Grand Central Stealth

We all encounter situations where walking around with a large Rycote and a big Portabrace bag might not be ideal. There are times where ambiences need to be recorded without our subjects reacting to the fact they are being recorded. This is where having a good discrete recording setup is always handy.

The Tapers Forum has a plethora of examples that are worth exploring. Most of the content on that site is geared towards concert tapers, and you’ll see a ton of crazy setups for recording really bad PA systems.[1] That said, it is worth a visit to generate some ideas.

Every few months I make little tweaks to my stealth rig. Currently my rig consists of a pair of DPA 4060s that are head-mounted, a Sound Devices MP–2 pre-amp, a Sony PCM-M10, and a custom bag with cable routing.

It all works quite well and I recently took the rig out to test my recent tweaks. After running some errands, I crossed town and did some recording in Grand Central.

One of the spots I really dug was a small corridor between the main concourse and Vanderbilt Hall.

To the east of the corridor is a ramp that heads down to Metro North trains.

There is significantly less foot traffic in the corridor and there is a beautiful diffuseness to the sound in that location.

I was able to stay in that position for a while, but when you stand in one spot not moving your head, you start to look a little weird. If you move your head, you mess with your stereo image![2]

Apparently, I was not attracting too much attention because this happened:

Who says New Yorkers aren’t nice people! You know you have a decent stealth rig when tourists stop so you can take their picture.

  1. I don’t know why a pair of Schoeps CCMs mounted in your hat is really necessary when you are essentially recording a junky PA and the guy next to you screaming “Free Bird” every 5 minutes, but to each his own.  ↩
  2. Don’t move your head!  ↩


A potential client recently asked me to try and record in a retail store.  That kind of recording presents a unique set of challenges.  Retail stores don’t take kindly to recordists walking in with a huge zeppelin, lots of recording gear, cables, and there are corporate policies blah blah blah . . . . .  In order to pull off recording ambience in a place like that discretion and the ability to conceal one’s recording equipment is essential.  It has been a while since I have done any stealth recording and I wanted to put together a test run.

Normally I record with a Schoeps MS rig and a Sound Devices 744T, but you can’t hide those things under your coat and expect folks not to notice.  My “stealth” rig consists of a beautiful knit winter hat that my wife made, a pair of DPA 4060s, a jacket, and the Zoom H4 recorder.  Their recorder is a piece of junk compared to the Sound Devices unit, but when you need a small recorder that has xlr inputs and can fit in your pocket it’s not a bad option.

When lunch rolled around my buddy Rob helped me get setup.  We fed the tiny mic capsules through the fine knitting work of my wife, and ran the cables past my ears and down the back of my neck.  All the cables and recorder were concealed by my jacket.

The recording is a time compressed version of my lunch.  I went to a sandwich place that was rocking The Clash pretty hard while they made my roast beef sandwich.  Unfortunately, someone’s phone got a little close to my mics and you can make out a little bit of cell phone interference bleeding through within the first minute.  Once I left the shop I sat down in an indoor commissary area and recorded some ambience.

Can you find the mics?

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All in all I think it was a pretty solid test.  I had to be careful not to move my head too quickly as it might unnaturally shift the stereo image.  The DPA connectors are also a bit delicate so you have to give yourself enough slack so you can move around without straining either the cable or the connector.  The setup feels a bit awkward when walking around, but that is not an issue when you’re sitting down.  Just look natural!