I am just learning more about the sound design field and plan on going to school for it (1 year away from earning bachelors in English) but want to teach myself before I start hacking out money for school. I was just wondering if anyone has any recommendations for a beginning field recording setup and maybe some recommendations for post as well such as software and mixers or what not. Nothing too fancy just the basics so I can learn the basics.

7 Answers 7


Justin's approach is a good one on the desktop/PC/Mac side of things. For better or worse, ProTools is the standard.

I just spent a weekend with a bunch of nature recordists and two devices came to their minds when asked this very same question about field recorders: The Olympus LS11 and the Sony PCM-M10. This is a very critical group of folks who are all about the lowest-noise gear at the best value points. Me, I really don't care for the LS11, but the M10 is getting pretty good reviews, especially against its main competitor, the Zoom H2 (which I own and have grown dissatisfied with its sound quality - an M10 looks like a solid alternative).

If you're looking to go really cheap, you should make an early call as to not just what you want to record, generally (IMHO, this is way more important than knowing what specific specs you want to chase/aim for), but also whether you want a recorder with an external mic or a built-in one. The all-in-ones - Zoom H2 & H2n, Sony PCM-M10 and D50, et multiple cetera - give you major bang for your buck by putting it all in one package, but professionals usually prefer the flexibility and quality of external mics and a separate recorder, but the price curve there starts to get steep. That said, I am sure many on this board have both an all-in-one and a more serious rig, just so that one is never without a recorder for surprise spot effects, so even a small all-in-one might be a longer-term investment. That kind of immediacy always has a place.

If you want to use external mics eventually, then you need to compare prices and features and determine if you want to get an all-in-one with preamps (which will be noisy, to varying degrees, based on the brand and model) or if you want to get an external preamp (like those made by Sound Devices, widely regarded as a standard for, uh, general awesomeness) that'd just run into the line input on your recorder.

None of this advice really holds if you want to do production sound of any sort, but if you want to start collecting your own sound, it's a good place to start. At the end of the day, though, don't forget that you can rent or borrow this stuff - you don't need to buy in order to start building your collection and recording in the field!

  • Thanks for the suggestions Im looking at the sony pcm-m10 or the Zoom H4n. This answer helps alot!! Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 9:31
  • The m10 is a great box - not quite the D50 internal mics but close. I use mine with an SD mp-1 pre - its extra money but it beats the H4n hands-down Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 16:25
  • Go for the Sony PCM D-50 if you can swing it.
    – Justin P
    Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 16:57

Grab yourself a Handy Zoom H2 Recorder. It's a small and easy to use recorder. If you want, you could keep it on you at all times in case you wanted to record something interesting right away. For example, if you're stuck in a huge traffic jam and everyone is honking their horns, you could be the guy with the hand outside the window holding his H2 above the roof recording all that chaos on 4 channels.

Having just graduated, I'd say school is probably great for meeting with other like-minded individuals and finding projects to work on easier than scouring Craigslist or Mandys for a free job.

  • What school did you go to and what field did you focus in (such as music, film, games etc) Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 9:32
  • I went to Tribeca Flashpoint Academy here in Chicago. I'm reserving my honest review of the school for a few more weeks while I secure employment. At best, I have mixed feelings on my experience there. Commented Jun 29, 2010 at 2:05
  • hmm...interesting, cuz i was thinking about going to through their recording arts program and focus on game sound Commented Jun 29, 2010 at 9:25
  • If going to California is not an option then, Flashpoint is a decent choice. But if Cali is an option, I'd consider some of the schools out there like Pyramind. After looking their curriculum up, I felt their program was much more focused on what I wanted to learn. To be honest tho, I took Film sound at Flashpoint. I only dabbled in game sound during my first year. At any school it's highly advisable to learn as much as you can beyond the curriculum, I just felt that it was not only advisable but necessary at Flashpoint. The school gives you enough to get your feet wet and has great gear... Commented Jun 29, 2010 at 14:26
  • They also attract some very talented students. But as a brand new school, the curriculum feels like a work in progress. When I look at the curriculum at Pyramind or Berklee Online, I see classes that I wish were available at Flashpoint. So, ultimately, my advice is do your research. Commented Jun 29, 2010 at 14:30

Then if you have a spare £180 you could invest it in an MBox 2 Mini with Pro Tools LE. All the plugins that come with it will serve your education and you can do great stuff with! As a side note, I've had a better experience with Pro Tools on Mac than on Windows. Although I never tried running it on my 64bits Win 7 machine!

What system do you have?

  • I have a new model of the Sony Vaio that can run high end games like crysis, so I'm sure it can handle all the necessary computing Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 9:29
  • Also if I understand this correctly, If i buy the mbox mini all i need to do is buy the external mic and plug em into the mbox and i can do portable field recording? Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 9:33
  • It's not about power, it's about systems... Pro Tools runs fine on Windows and Mac, but then plugins-wise I don't know what it's like. The MBox is only an interface, it needs to be driven by a computer (laptop if you want it portable). So you'd be walking around with your laptop in one hand, the MBox, and the mic. I've done it for a year but I was happy when I got myself a portable recorder :) But I'm sure your computer is fine, if it's a 64bits with 4Gb of RAM then even better! Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 10:25

I agree with all of the above.

You could consolidate your options though to save money (if that's a major issue). If you bought an MBox Mini then with the addition of a laptop you have a setup that you can take out to record sound but can also do any post work on too.

ProTools is pretty much the standard in post so the sooner you learn it the more chance you'll have to finding work. I use ProTools for sound but I started out using Cubase. Once you know one sequencer then you really know them all. The principles are the same.



Pro Tools is standard for film post sound, but I don't think there is any single standard bit of software for field recording or sound design.

Learning Pro Tools would be very useful, as others have said the basics of sequencers are similar across the board, so once you have learnt one you can learn how to use others quickly.

If you haven't already got an audio editor I suggest Audacity, its free!

  • You're right, the notion of standard when it comes to SFX is blurry. I do it in Pro Tools, but Ric Viers does it in SoundForge, some in Nuendo, etc. Now, allow me to disagree on Audacity. It's free but it's not user friendly enough. Also the plugins are not as many and performant as what Pro Tools comes with. The reason why I suggested acquiring Pro Tools is because you get the software and a decent audio interface that tells you a bit more about the job than you could learn with Audacity. That being said, Audacity does certain jobs well. Pro Tools seems to be the biggest bang for his bucks... Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 10:57
  • EDIT to my previous comment: I'm not "disagreeing", I rather believe you want something more complete and user-friendly to start... Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 11:10
  • Thats true there are much better audio editors out there, I personally use Sound Forge a lot and i love Wavelab too. But for a beginner on a student budget the cost is hard to refuse :) Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 11:25
  • I just read about Ardour, had a look at it and it feels better than Audacity. It's only available on Linux and OS X. ardour.org Commented Jul 7, 2010 at 19:37

I've been using Pro Tools for the last 9 years, was the first DAW I ever used and love it BUT when you balance up value for money, some of the plugins within Logic are fantastic and have no 'free' alternative within ProTools LE. I've never used Logic but its on the list of things to explore.

Also, Reaper is another great program, its stable and the cheapest of the bunch - has some pretty cool plugs too. I use it a lot for sound design and virtual instruments

One of these programs and a small portable recorder and your on your way

  • That reminds me something: it's a bit of a pain that Pro Tools won't launch if you haven't got your audio interface hooked up. I was interested in SoundForge and Reaper for this exact reason, but I never got or took the chance to try them. Commented Jun 28, 2010 at 15:51

It might sound an odd thing to say but professional quality minidisc equipment still rates well in sound quality and can be picked up for very reasonable prices on eBay. For a beginners setup I'd say it's ideal, (although not the best for portability). For a longer term investment get a flash recorder - the Sony ones are really well built, buy a Nagra if your really serious. Head over to microphonemadness.com and pick up a stereo pair of BSM-9s if you want a good omnidirectional mic- VERY reasonably priced.

If you want to learn about the properties of sound and a valuable skill at the same time I'd suggest downloading MAX/Msp and go through the MSP tutorials (at least to see if it's for you).

Don't worry too much about which DAW you use, just get an overview of a few of them (enough to make sure you could adapt if needed later on). They all do pretty much the same job. I've heard of professional sound recordists using Nuenedo, Cubase and even Audacity.

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