A multi-disciplinary journey in music, sound, and field recording.

Thrift Store Sounds: Toy Helicopter

Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design


This might be harder to find at a thrift store than at an electronics or hobby store, but there are a large number of ultra-small toy helicopters on the market that can be had for not a lot of dosh. They’re flimsy. They don’t fly well. But they do scare the hell out of family pets, which instantly makes them entertaining, and they do make pretty cool sounds.

So, imagine this: You’re only one person with no assistants nearby. These helicopters, well, they fly erratically. How do you keep a mic trained on it to get a good recording? I solved this problem before by putting wireless mics on moving objects, but they’re far to heavy for something like this. Well, let’s just take advantage of the toy’s weak flying ability: Why not just hold the stupid thing while the rotors rotate? The rotors, however, rotate really quickly, and move a surprising amount of air. The body of the helicopter is so teensy that I couldn’t find a good mic position that blocked the air being moved around, which of course creates a lot of distortion and rumble.

Rather than futz around with a bulky windscreen and furry windjammer, I decided to just attach a contact microphone to the helicopter with gaffer’s tape. This worked reasonably well, especially after a quick equalization adjustment to overcome the somewhat dull midrange response of the mic itself. The sound that was transmitted through the high-density foam body was actually more interesting and full than the rotor’s sound in the free air, anyway. Besides the aforementioned EQ pass, this recording is unaltered. Recorded at 192kHz, this could provide all manner of mechanical effects if pitched down or processed further!

[soundcloud url=”http://soundcloud.com/noisejockey/toy-helicopter” params=”show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=dd0000″ width=”100%” height=”81″ ]
[Contact microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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4 Comments on “Thrift Store Sounds: Toy Helicopter”

  1. 1 Matías Cerviño said at 8:52 pm on July 31st, 2010:

    Nice sounds!!

    Contact microphones are amazing to get this kind of mechanical sounds.

  2. 2 Magnus Bergsson said at 7:56 pm on August 1st, 2010:

    Oh my god. This is terrible toy…better without battery :-)

  3. 3 sonicj said at 4:01 am on September 13th, 2010:

    do a search for “blade farts”. in short, a helicopter can enter a state where it’s rotor downwash gets caught/recycled in a vortex ring (see “settling with power” for the physics). despite the nickname, the resulting sound is actually quite pleasant! youtube has some good examples… large electrics like a 700 produce the best sounding “farts” imo. =)

  4. 4 Syma Helicopter said at 1:10 am on May 27th, 2011:

    Hi that was a great idea that you attached a contact microphone to the helicopter. I was looking for something on how to connect my CM, thank for sharing this.

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