Saturday 25 July 2020

I mean how difficult can it be?

Eearlier this week I made a major purchase, an external microphone for my MP3 recorder. This catalyst for this was a Whimbrel. A couple of days previously I had been lying in bed, about to turn in for the night, when I very clearly heard the bubbling call through the open windows. As always I wished that I could hear it again, and this time I could as about 20 minutes earlier I had put my recorder out on the balcony. Excellent! I went to bed in keen anticipation of firing up Audacity the next morning and reliving one of only a small number of patch records.

The following morning I was up with the lark and eagerly fast-forwarding to the relevant time stamp. And there it was, but gosh it was faint. Much louder were the snores of one of my neighbours sleeping in their garden (these consigned most of the night's recording to the bin...), a warm night so perhaps understandable. My Whimbrel was barely audible with the typical London overlay, and no matter how I tinkered with the file I could not improve it. Extremely dissatisfying. Lying there the previous evening it had appeared crystal clear and I was sure I would have had something sensational. It was time for a big spend.

£23.99 and a day later this arrived.

Wow. Microphones come at many different price points, several hundred pounds buys you a thing of beauty and they go up from there. But I intended to leave this outside to get rained on and attacked by vicious aerial predators, and what if in reality it was no better than the built in microphone on the MP3 recorder? Under 25 quid would seem to fit the experimental category quite nicely, and a single AA battery provides the, err, electret. It also came with a whole suite of other stuff - two cables, two mounts and a couple of windshields, so even if it is crap it is a complete bargain. A short amount of bodging and one sacrificial wine box later I had this.

The bucket is probably not really necessary in this set-up, but for old times sake and because I have yet to work out a couple of hooks for the wooden backing plate it was pressed into service. Eventually the plan is to mount it high enough that the microphone pokes out above my roof and picks up birds from a wider corridor, but the longer cable has the wrong size jack and I need an adapter. They're £2.29. I'm saving up.

Using the shorter cable I performed a few tests with the different settings and the quality was immediately promising, far less hiss than the MP3 player by itself. Excellent, here we go then. I carefully placed the bucket on the balcony with the microphone angled up into the sky, and then ran the cable inside to the recorder. This is of course one of the main benefits of an external microphone - the expensive MP3 player can remain inside, and the sacrificial £23.99 microphone can take all the weather on its behalf.I switched the recorder on and went to bed, and as it was a windier night this time I closed the windows.

The following morning found me firing up Audacity once again. Pleasingly there was virtually no wind noise at all - the fluffy windshield was rather loose and fearing for its safety I had also added the foam cover underneath. Incredibly effective. Maybe too effective as I could detect almost no sounds at all for the first 40 minutes. A few grunts and various indeterminate noises, but nothing else at all which was a bit odd. And then the snoring started. Bloody hell, why can't my neighbours sleep indoors like normal people? 

This continued all night, every five to six seconds, with the occasional sensational snort. What a warthog! I wonder which side it is?! And then right at the end of the recording *my* alarm went off and I heard myself groan and get up to turn it off! Insert facepalm emoji here. I had failed to fully plug the microphone jack into the recorder and simply recorded my night's sleep. Incidentally I've now solved the unfathomable mystery from the previous night... 

Fine. Lesson learned and let's hope I didn't miss anything good, it is prime time for waders. This takes us to last night, and this time I made no mistake. Connection fully secure. I put the bucket on the balcony, closed the door, and fell into another deep and very refreshing sleep. 

This morning I reviewed another six hours of snoring. I had forgotten to turn the microphone on.


  1. It's probably as well your set up wasn't facing Skye - you'd probably have heard my guffaws when I read the closing line :D

  2. Yep, much laughter here too!! 😄 Classic!

    1. And it rained hugely last night so I did not put it out, and tonight looks like the same. I bought it in the knowledge it will get wet sometimes, but equally I don't want to knowingly put it in harms way. Bits for continuous recording whilst out birding are on the way - happily I had everything I needed to attach it to myself bar a D-ring for the bottom of the recorder and the wind shield (which was quite dear for a bit of fluff unfortunately) for on top.