SFX Experiences Pt. 4 or why men like cars?

SFX Experiences Pt.4 Header

Last week Max and our trainee Boris went out to face a task only real men can handle: Recording engines, machines and dirt. If you want to get some tipps for recording a car and how not to lose your mic in the engine bay, read this article!

Pre Production

There are so many sounds in this world and if you decide to record them all, the only way to handle with this amount of content is structure! It is important to make prior thoughts about what you want to record before you go out to the field. Last week’s recording session was all about cars! When recording a thing, which has so many different sounds like a car, it is necessary to have a record sheet with you. Otherwise you can be sure that you will forget to record a sound you badly want to have later.
A way works really well for this is a simple excel sheet or word doc. Draw up a chart with columns for the sounds you want to record. Do one column to describe the sound f.e. perspectives, one in which you can check off and one for comments.


Another quickly forgotten, but important point is a good location. Especially if you need a sound, which can’t be recorded in the studio. Finding the right spot is a combination between google earth, trial & error and proposals by people who have local knowledge. But remember – there is no perfect location. There have been so many sessions when Max came home in the evening, frustrated because of the noise on the recordings. Especially in bigger cities it is very hard to record sounds outdoors without a noisy background.
So a street was needed, where no other cars were driving, less people are walking etc…maybe between corn fields?



Those tipps are very basic and obvious, but they will help youngsters and protect from too much trial and error.

It doesn’t matter if you record a turn signal or the car engine you can reduce the noise always point the mic directly where the sound comes from. And use the off axis of the mics! Here’s a short example how Max miked an engine rev.

For the engine rev it was possible that the car stayed where it was. So they set up mics from four different perspectives, to have better possibilities in post: tail pipe, under the hood, grill and distant.
Because they just had a two track recorder, they split it up in two different takes. For the first take a short shotgun mic (Rode NTG2) was placed on a small stand pointing right from above to the tail pipe. Don’t put the microphone on the same level as the pipe, this could result in rumbling wind noise! Another mic was fixed under the hood. For this they chose a less expensive mic (Shure SM57) and sticked it with tape on an engine tube. If you want to drive around with this setup, be sure that the mic is fastened well! (Otherwise the mic and the engine could be damaged!)

For the second perspective, set up the mics in front of the grill (Rode NTG2) and about three meters away from the car (Rode NTG3) for a distant effect.


Note that it really helps to take at least one safety! It can happen that you miss hearing something which might disturb in post. In this case it is nice to have another take to choose from.

Post Production

There are several approaches how to edit a sound effect and this really depends on the material. But there are some general tips:

  • Editing: cut out the recordist, pops and clicks, so the illusion does not get lost while listening.
  • Start & End Point: The sound effect should begin immediately when the file starts and end when it’s over. Use fades if needed or to avoid clicks.
  • Processing: When it comes to processing, your most used tools will be eq and compression. The eq will help you to reduce unwanted noise and to sweeten the sound itself. To reduce a large amount of dynamic range use a compressor. This will make it more comfortable to listen to the sound and will help to be heard in a radio production. But don’t overdo it. It’s still a Sound Effect and needs to stay a bit natural. Point out the characteristics, but don’t change it too much.
  • Layering: You can layer sounds in many different ways. This gives you so much possiblities to enhance the sound you are working with. They did this with the motor sounds. To get the different perspectives together, they layered the recordings and processed them in a way they sounded nice together.

Screenshot - Layering

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  • Naming: Don’t forget to name the sound when you’re done or before. The name is the only way to identify files in a pool of thousands! A precise naming helps to avoid losing one.


As you can see, there are many factors which affect the final sound. The only way to master the single steps is to go out and record!

Have Fun!

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