micing for flute

Discussion in 'Woodwinds' started by britbrian, Sep 29, 2004.

  1. britbrian

    britbrian Guest

    Does anyone have any experience or tips for recording a solo flute?
    I'm particularly interested in mic positioning and mode, not in effects or processing.

    Many thanks,
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Brian,

    Flute can be one of the most difficult instruments to mic. A lot of people claim that they can do it and then they callously place the mics in arbitrary locations without regard for how the flute actually makes sound!

    First and foremost, the best mic to use for flute is an omni mic. Because of its rejection of wind noise and proximity effect, you can place omni mics relatively close to the tone holes without wierd effects.

    If you are going stereo, try placing one mic just below the neck joint about 10-15 cm away from the flute. Place the other mic 30-45 cm away from that. This will allow the mics to pick up a relatively in-phase recording with good ambient to direct ratio. You will also get a good balance of full-bodied sound with air.

    If you are trying mono, place the mic between half and 2/3 down the body of the flute and about 15 to 20 cm back from the body of the flute. Obviously, with this, you will need to experiment a little.

    Also, since floutists in general have a hard time holding still, expect a few wierd anomolies to pop in the recording. Though an omni mic will help this a great deal, it will not solve the problem entirely. Suggest to your performer that they remain as still as possible.

    You are right to not desire information on effects or processing - with proper mic placement, you should need no effects at all. Though, if your floutist is not a high-calibre professional player, it does not hurt from time to time, to apply the slightest compression to smooth out the peaks and valleys just a little. As with all effects, moderation is key. The hard part is holding your head high knowing you took a classical instrument and applied effects. Make the recording sound as though you didn't apply effects.

    Good Luck,

    Jeremy Cucco
    Sight and Sound Studios
    Sublyme Records
    audiokid likes this.
  3. johnthemiracle

    johnthemiracle Active Member

    ahem. if you record flute solo and have a good room i suggest using a main stereo system in an appropriate distance. maybe ortf or something like that since the sound source is small (1 player). if you are recording a pop piece and are therefore close micing you might want to try to capture the sound somewhere around the mouthpiece. adjust distance to taste (depending on how much "air" you want) and tone of the player (classical or jazzy). hth.
  4. RD

    RD Guest

    Actually, even with high calibre players, compression is often a good idea, sparingly applied as needed...I regularily mic a classically trained flutist, who plays folk-rock music...the dynamics of a classical stylist are substantial, and you can get a great sound from an omni pattern mic (we use 414Buls at 4-5 feet, mono) with compression as needed to tame the peaks...I usually also compress during the mix, and other engineers we've used in the past have done likewise...

    For me, if its a sparse arrangement, the dynamics of the flute are great left alone...but with a rock song, on the other hand, the flute has to be held pretty close in levels...if memory serves, Ian Anderson of Tull uses 7.1 compression I think he said, for micing up live applications...but, yeah, for a classical or light jazz sound, less is certainly more in compression-effects etc...RD
  5. britbrian

    britbrian Guest

    hey! thanks to you all.
    I wasn't expecting such concise help so quickly.
    It's a solo flute playing a slow ballard style piece, so I will take on board your suggestions.
    Many, many thanks.
  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    This suggestion aggrevates me to no end! There is no sound produced by the flute at the mouthpiece. All of the flutes sound is produced from its tone-holes. Sure, if you want the sound of a wind-tunnel, mic the mouthpiece.

    Also, if you are after a totally un-natural sound, use a standard stereo pattern like ORTF or XY. Your flute player will sound as though he/she is 6 feet wide if you're lucky. If you are unlucky, you will get awful phase shift issues when the notes are in the middle of the staff.

    Sorry to be a stick in the mud, but flutes sound bad enough as they are, we don't need to complicate that with mediocre mic techniques.

  7. LittleDogAudio

    LittleDogAudio Active Member

    yeah, flutes can be tough to record. I prefer one mic, a ribbon, maybe 12" in front and towards the end opposite the mouth piece sort of angled looking at the players lips. This will give you a fairly balanced approach. The wildcard is your room sound. If you like your room then back the mic off another foot or so and go
    head-on, looking at the middle of the flute.
    I find that some very light compression can help the flute sound more linear. That is, if that's the sound you're going for.

    For sure stay away from the mouthpiece. Almost nothing good comes from there, unless your flutist has a nice pair of lips. (Sorry)

    My .02
  8. johnthemiracle

    johnthemiracle Active Member

    sorry for the misconception, that was stupid. don't mic the mouthpiece unless your player has a really jazzy tone and you must close mic. then it could help, but also probably as a second mic. if you can, put the mic farther away because the different aspects of the sound will blend better and it will sound more natural, as with any instrument (you might want to try overhead).

    according stereo systems i don't agree. how do you make a stereo recording of a player when you want to capture the room, too, avoiding artificial reverb. you have to have some kind of a stereo system. and if properly placed you can capture the instrument and room in optimum blend. you'd have to come pretty close with ortf to make the player 6 feet wide upon playback, as it has a 180degree recording angle...which could btw. help to minimize the players movements upon playback.
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    Notice in my first post, I suggested a stereo approach. I am certainly not opposed to using stereo on a single musician as most of us have 2 ears and would therefore hear in stereo. However, the problem with ORTF for a single acoustical instrument is that, if you want to get a good balance of room acoustics (reverb) to direct vibrations, you would have to pull the mic set-up back several feet, at which point the center of the image suffers dramatically. An X/Y position, if you must use cardioids, would be far better suited. Even a Mid/Side would work acceptably, but ORTF will sound unnatural. ORTF is best used with chamber to mid-sized orchestras where you can place a decent distance between the mic and the orchestra. For a solo player, it just doesn't convey realism.

    Truly the best approach for any solo acoustic (specifically orchestral) instrument is to A/B mic with identical omni's.

    J... 8)
  10. johnthemiracle

    johnthemiracle Active Member

    could you elaborate, please? how would the center of the image "suffer"?? (i'm with you according pulling back the mic...)

    why do you think you can't place a decent distance between player and mic?

    interesting approach. i know a-b as a main system for larger sound sources (such as orchestra)...but same with a-b, if you get too close, you'll run into problems with the movements of the player...i've heard that on various recordings...
    and i'm under the impression that you are more likely to run into phase issues (you mentioned that) with a-b than with ortf or xy or (even less) ms. (on the other hand there will be less phase issues with a single instrument than with an orchestra, so you could afford it here...)
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Sure...The simple fact is, with a cardioid microphone, the side lobes are far more finicky than the front axis. Since you are moving the microphone 55 degrees off center axis, you will get a depression in the sound. Yes, this is where the to lobes overlap, however, from a solo source, it is likely that these to signals will be out of phase. This will create the impression of a hole in the middle of your mix. The further you move back, the bigger the hole gets. (Though there is a point of diminishing returns.)
    With larger groups, it is not so much of a problem as for multi-person/multi-instrument groups, some phase mis-alignment is desireable (hence the premise of A-B micing).

    See above comment...
    Actually, if you read my original post, you will see that I very much stayed within the acoustic rules of multi-mic placement, specifically the 3:1 rule. An A-B pattern used for orchestra is typically 2 omni mics on one stand with a mic holder that will hold 2 mics at a perscribed distance (typically 20cm or greater). However, that is not the only application of A-B. A-B simply means two identical mics in two seperate locations attempting to record the same sound-source.

    You are actually quite backwards in your assumption that A-B micing will pick up subtle movements. If done correctly and Omni (preferrably high-quality, such as Schoeps or B&K) mics are used, you will not notice slight movements. This is due in part to 2 reasons:
    1. There is no proximity effect with true Omni Condensers - you may get as close and as far back as you like it will sound the same. (That is unless you make drastic movements, but I don't expect the flute player will be doing the 100 meter dash while recording their passage).
    2. The off-axis response of Omnis is much more consistent than cardioids. Significant movement around the mic will hardly be perceptable.

    Also, since A-B is built on the premise of receiving similar sounds at different modes of phase, unless the two sounds are completely out of phase, you are likely to have a pleasing sound - one with good but natural stereo seperation. Besides the A-B, the least likely set-up to have phase issues with would be the X/Y, again, as long as it is set up properly (one capsule OVER the other, not beside the other). M-S can be quite phase-friendly if you are using the same mic, but often, the biggest problem with M-S is poorly set-up configurations which cause poor sound.

    The simple fact is, there are many good reasons why all of the big-name studios (Telarc, Teldec, Sony) use an A-B (or modified A-B) setup to record their orchestras, chamber groups, choruses, and yes, soloists. It simply sounds more natural.

    The premise of ORTF is that the human ears are approximately 17 centimeters apart and angled at roughly 110 degrees. However, it has been widely accepted that our ears are widely omni-directional listening devices. If you use omni mics in an ORTF set-up, you are now using a modified A-B recording set-up.

    My .02
  12. johnthemiracle

    johnthemiracle Active Member

    actually i have yet to hear an ortf recording with a hole in the middle. said holes are unfortunately far easier to achieve with ab micing. far easier.
    and why should the two cardoids be out of phase even with a solo instrument? i don't think so. they're maybe not 100 percent in phase, since they're angled but certainly not completely, or mainly out of phase.

    well...greater. 1.5 meters or more. (especially for large sound sources such as orchestras). therefore the a/b mics for orchestra recording usually hang from ropes from the ceiling or balconees...i've neither heard nor experienced good things from recordings with small ab.

    just get close enough...

    1. proximity effect? not necessarily that close...but don't forget, some soloists move significantly when playing (half a meter and more from left to right), especially in a concert situation...
    2. that's right. i'm not so much worried about sound coloration than about panning the instrument around due to the spaced mics...

    that's the reason why you'll have most phase issues with ab, it's built on that...

    i agree that xy is probably the most phase friendly setup. the stereo width however is not as impressive as with ab. ms should have absolutely no phase issues with a soloist placed directly in front of the m mic...btw. i've heard good ms recordings even with different mics...

    yes...they also often use a decca tree to avoid the hole caused by widely spaced ab's...after all that's how they came up with that idea...

    this is a myth. ortf has been found by mathematic calculation. it just so happens that the 17 cm are close to the width of our heads...and the angle has absolutely nothing to do with our ears but with the recording angle you are trying to achieve....

    omnis in an ortf setup are not a really good idea since you get super small ab...i tried that once by accident, it didn't sound right...very poor spatial resolution...

    when i think about it, i like your idea of using ab for a soloist. you won't get a hole too easily because the soloist is actually in the middle. and you'll capture the full room sound. i just don't see why you couldn't achieve that with ortf in a more mono compatible way...
  13. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    john, john, john...

    I think you know enough about recording to be dangerous, but the simple fact is you are not providing proof for your argument, just "I have never heard..." There's a reason you've never heard an ORTF recording with a hole in the middle. 1: No reputable recording company records classical music using an ORTF mic position. 2: Record labels very rarely tell you what kind of set-up they are using, so how would you know what kind of mic set-up they are using.

    1.5 meters??? Wow, no wonder you are getting a hole in the sound with A/B. 20-30 centimeters for your main pair should be sufficient. If you haven't heard any good recordings from A-B small A-B then you haven't listened to a single Telarc recording. Check out their info about mic'ing here:
    Also, hanging mics from balconies or from ropes? Who does this? I have had the pleasure of working with some seriously good engineers (including numerous projects with Bruce Leek) and happen to be one myself and I have never seen this done! Yes, permanently mounted mics for general purpose recording are mounted like this, but the recordings are awful. Mic placement is crucial and if you permanently mount the mics like this, how can you make minute adjustments?

    1. proximity effect? not necessarily that close...but don't forget, some soloists move significantly when playing (half a meter and more from left to right), especially in a concert situation...
    2. that's right. i'm not so much worried about sound coloration than about panning the instrument around due to the spaced mics...
    1. Yes proximity effect - you will get proximity effect of a classical/acoustic instrument noticable from about 12 feet and closer. The omnis will represent the entire frequency regardless of spacing. To pick up the lowest overtones of the flute, you have to get very close with cardioids. This is not a problem with omnis. And regardless of moving around - that's what omnis are good for! Do you know the concept/definition of an omni microphone.
    2. You aren't worried about coloration? Of a classical acoustical instrument? You have displayed by this one sentence that you should not be working with classical musicians. Please for everyone's sake, I hope you were kidding. Panning is easy and you can play with infinite combinations of placement after the sound is recorded. Coloration can and will ruin a flute recording!
    No, no, no! That's why A-B is so good for phasing. Perhaps a course in orchestral mic'ing is in order!

    i agree that xy is probably the most phase friendly setup. the stereo width however is not as impressive as with ab. ms should have absolutely no phase issues with a soloist placed directly in front of the m mic...btw. i've heard good ms recordings even with different mics...[/quote]
    I will agree with most everything you said here, there are valid points. However, it is physically impossible to not have phase issues when you introduce a second mic into a setup. For that matter it is physically impossible to not have phase issues with a single mic set-up. That is, of course, unless you are performing a venue with absolutely no reflective surfaces. Hmmm... a recording in outer space...

    WHAT??? None of these recording studios ever uses a Decca Tree! The Decca Tree was not invented to subvert the issues with A-B, it is simply a modified A-B, one used to give greater depth to recordings. I only know of a handful of studios that use Decca Tree anymore for recording orchestras. It doesn't pick up natural reverb and therefore must be processed. Though it works acceptably well in movie scoring studios for that reason!

    john...if you read the journals made during the discovery of ORTF, you will discover that measurements of the human head were an integral part of the creation of ORTF. And the 110 degrees is the best angle to recreate the positioning of the outer lobes of the ear. While it may not have been the only factor involved, it certainly was a factor.

    I agree with you, I was simply making a factual statement. However, I would encourage you to adjust your distance to the orchestra. omnis spaced at 17cm and angled at 110 degrees should give more than adequate spatial resolution as long as the distance to the orchestra is great enough. Agreed though, it is not optimum.
    Mono compatible...why? If, in this particular recording you want a mono flute, mic with just one good omni. If you want stereo, record in a good stereo pattern. Mono compatability has a great advantage for an entire recording of a rock/pop/jazz group, but is nowadays useless when recording a single instrument that will be panned to a stereo field within a recording.

    I don't want to enter flame territory here, so I will respect any last post you wish to retort with, but will not respond. If you would like to take this offline, I would enjoy further discussing this with you and perhaps even share some demos of good A-B micing. My e-mail is jeremy@sssweb.net.

    J... :D
  14. johnthemiracle

    johnthemiracle Active Member

    well all i can contribute is personal experience, not scientific proof, sorry...

    that's funny. how would _you_ know? :) i have heard numerous recordings made with ortf. and i have heard numerous recordings made with ab. a hole in the middle was never an issue with ortf. however with ab it frequently was. i can't proof it scientifically, but i've got some experience here.

    radio stations who do classical recordings do this. usually they come from overhead. and it sounds great.

    adjustments can be made with two people moving the rope back and forth, only for adjustments of the distance between the mic you have to move the rope over to one side. it can be done, i don't see it as a big problem.

    o come on, i didn't say i'm not worried about coloration. i said i'm more worried about panning issues when you get closer, since this has been an issue in my previous experience. you don't want the soloist to move around, do you?

    ok, i cut it here, that's simply not necessary. i enjoy the discussion with you and it's interesting because some of the things you say are different from things that i've learned and heard (also from persons that have been in the business for a long time), but i don't want this to get to a personal level. i'll drop you a line via email...

    ok, i'll drop you a line.

Share This Page