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

Using a poor microphone is a common reason that an ocarina will sound airy in a recording. 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 like the ocarina, 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. An ocarina's voicing is below the instrument and a large amount of wind noise is projected downwards.

If you place your microphone on a table below the ocarina, it is going to capture a lot more of that wind noise. A microphone stand is a worthwhile investment.

It works to position your microphone somewhat above the ocarina, slightly to the left or right of the voicing and at least 30cm away. The wind noise is less obvious at a distance.

Ocarinas do not project sound equally in all directions, so microphone position is important when recording. Positing the microphone below the instrument will capture a lot more wind noise, than if it is positioned above. Positioning the microphone below the ocarina is the most common mistake made when recording the instrument

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, shown in a frequency response graph.

Microphones in the real word do not record all frequencies at equal volume, typically they have a drop off in response to low frequencies. Many microphones intentionally boost high frequencies as this makes the human voice and some instruments sound more airy or open

Many microphones are 'presence boosted' which means that they boost the mids to upper mids, 1000 to 10,000 in the example graph. 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 such a microphone to record an ocarina will make it sound more airy than it is.

Preferably, you should look for a microphone with a neutral response, such as:

  • Most ribbon microphones.
  • Small diaphragm condenser microphones.

Another option is to adjust the high frequencies of a recording using an equaliser.

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. Acoustic treatment is padded material that reduces echo, and is not the same thing as soundproofing.

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 actually sounds like.

But if you want to make good recordings indoors, you will need to invest in some acoustic treatment. 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 so, it should be noticeable while listening to yourself playing as well.

The FAQ page 'Why does my ocarina have airy high notes?' has some tips on this, as do several pages in 'Learning to play the ocarina'.

This can also be caused by a poor quality ocarina, see Evaluating ocarina quality.