Asbjoern Andersen


What’s the secret to recording great car sound effects? That’s something the team at Pole Position Production have spent a decade figuring out. They’ve recorded literally hundreds of vehicles – and in this exclusive A Sound Effect post by Max Lachmann, he generously shares his insights, tips, gear and hard-earned lessons from ten years of recording car sounds for film and games:
 

I have been asked to write a few words on the subject of car recordings. My company Pole Position Production started out doing vehicle recordings about ten years ago, and at that time we had no clue how it was done. It was all trial and error, the first rig we used was two small MicroTracks and a couple of DPA4062s. To this date we have recorded hundreds of vehicles, old World War II and modern tanks, warbirds, bomb planes, attack boats, jet fighters, motorcycles, trucks, helicopters and a huge amount of… cars! Extreme GT race cars, Formula cars, old vintage cars, muscle cars, ordinary cars, boring cars, exotic cars. You name it and we have most likely recorded it. And the gear used has changed quite a bit along the road as well.
 

Finding The Right Car

There are two approaches to this. Either you want a specific model and make, like a Koenigsegg Agera, or you are looking for a sound to portray something more vague, like a pickup that has to sound not too big but awesome and action-like when driven in-game. Most of the times, you will be better off finding a car with a modified exhaust system, especially since most modern cars are way too muffled, or just sound like white noise on higher rpms.

For games, in order to get a good result, you’ll need a car with a strong tone from the exhaust system.

So when you are scouting for good objects, try to get a chance to audition the car, like asking the owner to send a short video clip from an exhaust perspective with the car being revved aggressively in neutral or something similar. For games, in order to get a good result, you’ll need a car with a strong tone from the exhaust system. Just white noise is unusable.
 

Car recording stories: Recording a Camaro Gen 2 1971 race car with a 350 engine

This is from a Camaro Gen 2 1971 race car with a 350 engine. The cars literally had no exhaust pipes, so it was insanely loud, and therefore sounded pretty much the same from the engine and from the exhaust (which was at the engine since the pipes were missing). It had a leaking cooler and we had to stop it every five minutes to pour in water, and then roll it to start.

 

Prepare!

Every recording session will have its own unique conditions. Are you recording on a public road, a racetrack or an airstrip? Are there other vehicles or noise present? Is it windy, rainy or sunny? Can the cars tires vs horsepowers handle wet ground? Is it a loud vehicle, is the section of the location you have chosen long enough to get up to speed, and even more important, to brake and slow down without taking unnecessary risks? Is the driver experienced and good at understanding your needs and following your instructions (your communication skills ties in here)? Do you even talk the same language, or do you need to prepare a shot list and have it translated beforehand? The only way to master these conditions is to do your homework carefully, prepare for any eventualities, push yourself a bit extra every time, and to have a bit of luck.

By researching and reading up on how others do it, you can learn a lot, and can in some way compensate for lack of own experience. Make sure to test your equipment the day before. Formatting drives and cards, and setting up recording folders and naming them in advance, will save you a lot of time on location.

By studying pictures of the vehicle you can recognize problems and prepare for solutions

By studying pictures of the vehicle you can recognize problems and prepare for solutions, like if the truck you are recording has pipes that goes straight up in the air with no obvious place to attach a microphone. How do you get the mics up there, and still keep them out of wind? Or does the race car have a passenger seat, or will you have to send out your recorder without a chance to monitor levels live? How will you work around that to make sure the recording isn’t all clipped or way too low in levels? The more information you have beforehand, and the better prepared you are, the better result you will get. There will be plenty of things you can’t control anyway to deal with, like rain, overheating engines, gearbox failures or unidentified mechanical noises.
 

World-class car sound effects:

 
Max Lachmann and the team at Pole Position Production are behind some of the very best vehicle sound effect libraries in the world – and their top picks are now available on A Sound Effect too! Here’s a small selection:

 

  • Environments Snow and Ice Textures Play Track 548+ sounds included, 295 mins total $199

    A must-have collection for winter sounds, this library consists of many years' recordings of snow and ice, skiing, textures, ambiences, foley and so on. It contains lots of skiing, jumping, rails, freezing cold winds, ski resort ambiences, lifts, walking in snow and on ice, texture details such as snow spray, tires driving, skidding and spinning on ice and snow, drilling in ice and much more.

  • A collection of extremely rare jet fighter recordings from a JAS 39 Gripen jet fighter, containing Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) startup and shutdown, take offs with and without afterburner, hood opening and closing, fly bys and cockpit during flight. Various microphones and positions.

  • Cars Aston Martin DB9 Play Track 8+ sounds included, 12 mins total $119

    Get the sounds of an Aston Martin DB9 with a 5.9 litres V12 engine and 456 hps. The recording consists of eight channels, interior left and right, exhausts left and right and four engine channels.

    It contains start, stop, idle, blipping, revving on constant rpms without gear, accelerations, decelerations and driving. Full surround drive away and drive by added in the end. The recording length is 11 min 59 s.

  • Get the sounds of actual industrial robots – and more – in this special sound effects library. In addition to industrial robot SFX, it delivers hydraulic and pneumatic sounds from various machines at different speeds, such as lathes, plastic molding machines, tank turrets and other sources. Various microphones have been used such as lavs, shotguns, contact and induction microphones etc.

  • Cars Plymouth Hemi Cuda 1971 Play Track 125+ sounds included, 37 mins total $249

    In-depth recording of a Plymouth Cuda Convertible from 1971 with the extremely rare 426 Hemi engine and a 4-speed transmission.

    Only two of these with the manual transmission were produced in 1971 so this car is obviously a clone but a very well built one. An original 1971 HemiCuda convertible is today extremely valuable, selling prices up to $5 million. The engine has 2 x 4-port Carter carburator and is (under)rated 425 horsepower by the factory.

    The recording contains eight onboard microphones for interior, engine, intake and exhausts, and eight channels of exterior material.

    It includes startup, idle, shutdown, driving at steady rpms, steady rpms in neutral, cruising, ramps, accelerations and decelerations through gears, approaches, passbys, aways as well as some foley like doors, hoods and knobs. Total recording length is 37m 39s.

  • Cars Dodge Challenger 426 Hemi -70 Play Track 117+ sounds included, 26 mins total $249

    An in-depth recording of a Dodge Challenger 426 Hemi from 1970. This engine is the all-time most-famous American V8.

    It is a 426 cubic inch engine with hemispherical combustion chambers and it is rated 425 horsepower from the factory.

    The recording consists of eight onboard channels, intake, two engine, three exhaust and interior, and eight exterior channels.

    It contains startups, shutdowns, idle, driving at different speeds, accelerations and decelerations, kickdowns, burnouts, aways, approaches, stops, passbys, foley and much more. Total recording time is 25min 58s.

  • Motorcycles Yamaha 24MX 125 cc Play Track 11+ sounds included, 19 mins total $179

    Get the sounds of a Yamaha 24MX 125 cc dirtbike – featuring onboard and exterior recordings.

    The recording consists of 11 channels, two exhaust, driver back, chain, two engine, intake and 4 synced exterior channels, left, right, surround and following shotgun. It contains several start, stop, idle, blips, revving at constant rpms without gear, various accelerations and decelerations, driving while braking to get even rpms etc.

    Driver back channel is missing for the first startup, and chain channel suffers from bad contact last startup, but we decided to keep those in since they still contain many useful parts. The recording length is 19 min 3 s.

  • Trucks, Buses & Vans Peterbilt 379 Play Track 7+ sounds included, 7x11 mins total $119

    This massive Peterbilt Model 379 from 1988 is the trucker's truck with a “big cam” Cummins engine. The model has been featured in several classic car movies such as The Fast and the Furious, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Black Dog.

    Now you can get the 7-channel recordings of this beast for your own projects, which consist of L+R exhausts, L+R interior, two engine channels and one compressor channel. Total driving time is 11:46. The library also contains start, stop, idle, revving without gears, lots of driving and the legendary jakebrake.

View all Pole Position Production libraries here

 

Microphones and Recorders – What to Use and Where

To get a full coverage of a vehicle, you need a good array of microphones and recorders. I would say that the minimum setup must be a stereo rig for exteriors, and four channels to go onboard to cover exhaust, engine and stereo interior. But preferably, you use at least eight channels onboard and as many as you have on the exteriors. Which microphones to use depends on the car. If it’s loud, you need a microphone that handles a high SPL. But, you also need microphones that are not sensitive to bounces and wind. Besides this, but still utterly important, is that you have a good gaffer tape, that sticks in wet and cold and still don’t ruin the paint job (to give you an idea on how valuable a good gaffer tape is, we buy ours in large boxes from a certain company in the UK), and lots of bits and pieces to use as wind shield, dampeners in between microphones and autobodies and so on. It can be anything from pieces of magic foam or old cut to pieces Rycote windshield furs. Recording cars, it won’t take long til you burn one of your precious Rycotes, and that is the one you will cut to pieces and use to cover anything that needs to be covered from wind.

Our basic rig is two microphones per exhaust pipe, usually a DPA4062 in a boundary layer and something bigger. RE-50, D-112, MKH8020 or even a Neumann RSM191 can work. On loud cars it can also be nice to add another microphone a bit further back from the exhausts, like on the rear window, to get some of the exhaust pipes howling. A DPA4062 works great for this.

Before attaching any microphones, you need to get your ears down in the engine bay and around the exhausts, to see where the sweet spots are.

Before attaching any microphones, you need to get your ears down in the engine bay and around the exhausts, to see where the sweet spots are. This is especially important in the engine bay. Once we have located them we use PZM Crowns, DPA4061s, RE-20s and MKH8020s in there. For intakes we use DPA4062s, since they can be really loud. As a final result, you’d want to get a unique character of the sound on every recorded channel, since many channels with a similar sound is of less use.

For the exteriors we use our Holophone as the main microphone. Along with a good shotgun, like the Sanken CSS-5 or a Neumann RSM191, positioned next to the Holophone, you get a really nice coverage on the exteriors. Recently we have added a Telinga dish with a MKH8040 at this position. It gives a very isolated and clean approach and away, and audible at a long distance. We also use a wide stereo setup, with one microphone on each side of the Holophone, maybe 50 meters apart, to capture approaches and aways. For this I prefer to use shotguns like MKH8060, but sometimes we have used OMNIS like MKH8020s. We also have a couple of ORTF rigs with MKH8040s and Schoeps CMC6s that we can place along the driving path to get even more material. A good idea is to position at least one of these rigs where the car turns around before going back, and in that way get more approaches to stop, and some turning manouvers, before you get an away. On top of this, we also have a few hand held devices, like the Sony D100, that can be positioned anywhere for extra material.

Ideally, all of your recorders should have good preamps, good limiters, and the possibility to use the limiters while recording in 96kHz. Unfortunately, for some reason, this is not what the reality looks like on the pro recorder market today. So you need to compromise. We have a Zaxcom Fusion, that do run eight channels with limiters in 96 kHz, so we use that one for the onboards. However, this recorder has fixed settings on the limiter, which makes it less useful on other sources, like guns. If we need extra channels, we add a one or two Sound Devices 702s. For exteriors we use what we have left, like our Sound Devices 788t and an older, but great, Fostex FR2.
 

Car recording stories: Recording a 1970 Plymouth Cuda with a Hemi engine

This is from a 1970 Plymouth Cuda with a Hemi engine. The audio clip is mostly exhaust with a little touch of engine. Since the car is a cabriolet, we later found out that the whole chassis flexed on fast accelerations, which made the doors go slightly on the outside of the body, which unfortunately scratched it a bit.

 

The Driving

The sounds you need to capture for a film compared to a game is quite different. Film needs many exterior shots with, depending on type of scene of course, the car approaching and stopping, or fast aways, quick pass bys or just regular driving. Besides this kind of action or non-action exterior shots, the camera view might change to show a gear stick when gearing up, a front wheel when turning and tires screeching, or just a plain interior where the main characters have a dialogue.

For a game, the kind of sounds you need to record is depending first of all on the audio engine you are using to play back the sounds in-game. The two standardized ways to do this is by using a granular engine or old school traditional loops, but many developers find their own ways including both of these technologies, and maybe also oneshots or other layers blending in. To create loops, you need longer segments of steady rpms, both with load and without load, on a number of different rpms covering the range of the cars actual rpm, from idle to red line. For the granular technology, you need sweeps, also called ramps. That is a linear acceleration and deceleration from idle to red line and back down to idle, ranging over a certain amount of time depending on the tool used to analyze the grains.
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 
  • Mechanical Clocks Vol. 2 Play Track 33+ sounds included $15 $10

    Clock's Volume 2 is the sequel to the small but unique sound library – not recorded from traditional clocks but of edited sounds that tick tock.

    ‘Clocks Volume 2’ by Badlands Sound features 30+ tick tock sounds perfect for your projects in high-quality 96k / 24 bit. Sounds include metal and plastic clocks as well as metronomes and grandfather clocks.

    We believe these sounds will greatly benefit sound editors and sound designers allowing them to add these files to their projects quickly.

    All these sounds are one minute long loopable allowing you to save time editing.

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  • Household Kitchen Play Track 155 sounds included $14

    The Airborne Sound Kitchen sound effects library includes over 150 culinary sounds.

    The package includes appliances: blenders, toaster, fridges, and freezers. There are tools, too: glasses, knives, bottles, dishes, and cans. Also included is the work that ties it all together: cooking, cleaning, preparing, and chopping. Includes over 10 fields of Soundminer metadata.


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Besides the content you create for the audio engine, the physics of the vehicles in the game will have a crucial impact on how the cars will sound when driven in-game.

Besides the content you create for the audio engine, the physics of the vehicles in the game will have a crucial impact on how the cars will sound when driven in-game. This is something that seems to surprise many developers, and many don’t fully realize the code support it takes to get this right.

When we record nowadays, we try to cover all these aspects, for both film and games. We try to find locations where we can have a driving pattern, that gives us as much onboard and exterior material as possible in one go. For instance, if you have a long straight to drive on, you can have three exterior positions set up, A, B and C. A will be at the far left end, B in the middle and C at the far right end. Starting from A, you start out with an away from A driving at slow speed, passing by B and coming in to a stop at C. Going back you do the same thing, slow away from C, passing by B and coming in to a slow stop at A. For the onboards, this will give you driving at a constant and possibly low rpm at slow speed. Then you repeat this driving at mid speed, at high speed, accelerating through the gears, cruising, reversing, doing ramps and so on. By doing it this systematic and disciplined, you can quite quick cover alot of useful material. When all driving is done, we do line up the car next to one of the setups, in our case always the Holophone and a shotgun, where we do several engine startups and shutdowns, idle, static rpms in neutral, doors, horn, trunk, switches and whatever we find interesting. As I am sure you understand, an experienced driver can make the whole difference, both in terms of safety and result.
 

Finally, some words of advice

A few simple, yet useful, words of advice when recording:

Before you start going through your shot list, ask the driver to start up the engine and do some aggressive blipping on the throttle (record this as well, sometimes the cold start can be awesome). It should give you a fairly good idea what to expect in terms of levels, but you still need to keep an ear and eye on what is happening once the vehicle is in actual motion. Wind and other things can still affect the levels. Personally I like to go hot on my recorders. I use limiters nowadays, and try to go as high as possible on the meters.

• Make sure that your location has an even surface and not too many stones. Bumps and stone spray can make the recording unusable.

• To make editing and post-processing simpler, instruct your driver to only talk when on idle. It’s so easy to forget about this, and the car starts moving slightly while someone inside the car finishes a sentence, and that can be tricky to fix if that maneuver turns out the be the take you want.

• Goes without saying really, but it’s so easy to just neglect when stressed, is that every maneuver should be slated, in the beginning or in the end of the maneuver. In the same way every channel should be slated with microphone used and position.

• To get a consistent result, it’s wise to not adjust levels during an ongoing maneuver. If any levels needs adjusting, wait til the manuvoer is finished, do the adjustments and then rather repeat the last maneuver if necessary.

• The most important advice of all, is to make safety your main priority, for first of all people, and second to the vehicle.

• My last advice is to have fun and be curious! There is always a new recorder or microphone to try out, and a new weird spot to rig it.

A huge thanks to Max Lachmann for sharing his recording tips and insights!

 

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About Max Lachmann
Max Lachmann is a field recordist and sound designer from Stockholm, Sweden. He is co-founder of audio outsourcing company Pole Position Production, famous for vehicle recordings, which has provided several titles such as War Thunder, Need For Speed and Just Cause 2 with recordings, sound design and music.

Check out the Pole Position Production website, and meet the team on Facebook and Twitter.

 


 
 
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