I have been doing a lot of experiments to create an ideal field recording rig that I can bring with me on hikes around WA. I am engaged to an avid hiker/backpacker so in the past couple years I have been in a fortunate situation to do more nature and outdoor recordings than I used to do in the past.
I noticed after a few trips that I needed to start thinking outside the box when it came to the field recording rig I choose to bring with me.
Handhelds lacked the quality and mic placement options that I wanted and larger rigs (like a MS or ORTF set up) were just to delicate, expensive and cumbersome to carry for miles.
I really felt like I needed to find something that could hit these criteria:
Fit well into a bag I could hike with and carry on a daily basis.
I use a Peak Design Sling bag for small hikes and daily use.
Not be so expensive that I had to any regret to put a lot of wear and tear on it.
Have a quick set up and tear down time.
I started my journey with the most basic and simplified set up I could think of, a Roland R07 (I used a Sony M10 until it broke one day) and a pair of LOM Mikro Usi's. This was great cause it could fit into my pocket, was cheap to replace if damaged and produced a pretty good sound. Where it failed a bit for me was the lack of 32 bit, took a while to unroll/roll the cables and all the challenges that came associated with trying to mount Mikro Usi's in the field.
After a few trips I started to prototype mounting solutions for it but never really got to a place I was happy with.
After many months of experimenting I finally got my hands on a pair of LOM Usi Pro's to use with my Mix Pre 6 v2. I was pretty excited to have these because they sound comparable to a more expensive sets of mics (ex. Sennheiser 8020's) but they are a fraction of the price. So lugging them for several days in a back pack and taking more risks to get a good sound with them is something I was more comfortable doing.
Rigs that I am not afraid to use on a daily basis or damage are always my favorite because there is no remorse if something goes wrong. I can't tell you how many times I have been in the field and I had to watch helplessly from a distance as a mic stand with my Schoeps MS mics on it got blown over in the wind. The feeling sucks. All you can think about in the moment is "Are they ok? Am I going to have to send them in to be repaired? How much will that cost me? What if I lose my mic in the mail?" The list of random thoughts goes on.
The Usi Pro's also gave me a reason to bring my Mix Pre 6 v2 out in the field and use 32 bit to capture sounds faster. Eliminating the need to set levels perfectly to get the sound. I could always fix it in post if I had to rush.
Now that I had my Usi Pro's it was time to really start thinking about microphone mounting options. I got a few suggestions from the field recording slack. The first was a Manfrotto Dado and the second was a Noga Xchange Cube Adapter.
The Dado seemed promising but I ended up finding it to be too clunky for my taste. It did not fit in a bag well for starters and if I wanted it to fit, I would have to take it apart which would take too long to do. Taking too long to grab a sound can make it a chore for others I am hiking with. My main philosophy was if I could set my rig up and tear it down in less than a minute then I could record more things on a single trip.
I really hit a stride in finding my ideal rig when I first got the Noga Xchange Cube Adapter.
I took two Usi Pro Suspension Mounts that are sold with it and I attached them to the Cube Adapter using turnarounds I got from Home Depot. With the Dado and the Cube Adapter I noticed that when Mics are attached to them they don't tighten perfectly aligned. To fix this and align the mics so they are facing in the same direction I used a Pipe cleaner that I jammed into the threads of the turn arounds while I tightened them into the Cube Adapter. This allowed me to align the mics to get an even stereo image. The distance I ended up with after attaching the mics was the same as an ORTF pair. And although the Usi Pro's are Omni I still was getting a nice stereo image. This might be because I have always been a fan of close mic'ing things to get a better signal to noise ratio, plus I work in games so making things sound bigger and abusing proximity effect is something I like to experiment with. Omni's this far apart seem to work well in those situations.
The extra bonus of this set up was that it folded up easily to fit in my bag.
I used this set up like this for quite some time. It was ideal for capturing rivers, rocks, and all sorts of things I found on the trails. It did come with some challenges especially when I had to hold a camera in my other hand. A nature field recordists recommended I look into getting a Mefoto Backpacker S Tripod. The benefit of this is it easily transformed into a mono pod which I ended up liking for day hikes over the full tripod.
Another Field Recordist brought up in the field recording slack that I might want to try spacing my Usi Pro's out more but finding a solution for that is a bit challenging. I have one in the works that involves this stereo bar I bought from Etsy. But at the moment I need to order a few more parts to get it fully functional. Also folded up it does not quite fit into my bag. I am thinking in the future I will set it up as an optional rig to take when I know I will be a bit more stationary at locations.
One other Spacing Option I tried was using my Mikro Usi's paired with my Usi Pro's and then attaching the two Mikro Usi's to a pair of antennas that I used a turn around and some tape to make one hand held unit. This worked well but had two draw backs. The first was over time holding the mono pod and the antennas was not comfortable. And the second was that the Mikro Usi's took a bit to set up as I had to attach and detach them every time I wanted to record. In the end the disadvantages outweighed the quality of sounds I was getting so I opted to use them only on special occasions.
About two or so months ago I got a plug in powered Mini MS Microphone from Stickless. It is a very cheap MS microphone that has the M and the S mics built into one small body. I run it through the aux in of the Mix Pre 6 and then route that internally to channels 3 and 4. This allows me to use the front knobs to control it and I still can utilize 32 bit for those channels. I then combined two spare Usi Pro Mounts that I had to make a suspension mount that it would fit on. Fortunately the Cube Adapter has a free hole on the top so I could easily screw it into my Usi Pro set up. With this addition I can now record 4 channels, 2 omnis spaced in an ORTF type distance and a MS pair in the middle. The benefit is that they sum nicely together and that they give me options that are not too similar. If I am gonna take the time to record more channels I always want to make sure I am capturing different things to make it worthwhile. For wind protection I am using the Bumblebee's that are sold for the Usi Pro's. Right now this a an adequate solution but I need to look into some better options for tougher scenarios, like recording ocean waves. With this rig I can get a decent sound in that scenario but will have to do a lot of clean up in the mastering stage.
This is my current hiking rig and I am happy with the results I have been getting with it so far.
Here are some Previews of the sounds I got from each of the rigs mentioned in this Blog Post:
Roland R0-7 (or Sony M10) + LOM Mikro Usi's
LOM Usi Pro's + Mix Pre 6 v2
LOM Usi Pro's + Mikro Usi Antenna Set Up
LOM Usi Pro's + Mini MS Microphone
And finally here are a few sneaky recordings I did with the Mini MS Microphone.
I just hand held it as I walked through a Ferry.