featured image for post on tomasdabas.eu named freight train overhead pass by sfx with zoom h2n recorder placed between train tracks with a title on the right saying "freight train overhead pass over"

freight train overhead pass by sfx #2 in surround.

Freight train overhead pass by sfx recording – that was an idea I was obsessed with for some time already. Not like usual pass overhead while the mic is under a bridge, but a real pass overhead like in “what would a person who decided to drop him/her self under a freight train would hear before death?”.

It wasn’t a random idea since I live in the middle of two railroad lines (circa 1km away from both of them) and I constantly hear trains passing by on one side or the other. Also after some research I found out that this kind of sound is non existent on all the internets.

Once I started planning the “recording session” I realized there might be some problems:

  1. My Zoom H2n recorder might not handle a sound pressure that high (according to specs it can take 120dB SPL).
  2. Vibrations coming from wheels and rails and stones can cause excessive low frequency rumble that resulting in too much unnecessary low end sound pressure and reducing the overall dynamic range.
  3. The train driver can not see the recording device as this might cause some explosive-related thoughts following some legal issues.
  4. As I was planing on recording at a road crossing how will I know from which side the train is coming as there will be little time to set the Zoom H2n in its place.
  5. How to know when the machine will pass by my recording site as there are no publicly available schedules for freight trains.

It took me three nights of failing to catch the train passing by until I finally caught one in the middle of a day while walking around with my 11 months old sleeping son. Luckily for him (and not too lucky for me) train driver did not used a horn while passing by. This was very nice move of his, because as far as I can hear train drivers go crazy with their horns in that exact place I was recording because of a road crossing and two turns before and after the crossing.

Now I was loosing my hopes as suddenly the crossing stop light started to ring. Then few seconds later I heard rumble behind one of the turns and that’s how I knew where the train was coming from. I had a piece of acoustic sound diffusion foam and was hoping it will help reduce resonance coming from wheels to rails to stones (and as far as I can hear it did quite a good job). Sadly the train was going a bit fast-ish causing small waves of wind which translated to the recording slightly thus reducing the 120dB dynamic range with unnecessary low end information. And by the way if not the wind believe the recording wouldn’t even have been clipping (that’s some serious past tense construction, which I doubt is right, is it?). The clipping was induced only in front facing MS microphones and it required only 3dB of gain reduction after de-clipping process in iZotope RX 5 Audio Editor.

How to use freight train overhead pass by sfx tracks.

First of all be sure to reduce volume of your speakers before playing back the tracks as the train comes practically from nowhere in a second so there is a huge more than 80dB jump in loudness!!!

Second of all the recording was done using Zoom H2n recorder with its MS microphones facing forward and XY mics facing backwards. The MS track is already decoded to L and R so you won’t need to do it, however if you want to adjust the wideness of MS you’ll need to use a MS encoder/decoder plugin such as this for mac made by zoom (there are versions of AU and VST for Windows also available), or this made by Voxengo.

Third of all these tracks are free of charge and you can use them however you like. Would be cool if you found some time to get back here and post a comment on where and how it was used. Sharing would be highly appreciated too.

Fourth of all as this recording is not perfect and I’m not fully satisfied with it I’ll be doing another one soon, this time with a dead-cat on the recorder and a slower train to reduce wind. Also I’ll do several recordings from a more usual perspective of freight trains passing by and they all will be available here for free just as freight train overhead pass by sfx is. So be sure to visit me from time to time. Until I really do it, here is one more free sound effect of a thunder hitting my neighborhood recorded with the same recorder.

That’s it boys and girls. Enjoy and thanks for reading this. Here’s a short video using only MS mics from the recording event. Cheers.


  • Hi there!

    I tried to download the tracks but unfortunately the link is off.

    Could you upload the files again? I’m curious to hear the results.

    Thank you!

    PS: Great tips on the surround tutorial.

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