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02 March 2012


Unless you’re endowed with a top-sounding acoustic space in which to record, the last thing you need is ambience. And, let’s face it, most common recording spaces aren’t exactly slopping over with attractive vibes. Project studios typically occupy whichever room of the house can be spared and end up filled with all manner of hardware that reflects sound willy nilly. Then there’s the noise from computer fans burbling away, perhaps buzz from a guitar combo and, of course, the hum of the beer fridge.

Pro studios with well-appointed vocal booths, meanwhile, are expensive to hire, booths can sound boxy and they're none too portable if you’re aiming to record on the road. Then you may have the challenge of miking up various instruments for an ensemble performance and the inevitable difficulty of separating them so they don’t spill overmuch into each other’s mics. What’s needed is something to isolate a microphone from extraneous sound sources and absorb the sound emanating from what is miked so it doesn’t go bouncing around the room. It’s at this point in the reasoning that light bulbs must have appeared over boffins’ heads at SE Electronics.

Lo, and it came to pass that the Reflexion Filter Pro was born. In essence, it’s purported to create an ambient dead space into which little incurs. In presence, it looks like a punched-metal half-cylinder with felt panels on the inside and a mounting bracket you could feasibly use to brain a horse. Reasonably heavy duty gear, then, but there's more to the shield itself than meets the eye.

As you’ll see from the exploded image at left, the filter has numerous layers cunningly arranged so as to dissipate and absorb the energy of air carrying sonic wavefronts arriving from the rear. It also cuts down sound projecting past the microphone so that the wavefront doesn't get the chance to go bouncing off walls in the first place. Rather than explain it all in text, let's leverage the multimedia potential of the interweb. Here, sE’s James Ishmaev-Young takes us through the Reflexion Filter’s multi-layered construction and explains why his company’s product is great while others are pants...

Why the sE Reflexion Filter works & others don't, from sE Electronics

What all this has to do with James’ MSc in gerontology is anybody’s guess, although I’d suggest he has a passion for getting things done smartly and efficiently in order to maximise a person’s productivity before senility kicks in. And productivity-enhancing this product is.

The Surgery, MuzoBlog’s test facility, has a room for vocals, but often an artist will want to slap something down in the control room where the recording equipment can be got at and messed with. Doing such is no problem with the Reflexion Filter firmly clamped to an upright mic stand (I wouldn’t recommend boom stands, as mentioned in the accompanying instructions, unless they’re weighty enough to take the Filter without toppling). An upright that slides along a bar, and screws into place once you’re happy with the mic’s positioning, accepts a shockmount while a separate upright supports the Filter.

So, place condenser upright in shockmount, plug in, activate phantom, don cans and warble. What results is a superbly dry vocal take to which ambience can be added via plug-ins during the mix. There’s precious little, if any, colouration from the Filter and although a little of the room acoustic remains, it’s acceptably dead enough for important takes.

The only negatives are that cans plus Filter make things a tad claustrophobic. Then again, vocalists with anxiety disorders aren’t likely to have long careers - anxiolytic-popping divas tend to fade rather quickly. Amnesiacs, however, will fare better thanks to the sE Reflexion Filter Music Stand, pictured left, which conveniently holds lyric sheets, medication diaries and other essentials for the frayed of nerve. The pathology-free, altogether happier story of tonally balanced, dry miking continues with acoustic instruments.

If aiming to apply post-capture treatments to, say, vocal and guitar parts separately while recording both simultaneously, deploying two Filters and two mics is definitely the way to go. Further, you may have an omnidirectional or figure-of-eight mic that sounds great, but is unusable in certain situations because of its slutty pickup pattern. Positioning a filter can bring it into play, rendering the mic a quasi-cardioid.

And there are those times when you’d like the tonal characteristics of a condenser mic, perhaps for a guitar cab on stage, but its sensitivity to environmental noise rules it out. Pop it into a cradle, position a Filter and the condenser becomes n times more useful, where n = lots. In fact, live-sound engineers, project-studio pilots, podcasters and those studio engineers who are fussy about instrument separation will find oodles of uses for this device.

Even further, sE manufactures a variation called the IRF 2 (right) which has a hole in it so as to accept pencil mics and vocal stage mics like the Shure SM57/58, or sE4 pictured right. Expect to see drumkits, especially, festooned with Filters as the engineer strives for greater separation of kit pieces. And so to the price.

The Reflexion Filter Pro is a considerable outlay for many - you can get studio condensers for about half its SRP (sE makes a rather saucy one, but more on the large-diaphragm sE X1 in a forthcoming, smut-pruned post). However, it’s so darned useful in so many recording and sound-reinforcement scenarios, it has to be worth the spend. The quality of construction is top-notch, making it sufficiently resilient to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous roadies with nary a whimper. Of course, if you’re touring, this piece of hardware makes capture of critical takes feasible in the hotel room, on the tour bus or anywhere indoors (or out, if you’ve a windsock handy); back at base, it opens up a wealth of creative possibilities.

If price is still a hurdle, there’s the sE Project Studio Reflexion Filter (left), a sort of ‘baby RF’, which is roughly half the price of the Pro model, but I can’t pass comment on it or the IRF 2 because evaluation examples have yet to arrive.

What I will say is that if you’re halfway serious about recording with microphones, a filter is as essential a piece of kit as a pop shield, shockmount or both. The manufacturer claims to have sold around 200,000 Filters so far, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a devilishly good invention and could well become as ubiquitous as the boom-mic windsock is in field recording.