sound recording equipment including various microphones, a pair of headphones, a portable field recorder, and wind protection accessories

10 Must-Have Items for Recording Nature Sounds!

Hello, fellow nature enthusiasts! If you’ve ever been captivated by the soothing sound of rain or the cheerful chirping of birds, and you’ve wanted to capture those sounds, you’re in the right place. I’ve spent years recording nature sounds and learned a thing or two along the way. In this guide, I’ll share with you the 10 must-have items that have helped me capture the beauty of nature. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to upgrade your recording gear and equipment, you’ll find these insights helpful.

Understanding Nature Sound Recording

The Art of Listening to Nature

Listening to nature is more than just hearing; it’s about connecting with the environment around you. I remember sitting by a riverbank, completely immersed in the gentle water flow. It was a moment of pure connection and taught me the importance of truly listening. Just like music recording, understanding the nuances of nature’s soundscape and its melodies is the first step in capturing it.

The Importance of Quality Equipment

When I first started, location recording gear was expensive and bulky. I began with a used Tascam DAP-1 DAT recorder and a borrowed Sony VP-88 stereo microphone. Despite it being cutting-edge, the results were often disappointing and filled with noise and distortion. However, it set me on the important path of investing in the best gear for recording nature sounds. Today, recording gear is much cheaper and improving all the time. Still, the right tools can make or break your recording, so choose wisely.

Setting Goals for Your Recordings

What do you want to achieve with your recordings? Is it a personal hobby or a professional pursuit? Knowing your goals will guide your choices in equipment and technique. Having clear objectives helps you stay focused and make the most of your recording sessions.

The 10 Must-Have Gear Items for Recording Nature Sounds

1. Portable Digital Recorder

A portable digital recorder is essential. There are many offerings that cost a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. I’ve tried many models, and the difference in quality can be astounding, but the price doesn’t always reflect quality. Look for features like adjustable gain settings, high-quality preamps, analog limiters, and a user-friendly interface.

I have a few recorders, but I’ve been using the Zoom F3 lately. Its tiny size saves weight when hiking. Plus, it’s easy to make a run-and-gun recording setup. I recommend this to both beginners and experts. Of course, it has caveats, but it’s fantastic if you need simple stereo recording.

10 Must-Have Items for Recording Nature Sounds!

2. High-Quality Microphones

Different microphones capture sounds in unique ways, so choosing the right one is important. I could talk endlessly on this subject, but for nature recording, you want a microphone that is low noise (referred to as self-noise) coupled with high output. This means you’ll be looking for condenser microphones or electret condenser microphones.

Condenser microphones need power delivered by the preamp, so you’ll want to ensure your recorder can output phantom power. Stay away from dynamic mics like the Shure SM-7b that you podcasters use. These are meant primarily for voice recording and are not responsive enough for capturing nature.

You’ll also need to consider the microphone’s polar pattern, and there are many. However, the main two are omnidirectional and cardioid. Spaced omnidirectional mics make for spacious recordings, while cardioid mics in an ORTF configuration make for a more accurate stereo field. I love both, but cardioid mics are more useful.

Line Audio CM3 and LOM basic Ucho Microphone

LOM Basic Ucho and Line Audio CM3

Check out the affordable mics from LOM microphones and Line Audio. The LOM basic Ucho is a low-noise omnidirectional mic, and Line Audio’s CM-4 is an excellent cardioid.

Investing in high-quality microphones designed for field recording can make a significant difference. Experiment with different types to find what works best for you

3. Windshields and Blimps

Wind noise can ruin a recording, and next to airplane noise, it’s the single most frustrating aspect of nature recording. I’ve learned, re-learned, and continue to learn this the hard way during many recording trips. Windshields and blimps reduce or eliminate wind noise, allowing the authentic sounds of nature to shine through.

Microphone Windshield

Wind protection, like this Rycote, is essential.

Rycote is the pioneer of wind protection and has kits that fit many different microphones. None are cheap and not 100% fully effective. That can be said for most wind protection. Look to MovoPhoto for more affordable alternatives. Rode also sells a windshield blimp.Don’t overlook this essential accessory!

4. Headphones

Monitoring your recordings is crucial, and a good pair of headphones is vital. I’ve used the same reliable pair from Beyerdynamic for years, and they’ve helped me catch issues before they become problems. Look for headphones that provide clear, accurate sound reproduction that can take a beating.

Over the Ear Headphones

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro32

You’ll want to be aware of the impedance rating of your headphones. The lower the impedance, the louder you can drive them. Professional headphones typically have an impedance rating of 250-650 ohms which helps with fidelity but require a powerful headphone amp – something most field recorders do not have.

Beyerdynamic makes the DT-770 Pro32 (and other similar models, so pay attention to the numbers), which are low impedance and work well with power lacking headphone amps like those found in field recorders.

5. Tripods and Mic Stands

Tripods and mic stands provide stability, allowing for clean, clear recordings. However, most field recordists quickly learn that traditional mic stands do not work well for field recording. They are heavy and awkward to carry into the woods and lack stability if placed on anything other than a flat surface.

A better solution is to use a lighting stand or a photographer’s tripod. They are lighter and offer more flexibility, along with many adapters, such as a ball head, that help position your mics.

camera tripod with microphone attached

When choosing a tripod, look for a balance of stability and weight. You don’t need an expensive carbon fiber tripod. I use a couple of cheap SLIK tripods that work well. I also like the leg-locking mechanism over some of the other tripods. I recommend visiting your local camera store and testing some options to find what works best for you.

6. Stereo Bars and Stand Adapters

Stereo bars are essential for positioning microphones to capture a stereo image of the soundscape. They allow you to quickly configure different stereo recording techniques such as spaced pair, ORTF, and XY. Unless recording only in mono, you will need a stereo bar.

Stereo bars come in different lengths, but most are 6-9 inches, which allow for some creative recording techniques. Invest in a quality stereo microphone bar. Cheaper ones fail quickly, and you don’t want your mics to come crashing down. You can also easily make your own. All you need is some aluminum and a tap-and-die set.

10 Must-Have Items for Recording Nature Sounds!

24 inch spaced stereo bar with 3D printed ORTF stereo bar

Microphone Adapters - 10 must-have items for recording nature sounds

1/4-20 and 3/8″ Stand Adapters are useful to have on hand.

Depending on what stereo bar you choose, you may also need adapters. Traditional mic clips are 5/8 inch or 3/8 inch. There’s a seemingly endless need for adapters that convert both sizes. Still, you may also find that you need camera thread adapters if using the photo tripod. That size is 1/4 – 20. This means a 1/4 inch diameter with a thread count of 20 per inch.

I don’t find much difference between the brands, so it’s perfectly ok to buy the cheap adapters to keep them on hand

7. Cables and Connectors

Cables and connectors might seem like minor details, but trust me, they play a crucial role in your recording setup. Investing in durable, high-quality cables minimizes the risk of unexpected failures and reduces noise interference. It’s all about finding the right balance for your specific needs. When buying a cable, consider the following:

  • Length of Cable: Think about how you’ll be recording. Will you place the mics far from the recorder or near? And remember, you’ll likely be hiking, so the weight of cables can become a factor. My rule is the shorter the cable, the better
  • Quality of Cable: Shielding is critical here. It protects your recording from RF-induced noise. I suggest cables with Star Quad Shielding to help prevent this. Contrary to the previous statement, RF becomes less of a problem with shorter cables
  • Type of Cable (3 pins vs. 5 pins): When recording in stereo, a single 5-pin stereo XLR with left/right breakout adapters on each end is super convenient and more travel-friendly. They, along with the breakouts, will add to your cost. Two 3-pin XLR cables work fine if budget is a concern.
  • Repair of Cables: All cables break, but don’t panic! They’re relatively easy to fix if you know how to solder. Soldering is a handy skill that saves money when the inevitable happens.

14 inch XLR cables connected to an audio recorder

Very short XLR cables reduce setup size and RF interference.

3 Pin to 5 pin XLR Cable Breakout

3-pin to 5-pin Stereo XLR Breakout Cables reduce weight and add convenience.

The right choices can make your recording experience smoother and more enjoyable. Avoid super cheap cables. I’ve tested cheap XLRs from Monoprice and Amazon, which have been problematic. Stick to brand-name cables like Mogami, Canare, ProCo, and the low-profile and specialty cables from Cable Techniques. They will save you technical frustrations when in the field.

8. SD Cards

Quality SD cards are essential. I once lost an entire day’s recording due to a faulty card, which was heartbreaking. I recommend using micro SD with an adapter if a standard size SD is required. The adapter acts as a damage buffer. Should any pins bend or break, you can easily remove the undamaged microSD and insert it into a new apdater without fear of losing data.

Look for cards with high write speeds and enough capacity to handle long recording sessions. However, I avoid cards larger than 128 Gigabytes for cost and organizational purposes. 128 Gigabytes is roughly 120 hours of stereo recording, which is plenty large. Even excellent SD cards are cheap, so it’s a small investment that pays off big.

9. Batteries and Power Solutions

Running out of power while recording in the field can be a real headache, especially since recorders have quite the appetite for power. You might think AA lithium batteries would do the trick, but in my experience, they just don’t last long enough. I’ve found a solution that works much better: using a USB-C battery bank. Many recorders, like the Zoom F3, can be powered this way, and a good battery bank will keep you going all day.

Now, you may be thinking: doesn’t that add a lot of bulk? It’s true, but trust me, the convenience in the long run far outweighs the extra size. And here’s a little bonus tip: some battery banks, such as the Ulanzi, double as both a battery and a grip, which is fantastic. Innovations like these can make your recording experience smoother and more enjoyable!

Camera Grip with built in power

Ulanzi Power Grip adds power and portability

10. Protective Cases and Bags

When you’re out in the wild recording, it’s not just yourself you need to protect, but your gear as well. Consider investing in a quality location bag to ensure your equipment stays dry, safe, and ready to capture the perfect sound. Bags come in all shapes and sizes, and finding the right one can be a very personal choice.

While there are bags designed to fit specific recorders, small multi-use camera bags often work best for me. They’re easier to hike with and carry more items, like water and sunscreen, which can be essential on a long day outdoors.

And here’s a little extra tip: if your bag doesn’t come with rain protection, consider buying a bag rain poncho. It’s a simple addition that can make a big difference in keeping your gear safe from the elements.

Quick Recording Tips

Choosing the Right Location

Graphic of Real Time Flights

Finding the perfect spot to record nature sounds takes time and patience, but a little planning can go a long way. Before you even head out, explore potential locations using tools like Google Maps and internet research. This can help you identify areas of interest and even give you insights into things like air traffic flight patterns.

This step will save you a lot of frustration once you’re out in the field.Once you arrive at your chosen location, take the time to explore different spots. Feel free to venture off the beaten path, too. Some of my best recordings have come from places I have found thanks to a little adventurous spirit.

Setting Up Your Equipment

Before you wander down the trail, take a moment to ensure you have everything you need and that it’s all working correctly. Check that your mic clips are attached securely and that you have all the necessary adapters and cables.

I’ve found that following a pre-recording checklist can be incredibly helpful. Plus, it’s usually easier to test equipment at the car than out in the field, so take advantage of that convenience.

Audio Equipment resting on table.

Once you’ve found your spot, don’t just dive into setting up your equipment. First, use your ears to find the sounds that interest you most. Listen carefully, and let the natural environment guide you. Then, start setting up your equipment, adjusting the position and height as needed to capture the best sound.

It might take a little trial and error, but with patience and careful listening, you’ll find the perfect setup to capture the beautiful sounds of nature you’re after.

Monitoring and Adjusting Levels

With the advent of 32-bit recording technology, adjusting levels and monitoring has become slightly less of a concern, but don’t be fooled – it’s still crucial. Nature’s sounds are quiet but dynamic, and it’s possible to distort your preamps if you’re not careful. A good rule of thumb is to set your microphone’s preamp gain so that the ambient sound level in your headphones matches what you’d hear without them.

For those technically minded, most nature ambiance levels rest at -33 dBFS or lower, making them significantly quieter than music. Just to give you a reference, film dialogue usually rests at about -27 dBFS, while podcast dialogue is around -16 dBFS.

Monitoring levels isn’t a one-time thing; it’s an ongoing process that can be somewhat trial and error. But don’t worry; as you gain more experience, you’ll get better at setting the correct levels. Keep a close eye on them, and don’t hesitate to adjust as needed.

I’ve found that starting a new recording after making any gain changes helps during later editing. It’s these little tips and tricks that can make your recording experience smoother and more enjoyable, so don’t be afraid to experiment and learn as you go!

Post-Processing Tips

The world is noisy, and some editing is always necessary when it comes to nature recordings. But don’t worry; your editing work should be minimal if you’ve done your pre-research well. In addition to cutting out extraneous noise like airplanes, you’ll likely want to equalize your recordings. A common practice among nature recordists is to gradually roll off low frequencies below 100 Hz. This reduces rumble and makes other frequencies more audible. Another insider tip: if you EQ, it’s better to cut frequencies rather than boost them. Cutting frequencies sounds more natural. Many nature recordists prefer to EQ only minimally.

Audio EQ reducing low frequencies

Reducing frequencies below 100 Hz will reduce the rumble of distant traffic and environmental noise.

When it comes to editing software, the choice is a personal one, and different programs offer different features. But don’t feel like you need something fancy for simple editing of nature sounds. If cost is a concern, Audacity is a free and effective option.

Whatever software you choose, be patient and methodical about your edits. It can be time-consuming, and it’s easy to get frustrated, especially when you start hearing things you hadn’t noticed before. Even experienced recordists go through this process. Sometimes, that two-hour recording ends up being just two edited minutes. It happens to all of us, so take it in stride and enjoy the journey.

Where to Buy Nature Recording Gear

Trusted Retailers and Online Platforms

Ensuring quality and support in your equipment starts with buying from reputable sources. I’ve learned this through good and bad experiences, so I can’t stress enough the importance of researching and purchasing from trusted retailers.

While music retailers will likely have much of the equipment you need, don’t overlook retailers specializing in location sound and even photography. Some trusted online platforms include B&H Photo, Sweetwater,  Trew Audio and Location Sound Corp. These retailers have knowledgeable staff who can guide you through the buying process. Don’t hesitate to call them and ask questions. They’re there to help, and their expertise can be invaluable.

Buying used equipment can be a great option if you’re on a budget. Websites like eBay and Reverb can be good sources, but be cautious and do your research. Look for sellers with good ratings and clear descriptions of the item’s condition. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Please note, I do not have paid affiliation with any of these retailers and are simply ones with which I’ve had good experience. I hope. you experience the same.

Let’s go Recording!

Man In woods smiling

Recording nature sounds is a rewarding and fulfilling pursuit that can bring joy and connection to the natural world. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced recordist, I hope this guide on the best gear for recording nature sounds has provided valuable insights and practical tips to help you. Remember, the right equipment, careful planning, and a willingness to experiment and learn are key to capturing the beautiful sounds of nature. Happy recording!

Picture of Jerry Horwath

Jerry Horwath

As a well-seasoned recording engineer who spends a lot of time in dark, windowless rooms, I truly enjoy being outdoors whenever possible. Nature and humor have always been my sources of comfort, so I decided to combine all three. That's how Wild Soundscapes came to be.