With everyone stuck at home these days there has been a massive increase in output of recorded content on social media. So many people have been asking me about the different setups I use, so I’m going to compare a few user friendly and inexpensive microphone options for recording audio on your phone or computer. I’m also going to offer you my tips on how to get the best results from those recordings. Afterwards, let me know in the comments what you think of these different setup options.
I have two main recording setups for the saxophone. The first one is what you hear in my YouTube videos, and it is expensive, complex and not practical for most people. At home, in my practice studio, I record directly onto my phone using this USB microphone the Apogee mic+. This setup costs a lot less and is very portable and easy to use. It’s great for doing quick Instagram videos, podcasts, and Skype calls. I also use this phone clamp the K&M Mic Stand, and this Boom Arm Extension to help record my videos. When I’m recording with my full studio setup I use the Coles 4038 Ribbon Microphone and the Universal Audio Apollo Twin audio converter, but this is very expensive and not at all practical for everyone.
Audio Recording Basics
Now before we get into the gear, I want to talk about something that doesn’t get mentioned very often.
Before the microphone comes into play there are two very important factors to consider that can have a much bigger impact on the quality of your audio than the mic you are using.
The first is the instrument or voice you are recording.
If it doesn’t sound good in the first place, no amount of expensive gear can correct that. The source of the audio is always the most important consideration. So if you’re a saxophone player, develop your sound and technique before worrying about expensive microphones.
The second important factor is the room you are recording in. If the room sounds terrible, there’s not much point in getting expensive gear because there is going to be a low ceiling on the quality of audio you can produce in that environment.
In my studio, I’ve got acoustic panels on the walls and ceiling, as well as rugs on the floor. Without that stuff, this room would be horrible to record in. There would be tons of unwanted sound reflections and some frequencies would just be ringing forever while others would not be heard so much.
If you follow me on Instagram, you might notice that the room I often record in is very small. It too has acoustic panels but they can only do so much in such a small space. The room has a tremendous effect on your sound and the microphone picks up a lot of that.
Which brings me to the third important factor to consider before spending a lot on a mic.
How to Use the Microphone
If you have the most expensive mic in the world, but it’s not being used correctly, you will have an unsuccessful result.
It takes a lot of practice to learn to get the best results with your recording gear. That’s why an experienced audio engineer, can make professional quality recordings with very basic equipment.
So my advice to you is to start out with a simple setup and record with it a lot so you learn how to get the most out of it.
That’s pretty much the same as my advice for buying saxophones.
Using Your Phone to Record
Now the most simple setup that you already have is your phone. There’s a built in microphone that records sound, and on newer phones, you can get pretty good audio with that.
However, there is one pretty significant problem with recording music using the internal mic on your phone. It has an auto-gain setting built in so if you play really loud, it turns the volume down, and if you play really quiet it turns the volume up. this will distort your dynamics digitally.
Digital dynamic distortion… is a great name for a band, go ahead if you want to use it.
If you play around with different levels of volume output on your instrument, you can hear the adjustment made by the computer as it turns the volume down. Between phrases when there is silence, the computer turns the volume back up and you can hear the first note of a new phrase start very loud and then get turned down again.
To be quite honest though, the iPhone mic is pretty good all things considered.
But once you plug in a dedicated external microphone, the quality can go up significantly and you can set a fixed gain level.
I’ve got a few that I have purchased over the last few years so let’s compare how they record my saxophone.
Shure MV88 Microphone
The first one is the Shure MV88. It sells for about $150. I like this mic but it has several drawbacks I want to point out.
First, it only works on iOS devices like iPhones and iPads so that is an obvious dealbreaker for a lot of people.
Second, you have to take off your phone case to plug it in.
Third, it is always attached to your phone, so I can’t be as close to the mic as I’d like to be and get a decent angle for videos.
For saxophone the sound changes significantly depending on where you position the mic in the room and in relation to the saxophone.
Generally speaking the further away the mic is from your sax, the more room sound you will get. I place the Shure MV88 mics fairly close to the saxophone bell because that’s where I think they sound best. If I am forced to put the mic further away, it’s not going to sound as good.
When I set up my phone and microphone for making these videos, I have a standard mic stand, with an extra boom arm attachment. I mount the phone further away a Manfrotto mount, and use the long boom arm to position the mic near the bell of the saxophone.
It’s a very simple setup that’s all in one piece, so you just have to put your phone in the mount, plug in the mic, and you’re ready to record.
Shure MV5 Microphone
Next up is the Shure MV5 which sells for about $100
This is much better for recording saxophone since it connects to your device with a cable. It comes with 1m cables which are long enough to position the mic near the saxophone and still get a good angle from your phone for video. It can connect to all types of smartphones and computers.
The Shure MV5 comes with a metal stand which I find entirely useless, but it can be fitted to a mic stand with an adapter (not included).
It doesn’t sound quite as good as the Shure MV88 to me but it’s much more practical and costs less.
Apogee Mic +
Finally, we have the Apogee Mic +, which sells for $259
If all of these mics sound the same to you, that’s fine, just use the internal mic in your phone and save some money.
For me, the Apogee Mic+ sounds significantly better than the 2 Shure mics and the internal iPhone mic. There is more depth and detail in the sound and it doesn’t have that shrill digital high end that I find in most cheaper microphones.
This mic has a gain knob on the front as well as level indicator, which are both really helpful.
The Apogee Mic+ can work with all devices and computers and it comes with some nice accessories including a stand and an adapter that allow you to mount it on a normal mic stand and precisely adjust its position.
All of these microphones will work if you are using the basic recording apps that come with your phone whether that’s for just audio or video as well. Most of the time, I just use the camera app on my phone with this mic plugged in and press record.
Shure has 2 good apps that are free to download that will work with their microphones but also as a standalone recorder.
Apogee has an app that can be used to make professional level recordings from your phone, but it is only for audio.
There are tons of other apps that you can use to record music. I use GarageBand a lot on my phone and tablet.
If you are looking to improve the quality of audio recordings on your mobile devices the Apogee + is my recommendation based on the different mics I’ve worked with. There are tons of options out there now, and I’m sure there will be more coming out soon. Interested in more equipment reviews? Check out this article on the Roland Aerophone Mini AE-01 on why it’s the next best thing to help you learn a wind instrument.