sE Space Shield
To Avoid the Noise, Wield the Shield
Recording acoustic guitars can be a real challenge in non-commercial studio environments.
Commercial studios often have live rooms carefully constructed for flattering acoustics. In a lot of these pro commercial studios, you can place a mic anywhere in the room and it will sound great.
But recording has changed a lot over the past two decades, and fewer people are recording in commercial studios. Instead, they’re opting for home and project studio environments.
The biggest challenge we face in these environments is the acoustics. Unlike a commercial studio live room designed for acoustic performance, it’s not as likely you can put a mic anywhere in the room and get great results.
So recording acoustic guitars can be difficult. A bad-sounding room can muck up your recording. Acoustic guitars often sound best with a mic one to two feet away. The greater the distance between the mic and the guitar, the more the room's sound will get printed. In a great-sounding live room, this isn’t a problem.
But in a room with unflattering reflections, it can ruin the sound. As you move the mic closer to the guitar, to eliminate as much room as possible, the low-end energy of the acoustic guitar becomes more pronounced. Especially with dreadnought guitars, this adds a lot of mud to your sound.
This is the issue I’ve been dealing with in my NYC apartment. The room where my studio is set up isn’t the best-sounding room. I can get away with guitar amps here. But acoustic guitars just don’t sound good.
Until I tried the sE Electronics RF SPACE, that is. The SPACE was designed for recording vocals in environments when you don’t want a lot of room bleed. It basically turns your apartment into an iso both.
Guess what? It really works. I got my hands on one to record vocals in our apartment. My band Fife & Drom and Abby Ahmad’s project are releasing a lot of new material. It didn’t make sense for us to go to a studio to record vocals. We needed the ability to record in our home studio.
We were facing some of the same issues with the vocal mic as I was with recording acoustic guitars. The rooms didn’t translate well to recordings.
By pairing the SPACE with a Soyuz Bomblet, we’re now able to record fantastic sounding vocals in our home.
Swiss Army Knife
This led me to start thinking about acoustic guitars. If the SPACE could isolate a vocal, maybe it would work with guitar. I’m sure I’m at least the 100th person to realize this.
Still, I was excited to try it. And it solved my problems with recording acoustic guitars. Not only does it help eliminate some nasty reflections, but it also helps keep the hiss from my computer out of the mic.
This makes recording finger-picked acoustic parts much easier. I can pull back the mic and still get a tight sound. I can’t imagine recording acoustic guitar in my apartment without it.
It’s a well-designed device. You can adjust how much the mic is shielded, which means you can adjust how isolated it sounds. Although a lot of people will set it and forget it, I suggest experimenting with the placement of the mic inside the shield.
You don’t always need such a tight sound. Sometimes you just need to cut off a little of the reflection. Using the SPACE, I have found this to be especially true for electric guitars.
The SPACE has a very flat frequency response. This is its big difference with other shields. sE has spent a lot of time refining the design and materials to keep it flat. This means the SPACE doesn’t induce any frequency loss or boost.
This is key to ensuring the mic you so carefully chose is being honestly represented. I’ve seen some DIY shields that ended up changing the tone considerably.
The SPACE has made it possible for me to get high-quality acoustic guitar sounds in my home. I’ve successfully used it with both steel and nylon string guitars. It solves a problem that befalls many project and home recordists.
I think we’ve all had the experience of recording an acoustic guitar and thinking we could get away with a little room noise. When we try to compress the track, the hiss becomes over bearing.
Unless you’re like me and commit to sounds when tracking, you might not even notice this until you start mixing.
I’ve seen budding engineers spend a lot of money on mics and preamps, only to find that their vocals and acoustic guitars still don’t sound good. They’re underestimating the influence of the room. A microphone’s job is to capture the source. If you’re recording acoustic guitar, the source is instrument and the room. You have to decide how much of that room should define your sound.
There are times when recording delicate ambient electric guitars is ruined by room noises and sound. When creating ambient tracks, I like to manipulate reverbs. It’s possible I will do volume swells and then tweak the reverb while it trails.
As the guitar reverb trails out, background noise from the room can sneak in. Although I often like to crank guitar amps, there are times when I’m creating ambient textures that I run amps fairly clean and quiet. This makes the recording a target for noise.
I’ve been using SPACE to help isolate the amp. When recording these ambient tracks, I also don’t like to have the mic too close to the amp. I find it sounds more natural at least 6” off the grill of the amp.
So I place one of my preferred amp mics (either a Soyuz Bomblet or AEA A840) into the SPACE and start tracking. It’s allowed me to capture more delicate performances—the only noise I have to worry about is from the amp and pickups.
sE also makes the guitaRF, which is designed expressly for guitar amps. I happen to use the SPACE for all my shielding needs.
The SPACE is pretty easy to set up. It clamps to a mic stand, and comes with sand bags (sand not included) you can place on the legs of your mic stand if it’s a bit wobbly.
It’s important to have a high-quality mic stand to place the SPACE on. I’ve seen a lot of people skimp on mic stands. Why spend $3K on a mic only to put it on a cheap stand?
Because of the additional weight of the SPACE, I feel better using a higher-quality, more stable mic stand.
Low Cost, High Impact
The sE Electronics RF SPACE is a great product. Anyone with a home or project studio should have one. I even think bigger studios should have one. There are times when you want to isolate a vocal or instrument even when the room sounds good. It’s a fairly small investment that can make a big improvement in the sound of your recordings.