How do you record ambient sound?

What is Ambient Sound?

Ambient sound refers to the background noise present in an environment. It is the sound that exists in a given space without any particular source (Collins Dictionary, Ambient sounds are the sounds you hear around you all the time but don’t actively listen to. They are a part of the environment’s natural soundtrack.

Common examples of ambient sounds include:

  • Birds chirping
  • Wind blowing
  • Trees rustling
  • Distant traffic
  • Rain falling
  • Ocean waves
  • Crowd chatter
  • Air conditioning units humming

These types of soft background noises blend into our surroundings and create a natural ambience. We frequently tune them out subconsciously. Ambient sound helps provide a sense of space and environment.

Why Record Ambient Sound?

Recording ambient sound serves several key purposes:

Firstly, it can help set a mood or atmosphere in a video or podcast. Adding ambient sounds like birds chirping, crowds murmuring, or waves crashing in the background helps establish a sense of place and environment for the audience 1. Using appropriate ambient sound makes the content feel more immersive.

Secondly, ambient recordings are often used as raw material or samples in music production. Producers may sample ambient sounds like city noise or cafe chatter to add texture and interest to songs 2. These real-world sounds can make electronic music feel more organic.

Finally, ambient sound can simply be used as background filler in videos or podcasts. If there are moments of silence, ambient noise can help smooth over edits and prevent an unnatural disconnected feeling. Birds singing or soft wind sounds can make gaps feel intentional rather than awkward.

In summary, recording compelling ambient audio helps creators enhance the mood, realism, and listenability of their content.

Equipment Needed

To record high quality ambient sound, you’ll need some basic equipment:

Field recorder – This device lets you record audio directly to memory cards or internal storage, and often has built-in microphones. Look for one that records at 24-bit/96 kHz for the best quality.

Microphone – While built-in mics work, a separate high quality microphone will deliver better results. Small diaphragm condenser mics are a popular choice.

Headphones – Quality headphones let you monitor your recording. Closed-back headphones block external sound.

Windscreen – Also called a windjammer, this covers the mic to reduce wind noise and plosives.

Choosing a Microphone for Recording Ambient Sound

Two important factors to consider when choosing a microphone for ambient sound recording are the microphone’s polar pattern and transducer type.

Polar patterns determine how sensitive the microphone is to sounds arriving from different directions. The two main patterns for ambient recording are:

  • Omnidirectional – Picks up sound equally from all directions. Good for recording the ambience of a space.
  • Cardioid – Picks up sound mainly from one direction. Good for focusing on specific sound sources.

It’s common to use an omni mic to capture the overall ambient feel. A cardioid mic can be used in conjunction to hone in on particular details.

The transducer type determines how the microphone converts sound waves into electrical signals. The two main types are:

  • Condenser – More sensitive and accurate sound reproduction. Requires phantom power.
  • Dynamic – Rugged and durable. Doesn’t require additional power.

Condenser mics are generally a better choice for ambient recording to capture subtleties. However, a quality dynamic mic can also work well and doesn’t require additional equipment.

Microphone Techniques

Proper microphone technique is crucial when recording ambient sound. This involves careful consideration of microphone placement and handling to capture clean, usable audio.

When placing the microphone, allow enough distance from the sound source to avoid distortion while still picking up adequate audio levels (Voice & Vision: A Creative Approach to Narrative Filmmaking). The optimal distance depends on the microphone’s sensitivity and polar pattern.

When handling the microphone, avoid bumps, cable noise, and handling noise that could get picked up. Use accessories like a shockmount to further isolate handling vibration.

Recording Settings

To capture all the frequencies of ambient sounds, you should record in high-fidelity settings. This involves using a higher bit depth and sample rate. At minimum set your recording settings to 24-bit and 48kHz, but 96kHz or even 192kHz is better if your recorder supports it (Source).

Bit depth determines the dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio captured in the recording. The higher the bit depth, the more detail is preserved. Sample rate determines the highest audible frequency that can be recorded – with higher sample rates capturing more of the high frequency content.

When it comes to mono versus stereo, stereo recordings capture the spacial characteristics of the ambient sounds. However, mono recordings may have lower noise and can be easier to work with. Consider what you intend to use the ambient recording for – stereo for immersive background textures, mono for sounds effects.

Finding Good Locations

Some good places to record ambient sounds include public parks, cafes, areas near bodies of water, and quiet neighborhoods.

Parks can provide a variety of natural sounds from birds chirping to leaves rustling. Popular parks allow you to capture ambient sounds of people conversing or children playing as well. Just be respectful of others’ privacy when recording according to Reddit users.

Cafes offer lively backgrounds of people chatting over coffee or meals. The clinks of cups and quiet music often played can lead to warm, inviting recordings.

Areas like beaches, lakes, rivers, and fountains feature relaxing water sounds. Capture waves crashing ashore, streams babbling, or rhythmic water spurting for peaceful, natural backgrounds.

In quiet neighborhoods, particularly residential areas or side streets, you may pick up wind ambience, trees swaying, early morning bird songs, or evening crickets. Just be careful not to disturb or record private residences without permission.

Being Respectful

When recording ambient sound, it is important to be respectful of people’s privacy and personal space. According to the article on audio editing ethics, journalists should not manipulate audio in a misleading way. Recording people’s conversations without permission would violate their privacy. Additionally, the article on music use states that added music could imply an editorial tone. Therefore, when recording ambient audio, it is best to avoid capturing people’s conversations without consent.

If you need to record audio in a private or restricted area, it is best to get permission first. Be transparent about what you are recording and how it will be used. Avoid trespassing or violating noise restrictions in your quest for unique ambient recordings. Simply being courteous and respectful as you capture ambient sound can go a long way!

Editing the Recording

After capturing your ambient sounds, you’ll need to listen back to the recordings and edit them to improve the overall sound quality.

Some key editing steps include:

  • Cut out unwanted sounds like wind noise, background chatter, or vehicles that distract from the overall ambience. You can slice out short unwanted sounds and paste over them using audio from right before or after the unwanted part.
  • Adjust levels to balance the overall loudness and dynamics. You may need to reduce loud spikes or boost quieter sections using volume automation in your editing software.
  • Add effects sparingly to enhance the mood. A touch of reverb can make a space sound richer and bigger, while equalization can shape the tone. Use effects subtly though so the natural ambience still comes through.

By carefully editing your recordings, you can produce a polished final ambient sound that paints an authentic audio portrait of a location.

Sharing and Using the Recording

Once you’ve captured the ambient sounds you want, you may want to share them for others to use. Many people upload their recordings to sites like or the Internet Archive under a Creative Commons license. A Creative Commons license allows others to use your recording with attribution and for noncommercial purposes. Some common Creative Commons licenses include:

  • CC BY – Credit must be given to you, the creator
  • CC BY-NC – Credit must be given and only noncommercial uses are allowed
  • CC BY-ND – Credit must be given and no derivatives or remixes are allowed

When uploading your recording, be sure to include metadata like the location, date, time of day, and any other relevant details about the recording that could be useful for someone looking to use it. Also describe the sounds heard and overall quality.

Some sound libraries to consider uploading to include:

  • – Large open audio clip library
  • Internet Archive’s Open Source Audio – Public domain recordings
  • BBC Sound Effects Library – Must apply to contribute

By sharing your ambient recordings under Creative Commons licenses, you allow others to legally reuse them in their own creative projects. Just be careful not to violate others’ privacy when recording ambient sounds in public spaces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *