Just a thought that occurred to me the other day while I was out with my PCM-D50.

I always have my recorder with me just in case some sonic delight rears it head, but I don't always have headphones with me, or don't have time to get them out and plug them in. But in this case I treat the recordings like I did when I used to take photos on film. Make all the adjustments you can, point in the correct direction and then press record (like the shutter), but you are not sure of how the recording turned out until you get home. This gives me the same buzz that I used to get with photos on film, waiting to see / hear the results. Some recordings are good and some are bad. Sometimes I hear something that I didn't hear when I make the recording but if I had been wearing headphones (and heard it) then I might have deleted the file, but on decent speakers / headphones in a quiet room that sound that would have caused me to delete the file is a gem that I will keep.

I know it's not great practice to record without headphones (I always wear them if i'm on a planned recording session) but sometimes you will get great results from your "Blind" recordings.

I'd love to hear other stories and opinions on this. Does anyone else get the same buzz like you did with film cameras (or are most people on here too young to remember film?)

7 Answers 7


Quite often when I'm out recording ambiences I'll not wear any headphones. Helps me go unnoticed when I'm trying to be stealth! lol

Actually, David Farmer is one of the prominent sound designers out there who never wears headphones when recording in the field. Theres a good article about his field recording exploits here..


  • Thanks for that link. A really great article and perspective of not wearing headphones.
    – Si Charles
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 12:33

Great post.

I record blind often. It's a good challenge.

I usually do this when I'm stealth recording crowds. Yesterday I was in a cafe, the CD they were playing ended and they forgot to put on more music. I was in the middle of a bustling cafe with a lot of character and no music? Golden opportunity. I pulled out my H4n discreetly and recorded blind.

It definitely is a buzz and I like your comparison with film cameras (I love shooting film or Polaroid!).

From a technical standpoint, after using the same mic and recorder for years, I find that you can eventually know the scope of what a mic can pick up, when it will crap out, etc.

I find you need to be very aware of your surroundings and very focused. It's a good challenge that brings out a lot creativity.

  • I agree - developing the natural sensitivity to hearing your surroundings in the mindset of the 2d "framing translation" that happens through a mic from the 3d environment as we normally hear it as is definitely an acquired taste, yet a fun challenge at the same time. It's the equivalent of walking around with a picture frame stuck on your eyes - only being able to see what is framed as a flat 2d translation of the real 3d space we exist in. It's a fun challenge to develop that hearing sensibility. Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 2:42

Headphones or not, I hardly ever delete a file in the field. It's one more unique sound to add to my library than I had before. It may be crap, but it's my crap, and I'll determine the likelihood of it's potential when I get back to the studio. Even crap can be useful some days.

Like you, I often record "deaf" simply because I happen upon a sound, whip out the recorder and capture it as best as my experience can offer. Additionally, as many have mentioned, people get unnerved when you start waving around a microphone, but they get conspicuous when you've got both a microphone and headphones. On one of my early recordings with my M10 I was casually trolling along the New Jersey shore, monitoring my recording, trying to figure out what the on-board mics sounded like. I walked by a small group of elder gentlemen camped on the sand when one guy got wise and exclaimed "Hey, psssh! We're being Zoomed!" For reasons greater than a clean recording, I pocketed my headphones and kept moving along.

But I am conflicted about this. Because most are random, unplanned events I want to be sure that I record it as cleanly as possible as it might not happen again in my presence. Add to that my limited experience in capturing sounds in an uncontrolled environment (ie field vs studio), and the self-doubt mounts up.

Obviously, the only thing that will help assuage that is getting out there and gaining the experience, analyzing the results, and learning from the successes and failures. And that's the current plan.

I've actually just ordered a stereo set of 4060s for an upcoming vacation to Spain where I hope to get some binaural recordings. I plan to mount them onto a set of headphones, so monitoring will be nigh impossible. I anticipate many test runs before we actually depart. I'd hate to come back from this trip with multiple gigs of handling noise and wind buffeting.

  • I noticed people looking at me weird and such on the subway when I was walking around getting sounds. I then walked out to the street and started getting an awesome bus idling sound and the bus driver started driving and I thought "COOL! BUS DRIVING SOUND!" so I walked with it and then the bus driver stopped, hopped out, and asked what I was doing. I think she thought I was rigging a bomb because I was at the back right side of the bus with some sort of bag around my waist and a weird-looking fuzzy blimp thing. I told her I was working on a movie and needed sounds and she chilled out. Funny ;)
    – Utopia
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 17:08

My first, and favourite story, is putting my H1 in a rack of 10 foot lengths of PVC pipe and walking away for half an hour. I had no idea what to expect, and freaked out for 10 minutes when I came back and tried to remember which pipe I'd put it in.

This is what came out.


At the moment I'm doing a lot of ambience recording, and I find that I actually much prefer to record them without headphones on. For one thing, I like the experience of sitting in silence. The other is that I find that there's something in the conversion from reality, to recorder, to headphones that feels extremely unnatural to my ears. It's probably that my recorder is shitty, but I'm working on that one.

For specific EFX, I'd say headphones are essential, but for spaces and ambiences you're not going for the best sound, your going for what it sounds like so it's not quite so important. I may be stretching the bounds of language with my distinction there, but I find my reasoning for this one difficult to explain.

Plus, with headphones you're tied to your machine. With quiet quiet stuff it's usually best to remove yourself from the noise making equation.

  • Hi I actually remember reading about you leaving your recorder in a pipe, can't remember where, probably another post on here! I like recording ambiences, seems to be what I mainly come back with, and I agree that it's almost best not to have headphones on. If it's windy, or even a slight breeze, I often hear what I think is wind noise on the mics but in fact its just wind blowing through the headphones. I've lost recordings due to that mistake.
    – Si Charles
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 11:19

Recording room ambience in a house the other day I unexpectedly got an awesome dog barking from an indoors perspective. I'm saving this for sure. I also got a plane passing by from an indoors perspective.

On a live recording of a 3 piece jazz band I was mixing, the recorder must have glitched and for half a song it was aliasing, distorting, doing all sorts of weird pitching to the point where it didn't even sound like music anymore - just awesome glitchy digital noise. This is perfect for when I work on Transformers 5 (yes, I did wish for that on my birthday on 20 April, 2011. I wish E-squared visited here regularly!).

Recording a long beach ambience in Hawaii I thought I was just getting surf when I came back 20 minutes later and listened to the recordings and found I had captured coconuts falling (just like in Castaway).


I agree that recording blind is sometimes necessary in some situations.

One personal example of this is that I went to an airfield recently to record some helicopter/aeroplane fly bys, and I was standing there with headphones on, NTG-3 in hand, when I'd hear a plane in the distance and frantically look and point the microphone around to see where it was coming from.

Turned out that it was easier to localize the sound without the headphones on, and to prevent the noise of me putting my headphones back on, had to leave them off!

The recordings turned out sounding great, which they wouldn't have done if I couldn't localize the aeroplane or had the sound of me scrambling to put my headphones back on.

I'm going to blog about this recording venture later this week, and will mention this point.




Blind can be fun, especially those cases where the unexpected happens. Recently I was in Santa Monica walking on the bridge to the peir and an ambulance comes blaring south on the PCH and ends up going under the side-street tunnel right under the bridge crossing. All I had was my iPhone, but I busted it out and got a nice approach, close by, and away from above so there was minimal engine noise. Best case recording scenerio? Heck no!

But, the recording turning out alright and is at least clean enough that any background noise would be masked in a backgrounds edit of city streets anyway (also since the siren would play pretty low).

Steve Urban said it right: "It may be crap, but it's my crap, and I'll determine the likelihood of it's potential when I get back to the studio. Even crap can be useful some days."

Sometimes the in-the-moment crap recordings can turn out the be the real $$$ gems.

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