (almost all relatively young) are mostly from the US, but not exclusively so, and they are mostly lesser-known artistes without recording contracts or large followings. There are exceptions, of course, such as the recordings/videos of Willie Watson made two or three years ago – long after he had come to fame with the Old Crow Medicine Show and, then, his solo career. Some other well-known musicians have been caught by GemsOnVHS at an early stage in their careers, with the videos doubtless helping them along the path: the most obvious example is Sierra Ferrell. It isn’t quite a case of a latter day Alan Lomax, but it is a great way of finding some more obscure, but talented musicians, not least as few will ever have the commercial success that means they will make it to the UK. And the intimate field recordings resonate with my own interest in such an approach.
The requirements of the annual contest don’t mean that there is a need to follow the GemsOnVHS production style: indeed, many competition entries are made using no more than a smart phone. Given the weather (very wintry here last weekend, when Lucy blew back to rural Norfolk for a couple of days) an inside location was pretty essential, so I suggested the workshop of woodcarver Luke Chapman: Luke’s a good friend and another talented musician, and I have been recording him over the last few years, more latterly in his workshop. It has a reasonable acoustic and seemed suited to Lucy’s music and the ethos of GemsOnVHS. While Anthony Simpkin has always favoured near-invisible miking (relying on lav mics), I’ve not been so convinced about this one element of the GemsOnVHS productions: it seems a little contrived and rather contrary to the honest field-recording approach, and suggests undue emphasis on the visuals. Anyway, I much prefer visible mics (above all for audio quality) when filming field recordings of music: and it is good to see, or rather hear, that many others do as well – perhaps most notably the folks at Playing for Change.
Of course, not all microphone techniques are equally visible or as suited to field recordings. So to keep the set-up simple and comparatively unintrusive, for this recording I went for a variation on double mid-side recording. Using three SDC mics, the Rycote BD-10 fig 8 mic was set conventionally with the null pointed at Lucy, just above the top of her guitar, so that its lobes faced left and right; immediately below this a supercardioid (Rycote SC-08) pointed upwards to capture the vocals, and immediately above the fig 8 a cardioid (Rycote CA-08) pointed downwards to the guitar – aimed around the 12th fret. There is a Sound on Sound article by Hugh Robjohns from a few years ago that discusses and illustrates the approach. The two different MS pairs can be decoded separately and combined as wished. Doing this as a one-man band, camera work was necessarily simple, which suited the nature of the contest. I used three cameras, two on tripods and one hand held (sans gimbal) to give a bit of energy to the video: a Lumix G9 with a Meike T2.2 35mm cinema lens; one Lumix GX80 with a Meike T2.2 16mm cinema lens; and another Lumix GX80 with a Panasonic f1.8 25mm lens. I took lights, but left them in the car: it seemed over the top, and, while a combination of daylight and fluorescent strip lights might not seem ideal, the combined diffuse lighting works OK and keeps it real.
We did three takes of Lucy’s song and went for the third: there was no audio editing at all (processing was limited to adding a high-pass filter, setting levels, choosing stereo width whilst decoding the MS pairs, and adding a little reverb), and the video editing was simple too (a little bit of colour matching and then grading). Anyway, here’s Lucy’s entry:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.