Best Microphones For Miking Flute


The flute is a beautiful reedless woodwind instrument. With its full, bright, and whimsical sound, the flute sees important roles in classical, jazz, and many other genres.

When it comes time to record the flute or to reinforce its sound live, we either start with pickups or microphones. What makes for a great flute microphone and what are the top recommendations for flute mics? We’ll answer both these questions in this article, starting with the recommended microphones:

  • AEA R88 MK2: The AEA R88 MK2 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a stereo ribbon microphone that works amazingly well on solo flutes in studio or otherwise controlled environments. This microphone will capture the sounds of the flute in a nearly identical fashion as our ear would naturally.
  • Shure SM57: The Shure SM57 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a dynamic microphone with a small diaphragm. This inexpensive workhorse is best used in live flute-miking but also holds its weight in studio settings.
  • Audix ADX10-FLP: The Audix ADX10-FLP (link to check the price on Amazon) is a miniature condenser microphone designed to clip onto flutes. It captures the flute surprisingly well for a clip-on while allowing flautists to easily move around the stage. The ADX10-FLP gets the top recommendation for a flute clip-on microphone.

Let’s talk about each of these recommendations in more detail after discussing the sound of the flute.


Disclaimer:

“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist’s price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.

Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:

  • Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
  • Instrument
  • Microphone technique/placement
  • Number of microphones used
  • Natural sound of the room
  • Content (whether that’s the song, discussion, or otherwise)
  • Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)

With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”


What Does A Concert Flute Sound Like?

When choosing a microphone for any application, it’s to our great advantage to know the characteristics of the sound source. So what does a concert flute sound like?

The concert flute’s notes range from B3-D7. Let’s discuss the differences in timbre through this range.

In the lower register (B3-B4), the flute lacks partials and sounds quite dull and hollow.

In the middle register (C5-B5), the flute sounds mellow and rich. The overtones are the strongest in this range.

In the upper register (C6-D7), the flute tends to sound shrill and piercing.

The sound of the flute is projected through the open lower end and the open keys. However, it’s common in live situation to close-mic a flautist near the embouchure hole. This adds more breathe to the microphone signal.

A Note On Miking Flutes

Flutes often play a critical role in the music they’re heard in and therefore often need special attention when it comes time to mic them. There are basically 2 main ways to mic a flute. Let’s discuss them briefly:

  1. Spot miking (live)
  2. Solo miking (studio)

Spot miking is the better option when miking a flute live. When other instruments and sound sources are present, it’s critical that we close-mic the flute and do the best we can to isolate it from extraneous sounds.

Spot miking can be done in two ways.

The first method is to have a mic (typically a cardioid dynamic mic) on a stand for the flautist to play into. The flautist should position the embouchure about 5 inches from the microphone and direct air slightly below the microphone diaphragm.

The second close-miking method is to use a clip-on microphone. This method gives the flautist more freedom to move around the stage and a consistent sound pickup of the flute.

Solo miking a flute is ideal in the studio in order to capture the full sound of the flute. Oftentimes a stereo pair or a stereo microphone works the best. Position the microphone roughly half a foot from the embouchure and point it at the flutist’s forehead.

Engineers will also utilize a room microphone positioned several feet from the flute in order to capture the full sound of the flute in the room.

For more information on microphone placement, check out my article Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement.


Frequency Range Of Concert Flute

  • Overall Range: 262 Hz ~ 12,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 247 Hz – 2,349 Hz (B3-D7)
  • Harmonics range: 524 Hz ~ 12,000 Hz
  • Formant: 800 Hz 

So we want a microphone that will accurately capture the true sound of the concert flute. Knowing the fundamental frequencies and the harmonics of the flute is a great place to start. On top of this, there are a few more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the best concert flute microphone.


What Factors Make An Ideal Flute Microphone?

Let’s discuss a short list of the critical specifications that make up a great flute microphone:

  • Flat Frequency Response/Gentle High-End Roll-Off: A flat frequency response works wonders with flutes. The sound of a flute is rich with harmonics but can sometimes sound harsh. A gentle high-frequency roll-off will benefit a solo or studio flute recording, making the instrument sound very natural.
  • Sensitivity: Select a microphone sensitive enough to pick up the nuances in the flute. This helps to capture the fullest sonic picture possible!
  • Directionality: Depending on the circumstance, choose a microphone with a complimentary polar pattern. In live situation, go more directional (cardioid is a great bet). For solo situations, any pattern will work but omnidirectional and stereo microphones will yield better, more natural results.

And For Live Applications, A Few More Considerations:

  • Durability: Choose a microphone that can withstand some physical abuse. Chances are, at some point, your live microphone will encounter some rough times.
  • Price: Pick a microphone you can afford to replace. This is important for performers and crucial for venue owners and audio technicians.
  • Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.

So we have a general idea of what we’re looking for in a flute microphone. Let’s discuss the recommended flute microphones through the above criteria:


The AEA R88MK2

AEA R88MK2

The AEA R88MK2 is a stereo ribbon microphone. It has two ribbon diaphragms set up in a Blumlein pair (one above another length-wise and pointing 90-degrees from each other). The stereo image of this microphone combined with its frequency response makes its pickup nearly identical to the way our ears hear sound.

The R88 is close to perfection when it comes to recording the most natural sounding flute in a studio environment. Let’s discuss this microphone further, shall we?

Frequency Response Of The AEA R88MK2

The specified frequency response range of the AEA R88MK2 is <20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the R88MK2 frequency response graph:

Image from AEA R88MK2 Specification Sheet

Unfortunately, AEA doesn’t show up the response under 200 Hz, even though the microphone is sensitive down to and below the 20 Hz mark (the lower limit of human hearing).

From what we can see of the R88’s frequency response, it has a gentle roll-off of higher frequencies starting from 200 Hz. A steeper roll-off happens in the upper frequencies (around 9 kHz). This gradual frequency dependent decrease in sensitivity gives the R88 a warm, full, natural pickup that works tremendously on flute.

The frequency response of the R88 warms up the sound of the flute, accentuating the character of the woodwind instrument while decreasing the potential harshness of its high partials.

For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).

Sensitivity Of The AEA R88MK2

The sensitivity rating of the AEA R88MK2 is specified as 2.5 mV/Pa (-52 dBV) into unloaded circuit. This is typical of ribbon dynamic mics, but low. This microphone (like all passive ribbon mics) will benefit greatly from a high-quality preamp with lots of clean gain.

For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.

When choosing a microphone preamp for the AEA R88, select one with an impedance rating of at least 1.2 kΩ to effectively “accept” the R88’s 270 Ω broadband mic signal.

For more information on microphone preamp bridging and impedance, check out my article Microphone Impedance: What Is It And Why Is It Important?

But the output signal strength of a microphone isn’t the only way to think of “sensitivity.”

The ribbon diaphragms of the R88 are 1.8 microns thick (or should I say “thin”). The subtlest change in sound pressure against the flat part of the R88 ribbon diaphragms will cause them to move. This makes the ribbon microphone fragile when exposed to gusts of air, but extremely accurate when capturing the transients and nuanced sounds of the flute.

For more information on microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm?

Polar Response Of The AEA R88MK2

The AEA R88MK2 is a stereo microphone. A stereo image is created using the Blumlein pair technique. The R88 has two bidirectional ribbon diaphragms stacked on top of one another length-wise, pointing 90-degrees from one another. The result is a stereo image that is shockingly accurate to the way we hear naturally. Each ribbon diaphragm exhibits the following polar response graph:

Image from AEA R88MK2 Specification Sheet

For more information on the bidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Bidirectional/Figure-8 Microphone? (With Mic Examples).

Together, the two ribbon diaphragm yield a pattern similar to the following:

Blumlein Pair Polar Response Drawing

The R88 has a 5-pin XLR output two effectively carry the two mic signals (one from each ribbon). A breakout cable is included to change the 5-pin to two 3-pins so that each signal can be send to a preamp in mono. We could, if we wanted to, use the R88 as a mono bidirectional microphone by only sending one 3-pin XLR to a preamp.

As a stereo mic, the R88 will capture the sound of the flute in a most natural way. The mic is ideal for miking a solo flute, capturing the truest essence of the instrument and the room.

Alternatively, you could choose to use the R88 as a mono bidirectional microphone. Simply record one of the two 3-pin outputs. Ensure the microphone is positioned correctly so the diaphragm you intend to pickup the sound is actually the diaphragm picking up the sound.

For more information on stereo microphones, check out my article Do Microphones Output Mono Or Stereo Signals?


The Shure SM57

Shure SM57

The Shure SM57, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, is one of the greatest microphones to even be produced. The 57 is a cardioid dynamic microphone with a small diaphragm. Though this microphone isn’t exactly accurate or flashy, it is built to stand the tests of time and act as a jack-of-all-trades in both studio and live environments.

On flute, the SM57 is a reliable go-to in live situations. Its cardioid pattern and low sensitivity help to isolate the flute on a loud stage when the flautist plays into the mic. The small size of the mic doesn’t eclipse the flautist as they’re playing and the mic also doesn’t draw much attention to itself.

In the studio, the SM57 can sound surprisingly good on flute. The Shure SM57 is my top recommendation for a live flute microphone and at less than $100 USD, it’s also my top budget mic for flute.

Frequency Response Of The Shure SM57

The frequency response of the Shure SM57 is given as 40 Hz – 15,000 Hz. The SM57 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the Shure SM57 Specification Sheet

The frequency response of the Shure SM57 is anything but flat. Let’s talk about how the colour of this microphone works with the sound of a flute.

The low-end roll-off of the SM57 starts happening around 200 Hz. This is well below the lowest fundamental of the concert flute (262 Hz). So the low-end roll-off effectively reduces low-end rumble and noise without thinning out the sound of the flute. It also reduces the risk of microphone feedback on a boomy live stage.

A good portion of the 57’s response to mid-frequencies is flat (from about 200 Hz – 2,000 Hz). Most of the concert flute’s fundamental frequencies fall within this range, and so the 57 captures the body of the instrument quite well.

The presence boost of the 57 (roughly a 6 dB boost at 6 kHz) makes this microphone an excellent choice of some sound source (the human voice, for example) and not so great on others.

A presence boost like this accentuates a lot of the flute’s harmonic content, which could potentially help the flute stand out in a dense mix. What is more likely to happen, though, is an unnatural sounding flute that would require some EQ to sound great. This is all, of course, subjective, and not necessarily a microphone flaw.

The high-end roll-off helps to warm up the sound of the flute and tames the high frequencies of the room. This is especially helpful when close-miking a flute in a loud room. The roll-off doesn’t filter out many of the flute’s important frequencies.

Sensitivity Of The Shure SM57

The sensitivity rating of the SM57 is given as -56.0 dBV/Pa (1.6 mV).

This low sensitivity rating is beneficial when close-miking the flute in live situations but detrimental when trying to mic the flute at any sort of distance.

I’d recommend using a quality preamp with clean gain to boost the relatively quiet mic signal of the SM57.

The transient response of the SM57 diaphragm is also not the most accurate, which is typical of moving-coil dynamic mics. Therefore, the sound of the SM57 may seem a bit “compressed” for lack of a better word.

Polar Response Of The Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is a top address cardioid microphone. Here is a diagram representing the polar pattern of the Shure SM57:

Image from the Shure SM57 Specification Sheet

For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).

A cardioid pattern is what we want when miking a flute live. It allows for isolation of the flute when on stage with other instruments and sound sources.

A cardioid microphone can also be positioned in front of a foldback monitor and have ample gain before feedback. Position the SM57 on a stand in front of a monitor with the rear of the mic pointing at the monitor. The rear null point of the 57 won’t cause feedback with the monitor, allowing the flautist to stand in front of the monitor and hear themselves as they play.

Durability Of The Shure SM57

Much like the SM58, the SM57 is nearly indestructible! The toughness of the 57 makes it an excellent live microphone.

There are official Shure videos of the SM57 getting:

In each of the above scenarios, the SM57 came out functioning (though a bit beat up). I think it’s safe to say the SM57 is durable.

Price Of The Shure SM57

The price is definitely right on this champion of a microphone. For about $100 USD, you can be the proud owner of a new SM57. 

For more information on the price of microphones, check out my articles How Much Do Microphones Cost? (With Pricing Examples) and Top 20 Most Expensive Microphones On The Market Today.

Size Of The Shure SM57

The SM57 is just slightly longer than 6 inches with its widest diameter only 1¼ inches. With a weight of only 284 g (10 oz), the SM57 can be easily held in place by a mic stand and won’t eclipse the performing flautist.


The Audix ADX10-FLP

Audix ADX10-FLP

The Audix ADX10-FLP is a miniature condenser clip-on microphone designed for flutes. This microphone attaches to the head joint of the flute and points at the embouchure. The ADX10-FLP comes with its own phantom power supply belt pack (APS-911) and works well with wireless systems.

This flute clip-on microphone works well for its price range. Though clip-on microphones may not be the best choice for capturing the full sound of the flute, they sure do make things easier for flautists who like to move around on stage.

Frequency Response Of The ADX10-FLP

The frequency response of the Audix ADX10-FLP is given as 50 Hz – 18,000 Hz. Here is the microphone’s frequency response chart:

Image from Audix ADX10-FLP Specifications Sheet

The Audix ADX10-FLP has a relatively flat response.

Its low-end roll-off looks almost like a low-shelf. This helps reduce the amount of noise in the mic signal while still picking up some of the mechanical noise of the flute.

The slight presence peak helps accentuate the harmonic content of the flute without causing it to sound overly bright or unnatural.

The high-end roll-off benefits this microphone since the focus of this clip-on mic is the flute and not the room around the flute. The flute doesn’t have a whole lot of high-end frequency information, and so a high-frequency roll-off doesn’t hurt the sound, it simply cleans it up.

Sensitivity Of The ADX10-FLP

The sensitivity ration of the ADX10-FLP is written as 4.5 mV / Pa @ 1k. This is low for a condenser microphone but excellent as a clip-on microphone. Once again, the focus is on the sound of the flute and its embouchure and the microphone is positioned very close to the embouchure. A low sensitivity helps with the isolation of the flute.

Polar Response Of The ADX10-FLP

The ADX10-FLP has a cardioid polar pattern with the following graph:

Image from Audix ADX10-FLP Specifications Sheet

This is exactly the polar pattern we want.

The correct positioning of the ADX10-FLP is on the head joint, pointing it at the flute embouchure. The cardioid pattern picks up the sound of the flute embouchure effectively while rejecting most extraneous sound.

Durability Of The ADX10-FLP

The ADX10-FLP is moderately durable. A clip-on flute microphone is unlikely to see much physical abuse. I wouldn’t recommend ever intentionally beating a microphone.

Price Of The ADX10-FLP

At under $250 (at the time of writing this article), the Audix ADX10-FLP is affordable and effective. Considering price when choosing a clip-on microphone is important because the microphones tend to be specialized.

As a flautist, one may be more apt to acquire a higher-end clip-on microphone for performing. However, as a technician who is only required to record or reinforce flute every once in a while, the ADX10-FLP is a cost-effective and beautiful microphone for flute.

Size Of The ADX10-FLP

The size of the ADX10-FLP is 25mm long with a 10mm diameter and it weighs 110g (4 oz). When clipping the ADX10-FLP to a flute, it doesn’t draw much attention to itself and the flautist will barely feel a difference in their playing when miking up with the ADX1–FLP.


Let’s Recap

So these are three of the best microphones for capturing the sound of a flute in each of the general miking techniques. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on flute, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 3 recommended flute mics. Let’s recap:

  • AEA R88MK2: Best sounding studio microphone for solo flute.
  • Shure SM57: Best live/close-miking flute mic.
  • Audix ADX10-FLP: Best clip-on microphone for flute.

Honourable mentions:

  • AKG C414 XLII
  • Royer R121
  • Sennheiser MD441
  • AMT P800
  • DPA d:dicate 4011C

For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.

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