Rycote Portable Recorder Suspension

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Shown with optional accessories.

The Long Version: One of my favourite things about having a field audio recorder with built-in mics is the advice on how to avoid self-noise: hold it with a firm but relaxed grip. Seriously, am I expected to have years of practice with that technique or something?

It turns out that the easiest way to achieve this firm-but-loose hold is with a suspension mount. At present Rycote seems to be the only ones offering such a thing for portable recorders, as it screws into the camera-standard quarter-inch tripod socket that's on the bottom of most of them.

The good news is that the Rycote system works very well and promises to be durable. The suspension is a set of nylon-feeling plastic 'lyre' springs that are the masters of smooth-but-strong holds. It's good enough to let me create usable recordings while I walk with the recorder, which was simply impossible otherwise.

The biggest problem with the Rycote suspension system is that they missed the 'portable' part of the design brief. Instead of attaching to the bottom of the recorder with a captive screw, which is how the rest of the world does it, this product has decided to use a threaded rod and plastic thumb nut. The rod is detached from the assembly, screwed into the recorder – without the benefit of even a slot-head cut into the ends – and then inserted through the suspenders' mounting hole, to be locked in place by the black plastic nut-thing. This makes attaching and detaching the recorder into a major hassle, and the shock mount is too awkward and ungainly to easily pack away intact.

I've circumvented this design shortcoming by adding a Manfrotto quick release to the top of the shock mount, and I now leave the matching plate on the recorder all of the time. This also makes it compatible with my light full-sized tripod, monopod, and gorillapod, so I probably would have done it anyway, but it's going to be an unreasonable nuisance for a normal person who needs to attach and detach the recorder easily.

The non-recorder end of the shock mount has a pivot, and it's held together with a Philips screw and a nut. Adjusting the tension is done with a screwdriver, and there are no click-stops or other design refinements. This puts me firmly in the "I would have done it anyway" category once again. I usually carry a Swiss Army Knife with me, and keep a small Leatherman in my sound bag, so adjusting the screws' tension is no big deal. For me. Other people may have a different experience, but then again, field recording doesn't seem like an activity for minimalists.

Completing our physical tour, the end of the swivel mount is threaded for a 3/8ths screw attachment, so it can attach directly to the top of tripods or stands. Rycote also includes a separate cold-shoe foot that can thread into the bottom, and it in turn has a quarter-inch thread in the bottom of it, making it a handy adapter to have.

This shock mount is also sold in a kit that includes a grip bar and whichever Rycote windscreen is appropriate for each particular recorder, even though only the H2N variant seems to be in stock in the few stores that list it at all. And it must be a really nice grip bar that comes with it, because buying the suspension mount, windscreen, and an Ikan grip bar costs a whole lot less than buying the full package from B&H.

And while it goes beyond the scope of this review, one of the smarter things I've done is attach my old "Ultrapod II" to the bottom of my grip bar, giving me the isolation of the shock mount even when I'm using the recorder on a tabletop-sized tripod. Highly recommended.

The Rycote suspension mount takes some forum flack for being expensive, but given that there's no competitor to judge it against, it's hard to say how much something like this "should" cost. From what I see in microphone suspension mounts it doesn't seem unreasonable, and it's nice to know that Rycote consistently ranks above the competition, so we're not really missing out by not having a plethora of choices. And yes, I am a lifelong Apple Macintosh owner – why do you ask?

What makes me happy is that it's a zero-maintenance design: unlike the elastics that some makers use, Rycote's plastic "lyre" system will never wear out. That's worth something in running costs, spare-parts logistics, upkeep, and simple peace-of-mind.

Owning the Rycote has led me to a trap, though: it's so good, and so nice to use with the pistol-grip bar, that I automatically include the time to add it to my recorder when deciding if I have a chance of taking the Sony out to catch something that's happening around me. I forget that I could just hand-hold the recorder if I'm in a hurry, letting me avoid the two-step deployment process. Ah, well. It's not strictly a product fault, but be warned that having a suspension mount can be habit-forming.

last updated 25 jan 2013


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