Audio, Reviews

Total noise cancellation: the Modular Rycote Windshield Kit and the new PCS-Boom Connector

Rycote Modular Windshield Kit blimp

The Modular Windshield Kit Rycote sent me won the 2000 Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. In the 18 years since then, the family-run business hasn’t stopped inventing new products that set the industry standard. The PCS-Boom Connector is the latest example of how Rycote address the problem of unwanted noise; they use a holistic approach.

Microphone manufacturers bundle their microphones with basic mounts and that’s it. If it’s a dynamic mic, it’s a plastic clamp. A large diaphragm microphone usually gets a rubber band based shock mount that lasts for a few months before the rubbers start wearing. But anything else – from shotgun to lavalier mics – must do with the simplest of mounts available.

Especially shotgun mics, then, need more sophisticated mounting and shock absorption systems, because they’re continuously being manipulated, often mounted on boom poles of some length and subjected to rough handling. And when there’s enough wind blowing, the mic’s interference cancellation slots serve as windcatchers, resulting in blowing and whistle sounds that can be loud enough to make the actual signal become entirely unintelligible.

To fix it, you need a system that blocks out wind noise without ruining the mic’s polar pattern or its frequency range – or adding frequencies that weren’t there, to begin with. That it can be done is proven by Rycote’s surprisingly lightweight Modular Windshield Kit (about 400gr for the Modular WS4 Kit, which was my test unit and the most popular Modular size), a complete kit with a basket (aka “blimp”), a microphone mount with a connector box, a pistol grip mount, a boom pole mount, and a fur cover with hairbrush.

The Modular Windshield Kit with its accessories.

When I tested the Rycote basket and the fur cover, it struck me there was only a marginal loss – on the spectrum analysis visible as tiny specks – in the highest frequencies and a slight loss of signal (below 1dB).

The Modular Windshield Kit is a highly adjustable integrated system

The Rycote’s basket and fur cover are highly efficient at blocking wind noise in stormy conditions and, in my opinion, that’s in large part due to Rycote’s holistic view. The achieved noise blocking is due not only to the basket adding padding of slower moving air between the mic and the outside but also to the Lyres which isolate the mic from its mounts and the “Connbox” that isolates the outside cable from the inside Mogami cable with Neutrik plug.

In short, Rycote’s Modular Windshield Kit isn’t so much a kit as it is a system of which the components are integrated and work together to block even the worst kind of wind noise – no wonder this kit is used by sound recordists who work in the most inhabitable regions of our planet (e.g. the Arctic).

mounting system, including connector box, Mogami cables, Lyres, silicon rubber spine and pistol grip, presented with a Sennheiser MKH-416

The Modular in its name refers to the degree of adjustability and adaptability it is capable of providing. You can assemble the whole system so that it is optimised for your microphone and your way of working. In my case, I didn’t particularly like the way the mic’s cancellation slots were grabbed by the second set of Duo Lyres on the microphone mount, so I removed it.

That was easy to do because there’s a special hex screwdriver delivered with the system for this task (of course, I overlooked that and spent half an hour trying to find the right driver in my tool chest!). I also wanted the front of the mic to be as close as possible to the front ring, so I repositioned the mount onto the rubbery spine – rubbery to avoid vibration and noise transmission. There are thinner rounds in the rubber that you can easily pierce to drive one of the star knob screws through for repositioning.

How’s the wind today?

The Modular Windshield Kit is used by many recordists all over the world and, as I said, in the most demanding environments. I would like to say I had the chance to test it in Mount Rushmore-alike wind conditions as well, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I live in an area with calmer weather, so I wasn’t able to try out the Kit in conditions that would really put it to the test. Until February 8, that is.

With wind speeds of 5-6 Beaufort and gusts of 70km/h, I finally got the conditions that I needed to properly put the Modular Kit to the test. I first set up the microphone by itself and sure enough, dialogue was lost entirely to a lot of booming and blowing sounds.

Mounting the basket immediately got rid of all of it, except for a faint rumbling when a wind gust would almost throw the tripod I was using off its feet.

After securing the thing in place, I mounted the fur cover and that was able to filter out all booming sounds completely, leaving my voice – and some ear-deafening Friday traffic – clearly audible. Based on this test, I bet the basket/fur combination could filter out most wind noise in wind speeds/gusts of up to 90km/h and perhaps even higher.

A rock-solid boom pole quick release system

The holistic, integrated view on noise cancellation is further exemplified by the availability of a newly developed boom pole quick release system, the 50gr weighing PCS-Boom Connector. This is a spring-loaded aluminium quick release with a 3/8in mounting screw that you fix onto a boom pole with a pair of cleverly designed sideways clamping screws. A pyramidal/rectangular screw with a leather washer to mount your mic or Windshield fits into the quick release part, isolating the microphone or the Windshield from the boom pole and simultaneously fixing it in position.

boompole connector with mounting screw and hex drive

The PCS-Boom Connector is a bit of a strange experience in that you expect a loud “click” when the mic is locked in place, but there isn’t. It’s quite silent, so you can use it regardless of whether you need to mount a microphone while trying to catch the song of the Sage Thrasher (Californian bird) or having to switch mics when you need to be quiet. At first, I couldn’t believe that everything was tightly locked and wouldn’t rotate on its vertical axis when handled, so I picked everything up by the microphone and gave it a good shake just to make sure it was firmly seated. It was – and time and again, for that matter.

Boompole connector

Once everything is locked in place, the system doesn’t move even a fraction of a millimetre, creating a seamless and silent integration between mic and boom pole. That doesn’t mean it’s hard to unmount your mic, though. By pulling back on the collar, the mic is gently pushed out a few millimetres, ready for removal.

By the looks of it, you could be forgiven to think the PCS-Boom Connector is a delicate, easily broken weak point you’re adding to your boom pole – mic – windshield combination, but after rather violently shaking and throwing my test setup about, I’m convinced that even the roughest handling won’t break or weaken the PCS-Boom Connector.

You could say the same about the Modular Windshield Kit. It looks delicate, but it really isn’t. It’s used by sound recordists in the rough conditions of the Antarctic as well as those outside Downing Street 10 when the PM has news on Brexit to announce, so if that’s not a testimony to its strength and stamina, I don’t know what is.

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