In this article, we are going to talk about the basic equipment you need in order to start recording your own sound effects. The gear which I will recommend will be a balance between cost and quality, thus helping you get a good start in the world of sound effects.
This will be a two part series. In the first article, we will discuss microphones, recorders, and vital accessories. In the second article, we will go more in-depth on accessories, and discuss SD cards, external hard drives, useful things to have in your recording bag, and more!
In the interest of transparency, all of the gear links which will be present in this article are Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you purchase anything, it won’t cost you anything extra, but I’ll get a small commission.
Right, let’s begin! We’ll go through a few common set-ups that you might use when recording sound effects.
Everyone starts off with one of these, mainly because they are uncomplicated, and quite affordable. You turn them on, press record, and point them at the sound source.
If you want a hand-held device which produces really clean recordings, it’s worth having a look at the Sony PCM-D100. The downside of it though is that it doesn’t have XLR inputs, which means that if you decide to invest in some shotgun microphones down the line, you won’t be able to plug them into it.
Here is a demo from British Suburbia, a library I recorded, and am still recording, using this device.
If the sounds you’ll be recording are on the louder side, and you need a recorded which is not only built like a tank, but is also really upgradeable, have a look at the Zoom H6. It’s durable, has great battery life, loads of XLR inputs, and even a detachable microphone at the top.
Here is a demo for Dormant Village, a library I recorded using this device.
This is the device many people start out with, including myself. It’s great for personal and student projects, though it’s not often used in a professional setting. The main reason is that the Zoom H4n isn’t well suited to record quiet sounds, is because of its level of self noise.
In other words, if you record something really quiet, and then boost the levels later, the background hiss will be noticeable.
All recording devices have some degree of hiss when you boost the signal really loud, but some have more than others.
That being said, if you want a device which is great to learn on, and is affordable, the Zoom H4n might just be right for you.
You can always sell it later down the line when you want to upgrade. If taken care of, it shouldn’t lose too much of its value.
When it comes to hand-held recorders, they do tend to come with some form of wind protection, often in the form of a foam cover for the microphones. Whilst this does help to some degree indoors, if you want to do any sort of work outdoors, you will need to purchase wind protection.
Whilst the Sony PCM-D100 does provide you with a really good windshield out of the box, there are alternatives out there, and each affect your audio in different ways. Here is a YouTube video by Paul Virostek, demonstrating the difference between the Sony PCM-D100 windjammer, and the equivalent which Rycote makes.
It is important to specify that you shouldn’t try to save money on your windshields, as a cheaply made one will adversely affect the sound of your recordings. In other words, a cheap windshield will muffle the recording, which might make it unusable.
When handling the devices, you introduce noise into the recordings. Even if you try to stay completely still, some amount of noise will be introduced, making it a nightmare to edit out later on, or even rendering the recording useless.
To that effect, Rycote has a series of products aimed at this, and they include the windjammers mentioned above bundled with them. They make a shockmount for the Sony PCM-D100, one for the Zoom H6, and also one for the Zoom H4n.
Microphone and Recorder
Once you have decided which recorder you would like, it’s time to consider some microphones. Honestly, if you want quality for a relatively low price, Rode is probably the way to go.
Rode makes the NTG series of shotgun microphones. I personally have and use the Rode NTG-2 all the time, and I love it. I’ve traveled with it, used it for years, and it still works. It’s hard as nails, sounds great, and it also looks really cool.
What more could you want?
Wind Protection and Shock Mounts
When handing such a microphone, you will inevitably need some kind of shock mount, in order to stop vibrations and handling noise from polluting your recordings. You will also need some sort of wind protection, as you will inevitably end up recording outside.
In addition to many types of microphones, Rode also produces a blimp, which is basically a handle, mounting system, and windshield in one. It’s called the Rode Blimp.
The blimp itself is relatively standard, which means you can fit a lot of different microphones from many companies inside of it. It is worth researching each microphone before you purchase it though, as some shotgun microphones are extra long, and require a different type of blimp.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a less expensive alternative, the PROAIM Blimp works really well. I’ve personally used it on many trips, and it has served me well.
In order to monitor what it is that you are recording, you’re going to need a good pair of headphones. Now, everyone has a specific pair which they love and use all the time, but I personally use the Beyerdynamics DT 150.
They’re good quality headphones, very affordable, and they’re built like tanks. I’ve had the same pair for years, and it’s never given me any trouble. I’ve abused them, stuffed them in bags, and all the rest, but whenever I plug them in, they still work.
This is the end of part one. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter down below, in order to be notified when part two comes out!