Getting great bootlegs with the bootlegMIC

Go to any concert, show, or basement band practice, and you’ll find someone recording a bootleg. While these live recordings are sometimes fairly high quality, bootlegs recorded with a cell phone usually sound terrible. The guys over at Open Music Labs have a great solution to these poor quality recordings that only needs a few dollars worth of parts.

The project is called bootlegMIC. It’s a simple modification of an electret microphone – the same type of mic found in cellphones and bluetooth headsets – that allows for some very high quality recording in very noisy environments. According to the open music labs wiki, the modification is as simple as cutting a few traces on the PCB in an electret mic and soldering on a cap and a few resistors.

An electret mic contains a small JFET to amplify the signal coming from the microphone diaphragm; the specific JFET is selected by the manufacturer to ensure the microphone has the right gain and response. Usually these JFETs are chosen with the expectation of a relatively quiet environment, and trying to record a concert only results in a ton of distortion. By putting a resistor between the source of the JFET and ground of the microphone, it’s possible to reduce this distortion.

The circuit is easy enough to solder deadbug style, and should work with most cellphones. The guys at Open Music Lab were able to get their mic working with an iPhone, but they’re still working on figuring out the Android mic input. There’s a great demo video showing the improvement in audio quality; you can check that out after the break.

Comments

  1. fartface says:

    If you want great bootlegs, then you build a set of binaurial mics and get them in your collar.

    High fidelity bootlegs has been going on for decades, and I have some Violent Femmes bootlegs I recorded myself that are better than any of their Live releases.

    http://www.audioreality.com/ for a REAL setup for recording good bootlegs, Note the need for a battery box to get the microphones to give you a full dynamic range. That guy is selling them for a Major price simply to profit on the lazy. You can build that exact setup for far less.

    Info for building better bootleg recording rig…

    http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1325052
    http://www.minidisc.org/homemade_mics.html
    http://webpages.charter.net/tidmarsh/binmic/binmic.html

    Dont waste time with the junk “bootlegMIC” project. Go binaurial and record something that that project could only dream of recording.

    And note: the capsule used in the BLUE is not that special, there are actually better ones out there available for far less. Some guys will chuck a capsule in a lathe to cut the sound hole larger to increase bass response.

    Also size of the capsule means nothing. I have a set of super tiny ones scavenged from dell laptops that are far better than any of the bigger ones. Plus they fit in the collar of a shirt easier.

    • retepvosnul says:

      If, on the other hand, if you don’t want to suit up for a concert all wired up weighing a ton, then perhaps this simple, cheap and lightweight solution is pretty much everything you need.

      You have to admit that this small little hack dramatically increases the quality you can record with a phone. And seeing as most people carry a phone with them anyway, this is much less a hassle as some of those bootleg “rigs” you mention.

      Thanks for bringing them up, but don’t rip on this project just because you find it below your personal standards.

      • Jarel says:

        lol wut @ “weighing a ton”

        Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with someone providing more information. What are you defending?

      • Kemp says:

        My issue (and the poster above’s I guess) would be with the phrase “Dont waste time with the junk “bootlegMIC” project.” Disregarding and, frankly, insulting someone’s work like that is never acceptable. It’s a nice little hack that is quick to throw together and can plug into anything that’ll accept an external mic.

      • fartface says:

        “If, on the other hand, if you don’t want to suit up for a concert all wired up weighing a ton”

        you might be a 50 pound weakling that 4 ounces of wire is “weighing a ton” but for most people something that looks like a set of earbuds laying on their shoulders is worth it for getting a good recording instead of a crappy one.

      • retepvosnul says:

        @Jarel

        No thanks at any lulz you might have had at my expense for trying to write in a non-native language or what ever that was about.

        I was defending the hack…. That isn’t that hard to understand now, is it?

        @fartface

        What you consider crappy regarding bootleg recording is totally up to you. People who want to record using cellphones will be helped by this and not by your hippy-bootleg-elitist stance on the matter. Again thanks for the information and try to identify your audience in the future.

    • saimhe says:

      How many phones have stereo microphone input?

  2. Sanjay says:

    I think this is the original source for the microphone mod. http://www.linkwitzlab.com/sys_test.htm (scroll down about 3/4ths of the page to the section titled “Microphone”)

  3. Montaray Jack says:

    Bands like the Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler, Smashing Pumpkins and Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker are permissive with bootleg recording.
    A good place to check for a band’s taping policy is on archive.org’s live music section.

  4. loans says:

    Why aren’t people just buying the FOH guy a few beers for an aux send?

    • Xeracy says:

      i like the way you think…

    • echodelta says:

      Would you go to a show and NEVER take off the phones that the sound man has to monitor with. Even he listens to the whole sound he is responsible for. No mater how big or small the venue the sound in that board is not live and a recording of it never will become live. You have to add reverb to it to even fake it. It’s just the mix for sound reinforcement, it is not live sound in a 3D space. Binaural is live, the whole event right up to the sky, from the stage to your face and everywhere around you. If you have not heard binaural proper you have simply not heard stereo, as the word means solid. All other recordings are just a mangled capturing of limited imaging or none at all. Mono is not even considered here. Sound capture is like an optical camera, you’re after an image not just light. Binaural is like the widest lens ever made. Yes there is the equivalent shotgun mic but it plucks a chunk of reality and presents it to us as an abstract of sound. Binaural has been around since 1881, it’s time has come with all the small gear around. Just be sure to use that attenuator when recording loud events. I used the -20Db setting on my Sony cassette deck even to record the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering. You can hear the echo off the oaks above you, some still topless from the battle of Tippecanoe only 70 years before Ader’s Binaural discovery.

  5. ejonesss says:

    now the next trick is getting into the concert without them knowing you have a recording device.

    some concert arenas may say no electronics allowed including cell phones.

    not so much for the ringer since the concerts are loud enough to mask the ringer but because of the cameras.

  6. spareus says:

    It is only a “bootleg” if you sell it.

    And in most states, that is a felony.

    Anyone who would associate themselves, or their product or project with “bootlegging” is an idiot.

    • John says:

      You are completely wrong. There is no state where copyright infringement is a felony. Copyright infringement is civil law, not criminal law.

      • read the law says:

        John, you are completely wrong. In most states selling an unauthorized recording is a serious criminal offense. In many states it is a felony. If you get caught, the question can arise whether your intent is to sell the recording.

        Here is just one example, New Mexico. Know the law, don’t guess about it.

        http://statutes.laws.com/new-mexico/chapter-30/article-16b/section-30-16b-3

        Section 30-16B-3 – Unauthorized recording; prohibited act; penalties.

        30-16B-3. Unauthorized recording; prohibited act; penalties.

        A. It is unlawful for any person to:

        (1) knowingly transfer for sale or cause to be transferred any recording with intent to sell it or cause it to be sold or use it or cause it to be used for commercial advantage or private financial gain without the consent of the owner;

        (2) transport within this state for commercial advantage or private financial gain a recording with the knowledge that the sounds have been transferred without the consent of the owner; or

        (3) advertise or offer for sale, sell, rent or cause the sale, resale or rental of or possess for one or more of these purposes any recording that the person knows has been transferred without the consent of the owner.

        B. Any person violating the provisions of Subsection A of this section:

        (1) when the offense involves seven or more unauthorized recordings embodying sound or seven or more audiovisual recordings, at any one time, is guilty of a fourth degree felony and shall be sentenced pursuant to the provisions of Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978; and

        (2) when the offense involves fewer than seven unauthorized recordings embodying sound or fewer than seven audiovisual recordings, at any one time, is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be sentenced pursuant to the provisions of Section 31-19-1 NMSA 1978.

      • Eirinn says:

        Oh sorry, i had to remove my eyepatch to fully read this lengthy and very informative post.

        …where did i put my pirate hat.

      • read the law says:

        I record a Lot of shows, often under extremely difficult situations. I am very good at it, and I have about $8500 invested in microphones. I take it pretty seriously. I never, ever sell my recordings. Most of them are not publicly shared to prevent sale, and future complications with recording.

        So when I say it is important to know the law in your state, I speak from experience. It can be particularly intimidating to be surrounded by deputies hired by the security manager, who is trying to coerce you to voluntaarily give up your gear. The deputies probably don’t know the law.

        It helps to have a print out of the law. But it is also important to be nice, because they can make it very hard on you; even if you are completely innocent.

        One plus of the internet is that it has severely damaged the “bootleg” market. But there are still pigs who try and profit by selling recordings. And there are people who have no idea they can get those recordings for free.

        Have fun.

  7. nocredit says:

    People have been doing this for years.

    Why does this project ignore their contributions and not give them credit? No credit, no links.

    Or are they claiming to have invented this themselves?

    • abc says:

      Every one of us stands on the shoulders of giants when we accomplish something, these people are no different. Perhaps they are unaware of those who went before, perhaps they are irreverent (which is their right), perhaps they made their thanks where you did not see, who knows? It does not matter.

  8. Addidis says:

    I dont think bootlegs like this are much of a concern when low quality but I think promoting quality enhancement could lead to some potential problems. With all the crazyness over pirating media lately , not sure this is something to jump behind.

  9. wouter3ag says:

    Cool mod, will try it out.
    Too bad they don’t share the list of working mics.

  10. Bram says:

    Why all the hate?
    This looks like a perfect quick ‘n dirty alternative for the build in mic’s on my EOS 550D (T2i)!
    It even has a stereo mic input.

  11. Seth says:

    A decent pair of earphones, plugged into the mic input on a minidisc recorder always did a good job for me.

  12. plfx says:

    This mod basically just divides the input current to the JFET, right? Would it be a good idea to do this with a pot?

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