photography • field recordings • world music • subconscious
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Becoming Binaural

Where the Hell Have I Been?

Have come to the conclusion that feeding this blog will happen on event time, not calendar nor clock time. When having the ability to ponder, pen and present something meaningful, it will arrive.

What has helped inspire me back onto the saddle of this beast — for what I sense will be longer sustained ride — are two pieces of audiophile brilliance which recently arrived in the post box.

Binaural microphones and dead kitten binaural ear muffs by Soundman.

What are binaural microphones?

It's important to show just how small a kit this binaural mic setup actually is yet sound quality is off the charts.

For those who know about binaural microphones, skip the following bits and go to Creating.

 

Human Nonsense

Most of us see in three dimension. With two separated eyes, signals to our brain present a rich perspective of depth, layers, texture and most importantly, a sense of place. It’s easy to take the simple act of sight for granted until loosing it.

We also hear in three dimensions. With separate ears on both extreme sides of our heads, the audible world around us is being presented in a spellbinding rich landscape of spacial sounds. Because of the spacial separation of our ears, we can sense discernible distance, layers, texture, even feel sound elicit it’s flow and movement.

 

Tech Nonsense

With a mono microphone (and most shotgun and lavaliere clip mic’s), you’re presented with a one dimensional sense of our world. Perfect for listening to someone speak or to isolate certain sounds but otherwise flat, simple and completely dimensionless.

With a stereo mic, we think we’re being presented with sounds that represent what our ears hear, however that’s not the reality. Stereo microphone field recordings basically fake a sense of spacial audio by presenting our brains with a concept of left and right spacial sounds. The main field of sound recording heavily overlaps with both their left or right counterparts in front of the mic, focusing 40 percent or more (depending on the microphone) on the sound in front of us. This is not how we actually hear. We accept this because our eyes see forward in this rather narrow 40% overlap, therefore we think that is how the sound actually moves around us, but that’s not the reality of sounds audible presents around us. In addition, stereo never reaches much further than beyond a 180º sound plain. What about the sounds behind us that we can hear equally as well as the sounds before us?

Look at this stereo “polar pattern” for the Rødes VideoMic, a brilliant stereo microphone many of us use with our 5D Mark II and equivalent Nikon gear, and witness what this stereo microphone actually hears (polar pattern diagrams shows how each specific microphone pick up a field of sound):

 

By no means can a stereo microphone truly present the dimension of sounds which naturally emanate not only from the left, right, but before and behind us, in the same manner which our ears deliver to our brains the exact audible landscape we hear.

With binaural microphones, we are presented with an exact replication of the entire theater of sound surrounding us in the exact same way our ears send the audible sensation to our brains. I like to call this, Reality Audio, because a binaural audio recording is the unconditionally true presentation of dimensional sounds that we hear.

Here is the polar pattern for the Soundman OKM II Classic Studio microphones showing just how unique the audio field of recording actually is on binaural microphones:

 

 

Why

Binaural mic’s are placed in each ear, allowing for the exact same sound dimension to be recorded to tape or SD card as our ears hear, in turn it’s what our brains process into diminutional understanding of sound space.

Placement of binaural microphones go into each ear.

The natural divide — the extreme separation of left/right channels — caused by, yes, our thick heads, replicate exactly the natural three-dimensional sounds that are swirling all around us. It’s only possible therefore to bring a true audible sense of location from the sounds moving and emanating around us via binaural microphones.

There is indeed another level of sound recording even more spacial — surround sound. That’s über technical and far more involving than most photographers will want to dabble in — not to mention you wouldn’t blend in too well wandering the streets of New Deli or New York City (ok, maybe in NYC) with a getup like this on your head from Sonic Studios: Click Here

 

Evolution

On a professional level, I’m a photographer. The power of the still image will last for all the history to come. Anyone wanting to debate this reality till it turns to glue can do so to your hearts content. Just do so while defending your theories to a doorknob, not me. Such discussions are by far the grandest waste of ones time in this art and profession. The discussion should be upon what we can do with all forms of communication.

On a personal level, I’m a field recording junkie. While living in Italy in the mid 80′s — using a camera in a completely, unequivocally, different form of photography…fashion — I would roam around Milan making recordings on a macro cassette recorder, moving onward to a Sony stereo cassette recorder once realizing I was hooked by the mesmerizing sounds of sound. Using a host of different microphones over the years, around seven years ago I stumbled upon binaural microphones for recording dimensional audio space, dramatically changing not only how I recorded audio from the perspective of spacial sound, it also allowed me to be a photographer at the same time.

I was gone.

Creating a binaural album for the Bauza Drummers in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2006. This entire album can be purchased on the Field Recording Store of this website. It's amazing performance of traditional drumming. Photograph courtesy of Roy Obobo

When purchasing my first iPhone (version 3), I went berserk creating what I thought were stereo and then binaural recording, like here attempting to make a binaural recording of men collecting guano on a remote island off the coast of Peru in 2006. Little did I know at the time that iPhones did not (and still don't) allow for stereo recording. All that is about to change though with the arrival next week of the Soundman stereo adapter for the iPhone.

Recording an album of tabla and songs from artists Ratan and Piddut performing in a small drum shop in northern Bangladesh in 2008. These recordings can also be heard and purchased in the Field Recording Store of this website. Photography courtesy of Adnan Wahid

I take my children on assignments as often as possible. Here my eldest son, Richard, came with me to a cremation ceremony in Ubud, Bali, in late 2006. During this event I was not only working between a Holga and a Canon digital camera, I was effortlessly making binaural field recording's with Soundman mic's in my ears, attached to a Roland digital recording in my sarong. Photograph courtesy of Lukman S Bintoro

 

Creating

Before the dawn of what really was the turning point — when still photography and filming merged more seamlessly with the arrival of the Canon 5D Mark II — photographers would tote around flash recorders, capturing ambient sounds that were then used in slideshows for what became termed as multimedia, though I prefer the term Visual Audio. To do so meant not only carrying your camera, a camera bag and an audio recorder, there was the microphone which needed to be carried in the kit. A street photographer begins to look like an over decorated Christmas tree that much gear.

We are now being asked to produce short films as compendiums to a photographic story. Excellent. We should relish the act of expanding lateral and outward, same as a guitar player can only expand their art further by learning and then playing the piano.

But how can we make this deliberate act of going from the fluid function of taking still images, then switching over to filming, without taking on an epic level of bulky audio gear or a secondary sound person?

 

Filmmaking

After each stellar National Geographic seminar (the latest being last January 12th), the next day is reserved as a gathering of photographers who regularly work for the magazine. The day-long event begins Friday morning at 8:30 with a session titled Nuts & Bolts. During past sessions, brilliant talents like Kenji Yamaguchi and Dave Mathews from National Geographic’s Photo Engineering department, would demonstrate the latest in remote aerial camera planes like the one now being used by  Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols for his latest project on lions, new camera trap designs by the ever inspiring Steve Winter or utterly trip-out underwater custom camera housings used by the likes of the brilliant Paul Nicklen and David Doubilet. 2012′s Nuts & Bolts was on the greater merging of stills and filmmaking.

The photo department at National Geographic had recently hired the talented, Pamela Chen, as a Senior Photo editor. Her background in filmmaking, photography and audio reads like the who’s who of present-day photojournalism. Her presentation on the audio and film background to a piece she’d produced for the NYT’s was enlightening. Afterwards, questions began swirling around the room, the usual we tend to hear when still photographers mull the prospect of juggling both mediums where one key aspect, the stills, outweigh the moving images:

“How can we be expected to jump between still image making and video in a seamless manner?”

“With all the gear needed to produce video, how can I also manage decent audio without hiring assistants?”

All super important questions, however there is a solution to solve much of the general audio kit catastrophes related to filmmaking.

Sitting in the back of the room, I raised my hand:

“All of this is getting too technical. Use binaural microphones.”

50 or more sets of eyes gazed at me as if I were speaking in tongue. Understandably so. Many have never heard nor even used such microphones.

By using binaural microphones when filming, you’re hands are free to hold the camera and BE a filmmaker, easily switch back to BE a photographer. Even better, no bulbous microphone attached to the hotshot of the camera.

Then the best part, you’re bringing to the film a dimensional sound experience, equally layered as your film and photography.

And the crowning touch…when not wanting to film, the mic’s fit in your shirt pocket or can stay resting in your ears till wanting to film again later. Here’s how small these microphones actually are:

Soundman OKM II Classic Studio binaural microphones, about the size of a dime.

For poshing the sound quality even further, make sure to order the Soundman A3 Adapter, a mini preamp and noise reducer when going with the 1/8″ jack directly from the Soundman earbud binaural mics into your camera. The binaural mic’s can work without the preamp however the difference in sound quality is noticeable:

Soundman's A3 Adapter, some of the smallest pre-amps around. It has a mini battery in the housing which on my original unit lasted well over a year with heavy use.

And for those who want to really up the sound quality even further by taking the Soundman binaural mic’s into a Sound Devices or another high-end audio recorder, Soundman has a new XLR connector with A3 mini pre-amp:

Soundman's new XLR connectors with A3 adapter.

Binaural mic’s in your ears is not the solution for everything. Not all aspects of filmmaking can be accomplished with them. There are indeed moments when a lavaliere mic clipped on a persons lapel is needed for an interview (call it the macro mic) or a shotgun mic may be used to isolate sound you want within a crowd (call it the telephoto mic). But I would imagine 60-80 percent of all audio needs for journalistic reportage filmmaking can be accomplish with extremely small, unobtrusive, binaural microphones, which allow your hands to be completely available to focus on filmmaking.

 

Wind

My original Soundman binaural’s had its wire ripped out a few years ago — got snagged on something. In the interim I’ve been enjoying the Rødes, Sennheiser lavalieres and my original Audio Technica from the early 1990′s but I sure was missing those awesome — and small — binaural microphones. When ordering this replacement pair last week, I noticed a new piece of kit on the Soundman website that all audiophiles need — dead kittens.

These dead kitten's made exclusively by Soundman are the poshest most wind suppressing dead kittens available for binaural audio recording. Listen to the field recordings below for just how well they work in 30+ mph wind.

These dead kittens (wind screens) aren’t just any type of kitten. They are custom made earmuffs to avoid wind sounds while making handsfree binaural recordings.

When they arrived, I was as excited as my 8 year-old tends to be when receiving a gift on his birthday. Fiddle and faddling around the house completed, I couldn’t wait to hear how these kittens worked in wind. Trouble was, no wind.

Two days later I had my chance. A 15-30 mph cold wind was blowing through the Berkshires.

Here are a few recent binaural field recordings. The first is test recording made specifically for this blog when the wind was whipping through large pine trees in front of our home. There’s also sounds of the gate opening, a car passing and the arrival home on the bus of Konstantin.

The second field recording was created while I wandered through snow around the farm wearing the dead kitten earmuffs (it was windy) while our family dogs, Emma and Asia, followed. It’s a simple, short piece, but if you listen closely you’ll hear — hopefully feel — the movements of Asia, a 30 lb. Beagle, running past me on the right, followed by Emma, a 110 lb. French Mastiff, thudding just a second or two later on my right. Crank the bass if you really wanna hear Emma’s gait.

The third recording was also created last week while on a brief visit to New York City. To test wirling wind suppression moving around the city — and to bombard the binaural mic’s with as many dimensional layers of sound as possible — I took a brief stroll through Time Square at around 5pm.

Make sure you have either excellent speakers connected to your computer or posh headphones so you can sense the spacial sound.

Each afternoon, the school bus arrives to drop off Konstantin. This recording is a test to see how well the new Soundman dead kitten earmuff wind suppressors worked in 30 mph winds. Also on this recording is the opening of our front gate, a car passing and of course, the arrival and departure of the school bus. Try to take notice on what the wind actually sounds like — not the wind baffling the mic's, that didn't happen because of the dead kittens but rather the actual sound of wind moving through trees.

Wind, Car and School Bus
(iPhone and iPad)

 

Wandering around the farm in the snow with Emma and Asia.

Walking in the Snow with Emma and Asia
(iPhone and iPad)


You run into a mighty wide collection of unique individuals when wandering through Time Square in NYC.

Binaural Recording while wandering around Time Square
(iPhone and iPad)

 

Field Recording Store

If you’ve ever poked around this blog you’ve likely stumbled upon the Field Recording Store. In this section you’ll find entire albums from musicians who otherwise wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to share their music globally, let alone locally. Two of the albums in the store, Bauza Drummers of Zambia and Ratan and Piddut of Bangladesh were recorded using Soundman binaural mic’s, bringing an entirely different dimension of live musical performances.

 

Insights

While in NYC this week filling a missing gap in a National Geographic story code name, “Sweetness”, I meandered in B&H Photo and picked up a pair of micro-dead kitten wind covers made specifically for lavaliere mic’s. Amazingly, they fit perfectly snug on the recording ends of binaural Soundman mic’s. Making some basic recording level tests I could see that the wind does diminish with these macro-kittens but if in heavy wind, far more noise is suppressed with the Soundman muff versions. This lavaliere option makes a nifty secondary wind sound removal whenever recording in warm climates because the ear muffs dead kittens do keep your ears warm.

 

Found these lavaliere dead kittens at B&H, here attached to the Soundman binaural microphones. Insanely expensive for their size — $40 for a pair — but they are the minimum you should use when wandering about in any breeze over 5 mph. For strong wind you're going to want the thick, padded design, of the Soundman earmuff dead kittens. Suggest having both types of dead kittens if you're wanting to be prepared.

 

iPhone

And some big news about to completely change audio field recording…we’re only a week or so away from the first meaningful stereo-IN recording option for an iPhone. There has been another on the market for some time, the GuitarJack by Sonoma. There are two problems with this iPhone add-on — the GuitarJack is large and the audio-IN connector is a 1/4 inch plug, meant more to be used for a guitar then a small yet powerful stereo field recording kit. The soon to be released Soundman looks promising — a mini clip-on item which by the looks of the photograph seems to be petite, making it less prone to flexing when attached to the iPhone…and it has a 1/8 inch audio jack. It should make for an extremely small audio field recording kit when combined with some of the pro-recording app’s for the iPhone.

A4 stereo connector for iPhone.

More on this iPhone add-on in the coming weeks.

Till then, keep well and enjoy making your life as a photographer and a filmmaker more seamless, less technical — and far less cumbersome — by using binaural microphones.

 

 


35 comments

1 Mathias { 02.22.12 at 12:12 }

You look so cute with the death kitten, :) very good article….

just wondering what iphone app you use for profesional recording

2 John Stanmeyer { 02.22.12 at 12:29 }

Mathias, I use FourTrack and also iTalk. But as mentioned above, all iPhones do not allow for stereo recording. It only records mono. We have to wait until the Soundman iPhone adapter becomes available, hopefully this week or next.

3 Ed { 02.22.12 at 17:02 }

Hi John, thanks for such great info and the initial answers on Twitter too. You mention that lavaliere’s or the Rode/Sennheiser directional mics might be better for interviews or isolating sounds. I’m just wondering if, in a pinch and you had to choose based on budget, would the Soundman binaurals make the cut if you were in a completely quiet or soundproofed room?

So many great options here, and cutting down on kit/bulk is key. I have a Zoom H2 and it does well but not so well I am not looking for something else.

The ambient sounds that you recorded are amazing. I was turning my head with the car sound and could almost feel you swiveling your head or body on occasion in Times Square. Some of those conversations you picked up were so funny!

4 John Stanmeyer { 02.22.12 at 17:13 }

Ed,

From experience I’d suggest that the smallest possible kit for both ambiance and interview recording would be both the Soundman binaural’s and a lavaliere mic set up.

You don’t need to have with the super high-end Sennheiser’s I use. Click on the Sennheiser link then once in the store, switch the Amazon search to just “lavaliere microphone” and you’ll discover a plethora of lav options ranging from $90-$1,000+. Sound quality of course increases the more you spend — in electronics you always get what you pay for — but anything from a decent brand like Audio Technica, Sennheiser, Sony, etc, will give you excellent interview recording power.

Most important, going with these two items means the kit is super small.

YES, you can clip the Soundman mic’s (both left/right channel) mic’s to your interviewee, however the Soundman are not wireless, so you can’t get back far enough for filming. If just an interview, sure, then Soundman can indeed be just the one piece kit, however your Zoom already should have built in mic’s so i’m guessing your question is more about filmed interviews than just an audio interview.

Also keep in mind that with Final Cut X, audio time coding to film is automatic now, which means if you are interviewing someone in a quite enough room and you just want to use your Zoom, place the Zoom near the subject, then take that audio and sync it in post production with the film.

But there is nothing better for audio interviews when filming then to use a clipped on lavaliere. They are wireless, small as can be and produce rich vocal sound.

So Soundman binaural for field recording (basically 50-70% of most audio needs) and a lav for interviews.

Hope this helps.

Best, John

5 Fritz { 02.22.12 at 21:59 }

Shazam!

John, fantastic!!

Listening to your sound clips with headphones and WOW. I’m down.

Fritz

6 Bernard { 02.23.12 at 06:19 }

Thanks John for the advice and information! A practical question rises: when recording you have to stop taking pictures (not filming) otherwise you tape the camera clicks too – or do you have any work around in post?
Best
Bernard

7 John Stanmeyer { 02.23.12 at 14:57 }

Hello Bernard,

You’re question is a good one, however its issue is indeed only connected to when the sounds of the events around you are also important for photographing at the same time.

Unable to give a “this is what one should” do sort of answer (there is no one answer), so here’s how I handle all audio elements related to filming, field recording and then still photography:

1- If filming with a Canon 5D Mark II, there is no shutter click. It’s all about filming so this aspect is sorted.

2- For field recording where I have the time and want only the uninterrupted audio of a location/event, I usually wait to record until knowing the photography has been completed then record as much audio as desired.

3- If recording audio (field recording) while doing photography, I connect the binaural microphones usually to a super small audio recorder, like the Roland (a Zoom or other recorder works the same, though larger) in my shirt pocket or in a belt pouch made by Think Tank. The camera shutter sounds are simply recorder. If recording audio while photographing, there are a few options you can employ to try and avoid camera sound -

A: If i’m with a fixer/translator or anyone else I trust to hand over a nearly thousand dollar piece of kit, I set everything up — levels, mic’s, etc — then tell them where to exactly stand and/or what might be important to record.

B: I prefer to post photography audio option. There are always moments of downtime to allow the recording of meaningful sounds.

C: Unless your wanting the exact moment of audio from what your photographing or, covering a revolution, riots or war — events where things move quickly and when audio is extremely interesting and important to the stills — it is during events such as this when I record while photographing. There is no meaningful workaround to get the camera shutter sounds out of audio. You can, with pro audio app’s like Apple’s Logic or Pro Tools, reduce the shutter down a significant amount, but never completely remove it. But if the audio is indeed that specifically significant to photographic moment, who cares about the sound of the camera.

D: You can actually play with this sound by trying to sync the shutter clicks with still images in a slideshow/movie of still images. May not work perfect for everything but it can interesting to dabble with.

I think most important to point out is there usually is always some moments of downtime when photography isn’t happening and audio can be recorded separately, yet still from the exact same event. Example, in 1998 while covering the revolution in Indonesia and the fall of President Suharto, I would still find time to make audio recordings of the conflicts playing out on the streets of Jakarta when not photographing, therefore not jeopardizing photography. Here’s a link to a story I wrote which has audio examples of such moments at the bottom of this post:

http://stanmeyer.com/blog/1044/visual-audio/

There’s much more audio from such events and over time I’ll be sharing more on this blog.

I know this doesn’t specifically answer your question, Bernard, but from these examples I hope you can find a means to accomplish what might work for you.

All my best,

John

8 Bernard { 02.23.12 at 16:54 }

Dear John
Thank you very much for your answer. It’s this type of information that really helps, when out in the field! I’m often working as a one man show as photographer and writer and find to fullfil this two tasks at the same time quite challenging. Nevertheless I’m looking to add another way of comunication to my clients. Especially when they go iPad with their publication. 

Your answer A and D make a lot of practical sense. Answer A I tried by putting an Edirol just somewhere on the ground or a table. An example is this audio visual. Audio is kind of shaky and disturbed, I  trimmed and put it together in Aperture (which was not perfect … The audio is in German though): 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlcnpVe09BA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Thanks for your inspiring blog and work!
Bernard

http://www.vandierendonck.ch

9 John Stanmeyer { 02.23.12 at 17:15 }

Hello again Bernard,

Listening to your Youtube slideshow as an example on what you’re trying to accomplish…if people are speaking over speakers in a room like that, the best way to sort the audio is to plug straight into the soundboard where all that audio (the microphones) are connected to. Most audio PA people will allow that in such a setting. You’ll need a XLR to 1/8 inch if you’re going from a soundboard to a Roland but then the sound will be perfect.

As a backup, placing the Edirol next to one of the speakers rather than in the middle of the room or on a table would help isolate the sounds coming from those speaking through microphones.

Then a third option, using binaural mic’s, would at least provide wide dimensional sound compared to the built-in Rolans mic’s of the Edirol.

The built in Edirol mic’s are pretty good but they produce a rather hallow sound compared to any more pro mic plugged in, but again if you were to have isolated the sound from the speaker by placing the Edirol close to or right next to the speaker, it would have enriched the audio much more.

Also, there is nothing unethical or wrong in processing audio in post production using even basic yet powerful tools found in Garageband. Many ways to bring down echo or increase bass, etc, with that program without the complex learning curve of say Logic or Pro Tools. Any and all audio needs a bit of poshing, no different than doing basic curve, levels or burn/dodge in Aperture or PS. The end results of tweaking audio are as noticeable as properly toning an image in the darkroom.

Hope this further helps.

All my best, John

10 El Nialler { 02.23.12 at 21:31 }

Excellent work John and so comprehensive and comprehensible – nice one!

11 Bernard { 02.24.12 at 15:12 }

Dear John
Thanks for your great advice! It is extremely helpful and brings me on a path I want to go with my work. I’ll start with learning garageband… ;-)
My best wishes
Bernard

12 jan { 03.05.12 at 15:56 }

Hi John,
Will be waiting (with ears open) to any info on an iPhone stereo adapter! I teach iphone photo classes and do my own still documentary work. Am thinking I need some Binaural ear mics NOW!

13 jan { 03.05.12 at 16:55 }

One more John. I see on “soundman’s” ebay site that they are selling the “iphone adaptor” Have you used it? Would you recommend their Microphone binaural OKM II classic (comes with the a3 adaptor) for use with canon 5dII? and with an small recorder? and hopefully the iPhone? Sorry, I am not that tech-ish. Best, Jan Sonnenmair

14 John Stanmeyer { 03.05.12 at 18:10 }

Hello Jan,

I’ve yet to test the A3 adapter but told my order should be shipping soon. Once received I will make some test and definitely post about it here on this blog.

As for which binaural to purchase, it is indeed the OKM II Classic with the A3 adapter. If works brilliantly on both a 5D Mark II (and the soon to be released Mark III) and small or larger audio flash recorders. It should also work fine with the iPhone if using the Soundman A4 adapter. Without the adapter, recording into an iPhone through it’s normal 1/8 audio jack means only recording in mono. No idea any Apple hasn’t sorted a story record IN option with the iPhone unless there’s a space issue inside an already crammed packed iPhone.

More as soon as fiddle with the A4.

Best, John

15 John Stanmeyer { 03.05.12 at 19:05 }

UPDATE:

This just arrived via email from Rolf, the inventor of Soundman Mics:

“The A4 is working with all Soundman microphones including A3. We are working on a solution that you can use the solo-versions without A3. For ambient it helpful but not necessary to use the A3.”

FYI, my A4 is in the mail and arriving likely in 7-10 days. Once here I’ll make some more recordings around the farm or wherever else I’m traveling at the time.

Best, John

16 Toni Greaves { 03.05.12 at 20:37 }

John,

What size of the dead-kitten covers did you get? Looking at the B&H website, there are many options and sizes, and without being there with the mics in hand, it’s hard to tell which they would take.

This is a really great and helpful post. Thanks!

:) toni

17 Toni Greaves { 03.05.12 at 21:37 }

One more question…. If you’re using a lavalier mic (or anything other than the binaural) for audio recording, what headphones do you use? (in order to still keep things compact…)

Thanks,
toni

18 John Stanmeyer { 03.05.12 at 21:52 }

Hi Tone,

The mini dead kittens from B&H are these:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/637551-REG/Pearstone_9071830_9071830_Fuzzy_Windjammer.html

Remember to order two…hence the rather insanely prices total.

Hope this helps.

Best, John

19 John Stanmeyer { 03.05.12 at 21:57 }

If ever using headphones, I simply use decent quality ear buds. But I rarely monitor sound. The audio settings on the 5D Mark II are ok enough to make sure you’re not peaking, then any other adjustments I do in post production. For straight audio recording (field recording) I know the levels so well on the recorders I use, I’m pretty smack on for those without ear phones. The key thing in all audio is to avoid peaking. Adding gain and whatnot in post production will even everything out. But of course, if you have the time and want to juggle some extra gear — like decent full each covering headphones, then by all means, monitor the sound. Best, John

20 jan { 03.05.12 at 23:12 }

Thanks John, it is great that we all have a forum to find out about these things! Do you have a favorite “pocket” recorder?

21 John Stanmeyer { 03.06.12 at 06:41 }

Yes, Jan, is’t the Roland R-09HR. It’s listed (along with other minimalist gear) I use in the What’s The Kit section of this blog. Best, John

22 jan { 03.06.12 at 15:29 }

thanks. i am really hoping to use my iPhone as a recorder … need to see how the A4 adaptor will work. Use the A3 for the canon 5dll and then A4 for the iphone would be perfect for me

23 Fieldrecording? | Atmochrom { 03.09.12 at 09:01 }

[...] Thema lesen möchte, evtl. sogar auf Englisch, darf gerne den neu eröffnete Blog meines Bekannten John ansehen, der sich ebenfalls um Fotografie und Fieldrecording dreht – wobei er als Fotograf [...]

24 Binaural « Photo & The Web { 03.12.12 at 17:23 }

[...] Stanmeyer has an interesting blog post about binaural microphones. Go here and listen to the results. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

25 Elizabeth Leitzell { 03.22.12 at 20:18 }

Thank you so much for this very thorough and useful information! I’ve been waiting to figure out what the best set up would be when I have to be on my own shooting stills, video and audio all at once.

26 One Soundscape is Worth a Thousand Pictures « from the Sea of Cortez { 03.26.12 at 09:10 }

[...] from Soundman (link) that John Stanmeyer has recently been raving about on his blog (John Stanmeyer – becoming binaural). These microphones record dual channel stereo sound separated by the natural width of the human [...]

27 jan { 04.23.12 at 21:23 }

Hey John, any feedback now that you have used the Soundman binaurals with your iPhone adaptor?

28 John Stanmeyer { 04.23.12 at 21:32 }

Hello Jan,

My honest apologies for not being as of yet to fully test the Soundman iPhone stereo connector. Right when it arrived a large project in the studio needed to begin — printing two exhibitions. I’m heading to DC on Monday. Will be in a better audio setting than here on the farm — no snow to walk around in. In brief based upon tests around the house (i.e., kids talking), it’s not bad. I’m hearing a muffled sound but that could be my settings on the Hindenburg iPhone app. More on all this as soon as possible…as you’re not the only person asking for an in-depth review.

All my best,

John

29 jan { 04.23.12 at 22:16 }

thanks John, good to have projects!

30 John { 06.22.12 at 10:49 }

Very grateful for the insight here John. I’ve been traveling and doing binaural recordings alongside photography and I’m glad to see someone else who is inspired by it. If anyone is interested, I’m posting many of them online at mixcloud.com/buckanon.

Looking forward to an in-depth look at the A4. I don’t see them up on Soundman’s eBay page. Is he still selling them?

31 John Stanmeyer { 06.22.12 at 10:58 }

Glad also to know there are other audio/photophiles out there. The reason for no update on the A4 is this — the model which was sent to me, and which I got extremely giddy about, ended up being a demo/beta model. The A4 from Soundman holds fantastic potential, however the present beta model is indeed beta…it produces a hum. I’m told by Soundman that a new version is in the works. As soon as I receive a model, I will test it and post insight on this blog. Thanks for your patients. Will check out your mixcloud.com recordings soon…rather busy preparing for a workshop in Indonesia starting next week. Keep well and keep in touch. All my best, John

32 Franz { 07.16.12 at 12:38 }

Hey John, great article on binaural field recording! I’ve received my Zoom H2n and Soundman Classic Solo mics, which I connect directly to the H2n’s line-in. From the settings I activated “Line in power”, assuming this gives the “phantom voltage” they need to avoid the A3 adapter. First tests were pretty good. I haven’t done a self-noise test yet, but it sounds very clean and dimensional.

I’m curious about that preamp with XLR connectors. What difference would it make to use a different type of connector? I guess those XLR cables are for 48 volt phantom power, one for the R and one for the L channel, which reduces the self-noise of the mics? Just wondering if it really enhances the signal quality if introducing yet another connector between the mic and the recorder, as additional connectors / adaptors tend to reduce signal quality (at least that’s what I’ve been told).

Also, do you record with mic gain, or do you do all these things in post? I assume it’s better not to apply mic gain while recording, as this might cause unwanted clipping. Theoretically doing so in post should give the same results with more control, right?

As a side note to enhance your article, you might want to mention the different Soundman mic variations out there. Pop / Rock / Classic / Solo / Studio / etc.; And maybe some scientific background about why binaural recordings are superior to stereo, and how well the recording performed by one person translates to the listening experience of another person. One thing I still haven’t figured out in this regard is how much the shape of the head and outer ears matters to experience good externalization and sound localization. In my case I’m having a hard time to externalize sounds even when recorded by myself, but judging the comments on some binaural audio demos on the web I guess it differs a lot from person to person.

Talking about the science behind it, it’s also worth pointing out that binaural audio is for listening with headphones or earbuds, and that almost all headphones on the market have a notch around 5 khz to compensate for the entrance into the ear canal. This notch, however, is probably not very good for experiencing binaural audio the best way possible. I’ll try to apply a linear phase EQ with a gain around 5 khz soon and see what difference it makes.

But, even though headphones are preferred, there are ways to enjoy it over speakers through crosstalk cancellation (I believe that’s called Ambiophonics, and the tech is in the public domain according to Wikipedia). There’s a great demo video here: http://youtu.be/SQmQD27uCt0

Take some of these things with a grain of salt – I just began making myself familiar with field recording, and basically my experience is near zero :)

Oh btw, really love what you do for those artists. Great work!

33 John Stanmeyer { 07.17.12 at 22:54 }

Hello Franz,

Glad you enjoy the story.

XLR connectors with Soundman mics (or any mic) does indeed clean up the sound a bit more. Soundman makes specific XLR connectors for their binaural mics. I have it but haven’t used it yet on my Fostex. That said, the difference in sound will be difficult to hear unless playing back on very high end earphones or speakers. Still, it’s always worth poshing up sound whenever possible…why you basic lens on your canon, nikon or leica when you can use their best glass?

Regarding mic variations…good point. Will post about that in a future story when discussing the Soundman iPhone connector.

Wanting to mention that I’m not much of a tech person, both in photography and in field recording. I simply use the best gear possible and record for my mind. Of course we need to avoid clipping while recording and yes, best to work gain and whatnot in post production.

Enjoy your Soundman mics. Having been using them for years. You’ll truly enjoy the end results, both with headphones and speakers.

All my best,

John

34 The International workers day 1st of May 2012 | HLJÓÐMYND - SOUNDIMAGE { 05.01.13 at 15:02 }

[...] speeches and music. For one year ago I walked this parade and listening to the day’s program with binaural microphones. Following recording contains the end of the day’s program and suddenly song and speech income of [...]

35 Paula { 07.26.13 at 23:04 }

Just wanted to say thank you for your review regarding these mics. I did a lot of research before I made the purchase myself and your information here helped a lot in my final decision.

I’ve been testing them out for a couple of months now and wrote a review myself which can be read here:

http://www.asmrhq.com/my-soundman-okm-ii-classic-binaural-microphone-and-dummy-head-has-arrived-my-review/

Ended up buying the XLR cables as well to plug it in to a Zoom R24.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with this mic. The sound is amazing for what I want it to do.

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