Soundscape Field Recording Research

Learning resources

Here are some resources I found for making high-quality audio field recordings:

Low-cost all-in-one field recorder

You’ll find recommendations for low-cost (<$200) all-in-one field recorders, such as the Zoom h1n. The issue with these is that they require setting gain levels. I tested the Zoom h1n, and the nice thing about it is that it will continuously record while powered by the AC adapter. This allows for recordings much longer than the limited battery-life. Because the AC adapter is just a USB-type, you can run off a large USB power bank for portable field recording. The Zoom h1n is an all-in-one in the sense that it already has stereo mics built into the recorder. They’re arranged in an XY configuration. This isn’t the greatest for soundscape recording but is nevertheless a good solution.

Zoom h1n-VP (value pack that includes windscreen, AC adapter, and case). (Click image to go to Amazon link):

It doesn’t come with memory, so you’ll need to get some memory cards for it. It only recognizes a max size of 32 GB card. Here’s a 2-pack of Sandisk Ultra 32 GB cards. (Click image to go to Amazon link):

32-bit float high-end field recorders

For high-end and more convenient recording, there’s newer 32-bit float technology that allows for simplier, yet high-quality recording without having to set gains. The Zoom F3 seems to be the model that’s recommended on various websites. Tascam also makes a 32-bit float recorder, but some noticed ultrasonic noise interference. The Zoom F3 has the option of a add-on Bluetooth adapter that allows it to communicate with a smartphone app to set various settings. The app allows for config changes on your phone, which is easier than trying to do it on the small F3’s interface. The Zoom F3 isn’t very expensive at all at <$400. But, it doesn’t include mics. Mics can be expense.

Zoom F3 with the BT adapter. (Click image to go to Amazon link):

The Zoom F3 needs memory cards. It can take up to 512 GB cards. Here’s Sandisk Ultra 512 GB (Click image to go to Amazon link):


You’ll need mics for the Zoom F3 because it doesn’t have built-in mics. If you’re interested in the ambient soundscape, omnidirectional microphones are one solution. They can be purchased as “matched” stereo pairs. In other words, two microphones selected by the manufacturer for their matching recording qualities.

It seems like most recommed the Sennheiser MKH 8020 Omnidirectional Stereo Matched Pair Mics. They have a very low self-noise level. And, they also feature an RF construction that makes them resistant to moisture, which is useful for field recording. Not cheap though at >$2K (click image to go to Amazon link):

One website recommended the SE Electronics SE8 “Omnidirectional” matched pair stereo mics as a lower cost alternative. I don’t believe they’re RF constructed, and are simply condenser mics. So they won’t be moisture resistant as the Sennheisers. But, they’re a approximately a quarter of the price of the Sennheisers. Note that there are multiple versions of the SE8. Some are cardioid pattern, while the link here is to the “omni” pattern (click image to go to Amazon link):

The nice thing about the SE8 Omni’s is that it comes as a kit, which includes the matched pair of mics, a case, windscreens, mounts and bracket.

In some scenarios, if the goal is to record a particular directional source in stereo, then instead of omnidirectional mics, cardiod pattern mics could be useful. Again, most recommend Sennheiser mics for field recording. They make Sennheiser MKH 8040 that are cardioid. (Click image to go to Amazon link):


I already mentioned above the need to purchase memory cards for the field recorders.

Additionally, if getting the Sennheiser mics, check the list of accessories it comes with. I think the matched pairs came with a windscreen, but not a mounting bracket that you’d need for stereo recording. You want a good mounting setup because at over $2K, the last thing you want to have is a mic that drops on the floor, falls out of a tree, etc.

I don’t have this, but the Rode Stereo Bar looks nice because it has vertical stands which allow for XY mic mounting, where one mic is above the other (Amazon link):

I also mentioned above the option of running the field recorders on a portable USB power bank. One website mentioned they had success with Anker’s Powercore series of USB power banks. Here’s one that I like because it’s has lots of power capacity (26800 mAh), includes a rapid charger, and has both USB A and USB C outputs (Amazon link):

Finally, you’ll need some XLR cables. I didn’t do a whole lot of reseach on the best cables, but I’ve used Amazon Basic XLR cables before, and haven’t had problems with them. Generally, XLR cables come in various lengths. For field recording, I recommend getting not the shortest 12 or 18″ ones, but getting slightly longer ones that will provide a bit of flexibility in standing away from the mics. These mics are super-sensitive, and if you create any rustling of the field recorder or mic by hand-holding things, it will be heard in the recordings. Here a link to Amazon Basics 6 ft XLR cables (2-pack) — you’ll need two cables since one per mic (link):

Other accessories to consider include:

  • Wind protection for the mics. A lot of sites seem to recommend Rycote products
  • A field bag to hold everything
  • A field notebook
  • Other mounting gear (e.g., mic stands, tree mounts/straps, etc.)
  • Sound files are huge, so a fast portable SSD drive. I like Sandisk’s portable SSD because it’s fast and works with both USB C and older USB A

Stay tuned. I’ll probably follow-up on this post, with sharing some tips for processing of field recording sound files, calibrating the levels against Type 2 sound level monitoring, etc.

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Feature photo by Vladislav Smigelski on Unsplash