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Portable recording studio outside
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques  
Author Portable recording studio outside
Outside it’s possible to find spaces without any nearby vertical surfaces, so I was thinking it could make an ideal studio for microphone recording.

Powering the instruments and speakers with a generator seems problematic since it adds an engine sound to the area. I’m not very experienced with batteries, and while I could predict the power time of my car battery I’m curious about any advice or experiences here.

I assume that if gas generator noise is a problem then batteries are the only way, is there an ideal kind of battery for a synth and speaker load? I’d be very happy if that worked for a few hours while charging my laptop and smartphone too. My current condenser microphone can be powered by the laptop battery.

I’m not far into microphones but maybe a directional microphone would work to negate the generator, so do you have advice about carryable generators or specific microphones?

A thought is to have everything in the car trunk and be able to setup and record with high quality in interesting places within twenty minutes after parking.
I recall seeing a video featuring what I think was a Rode NT5, which was recording a piano with a drumkit in the same room. The mic was highly directional so even with the drumkit playing, only the piano was picked up and on playback you'd swear it was the only thing in the room! So maybe this is your answer indeed.
Microphones? Depends on your budget, but in a potentially noisy situation like you're describing you'll need a figure of eight microphone, you point one "lobe" tieards your Sound source, and have the "null" the dead spot between the lobes, pointing towards the noise. It's very surprising how well this can work on unwanted sounds. Models to check out would be the Beyer M160, and Sennheiser MKH30.
It’s not clear to me if you mean to record or be heard performing or both.

For the former there are portable recorders and preamps aplenty for recording, and even large format batteries to power a synth. There is a whole discipline of field recording to educate yourself on if this is what you want.

If you need to be heard, it depends how loud and how far away and that’s a big conversation. That will determine whether you’re on a generator or something battery powered.
Also, as we know, you could have a completely silent studio, based around a portable recorder/mixer, and even battery powered synths, it's just a matter of adapting your music to use these things.
And, you've got zillions of battery powered effects pedals to choose from!
Add an I pad or a laptop and a couple of USB speakers and you are deginitly cooking on gas....

thumbs up

The recording gear I have experience with that could work for this is a Behringer C-1 which turns out to be directional, a Tascam US-366, and a MacBook Pro. This works fine from the laptop battery and can be charged in the car, and the MBP mic does seem to capture a reasonable part of the frequency spectrum which could make it a backup. Though now I’m curious about more expensive mics, wow. I thought the C-1 has been pretty good, but I don’t have high quality speakers to listen back on.

The Tascam can capture direct signal but I've started to like microphone recordings better due to the environment noises and reverb. The idea of no walls being an ideal studio isn't exactly accurate.

The goal is to record but being heard is part of it too; I'd like the ability to do album quality work with the side effect of public performance, in national parks, under an overpass, by a power plant, next to a club at noon, or wherever. The recording style is without tracking and mostly improvised. I've seen videos of people performing electronic music outside with headphones and I thought it would have been better without the headphones.

My 10 watt M-Audio AV30 speakers are fine for recording but aren’t going to be loud enough for a worthwhile small public performance, so I think I’ll need to upgrade to something between 20 and 50W?

The USB speaker and battery powered synths is something I may look into down the road and if I could go back then maybe that’s where I’d start. For now this is the gear I’d use:

Out of these I've thought about just doing the Octatrack, Slim Phatty, MS-20 Mini, and mixer since I've practiced that and it would be less gear.

A problem is something like a marine battery might take eight or more hours to charge which isn’t reasonable for a tour but might be for weekend trips.

Safety is a concern too. I wouldn’t do this without a team or at least a buddy.

I'll look into discussions about field recording. Thanks.
I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro last week, as it happens, and I'm having fun seeing what I can do "off grid."

There's another topic about this somewhere on Muffs, regarding batteries.
umma gumma
re: outside recordings, I had thought about this at one point too....but good luck finding someplace without jet airplanes flying within earshot!
You can totally do it with a battery. There are various "portable mains" solutions out there. If you have your car with you then you can just get a pure sine waver inverter which will give you very clean power - better than mains!

Do not use a generator!
You can also get those battery packs that are mostly for vehicle emergencies. They have a small air compressor, often, jump cables and so on. But they have a big, fat battery and three-prong plugs, and often USB out and 12V car outlets too.

Duracell makes various models.
umma gumma wrote:
re: outside recordings, I had thought about this at one point too....but good luck finding someplace without jet airplanes flying within earshot!

Given using a car to get to location I think the highway roar is a more likely problem, so the session might have to be at 3am. I see airplanes out in the country but can’t hear them, or we could just wait until the airplane passes.

There’s another topic here too:

This seemed like good info:
wsy wrote:
matthewjuran wrote:
Oops didn’t see this thread, I had started another one here:

This other one was mentioned there:

A deep cycle battery I looked at (used for freshwater fishing boat trolling motor) was in the 90 amp hour range, but it can’t be tipped. Supposedly there are more expensive kinds that can tip without spilling.

I’d like to run something like 100W of speakers too. It sounds like there are inverter issues to look at, but with a 150W setup then perhaps I’m looking at maybe five portable sessions before a recharge is required. The recharge takes another piece of gear and over eight hours.

I’m not very familiar with speaker tradeoffs, anybody have experience with those on batteries? A propeller motor sounds like it would be a similar load, so those deep cycle batteries might be a good fit.

Yes, and yes. Get a deep-cycle AGM battery (not a gel-cell, a real AGM, meaning "absorbed glass mat").

The acid in the battery is soaked into a fiberglass mat; there's no free liquid to spill and the battery lifetime is around a decade.
Bonus, you can jump start your gig van. :-)

Optima makes good ones but they are PRICEY. Others may be nearly as good and half the price (maybe $100).

Charge at ten amps overnight with an automatic shutoff charger and you'll be good for a few hours at least.

- Bill

That thread also has discussion about inverters not necessarily providing a good sine wave.

For generators a thing to be aware of is they emit carbon monoxide.
I’ve made this thread for informational purposes only; do not try these techniques because there is risk of death or injury.

Another thread was opened on the topic:
You can hook an usb audio interface to ipad or iphone, battery power the interface(many can be powered with a regular phone battey pack charger thing) and youll have a full studio in your backpack
Tomes wrote:
You can hook an usb audio interface to ipad or iphone, battery power the interface(many can be powered with a regular phone battey pack charger thing) and youll have a full studio in your backpack

Laptop with Tascam US-366 and Behringer C-1 has worked well for me with just the laptop battery, so I can vouch for your approach too.

The speakers and synthesizers are the bigger challenge. With an inverter on the deep cycle battery now there’s danger of death or injury by AC electrocution (and spilling battery acid with some kinds) and the requirement of recharging but that’s what I plan to try and report back on when I get a chance.

Gear security in arbitrary public places is another concern, and so is moving all of this gear up to a few miles in a reasonable amount of time. There's interesting places that would take a 10 mile round trip to get to and that's going to be a challenge with the gear; maybe gear backpacks is another consideration.
matthewjuran wrote:
With an inverter on the deep cycle battery now there’s danger of death or injury by AC electrocution (and spilling battery acid with some kinds).

Death or injury is extremely unlikely- spilling battery acid, yes confused but there are more expensive gel batteries that won't leak.

You can't really go wrong with inverters so long as they're not made in China... but it is not a backpack solution.
They did it for this video:

Battery, gas generator, car/bus, or did the location have a plug to the grid?
Op1, Opz, Zoom H4n and a Kazoo
a recording studio, as much as it can be (aka as much money as you can spend) is a controlled environment. fans and HVAC and whatnot can introduce noise into the environment, indeed, but i think you would have a much harder time hearing these noises outside. outside is much louder (generally) than inside in terms of background noise. there is also no control over birds, animals, jets, people, and just about everything. so if you're trying to get a more direct sound with less noise, outside probably is not the best place to do it.
Why would you need to bring speakers for a recording session outdoors? Everything can be done (and should be done) with headphones when outside. You are not in a controlled environment such as a studio, you need good closed headphones to isolate you from the outside noises for actually monitoring what you are recording. The only need for "speakers" when recording outdoors I can think of would be guitar amps that you might want to mic up. Of course if we are talking about performing to an audience that is completely another situation.

A lot of it depends on the scale of your recording but at the end I see two kind of situations here: either you are just recording acoustic instruments outside so you need only to power a recorder (that will supply phantom power to mics) or you are recording acoustic instruments plus electronic instruments, so you would have need to also power those.

For the first situation I suggest to just get a portable recorder. There is any kind of battery-powered recorder out there from cheap handheld 2-tracks with on-board mics to professional location sound field recorders with up to 16 tracks. Get one of those, Zoom F4 or F8 for example would be a good price-performance bargain, and they can be rented for around 20-30 euros a day here where i live if you only need them a few times. If you want the best quality or more than 8 channels and to stay battery powered look for Sound Devices recorders.

If you have to provide power to gear other than your recorder then it's totally another league: you will need to provide 12-15v with a decent amperage to keep everything powered up for a decent time. There are a lot of solutions to this:

- You could get a lot of (expensive) batteries like NPF for cameras and some NPF-dc adaptor, but that is definitely not a cheap option. If you go this route I suggest you to rent all of this form a local location sound rental that can point you out to what you need. This would be the best solution to completely battery powered outdoor recording sessions, expecially longer ones.

- 12v gear is easily powered by a simple smartphone powerbank plus a 5v-12v USB-dc cable. Of course you would need big powerbanks to power stuff for a long time, but this could be a good option for a moderate setup. I have a 20000mAh Anker powerbank that I use to power my Zomm F4, It works like a charm. I've seen people doing the same thing with Digitakt plus a 4-tracks recorder.

- You could rent a silenced gas generator, prices may vary from places but with a silenced generator you could power your whole recording studio at ease. Of course this is not cheap and they could also be hard to find. Ask some production company around your area for clues. You could get a non-silenced one but only if you can leave it really far or isolated from the recording place, they do a lot of noise.

- You could hack some car batteries to provide the current you need. This would be a cheap but DIY solution. Only recommended if you have the electronics knowledge to make it work: It will need additional circuitry to make the current stable/noisless to power all your gear, and you will need to build it yourself.

At the end of it for how I see it a portable recorder is always the best solution for microphone recording outdoors.

Also be aware that outside noises are much more evident when outdoors, there is no isolation, that means no reverb but also nothing stopping other noises to be caught by the mic. This could be interesting, to "incorporate" some natural sound in your recordings but not suited at all to "traditional" recordings.
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