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 .