Why does my ocarina sound airy in recordings?

It is pretty common for an ocarina to sound more airy in a recording than it does to you as the player. This can be caused by a number of different factors:

Poor microphone

I expect the most common reason that an ocarina will sound airy in a recording is that you are using a poor microphone. The microphones built into devices like smartphones and laptops are designed to capture a legible human voice for making phone or video calls, not recording musical instruments. If you want to record musical instruments, you need a microphone designed for this purpose, and there are many options. I discuss these on the page 'How to record the ocarina'.

Poor microphone placement

If you have a decent microphone but your recording still sounds excessively airy, there is a good chance that this is caused by your microphone placement. Ocarinas, like all acoustic musical instruments, do not project their sound equally in all directions. Beginners commonly position the microphone on a table below the ocarina, often because they don't have a microphone stand. This is a problem because an ocarina's voicing is below the instrument and a large amount of wind noise is projected downwards. It is usually best to position your microphone above the ocarina, slightly to the left or right of the voicing and at least 30cm away. The wind noise is much less obvious at a distance.

Poorly suited microphone

There are many different types of microphones on the market which are optimised for different tasks. Even a high end microphone can sound terrible if the task does not fit well with its intended purpose. These differences arise mostly from frequency response, which describes how a microphone responds to low pitched vs high pitched sounds, and is given as a frequency response graph.

Many microphones are 'presence boosted' which means that they boost the mids to upper mids, 1000 to 10,000 in the example above. This is done as it gives a pleasing sound for the human voice and some musical instruments. Unfortunately, most of the ocarina's wind noise is within this frequency range, so using one to record the ocarina will make it sound more airy than it is. Preferably, you should look for a microphone with a neutral response. Ribbon microphones naturally behave in this way. Small diaphragm condenser microphones also tend to have a flat response, although I've never used one.

Room acoustics

Within a typical home environment, there is little to dampen the reflection of sound waves. Hard surfaces reflect sound which will echo around the room, creating an effect called 'comb filtering'. Comb filtering changes the perceived volume of a sound depending on its pitch and your location. This will make some notes sound quieter than they should, making the wind noise more obvious and the ocarina sound more airy. As this effect depends on location, how it sounds to your microphone will differ relative to what you perceive.

The only way to deal with this is to reduce reflected sound, either by recording in a large outdoor space or by acoustically treating your room. The first option is an easy first step to take especially if you have a portable recorder like the Zoom H1. Doing this will give you a good impression of what your instrument sounds like. But if you want to make recordings to a good standard, you will need to invest in some acoustic treatment, or rent a recording studio. I have some tips on improvised acoustic treatment on the page 'How to record the ocarina'.

Bad technique or a bad instrument

Ocarinas are quite sensitive to player technique: tongue position, the angle you are blowing the ocarina and your hand position all affect the sound and may make the instrument sound more airy. If this is a problem, you should notice it while listening to yourself playing as well as in recordings. The FAQ page 'Why does my ocarina have airy high notes?' has some tips on this, as do several pages in my playing tutorial.

This can also be caused by the ocarina. Just because an ocarina is noisy does not mean that it is inherently bad. It depends a lot on what it is being used for, and a loose airy tone can work well in certain situations. Also, loud ocarinas will sound noisier to the player as they use more air, so you may not wish to use one in a recording environment for this reason. It can be compensated for by placing the microphone a lot farther away.

If your ocarina is noisy and has other problems, such as very poor tuning, then it probably is just a bad instrument.


Article Headings