Microphones, Headphones, and Recording Tips in a Virtual World by Dr. Rafael
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
As we have been using our electronic devices for a lot of our musical activities, it has become clear to me that an external microphone adds to the quality of the final product, be it a recording for a given project or a lesson. It’s incredible the difference I have experienced while teaching lessons to students that were using an external microphone, as opposed to the ones that come on their computers/tablets/phones.
Since the beginning of the pandemic and the necessity of teaching online, I have done some research and compiled a list of external microphones at all price points. They all should be a big improvement on the computer/tablet sound, and I highly recommend acquiring one, if you can afford it. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about audio interfaces anymore, and can go directly to USB microphones!
Here’s a list of microphones (from lower to higher price), with links: Fifine K669B (https://amzn.to/2PbT9DL) Samson Go Mic (https://amzn.to/2UrKb7t) Blue Snowflake (https://amzn.to/2Wybr6R) Blue Snowball (https://amzn.to/33IL9QZ) Shure MV5 (https://amzn.to/2UowvKs) Blue Raspberry (https://amzn.to/2Jd3uwk) Blue Yeti (https://amzn.to/2xf9emt) Apogee MiC Plus (https://amzn.to/2W8D05q) Other reputable brands you may wish to research include AudioTechnica and Rode.
If you are using a tablet or phone for your activities, you may need an adaptor from USB to whichever type of cable fits into your device. Also, you should check to see if your microphone of choice is compatible with your device and operational system.
For recordings, it’s desirable to have the microphone closer to the performer than than you would place your camera/phone (about 2-5ft, depending on the instrument) – one more reason to use an external microphone to record. I suggest connecting your microphone (set to cardioid pickup pattern, if there is an option) to a computer and use a free software (such as Audacity or GarageBand) to record the audio, and then synchronize it with the video.
If the recordings you are making require you to listen to a click track or to another member of your group playing, you will need to wear headphones or earbuds, so that sound doesn’t leak into your recording. The earbuds that come with your cellphone are adequate for this job, but you might find that the cord is too short. If that is the case I suggest you get a corded headphone with a longer cable; Bluetooth and other wireless equipment sometimes add delay to the recording chain.
For headphones, you should choose a closed back model. This type of headphone offers more sound isolation and is better for using while recording.
Here’s a list of closed back headphones (from lower to higher price), with links: Superlux HD671 (https://amzn.to/3r2tn6K) Tascam TH02 (https://amzn.to/37jHrk5) Edifier H850 (https://amzn.to/3r1ED2U) AKG K92 (https://amzn.to/2KrvJuS) Audio Technica ATH-M30x (https://amzn.to/34eVMMW) Sony MDR7506 (https://amzn.to/2IRDGJx) Sennheiser HD280Pro (https://amzn.to/382Wi1O) For producing videos, a cell phone camera is adequate, and most cellphones have very good quality video. You may want use a free software (such as Kdenlive or Shotcut) to synchronize the better audio recorded with the external microphone to your video. If you’re using your phone or a tablet to record the video, be sure to record with it in the horizontal direction. Remember to record in a well lit room, using daylight or a 5,000k light as your source. Have your light source in front of you or at about a 45 degree angle – do NOT stand in front of the light, as this will actually make your video darker.
Remember, when we record an instrument, a lot of what we capture is the room (one reason to use the cardioid pickup pattern). Avoid recording in “boomy” rooms that have a lot of (quick) reverberation. Usually, these rooms have a lot of glass or wood (hard surfaces) in them. You can “help” the room by spreading pillows and other fabric around, in case you don’t have another room in which to record.
I hope these short tips are of use for all of you! Best, Dr. Rafael