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 Flute Microphone News Group Discussions

The discussion on microphones for flutes that has occurred on the Australian flute list chat line on Thursday and Friday 12/13 Nov. has been interesting. I am the manufacturer of the Aungles Flute Microphone. Thank you to all of the people who have provided feedback (no pun intended) on the microphone.

I found E. Tuxford's comments very interesting and on the whole I agree with them. The reply to Elizabeth Cooper contains many good details on microphone frequency and types of microphone. It seems to me that whoever comes up with a microphone that contains a transmitter that can be inserted between the headcork and the crown is on a winner as most wireless systems are rather bulky and require some form of adaption to the flute. So why do flute players need amplification? One of the best features of using a microphone is that in a large venues or locations with poor acoustics you donít have to blow your intestines out to be heard. There are four main advantages to using a microphone in these circumstances. 1.You can produce a normal tone without having to force the tone to be heard. 2. Because you donít have to force the tone to be heard you can play for a much longer time without feeling totally exhausted and dehydrated and you don't have to struggle with the intonation problems caused by forcing the tone. 3.You can choose a wider variety of pieces with varying dynamics without having to worry about problems of low volume and not being heard in the bottom register. 4.It puts you on a level playing field with instruments of substantially greater volume such as saxophone, brass, keyboard percussion and modern electronic instruments. I am currently working on a quick release mechanism for a flute headjoint crown which will no doubt please players who play two or more flutes.

There is a quick and easy way of attaching microphones to tin whistles or flutes without a headjoint crown. (The crown for those who are not sure, is the part of a modern metal flute which acts as the cosmetic cover over the left end of the flute headjoint tube and often looks like an ornamental spinning top made of metal).

Using a simple plastic tie clasp (used by electricians to group wire bundles together) and a miniature boom of 5-10cm length you can attach any tie clip style microphone to almost any flute such as pan pipes, shakuhachi(Japanese flute), recorder,tin whistle, Irish flute, fife. You can also use this system for oboe, clarinet and bassoon. Ask some of the specialist shops such as The Woodwind Group, Flute Fidelity (NSW) For Winds(QLD), Magic Flutes(VIC), Silver Keys(SA) if this is your area.

One of the biggest problems for a musician is the variety of sound equipment have to deal with. If you have a good mic. it can sound hopeless by either not understanding the equipment you are using or a lousy sound engineer who knows nothing about woodwind instruments. Using a graphic equaliser helps to clean up the flutes inherent problems of limited projection down low and too much projection up high. All professional sound desks have them. I must say I've yet to see someone using a mic. on a piccolo but I'm sure now I've said this someone will chip in a give me an example. A microphone is essential for jazz playing on alto or bass flute due to the very low volume of the overall sound. It is such a delicious sound it seems a waste not to hear it.

Many jazz players such as Don Burrows say they prefer to use a stand based microphone as they can work the microphone. In other words they use the fading effect as they move away from the microphone to their advantage. Of course most top jazz and rock players have decent equipment like AKG, Neumann and Sennheiser microphones.

Many classical players don't like having microphones anywhere near their flute because they believe a close mic'ed instrument produces unwanted key noise which to some extent is true especially if your flute is in desperate need of servicing. It's a bit like the dentist syndrome. Some people don't go to the dentist until something is wrong with their teeth. Most flute players don't visit a repairer till there is something wrong with their flute.

If you do use a good quality mic. then you are more likely to have complication of key noise unless you have some suppression device to counteract the frequency at which key noise is emitted. So therefore choosing a mic is a bit of a juggling act. You want a good reproduction of your sound but you don't want to exaggerate key noise and unwanted articulation and breathing noises. A wind sock on the microphone will eliminate a lot of the breathiness but when recording you can never totally eliminate breathing noises picked up by sensitive microphones. I've have worked with some classical flute players who won't let a microphone come within 10 metres of their flute. On the other hand many jazz players like to include these type of effects to give the playing an edge which is very acceptable and even encouraged by jazz musicians. Ian Anderson(the flute player from the rock group Jethro Tull) on the other hand has his mic just about touching the left side of his lip. Aust. professional flautist Geoff Collins attaches a high quality wireless vocal lapel mic(tie pin) to the barrel of his flute to reduce the possibility of key noise. The barrel is where the headjoint goes into the body of the flute and where most makers engrave the name of the flute. He suggests that mounting it away from the embouchure is less problematic. Geoff Collins also keeps the microphone off the wall of the instrument so as not to impede the natural resonance of the flute.

Of course there is a big difference between these two extremes but the most important point for any flautist to be aware of is the equipment you are plugging into. I've found I need to spend 20 to 30 minutes getting the sound reproduction right when I use different amplification equipment even though I always use the same mic. Regarding the Aungles Flute Microphone. For players interested in its genesis. I designed it for my own use and then it generated many request from onlookers. It is not a replacement for stand based top end microphones. The purpose of the microphone is to provide flautists with an opportunity to amplify their flutes at a low cost and in a way that does not damage the flute or require sophisticated mounting systems or a background in electronics to operate. It is a low cost condenser style microphone which is suitable for a majority of flutes and situations. I designed it so I wouldn't have to spend time packing up crate loads of gear after each performance. Many mounting systems create scratches on the instrument, so I wanted a way of not damaging my instruments. The bendable arm which holds the microphone can be fitted with almost any tie pin/lapel microphone. Despite producing a professional model of the microphone which retails around $350 and has a three pin plug, phantom power and a shielded cable, I prefer to use the cheaper model myself, as it easier to set up as you just plug it in and play. For most of the performances I use amplification I don't need to use a professional top end microphone. The microphone in its current form is still not the total solution to a perfect amplification of the flute. I'm always pleased to hear comments about the unit.

One day when I win the lottery (in my dreams) I will have the time and money to develop that microphone that I mentioned at the beginning with no cables and a capsule containing a transmitter that can be hidden inside the headjoint between the crown and the headcork. Perhaps it might even include a mini video camera for live performers.Please let me know if you have seen or heard of any developments in this area. Given the developments in miniaturisation of electronic components maybe that day may not be to far away. Video camera technology has come a long way in 10 years as witnessed by the cat eye video cameras used for sporting events like the stump cam. in cricket and lip stick cameras for motor racing mounted in the kerb.

The five alternatives I am aware of for amplifying a flute at present are; 1. Using a microphone mounted on a heavy floor base and stand with a boom arm. Mostly used by professional jazz and classical flautists for commercial recordings and live performances. 2. Replacement headcork units, such as the Barcus Berry which require the existing headcork of your flute to be permanently replaced with a headcork that contains the transducer(microphone). 3.Microphones mounted on the tube of the flute by a variable clamp, such as SDS(SD Systems-makers of the popular Sax Mic.) & AMT (Applied Microphone Technologies) style flute microphones. The low cost alternative is using blue tack to attach a tie pin microphone. 4.Headset units. These consist of a headphone style band worn over the head with a condenser microphone mounted on the end of a gooseneck(flexible arm). Most microphone manufacturers produce these such as Shure, AKG, Sennheiser. 5. Microphones mounted on the thread of the headjoint crown with a flexible arm, such as the Aungles Flute Microphone.

All of the five alternatives have good and not so good features. Most of the alternatives can be used with cordless microphones but this adds a minimum of approximately $500 to the price tag and that is the bottom end of the single channel wireless receiver/transmitter market. None are the perfect solution to a flute sound totally free from key noise. Obviously for a restaurant/busking/outdoor situation a low cost option like the headjoint mounted microphone or a low cost headset is appropriate and will provide you with a more than satisfactory result. For large concert halls and serious professional performances a stand based microphone of top quality will be required. For jazz and energetic rock music performances a wireless system is a must.

A few tips for amplifying your flute;

1 When choosing a mic.spend lots of time trying it out before you buy it. Take it away (if you can) and try it with your sound system. 2. Spend time getting to know the amplification equipment you are using.Keep a written record of the levels at which you normally operate your sound system. This makes it quicker the next time you set up the equipment. 3. Always try the complete set up(mic,equalisers, amplifiers, speakers etc) in the location you are about to play in.The sound will always be different for every performance venue even if you always use the same equipment. 4. If you have the luxury of a sound engineer be polite and persistent. Many of them don't appreciate the idiosyncrasies (variations in sound) of the flute so they need to be educated nicely. In other words don't go and tell them you hate the awful noise coming out of the speakers but calmly explain the flute is piercing up high and fluffy down low. 5.Always get a musical friend to check the sound quality and balance all around the performance area not just in one spot. Don't rely on your own assessment of the sound as this is often very misleading. 6.Check the balance of the sound in all registers and both legato(slurred) and staccato(short) playing. 7.Be careful to store your microphone cable/s coiled and never ever kink or fold or bend them. They do not take kindly to having equipment rolled over them when they are on the ground. 8.Finally turn up the volume and enjoy playing with a trumpet, saxophone or electric keyboard and being able to compete on the same dynamic level, its a great feeling.The only downer is that back in your practice room the next day your sound feels pathetic. But don't worry grab a piccolo and fire off a few top C's. That will reassure you that you've still got it and really cheese the neighbours off.

For players thinking about using a flute microphone for the first time and unsure of all the technical lingo and hype surrounding microphones the following should help you. There are two terms used to describe a microphone. To put it very simply and not get too technical the two categories are; 1.Balanced output and 2.Unbalanced output. 1.Balanced outputs; usually have a three pin metal plug on the end. They are referred to as Canon or XLR connectors. They are found on the more expensive brand microphones and contain three leads inside the cable. 2.Unbalanced outputs; are usually found with a single plug. They are referred to as PMG, 1/4 inch, or 6.5 mm tip and sleeve connectors. The plug is the same type found on hifi headphones which you plug into the headphone jack of your home hifi. Most electric guitar and keyboard amplifiers use this style of connector. Small tie pin style condenser microphones use this system. Some microphones also come with an 1/8 inch plug(walkman style headphone plug) which then goes into a 1/4 inch adapter. Because there are only two leads inside the cable these microphones are more susceptible to interference from other electrical sources. There are two basic styles of microphone 1.Condenser microphones which require a power supply usually provided by a small battery.(watch battery, AAA, or AA size). Often smaller in size such as the tie pin /lapel style microphones. 2.Dynamic microphones which don't require a power source. These are often the larger hand held type such as vocal microphones. Once again price is the deciding factor. The more you pay generally the better the microphone and the more reliable the sound reproduction.

Please feel free to join the discussion. If you would like more specific information on brands and models, donít hesitate to contact me. Knowledge is about the sharing of ideas for the greater good.

Alan Aungles

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