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Rycote’s new mics, part 2: omni

December 1, 2022

Following on from part one of my tests and review of Rycote’s new mics, it’s now time – in part two – to turn attention to their new omni mic: the OM-08. A pair of these arrived from the folks at Stroud a bit after the cardioid mic (CA-08) and the supercardioid mic (SC-08), hence the separate blog post. Much of what I said about the cardioid and supercardioid mics applies equally to the omni mics: again the specs of the OM-08 can be read on the manufacturer’s website; physically they are pretty much identical (although, being omni they lack the slots to the rear of the diaphragm); ditto for handling noise and RFI (excellent in both cases); and, as you’d expect with an omni, the OM-08 fares still better with wind. Self-noise is also excellent at 11dBA (compared to the 12dBA for the supercardioid mic and 13dBA for the cardioid mic): and, again, this figure seems to be spot on. So what’s left to test with the third of the new mic models? Plenty still, fortunately, so here goes:

A bit of music

First up, I headed down to visit guitarist Luke Chapman in his workshop (by day Luke is a woodcarver) to make a series of tests. The first one is comparative: it alternates between a pair of the Rycote omni OM-08 mics and a pair of Rode NT55 mics (with the omni capsules: that is, the NT45-O capsules, which sound a lot nicer than the cardioid capsules – indeed, the omni capsule is even rated by such luminaries as Tony Faulkner). The second test sets a single OM-08 to record the guitar, then compares it to progressively narrower-patterned Rycote mics (the cardioid, supercardioid and shotgun mics) with the distance increased proportionally to reflect the polar patterns of each. And the third test is just a longer clip of an OM-08 pair on the guitar. As expected, and this is no disrespect to the omni capsule of the NT55, the Rycote OM-08 holds up well to my ears; and the OM-08 matches well with the other Rycotes.

For those of you wanting a musical comparison with a higher-end mic and, indeed, without the audio compression that comes with YouTube, it’s on now to some WAV files of tests of a church organ. With Norwich Cathedral organ (my easiest to access test instrument) currently in pieces at Harrison & Harrison’s workshop in Durham, I thought about local parish churches nearby and remembered that Heydon church organ (a Wordsworth and Maskell instrument from 1883) has just been restored, so with the permission of the incumbent, I headed off with old friend and organ recordist Jake Purches of Base2 Music for a bit of testing. Jake brought a pair of his Sennheiser MKH 8020 omni mics along for comparative purposes. Five such omnis form the core of Jake’s rig for his recordings of the likes of organists Jean-Paul Imbert, Darius Battawalla and Wayne Marshall and they provide a sterner comparison than the Rode NT55 mics: and, of course, Jake is a tougher critic of the mics on such a source.

Here are the spaced pairs (62cm width) of MKH 8020 and OM-08 mics rigged up with back-to-back clips for testing, albeit before being raised up to organ pipe level.
And here are the two omni pairs up high. Well not that high: my Manfrotto 1004BAC stand only goes up to 3.66m, which was a little low perhaps. It’s a fairly close location too, what with the organ being in the chancel and with choir stalls. And no, that’s not a real owl on top of the 15th-century choir screen: or if it is, it seem unmoved by our organ tests.

Amongst the various bits of playing of the Heydon organ, I think this simple test (running down to C1 at 32Hz) is more instructive than, say, a snippet of Bach:

Again, the Rycotes held up well in the comparative test (crucially in their low colouration, which seemed as low as that of the MKH 8020 mics), and it was revealing that after this and other tests over a couple of days, Jake is now keen to add a pair to his collection for organ recording.

Field recording

Omni mics, of course, lend themselves to field recording of ambiences as much as to music recording, so, with that in mind, I stuck a pair in blimps alongside the Sennheiser MKH 8020 mics again: the spacing was 62cm. Here, from the front garden in my ostensibly quiet Norfolk village is a bit of Sunday afternoon late November ambience: cars passing, people walking and jogging by (OK, that was me), someone playing an electric guitar in the distance, plus the odd bird that forgot to migrate to somewhere more appealing.

Again, no obvious lack on the Rycote omni mic recording – at least to my ears. I recorded the street ambience at a higher sample rate than I usually choose (96kHz instead of 48kHz: note Soundcloud seems to limit recordings to 48kHz) to allow comparison of the higher frequency response: the Sennheiser MKH 8000 series mics are known for their extended high end (amongst other attributes) and it is interesting to see how the OM-08 mics handle those frequencies above human hearing.

Spectrogam of the first 23 seconds of the ambience recording showing frequencies up to 48kHz: Rycote OM-08 on the left, and Sennheiser MKH 8020 on the right.

The spectrograms are revealing: they show the extended high-frequency response of the MKH 8020 with, for example, the gate-shutting sound (that tall spike near the right-hand side of the spectrograms) reaching about 45kHz, compared to about 40kHz on the OM-08 (sorry, it is clearer in Reaper on my PC than in this rather smaller derived image), which is still very respectable. More significantly, perhaps, the spectrograms show the much higher self-noise of the Sennheiser mic at high frequencies: the Rycote mic is consistently low in terms of self-noise up to the top of the graph (around -120dB at 48kHz, vs around -105dB for the Sennheiser MKH 8020). Of course, both mics deliver low self-noise in the human audible range, so this 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 omni is a respectable performer over 20kHz, with much lower self-noise a useful benefit of the not quite as far extended high-frequency range. NB, if you are wondering, I checked the cardioid (CA-08) and supercardioid (SC-08) mics alongside the OM-08 (at a sample rate of 192kHz, and using a can of compressed air as a broadband source) finding they have almost identical high-frequency capability: not at all surprising given the common design of the mics.

Rycote spaced pair omni and Rycote NOS cardioid mics.

Anyway, returning from such rarefied matters to another more earthy test: this time yet another street ambience (sorry if the sound of my village street is getting too familiar to you) comparing a Rycote OM-08 omni spaced pair (at 46cm) with the Rycote CA-08 cardioid mics as a NOS pair (i.e. at 90 degrees and 30.5cm spacing). As you would expect, there is a significant difference in the bass response with the omni mics, and, of course, the impact of polar pattern and mic array on a 360 degrees ambience is much more marked than the change of a polar pattern of a mono mic recording a point source (such as in the guitar example earlier in this post): in short, these differences mean it is harder to hear the sonic consistency that is evident across the various Rycote mics.

Final thoughts

Mic choices are often made on the basis of cost, habit, familiarity, reputation, and even snobbery as much as by critical (blind) listening of all the options out there, so it is hard for a new manufacturer to establish itself. In this case, Rycote is helped by having such a long-established reputation as a maker of mic windshields and suspensions. The folks at Stroud would hardly risk that reputation on some mediocre mics, but, nonetheless, I have been slightly surprised by how good the mics all sound. As have those others – from professional sound-recording perspectives – who have kindly helped with parts of my testing. Perhaps the surprise is to some degree a consequence of the pricing – significantly below many of the established professional SDC mics made by the likes of Schoeps and Sennheiser. The two parts of these tests, covering the supercardioid, cardioid and, in this second post, the omni mics from Rycote have hopefully provided the reader with an idea of the three new mics. As I said in the conclusions to part one, these mics are a great follow-up to the HC-15 and HC-22 shotgun mics (for which see my initial review and subsequent field recording tests). All five mics merit consideration by anyone planning to buy mics in the mid range to professional categories, especially if low self-noise, a consistent sound across different polar patterns, and, indeed, availability of a range of different polar patterns are desirable. The last point is interesting: I have no inside knowledge of what is planned in terms of any future mics at Rycote, but the closing comment from Steve Phillips (Innovation Manager at Rycote) in a video about the SC-08, CA-08 and OM-08 is a tantalizing ‘I’m sure there is more to come’. Some might hope that means a wide cardioid, but, above all, I’d love to see a fig 8 mic added to the series with decent self-noise and at this price point: that would really round out the family and make the Rycotes even more serious contenders! In the meantime, I’d recommend that you try and give the mics a listen and see what you make of them too.

Audio Gear

Rycote’s new mics, part 1: cardioid and supercardioid

October 29, 2022

A year on from the launch of their shotgun mics (the HC-15 and HC-22) the folks at Rycote have produced three more mic models: an omni, a cardioid and a supercardioid. As with their previous mics, these are designed in-house and made at the Rycote factory in Stroud: an addition to the astonishingly small number of mics made in the UK. It was good to hear the announcement that the same capsule and preamp design was being used again, since the two shotgun mics sound excellent and have very low self-noise. Importantly, a similar design increases the chances of a close match in the sound between different polar patterns, and Rycote certainly claim that this commonality gives ‘a tonal and sonic signature that makes them cut together seamlessly’. The last is relevant to many uses, but, given Rycote’s focus on windshields for sound for film and TV and their initial production of shotgun mics, my first thoughts have been to wonder how their shotgun mics inter-cut with the new supercardioid when switching between them for dialogue. So with this, and a specific music recording project, in mind, I was pleased when the folks at Stroud sent me a pair of the cardioid CA-08 mics and a supercardioid SC-08 mic for testing. As with the HC-15 and HC-22 no conditions/obligations applied, and the following thoughts and tests are entirely my own.

The approach

As I said with my review and tests of the two Rycote shotgun mics last year, I’m not overly excited by mic reviews – usually vlogs – that involve unboxing and reiteration of the published specs, in this case again readily available online on the Rycote website, along with some tests of the mics in an unlikely location (e.g. with shotgun mics locked off above a vlogger’s head in their indoor studio). Comparative tests are tricky too, especially with the cardioid mic: this is the most popular polar pattern so there are even more cardioid small diaphragm condenser (SDC) mics out there than shotgun mics, and to cover all such mics and uses is outside the scope of what I can do. If you want to hear how these mics stack up against a particular mic you own or think is an obvious alternative, then for the nuances of one against the other there is no substitute for testing and working with both mics yourself and no review or on-line test is going to replace that. Rather, the focus of this review is a series of real-world tests, some out and about on location, with the aim to see how well the sound from the different polar patterns match, how the mics hold up off-axis, and how well the new mics – with their polar patterns opening up uses quite different than the normal application of the previous shotgun mic models – fare when recording music and ambiences. Sometimes I use another mic for the purpose of comparison, or to illustrate a point. As readers of this blog will have noted, I am a user of most of the range of AKG Blueline mics, and these aren’t a bad range of mics to use for such occasional comparisons as they are priced similarly (although the fact that the Blueline mics are being phased out of production means that availability is another issue). I also compare the mics to the cheaper, but popular, Rode NT55 mics, and to three well-respected mics used by discerning professionals: the Neumann KM184 (cardioid), which is similarly priced to the Rycotes, and the much more expensive Schoeps CMC64 (cardioid) and CMC641 (supercardioid).

The mics as they come: matched pairs in the one box, and single mics in smaller boxes. In the cardboard packing boxes there are also slip-on foam windshields and mic clips/stand mounts with 3/8″ threads.

The physical side of things

I’ve no wish to rehash the specs of the two Rycote mics that can be read in the specs sheets for the CA-08 and SC-08, but, on the physical side, it is perhaps worth emphasizing their small size: at 78mm long the 19mm diameter mics are just over half the length of my AKG and Rode SDC mics, and proportionally lighter. The length of the brass-barreled mics matches the preamplifier and capsule part of the HC-15 and HC-22 shotgun mics (i.e. without their aluminium interference tubes). The smallness is handy, both with the supercardioid (where boom-pole use is more likely) and with the cardioid (where, if used with some low-profile XLR connectors, it opens up opportunities for the more creative for field recording – it should be possible to fit an ORTF pair in a 100mm-diameter blimp without the capsules being too near the edge of the windshield). A lack of switches for a high-pass filter and a pad might concern some, but this isn’t a huge issue for me: and, of course, many a rival mic (such as the similarly-priced Neumann KM184 and KM185, or the relatively new Rode TF-5) have no such on-mic switches. As with the HC-15 and HC-22, access to the innards is by release of the brass circlip in the XLR socket, which seems preferable to a screw (the circlip also grounds the mic body to pin 1): I didn’t open up the mics though. The wooden cases are nice, well made and close in a satisfying way (simple pleasures!): not sure many would use them in the field though, not least as there is no room for the included foam windshields and mounts (the latter are of limited use, being rigid mounts: like many, I will be using Rycote’s own lyre-based suspensions).

RFI

Before even starting to record anything, I was interested in the impact of radio frequency interference (RFI) on the mics. 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 (i.e. from the phone of an interviewee). So I was glad to find that both mics handle my spraying of phone, and other, RFI sources (wifi etc.) well.

Handling noise

Handling noise isn’t such a consideration for some of the new polar patterns as for the shotgun mics, although some field recording may involve moving the mics while recording and, of course, the supercardioid is a likely candidate for boom-pole use, so it is on this mic that I focused. Testing for handling noise transmitted via a boompole involved some deliberately terrible booming, aiming for maximum transmission of vibration to the mics (on an Invision 7 suspension): banging cables, moving hands all over the boom pole crazily – the sort of stuff that would have you escorted off a film set within 10 seconds and banished for life! The Rycote SC-08 handled the boom-pole abuse better than the two comparison mics (the well-behaved AKG CK93 (hypercardioid) and the Oktava MK012 with the hypercardioid capsule), showing less of a tendency to pick up transmitted low frequencies through the boom pole. Here are the test files:

Wind noise

Wind noise with cardioid and supercardioid mics can be an issue: there are often good reasons to take such mics outdoors and, also, supercardioids on a fast-swung boom pole indoors can be vulnerable to wind. Susceptibility to wind on a mic varies with polar pattern, of course, and, while wind protection up to a full blimp can address the issue, it is good to examine the baseline noise. For this – not least given relevance to actual use of the supercardioid– I have just gone for some simple fast boom-pole swings, with the SC-08 mounted together with the AKG CK93 and the Oktava MK012 (hypercardioid capsule) for comparison. Interestingly, the bare SC-08 was fairly susceptible to wind noise, only 1dB better than the Oktava MK012 and over 6dB worse than the AKG CK93. Putting matching (Rycote) foam windshields on the three mics, however, changed matters dramatically: the Oktava MK012 was by a considerable (4dB) margin the worst performer (it is well-known as susceptible to wind noise when booming), followed by the AKG CK93, with the SC-08 offering -7dB and -3dB less wind noise than these mics respectively. Booming with a bare mic or, indeed, using a bare mic when any wind is in the offing is not realistic, so the tests with basic foam windshields are perhaps the most relevant to real-world usage. The test files here have a short clip of fast boom-pole swings with the bare mics, followed by a second or so of silence and then a clip of the fast boom-pole swings with the slip-on foam windshields on the mics:

Self noise

Rycote’s two shotgun mics have 8.5 dBA self-noise, which is about as low as it gets for a shotgun mic (think Sennheiser MKH 60 at 8dBA) and is much better than most of the professionals’ favourites, helped by the 17mm-diameter diaphragm size squeezed into a 19mm-diameter mic body. This low self-noise figure was born out by comparative tests with the shotgun mics, so I was optimistic that the low self-noise figures for the new mics were similarly accurate: 11 dBA for the OM-08 omni mic (not tested for this post); 12 dBA for the SC-08 supercardioid; and 13 dBA for the CA-08 cardioid. A check on the reality of these figures – by recording the sound of nothing (mics 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. There’s not a lot of value to uploading WAV files showing the slight hiss with gain cranked up, simply to confirm the published spec. The low self-noise of the new mics is very welcome, as it puts them in good company: for example, the cardioid CA-08 matches the Sennheiser MKH 8040, and the supercardioid SC-08 has 1dB less self-noise than the Sennheiser MKH 8050. More practically, the low self-noise means that the Rycote mics are good choices for recording quiet sounds, such as some sound effects, more delicate musical instruments and nature.

Testing the SC-08 and CA-08 together with the HC-22 shotgun mic – all three in a Rode blimp – for dialogue.

Dialogue

Right, time for some dialogue tests and, especially, to see how well the supercardioid and cardioid match the Rycote shotgun mics. For this the HC-22 medium shotgun mic was mounted alongside the SC-08 and CA-08 in a Rode blimp, and tested on axis and off axis outdoors.

There is a little difference between the three mics in terms of sound, as you would expect (not least from the frequency response graphs), but nothing that would make matching and inter-cutting hard. I’ll be interested to see how I (and, indeed, others) get on with this with more regular usage of the different mics for dialogue, but my initial feelings are that the mics are good in this respect and that use of the same capsule and preamp has had the desired effect.

Recording guitar and vocals test

Music recording

With the Rycote shotgun mic tests I included some music examples, and, with these new cardioid and supercardioid models, there is a much more compelling reason to do so. Among various tests, I took the mics over to the mixing/mastering home studio of a professional location sound engineer, the wonderfully helpful Mark Fawcett of Fish Need Snorkels, and put the mics through their paces on some fairly ad hoc guitar and vocals, alongside a few other mics: the supercardioid SC-08 was compared to my AKG CK93 hypercardioid and Mark’s Schoeps CMC641; and the cardioid CA-08 was compared to Mark’s Schoeps CMC64 and Neumann KM184. The mics were routed through a Merging Hapi into Pyramix at 192kHz, and we spent a bit of time listening to the results through PSI A21M studio monitors (incidentally, excellent sounding). Mark obliged on the guitar and vocals, but, understandably, wants to emphasize that both the mic positioning and his playing were a little rough and ready, so don’t judge him harshly! We just went for a mono set-up for the initial test with all six mics on a stereo bar (cardioids and super/hypercardioids clustered in two groups of three) pointing towards somewhere between the 12th fret and the sound hole on the guitar, with the mics at a good distance (c.2m/6ft). We then kept the set-up the same and pointed the mics down at c.45 degrees towards the floor, to see what the off-axis sound was like. The following clips have sections of both the on-axis and then the off-axis recordings, separated by a few seconds of silence. Even in the on-axis guitar recordings, the vocals were – obviously – rather off axis, so sound less than ideal.

Mics up close, with some gentler finger-picking playing.

Next we moved on to a test of the three cardioids (CA-08, Schoeps CMC640 and Neumann KM184) much closer (at c.300mm) to the guitar for some more finger-picking style.

CA-08 and SC-08 with Schoeps, Neumann and AKG mics for comparison.

I was interested to hear the difference between the various mics via decent monitors, and, equally, to hear Mark’s experienced take on them. We agreed that the Rycotes held up really well on axis and off axis; that the Schoeps mics perhaps had an edge, especially on the close-miking test, but that was pretty much gone with a little reduction of the Rycote’s air (it’s subtle high-frequency emphasis, for which see the CA-08’s frequency response graph) using FabFilter Pro-Q 3 (and, obviously, this wouldn’t be necessary with more distant miking); and that the Neumann KM184 in all the tests was very much in third place. You may or may not agree, but these unprocessed WAV files, albeit at 48kHz rather than 192kHz, provide a source you can play around with in a DAW and draw your own conclusions insofar as the set-up allows.

For something different, here’s another musical test, in this case with the harmonica – thanks to some blues harp playing by my neighbour Andy Chinn. This was recorded in a less than ideal acoustic space: a fairly low-ceilinged living room. Mics used comprised the Rode NT55 (with cardioid capsule) and the Rycote CA-08 , recorded into a Sound Devices MixPre-3:

This pair of recordings sees the SC-08 handling the harmonica well, and shows up the difference between it and the Rode NT55 cardioid capsule: the latter has what I would describe as harsher higher frequencies. To be fair, however, the Rycote mic does cost over twice the Rode, so this, and the well-known character of the NT55/NT5 cardioid capsule, means it is not an entirely unexpected result.

And in a similar vein, here is a recording of Rob Moore playing the melodeon and singing, made using a pair of the CA-08 cardioid mics on the melodeon (left and right of the instrument, pointing at each other: then planned in to 60% left and right) and an SC-08 on vocals (for a bit of isolation from the instrument), again into a Sound Devices MixPre-3.

Final thoughts

These tests are not meant to be exhaustive or, even, very technical, but, rather, an initial listen to Rycote’s new cardioid and supercardioid mics, with a few comparisons thrown into the mix. I have heard enough over the last few weeks, and have tried to give readers something of a flavour of that via the various WAV files, to convince me that these mics are a great follow-up to the HC-15 and HC-22. On the basis of their sound alone, I suggest that they deserve to be considered as alternatives to familiar mics at and above their price point. That they have such low self-noise and a healthy output too is a real bonus, which makes them all the more attractive a proposition, as does their being part of what is now a family of similar sounding mics.

It is with that last point in mind that I was glad to receive, whilst writing this post, a pair of Rycote’s omni OM-08 mics, and I will be putting them through their paces – especially with a view to field recording (and I’ll include the cardioids in this too) – in a second post on the new Rycote mics to follow soon.

Audio Projects Film Projects Live Music

Tony Hall – man and melodeon

October 22, 2022

Tony Hall’s melodeon playing has long been much revered in the world of folk music, and can be heard on Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s ‘Silly Sisters’ album, on Nic Jones’s ‘Penguin Eggs’ album, and on his own recordings: ‘Field Vole Music’ (1977), ‘Mr Universe’ (1995), and ‘One Man Hand’ (2008). Despite his many live performances over the years (not least with the weekly performances of The Vonn Krapp Family Band for around 50 years), there are few videos of Tony playing. Given his unique style and, also, his relaxed and humorous stage presence, this is a real pity. A few years ago I set out to rectify this, but Covid intervened and, to be honest, Tony got slightly cold feet about such self-promotion! But patience rewards those who wait, and with the help of a mutual friend (thank you Matt!), a few weeks ago Tony agreed to the recording and filming of a live performance.

Tony’s set followed a harvest supper at his local church so I had no wish to intrude too much on the occasion. A low profile was essential, and there would be little to no time for adjusting gear on the night. With such events, preparation is, of course, very much the order of the day, so in the weeks beforehand I had a sound check with a stand-in melodeon player (thank you Rob!) and a lighting test (the church lighting looked hopeless) one evening.

On the audio side, recording melodeon (and accordion) is challenging since so much sound comes out of the sides and, of course, the left (bass) hand moves in and out. I’ve tried various techniques over the years, and the sound test before this session confirmed my conclusion that the best way is to record with mics positioned either side of the instrument. It’s also how Tony has mics set up whenever he uses a PA, so it was good to have a set up that was comfortable for him too. I’d have preferred omni mics, not least as the acoustic was good, but with an audience liable to sing along or cough, and, even, the potential for a bit of clatter from someone having their third helping of pudding (I wouldn’t blame them as they were marvellous!) I went for cardioid mics, and angled them a bit so the rear nulls had some effect. Mics either side gives a much fuller sound than a stereo pair in front of the melodeon, but, of course, if hard-panned left and right the mics make the instrument sound 30ft wide: after playing around and testing on speakers and headphones in post, I settled on panning 40% left and right. I used a pair of Rode NT55s. For vocals, I wanted as much separation from the melodeon as possible, so that I could vary levels after the event, and would have preferred a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) fig 8 so I could use its null to good effect, but, conscious that this would mean the rear lobe would pick up the audience too much and that it would be far from discreet, went for an SDC hypercardioid – the AKG CK93.

Filming gear needed to be equally discreet. The bad lighting was solved by a single softbox lantern (the SmallRig 65cm version) with a SmallRig 3616, which is a COB LED light that is bi-colour (so I could set colour temperature to match the church lights at 2700K). Lanterns are so much gentler on the performer than a rectangular softbox, and the single light didn’t intrude unduly: as benign as a standard lamp. Cameras were a Lumix G9 and two Lumix GX80s, two cameras roughly at 45 degrees, and one, low down, centrally, to catch Tony’s fingers on the melodeon buttons (so aficionados can see how he does it). All three cameras locked off on tripods, and two unmanned: far from ideal, but nicely low key. With a bit of varied cropping from the 4k capture for the 1080p output, that gave some variety in the shots in the final video. And low-key video suited the occasion anyway.

So the end result? Well judge for yourself, but it certainly captured something of the event, is a step up from the few mobile phone videos of Tony online, and was a reasonable stab given the understandable constraints. And the bonus? Tony is keen to go on and make a proper album in the same church this autumn/winter, without an audience. He doesn’t enjoy the stress of studio recording, or the excessive editing of multiple takes to create the performance that never was, but he’s up for a relaxed recording in his local church, which is great news: Tony still has many a song/tune he would like to record for posterity. Obviously there will be scope for much improving the sound of the audio from the harvest supper gig, so more anon.

Film Projects

‘Of All The Sounds’ – making a short pt. 1

September 15, 2021
Filming the opening scene in a kitchen.

Yesterday, I began filming a drama production: this was the first for a long time. In this case a short three-minute film (an entry into this year’s My Røde Reel competition). It was good to work with two young actors (Daisy den Engelse and Christopher Sainton-Clark) rather than unfairly press-ganging inexperienced family members and mates into roles: but there was no let off for the mates as some were just coerced into providing a location and crewing instead (thank you Rob, Neil and Anji!).

We managed to nail the opening scene in a morning, with all the action – which sets up the slightly M. R. Jamesian premise – set in a kitchen (a rather beautiful one at that). I used a single camera (the Lumix G9 with a Meike 16mm cinema lens and Swit monitor) with follow-focus, on a half-bowl tripod running on a DIY dolly track (40mm PVC pipes): this allowed much better control of movement and rack-focusing and, indeed, permitted a heavier rig than would have been possible with a gimbal.

Sound was a mix of boomed mics and lavs. The idea of the Rode competition is to use Rode equipment wherever possible – and, as you can see from this blog, I have a good number of Rode mics anyway – so I tried booming with both a Rode NT55 cardioid and, since Rode don’t make a hypercardioid SDC capsule (wasn’t one originally promised?), an AKG CK93. With a fairly live room and bit more of a distance from mic to talent than ideal (due to framing), the latter was preferable.: this was hardly a surprise, with hypercardioids being the norm for indoor booming. The boom mics were routed to a Sound Devices Mixpre-3. The boom mics were for a seated character, so were set up statically on a light stand using a Boom Buddy. If I’d had sufficient crew, a boom operator might well have been more useful as it would have allowed more variation in mic height, as the camera closed in on the talent, although that would have required some experience. I added a Rode lav mic plugged into a Rode Wireless GO ii as an (unused) back-up for the seated (female) character. The male character spends the scene rushing about, so he was also given a lav mic, this time simply using the onboard mic of a Rode Wireless GO ii taped under his jumper. The two lav mic signals went to the RX unit plugged into the camera. I set the RX unit at -18dB and the Lumix G9 preamps at their lowest level. I also engaged the pad on the inputs of the TX units (-4dB), but the volumes were such that the additional headroom wasn’t really needed. Although there were no signal dropouts in the wifi transmission of the Rode Wireless GO ii , I used the onboard recording of the TX unit for the male character to ensure the (marginally) better sound.

The initial rough-cut of the scripted scene (using Sony Vegas as my NLE) was two and half minutes long, so some heavy pruning was needed – including some cutting of lines – to cut it down to the planned one-minute duration: a lesson in translating screenplay writing to film timings for me.

Next up, shooting goes outdoors, but that won’t happen for a couple of weeks (weather permitting). In the meantime, there is plenty to be done in the way of scouting the locations and, especially, gathering sound effects: two thirds of the film has audio from the past rather than the present. I’ll add another post in due course: the My Røde Reel competition deadline is 20th October.

Audio Gear

Omni mic pair in a single blimp

January 8, 2021

I’m a fan of omni SDC pairs for outside recording. For music I will often use these in Rycote Baby Ball Gags mounted on a stereo bar, itself on a substantial stand (usually the Manfrotto 1004BAC). But where I want something more portable and more windproof, I mount the two omni mics end-to-end inside a single windshield – the Rode blimp Mk1. Joining the two mics end-to-end is easy with a rewired and drilled female-to-female xlr coupler (well, actually, the female-to-female XLR connector is actually not off-the-peg, but made up of three items: two Neutrik NM3FXI and one Neutrik KM. Neutrik’s own female-to-female XLR connector doesn’t unscrew). This places the mics  (a pair of Rode NT55 mics with the excellent NT45-O omni capsules) at a 360mm spacing, which renders a good stereo image and is exactly the ideal length for the Rode blimp (i.e. the same length as the straight part of the blimp). Being pure pressure omni mics there is, of course, no phase issue arising from the fact that they are pointing different directions.

So the end result: a simple robust set up, less fiddly and more portable than common field-recording set-ups for ORTF pairs etc. and – being all enclosed – more windproof. It’s not something I have seen or read about, but I imagine – or hope – others are doing the same.

And here’s a detail of the easily modified connector: just drill a couple of holes for the cables.