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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

13 March 2010

New mics and clever parrots

LAST FRIDAY A new set of grief detectors arrived all the way from Microphone Madness in Florida. It’s nice getting things in the post that aren’t bills.

The mics are designated as MM-HLSOs, and you can read their specs on the budget headworn mics page here. They’re based on Sennheiser MKE 2 lavalier mics, and it looks like Microphone Madness may have altered them slightly, boosting sensitivity from 5mV/Pa to 10mV/Pa, while increasing their self-noise from 26dB to 29dB.

The mics are very small, which means they can be inserted in a Croakie mount, also supplied by Microphone Madness. What’s a Croakie mount, and isn’t it a bit irritating when product names have an -ie suffix? It’s a spectacle retainer made from two tubes of stretch fabric which slip over each arm of a pair of specs and converge at the back of your neck. The mics and their leads nestle unseen inside the tubes.

One of the nice things about being middle-aged is that while you can no longer wear shiny clothes, you can get away with a wider range of hats and with spectacle retainers, both ideal for stealth recording purposes, even if they make you style-kin to the tribe of antique dealers and racing pundits:

John McCririck


A first recording was made inside the Pembroke Arms pub in Primrose Hill. This pub is high-ceilinged and, like many modish London watering holes, has bare floorboards instead of carpet, producing the acoustics which are peculiar to that kind of place. The recording isn’t anything special, but the mics do a decent enough job:


The mics, their mount and delivery all came to $300. This is good value when compared with the price of a single Sennheiser MKE-2 from British-based retailers. The items was despatched promptly by Microphone Madness and came with an instruction leaflet. The Croakie mount does nothing to reduce wind-noise though, so it’s pretty much an indoor set-up. Later that afternoon the Sonic Studios DSMs with their handy windshield were used for a walk around the Stables market in Camden:


The MM-HLSOs were given a second go while wandering around the ground floor departments at Harrods:


I’ve always liked department stores, going back to childhood visits to an uncle who worked at Swan & Edgars in Regent Street near Piccadilly Circus. But there was one ritual at Harrods which, like Swan & Edgars, is now no more.

Harrods’ owner Mohamed Al Fayed is a parrot-fancier who keeps a large flock in his own private aviary. So the Harrods pets department was beefed up to include several different parrot species, some of them rarely seen in this country. An employee was designated as parrot-keeper, and most afternoons he put on a performance which drew large numbers of wealthy ladies of a certain age.

The parrot-keeper would begin moving among the cages, naming and describing each occupant, before opening one of the cage doors and putting his hand inside. A gaudy sun conure shuffled up his arm. Now he began to lay it on thick, telling his audience that the parrot was an emotional animal with “the intelligence of a four-year-old child”. On cue, the bird bowed its head, clucked quietly and the parrot-keeper tickled the back of its neck.

Sighs of sentimental pleasure rippled through the crowd, and one woman spoke for them all when she cried aloud: Ohhhhhh! That’s what he wants!

It would have made a good recording.

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