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-   -   Best way to record sounds of nature?? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/all-things-audio/209527-best-way-record-sounds-nature.html)

Tim Ribich April 17th, 2009 08:10 PM

Best way to record sounds of nature??
I'm working on some slide shows which include stills & short video clips. Scene is a small, secluded resort-like setting in the mountains. I'd like to capture some of the sounds of nature to use behind the shows, but not sure how to go about it.

For example, early in the morning the birds are very active and quite vocal. There's also a stream on the property, wind through the pines, bees buzzing... that kind of thing.

Of course I want the best possible sounds for the lowest price-- sound familiar? :) At this point I only have the on-board mic with the Canon A1, and a Zoom recorder. Any advice as to what kind of mic to look at along with any other tips would be much appreciated.


Bill Davis April 17th, 2009 10:26 PM


The traditional approach to this kind of natural sound is to use a very directional hyper-cardiod or line-gradient pattern mic. (often referred to as a "long-shotgun" mic.

The advantage of the pattern is that the mic rejects off-axis sounds so you can point the mic element at the kinds of sounds you're seeking and reduce the overall environmental sound field of stuff like the wind in the trees or the babbling of the nearby stream - UNLESS you want those sounds, and if so, you simply point the mic element at those.

The problem is that in the wild, you're typically quite a way from the source of the sound. The bird might be 50 feet away in the tree. The inverse square principal tells us that the bird sound will therefore be 1/2500th as loud as it would be if you got a mic within a foot of it.

So one extremely critical aspect of any mic used to record nature sounds is it's SELF-NOISE rating. Which measures the inherent sound it's own electronics add to the amplification process.

Sensitive mics with extremely low self noise require both careful design and premium components. Both of which are naturally expensive.

So sorry, but there really aren't any "cheap" mics that are well suited to the task you're considering.

Better to consider renting something. You can often get a suitable long shotgun style mic with good specs for a couple of hundred bucks a day.

That - fed into a good quiet recording chain, will get you the results you're looking for FAR better than trying to buy something.

Do a web search under Nature sound recording and the mics from Audio Technica and Sennheiser might be a good place to start.

Good luck.

Chris Soucy April 17th, 2009 11:54 PM

Hi Tim............
For Nature sounds, about the best way I know is using something like this:

Braodcast Lil' Ears Products

With a bit of luck you may find somewhere reasonably local who rents these out.

Failing that, try your local TV station (if you have one), they may have one they'd do a deal on if there's no games on.


Paul R Johnson April 18th, 2009 02:42 AM

have you ever tried a satellite dish? One of the local schools had a couple of 1.2m dishes laying around after an upgrade and the physic teacher found that pointed at each other, with ear/mouth at the point where the LNB should have been, that conversations could take place easily across quite large distances. The Big-ears style dishes are simply light weight parabolas, with the microphone at the focal point - I'd suggest a small condenser cardioid mic at this point might well pick up worthwhile distant sounds. Collecting sound effects is a pretty good hobby thing, too - if you have a condensor approaching 600mm in length - in a windshield, Zepplin style with hairy cover - you'll get decent results. Using the cheapest kit available - Chinese made 'no brand' mic and Indian windshield system, you could be up and running for about $200? If you are a real cheapskate, then you can even make your own windshield housing for peanuts. Not sure if you call it the same thing in the states. Chicken wire? thin mesh with square holes? used for keeping creatures in a pen?. Make a tube out of it. bend in front end completely, leave a hole at the rear big enough to insert microphone. For suspension, strong elastic bands inserted top/bottom and left/right at the front, middle and rear. Slide/twist in a cheap shotgun - there are some pretty decent ones available as imports for around 50-60 - I assume that this would be $80-100 ish? Cover it with fur fabric - and although heavier than proper ones, it does work. Before buying 'real' ones, I made a few of these. The end versions used an AKG isolation mount, to give me a mic stand attachment. It's still kicking around in the store somewhere, if anyone needs a picture. For outside stuff, I found expensive kit not always best - Sennheiser 816s do not like being out in the rain!

Tim Ribich April 18th, 2009 07:43 AM

Hi Bill,

Great info-- thanks much. Your advice to:


Originally Posted by Bill Davis (Post 1106540)
Do a web search under Nature sound recording and the mics from Audio Technica and Sennheiser might be a good place to start.

has produced some great resources. I'm willing to make an investment in quality gear, it's just that my usual method is to get my feet wet for perhaps a few hundred bucks, then if things work out well upgrade from there.

Tim Ribich April 18th, 2009 07:51 AM


Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson (Post 1107202)
If you are a real cheapskate, then you can even make your own windshield housing for peanuts.

Hi Paul,

I have to admire your outside-the-box ideas here.

As I posted to Bill, my usual approach is get started with a simple system then upgrade from there if it seems worthwhile. But hey, I do have an old 10 foot C-Band satellite disn here. I could mount that sucker in the back of a pickup and use that! :-)

But seriously, I too find that often various types of hand made systems can often get the job done just as effectively and at much less cost than much more expensive manufactured ones. I'll keep your advice in mind.

Graham Bernard April 18th, 2009 09:29 AM

About 30 years ago I built one of these paras out of a plastic camping salad bowl. Stuck a mic at the focal point which was kept inplace by a 1/4" wire stanchion that led into a handle . .. must dig it out again .. total cost? about 3 quid . .

Oh yeah, got sounds deep into the Kalahari bush, way further than I was prepared to do on foot .. oh yes!


Galen Rath April 18th, 2009 01:47 PM

Parabolic reflectors from one of my favorite sources since 1965:

Large Parabolic Reflectors - Science Gifts - Edmund Scientific

But I read that mics using reflectors like this have poor sound--good only for picking up grunts at football games. Would like to hear better news.

Dan Brockett April 18th, 2009 03:06 PM


Lowest possible cost suggests stock. Have you considered Download Sound Effects | SoundDogs.com ? I would only go through the trouble of recording ambient if there were something unique and one of a kind about the sound. From everything you describe, it sounds like typical mountain ambient beds, there are thousands of them available, recorded by top pros with the best gear for very little money on-line.

If you need something special, I would go for it but if it is just typical ambient, I would use stock.


John Willett April 18th, 2009 05:04 PM

You will find the website of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society very useful.

Hanno di Rosa April 18th, 2009 05:25 PM

for another approach I can recommend these: SOUNDMAN

I use these for ambience recording, they can be worn inside the ears and as such act as "Kunstkopf" mics and give a very realistic ambient recording, the total opposite of parabolic sound....

Mark Boyer April 18th, 2009 09:08 PM

I built a pro quality parabolic microphone using a 22 inch dish and it works great for birds with a higher pitched songs. Recording bass is a bit more difficult with the parabolic mic.

I suggest a med to long high quality shotgun a good recorder and a set of headphones. Make sure you have Rycote style fur covering for any wind.

I use a Sennheiser MKH 416 and a Fostex FR-2LE Field Recorder.

Gary Nattrass April 19th, 2009 01:46 PM

Sennheiser 816 is the usual mic for wildlife recording, and a lot of time and patience.

A good friend of mine Chris Watson is one of the best in the world and his web site is here:| Chris Watson |

Hanno di Rosa April 19th, 2009 04:21 PM

This is one of my favourite threads so far: lots of good links and good information.

Chad Johnson April 19th, 2009 08:59 PM

I think your zoom, with the gain set to "High" would be good enough for your needs. Best to do it when there's no wind. If you have a bass rolloff even better. You can do that in post though too.

Get as close as you can. Use headphones. Set the unit down or put on a tripod. Handling noise is bad.

Good luck!

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