Re: Bird song recording equipment

Kevin Merrell

Good on you for using your phone, Alan. Like in photography where the best camera is usually the one you have with you, in nature recording, the best recorder is usually the one you have with you. Hard to beat the ever-present phone, especially if you can get close to the calling bird. That said, here are several relevant questions:

- Are you interested in recordings of one or two birds at a time (like using a telephoto lens) or birds in a soundscape (like using a wide-angle lens)?

- What would your budget be for a recorder—$100 or $1000+? 

- How portable a device are you envisioning—one that fits in a pocket or one that fits in a backpack? 

- How long can you imagine wanting to record at a time—five minutes or five hours? 

- How much time and energy are you wanting to invest in recording birdsong—a once-in-a-while recording or a twice-a-week hobby?

The good news is, recording to SD cards instead of tape has dramatically reduced the size of audio recorders and made the whole process more reliable. I own a couple of recorders: the first, a Roland R-26 handheld digital recorder is a little bigger than you can comfortably fit in a pants pocket. I chose it several years ago based on the consensus that it had superior preamps to its peers at the time. It runs on 4 AA batteries, features a useful LCD display, and includes two types of built-in mics and inputs for two external XLR mics. I haven't researched hand-held recorders lately to know if there is something better on the market. 

My second digital field recorder is a new Sound Devices MixPre-3ii. Unlike my first recorder, the MixPre-3ii includes no internal mics. It does feature world-class preamps that feed a couple of XLR mic jacks, a superb headphone amplifier, and a color display that you can read in direct sunlight. Good preamps let you turn up the recording levels with less hiss than lesser preamps. The menu system in the recorder allows setting the recorder up fairly simply or in technically sophisticated ways. I like how the MixPre-3ii automatically copies everything from a recording session to a backup thumb drive once you press 'Stop'. 

If you're interested in focused recordings of just one bird, like many of those in the Macaulay Library, consider a directional shotgun mic or a regular mic paired with a large parabolic dish. I'm more interested in soundscapes of birdsong so I record in stereo using a pair mics.

For much more insight, take a look at George Vlad's notes on audio gear for field recording:  George travels the world making nature recordings. While he owns and uses gear costing thousands of dollars, he still likes the tiny Sony PCM A10 recorder enough that he bought a second one recently. If you like just listening to the sounds of the natural world, George has recordings to buy and recordings to simply download.

For a lovely overview of nature recording in general, Martyn Stewart's video is excellent. A nature recordist from his youth, Stewart was gobsmacked one day to realize that a number of his early recordings are historical documents of bird species that have gone extinct.

Kevin Merrell  

On Wed, Jun 30, 2021 at 5:22 PM M Gregory <alanclarkg@...> wrote:
When I stood along Mud Flat Rd. in Owyhee County on 22 June listening to a Yellow-billed Cuckoo vocalize (it is classic riparian habitat for the species), I wished to myself that I had a good, easy-to-use birdsong recording machine in my hands.
I did what I could with my mobile phone, but I sure would like a quality recording instrument. If anyone has a recommendation on what to acquire, I would appreciate it.
The last time I was focusing on birdsong recording, I had a portable cassette-tape recorder.
Thank you.
Alan Gregory in Mountain Home

Alan C Gregory
Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.
Mountain Home, ID
Air Force Public Affairs Alumni Association, life member
Member, North American Butterfly Association

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