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I have a Sony PCM-M10 but am having trouble recording bird songs. I am using the built-in microphones. In most cases the recording level is too low. Basically the problem is that the bird is relatively far away, however, different birds are different distances away so even though they might sound equally audible to the human ear, the sounds show up differently when recorded.

Also, part of the problem is that I usually have only a brief opportunity to record the bird. If I sit there fidgeting with the device for 15 minutes the bird will be gone. I need some way to get the level dialed in correctly ahead of time.

Any hints for how I can get better results for birds using the PCM-M10?

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you nailed the problem: you are too far away from the birds (I assume you cannot get closer to the birds). Your best option is to use a much more directional microphone (yours are omnidirectional) : something that picks-up sound mostly from what's in front of it -> by pointing this type microphone towards the birds, you will have a stronger "bird signal".

For your purpose (you need a very directional mic to record birds outdoor) I suggest you use a "shotgun" microphone. Since you use the Sony PCM-M10, choose a model that does not need Phantom Power (choose one that uses an internal battery). Here are some examples :

Your other options are :

  • Increasing the gain : your recording device is going to be much sensitive, the recorded signal will be louder. But :
    • By increasing the gain on your device, you might end up with a track with a big amount of noise (depending on the quality of the preamps) -> The Signal/Noise ratio might be too low to achieve an acceptable result
    • The mic will pick-up more of the bird's song... but will also pickup more of everything else.
  • Increasing the gain in post-prod
    • it has pretty much the same issues as increasing the gain on your device. It might just have a better S/N ratio.
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I found the main problem.

The Sony PCM-M10 has a microphone setting called "MIC SENSE (ATT)". It is a small, black two-way switch on the upper back right side of the device. This switch should normally be set to "HI". It should only be set to "LO" if especially loud, sudden noises are expected.

I had it set to LO incorrectly.

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I think you're attacking the problem incorrectly. It's easier to dial down the volume in a sound editor then to dial it up afterwards.

So possibly think about any or all of the following:

  • leave the volume up always no matter what the circumstances

  • a directional, external microphone. The main problem with handheld recorders is signal to noise ratio. If you're short of cash try eBay, pawn shops and second hand dealers, Craigslist, etc...

  • possibly create a directional microphone yourself out of paper or cardboard. I've seen people make pop-filters out of tissue paper. This would roughly be the same and hopefully perform just as well. Wrap a piece of paper or cardboard around your PCM-M10. That should hopefully focus your recording in the direction of the birds, act as an ad-hoc microphone enhancer, and hopefully reduce the impact of external noise all at the same time

  • a sound enhancer. Think of a cheaper version of a hearing aide designed for people who are hard of hearing but aren't deaf. You can often get them from electronics stores. They cost about ~$20-40, are battery powered and portable, and you can plug it into the microphone port of your PCM-M10

https://www.jaycar.com.au/the-super-ear-kit/p/KA1809

https://www.jaycar.com.au/spy-parabolic-microphone-with-recorder-and-8x-magnifier/p/AM4040

http://pro.sony.com.au/pro/product/broadcast-products-professional-audio-portable/pcm-m10/overview/

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