The stuff you have pretty much determines the quality of what you can achieve. But what you have to haul around determines a lot about the scope of your project: how far you can go, where you can reach, how much attention you attract, how many of you need to participate. Sometimes even subtle changes in the technology have a major impact. Here’s an initial gear comparison.

Proof of concept

Our initial setup for Golden Gate Bridge Assay #1 used the Sony PCM-D50 and a Fishman V-100 pickup mounted on an old viola bridge.

There were several advantages to this approach to portable pickups:

  • It was cheap because we already had the parts lying around (admittedly, that would be a rare coincidence for most). The V-100 street price is around US$100, but if you have one you’re not using, why not?
  • It is totally portable, and doesn’t require any adhesive or putty
  • It turned out to be quite sensitive, with a surprisingly wide frequency response
  • It is lightweight and small

The downsides?

  • Handling noise. A hand-held device with wooden feet picks up every bump and slip you make. The rubber guard we rigged helps some on the “handle,” but the bridge feet slip around on metal surfaces
  • User fatigue results from clamping the bridge to your subject for long samples
  • Compared to purpose-built devices, this is a pretty fragile setup

In the end, though, this got us to the next stage. We knew the Golden Gate Bridge made interesting sounds loud enough to record easily using mid-range audio gear. That was enough to start.

Fishman piezo mic on viola bridge

A tool upgrade

We got a little more sophisticated in time for Golden Gate Bridge Assay #2 with the Sony and the Schertler pickup. Of course, the remarkable Sony “tribble” windscreen flies in the face of our most serious endeavor.

Our obvious next step is to optimize the cabling. An XLR connector is great on stage and in the studio but ridiculous at this scale. It’s time to take that fine Neutrik XLR off the Schertler and replace it with a 2.5 mm right-angle plug. Once we do, we’ll post the result here. But the Sony PCM-D50 rig probably won’t get any sweeter than that.

Sony PCM-D50 with Schertler DYN-E-SET mic

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