A lot of us have had to turn to recording in our houses this past year; whether for auditions, virtual choirs, session work or just for fun! Here’s a short, totally incomplete but hopefully useful run-down on building your home studio.
You have 4 main options, I’m listing them in order of my preference:
1. A phone mic! If most of what you’re doing is video recordings for virtual performances, this is a great option. I highly recommend the Shure MV88 which plugs right into your iPhone or iPad. I’ve used it while camping to record videos, and also for social media posts. There are not many user options with a mic like this, but it’s very easy to “plug and play.”
2. A “field recorder” like the Zoom line. This is a phone-sized device that has a built in microphone. It usually will record to an internal memory card, and can be connected to your computer to access the files. I use these sometimes to record rehearsals, and I know many people who use them as their main recording device. There might be a little more room noise (the bad kind, think buzzy/hums) captured by this kind of mic, but this can be mitigated to some extent by the space you’re in and the settings on the device.
3. A USB condenser microphone. This mic plugs directly into your computer. It may not have the power or overall quality of a more traditional mic, but it works pretty well! MXL make a condenser mic like this (the 990 USB) that works well. Unfortunately, a lot of these options (including the MXL) have sold out recently since so many people have switched to home recording situations, but I’ve also heard great things about the Apogee mics and I think they are more readily available.
4. A condenser mic and an audio interface. This is what I use for my home studio set-up. An audio interface is a device that you can plug your microphone directly into, just like you would for an amp - usually with an XLR cable. It takes the mic signal and converts it to something that you can plug directly into your computer via USB. This will give you the most control and the best audio quality for a relatively reasonable budget.
- I use a Pre Sonos AudioBox iTwo for my audio interface. I like having 2 inputs so I can plug in more than one mic at a time. It also has phantom power (something you need if you are using condenser mics, they have to pull power from an external source to work).
- My favorite flute mic is the Audix ADX-10FL. It’s a clip-on mini-condenser mic (the clip slips on under the crown) and it is the best representation of my actual sound that I’ve ever heard through a microphone. It’s especially great to play in live settings with drums and electric instruments, and works really well for recording when you are playing with accompaniment. It’s less good for solo flute because there is some key noise picked up. In my experience, that noise totally disappears with any type of accompaniment, but I can see how it would be annoying for solo flute. One other thing - it just picks up sounds from the flute, so there is very little atmospheric sound or room sound. I like this a lot (great for session work, non-classical playing, etc.) but many people who are recording classical flute prefer a microphone that gives a sense of space rather than a super close mic.
- I also use the MXL 990 (XLR not USB) quite a bit. This is great for voice (talking or singing) and is just a generally solid, inexpensive condenser mic - a lot of people consider it one of the best entry level options. Of course, if you go into a professional recording studio, they probably have mics that are much more expensive that my car (try 3 or 4 times!) but I have been super happy with the clarity and warmth of this particular mic.
- a few other flute micing options recommended by Cato Zane (San Diego sound engineer and studio magic vlogger):
- SM57: often used as a live mic, industry standard, does not need phantom power, built like an actual tank
- AKG C1000s
The options for home recording are pretty endless, but I hope this gives you a good place to start! Feel free to comment with any specific questions or recommendations!