Buyer's Guide

The Basic Gear You Need to Record Sound Effects (Part 1) by Chris Skyes

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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.

Hand-held recorder

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.

Sony PCM-D100

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.

Zoom H6

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.

If you’d like to learn more about the Zoom H6, I’ve written a more in-depth review of it here.

Here is a demo for Dormant Village, a library I recorded using this device.

Zoom H4n

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.

Wind Protection

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.

Companies like Rycote make excellent products, including the Sony PCM-D100 windjammer, Zoom H6 windjammer, and the Zoom H4n windjammer.

Shock-absorption

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 NTG-2

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?

Additionally, here is a demo for Shimmering Shards, a library recorded using the Rode NTG-2, and the Tascam DR-60DmkII.

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.

Headphones

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!


10 Gift Ideas for Filmmakers by Chris Skyes

So you have a friend, or family member, who is into filmmaking and cameras. You want to get them a gift on Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, but you don’t know what they need, or what brands they’re using.

Fear not! I’m going to give you my list of ten items which every person with a camera needs!

1. Audio Recorders

As videographers, we often find ourselves in need of recording sound. This could be for an interview, a monologue, or perhaps recording ambiences. Devices such as the Zoom H6, Zoom H5, Zoom H4n, or the Tascam DR-60d MkII are compact, durable, and allow you to do just that.

As a guide, the more you spend on these types of devices, the better, and cleaner, the audio will be. Additionally, most of these devices can be mounted on top of the camera, allowing us to record audio whilst filming.

2. Microphone

In order to do actual recording, we need microphones. Some, such as the Rode VideoMic Pro, Rode VideoMic GO, or the Rode VideoMicro can be plugged in straight into the camera, and mounted on top of it, whilst microphones such as the Rode NTG-2 require a separate device, such as the Zoom H6, but produce much better audio.

3. External Storage

Our cameras can produce beautiful images, but all that information needs to be stored somewhere. Filmmakers in general require a lot of external storage, in order for us to retain all of the footage we’ve shot.

External hard drives like the Western Digital Passport, or the LaCie Rugged HDD, definitely come in handy, as they’re small, compact, and can store a lot of footage.

4. Screen Calibrator

This one is a bit technical, but stick with me. Have you ever noticed how the same image can look different, if you look at it on your computer, and then on your phone? That’s because colours look different on different kinds of screens.

Professional filmmakers need a device such as the Datacolor Spyder 5 Elite, or X-Rite i1Display Pro, in order to calibrate our screens to the required colour standard. This ensures that we can accurately edit our videos and photos in terms of colour.

5. Video editing equipment

When editing video, sometimes a keyboard and a mouse won’t suffice. We need additional hardware such as the Contour Design ShuttlePRO V.2 to more easily, and more efficiently, edit our video.

6. Camera Stabilisers

When holding a camera, the resulting footage can be shaky. Even when trying our best, sometimes our hands aren’t quite enough. In order to eliminate shake, a device such as a DJI Ronin-M can help eliminate it, and produce wonderfully stable footage.

7. Camera Tripod

When we’re not moving, holding a heavy camera isn’t particularly comfortable. As a result, using a tripod can help out with that!

8. Power Banks

All of our devices require power. Lots, and lots, of power. We often carry power banks with us on shoots, in order to make sure we have enough. As a general rule of thumb, buying more expensive power banks is the best way to go, as they have built-in safety systems.

Really cheap power banks have been known to explode, or catch on fire, so spending a bit more on them tends to be best.

9. Headphones

When it comes to audio, headphones are a must! We need to go for quality, as opposed to looks, so I’m going to happily recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 150. I’ve been using them for years, and they still work perfectly, even after daily use.

10. Camera Backpack

Finally, all of this gear needs to go somewhere when we’re moving about. Investing in a quality backpack will not only make you look more professional, but also protect your gear if you ever happen to drop it.

I hope this list has been helpful! Getting any of these items on the list as a gift will make any videographer happy!