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Tag: sony pcm d50

Water boiler study

I need to create/design sounds for a short film, which is about a usual tea ritual. The story is very interesting as it seems that nothing else happens expect a making of a good tea. And this is true up to the point where the water boiler starts to boil the water. From this point on, supernatural things going on while the water is getting hotter and hotter and it all stops when the boiler is ready.

So the main task is to create different sounds in that approximately one or two minutes while the little electric water boiler is working. It needs to stay attached to reality to some degree so completely eliminate or change the water boiler’s sound is not a viable option here.

The first task is pretty obvious, record a little water boiler. Because I’m in serious love with MS recording, I decided to record this in MS. (what a surprise…) I wanted to capture not only the natural process but some more low end, so I placed the rig near, about 20cm away from the boiler. I made a few “test boilings”, and it seemed to me that the gurgling at the end of the process is not articulate enough from the main rig, so I set up the Sony PCM D50 at the other side of the machine aimed at the top of it to capture more clear gurgling sound.

The test boilings were very helpful, because the different amount of water in the boiler produce different sounds. If you fill it full it looses character, if you use too little then it boils too fast and really doesn’t produce good sound. In this case, half litre was the best sound wise.

Here’s the original recording the MS setup (Mid: Neumann KM74 Side: Neumann KM86i) combined with the Sony.

At this point we only know that the supernatural occurrences won’t be pleasant things, so we need sounds melted into the boiling which creates fear, anxiety, and helps changing the different bad things along the scene.

Let’s shake the Earth

As I mentioned above I positioned the mics close on purpose. I wanted more low end than the natural. Actually the figure of eight mic had the most low end, so I used that to create an earthquake like sub.

Simply duplicated the side track in Pro Tools, and with some pitch, eq and subsonic enhancer plugin I achieved this:

Of course, you can reproduce this from many alternative sources but it was fun to do it from the original recording. As this huge sub can easily mask details I needed something that could really keep the high-mids and the gurgling focused, and this is exactly why I set the little handheld up for. I filtered out the low end of that track, and mixed in to some degree, more when the sub comes in.


It was really fun to experiment with the additions. Tried many various things from whooshes, fire, wind, rain through different vehicle and mechanical sounds to animal sounds. It is really interesting to hear how the basic sound transforms into something (many times) unconsciously different, yet it remains fundamentally the same. With some low level add ons, it is possible to push the story, to change mood. The point is to mix in sounds to evoke emotion and to help different story lines to develop.

As Randy Thom said:

Experiment as early and as often and as inexpensively as possible. Make lots of mistakes when mistakes are cheap.

This is a rough cut. You can hear the original water boiling with added whooshes, lynx-camel-cat growl, wind, fire. Some of it works better and fit almost naturally. I know that it is very hard to imagine this without the picture, but try it.

It is only a few layers and just a quick play with the elements. From the many possible additions only a few will be there in certain spots. Multilayering and adding some reverb or delay can further enhance the “supernatural” experience. Probably I will need another more aggressive version of this which would serve more like separators. Enjoy!

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AB test recording with the new kit

As I promised in the Developing the field recorder kit article, I made some test recordings with the new AB pair, the Sennheiser MKE 2 Gold microphones. Through the various examples I hope everyone can hear what a really compact rig is capable of.

All the equipment had been used to record these examples is a Sony PCM d50 and a pair of Sennheiser MKE2 Gold microphone.

First recording

Countryside atmosphere with some ducks, hens and rooster at the house near me (50 metres away) and someone was working there during the recording. An impertinent fly tried to disturb me, you can hear it on the track. I was out at the edge at a plough-land. The two capsules were 40cm away from each other.

It is very interesting that there are many extraneous noise out there what we don’t really notice with our ears, not even when I tried to pay attention to every little thing around me.

Second example

I’m in the middle in a plough-land as a huge harvester pass by. It was about 200 metres away from me, a few obstacles masked the direct sound between me and the harvester. At the adjacent garden there was a sprinkler working and occasionally birds were “tweeting” on some fruit-tree. Another little fly tried to disturb me occasionally.

Being out there the harvester sounded more distant compared to the recording, and the nature sounds seemed/heard more up front. The overall balance of sounds are very life-like.

Third recording

Back in the city. It’s 10 am., the kids are playing in the nearby kindergarten. Few birds are still in the city, very gentle breeze. Nice sunny day. The noticeable echo and reverb on the kids’ voice is made by the tower blocks at the opposite side of the kindergarten.

Compared to real life, the echo and reverb are exaggerated on the recording as our ears very effectively filters or attenuates these things to focus on the important incoming information.

Fourth example

Almost the same place, but a little further away from the kindergarten, opposite side of the road. In the background a huge garbage truck and its staff was working. They were about a 100 metres away from me. We are still between the tower blocks as you can hear the effect on the garbage truck.

The AB pair very honestly convey the real life sonic picture what I’ve been experiencing there. The dynamics, the volume, the effects are breathtakingly similar to my real life experiences.

Fifth recording

One of the main bridges in the city. It’s not really rush our, but still quite busy traffic with varying types of cars, bicyclists.

It’s really interesting that in reality the different cars had even more noticeably different sounds. Not that it cannot be heard on the recording, but still, it somehow homogenised the engine sounds to a degree.

Sixth example

City at night as you can hear the crickets are making noise while a single car pass by. I was up on a balcony, 10 metres from ground level.

As I was sitting there the car seemed more distant and more soft.


Consider the very little effort to make a stealth kit like this, and the quality you get, it is definitely worth purchase and build this little addition to the otherwise great little handheld recorder. Still, the question is not if this would be equal or not to a big rig, because both serves different purpose. Both can do things what the other cannot. These lavaliere mics are relatively cheap, and besides that you only need a few connectors and really basic soldering skills to finish your rig. It is going to be used here, a lot.


Developing the small field recorder kit

As many of you know I love and use the Sony pcm d50 little handheld. I think it’s high quality enough to get good sound. Obviously not a Sounddevices with Schoeps mics, but you get the idea. Little bag, always there near me ready to record.

As much as I love XY or the wider 120 degree microphone position, I thought a good AB pair would be fantastic. Inspired by Tim Prebble I decided to try out some lavalier type microphones. Right now I have a pair of Sennheiser MKE2 gold which are very decent microphones.

I knew that they are good, but as the little Sony only accepts mini jack mic inputs, I had to solder a little set together. Don’t be daunted, it’s really basic soldering, nothing serious, however, you should be patient as the lavalier cables are not that easy to treat as a usual mic cable. The kit could be more versatile if I did split the set even further, but I decided that for my needs I’m going to use one XLR for the two mics. I’m going to use them only with the handheld, so no need for more cabling.


The Sennheiser’s cable comprise a ground, a blue and a red wire. According to the user’s manual of the Sony and the Sennheiser we can twist together the ground and the blue wire. So now we have two wires from each microphone: 1. Ground 2. Hot (red).

We need two XLRs. I decided to use two as this way I can easily disconnect the mics, and the whole soldering together act is much easier inside an XLR rather than inside a little mini jack. The other plus is this way I can use a standard XLR mic cable to lengthen the lavalier’s cable. So back to the connector.

The XLR side is easy. Ground to pin 1 and solder the two red wires to the remaining pins. One red to pin 2, the other red to pin 3. Obviously the mini jack side is the same: common ground sleeve, one red to tip, other red to ring. I highly recommend to get a proper quality mini jack, like this Neutrik mini jack. It’s easier to work with as it is really a quality connector, and last forever.

If you are very precise, you already know which mic is which (left or right), but don’t worry if you didn’t plan this ahead. We’ll have a great AB pair, so either microphone can be left or right, it doesn’t really matter. You can test and mark it after that you finished the soldering work. However, don’t forget to mark it!


It’s time to test and use them, but there is one little problem. The Sony only outputs plugin power, which is low compared to what Sennheiser recommends. I had an e-mail conversation with a Sennheiser engineer and he confirmed that it’s not a problem, we have only one drawback. The original microphone powered by the recommended voltage can handle an enormous 142dB SPL before clipping. But as we power them with less, they will clip somewhat lower, according to engineering department at Sennheiser, the mics will clip at around 134dB SPL. I really don’t think that this is a tragedy. All other things remain intact, so we still have the same frequency response, etc.

I think it’s a very little compromise. And don’t forget, now we have a handheld with a high quality AB pair, and it still fits into a little photo bag.

If you plan to use the mics indoor, you can already do that. But, if you’re like me, and want to go out with it, one thing we must have is wind protection. Believe me, even a gentle breeze can ruin your otherwise beautiful stereo recording. Fortunately Rycote have a solution for lavaliers too. These little wind protectors can help eliminate any problem.

Next time I’m going to post some recordings with the new mics.


Favorite sound of the week #5

The old electric lawn mower. It’s been serving the family for a long time, though it didn’t get much attention if any over the years. As you can imagine, the electric motor is not in a good shape, the blades are dull, the chassis is battered. But still, it just works, well, most of the time.

The motor is not powerful enough to fight the wet grass, and the dull blades don’t help either. Often the machine struggle, and choked with the wet, thick grass so much the motor almost stop working. The good thing is that with all this struggling and choking and fighting, it produces very good sounds. Sometimes rpm drops abruptly, sometimes gradually. Both sounds nice.

Here’s an excerpt from the running, struggling, choking:

The old lawn mower by tamasdragon

Besides that these sounds are nice, they are useful for a number of things:

  • atmospheres
  • sweeteners for vehicle motor sounds
  • sweeteners for car pass-bys
  • motor starts and stops
  • whooshes

And of course for anything you use them for. I made a quick and short experiment.

As usual, the sounds are freely downloadable and you are free to use it in any way you want, I only ask two things in return. Do NOT ever distribute them for money and share with others where you’ve found them.

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Handheld recorder accessory tips #2

Last time I made a wind protector comparison featuring some well-known vendors. This time I’m going to offer some utilities which can help you use your handheld recorder anywhere, anytime more conveniently.

Don’t over think it, it’s only a handheld, not a big Sounddevices rig, so the accessories are not so expensive and the list is not a big one. Obviously the first and most important in the list is wind protection. Let’s continue with the rest.


I consider this item to be very important for a number of reasons. First, the bag shall be comfortable to wear/hold/carry, or we won’t use it. Even more importantly, this bag should be able to not only hold our recorder, but protect it. For me, these are the requirements of a good bag:

  • have plenty room for the recorder
  • have some room for additional accessories
  • shock protection
  • weather protection
  • made from quality materials, so it will last for a long time

With these in mind I considered many alternatives, but eventually the Lowepro Apex 120AW won. I know that probably your first thought is that it’s too big. But for me, it’s not. The Sony fits in very well with wind protection on it, you can adjust the space inside the bag, it can hold every necessary accessory and maybe even a little more. It is made from quality material, and weather protection is top notch. On a holiday trip you can put your wallet into it, while you still have your handheld with you.

Take a look at the fully packed bag:

The package includes:

  • Sony pcm D50 with windjammer on
  • Rycote shock mount
  • Windcutter protection
  • Joby gorillapod
  • spare batteries
  • Sennheiser px-200 II headphones
  • Denon earphones for backup


While I love big headphones like the Sony MDR 7506 or the Audio-technica ATH-M50, they are too big to carry, and if you want to go into stealth mode, these big ones will draw more attention. There are two good alternatives. The first one is a very good sounding little headphone, the Sennheiser px 200 II, which is small enough to fit into the bag comfortably, but still offer very good audio quality. And as it is a well-known iPod headphone, you can wear it anywhere without getting noticed.

The second one, or the backup if you like, is a simple in-ear headset (a good quality iPhone headset for example). It’s cheap, sound quality is good enough, and again, most people will think you use it for your phone, not for some recorder. Of course it’s possible to record without monitoring it, but I love to hear what I record.


This little flexible tripod is perfect for any location. You can put it onto the ground, fences, trees, etc. Really virtually on everything. Make sure you adjust the legs so it really holds the recorder at place. If you are ready, the Gorilla pod will hold the Sony, and you can make some nice photos. This is a great utility when you are at a place and would like to record ambiences. You don’t have to hold the recorder for minutes without any movement. Just attach it to the pod and let it record for a few minutes. Easy and very convenient.


I’m a long time Rycote lover, so it was a natural choice for the handheld category. I had one little fear: most occasions companies tend to economize on these products aimed for semi-pro things. Fortunately the Rycote set made for these handhelds are the same professionally made accessories you’ll encounter with their pro-line. I already wrote about their windjammer which works wonders on a handheld, but if you choose the more expensive option (which I recommend), you’ll have some great additions.

The soft-grip, which is a shock mount for your recorder with some built-in extras. First, it is a superb shock mount, I’ve tried to abuse is, and it’s really remarkable how effectively it reduces or completely eliminates any handling noise and vibration. It holds the recorder tight, no chance of any damage. Very comfortable to hold it for longer periods. With a little screw, you can adjust the angle, so you can easily make it even more comfortable. A little cable holder is the icing on the cake really.

And  above all, this grip let’s you put the handheld on virtually any stand you want.  I know that this usage is not a real priority with these little recorders, but still, it comes very handy many times.

And even more: you get a little adapter which is good for smaller threaded stands, or DSLR’s with a flash shoe. So, as you can see, you get many things with this little package. I have one very small addition to this set, I bought a short screw driver so I can easily adjust the angle whenever needed.


You don’t have to carry all these things, but remember, they can help you use your handheld in a much more effective way. I received many questions on comparing the Sony and its accessories to much larger things like a Sounddevices recorder, but I tell you that it really pointless. Because they serve different purpose. There are many things a handheld is good for, and a big pro-set is not really convenient. But make no mistake, obviously these little recorders won’t make the pro rigs useless, they are good complement to them.

And at last, let me recommend some excellent article on my favorite little handheld (tests, comparisons):

René Coronado wrote some very good shootouts:

Paul Virostek from Airbornesound wrote an excellent series on these handhelds: