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.

12 January 2012

Building a field recording system 1: introduction

THIS IS THE first in a short series of blog posts in which I’ll present some thoughts on how to build a system of field recording equipment.

System, along with dynamic and terrain, is one of those decisive-looking words which is often used to prop up vague ideas. So why not talk about assembling a collection of field recording equipment?

A collection can be built up haphazardly without any forward planning. If you collect say, cigarette cards, you’ll often buy them as sets, which can lead to you owning duplicates. The loss from buying something which becomes a duplicate is the price of uncertainty. You can’t be sure what will turn up at the next auction or car boot sale.

Someone who wants to get into field recording faces the uncertainty of not knowing how far their interest is likely to develop. Perhaps the low-cost compact recorder they buy today will stop being satisfying to use after only a few months. It may even be that it isn’t equal to some specific recording goal from the very outset.


The system of field recording equipment I’m going to describe over the next few posts is based on these rules of thumb:

1. The best field recording equipment is always that which you have on you at the time. The more bulky the equipment, the more reluctant you’ll be to use it regularly.

2. The cost of field recording equipment is generally a good predictor of the quality of the sound recordings it can produce . . .

3. . . . but there are situations and environments where this makes little perceptible difference, and where smaller and usually cheaper equipment will be more practical.

4. Building a system of field recording equipment means keeping an eye on future possibilities so you don’t waste money by making your early purchases redundant.

5. The foundation of the system is the compact recorder. With this alone you’ll be able to make enjoyable recordings. By adding new components you’ll expand the range of situations and environments in which you can make such recordings.

6. In its later stages the system involves spending the most money in total on the most important part of the recording chain, the microphone.


All this is based on my own experience as someone who enjoys field recording as a hobby. The work of professional field recordists in TV, radio or film can be very different and much more demanding than what I’m used to doing. So if you’re looking to earn a living from field recording, you’re better off seeking advice on something like the Social Sound Design website.

Gadgets are marketed by appealing to our desire to be thought of as competent by others. The success of that approach can be seen in the intense online arguments over the merits of different devices which are almost identical in function and quality.

But even the very best recording equipment cannot begin to fill in the gaps left by an indifference to sound, or where the urge to learn and experiment is lacking.

The next post in the series looks at the compact recorder, the seed from which the rest of the system will grow.