Microphones.... I'm Confused

As a total noob to sound recording I am confused by the talk about microphone setups on portable recording equipment.

I have an Olympus LS100 portable recorder and intend to do field sound recordings and the internal mic setup is I believe A-B config, ie mics pointing away from each other at 90 deg. I understand the setup on other equipment is X-Y pointing accross each other.

What I can’t understand is that the X-Y config is “bigged up” claiming it cuts out phase cancelation by placing the mics one over the other with the capsules at the same point. Then the other school “bigs up” the A-B setup claiming it gives truer stereo performance by providing that space difference between the mics.

What am I supposed to believe is the best setup for best stereo performance. My LS100 has the Lissejou facility to setup external mics but thats another story to get to grips with.


Regards Steve

intend to do field sound recordings

Of what?

Field sound can be an adventure and depending on what you’re doing, takes specialized microphones. One very serious problem that new recordists have is a great misunderstanding of environment sound or noise. Anybody with almost any microphone can get a presentable recording of a person or instrument in a quiet, echo-free room. If you don’t have a good room, you can get recordings like this:


Is there any doubt this person is recording in her kitchen?

We can’t fix that in post production. This will always sound like a kid in the kitchen.

It’s almost impossible to believe the Olympus LS100 will be able to record a rock band. Loud, live performances overload microphones and produce crunchy cornflakes for a show instead of smooth, clear music.

If you wanted to record wildlife in the field – literally birds in an empty field – then this recorder with its build-in microphones would work just dandy.

I should also warn you that the only actual experience I have with a stand-alone recorder like that told me the Mic-In connections don’t work as well as the built-in microphones do. I know nothing more about that – this was second hand info.

So what are you doing?


Initially I will be recording wildlife sounds as and where and steam train activity on the preserved lines.

You will find that folks will argue passionately for X-Y (or Blumlein), and for A-B (spaced cardioids or omnis).

This wikipedia article might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microphone_techniques

– Bill

So you may have hit it exactly.

One problem portable recorders can have is the inability to set the recording level during the performance – or at least easily. The Zoom unit I have does present recording level controls, but only under screen menu layers, not convenient if you have to duck the level quickly. That’s one thing to look for. The Marantz recorders used at NPR have large, clear meters and recording level controls right at the front.


You also need to know that overload, smashing or clipping; letting the performance get too loud in the recording, is fatal. There is no recovery. People post on the forum wanting to rescue a very valuable recording that has crisp ticks or crunches during the loud peaks of a voice or instrument. Sorry.

steam train activity on the preserved lines.

If by that you mean railroad lines, that may be a challenge. Those things can make great noises and if they’re going by and blow the whistle, that may kill a recording right there – or at least give you a very entertaining editing task later at home.



You will also find that “natural sound” will not fit in a recorder (doesn’t matter who made it). Recorders only have a limited volume range. If you set the recorder to record birdsong in the south meadow (a difficult job to do properly), those volume settings will record trash under a steam locomotive session.

Some recorders have an automatic volume setting and that can be very valuable for News Gathering, but it’s deadly for natural recording. It makes the background sound go up and down with voices and other performances.

A very Noob thing to do is show up at a critical recording session having just taken the wrapping plastic from the equipment. Instead, take it out and use it. Record traffic in the interstate. Get used to the things it does wrong. Do a voice recording. Those are always eye-openers.

“I can’t transfer my sound files from the recorder to my computer. It’s very valuable. Please help me!”

There is a running joke about successful field recording equipment. There’s very little original paint left on the unit, one corner is a little knocked in from a fall, you can’t read the switches and knobs any more and the battery compartment cover won’t close properly without a little sticky tape. Well, no, you can’t see it right this second because it left this morning on a job…


Thanks for that Bill, that wikki link goes a long way to answering my questions. :smiley: