Tag Archives: Contact microphone


Recording buttons and switches


A few years back i found a storage area filled with old broadcast equipment. I returned armed with a small kit with a microphone and a recorder to capture the sounds of as many buttons and switches as I could. The sounds I recorded turned out to be very useful. Some years later, our company moved to a different location. At the new location I also found plenty of old and new equipment in a storage area. I decided to repeat the success and record more buttons and switches.

Because I didn’t have to transport my recording equipment to a different location, I had the option to use more equipment than last time. I wanted to get even more useful material than last time. To accomplish this, I planned to do mainly two things differently:


  1. Capture more variations of each button. Many buttons and switches sound very different if you go hard/fast than if you go slow/soft when you press/flick them.
  2. Capture every button with more than one microphone. The same button can sound high pitched and clicky through one microphone and full and punchy through a different one.




I spent a few hours testing different microphones. I ended up maxing out my Sound Devices 744 and using all four inputs for most of the recording sessions. The microphones I chose were:


  1. Barcus Berry contact microphone. This captures a very different sound and the resulting recording can be very useful for sound design. Buttons and switches tend to sound full-bodied, mechanical and abstract.
  2. Large diaphragm microphone. I switched between a Neumann U87 AI and a Brauner Phantom Classic. The large diaphragm microphones sounded very natural on most buttons. The Brauner has lower self-noise than the Neumann, so I ended up using that the most.
  3. DPA 4041 small diaphragm omni microphone. The DPA sounded natural and a bit clicky on most of the recordings. It also has very low self-noise, which was very practical.
  4. Sanken CU31 small diaphragm cardioid microphone. The Sanken sounded more bassy than the other microphones. This makes most buttons and switches feel more punchy. The Sanken has higher self-noise than the other microphones I used, so it didn’t work as well on everything.



The recording sessions were pretty straight forward. I tried pressing each button slowly, fast and somewhere in between to figure out what I wanted to record. If a button sounded very different depending on the speed, I recorded several takes of each speed. If it sounded pretty much the same, I recorded just one speed. I also moved the contact microphone around on each piece of gear to find the best position for each button.

When I edited the recordings later, I fully realized how much “free” material I got because I used four different microphones. Some buttons sound like a completely different one through each microphone. The contact microphone always brings out something special and very different from the other ones. This is great for abstract sound design or if I just want a special sounding button. The other microphones brings out a different, unique aspect of the same button. This is great if I find a sound I like, but that’s not 100% what fits the project. I just try a different microphone and I can get some more punch or some more of the clicky, high-pitched sound.

The sound collection is available on the Norsonant website.


Norsonant – Multichannel buttons and switches from Plosiv on Vimeo.

Contact microphone Water

Metal bowl with water and more

This is yet another test of my homemade contact microphone. I used the same metal bowl I did in this post. This time I tapped the bowl with my fingers, filled it with water and rolled objects around in it, among other things.

The homemade contact mic seems to be making more and more noise. Time to invest in a properly made mic, I think..

Equipment: Homemade contact microphone -> SD744T
Metal bowl, water and more by ThomasAlf

Contact microphone

Metal bowl and handheld massager

I have been thinking about buying a contact microphone for a while. I’ve seen plenty of blog posts where contact mics are used for recording interesting sounds. Buying a professionally made contact mic is not at the top of my shopping list at the moment, so I made my own using this tutorial as a starting point. I used an XLR connector instead of the 1/4″ jack mentioned in the tutorial.

I have a metal salad bowl that I’ve been meaning to record forever. It became the first subject of my contact mic test recordings. I placed the mic on the outer side of the bowl and put a small, battery powered handheld massager in the bowl. The massager vibrated and rotated slowly in the bowl, sounding louder whenever one of the legs passed the mic. When the original recording is slowed down, it kind of sounds like heavy machinery at work at a distant construction site.

Equipment: Homemade contact microphone -> SD744T
Metal massage by ThomasAlf