Field Notes #4: New York Ambiences by Michael Bates

NYAMB cover half size

In the spring of last year I went to New York with my family for a week and decided to try to get the best recordings I could whilst I was there, without annoying my family in the process!

I always take a portable recorder with me on holiday but having just got a pair of DPA 4060 omni mics and having used them to capture ambiences around London (one of which can be heard in the City Skylines theme) I knew that they handled city ambiences really well, so I was excited about trying them out in New York.

My rig is put together like this:

IMG_0001_Stealth rig laid out_half size

It comprises a pair of DPA 4060s into a Sound Devices 302 mixer which feeds an Edirol R-09 recorder. The 302 is powered by a Hawk-Woods NP65 battery, which never seems to run out, the R-09 by rechargeable AAs, which never seem to charge up. I monitor with a pair of Sennheiser HD25s.

All of this fits quite neatly into my shoulder bag and with the mics clipped to the far sides of the bag I get a good 40cm spacing. Also, it’s very stealthy as all anyone sees once the flap is closed are the Rycote windjammers peeking out either side of the bag.

IMG_0005_Rig in bag_half size

IMG_0007_Bag closed top view_half size

Most of the recordings were made with the rig in the bag over my shoulders whilst I stood still and looked nonchalant. However, the longer Canal Street recordings were made with the mics set up outside my bedroom window in the flat we were staying in.

I was really happy with the recordings other than a few issues that I encountered, which I’ve detailed below. The 4060s have incredible low end response and lovely mid detail which really helped to capture the characteristic acoustic that New York has. Combined with the clean quality of the 302 preamps, along with its detailed metering and quality limiters, it’s a setup which does a great job of recording really dynamic things like the Canal Street traffic.

I did vacillate a little about whether to roll off some of the low end in the recordings, but in the end decided not to and to leave it up to the end user to decide how much of it they wanted to use themselves.

Here are a couple of issues that I had that made some recordings unusable and that I’ll have to solve next time I record like this:

My major issue with the setup is that in motion whilst over the shoulder, the metal clips attaching the strap to the bag click with every step and I lost some good material because of this. I could probably have gone through those recordings and taken out each click with RX, but they were so frequent and loud that I think it would have badly affected the sound quality.

There are a couple of recordings in the library that I made whilst walking slowly where this issue didn’t arise (the Staten Island Ferry terminal recordings) but I think in future I need to find a way to damp this sound or alternatively carry the bag handheld.

I lost what could have been a really good skyline recording that I made at the top of Morningside Park because I lost one of my windjammers coming out of a crowded subway and so didn’t have adequate wind protection when I got to the park some hours later. I now carry an extra pair of windjammers as backup wind protection, as those Rycote ones are none too secure and the foam covers don’t stand up to serious gusts.

The one recording that I was seriously annoyed about not getting was a beautiful skyline that I tried to record from the 7th floor balcony of the New Museum on Bowery. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it’s very popular with visitors taking pictures, so instead I have a beautiful recording of people’s camera shutters clicking. If I’d been there on my own I would have stayed for as long as it took to get a clean take, but I sacrificed the recording to keep familial peace intact!

All in all I think it was a worthwhile set of recordings to make that taught me a lot about the strengths and limitations of this setup and of this style of stealth recording in particular. In the end I recorded over six and half hours of material, which I edited down to just over three hours for the library.

As a taster for club members, there’s an alternative take in the Echo Space theme of the Frick Collection Garden Court, a lovely, echoey marble hall with a fountain in the centre. There’s also a recording in the Car Passes theme of some passes on a cobbled street that I recorded whilst there.

For those club members that are interested in the library there is a discount code for 20% off on the LinkedIn group and for non club members you can get 10% off by signing up to the mailing list on tonemanufacture.com

You can see a full file list and more information at tonemanufacture.com/libraries/new-york-ambiences

I hope it turns out to be a useful library and my thanks to all the club members who share their great recordings!

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4 responses

  1. Michael O'Connor

    Great read! I love the idea of this compact setup. My incognito rig consists of the mix pre with an Audio Technica 825, but as you mentioned, wind protection is a key issue. I might try out some DPAs if I get the chance.

    Sound on!

    March 11, 2015 at 5:09 pm

  2. Cheers Michael, glad you enjoyed it reading it!

    As you say, wind protection is the killer with these small setups as you don’t have the big Rycote windshields to rely on. The only other issue I have with the DPAs is their relatively high self noise, compared to say my Sennheiser MKH setup, so they’re not the greatest for capturing very quiet room tones. At least that’s the experience I’ve had.

    The trade off I guess is that I use the DPAs way more because of the ease of use and that they don’t attract attention like the giant fluffy windshield on a stick does!

    April 22, 2015 at 9:05 am

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