Favourite onboard vehicle record rig?


I’ve captured a few vehicles for films and for me the bare minimum for onboard is 4 channel:

  • engine bay mono
  • exhaust mono
  • INT stereo


I’ve seen photos of someone capturing exhaust with a fixed boom, thereby placing the mic far enough away to capture the enveloping projection of a loud exhaust, and I admire the rigging… So whats the setup that got you the most useable results for a film?

I appreciate Game Audio folk take a whole other approach, eg using a dynamo, so feel free to specify if its not for film….


I only recorded cars in two occasions for two different projects. They were normal, everyday cars. My setup was similar to some of the others shown here: – 1 interior stereo pair XY; – 1 lavalier at the engine; -1 lavalier and 1 dynamic mic at the exhaust pipe; – 1 dynamic mic at the tire. For one of those projects, one of the most important sounds were of the tires moving over dirt and cobblestone. For the cobblestone surface, we did this thing where we went up a slope, turned the engine off and then went down with a shotgun mic (sanken cs3e) pointing towards the tire. The other unconventional thing we did was to put a contact mic at the engine as well. The idea was to get some low end to mix with the main engine mic. Engines, normal cars engines, tend to sound middy and for the most part uninteresting; the contact mic was a workaround that worked partially against this: https://soundcloud.com/rodrigosacic/rms-accelerate-slow-engine-contact-mic?in=rodrigosacic/sets/car-recording


Int – stereo either XY or MS.  I’ll commonly use either my PCM D50 or a VP88 for this task.  IMO there’s no need for a super wide sounding setup like ORTF or AB omni in this very confined context.  Placement is often as close to the center of the cab as I can get it.  I have a camera tripod that I use with the D50 that works well for this.  Mounting can be tricky in faster cars because you really have to lock everything down enough to sustain vs G forces.  Bungees and zip ties to lock it into place.

Exhaust – I usually try to cover exhaust with at least two mics, if not more.  Its the character of the car, and the most recognizable sound that someone outside of a vehicle can identify.

I’ve had REALLY good results with PZMs on the bumper for exhaust.  A PZM will give you a sense of distance even when its placed in close proximity because of the hemispherical pattern, and just gaff taping to the bumper provides both a reliable mount and perfect wind protection.

If I’m dealing with an asymetrical exhaust (In other words, one exhaust pipe that is on one side, not a center positioned exhaust or a symmetrically positioned dual exhaust pipe system) I’ll try one PZM near the exhaust for proximity, and another far away for hearing how the exhaust reflects off the world around the vehicle as it passes by.  kind of an “air” mic.  The bottom of the rear window is another spot that may be well drafted enough for this kind of thing.

I also try to get a ‘beef’ mic happening on the exhaust.  This is often something more directional like an MKH50 that just sounds big and clean no matter what you aim it at. Again, gaff tape to the bumper here.  Lots of gaff tape.

In the future I think i’m going to try adding an omni to this mix.

Engine Compartment – I’m still not great at miking engine compartments.  They’re very chaotic enclosed spaces that make sounds you don’t typically hear either inside or outside the car, so they’re pretty unfamiliar sounding in lots of cases.  The one exception is the air intake on faster cars.  At the moment I just resort to lavs that I can zip tie to something safely and then I just fret about those in post.

Tires – I like miking the tires and wheel friction that you can get under a vehicle.  I know a lot of people don’t, but I actually tend to find it very useful – especially when dealing with slower vehicles that need a little more ‘character’ to their movements.  Directional mics on the axels or frame, shockmounted by towels and attached with bungees and zip ties are the go to there.  I may experiment with lavs there in the future.

Here’s a podcast and pictures of the last big shoot I did.

other stuff –  bungees, gaff tape, zip ties, water, snacks, 6+ channel recorder, rags and old t shirts


Short answer: very much depends on the car and what I’m using it for…

Long answer:

  • Onboard:
    • 2 – 3 mics in the engine bay. Placement depends on the engine. If there are turbos, get a mic near a turbo. Place another near the intake. Sometimes even in the intake (especially awesome with turbos).
    • 2 – 4 mics on the Exhaust. I’ll usually use a dynamic with good low end response (MD421, RE-20, etc…), as well as a couple of condensers. I like popping my 8040 near the pipe because of it’s great low end response. I sometimes put a lav back there too. All depends on how much sound is coming from the pipes and what the placement is. Rigging depends on the car too.
    • 1 – 2 interior. I used to do a stereo interior and a mono interior. But I almost never used the stereo because it picked up too much driver movement. I stick with a mono mic near the back now. Often on a rear seat or headrest. Usually a Lav. Not having the ST int frees up more channels for more fun stuff anyways
    • Other stuff – sometimes the car will have a crazy sounding transmission or cat converter. A well placed lav or contact mic near/on these things can add some cool character to the performance.
  • Ext:
    • Almost all shotguns. Just found out that the KMR82 has a crazy amount of low end response in car recordings. I usually have an MKH60 out there too. Sometimes a stereo setup, but I tend to find that less useful as it almost never works out with picture… Though I know a lot of people that use tightly configured M/S setups (they pan the rig though).
    • Usually have two people following the car with shotguns.
    • Just getting in to whip pans – never done them before, but a lot of designers LOVE them.
    • Distant stuff is very valuable. Even if you can’t have someone man the recorder. Get a mic 100+ feet away and get some reverbed out stuff. Reflections are useful too.
  • Performance
    • It has been reinforced in my brain most recently that the biggest thing about recording cars is a proper performance. I find it more important that mic choice or placement. A poorly placed mic picking up an epic performance works better than the best placed mic with a terrible performance.
    • If you have a pro driver, it will seem counter-intuitive to him. In order to get a good SOUNDING performance, you have to look like a terribly noob-ish driver. Engines don’t sound awesome when they’re run properly. They sound awesome when you make them do weird things.

Most of the stuff I’ve recorded cars for is linear picture, and some library stuff. Haven’t done any cars for games yet, but I’m sure that will come eventually… I think the only difference will be performance, as you need to be able to make engine loops and stuff. Doubt that the mic placement would change any…


Tim, I’ve done recordings of the exhaust with booms extending from the back (see pic from one session below)…personally I find that separating the mics from the surfaces of the engine or exhaust will give a more natural sounding recording resulting in something that resembles more what we hear in real life. We will never in the real world have our head a few inches from the exhaust or engine block :p  However more often than not so far I have indeed placed mics in the more traditional way straight on the car chassis for convenience.

Of course rigging gets a hell of a lot more complicated (or in the case of this specific session…less secure!) not to mention complications with wind,etc… For the exhaust though I have found that the wind is less of an issue as once in motion the car itself shields the area right in its rear from the wind a little…



This is from my Gator session last year. 8050 on tailpipe, 8040 on right side, 8020 on left side, 8040 at the engine and a AT825 XY mic in the cab. I also ran a 8040ST and a PCM D100 outside while I was ripping around the yard.

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