Sanken Css-5: Wide Mode And It's Use Cases

Expanding on the Sanken Css-5's multi mode functionality, we Identify when and why to use Wide Mode for your recordings!


Field Frequencies

7/16/20237 min read


A microphone as versatile as this one could lead to confusion when deciding what mode to record in. Luckily, discerning which mode is best for each scenario is simple! Below, we'll outline some caveats that are specific to Wide Mode and some circumstances in which you might want to consider using a different mode. If you would like dive deeper into the technical specs of the Sanken Css-5, consider checking out our earlier blog post. Previously explained technical aspects may be referred to in passing, though this blog post will take a more laid-back and exploratory approach.

Understanding Wide Mode

Sanken expresses that "the WIDE mode is designed for stereo recording of sound effects and environmental information where dialogue will be dubbed in at a later date." The mention of dubbing and "environmental information' in place of a term like ambiences is telling of it's intended purpose, strengths and weaknesses. To further elaborate, the Wide Mode sports a 140° stereo angle; Imagine an ORTF setup... just 30° wider. That's how it sounds to me, at least. The noticeable gap in the center of the stereo image makes certain ambiences feel less "real". That's not always an issue though, and some recordists might find that element desirable.

One thing that nobody would find desirable is this mode's increased self noise. Comparative to Normal Mode, Wide Mode's self noise is noticeably higher at the same gain and inspires little confidence when faced with a quiet ambience. This unfortunate aspect of Wide Mode further instills the notion that it better suits high-signal stereo sound effects and auxiliary ambiences meant to play second fiddle to a voice over.

Stereo Width

"140°" this, "30° wider" that - we get it... or do we? It's one thing to talk about microphones, but it's a whole other thing to listen to them. Unless you've had experience with stereo microphones similar to this one, It might be a little difficult to understand what were talking about here. That's why I've got some examples for you all to better illustrate my point. Let's first start by listening to Wide Mode in the garden, followed by the same scene in Normal Mode. Pay attention to the sound of the fountain...

When to use Wide Mode

It should go without saying that Wide Mode benefits most from environments that require lower gain or where the subject of the recording is significantly louder than the ambience around it. Think birds in a forest or kids in a school yard at recess. These distant yet loud point source sounds compliment and take advantage of the Css-5's great stereo localization. Despite having borderline unusable self-noise for ultra quiet ambiences, everyday application in environments with distant noise pollution can provide a much needed buffer for masking self-noise. From experience, urban cacophonies and the likes are better recorded at a distance to minimize the perceivable gap in the center of the this mode's stereo image.

When Not to use Wide Mode

The niche benefits of Wide Mode are hindered in dense sonic environments where frequencies mix and meld into one another. It's gapped stereo image impares the acoustic continuity of the recording, and by extension, the realism of the recorded plaine. This is not to say that Wide Mode cannot or should not be used in urban environments, in fact, like with all mics, proper mic placement and recording conditions can facilitate interesting and engaging recordings! Simply put, be cautious of localized droning and position accordingly. It is the continuous drone of something like a cityscape, which deteriorates in the middle of the stereo image, that brings attention to the unnatural characteristics of the 140° recording. Recording vehicle passes, like those of a car, should be avoided when in wide mode unless precautions have been taken to alleviate or restore a proper center image. Below will outline a strategy to accomplish just that.

Tri Mic Setup

A clever solution to restoring the center image of Wide Mode recordings is by placing a third microphone adjacently above or below the Css-5. Think Mid/Side setup, only with a stereo mic and a mono mic. In this case, a Sanken Cos-11D was wrapped around and taped onto its bigger brother. This technique was brought to my attention by Yii Kah Hoe of Listening to Nature. The method of mounting his lavalier (DPA 4061) was much more sophisticated than my own, though my approach and methodology behind the placement should be the same.

For reference, both recordings were made at the same spot, perpendicular to the fountain, and at 24bit/48kHz on the Mixpre 6 II.

Hopefully, while listening, you were able to discern that Wide Mode is in fact wider than Normal Mode. It's not the most Ideal of locations to demonstrate and compare stereo width but you gotta work with what you got sometimes. For those who can maybe hear a difference but aren't really sure how stereo width is perceptible, I challenged you to list out some differences between the sounds of each recording.

When I listen to both recordings, I notice that the fountain in the wide recording has more of a sparkle. The detail in the water splashes are more pronounced than in the normal recording which sounds kind of distant and dull. These are probably the most obvious differences, so if you found any others that's great but we'll continue examining how the sound of the water relates to stereo width. Below, we've created a gif that cycles through the polar patterns of the modes in question. To the untrained eye, the differences between the two patterns may seem insignificant... it's not like the shape moves that much! And that's true - at a glance it would seem that way. But the reality is: the sound we hear and record is rarely ever made up of one or few frequencies. You can't just pick a line on the polar pattern and make an assumption based on it. Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that the seemly minute differences in polar patterns can make a big difference in the sound and stereo image of a recording, among other things.

While both recordings depict a fountain to our left, the sparkle of the Wide Mode fountain establishes itself perpendicular to our ear while the dullness of the Normal Mode fountain situates itself behind our ear. This is primarily due to the polar pattern's frequency response and possibly the microphone capsule's angle, though I cannot comment on that factor as I am unsure as to the capsule layout of the microphone.
Basically, in this case, the more focused frequency response of Normal Mode's polar pattern rejects the prominent high frequencies of the splashing water fountain, which in turn emulates how our ears interact with sound coming from behind us, thus creating the illusion that the fountain is also behind us despite the microphone being positioned the same in both recordings. Because these processes are happening in tandem on both the left and right channel, their combined output to our headphones or speakers simulate the stereo image in which our brains assess and determine are either wide or narrow based on other factors aside from just frequency, like time and amplitude.

Here, we're switching the dial from Wide to Normal Mode and back a couple of times for comparison. You can also hear how playing with the dial mid recording will affect the microphone.

Instead of just copying what was shown, the exact location of the capsules employed during Wide Mode were located by lightly tapping along the mic body until the signal was at its peak (presumably being directly above the capsule). I then tightly wrapped an inch of the wire behind the lav body with a twist tie to suspend it in position. Finally, completing the setup by fastening some extra wire to the Interference tube of the Css-5 with moleskin and fishing the rest through the blimp, to my Sennheiser G4 transmitter. Looking back, I think I could have simply plugged the Cos-11D into the "Mic In" jack of my Mix Pre 6 II and avoided the redundancy of using G4s, but alas, the desired results were still achieved.

Give a listen to these recordings and see if you can notice the difference. Recordings were made at 24bit/48kHz with the gain on the Css- 5 set to 40dB and the Cos-11D set to 24dB. TX at 0dB and Rx at -12dB.

The third recording has the Cos-11D raised by 5dB to further accentuate the difference between Wide Mode with and without a supporting mid element.

Above is a screenshot of the Protools session that shows the waveforms of the Right, Left and Center channels.

Final Thoughts

Despite its shortcomings and quirks, like higher self noise and a gapped stereo image, Wide Mode proves itself to be a very versatile and creative option in the Css-5's arsenal. In the right hands, and with a little extra effort, phenomenal recordings can certainly be made! It seems then that the real question is whether or not putting in the extra effort if worth it to you... or your wallet. Regardless of that answer though, the Css-5 undoubtedly provides impeccable value to those recordists who understand it's limits. This mode is a double edged sword in that It could easily fail in delivering a useable recording if the recordist isn't precise or confident in its placement. On the other hand, the reward for skillful utilization is a gloriously wide and enthralling recording.

The hard truth is that the Css-5 is a dated specialist product, now enthusiast, and shouldn't be easily considered against other stereo microphones, shotgun or otherwise. It is cumbersome and has been surpassed by the Css-50 which is smaller and even slightly more quiet overall. I enjoy using my Css-5 and It will continue to be a part of my kit for years to come but I caution those who may be considering purchasing one of these microphones as your first or even second stereo mic/setup.