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New equipment, looking for good tips to improve results (1 Viewer)


Hi all, I'm completely new to sound recording (birding for 40 years though), so here is my equipment I'm using now for 3 months (obviously not the best season for birdsong):
Zoom H2n Handy Recorder with a Sennheiser microphone MKE 600 with camera holder and self-made handgrip as well as a fur windshield.
Major points for this choice were:
  • not too expensive
  • easy to carry (at home and when travelling)
  • easy to handle
First results are very nice using Audacity for clipping and changing to mp3 and Raven light for filters and sonograms. Obviously best results in calm environment and birds pretty close (I am not looking for a parabole right now).
I find the record button somehow strange on the H2n but otherwise very easy handling and no weight at all.
I'm including a few pictures of the equipment and a sonogram of a Short-toed Treecreeper (distance ca 20 meters) and an Eagle Owl (male) (distance ca 80-100 m)
Here are my questions:
  • what mistakes are to be avoided?
  • any other equipment needed at this stage?
  • Do you prefer clean sonograms or with a lot of grey tones all over the area?
Thanks for any help


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As you are happy with the results I am tempted to say that 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'.

As a amateur recordist, I think I fall into the category of 'more theory than practice', which is a same - my New Year's resolution is to get out more often (damn Covid lockdown!). Anyway, I have often contemplated the same basic questions - how I could use my equipment better, or what additional equipment I should buy? After seeing the professional recordist Chris Watson on a programme some time ago, I realised that there is not a single 'one size fits all' solution for bird recording - he made a recording of sub-song of a Dipper, which I recollect he did using a lavalier mic (the type you clip to your shirt!). This simple would not have been possible with a shotgun or parabolic mic (which birders seem to prefer) as the noise of the river would have overwhelmed the sound of the bird. To use a camera analogy, there are different lens for different purposes - perhaps a short telephoto for a Sociable Lapwing, set in the context of the Lapwing flock, and a long telephoto for a portrait. Recording equipment is similar, so think about and work within the capabilities of your kit, and think about new purchases to suit additional and particular objectives.

I would therefore advise first thinking about what you kit is capable of and then practicing that. The MKE600 is not one of the most sensitive microphones around, and will produce best results where you can get pretty close to the bird - so how to get close? With a hand held mic, you should be able to record tamer birds, that you can stalk. You may however be pushing things too far, if you want to record birds from a distance - say a bird in the rain forest canopy 40m over your head, or a flyover pipit. Equally if you want to record birds in context of their wider environment, then you probably need a stereo setup, so would again be dissapointed by the 'narrow' sound of a mono recording.

Traditionally (before highly sensitive mics) the way to record birds was observation, followed by positioning of a mic remotely with a length of cable to the recorder - with this setup the mic could be much closer to the target, and this technique still probably produces the best recordings. I do not think the H2N has XLR type connections for a mic, and I would question where you could have a long cable with mini-jack connections, so this technique may be outside you systems capability. That said, I have started to also use a 'trial end error' technique, where I set up a mic remotely, but don't run a long length of cable and leave the recorder with the mic, then press record, retreat and watch. Obviously, as the recording is not being monitored and the recording level optimised, there is greater risk of disappointment, but on the other hand, I do not have to lug about and run out long lengths of cable, and I am free to enjoy birdwatching in the area of the mic, rather than being bent over a recorder monitoring the sound. I would also argue that if you are trying to record a bird that is mobile and calling intermittently, then trying to optimise recording levels is quite difficult anyway. The advantage of getting the mic closer to the subject, is that sound energy is a inverse square rule - if you get the mic twice as close to a bird, the sound is 4 times as loud (4 times closer - 16 times as loud, 10 times closer - 100 times as loud! etc). This means that recording levels can be reduced, and hence unwanted noise (self noise of the recorder, unwanted environmental noise) becomes as a proportion much quiter. Also by using this technique you avoid handling noise, and picking up your own sound (coughs, conversation, rumbly stomachs or worse). With the H2N you could try the 'trial and error' technique either with the shotgun or the built-in mics.

This 'trial and error' technique relies on a bit of practice setting the recording level and anticipating where birds may vocalise from. If you have a local patch, where you know the birds well, this will likely increase the success rate - but take care not to disturb nesting birds. On holidays it will be more hit and miss, but then to be honest, when on holidays you probably want to spend time watching the bird rather than trying to point a shotgun (and hold binoculars in one hand?) The static mic approaches, will probably create better recordings, but would need need to fit in with your birdwatching style - are you someone who likes to keep on the move (a stalking technique may be best), or one who likes to stand and wait (if so, not much to loose by placing a recorder and pressing play at the same time).

With a stalking technique and the hand grip you have fabricated, it is possible that mechanical noise (handling noise) may be an issue, depending on how steady your hands are. If this is the case then you could invest in a pistol grip and suspension frame. This really is dependent on whether your recordings are sometime spoiled by thumbling noises, clicks and bumps. You also state that calm conditions are also best - this is always the case, and I find wind noise to be the biggest bug bear in the UK. I would therefore advise that you listen to your recordings to determine whether the wind is buffeting the mic (this is a pretty unpleasant and loud sound) or if the noise is generated by the movement of foliage (i.e. too much rustling noise)? If the mic is being buffeted by wind, then a zeplin type wind shield with a fur wind cover would be of benefit. If it is noise from rustling leaves or reeds rubbing together, then I am afraid the answer is pick a less windy day! Unfortunately neither suspension systems or zeplins and wind covers are that cheap.

If you find the sensitivity of the mic too limiting, in that you cannot get close enough by stalking the bird, then a more sensitive mic may be a future investment - however, bear in mind that more sensitive mics have limitations and uses - I foolishly thought that my first shotgun mic would perform like the CIA listening devices in the movies! Shotguns are not so efficient at filtering out low frequency noise, so a very sensitive mic will pick-up off-axis traffic, aircraft noise (or other low low pitch sound). They work well to isolate out individual bird sounds in a quite environment, but are not the final solution in a noisy environment. In fact, if you ever see the sound engineer in a on location TV shoot, and they are using what looks like a shotgun mic in a zeplin, they are still trying to get the mic as close as possible to the subject! Conversely, parabolas are good at isolating out low frequency sound, but do not have a flat frequency response, so taint recording birds that have a large frequency range (say a Common Nightingale). In fact the size of a parabola determines, the minimum frequency response, below which there is not signal gain - I once pointed a Parabola at a calling Oriental Turtle Dove and thought my kit was broken!

Finally on the issue of sonograms, I would ask the question what do the recordings sound like when processed and the background noise filtered out to create a white background? Quite often if you over process a recording, it sounds weird - a bit artificial and echoey. The general rule of thumb is try to get as clean as recording as possible in the field, and keep post processing on the computer to a minimum. Also what do the recordings sound and look like pre clean-up? If you have an audible hiss, and lots of grey static on the sonograms, it is probably self noise of the equipment and probably means that you are pushing the recording levels too far. If you apply lots of gain to record the bird, you are also applying lots of gain to any self noise of the system - therefore get the mic closer, apply less gain and reduce the self noise.

Enjoy your sound recording, and don't be afraid to experiment. I am sure you will soon learn own do's and dont's from your successes and failures.


Dear Jon
very useful comments, thanks so much. For the moment it's fun and I guess as long as it stays fun, everything is alright. The funny thing is that I am not a sound man, I had trouble to identify bird calls for decades, I simply have a completely untrained ear (I don't play any music instrument and my vocal talents are well-known and just laughable), I am a visual man and therefore I love sonograms which makes it for me so much easier to remember call types.
Very useful forum anyway
Thanks again and remember your New Year's resolution!

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