Philip Goddard
Broad Horizon Nature

Recording Natural Soundscapes
- Some Experience-Based Tips

Recording over a wide sea panorama, using a Røde
Dead Kitten windshield on my Sony PCM-M10 recorder,
which is on a Hama Mini Tripod.

Preliminary Notes

In June 2012 I bought my first sound recorder - a Sony PCM-M10. As a complete novice, I set out to make my own natural soundscape recordings, learning as I went. In reality, though, I had already listened to many natural soundscape recordings by other people and become aware of the issues that many of them had addressed or needed to address, and thus I had already learnt quite a lot in 'armchair' mode before I ever got my first recorder. In any case, as a (classical) composer I was already well experienced in thinking carefully about what I was doing when setting up interestingly balanced and satisfying configurations of sounds, so really natural soundscape recording was just an extension from what I had already been doing some years before.

'Expertise' is a relative thing, and I prefer to keep clear of the term 'expert' relating to me or indeed others; I simply do the best I know how or can work out how, and learn from my 'errors' and unexpected or indeed unwanted outcomes, and, in the process, have usually obtained recordings that have greatly pleased me (and indeed others if my usually 5-star ratings in are anything to go by).

Anyone else, if they are willing to use their 'grey matter' and think about what they are doing, similarly could quickly get making excellent natural soundscape recordings, without significant recourse to supposed 'experts'.

What I am presenting below is NOT intended to be regarded as any sort of comprehensive guide or handbook, but simply some tips that some people (mostly but not all novices) may find helpful - that is all.

Some really basic considerations

Placement for optimal sound balance...

Authenticity and informality

Various practical considerations

The Sony PCM-M10 discontinued - upgrade to PCM-D100?

One of my two PCM-M10 recorders had a rarely-manifesting fault, in which the level of the left-hand channel would be almost inaudibly low for part or all of a particular recording, but by the time this became frequent enough for me to be moved to raise the matter with Sony (in 2016), I'd already been using it for over 3 years, so it was well outside any warranty, and thus all I could do was to purchase a new one. The catch was that then I found that the model had been discontinued, with nothing replacing it. How absolutely crass can a company be, to do such a thing?! The PCM-M10 has been widely recognised as markedly superior to the other generally available small recorders in the same price range, and has become hugely popular. Sony's lame 'justification' (at least, to me) has been that the PCM-D100 is the replacement, but that is just bullshit and complete nonsense.

The D100 is definitely a wonderful piece of work, but in NO way can it be called a replacement for (i.e., simply an updated version of) the M10. It costs more than twice as much, it is more bulky and is more than twice the weight, and it eats batteries more than twice as quickly. If you buy a D100 you aren't buying a reasonably improved equivalent of the M10 but a very major upgrade to a completely different, more professional-type model, as the price would indicate.

In March 2016 I finally bit the bullet and purchased a D100 - though recognising that it would not necessarily be used in place of the M10 recorder because of its bulk and weight. Here follow some notes on my observations as I test the D100.

Eventually, after making my first really major recording with the D100 - a 7½-hour one very well placed in Branscombe Landslip, near Beer, Devon, UK, in particularly sheltered conditions on 24 April 2016 - I came to the somewhat embarrassing and very inconvenient conclusion that the D100 was showing up quite dramatically how narrow, blurred and foggy the stereo image produced by the M10 really was. Indeed, to such an extent that I realized that I no longer wanted to make further recordings with the M10, at least using its internal microphones.

Because of the blurred-image issue with the M10 and the near-unusability of the D100 because of the extreme wind-sensitivity of its microphones, I reluctantly got investigating external microphone options for both recorders. However, that proved to be a frustrating and hair-tearing experience, and indeed an expensive one, which left me quite relieved when I very quickly came to the clear conclusion that it was simply not workable for me to attempt to use external microphones with either model of recorder. At that point I'd become clear that I would not use M10s any more, at least for 'serious' natural soundscape recording, and so opted for purchasing an additional D100 to give me my two recorders for really time-efficient sessions. As I have remarked further above, at last I have reasonably resolved the wind-sensitivity issue, so look forward to producing a good number of recordings now with the breathtaking realism that the D100 readily gives with its own microphones in wide stereo configuration.

(More observations will be added here...)

My own recordings

You can explore my recordings on my Broad Horizon Natural Soundscapes page, and my e-store page presents a listing of all my commercial CDs, together with preview excerpt links for each title.


This page is Copyright, © Philip Goddard 2013, with revisions / additions to 2016 -- all rights reserved.