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I’ve tried recording the tin whistle before, and I found it’s a bit less straightforward than singing directly into a microphone. I felt like I was lacking in my knowledge so I did a ton of research to find out the best microphones for recording the tin whistle as well as some recording best practices for this beautiful instrument.
The best microphone for the tin whistle depends on your goals, for live performances, the SM-57 is an ideal mic for the tin whistle due to its versatility, shape, frequency response, sensitivity pattern, and cost. Proper recording technique is also essential in successful recordings of the tin whistle.
Whoa, there’s a lot here… I want to break it down and make this as clear and concise as possible. The best mic for you depends completely on your project and your goals. So, step one, determine your goals. Read on to find out what mics work best for your situation, as well as some recording tips to make your recording sing.
*Note, pretty much all of these tips will work for recording the recorder instrument.*
What Are Your Goals In Recording?
Your project will often help determine your goals. Let’s think about a couple scenarios that might change things up.
- Are you recording in a home studio?
- Are you wanting to amplify your sound a bit for busking or for playing the tin whistle with friends?
- Will you be performing live on stage?
- Are you going to be moving while on stage?
- Do you want a decent quality mic that can record your tin whistle onto your computer without much fuss?
All of these situations have different problems to solve, so let’s get to finding the best mic for you.
The Best Mic For the Tin Whistle
Since the best mic for you might be different for your situation, I’ll list out some common scenarios here:
Also… I’m the first one to say that I don’t think best is a great word to describe microphones since there are way too many factors that go into a good recording, and often it comes down to personal taste. However, at the end of this article you’re going to have all the info you need to make a decision.
Best Mic for Recording Live and for Home Recording: The SM-57
From my research for many tin whistlers as well as audio engineers, the Shure SM-57 (and SM-58) are a huge favorite.
The SM-57 is considered a workhorse of recording. It’s a super common microphone to see in thousands of situations because of its versatility. It’s a super sturdy mic that can take the unfortunate drops and tumbles on stages and home studios all across the the U.S. and the world.
I’m fortunate to own a Shure SM-57--the sound quality is great (at least to my admittedly untrained ears), and perhaps just as important as the mic itself is the way you use it. Mic placement can make a huge difference.
The Shure SM-57 is a dynamic microphone that has a frequency response range that is ideal for vocals and consequently works great for the tin whistle. You have to play very close to the mic in order to get a clear sound without unwanted echos and other noise.
Why not the SM-58?
The SM-58 also will work wonderfully. One advantage that the SM-57 has is that it doesn’t have the built-in pop filter (Perhaps the most important difference between the SM-57 and the SM-58.) This allows you to get the mic as close as possible to the recording source. It’s only a matter of half an inch, so it’s not a huge thing and it really won’t impact you.
That being said, while recording the tin whistle with the SM-57 you should get a windscreen because of the nature of how the instrument makes sound.
Is the SM-57 the Highest Quality Microphone?
No--it’s not a cheap microphone, but it is by no means expensive. The SM-57 or SM-58 are awesome bang-for-your-buck options for recording the tin whistle without breaking the bank.
Why Not a Lavalier Mic?
When I first started researching this topic, I thought for sure that lav mics would be the best type of mic for the tin whistle.
Lav mics are great options, of course, but there are a couple shortcomings that make them difficult for recording the tin whistle. I’ll talk more about this shortly, but one compelling benefit of using a stationary mic like the SM-57 is that you can change the distance of the tin whistle to the mic by leaning in or out.
The Leaning Advantage
This is key! The tin whistle is by nature softer in the lower register because the only thing making the pitch lower is by the player blowing air slower! With less air brings less volume for the tin whistle.
In other words, while many instruments you can make low notes loud, tin whistles have an upper limit of how loud the low notes can be. Because of this, the tin whistler often has a big benefit by leaning closer to the mic for the low parts, and leaning away from the mic as they play the super high notes.
If you’ve ever played the tin whistle in the high register, you know how ear-splitting the instrument can be. You may even wonder why you need a mic at all! Well… it’s because of the low notes.
The Best Mic for Moving Performers
If the tin whistler needs to move, or wants to not worry about leaning in or out with a stationary mic, the most natural option is to use a lavalier mic.
Lavalier mics are microphones that are meant to be on a person or their instrument, and are usually small and unobtrusive. Actors on stage and those on screen including YouTube will often use lavalier mics to not draw a lot of attention but still amplify their voices.
Similarly, lav mics are sometimes used for instruments, especially instruments that the player holds (unlike the piano, drums, harp or other stationary instruments) that move with the player.
Lav Mics For the Tin Whistle
Microvox is a company based out of the UK that specializes in portable microphones for instruments. They specifically make microphones for the flute, the recorder and the tin whistle. You can check out their tin whistle microphone here. (Don’t forget to get the power supply that is required.)
If you want a mic that will work as a Lavalier Mic, this system comes recommended for the tin whistle.
This system allows you to strap the microphone to the tin whistle and it comes with a rubber mount to prevent vibration. So you can lessen the tap tap of the most vigorous of reels.
Challenges With Lav Mics For the Tin Whistle
- All the Wires On You: Because the microphone is attached to the instrument or the person, all the cords and gear have to be attached on that person. Lavalier mics can be wireless, but a receiver is also tucked with the player as the signal for these tiny microphones don’t travel very far without issues.
- Vibration From The Tin Whistle: As you’re playing the tin whistle, you are basically thumping the holes of the tin whistle which causes tapping vibrations on the instrument. Any attached microphone is going to pick up those taps unless delicately arranged so as to not be in contact with the bore of the tin whistle. (Like the Microvox system)
- Constant Distance to the Tin Whistle: This is an advantage and a disadvantage. It’s nice to not worry about the mic distance. If you adjust it properly once then you can play without worrying about whether you are close enough to the mic. However, this means that the low-end of your whistle will not likely be as loud and clear as it would be if you could lean into the mic because of the mic’s calibration.
- Often Omnidirectional: This is usually a plus for a lavalier mic because it’s generally desirable to pick up everything around you. However, omnidirectional mics are not as great for the tin whistle because often you put the mic under the sound hole which is where the sound, and air is coming from. (Wind-sensitive mics are not fun to listen to)
Man.. it’s coming across as if I think lav mics are not a good option! I don’t think that--but there are challenges to be aware of.
The Best Mic for Recording Without All the Fuss
I’ll be frank--getting into any kind of audio engineering can be downright intimidating for beginners what with microphones, audio interfaces, XLR cables, mixers, pre-amps, and seemingly a dozen other devices and pieces of software all necessary for capturing the sound from your voice or your instrument.
What if you just want to plug a microphone into your computer and push the record button?
Fortunately, there are options just for this purpose.
The Samson Q2U USB/XLR microphone (link on Amazon) gives you the flexibility of plugging into your computer or into an audio interface or mixer.
The keyword you’re looking for when looking for a microphone to record your tin whistle is dynamic. Condenser mics are great for quiet spaces and if you are in a good room with good sound treatment that isn’t too square (echos in a square room really mess with your recording), but dynamic mics have the extra benefit of essentially blocking out everything else.
The Samson Q2U is a dynamic mic with a built-in pop filter (which also comes with a foam windscreen), which works great for a tin whistle since the tin whistle is made directly from your breath so the wind from your lungs can cause issues.
The best part about a microphone like this is that it’s so easy to set up. You just plug it into your computer with an included USB cable, and use your favorite recording software to capture the sound.
The sound quality is not going to match gear that costs hundreds of dollars, but this will be completely passable if you’re just sharing with your friends or want to create decent recordings of yourself.
How to Mic the Tin Whistle
We talked a bit about how what mics work well for the tin whistle, but now let’s talk about how to mic the tin whistle itself.
How To Mic the Tin Whistle With a SM-57 Microphone
From my research, I found the two important keys to a successful mic position are distance, and angle.
If you’re using a dynamic mic like a SM-57, you have to bring the microphone up close, and bring it up to the sound hole. The hole on the mouthpiece is where the majority of the sound is coming, so that’s around the location we want to mic. The recommended distance from the tin whistle should be around 2-4 inches.
The recommended distance can change depending on if you’re playing the super high notes or if you are playing low notes. You want to close in for the lowest notes and edge away for the highest notes. In general, keep the sound hole 2-4 inches from the microphone.
What you don’t want to do is point your dynamic microphone directly at the sound hole, because this will essentially sound like someone blowing in the mic. Which of course everyone loves.
The key is to point the microphone away from the sound hole. The recommended angle is 90-120 degrees from the sound hole itself. You’re essentially aiming the microphone around the 3rd fingering hole of the tin whistle. This angle will prevent any wind noise.
The angle is of course negotiable, and it depends on your microphone (and your tin whistle) If you don’t have a windscreen or a pop filter (such as is default on an SM-57 with no accessories), then wind will make a bigger difference. If you have a SM-58 or another mic with a built-in pop filter then you may be able to angle closer to the sound hole without issues.
If you want to see a live performance in action with a tin whistle mic’d as I’m describing, watch this. This performance Brian Finnegan uses a high whistle as well as a low whistle.
If you watch when he plays the low whistle, you’ll notice that he stays extremely close the microphone. The low whistle has a lower volume that doesn’t cut through as easily so he stays very close.
General Mic Tips
There are dozens of different techniques or equipment you can try--I’ll recommend a few methods and equipment that make sense for the tin whistle specifically. You can experiment as you see fit.
- Instead of pointing downward away from the sound hole, you can point to one side or the other
- A gooseneck boom helps tremendously in getting the microphone in the exact position you want giving a little extra space from the player and the mic stand (like this one on Amazon).
- Make sure you have windshield or foam cover for your microphone, especially for the SM-57 that has no built-in pop filter.
How to EQ a Tin Whistle
One nice thing about the tin whistle is that you can get away with an EQ that would work for voice with a few alterations.
A high D whistle, lowest note, for example, is around 587 HZ, so a prudent thing to do is to cut off all frequencies below 200HZ, since the timbre of the instrument isn’t doing anything below there and that should remove any rumble in your recording.
If you feel the whistle is too shrill, you can back off on the 1500HZ or 3000HZ frequencies as far as you feel necessary.
Low whistles are a different animal and you may feel the need to boost frequencies under 1000HZ. Be careful about boosting low frequencies as it may lead to a muddy mix.
Reverb is almost exactly like garlic--there is definitely a bridge too far. Your taste is the most important taste, however--so do what you feel sounds (and tastes) best.
Best Mic and Amplifier Combo
Another option we haven’t discussed is if you wanted a simple PA system that will amplify your instrument right where you are without any additional equipment.
Furthermore, perhaps all you want to do is add a little bit of reverb, and nothing more. Maybe you’re busking and you want just a little bit more oomph on your whistle.
There are many expensive systems just for this purpose, but you can use a headset with some velcro straps or some other system.
The DuaFire Black (Amazon) is a popular example of a built-in PA system you can use if you want to go for simple.
Naturally, this isn’t good for actual recording, just amplifying.
How to Record Your Tin Whistle
For those of you who are new to recording, I didn’t want to leave out some key details that are necessary before you can start recording. There are actually a lot of pieces necessary. This could go on for pages, but I’ll focus on the more popular and practical solutions to keep this simple. In summary, you’ll need:
For Recording With a Microphone With an XLR Audio Connection
Before I list out all the pieces, I’ll explain briefly what XLR looks like. XLR cables have 3 pins in a triangle that most professional mics use.
Here’s an example of an XLR cable:
Here’s a list of everything you’d need to record with a microphone that connects to an XLR cable:
- An XLR Microphone: You won’t get very far without one of these
- An XLR Cable: You cannot use a mic without one of these.
- A pre-amp: This is a device that amplifies the signal before being processed--this can be a mixer or an audio interface, or sometimes even the microphone, itself (some have a pre-amp built in)
- Optional: A Mixer: A mixer is a device that takes in multiple signals and provides pre-amp capabilities so that the inputs (i.e. the microphone or guitars or whatever) have the power they need to make a signal. The mixer often has some EQ capabilities so you can boost a frequency band (low, mid, high). A mixer can mix all the inputs together and make some louder or softer as needed. If you are recording on your computer and you are doing simple recording tasks, you don’t usually need a mixer.
- An Audio Interface: In today’s age, there really isn’t another option that makes sense for new audio engineers. You need an audio interface that will take inputs and send them to your computer. The Focusritt Scarlett (Amazon) line are one well-known and popular option. This audio interface can take in XLR or even guitar cables in the same port. These ports also have pre-amps built-in. These audio interfaces typically use USB to connect to your computer, but back in the day they would use firewire, as well.
- (Depending on your microphone) Phantom Power Source: Dynamic mics do not need phantom power, but condenser mics won’t work without it. Phantom power is often built into a mixer or an audio interface.
- A computer: The faster the better, but anything over $500 should have plenty of power to record small projects (one or two imputs). Make sure you have a way to connect USB cables to your computer. If you have a Macbook Pro, you’ll need a USB C to USB A cable so you can plug in a recording device .
- Audio Recording Software: If you’re on Windows, if you don’t have a DAW, you can use Audacity, which is free and has all the tools you need to record. If you’re on Mac, you can use Garageband, which is plenty capable for recording.
- (Optional) A windscreen or pop filter: These go between you or your instrument and the microphone. For wind instruments this is a great idea to prevent any wind noise. Some microphones have a built in pop-filter which may or may not do the job for a tin whistle.
- (Kind of optional but not really) A mic stand: Many microphones come with a small stand that you can put on your desk. This will work in a pinch but you won’t be able to get in close which is necessary for dynamic microphones to get a good sound. A non-desk mic stand allows you to position the mic exactly where you need it
- (Optional) A Gooseneck Boom: A gooseneck boom allows you to get just a bit closer to wherever you need and gives you some added flexibility. It’s not a necessity but it adds to convenience.
So… that’s a lot! But hopefully you have a better idea of what is necessary to get recording.
If you want to see a walkthrough on many of these components, check out this video. In fact, he even used the Scarlett Audio Interface I mentioned above:
He talks about MIDI keyboards which isn’t applicable to this discussion, but he does go into depth about the audio interface and choosing a DAW. (pronounced DAH) Remember, the free Audacity will work fine in place of a DAH if you are just recording a tin whistle.
For Recording With a USB Microphone
This has many duplicate items that I talked about in this section, so I won’t go into as much detail since I already have talked about them.
- A USB Microphone: Sometimes these come with XLR outputs as well.
- A USB Cable: The microphone will come with one of these
- A computer
- Audio Recording Software
- (Optional) A windscreen or pop filter
- (Kind of optional but not really) A mic stand
- (Optional) A Gooseneck Boom
As you can see, the amount of tech that you need for recording with a USB mic is far less than a professional XLR microphone.
Amplifier for Tin Whistle
What to amplify your tin whistle is a separate discussion in itself. There are a few things to look for, but mostly what you want is an amplifier that is accurate at mid and high frequencies. Bass frequencies may be nice for a low whistle, but remember that the tin whistle isn’t very strong in lower frequencies.
If you’re looking for a simple amplifier that doesn’t need to bring the house down, perhaps if you’re busking or are in a festival, you can use a Roland Micro Cube, which is a guitar amp. This particular model is battery-powered (Amazon).
What Frequencies Does the Tin Whistle Play?
I took my Clarke Sweetone which is a high D whistle and measured the frequency using the gStrings app. Playing the lowest note, was a D5, which is around 587.33HZ. The tin whistle has around 2 octaves of range (you can play higher… but with earplugs… I’m not kidding) to D7 is 2349.32HZ.
A low whistle is one octave lower. So, a low D whistle’s range is D4 to D6.