If you want to approach a new recording project from the right angle, you need options. That's why a good recording kit should provide you with many ways to hold microphones steady, locked, and aimed at what is being recorded. If you're out in the field, your arm will never forgive you if you try to record ten-minute-long ambiences free-hand. Also, take it from me, it's always smart to put a couple of feet between you and the angry raccoon you are recording. Furthermore, in keeping with demonstrated scientific principles, what you want to get "on tape” will often simply never happen if you are standing there watching and waiting; you have to secure the mic to something, walk away, and let the magic happen. Happily, there are lots of options available to help you through these types of situations. Products range from traditional microphone stands and boom poles to other options from a little further out in left field. Today I'm going to walk you through the stuff in my rig that gets me through both simple and complex SFX recording sessions.
The most standard way to hold a microphone is the very aptly named microphone stand. They come in many different geometries and sizes, and through trials and tribulations I have come up with the type of mic stand that works well for me. Instead of recommending a specific mic stand, I'll tell you some specific things to keep an eye out for if you're shopping for one. For SFX recording in the field you'd be wise to trade away durability for compactness. In the studio, a great big weighted boom stand is the safe and secure choice, but dragging such a stand through the forest to capture wild animal growls is not realistic. Look for something that can be disassembled or folded down into a compact and light-weight package. Avoid stands with weighted base plates; instead stick to tripod stands. These stands are much lighter and fold down easily. Portability is the priority. I use stands with angled boom arms, as they offer more ways to get a mic in close to your sound source. Make sure to get one that does not have a counter-weight on the end of the boom though - keep it light. The trade-off here is that a light-weight stand tips over pretty easily. So be careful, and weigh down the foot of your stand before you put your microphone at risk of blunt trauma.
In the studio there's a lot of control over the environment but unpredictable factors always introduce themselves in the field. If you're recording a really loud object - like a tank, a train, rock drops or tree falls - vibrations can be a problem. Impacts will rumble through the ground and up the mic stand to the mic. In a perfect world the shock absorber in your microphone’s mount will be able to deal with this intrusion, but to help cut down the vibrations before they reach that far there are a few tricks. For a couple of dollars at any hardware store, you can buy that grey pipe-insulation foam - it fits perfectly around tripod stand legs. The foam will act as a cheap DIY shock absorber. It works so well that I used zip ties to semi-permanently attach pipe insulation to the legs of my stand. I got this idea from Ric Viers in this video:
I find no need to break the bank buying mic stands intended for use out in the field. Most traditional mic stands are made for stage or studio - very different environments than where they will end up being used when going out to record effects. These stands are going to be bouncing around in car trunks, getting their feet wet in muddy fields, heating up in the sun, and submitting to countless other less-than-ideal situations. They're going to get banged-up and abused, and there's not much that can be done to avoid this. Their life-span is predestined to be shorter than the average. Don't waste your money. Find a cheap one that is light-weight and seems rugged - and go with it.
One crucial little thing you will need with any mic stand is a 3/8″ to 5/8″ thread adaptor. These little doohickeys allow you to screw a pistol grip onto the the standard threads of a mic stand that is designed to fit mic clips. A good tip is to always have a bunch of these handy. When they are dropped, and they usually are, they always roll under something too heavy to move.
Besides the mic stand I also pack a Manfrotto 5001B Nano Retractable Compact Light Stand. I first read about this great product on the Noise Jockey website. It's a photography accessory, made to hold small lights, but it transitions well into the world of sound recording. It was even designed with 3/8″ thread above the lighting mount, so Rycote and Rode windshields will screw on to this stand without any adaptors. Another huge plus for the 5001B is how light-weight it is. It's aluminum construction means it only weighs 2 pounds! You can throw it in any backpack and trudge through rough terrain and not feel it on the hike. It's pretty tough too; I've had mine 2 years now and it still looks brand new. It's feather-weight is also a downside: if you set up in windy conditions it will blow over in no time unless you throw some kind of weight over the legs.
There seems to be an endless variety of makes and models of boom poles available these days. You could Google directions for how to put together a homemade boom using a painter's pole, or you could step it up a couple hundred notches with a lightweight carbon-fibre job with internal coiled cable. I found that something in the middle of the spectrum works for me. I don’t use a boom pole on the majority of the sessions I do, so I never shopped at the upper end of the price spectrum. It just didn't make sense to shell out for a top of the line pole if I wouldn't be using it much. So I went with an aluminum pole. It's reliable, sturdy, and gets the job done. On the rare occasions when I know I will be holding the pole over my head for endless hours on a shoot, I'll rent a lighter carbon-fibre boom for the day. I also opted for a pole without internal cabling. I'm often switching between mono and stereo microphones, many times even within a single session, so I wanted to be able to easily switch from a standard XLR cable to a 5-pin stereo XLR cable. Going with a boom pole without internal cabling keeps it simple.
A neat little gadget I've picked up is the Fat Gecko suction cup mount made by Delkin. I haven't had this little guy long so I am still figuring out its strengths and weaknesses. It sticks to windows and other surfaces really well and holds firm as long as the surface isn't moving; I mounted it to the windshield of an ATV and within 20 seconds of hitting the gas it lost suction and went flying. It was holding my portable digital recorder (Sony D-50) which I don’t think is much heavier than the camcorders the Gecko is designed to work with (I caught it as it fell - so no damage was done). It could be that the ATV was just too rough and bouncy for the suction mounts. I have not done any testing yet on a standard car, driving on flat ground, so I can't say yet how it works in less extreme situations. I am pretty sure the suction could not hold up the weight of a Rycote windshield mounted on it, but it might be great for holding miniature microphones like DPA 4060's to the exterior of a speeding vehicle on flat ground.
As part of the Rycote Portable Recorder Kit, I have a little pistol grip for my Sony D-50. It's threaded at the bottom of the grip to attach the recorder to a boom pole. What makes this accessory really handy though is the lyre mount that sits between the pistol grip and the recorder. It can be detached from the grip and used with other small stands. This is especially handy to use with a Joby Gorillapod, which can attach to all sorts of strange shapes and sizes.
One product I have in my kit that I have not seen anyone else using is Giotto's MM5580 Monopod. This is a great weapon to have in your arsenal because of its versatility. It can obviously be used as a monopod under a windshield to steady your hand when recording quick and dirty, saving your arms from getting tired. In a pinch it can also be a low-rent boom pole. What makes the MM5580 really handy is that there are 3 metal rods hiding inside the tube of its bottom extension. These rods are threaded and can be removed and screwed into various threaded holes found on the body of the monopod. Through various manipulations it turns into a few different kinds of tripod. The rods are stored snugly inside the body of the monopod, so they don't make any noise or rattle around when they're not being used. It also comes with a reversible threading on the head to accommodate pistol grips. It's not the greatest as a tripod or as a boom, but it makes a great emergency substitute for either. If I think I will need both a boom and a tripod on a remote recording session but I don't want to hike too much gear this guy will do the job of both admirably.
I also make sure to take along a special holder for myself - something commonly known as a stool. I found a great little stool at a garage sale that folds up to the same size as any one of the poles and stands I might bring. The stool helps me take a load off between takes or during a long ambience record. In wet or muddy conditions it provides a clean surface to rest gear on. Also, I find I am about 200% less fidgety when I'm sitting than when I'm standing, so just having a place to sit saves me a lot of time editing my own movements out of the recordings later on.
Finally, I will share a cool idea I picked up from the Music of Sound Blog for making what he calls “MicroMicStands”. These are simply large bulldog paperclips with little mounts glued to them - the ones that come with the DPA 4060 matched pair kit. This makes a great do-it-yourself stand for miniature microphones and lavalieres.
If you want to read more about the things that make up my field recording rig, please check out my post on the Wind Protection gear I use. In the coming weeks, keep an eye out for a post that will go over the various “extras” in my kit - all the things not directly related to microphones and recorders - that make life easier during a field recording session. Also coming up is a post on the best ways to transport all this gear around.
If you want to read more about the things that make up my field recording rig, please check out my post on the Wind Protection gear I use. In the coming weeks keep an eye for a post that will go over the various “extras” in my kit, all the things not directly related to microphones and recorders that make life easier at a field recording session. As well as a future post on the best ways to transport all the gear around.
If you have any helpful tips I missed that you think I should know about please get in touch.
Digital Juice seems to be an extremely successful web portal for picture editors and graphic designers looking for stock graphics, animations and templates. I was, until recently, only peripherally aware of the company's existence, not thinking they offered anything to pique the particular interests of a sound editor. Then I stumbled across their SoundFX series. These collections are offered at amazingly low prices and contain a massive amount of sound effects in each release. 'Inexpensive' certainly catches my attention but to be a worthwhile investment of money and time, any new sounds need to live up to a quality standard. No use cluttering up one's FX database with junky sounds.
My first impression, judging by they way they are organized, is that these collections seem to be aimed more at picture editors than sound editors. The file names are a gobbledygook of numbers like 14536_SFX.wav or 40667_SFX.wav. Doesn't really tell you what you're going to hear, does it? The reason the files have these types of names is that Digital Juice offers a proprietary media search program named “Juicer”. Once the files are loaded into the software database, Juicer uses its own secret decoder ring to re-link the filename with the descriptive information you need. All of Digital Juice's products use Juicer, so it is assumed that a picture editor would already be using Juicer for stock animations and graphics searches. It makes sense that they would make the SoundFX product conform to the same workflow.
So at first glance these collections seem like a waste of time for sound editors. What a drag it would be to first search for a sound in your go-to program (SoundMiner in my case) and then do a separate search in Juicer as well. Luckily, I discovered the simple and effective work-around that brings the SoundFX file descriptions into SoundMiner. Using the Soundminer function called “Import Encrypted Text” you can import a text file and automatically apply the text to the appropriate metadata fields in corresponding sound files. Turning a database that looks empty and useless like this:
...into a full and useful database that looks like this:
The filename metadata field maintains the coded numeric file name, but all other fields are filled with descriptive searchable information. You can find the encrypted text files for the first three collections here. For some strange reason the fourth SoundFX collection’s encrypted text file is not posted on the Digital Juice site. I was able to find it somewhere else when I first purchased the library, but I can't find it online anywhere currently. If you need to get your hands on it, leave a message in the comments below, and I will send the correct encrypted text file to you.
So with a quick file management work-around the SoundFX collection becomes very useable to a sound editor. But now, back to the important question of quality! Are these sounds even worth the effort? The short answer is: yes. All the sounds are delivered at 96k and 24bit, so they are ready for heavy plug-in manipulation. The individual files are edited cleanly and cover a wide range of content. One way in which these collections differ from the more mainstream collections of Sound Ideas, Hollywood Edge or Blastwave is the way they were mastered: in general they peak at a much lower volume. This is both good and bad in my opinion. I find that ambiences are regularly mastered at unnecessarily loud levels. In order to make a Sound Ideas windy ambience sit in a reasonable pocket in a mix the fader normally has to sit pretty low. This is not the case with these Digital Juice libraries, making the ambience effects fit into mixes a little more easily. On the other hand, the hard effects in this collection are sometimes a little too quiet. In both cases the sounds are mastered at perfectly acceptable levels in terms of usability, they are just different from what I'm used to hearing from other libraries.
In addition to ambiences and hard effects these collections feature a large quantity of “Design Elements”. These are highly effected and sound-designed files, ready to use with Digital Juice’s vast line of Motion Graphics. These can be very useful sounds when you need to build sci-fi or other un-worldly sounds.
The sounds are spread over a vast range of categories. For a general library of SFX, most things are covered off fairly well. One way the SoundFX collection comes up a little short is in variations. There is only one take of most sounds included. So if you need to cover a long series of repetitive elements you would have to start recycling the same sounds pretty fast.
There are 4 collections in all, named SoundFX I - IV. All 4 contain 55 gigabytes of sound files varying from 10,500 sounds in SoundFX III to 15,700 in SoundFX II. In total the 4 libraries take up 220GB and contain 49,506 files. It's easy to order the products directly from the Digital Juice website, paying with a credit card (paypal does not appear to be an option). The collections come in stylish glossy cardboard boxes that contain fabric binders holding the DVDs. Each library is delivered with about a dozen DVDs that you then have to load onto your local hard drive. A tedious process that feels very old-fashioned. It would be nice if Digital Juice offered a hard drive version of the full set. It basically took me a full day to load all 44 DVDs onto my system, including putting all the descriptors into the SoundMiner database. So the collection is not exactly plug-and-play, as it needs some attention to get it up to speed (...but that's what interns are for, right?)
The sounds come with a fairly standard end users license, so you are free to use the sounds in the same manner you would with any other vendor's royalty-free effects. One unique difference that caught my eye was a specific condition barring the SoundFX collections from being used “in or in conjunction with pornographic material”. I had a good laugh at that one; I have never seen that listed in any one else's EULA.
Now the really good news: each of these collections is priced at $499... but that is a bit of a red herring, because they are always on sale. The Digital Juice website consistently has them listed for $99.95 each. So that would be $399.80 for almost 50,000 sound files. A quick consultation with my calculator tells me that this works out to a little less than a tenth of a penny per sound effect. That price is out of this world, without compare, and super-duper inexpensive. My standard for pricing in the sound effects world is Sound Ideas General HD which works out to 16 cents per effect. Or 160 times more expensive than the Digital Juice SoundFX I - IV.
In the final reckoning, are the SoundFX collections as high-quality as the flagship products from Sound Ideas or Blastwave? No they are not. But they are not very far off. They do make an excellent companion piece to those collections. So in my estimation, at the price at which they are being offered, the SoundFX line of libraries from Digital Juice are pretty much a no brainer. Well worth the investment.
This article is part of Azimuth's Blog’s ongoing feature of SFX library reviews. Take a moment to read the Ground Rules if you have not had a chance to do so yet, to get an idea of what I use the libraries for and what my criteria are.
Previous SFX Library Reviews Include:
Chuck Russom FX's Rock Sound Library (No longer available)
One of the great things about blogs, forums, Twitter and the digital age in general is the ease with which information gets passed around. There are so many makes and models of studio and field recording gear, and more innovations being marketed all the time, that without all these new ways to access information, we'd have a much tougher time narrowing down what gear is right for every individual's needs. I have come across a few great articles and discussion forums about what items other professional field recordists have in their kits and I have stolen more than a few ideas. So I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and describe my recording kit and how it has evolved over the years. This post is not meant to be a gear fetish article so I am going to skip over the actual microphones and recorders in my kit (for a great mic fetish article read this though!) and talk about the accessories and handy items that fill out my equipment locker.
This will be a four-part series, with each post covering a different portion of my current kit. In coming weeks I'll cover Stands/Booms/Mounts, Useful Odds & Sods/Tools, and Storage/Transport Solutions, but today I will write about what items I use to protect recordings from wind and other unwanted environmental noise.
Wind Protection is possibly the most important microphone accessory category, as not everything that one wishes to record can be put in a sound-isolated recording booth. Out in the field, wind can be a really tough enemy to overcome and I find I can never be too prepared to battle the unpredictable elements. Wind can ruin a great recording, and Murphy's Law of Location Recording dictates that if it's nice and calm while you're setting up your mics, then the wind is going to pick up as soon as you start recording. Ways to minimize how wind affects a microphone sometimes are as simple as creative placement of objects (or a willing body) at the side of the mic to act as a baffle, but eventually you are going to need more than makeshift solutions to save your recordings. As wind speeds increase you have to up the ante and get a proper covering for the mic. Over the years I have used a bunch of different techniques that vary from standard professional gear to more DIY/McGyver-inspired solutions.
In terms of the professional gear, I have both a Rode Blimp and a Rycote Windshield and they both have their pros and cons. One big positive for the Rode is its price, as it's much cheaper than a Rycote. But with that discount comes some trade-offs. The Rode Blimp is bigger and a little bit heavier than the Rycote and if I am using a boom pole or using the hand grip for extended periods then this extra weight becomes a problem. It also has an annoying little rubber piece that holds the mic cable in place where it exits the blimp and this little rubber bit is always falling and bouncing/rolling away when you change out the mic in the blimp. I have spent lots of time on my knees scavenging through the grass looking for it, time that could have been better spent recording whatever I was trying to capture in the first place. The Rode Blimp is also more susceptible to wear and tear. The structure of the cage is made up of hundreds of plastic hexagons and over time some of these thin hexagon sides have snapped. This hasn't caused any problems for me yet but I imagine that if enough of these bits break, I'll start hearing wind-noise creeping into my recordings.
As befits a somewhat higher-end product, the Rycote windshield seems to be much more adaptable for different length mics as it has extensions that can be added or removed as needed. The Lyre system used in a Rycote also makes it much easier to change out microphones with different body circumferences - as opposed to the Rode's rubber-band suspension. The Lyre lets you simply pop out one mic and pop in another, while with the Blimp’s suspension, swapping out two different-sized mics takes time and fiddling. The Blimp comes with a variety of different mic clips that can be put in the suspension system to accommodate various mic diameters, so if you want to swap out the mic, you have to completely dis-assemble the rubberband suspension, attach a new clip and then rebuild the suspension again. It is not difficult to do, but it is a 'stop-everything' kind of process. In terms of comfort of handling, if you tend to spend a lot of time holding the mic with the pistol grip, the contour on the Rycote’s grip is much less comfortable then the Rode’s, but I feel like this is off-set by the fact that the Rycote is lighter.
Both of these mic surrounds are quite effective in protecting the microphone from the wind. They both come with furries that are very similar; Rycote calls theirs a Windjammer and Rode refers to theirs as a Dead Wombat. I used the Rode Blimp dressed in it's wombat fur during my trip along the coastal roads of Iceland where I encountered some pretty heavy winds. The Blimp allowed me to capture good sound without much difficulty in those wild conditions.
Before I invested in the Rycote and Rode systems I was using a foam wind cover with a furry fabric sheath pulled over it made by Rode, it continues their dead animal themed naming convention and goes by the name "Dead Cat". This is not good enough in extreme circumstances but it will get you through light wind in a pinch. One advantage of the Dead Cat is that it is much less imposing and doesn't draw attention as much a full windshield and furry does. I am not saying it is stealth by any means but it is a bit less conspicuous.
In addition to the windscreens, I carry some extra supplies I purchased at a local fabric store. I have a roll of foam about an inch thick, and a few yards of long-haired fun fur (I use black but you can get some far-out neon colours if that's your thing). I have found these supplies to come in handy when I have to get creative in a situation that is not going according to plan. For instance I've found myself in this predicament: I'm recording a sound that turns out to be too loud for my planned microphone and I have to try another mic, but am missing the right clips to mount in the Blimp. I've cut a few chunks of foam and fur, wrapped them around the mic and secured it all with a rubber band, and voilà - a homemade solution that saved the recording session. It's not ideal for getting the sound perfectly but it helped me get something when otherwise I would have got nothing.
I also have some wind protection for other-sized mics. I have the Rycote Portable Recorder Kit to help cut down wind noise when I am out with my hand-held recorder. It works quite well but is not terribly effective in really high wind conditions. To help, I have cut up a piece of the foam mentioned above and shaped it so it can fit over the mics inside the Rycote furry. This helps with the wind but does colour the sound a bit.
For smaller mics, I have a few tiny foams in a couple of sizes to help with lavs and tiny mics. Again, if needed, in a pinch I can cut off a small square of the fun fur and secure it with a rubber band if more wind protection is needed.
If I think they will be needed I have 6 sound re-enforcement blankets that I can bring along to try to help isolate a sound from its surroundings. These can substantially cut down room reverberation or help in deadening down noise leaks from outside. They can also be used in extreme wind as barriers held on the windy side of the mic, as they are quite heavy and won’t audibly flap around, unless we are talking hurricane-speed winds. Finally these can be used to place under things that move, so you can cut down on the ground friction sounds they may make. They are also good for putting under your knees if your recording session requires a lot of kneeling and crawling.
Since the blankets are quite bulky I find a good technique to keep them manageable is to store them in vacuum sealed bags. This process makes them quite a bit smaller during storage and they are easy to get out of the bags when needed and are back to full size in a few minutes.
The final thing I like to bring along for microphone protection is another human being. A second set of eyes can watch for problems that might go unseen by a recordist concentrating on the task at hand... specifically protecting your gear from theft. I have had a few occasions where a friend or colleague has noticed something/someone I had not, and I've been very glad for their presence as a result. Plus, a second set of hands (attached to a quiet and patient body) is helpful in countless ways throughout the whole recording process in the field. I try to always go out with at least one other person, my wife usually drawing the short straw for this job.
So that's what I like to have handy in terms of microphone protection on a field recording adventure. Please feel free to contribute what items you find invaluable in your kit via the comments section below or through Twitter. You can find me on Twitter @azimuthaudio .
This instalment of the Azimuth Blog Indie SFX Library Review will be a little different, as I will be writing about a website/SFX service instead of the kinds of standard packaged libraries I've looked at in the past. The usual guidelines still apply though; you can read about the basic standards and criteria I use in my reviews in this previous blog post.
SoundSnap.com is a website that hosts “140,000 sound effects and loops”. I can't find an exact breakdown of how many loops they have vs SFX, but it appears they have about 30,000 music loops or samples... so simple math suggests they have in the ballpark of 110,000 sound effects on the site. That is a fairly large library, one that SoundSnap boasts as being collected in part from Hollywood sound designers with big credits to their names.
The site was started by Tasos Frantzolas, a professional sound designer working out of Athens, Greece. When launched, it was the amalgamated library of a community of 20 sound designers, encompassing 30,000 SFX. It has grown from there with a focus on professional-quality SFX. Big-name contributors include Coll Anderson (5904 downloadable SFX), Chuck Russom (400 downloadable SFX), Blastwave (32105 downloadable SFX), SFX Source (3150 downloadable SFX), Frank Serafine (1358 downloadable SFX), Paul Virostek/Airbourne Sound (13800 downloadable SFX) and many more.
There are other websites that offer downloadable SFX files but SoundSnap is special because of two features: its 'Royalty Free' license and its annual subscription. A similar site is freesound.org. While freesound.org offers its SFX for free, there is a catch. Most of the sounds have an “Attribution” creative commons license. This means you have to give credit for each sound you use from the site. In 99% of the projects I work on this is not possible. The credits on some of the series I work on are so compact that there are many occasions that I don’t even get a screen credit as sound editor. If I went to the producer and told them they had to add 200 credits for each sound I grabbed from a website I would get laughed out of the room. It's simply not an option. SoundSnap's standard 'Royalty Free' license does not require attribution so this is not an issue with their sounds.
While freesound.org obviously has the advantage of being free, SoundSnap has an interesting pricing structure. When buying in small amounts it's not particularly cheap. SoundSnap sells its sounds in packs, with the smallest pack being 5 sounds. A 5-sound pack lets you pick any five sounds hosted on the site for $9, or $1.80 per sound (all prices listed in US dollars). That is still cheaper than most sounds on Sounddogs.com, but if you intend to pull down a lot of sounds it will start to add up quickly. But SoundSnap has a pricing structure that encourages bulk purchasing. If you purchase a pack of 100 sounds the price drops almost by half, to 99 cents per sound. Still not super-cheap but getting more reasonable. Yet here is the feature that really sets SoundSnap apart from the competition: the annual subscription. This lets you download an unlimited number of sounds over the course of a year for $249. On this plan, you are looking at a hypothetical price of 0.002 cents per sound. When looked at from that perspective, you might say SoundSnap’s annual subscription is actually almost free. (Well... don't think about that too hard...)
Now, in order to hit that 0.002 cent price point, you'd have to download the entire library in one year - an undertaking that would require a level of discipline and patience that I don’t possess. Downloading sounds from the site is rather easy but there is a protection mechanism in place to stop someone from setting up an automated download routine to grab all the sounds.
In order to download sounds you first have to sign up with a user name and password and then pick a download pack. Payment is easy and handled either through Paypal or credit card. If you get the annual subscription, all you have to do for the rest of the year is log into the site and you are set to pull down all the sounds you need, never having to worry about paying again until your year is up. Auditioning is straightforward, and the site responds to searches very quickly. You can search using a global search function or you can browse by categories.
I have a few criticisms of the site. One complaint is that the site only loads 10 sounds per page. So for example, if you search the word “monkey” you get 75 hits but they are spread out over 8 pages. So auditioning them all involves a lot of browser navigation from page to page. It's nowhere near as quick as using Soundminer to find sounds (Not sure if that is a fair comparison though since one is online and the other is local). Another drawback is a lack of consistent metadata for the downloaded sounds. When I download a batch of sounds and load them into Soundminer for future use I find some sounds have a fully detailed set of metadata while others have just the file name and hard attributes (file length, bit rate, number of channels, etc.) It would be fantastic if SoundSnap had a metadata policy that required everyone to include more detailed metadata for the sounds.
In terms of the quality of the actual sounds - I have found them to be really great. Obviously I have not listened to every sound on the site but with very few exceptions the sounds have all been up to quite high standards. This makes sense since since the contributors all seem to be professional sound editors and have their own high standards to meet.
I've also found this site to be a life-saver on occasions when I'm freelancing or at a mix without my personal SFX library handy. You can simply log onto SoundSnap wherever you are and hopefully find what you are looking for, without having to carry a hard drive, laptop and Soundminer key with you every where you go.
I would not recommend anyone attempt to treat an annual subscription to SoundSnap like a fully-functional stand-alone SFX library. I have found that SoundSnap can be an excellent emergency backup option though. In cases when you have exhausted your own library and you are at a loss to find that perfect sound a quick search on SoundSnap can offer a great find or a new perspective on what you are trying to find. I've never used it as a first resort, but SoundSnap got me out of more then a few jams when my primary library searches came up empty.
All in all, SoundSnap - with or without the annual subscription - is a great tool to have in your back pocket as a compliment to an on-site well-rounded professional SFX library.