Monday, 27 April 2015

The reed beds of the Humber

with the Rycote Cyclone

(photos by Pheobe riley Law)

For the past 4 years i’ve been documenting the reed beds along both banks of the river Humber close to where I live and i’ve chosen to begin testing the Rycote Cyclone as part of this on going project. My interest is primarily in the sounds of the reeds themselves - a rich and varied sonic experience that requires durational listening and a willingness to have ones ears open to what at first appears a fairly uniform sound. Its also quite a challenging sound to record in a way that transmits to the listener the same qualities as in-situ, rather like when one attempts to record the sound of the sea on a beach. Both sources can start to edge into ‘white noise’ when one is removed from the visual prompt of the specific location. With the reed beds there is however enough other sound of an equal or lower level to give a real sense of place. Not only other wildlife sounds but also those of human activity, with the low drone of shipping on the river a constant element best captured with a pair of decent omni’s (I use DPA4060’s extensively). 

A quick kit list for this project:

Sound Devices 7-series recorder
DPA4060 stereo pair on small omni’s
Sanken CUW-180 stereo mic
various other cardioid and hypercardioid mics
Rycote Cyclone 
Boom pole

i’ve also been using JrF c-series contact mics, d-series hydrophones, adapted geophones and
Pettersson Ultrasonic detectors.

The Cyclone

The Cyclone comes pre-rigged with a cable for connecting up a hypercardioid mic, which is probably how lots of folks will want to use them. I however rarely use one so I wanted to test it out with other combinations, such as rigging up a pair of DPA4060’s inside and the Sanken CUW-180. I’ve also been testing some of the MicW pencil mics recently (a fairly new brand here in the UK, supplying entry & pro-sumer level mics mostly and an area I try to keep up on for advising students or others on tight budgets) and so combined those tests with putting the Cyclone through its paces. 

First thing to mention is that the Cyclone has a very ‘in the field’ handy system for getting in to rig mics. It takes seconds and with the magnetic snap back features for the main cage i’m sure there’ll be much less fumbling and trying to wedge one section under your arm whilst looking on the floor for the end cap you just dropped ! The new design is simple but very well thought out and its that simplicity that will appeal to anyone who needs to work quickly on location. Most of my work for example is personal - not to commission - and I tend to work very intuitively. So being able to react very quickly to something I stumble across is essential. I’d say this new system also makes the whole process quieter, which will be of particular interest to wildlife recordists.

The new ‘3D-Tex’ fabric appears to be incredibly transparent and even with the good old East Yorkshire winter winds i’ve yet to need an additional ‘fluffy’ windjammer. Learning how to listen closely enough to hear what difference even the best windjammer can make takes time, although its much easier to spot when some of the cheaper ones are used, especially with their fake fur covers on. I rarely use fluffy windjammers on my other Rycote actually but I do know that one issue with them is that if you don’t keep them in tip-top condition, over time the fibres can become matted and because its a slow process one can miss the effect this is having on your recordings. With the Cyclone it looks (sounds !) like that particular problem is simply avoided by use of this new material. 

One of the main challenges when recording along the Humber in the reed beds is that any wind can get trapped in the reeds and come at you from all angles and often in quite focused streams. Good wind protection is needed especially when recording close to the top of the reeds. With its windjammer on my older Rycote has at times still struggled with what i’d refer to as average winds for this location, specifically because the reeds can act as a kind of whisk for the wind if it comes in at the right velocity and direction, but the Cyclone doesn’t - there’s been no wind impact noise at all. What I also particularly like is that in stronger winds whilst the impact noise is again avoided the actual sound of the wind (another of the most challenging sounds to record well) has a nice quality to it. Its these subtle and often overlooked aspects that, in my opinion, are elemental is making work that engages the listener and that can move recordings beyond the purely documentary.


The Cyclone also had an early outing during a workshop I led with students from Newcastle University. Here the challenges of the North East coast (& weather) got the better of the Cyclone and indeed all the other wind protection we had with us, although with its additional fluffy cover the Cyclone coped well, as expected. Further inland and it once again impressed with its transparency and ease of use in the field. 

I'll be in Northumbria again in a couple of weeks and no doubt the Cyclone will be put through its paces again.

Any downside ?

One thing I still like about the classic Rycote design, simply because I use a wide range of mics beyond just having a hypercardioid permanently installed, is the way the cable feeds through the main compartment down past the handle / pole mount - and indeed the fact that the Cyclone doesn’t come with a pre-mounted handle. For most users this probably won’t be a major issue and the advantages of the Cyclone make up for it.


Put simply, it ‘feels’ good - I warmed to it almost immediately and whilst lots of recordists base their judgement of kit on the technical aspects alone I for one need to feel comfortable with the kit I use - that it sits immediately into my way of working somehow. On the technical side of things this new design, as one would expect, offers decent improvements over the already impressive Rycote range. As i’ve already mentioned, a significant advantage is the magnetic snap-close arrangement which makes rigging and de-rigging a doddle in the field, even with all the other cables and bags taking up valuable hand space. 

Wind protection is, for lots of users, a big spend in their budget and they want good value for their outlay. The Cyclone isn’t the most expensive on the market and it isn’t the cheapest but so far I think it deserves its pricing in the context of what else is available.

So, all in all, so far an impressive upgrade and one that i’ll enjoy using on forthcoming trips back to Northumberland, Iceland and further afield.

Now, if only Rycote could come up with a Cyclone that packs down for space saving travel and backpack storage !

update: I've also been testing the small Cyclone - with various mics inside inc. my very sensitive Sanken CUW-180 stereo mic (worth noting that the cyclone isn't designed specifically for this mic but its characteristics mean its a really good test). I really like the small cyclone - its a handy size and as I rarely use hypercardioid mics its a good fit for the other mics I do use regularly. 


Anonymous said...

Very good read, interested to know if you have tried any of the Cinela Piano windshields as well, would be nice to see if the big step i extra price is worth it.

Jez riley French said...

I have used Cinela's briefly & there of course v. good - the earlier ones seemed quite fragile but the newer ones less so. I'd like to test their newest designs but haven't done so yet. I like Rycote though - they 'feel' right.

Nick Dando said...

How did you get the DPA 4060s set-up inside the cyclone? I've tried them with an older Rycote Windshield, and it's a bit of a bodge, involving some white plastic tubing, DPA clips and neoprene tubing to house the heavy DPA connectors. And I've had to put fluffies on the mikes to help with wind roar.

Jez riley French said...

I also diy-rigged them - putting BBi fluffy's on then fitting those inside the mic holding rings.