When considering the purchase of a microphone for use in documentary work, I suggest it’s essential to think of the microphone’s equipment ecosystem. A microphone requires a variety of accessories to provide you with quality recordings under various circumstances.
I’ve observed many media makers purchasing an excellent microphone and not reserving enough money for essential accessories that make the microphone more effective. You need to budget for a complete system, not just the microphone. A short shotgun condenser microphone is often a documentary maker’s first purchase for their location sound recording kit, along with a shock mount, a boom pole, microphone cables, and some form of protection from the wind.
Microphones are incapable of recording wind noise directly. When a microphone encounters wind, the microphone’s diaphragm is forced to move beyond its normal boundaries by changes in air pressure. The wind noise sounds like dull thumps and rumbles at lower frequencies, which is unpleasant to listen to. An effective windshield will diffuse the wind and equalize the air pressure around the capsule, reducing the air turbulence at the diaphragm, eliminating the unpleasant wind noise artifacts. At the end of this post, you can hear this in the video that compares dialogue recording on a windy day with a furry windshield and a foam windscreen.
When it comes to wind protection for a short shotgun microphone, in general, there are three options:
- Most condenser microphones come with a foam windscreen; however, they are not very useful for diffusing wind energy. A foam windscreen will reduce wind noise caused by moving the microphone on a boom indoors, but that’s about it. If you are recording dialogue, ambiance, and sound effects outdoors, you’re going to need some form of wind protection beyond the foam windscreen that came with your microphone.
- The Rycote Classic Softie Windshield is what I carry in my “single case location sound kit.” This is the original slip-on windshield, and it has become a classic. It offers space and cost-effective wind protection that can be quickly slipped on to the microphone when needed. This windshield is made with acoustic foam surrounded by synthetic fur to achieve up to 25 dB of wind-noise reduction without a noticeable effect on high frequencies. This form factor of wind protection is available in a broad range of designs and sizes from various vendors, but I’m partial to Rycote products when it comes to having something stand between the wind and my microphone.
- The Rycote Modular Windshield and suspension systems are the original and iconic windshield used by professional location sound recordists. This type of windshield, sometimes called a zeppelin, consists of a flexible plastic netting with a screen material inside. The vast majority of competitors have adopted this form-factor since it’s been proved to be useful for over five decades. This windshield reduces wind-noise up to 30 dB with minimal high-frequency loss. When a furry windjammer is fitted over the windshield, up to 50 dB of wind-noise attenuation can be achieved with slightly more high-frequency loss. Rycote recently improved on the classic zeppelin design with the Cyclone windshield that offers better acoustic transparency and excellent wind-noise attenuation; however, the concept is similar to the traditional Zeppelin.
Yesterday was a blustery day, so I went out and did a quick recording of dialogue. In the background, you could hear the effect of the wind on the trees. I recorded dialogue in stereo using an Audio Technica BP 4029 stereo shotgun in two configurations: 1. with a Rycote Softie Windshield and, 2. with the foam windshield that came with the microphone. You can hear why the right windshield is an essential component of any documentary maker’s kit.