Recording Engine Sounds for Mods

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Modding Index | Vehicle Tutorials

Ok, so I thought this would be a good idea, as I've seen (or heard) a lot of great mods with fairly low quality sounds, this spoils the mod, for me, as much as a bad script does.

This is, by no means, an end all. Nor is it perfect… (Little that I do is, lol!) But it's here to give you a helpful nudge in the right direction of recording your own custom sounds from tractors, combines and anything else of that nature. Basically, if it has a sealable cab, this will work!

Ok. Firstly, you'll need the right gear. Obviously a vehicle that makes the noises you want to record, well, that's a no-brainer! Then you'll need a mic… Also a no-brainer, but what's the best to use? Well, you can use whatever you like, but I'd suggest a condenser mic. A condenser mic is powered, that means that it's given power by a system called Phantom Power. We'll refer to Phantom Power as PP. I use an AKG Perception 400. This is ample mic for your needs here. So, you want a condenser mic that runs on PP. This means that you will need a mixer which will support PP. I use an Alesis Multimix8 USB2.0 mixer for my recordings. Again, this is absolutely plenty of mixer for this kind of project… Since when are you going to use 8 channels for one machine? You could try using 2 at once… One outside and one in, but that's just spending more money than you need on 2 mics! I'd go for a nice, small mixer with as few channels as you can find… You only need one! Right, so you've got your mic and mixer, now what? Well, obviously you'll need an XLR lead or mic lead. Make sure this is shielded! Ok, I'm going to repeat that one… MAKE SURE THE LEAD IS SHIELDED!!! You will not get any kind of decent recording with an unshielded mic lead, it will pick up interference from miles away and deposit it in a nice messy slither all over your work… Just like a big fat slug! It's a very good investment! Also, you want a mic stand with a shock mount that will fit your mic. These things are the best thing since sliced bread in a studio recording when using a condenser mic… They reduce the amount of vibration and noise from the floor no end. You should get one of these with your mic, but sometimes you don't, especially if you're buying used equipment. You really need one though! Just a note about mics: You can get some reasonable USB mics out there too, which don't need an external mixer. If you're recording on a budget, you may want to consider a higher range USB mic. Don't go for something that costs £15-20, it won't sound nice, you may as well record all this on your phone!

Once you have your mic, mixer, lead and stand (with shock mount), you will need something to record the sounds on… Now, this tutorial assumes that you already have a reasonable computer, (you're reading this, aint ya?) with a USB port or, even better, a FireWire port. You will need a program to record the sounds onto… I use Cubase to record and edit all of my sounds. There are many versions available to you, sometimes a mixer will come with Cubase LE (Light Edition) free in the box. This is perfect for you!

When you have all your equipment set up and the tractor (or whatever) is sitting, waiting to go, you will need to decide where the best place would be for the mic. When you're recording the out-of-cab sounds, I think the best place would be about 1-2 meteres away from the side of the engine unit. This will ensure a nice and crisp sound, with much less chance of excessive noise irritating the diaphragm of the mic or peaking out your channel in the recording program. Also, mics don't like too much heat, so placing them right near a hot engine isn't the best plan of action, really!

Ok, so, set the recording off and get in the vehicle. Turn the key and let her start up naturally. Don't rev it up when you start it, unless that's the sound you want, or you need to because it's a subborn old cow and won't start without a kick up the bum. Let it idle for about 40 seconds or so, then cut it out to finish.

There! That's your out-of-cab recording done! Now, do the same again, only this time, put the mic on the inside of the cab. I'd try to (carefully) hang the mic lead out of the rear window of the tractor, with the window pulled shut, (but not locked so it crimps the lead!) If you're recording a combine, where the door springs open quite easily, try to keep the door pulled shut. As long as the sound from outside isn't leaking through too much, it should be fine. Do the same as before, starting up and running idly, then cutting out. I'd like to point out that any noises inside the cab will be picked up incredibly clearly by the mic, so I'd hold my breath if I were you, or breathe very gently… Lol!

That's about it! You have some basic sounds recorded and ready for editing and tweaking. After that, you can make a loop out of the idle sound and you're all set!

[THINGS TO NOTE] Condenser mics are extremely sensitive. Something you must never do is blow into them! You can cause serious damage to them by doing this! Sometimes, excessive noise levels can damage a condenser mic to the point of it being unusable, treat it like a baby! These mics are very fragile, don't, for heaven's sake, drop it, or bash it! You must also try your best not to get any bodily fluids on it either, especially the diaphragm. Such fluids as sweat or saliva contain salt, which is a corrosive… Hence why you don't want it on the diaphragm! The mic can also pick up the slightest brush of air that moves past it. I'd pick a calm day to record, but just to be safe, here's a little tip: Take a length of chicken wire, about 40cmx30cm out to do it. Take a pair of tights (not from a lady's knicker drawer… I can't be held responsible for any injuries this may cause!) Bend and secure the chicken wire into a cylinder, making sure there's about 4“ of space around the mic when it's placed centrally inside it. Now (carefully) pull the tights over the mesh you just made. Be careful not to ladder them, take care of any sharp edges with a file or some tape! You should have a cylindrical shaped, tights covered mesh… If you don't, what the hell were you doing when you were supposed to be following these instructins? Pay attention! Now, find a way of securing this over the shock mounted mic so as it doesn't rattle. You could try string, tape, foam… Magic… More tights… It's up to you, I'm still experimenting with that one, lol! This little mess is actually a rather impressive DIY windscreen! No more roaring noises!

If you hear crackling in your recordings, as if it's distorted by peaking out, like a cellophane crackling sound but it isn't peaking at all. It's very likely to be damp in the diaphragm. Don't worry too much, just place the mic carefully into a dry and warm (not hot, so not a radiator!) place and allow it to dry out.

Right! I think I've covered it all now! Like I said, this is just a rough guide to let you understand what kind of equipment is best and how to best go about the process. Once I have more time, I might add a short tutorial on editing sounds to make nice, seamless loops. But that's a maybe!

I hope I've helped in some way here, it would be nice to see my advice going into the production of some quality sounds!

Feel free to PM me with any questions, (as long as they're not completely stupid, lol!)


Original Author: Glen | Date: December 15, 2009

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