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MS with reflector - A versatile "two for the price of one" stereo microphone rig

windcage in position
The Rycote windcage in position attached to the reflector

I have been recording wildlife sounds using a microphone in a parabolic reflector for over 20 years. Although some recordists feel that the use of a reflector 'colours' the sound, I am very comfortable with the use of a reflector because it allows me to make recordings where individual species 'stand out' from the background. For many years all of my recordings were in mono. When I eventually had the opportunity to record in stereo, I opted for a Middle and Side (M&S) mic rig in a reflector. The microphones I chose were: a Sennheiser MKH50 (as the response curve corresponds well with the bowl of a reflector) and an MKH30 figure-of-eight microphone. This system allowed me to continue to collect recordings of individual species that were at least in mono but also with the facility to mix in varying degrees off off-axis (Side mic) sounds. Although this M&S reflector rig could be seen as the most versatile of systems, there are some limitations. In particular, some high frequency sounds do not fare well when recorded using a reflector. Recordings of, for example, Grasshopper Warbler song can sound 'tinny' and such sounds are prone to over-modulation when recorded via a parabola. A solution to this problem would be to carry an additional microphone rig so that 'open mics' could be used instead of the reflector. This brings with it issues such as additional weight, not to mention cost. Another solution to the problem would be to design a system that allowed the M&S rig to be removed easily from the reflector and used as an open rig.

I designed a simple system that allowed me to use the M&S rig both in the reflector and as an open rig using a quick release system. It isn't high-tech but it does work. I now only need to carry one mic rig with me as I have a two-in-one system.

I used my M&S rig in a short-form Rycote windcage attached to my 'Atherstone'(now Amberwood ) reflector via a set of shaped aluminium brackets. Figure 1 is a diagrammatic representation of the system. A "C" bracket and an angled bracket are attached to the Rycote windcage and the parabola respectively using nuts and bolts. Strips of Velcro were attached, using double-sided sticky tape, to the aluminium brackets. When the windcage is in place in the reflector the two brackets are aligned and connected together by the complementary strips of Velcro. The Velcro alone is not sufficient to hold the mic assembly in place, but four Bulldog clips provides sufficient grip to prevent the assembly from moving or slipping. A piece of coloured tape was wound round the angled bracket at a measured position so that, when the end of the "C" bracket aligned with it, the mic diaphragms (especially the 'M' mic) were at the focal point of the reflector.

diagram of rig

Fig 1: A diagrammatic representation of the M&S rig and how it is connected to the reflector using shaped aluminium brackets. Note. You need to use a short-form Rycote windcage, not one of their longer cages otherwise it is not possible to locate the mic diaphragm at the reflector's focal point

The Rycote windcage can quickly be removed by unclipping
the Bulldog clips and peeling apart the Velcro strips.

So out in the field, I record with the M&S rig in the reflector. If an opportunity to record with an open M&S rig presents itself, I can disassemble the reflector / Rycote rig (Figures 2 & 3) by simply removing the four Bulldog clips, peeling the Velcro apart, laying the reflector to one side and attaching the Rycote windshield to a tripod. This procedure takes between one and two minutes; which I think is pretty speedy and a reasonable compromise for having two rigs in one. You will need to be aware that when recording with the rig in position in the reflector, sounds on the left of the sound stage will be heard on the left channel. However, if you record from the same place using the open rig, these sounds will now come from the right; simply because from going from reflector to open rig you have turned the mics round. As long as you make a note of when you used the rig open, you can reverse the sound stage when you decode your recordings at home.

Alan Burbidge

Photographs © Gareth Thomas, reproduced and used with permission

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