Help my make very boring recordings.
March 13, 2019 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to record the ambient sound of my walking using a smartphone, and I'm looking for a microphone to do so. I want a mic that is small enough that I can clip it onto my body that will not only record the sound of my footsteps, but will also capture as much ambient noise (distant dogs barking, any conversations that might happen, etc.). I would also like to do this recording using my smartphone.

Would something like this work? Needless to say, cheaper is better, but I also want good quality. I think I understand that I was an omindirectional Lavalier microphone, but my concern is about how much sound coming from farther than a few feet away it might pick up. I want as much as I can without too much noise.

Feel free to let me know how much of this is unreasonable.

1. Record using smartphone (3.5mm or USB... XLR to USB adapters seem not great?)
2. Omnidirectional
3. Will record as much ambient sound as possible
4. Is small enough to be clip-on and unobtrusive
5. Is good!
6. Is cheap!
posted by cmoj to Technology (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can't say whether it's worth the extra spend, but I would say I've used much cheaper mics like this one to record audio for video interviews on a smartphone, which were good enough quality they were picked up to be used on broadcast TV without it being hugely obvious they were made with sub-professional kit.

The mic picked up and prioritised the directional sound of the person we were interviewing, but there was enough background noise (from several feet/metres away) that I would think if you used them without someone talking over the top, you'd get a lot of ambient sound. Happy to send you a link to a recording made with the mic if you want to memail me.
posted by penguin pie at 9:33 AM on March 13

You will have a hard time capturing distant ambient sounds clearly with a small/cheap/unobtrusive/smartphone solution.

Using a USB adapter will give you better audio quality - the 3.5mm inputs are not super great.

Less cheap/unobtrustive for iPhones:

Fits most criteria, if you're ok wearing headphones:
posted by Diddly at 9:35 AM on March 13

I should mention that my smartphone is a Pixel 2 XL... which takes USB C. Of course, I can use any USB adapter.
posted by cmoj at 9:52 AM on March 13

Yeah I was definitely thinking binaural setup like the last one Diddly mentioned-- that'll give the most natural, immersive sound on relistening.

This wired one from Roland would work well too, but it might be tough to find something that takes 2x TRS and converts to USB-C; something like this might work (though it'll be easier if you don't need the headphone output at the time).
posted by supercres at 10:06 AM on March 13

I used to record ambient noise to Minidisc using a small Sony binaural condenser mic, the kind that takes a watch battery. I suppose this is the closest thing available nowadays, although I'm not sure how it receives power (it has no battery) and I hear reports of fakes on Amazon.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:33 AM on March 13

You'll have trouble with all of those criteria given what you'd like to do. Outside = wind, which really affects things on lower quality, cheaper microphones. Walking = moving the microphone around, or it jostling around in whatever you’re carrying it in, as well as footstep noise (maybe you're OK with the footstep noise, but the rest will kill your recordings.) Smartphone = very subpar quality for most use cases of field recording, won't capture any of those distant ambient sounds you'd like to.

A Zoom H4N field recorder is well-loved, tested, portable and currently on sale. Pair that with a windscreen and should be good, I think, but I can't personally vouch for it (I went with the cheaper H2N and it was not such a good idea - wind and jostling made its inferior microphones pick up all kinds of unwanted noise, even with a windscreen. But H4n and H6 correct those issues, I believe.)
posted by naju at 3:11 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

Related (details: Neu! shirt, RØDE mic, and a copy of John Cage's Silence)
posted by naju at 3:39 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

Many years ago I recorded some pretty decent walking ambient audio with an early version of the Sennheiser binaural headset.

Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset is the latest version of this. I haven't used this exact model. If it's anything like the earlier one, the quality should be excellent. It's compatable with Apple phones. Binaural audio can sound impressive. It's not cheap.
posted by ovvl at 4:41 PM on March 13

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