The blog is being migrated and merged with multiple Imphenzia blogs so the format and content will be inconsistent for a while.

Launching USFX

Creating sound effects requires good source material and packing up my gear heading out into the field is something I really enjoy. It's also good for me to get some fresh air and "away-time" from my otherwise very computer oriented activities such composing, sound design, and asset/game/web development.

I don't have a quiet recording, or "foley", room yet but that is something I plan to build in the garage in the near future. A quiet room with a lot of reverb-reducing acoustic absorbants takes some planning and funding to pull off so at this stage I try to gather a lot of outdoor sounds.

Recording Outdoors

Finding quiet outdoor locations close to civilization is not an easy task. The microphones are really sensitive and they will pick up sounds from miles away, especially when recording subtle and quiet sounds which requires the gain to be cranked way up. I've thought of locations only to get there and find out it wasn't as quiet as I thought it would be. Waves from the baltic sea that isn't even visible, cars driving on a road so far away you could have sworn it shouldn't be audible, barking dogs at a farm, birds tweeting, and so on.

This time of year, during early spring, there's the advantage of trees being bare so no leaves rustle in the wind. The downside, however, is that the sound of cars, especially the sound emitting from rolling tires, travel straight through the leafless trees for miles. At the same time you also have birds tweeting through the hours of daylight which means that the perfect time for recording outdoor sounds is in the middle of the night. No rustling leaves if the wind is calm, very few cars drive at 2-3 am, the birds are quiet, and I can be out recording the sounds of hitting golf balls, shooting bows and arrow, or whatever is on the list of things to record.

I've found a field that is far away from water, far away from busy motorways and country roads, far away from residential houses, yet accessible with a car that also allows me to park the car and beam the lights across the field as I set up the microphones and record.

[caption id="attachment_238" align="aligncenter" width="940"]Quiet Field Recording Location Quiet Field Recording Location[/caption]

At the moment, I work full time as a consultant so finding time to go recording during the nights - and matching that with decent weather without rain and little wind - is a bit of a challenge, but a lot of fun.

My Equipment

[caption id="attachment_251" align="alignright" width="300"]Recording Gear Recording Gear[/caption]

I've been making music for nearly 20 years now so working with samples and designing sounds from an instrumental perspective is nothing new to me. Recording sounds, however, is enirely new to me. When deciding to launch Universal Sound FX at the end of last year I started to research what equipment to get in order to capture crisp sounds. As it turns out this type of equipment comes with a hefty price tag!

My recording devices

First, there's the quality of the recording itself. Cheap portable recorders generate a lot of noise due to noisy preamplifiers (preamps.) For years I've had a small handheld portable recorder, a Zoom H4N which has many good uses but it's not good enough for capturing clean sounds, especially quiet sounds, as it embeds an unavoidable carpet of noise in the recording. The Zoom captures sounds up to 96kHz and that is another limitation. I wanted a recorder capable of 192kHz because such a high frequency allows the sound to be pitched down a lot without losing any quality. Pitch shifting is extensively used to make sounds appear much larger, so the drop of a metal tool box recorded at 192kHz will sound like a huge crashing impact when played back at 44.1 kHz.

Then there's the matter of recording from multiple microphones simultaneously. Often you need to capture sounds from many directions and distances and with different types of microphones at the same time. These recordings are then mixed together to create a designed sound effect that is much more interesting than the same sound would appear had it been recorded by a single microphone. Gunfire, car engines, and impacts are typical examples.

[caption id="attachment_242" align="alignleft" width="300"]Sound Devices 633 Field Mixer/Recorder Sound Devices 633 Field Mixer/Recorder[/caption]

I decided to settle on the new Sound Devices 633 Field Recorder/Mixer as my main recording device. Sound Devices are well known for high quality, robust devices, and very quiet preamps so after some careful consideration I decided to make the investment. The 633 can record at 192 kHz with 3 microphones directly connected to the mic inputs.

[caption id="attachment_244" align="alignright" width="300"]Sound Devices 442 Field Mixer Sound Devices 442 Field Mixer[/caption]

The 633 also has 3 line inputs so I've purchased a used Sound Devices 442 field mixer allowing me to record 6 microphones simultaneously into a single synchronized Wav-file. I feel this is a good start. Most of the time I'll just have the 633 in the bag bringing 1-3 microphones for field sessions. I bring the 442 when I need 6 channels of recording which is usually a more stationary setup. As my skill level and equipment experience improves I can imagine I'll be adding a Sound Devices 664 to add another 6 channels. Serious weapon recording sessions are commonly performed with 12 or more microphones. I need more experience, more skill, and more funding to pull off such recordings though and that is the level I plan to bring USFX to.

My microphones

My choice of microphones have been a case of finding the right level of price versus performance for being able to get USFX off the ground. Microhpones vary greatly in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars each. You can't just go and buy one microphone that is suitable for all needs because different models suit different needs whether it'd be a particular pickup pattern, the ability to handle loud sounds without distortion or the ability to capture subtle sounds with low noise to name a few.

Rode NTG3

[caption id="attachment_247" align="alignright" width="300"]Rode NTG3 + Rode Blimp Rode NTG3 + Rode Blimp[/caption]

My first microphone is a Rode NTG3, which is a directional shotgun microhpone. The benefit of a shotgun microphone is that it greatly reduces the sounds from sides and rear effectively focusing on sounds coming from directly in front of it. The NTG3 was designed to compete with the Sennheiser MKH 416, the industry standard shotgun microphones for more than 20 years. The specifications between the NTG3 and the 416 are very closely matched but the Rode won the battle for me because it costs half the price and also handles damp conditions better. I've mounted this microhpone in a hand held Rode "Blimp" with a "dead kitten" which pretty much elimitates all wind noise.

2 x Rode NT5 (Matched Stereo Pair)

To capture stereo sounds I decided to buy a pair of Rode NT5 microphones. The benefit of having two separate mics is that I can also use the microphones separately in mono when recording sounds from multiple angles and distances. It also enables some additional stereo recording configurations compared to a fixed stereo mic. I often run the NT5 microphones as separate mono mics or for recording stereo in what's called an ORTF configuration (both facing forward spaced about a heads width apart.) There are some downsides to ORTF compared to other techniques such as XY and M/S, but I won't go into that here. For stereo recording I use a stereo bar and the microphones are protected from wind by what oddly is referred to as Baby Gag Balls also with Dead Kittens by Rycote =)

2 x DPA 4061 lapel microphones

The DPA 4061 is a very(!) small microphone capable of recording very loud sounds. I bought these specifically to record cars and vehicles as they can be mounted in the engine bay or behind the tail pipe of a car yet allowing the thin cables slipping through the car doors without (hopefully) breaking. Being so small I also plan to use the microphones where stealth or size is a factor to consider.

Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is a dynamic microphone which can handle pretty much any loudness of sound. I've used it right next to firearms going off and it will primarily be used for recording any really loud sounds close to the source.

Recording a Car

A few days ago I rigged my car, a 2004 BMW E60 530, with 5 microphones. Mixing the channels together in the editing process creates a much more interesting sound compared to a single microphone in a particular position. I ended up with the following configuration:

1. Engine Bay - DPA 4061 lapel microphone (very small and handles high volumes)
2. Tail Pipe - DPA 4061 lapel microphone on the tip of a fishing rod capturing the deep sound of the exhaust
3. Engine Through Firewall at Passenger Side - Rode NTG3 shotgun microphone (hey, it's riding shotgun =)
4. Mid Car Interior - Two Rode NT5 in a ORTF stereo configuration

[caption id="attachment_234" align="alignright" width="940"]Car Recording Setup Car Recording Setup[/caption]

The engine sounds are available in USFX as different loops at different RPMs. Additional effects and cars will be added as the library matures.

Recording Firearms

Some of the more difficult sounds to record are firearms. The initial blast is extremely loud and the tail fades out slowly as the sound bounces off the ground, trees, hills, buildings, and other objects.

First (and failed) attempt

I first attempted to record at a firing range a couple of years ago. I headed out with my portable Zoom H4N recorder expecting to capture some cool sounds and needless to say I hadn't done any research beforehand. As I returned home to listen to the results I was very disappointed and googling on the subject quickly made me understand that recording firearms requires 1) experience, 2) expensive equipment, 3) good contacts, 4) access to locations, and 5) time!

To give you an idea of what the Z4N is capable of recording, here is a sample from that day back in 2012: [audio mp3="/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Pistol-ZoomH4N.mp3|righticon=0xFFF"][/audio]

Second (and more successful) attempt

After researching the topic through books, forums, blogs, and podcasts I invested in better equipment and gained more experience in audio recording. I planned a visit to the range with a friend of mine and we decided to go on a cold Tuesday evening in February when we would be likely to be alone. This would still be more of a practice session to see what works and how the equipment would behave. This was before I had the SD 442 field mixer so I decided on the following setup:
1. Shure SM57 - 50 cm to the right of the handgun - connected to the Zoom H4N
2. Rode NT5 - 150 cm to the right - Connected to SD 633
3. Rode NTG3 - 300 cm to the right rear - Connected to SD 633
4. Rode NT5 - 10 meters to the right - Connected to the SD 633
This time I managed to capture some decent source material which I later mixed with separate weapon handling sounds like dry fire and bullet re-chambering.

After my second attempt the mixed result of the Beretta FS92 9mm handgun sounded like this from the same shooting range:
[audio mp3="/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Pistol-2014.mp3"][/audio]

I recorded 4 handguns and so far two of them are available in the current version of USFX.

[caption id="attachment_281" align="aligncenter" width="940"]Handguns Handguns[/caption]

The handguns along with previously recorded shotguns and rifles (from that day back in 2012 - with some audio rescue thanks to digital processing =) mixed with all sorts of impacts and bangs were used to create all existing firearm sounds in USFX. At this stage I'm not able to accurately record many weapons, especially assault and sniper rifles due to them being very rare and restricted in Sweden. As I gain more recording experience, purchase more equipment (I'll need another Sound Devices 664 to bring me up to 12 channels of recording to get more professional results), and build my network of contacts I'll schedule more weapon recording sessions. In the meantime there are great specialist libraries around for firearms if you really need the real deal but those are of course also priced well beyond USFX.

The Future of USFX

I am really excited about launching USFX. The biggest obstacle of purchasing quality recording equipment has been overcome and I look forward to the summer, the autumn, the winter, and future years so I can continue to capture sounds to enrich the quality and variety of sounds in USFX. With time my recording and sound design skills will also improve which will also be reflected in USFX.

Not setting any other category aside, I plan to make the sport categories much stronger and I've already spoken to the local ice rink to schedule controlled recording sessions with college hockey players. They'll leave some players behind after practice and they'll disable the humming cooling system to avoid unwanted sounds and for this I'll sponsor the hockey team with a minor donation to my ability. I've also contacted the bowling alley arranging a recording session there and on this path I plan to continue with more sports.

USFX already contains over 2000 sounds so it should have a fair amount of sounds for you to use royalty free as you create games. As an independent game developer myself, and having provided indiegamedevs with music for years, I know that budgets are often extremely tight and each dollar counts. USFX is made especially for you guys and girls =) Use the sounds, sell your games, if you strike it big your budget for audio will improve so you can get custom effects... feel free to contact me when that day comes as I'd be happy to help out!

Finally I'm finished with the new site design of Imphenzia Soundtrack

[caption id="attachment_191" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Screenshot of Imphenzia Soundtrack"]Screenshot of Imphenzia Soundtrack[/caption]

I’ve worked hard into the early hours every night for the past month but I’ve launched the new Imphenzia Soundtrack site. I already had my design template finished as it uses the same design as my artist site (and spacebox4096.com and beatball2.com) but it took a lot of time creating the new filter functionality to enable easy browsing of the hundreds of music tracks and sound effects.

I’ve taken a conscious decision to not add fallback functionality for visitors without javascript enabled. It simply takes way too long and there are so few of them that it’s not worthwhile. I also had a lot of troubles with browser compatibility but the site works in the browsers I have installed Chrome 13, Firefox 3.6, IE8, and I’ve had to force fallback to IE8 for IE9 browsers as IE9 hates me and jQuery =) I’ll deal with that some other day and I just wish the browser manufacturers could decide on using the same interpretation engine for html, css, and javascript.

There are some major differences between the new soundtrack site and the old one.

The new features are:

  • Discount Vouchers flexible to offers any sort of discount automatically on non-exclusive music and sound effects =) Let’s see how generous I become but I think it’s a good start with the current 70% discount offer to celebrate the new site (voucer: NEWSITE70)

  • Free Non-Exclusive Music License of the Month allows anyone to very easily get a free license of a randomly selected track every month.

  • New dedicated Non-Exclusive music page where all tracks can be easily browsed through and previewed. The page is “AJAX”-powered which means tracks can be viewed page by page without a full page reload.

  • Advanced search and filter functionality enables visitors to quickly locate music and sound effects based on criteria such as Keyword, Duration, Price, Tempo, Music Genre, Mood, Game Genre, Volume, Loops yes/no. When changing the search criteria the music and sound effect lists are updated instantly.

  • Search Engine Optimization, also making it easy for visitors to share links, for all tracks, track variations, and sound effects, e.g. http://soundtrack.imphenzia.com/non-exclusive-music/duplicate-my-soul/ and http://soundtrack.imphenzia.com/non-exclusive-music/fog-of-war/with-drones/

  • Indie and Commercial license model means only two pricing models (compared to a multi step game budget model before). It’s simple now, if you are an indie developer with an annual revenue below $250k every year you can use Indie licenses, otherwise you have to use a commercial license that costs 5 times more. It’s not that commercial licenses are expensive, it’s the indie licenses that are very cheap =)

  • Shortcuts to properties of music and sound effects means that you can click on music genres, tags, and other words to filter only audio files of that property.

  • Sorting functionality to sort music and sound effects on all columns such as Name, Music Genre, Category, Duration, and Price etc.

  • Audio Previews are now in much higher quality but the files are instead watermarked every 5 seconds. I’ve found out that audio was “stolen” even when it was in low quality so I think watermarking is the only way to go. The audio previews can be downloaded as 190kbps MP3 files and 128kbps OGG files to ensure they fit in your game.

  • License e-mails are sent directly following purchase (like before) but the download links to original WAV file, 128kbps OGG file, 64kbps OGG file, and 190kbps MP3 file, will now only be available for 7 days.

  • Exclusive Music Price Estimation Tool is available under Frequently Asked Questions on the Exclusive music page.

  • No more adverts. Google adverts were generating less and less due to their payment scheme so I’m sparing all my visitors by removing them and making a clean site instead!

Removed features:

  • Site accounts are gone as they weren’t used very much, it was hard maintenance, and I figure people have enough accounts on too many sites already. The download links to the audio files are sent instead to allow direct download from the e-mail. No more passwords and user names to remember.

  • Exclusive music can no longer be licensed automatically from the library. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) Exclusive license for a track resulted in all variations of the track being included in the exclusive license and these may not even be needed by the licensee; It would be a shame for some tracks to never be used. 2) Exclusive licenses are most commonly custom made for a game anyway, so the new Exclusive music page contains a show reel of exclusive music, a tool to calculate the pricing of exclusive music, and the contact details to discuss exclusive music for your game.

  • The “Imphenzia Audio System” for BlitzMax is no longer offered. If you want this code, please contact me instead.

  • Links page to games using my music is removed temporarily. I plan to create a better reference and promotional method for games using my music!

So I hope you enjoy the new site! Feedback and bug reports are always welcome – there are bound to be some issues with such a huge launch.

Thanks for reading… did you make it this far? =)