Sennheiser Ambeo VR
Due to the limitations of my previous recorder and microphones I had only been able to record in stereo. My goal with this R&D project was to develop my multichannel field recording practice. Having acquired a multi track recorder the next step was to decide on a microphone array. I already owned a Sennheiser 418s, a mid/side stereo microphone, and had been considering a double mid/side array which would require purchasing an additional mono shotgun mic to match the 418s. The problem with this set up is that it would require the use of my Rycote blimp windshield to provide wind protection for the two shotgun mics. While the Rycote windjammer system provides excellent wind protection it isn’t particularly compact. Portability is a significant factor for me in my recording practice, especially when traveling abroad. I’m always striving for a rig that I can carry and use easily in urban and rural environments, one that is fairly discreet and can be quickly pulled out or stashed away.
I’ve been aware of ambisonics as a system for multichannel recording and playback for many years but the few ambisonic microphones available suffered from a combination of being prohibitively expensive, not robust and portable enough for field recording or poor sound quality. However, in 2016 Sennheiser introduced the Ambeo VR ambisonic microphone in response to the needs of the burgeoning VR market. It’s not a cheap microphone but compared to e.g. the Soundfield mic, the price point, its size and build quality, technical specs and performance made it an attractive option for my purposes. The beauty of ambisonics is that an ambisonic recording captures a 360 degree sound image that can then be decoded to any number of virtual microphone arrays e.g. stereo, mid/side, mono. I bought the Ambeo VR mic with the help of my ACE grant.
Ambeo VR & Rycote BBG, lyre mount & pistol grip
Ambeo VR & Rycote BBG, lyre mount & pistol grip
The Sennheiser Ambeo VR ships with a Rycote lyre suspension on a stand mount. This is great if you plan on using the mic on a mic stand or tripod but I like to be able to record on the move with my mic in hand. Fortunately I was able to able to attach the lyre mount to my pistol grip from my Rycote blimp windjammer system. I bought the mic bundled with the Rycote Baby Ball Gag and windjammer. This miniature wind protection system slips over the mic capsules and is compact and portable. As the mic shaft and cable are still exposed to the elements it doesn’t provide the same level of wind protection as if the mic were completely enclosed in a windshield, but it’s still pretty good. I did encounter some problems with wind noise using this setup recording on a beach but in retrospect I wonder if I didn’t have the fur windjammer properly closed around the ball gag. I spoke to a technical adviser at Rycote before buying the ball gag system and he recommended wrapping a scarf around the mic shaft and cable to minimize wind noise. I did tend to do this in windy conditions and it helped. In mild to moderate conditions this set up performs well and its portability balances its limitations but if you’re planning on recording in high winds I’d look at a more robust wind protection system that fully encloses the mic and manages the cable connections. Rycote have just started manufacturing a cylcone blimp specifically for the Ambeo VR.
Ambeo on stand
Ambeo on stand close
Ambeo & scarf on stand
One other point to note is that the Ambeo VR ships with a 1.5m hirose mic cable. While this is adequate for field recording on the move with a shoulder bag for your recorder and the mic in hand, its not sufficient for durational recording where you want to mount the mic on a stand and retreat with your recorder so as not to intrude on the soundscape. The 1.5m will only just reach the ground when attached to the mic on a stand. I bought a 5m extension cable so together this 6.5 m reach gave me some scope to distance myself from the mic but I would recommend a longer cable if you plan to make wildlife recordings. Suppliers such as Pinknoise and Canford sell suitable hirose 12 pin extension cables but they come at a cost.
Jez Riley French Microphones
In addition to the Ambeo VR I took several other microphones with me to São Miguel. Jez Riley French is a British field recordist, sound artist and microphone builder. I have been using his mics for several years now as they are great value and quality, outperforming many similar high end mics. I have a pair of his C-Series contact mics, 2 x D-Series hydrophones, 2 x Standard hydrophones (the D-Series are easily worth the extra £10) and 2 x electromagnetic coil pick ups. I also have 4 XLR impedance adaptors that allow me to make 4 channel recordings with the hydrophones.