What Sound Equipment You Need

What Sound Equipment You Need

This is an introduction to the basic kit you need to be able to do sound recording / sound mixing. This will be using examples from my own equipment so feel free to look for other similar products within your price range.

What Sound Equipment You Need Regardless Of Setup

Sound Recordist Sound Equipment
Sound Recordist Sound Equipment

Basic sound equipment: Shotgun Microphone

You will always need a reliable shotgun microphone to see you through most situations when you start out. The sennheiser 416 is world renowned, for very good reasons. Its is build as an RF biased shotgun meaning it doesn't get heavily affected by high humidity (like in the amazon rain forest) and is built like a tank. Regardless of your experience, this will always be at least a backup incase things get a bit hectic.

The reason a shotgun is so useful is because of its rejection to the sides and rear, very useful for louder environments when you need to cut through atmosphere to a target. This is never a perfect solution as you should always be trying to eliminate as much noise as you can.

sound recordist sound equipment
sound recordist sound equipment

Basic sound equipment: Cardioid or HyperCardioid Microphone

I use a hypercardioid for indoor environments. My choice is the Schoeps CMC5u (powering unit) and the MK41 hypercardioid capsule, you can get wider or tighter polar patterns in different capsules you can screw to the same powering unit. Hypercardioid microphones are used indoors because of several reasons:

- Smaller - Hypercardioid microphones dont need be be as long as shotgun microphones because they do not need to reject as much. - Wider Polar Pattern - This allows more natural sounding indoor dialogue. If you have a room with 2 characters and a fridge going off behind one of them (for the example we will imagine it was impossible to turn it off and you had to shoot) then using a 416 would mean one person would have very little fridge noise and the other would have loads. The one away from the fridge would still have fridge noise because it is bouncing off the walls and surfaces, so when you move the 416 in any direction you get a different background unless consistently still. The Schoeps however would allow you to not swing the boom as much and with the wider pattern providing more consistent atmosphere. - Quality - This isn't to say that the 416 makes people sound terrible, it is just a side effect of being so directional. The hypercardioid is able to capture a more natural reflections in the room.

Basic sound equipment: Mixer

The choices of mixers is quite extensive and lots now being combined with a recorder function too. Lets only talk about the mixer part, even though there is overlap in terms of build to a recorder. Your mixer is what will amplify your microphones signal using gain stages. The first being the input gain and the second being the fader. You want your mixer to have very low self noise and a large dynamic range (120dB>) This is so it can keep all of the signal quality without compression or adding too much noise.

Your mixer should have several ways to output your inputs. The more flexible you can be the better. My Sound Devices 664 is a mixer / recorder, the mixer part allows me to output to 3 cameras and with 4 mix tracks in various combinations to suit multiple jobs. So consider the scale of project you will be working on and what you may work on in the future to save you having to upgrade needlessly.

The number of inputs is also a consideration, the more inputs and outputs the better for bigger projects. When you get up to Hollywood productions you will be using flat bed mixers that have 8+ inputs and 8+ outputs so you can route every input to its own record track. The Sound Devices 302 has 3 inputs and only 2 outputs, meaning you have to mix 2+3 together.

Consider other designs for battery life, media support (SD, SDXC, CF cards and so on) along with external power supply options.

Basic sound equipment: Recorder

My Sound Devices 664 also has a record function. What You should look for is a recorder that meets the sample rate you need (minimum 48kHz) and bit depth of 24, This will help with dynamic range in your files. The recorder must have the same build as your mixer in terms of low self noise, high dynamic range and be able to record at least a stereo file so you can pan hard left or hard right. If it can record all your inputs then thats great, remember that ISO tracks are useful in post production.

Consider other designs for battery life, media support (SD, SDXC, CF cards and so on) along with external power supply options.

Basic sound equipment: Cables

Buy the best quality XLR cables you can as they will serve you a very long time if treated properly. Also consider getting adapters like XLR-M to XLR-M or the F-F for connecting different sources together. This will naturally build as your setup gets more complex.

Basic sound equipment: Boom Pole

You will probably start out with a heavier aluminum pole before you progress to the lovely carbon fibre ones but make sure for drama you try to get a pole that is at least 3-4 metres long and ideally collapses down to less than a metre for tighter environments. I started out with a Rode boom pole but moved to a panamic maxi and mini later on. you can get a 3m carbon fibre panamic boom poles on amazon for £100, worth the investment in the arms.

Basic sound equipment: Headphones

I recommend HD-25s from Sennheiser but its definitely a personal preference. Remember that you will get used to how your gear sounds with these headphones. You will then effectively be calibrating to your ears and get a feel for if something was just in the room or will actually be recorded in terms of planes etc... This only comes with experience.

Remember that closed headphones will boost the lower frequencies but open ones will let in more outside sounds that may not be recorded.

Basic sound equipment: Blimp and wind protection

You will need a way to stop wind or general movements of air from going past your shotgun or hypercardioid microphone. This is done by putting your microphone in a blimp/Zeppelin with a 'dead cat' which is the fluffy wind protection. I recommend the new Rycote product called the 'Super Shield' which offers great protection from quite strong winds approaching gale force.

Not Radio Microphones?

I am going to save the discussion of radio microphones for a different article because they will need more explanation in terms of how they work and what to look for.

So this concludes the basic list of equipment not including radio mics and what to look out for with each. Again if you feel there need more clarification then leave a comment below the related articles and i'll be happy to correct or adjust the article for your needs.