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MKH60/30 M/S Combo
One of the things which set sound effects recordists apart from many other professionals who record sound, is the special requirements we have for the gear we use. Case in point: microphone frequency response. I don't know how many online recording-related discussions have been derailed the moment someone asks about the feasibility of 192 kHz recording and ultrasonic capability of certain microphones as means for better sounding recordings. Countless hapless n00bs have been told off about the limits of human hearing and the dismal frequency response of most speakers and headphones. I usually pull out before it goes all tar-and-feathers; I can no longer be bothered piping up about sound design and pitch manipulation.

Most microphones supposedly useful in pro audio are not spec'ed for ultrasonic capture. Googling the phrase "ultrasonic microphone" mostly yields bat-detectors and components for 3D positioning. Famous exceptions are the Sanken CO100 and the MKH80x0 series. But maybe spec sheets don't tell the whole truth. Enter cheap electret capsules. After reading this article on a DIY solution to ultrasonic recording using Panasonic capsules, I looked at my portable Sony PCM M10 with fresh eyes. Would it's internal mics (supposedly Primo EM 172's) also be capable of ultrasonics? The datasheet isn't much help - it looks like someone took a wild guess with a pencil and a ruler. But then it dawned on me that both Earthworks and DPA use electrets in mics capable of beyond 20kHz recording. What about true condensers like the MKH series?

Ok, so It wasn't the most linear train of thoughts I have ever had, but I basically decided to test my hypothesis that ultrasonics were not a selling point when the original MKH series came out, and so was ignored in the specs. I wanted to know if my MKH60/30 combo might have that much coveted extended response.

Enter the key-jangle test.
A big reason for wanting the really hi-freq stuff is to record metal objects and then pitch those sounds down in post - it's a great way to design huge mechanical sounds that don't sound strangely dull when their pitch is lowered. So for that reason, a good test might be to jangle a few steel keys (and similar objects) in front of the mic:

This was recorded using the MKH60, at 96kHz sampling frequency. Loading it into iZotope RX, we see a lot of high-frequency action going on:
Spectrogram of key jangle test

Zooming in, it becomes obvious that those vertical spikes (the keys hitting each other) go all the way up to 40kHz and beyond. Since the brightest areas in this spectrogram correspond to the loudest frequencies, it's clear that most of the energy lies between 8-20kHz, but the sound doesn't exactly drop off dramatically in the frequencies above that:
Zoomed in on ultrasonic frequencies

Here's a clip of the same recording slowed down to a quarter of it's original speed:

Not shown (or heard) in these clips is the response of my MKH30 which was also recording at the time. Being setup in M/S, it was off-axis to the source, which would attenuate the higher frequencies to begin with, but even then there was still quite a bit going on over 20kHz (you'll have to take my word for it).
So if you own a mic from the old MKH series, you can perhaps forget your 80x0 envy for a while; at least as pertains to ultrasonic recording.

Denmark is a windy place. So much so, in fact, that recording outdoors more often that not means using a windscreen. Depending on what you want to record, the wind can be a huge annoyance; buffeting your mics and drowning everything in a wash of noise. In other words, Denmark is a great place to record wind sounds!

You may already be familiar with my first collection of wind sound effects, comprised of the kind of howling and whistling sounds caused by high winds and leaky windows. This time though, I've gone outdoors to capture gales and gusts - in an urban setting.

Wind is a tricky subject to record though. First of all, you're not always recording the phenomenon itself, but rather the objects it influences. Yes, you can just turn your mics into the wind and see what happens, but the sound of microphone membranes getting blown in gets old fairly quickly. I find it much more interesting to record some of the other things that move in the wind; like flags, chains, plastic tarps, beer cans rolling downhill...
You can also capture howling and whistling sounds outside - if you know where to look. I've recorded under streetlight wires, near half-finished buildings, under huge cranes; with each object responding to high winds in their own way.

Urban Winds Sound Effects  Preview

In the soon-to-be-released collection (which will be called Urban Winds), you will find both ambiance recordings as well as specifics. In some cases you get stereo and mono versions of the same sound (derived from the original M/S recordings) because I found the sounds interesting both ways. I have chosen not to release the M/S files, because it seems most people prefer not to fiddle with decoding this format to X/Y or mono.

Anyway, stay tuned for Urban Winds. Follow me on twitter or facebook to know when it's out - or sign up for my newsletter here (this also gets you a nice release discount on Urban Winds and future releases).

More sounds from my trip to Tokyo back in May this year!
Whereas the first installment was focused mostly on a quiet residential area of the largest city in Japan, this time the focus is more on inner city tourist favorites such as Akihabara, Shinjuku and a couple of recordings from out of town as well.

Here is the first audio preview:

No sound? Try here.

(Get your Tokyo ambiances now).

Field recording Traffic in Sakura, Tokyo

Update: Tokyo - Outdoor Ambiances sound library is out now!

Prior to my trip to Japan, I had been thinking deeply about what to record. After deciding to pack for portability and stealth, it was obvious that I would focus on ambient recordings of Tokyo. Following that, it was also obvious that I should try to record everyday life, wherever I found it. What does it mean to live in Tokyo, what sort of sensory inputs do people there live with every day? That was the question I wanted to answer.

At the same time, I also record with a commercial interest in mind, which means striving for a certain flexibility and ubiquity in most cases. Not that there shouldn't be time for more oddball sounds (should I come across any) but I very often approached the work thinking about the needs of sound pros - rather than from a purely phonographic viewpoint.

So, dull as it may seem, traffic was on my list of things to capture. But even though it's easy to conclude in advance, that cars and trucks sound the same all over the world, this is never the case completely. Human language aside, there are other indicators to the location of this recording:

Of course, there are plenty of Japanese cars in this clip. Those are found everywhere in the world and frankly, I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between any model of Toyota and a comparable European car like a Peugeot. Listen carefully though, and you'll hear sounds which are not generic, but endemic to Tokyo - possibly other areas of Japan.

A two-note "ding-dong" sound is rather prominent, and as far as I could tell, it came from the bus stopping and going. You may also hear something which sounds a little bit like a high-pitched church bell, for instance. This is a sound coming from the train crossing, whenever a train is approaching. Granted, train crossings do something almost similar in Denmark - almost. It's not precisely the same bell - it's a local sound.

Getting back to cars, engine sounds are another indicator to the location. Lots of relatively small vehicles are seen in the streets. Sedans, hatchbacks, SUV's yes, but also vans and trucks in many different sizes, with a tendency toward very small ones. Many streets are narrow here, so almost every type of service vehicle (garbage truck, cement truck) comes in miniature versions, which are essentially vans and pickup-trucks. Scooters, motorbikes and mopeds of every kind and size too. Bicycles are very common as well.

Sound a lot like other Asian countries, or southern Europe? Not quite. Notice there are no car horns, or horns of any kind. They don't do that here.
At first listen, these are subtle differences - you may not even notice what is lacking. It's just traffic, right? In reality, even the bicycles sound different from the ones in my country - because they ARE different.

In conclusion, even something as seemingly generic as traffic has a unique character in Tokyo - as it does in many other places, all over the world.

Field recording - Kyodo Station, Tokyo
Kyodo Station entrance. Not rush hour, by the way.

Update: Tokyo - Outdoor Ambiances sound library is out now!

Followers of my doings may have noticed some talk about a trip to Tokyo back in May, and the fact that I did some recordings over there. At this time of writing I'm in the process of editing the sounds, hopefully to release a library of sounds (perhaps more than one) in the coming months.

As I go through the recordings, I find a lot of stuff I want to share, so expect a series of blog posts with photos and sounds.

This first one was recorded outside your typical, medium-sized train station. This particular station is Kyodo Station, which is about half an hour out from Shinjuku Station, on the Odakyu Odawara line. The surrounding area is a nice, lively suburb, with lots of people doing the commute everyday. At peak hours, there is a busyness here, which I wanted to capture:

Somewhere around the entrance of every train station in Tokyo, are the travel-card gates, and in this recording, the sounds related to checking in and out through these gates figures prominently. Passengers "charge" their cards with credits, which are then deducted for the distance traveled when you exit through the gates. This generates different sounds, as plastic cards are swiped over sensors, gates open and close, and so on. Many commuters keep their cards in plastic sleeves hung from key chains, which also contributes to the clatter in a certain way. Finally, if your travel card is empty, you are denied access through the gate with an audio signal, and must go to a refill station to top it up.

There is a lot going on, in other words. During the recording, hordes of high-school children came through; laughing, shouting and giggling as they went. But even with all the pressure of large crowds, most people seemed mostly relaxed. The Japanese seem to do busy quite well. The atmosphere never seemed aggressive, even on the occasion that someone actually seemed in a hurry.

I know I have spoken about my admiration for the culture surrounding public transportation in Tokyo before, but that is because it has made a real impression on me, coming from a country where the general degree of road-rage seems inversely proportional to the size of the population - and of our traffic-congestion problems. Such perspective, traveling provides.