Iceland gave us more sounds and opportunities per day than anywhere else we have ever recorded. There is no such thing as a perfect field recording location, but Iceland provided more than its fair share of goldilocks situations. As a field recordist, you are always avoiding air traffic. Due to its low population, Iceland has relatively few local flights and due to its northerly location, few international flights pass overhead so one would be hard-pressed to find a better location in that regard. Iceland, while mostly devoid of airplane noises, provided its own unique form of air traffic in the form of geese. While we are used to looking at air radar maps, we had to start looking at topographical maps to avoid low lying fields near rivers or we would find ourselves in the middle of noisy, nesting geese.
The other big thing to prepare for is the weather, which is known for being highly variable and unpredictable. We were extremely fortunate in that we got a large swath of warm, calm days when we were on the South coast. In fact, it was so calm that we started to get concerned about the possibility of recording any wind at all! But, as visitors to Iceland are fond of saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” So in true Icelandic fashion, we got absolutely blasted with wind and snow in the Highlands. If we were not specifically prepared to record wind, we probably would have lost about 4 days of recording without proper wind protection.
Logistically, Iceland is a dream. Thanks to a booming tourism industry, you can find a place to eat/sleep within a few kilometers of most locations. Some of our recording opportunities happened within a few kilometers of, and sometimes even within our lodging. While there are plenty of tourists, they tend to coagulate at the biggest landmarks. Straying from the beaten path yielded some of our best recordings and memories. Taking unplanned adventures off the Ring Road and onto random, gravel F-Roads almost always paid off.
Iceland is basically made of great recording opportunities with streams, brooks, waterfalls, bubbling mud pits, and rocky shores appearing around every bend. We’re so grateful to have had the privilege of recording and experiencing such a magical place.
Who We Are
Blackguard SMG is Jason Strawley and Andrew Garraway. We’re an Orlando, Florida based sound effects recording duo that has been working together for over 20 years. Pro Sound Effects is the main outlet for our work, but we’ve also been contracted to record for AAA games and feature films. Our PSE recordings have appeared in countless movies, TV shows, and video games.
‘Waves Wind Water Vol. 2’ is the fourth Ambisonic ambience library we’ve produced for Pro Sound Effects, following Waves Wind Water, Biophony, and Pacific Northwest. The original WWW was a success, and featured recordings from across the US that I go to regularly in my own editorial work. Our goal with WWW2 was to build on this success, while raising the bar we set with the original. More and better recordings of bigger waves, stronger winds, and characterful water - all recorded free of man made noise and other unwanted distractions. Iceland proved to be an ideal location for this task. We hope that between WWW and its sequel we’ve created a comprehensive collection of geophonic sounds that can drop right into an edit with no fuss and sound interesting in the process.
Why Sennheiser AMBEO?
We wanted the ability to deliver B-Format for immersive media, 5.1 for post, and stereo for YouTubers. AMBEO allows us to bring one mic and generate all of these assets without complicated (and heavy) mic bars, multiple stands, careful measurements etc. We’ve recorded in different surround formats over the years and AMBEO is the only thing portable enough for the tough locations we tend to record.
We’re very happy with AMBEO’s sound quality. Low end power and high end details are equally well preserved. Upon decoding to 5.1, the surround image is immersive and accurate. Peers that have tried other Ambisonic mics are consistently impressed with what we get from AMBEO.
We’ve exposed our trusty AMBEO to some incredibly harsh conditions over the years. From the Florida Everglades in the summer to northern Iceland in a blizzard it has held up beyond all reasonable expectations, oftentimes stuffed in a backpack or hand-carried out in the elements.
12-Pin Extension Cable - 3 meter
The 12-pin to 4x XLR fanout cable is a sensitive spot in the setup. I find the fanout cable to be susceptible to a high amount of handling noise. The best way to avoid this is keep the fanout completely within the sound bag, which means you will need a long enough 12-pin extension to connect to the mic, run down the stand, and into the bag.
Cinela Piani AMBEO Windshield Kit
This product was a game changer for us! The wind noise reduction is unbelievable. It handles near gale-force winds with ease. We pushed it to its limits (and a little beyond) in Iceland and I was honestly amazed at where that limit is. The shockmount is incredible and the connbox eliminates virtually all handling noise. Pricey, but worth every bit. Also, be sure to check out the Piani Kelly Rain Cover. We confidently recorded behind waterfalls and exposed in the rain knowing that the mic would be protected and the sound quality would be preserved.
Sound Devices MixPre 6 II
The perfect companion for the AMBEO. The sound quality is impeccable and the Ambisonic plugin makes recording as easy as possible. Direct conversion to B-Format saves a ton of time in post. Linking the gain for all four inputs ensures good imaging. Binaural monitoring gives us the confidence we need in the field.
I’ve read some complaints in message boards about first-order Ambisonic recordings' ability to form a stable, immersive 5.1 image. I believe that with careful mastering it is possible to achieve excellent results! Here are some things I’ve worked out through hard-fought trial and error:
I use iZotope Neutron for EQ duties. First, it supports multi-channel formats, which rules out many other EQ plugins. Next, it is a phase linear EQ, so it won’t mess with the time alignment of the 4 channels - very important if you want to preserve that immersiveness! Finally, it has a dynamic EQ function which is magical. I like to use a low shelf EQ set to dynamic mode to take care of intermittent bursts of low energy (like in wind or wave recordings) without sucking all the low end power out of the rest of the recording. AMBEO-specific tip: I find that the AMBEO has some buildup in the mid-500Hz range. I like to scoop out 4.5 dB in this area to compensate. Be sure to use a light touch and listen carefully. If your EQ notch is too narrow or too deep some negative artifacts will be introduced. Never apply EQ without good reason and be mindful of the how and why.
I use iZotope RX for light noise reduction. Rule number one - never apply broadband noise reduction to an Ambisonic recording! There’s no quicker way to add artifacts, chirps, swirliness - whatever you want to call it. I limit my RX use to a few surgical functions when performing Ambisonic mastering. First, Spectral Repair, set to a conservative setting, can remove unwanted birds, ticks, clicks, pops and so on. Don’t expect it to completely remove every unwanted sound. You may have to concede that an unwanted sound will remain slightly audible or you may need to cut around it. Listen carefully and LOOK carefully. If Spectral Repair is cutting a hole in your spectrum, discerning ears will notice! I also use De-Plosive to take care of intense low-end energy. Be sure to set the frequency threshold based on the source material. Avoid the temptation to use De-Wind. It’s designed to remove wind noise from voice recordings - not wind recordings! It will leave musical artifacts all over the place near the cutoff frequency, which is tolerable in location dialog, but never in a nature recording!
Whatever plugin you decide to use for decoding B-Format down to stereo or 5.1 there are some important universal things to consider. First, be sure to monitor in whatever format you are decoding to. This will require that you do separate passes for the 5.1 and stereo versions. Do not assume that the settings for one decode will work for the other. They often don’t! Next, be sure to rotate the image all the way around to make sure you’re achieving balance and focus. Despite my best efforts at mic setup, I rarely use zero degrees for the optimal ‘viewing’ angle. Also, play with the different pickup pattern simulations. The best sounding configuration will vary from one recording to the next - sometimes Omni works best, sometimes it’s cardioid or supercardioid. Finally, don’t be afraid to mess with the mic spacing angle, especially in the stereo render. Don’t be dogmatic - sticking to tried and true stereo miking methods - the best sounding result may be something unexpected.
Make sure to listen to the place you are recording without headphones on (once you’re confident the recording sounds ok). Make a note of how the location sounds to your ear. What frequencies stand out to you? What’s in the foreground? What’s in the background? How does it feel? Take a photo on your phone. Look at that photo while mastering to assist with the recall. It really works! Plugins are great but your memory of the location may be the most valuable tool in your mastering arsenal!