Active Sound-recording

A flock of Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), recorded on a cold winter’s morning in Catalunya, with a Dodotronic Hi-Sound Parabola and Olympus LS-12 recorder. Photo: Seán Ronayne

Active sound-recording (as opposed to passive sound-recording) is the most fundamental form of this art and simply involves recording in person, with recording device in hand. The beauty of this process is that you can take complete control over what you record – you have directionality. The opposite is true of passive sound-recording, but this form has advantages of its own, and are discussed here. Freedom of direction comes at a very slight, but imperative cost: it is essential to control your movements, both to prevent your subject from fleeing, and from making unwanted noise (noise which may pollute your audio) through your own actions. We will keep this section to a minimum, as it is the most straightforward of the three discussed forms (active, passive and NOCMIG). Equipment is dealt with in various sections throughout this site (here, here & here), regardless.

1. WHAT DO I NEED?

In its most basic form, active sound-recording can be done using a handheld sound-recorder or even a mobile phone. It’s a great way to enter sound-recording as a past-time, while you learn the basics and become familiar with everything. This option is also very convenient, as such devices can easily fit in your pocket and be taken almost anywhere. One point to note, however, is that relative proximity to a vocalising subject is a must: the reach of these devices, in the absence of any external microphones is usually limited. This also comes with a responsibility not to put any animals under unnecessary stress.

This brings us to our next combination nicely. Most sound-recordists who are interested in recording fauna, will eventually look for something to give their setup some extra reach, and the most logical next step is a shotgun mic. A shotgun mic gives you the extra reach you seek, without costing too much money. Shotgun mics are also small enough to maintain the portability of your setup.

If you want to spend a little bit more cash, then you should consider a parabola. This has the highest level of amplification of all, and is more direction-sensitive. That is, these devices need to be pointed precisely, in order to obtain a “sharp”, or in focus, recording. With a little practice, pinpointing becomes easy, resulting in pin-sharp, loud recordings. The downside to these devices are their size and (lack of) portability. They are quite large and awkward to carry, but if you have the cash to spare, these are the ultimate tool for anyone interested in recording wild fauna. Although they are expensive (some can cost 1000 euro or more), one company provides a device on a budget. Dodotronic produce extremely good parabolas for half the price of a lot of their competitors. For 450 euro you can purchase a Dodotronic Hi-Sound, which we highly recommend.

2. Top Tips

Without wanting to get into too much more detail on the subject of active recording, we have decided to compile a series of top tips, which we have picked up along our sound-recording journey so far:

  • Make the most of the equipment you have. This rule applies to so many hobbies and professions across the board, and sound-recording is no different. Even with the cheapest of equipment, it’s possible to get really nice recordings. Just use your imagination and plan ahead.
  • Protect your equipment from wind. Even the slightest puff of wind can render an audio useless. Protect your recorder at all costs from wind in any form. A simple dead-cat will do this for you. Or, if you are on a really tight budget – cling film also works. Cling film will block out wind and rain, whilst still letting sound in. Although it isn’t quite as effective as a dead-cat – it still does the job.
  • Try to remove yourself, as much as possible from anthropogenic noise. There’s nothing worse than capturing a beautiful verse of bird-song with the hum of a busy road in the background. Take your time to plan and find a site where you have the lowest chance of anthropogenic noise pollution as possible. The effort spent finding or travelling to such a location will be reflected ten-fold in the audio you capture.
  • When recording fauna, use simple field-craft, both for the sake of the animal and for your desired recording. Approach animals with respect and you’ll be rewarded with a nice recording. Don’t make any sudden movements or noise and don’t get too close. This is particularly important if an animal is feeding, resting or tending to young.
  • Be prepared! Regardless of whether you are going for a quick stroll or a dedicated walk in search of wildlife – always bring a recorder with you, and be sure that it is fully charged, and has a memory card with sufficient space. You never know when you’re going to stumble across that golden moment.

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