Near Field Recording

Placing our microphones within one to three feet (30-100 cm) - or sometimes even less - of the sound source is referred to as near field recording. This is the way most stage performers work, and also how most music is recorded, particularly in the studio.

It's what most modern microphones are primarily designed for. In a near field position, directional microphones pick up a lot of the wanted sound and are much less sensitive to background noise, so the microphone must handle loud sounds without misbehaving, but doesn't need exceptional sensitivity or very low self-noise. If the microphones get very close to the sound source - within ten or so microphone diameters - there's a tendency to over-emphasise bass frequencies, but between this limit and the three foot (100 cm) maximum limit, frequency response is usually excellent.

Microphone placement is critical for near field stereo recording. In the studio, stereo is normally synthesised from multiple tracks - one or more microphones per musician. But the wild soundscape recordist doesn't have that luxury (if it really is a luxury - quite often the resulting "stereo" effect is flawed) as it's impossible to predict exactly where a sound will come from. So we need to set up our microphones to create a stereo image at recording time, and it's tricky unless we use a limited number of techniques with which we become very familiar - the simplest being coincident pair and mid-side. Very directional microphones such as shotgun types are difficult to use in stereo near field because of their size. And in case you're wondering about surround sound, it's not really compatible with near field recording in the wild - it requires far field techniques.

There are relatively few opportunities for near field recording for the wild soundscape recordist anyway, as it's very difficult to get that near to wildlife without scaring it away. It can, however be a useful technique either when we are recording something inanimate such as water or when we can set up prior to the arrival of the creatures we want to record, knowing where they will be - for example a specific bird's nest or the hole of some burrowing animal. The primary benefits of near field are clarity, precision and exclusion of background noise. The resulting recordings will need much less post-processing, so high ultimate quality is much easier to achieve. As the wanted sound levels are higher and the microphones cover a smaller field due to being closer to the sound source, a much wider range of alternative microphones can be used, and cheaper microphones with lower specifications than those required for far field recording are often suitable.