No matter how dependent they are on soft synths, samplers or directly recording keyboards and guitars through an audio interface, sooner or later computer-based music producers will want to or have to record something from a microphone. When that time comes, an acoustically untreated bedroom, garage or basement won't be the ideal environment. Many home and project studio producers have valid reasons for not acoustically treating their rooms: There are aesthetic and financial concerns, as well as the work-arounds of using headphones to mix or room-correction monitors or software to aid in the mixdown. However, those fixes won't rid your miked recordings of the audio reflections and room ambience that color tracks recorded in an untreated room. That's where the SE (Studio Engineering) Reflexion Filter comes into play. Its purpose is to shield microphone recordings from ambient room noise in studios, rehearsal spaces or wherever you record.
The Reflexion Filter requires some fairly simple assembly out of the box, and it clamps onto an standard microphone stand. The full 8-pound apparatus balances better if you have a tripod boom stand; if you have a common mic stand with just a circular base at the bottom, the Reflexion Filter — which does not position its weight over the center — will probably tip it over. I used the latter type of stand and had to weigh down the base to keep it balanced; a sandbag, a barbell and other heavy objects worked.
The semicircular filter portion itself clamps into the main clamp, and you can adjust its position vertically or rotationally. A metal bar also screws into the clamp; the bar's position adjusts several inches back and forth horizontally, and on top of it, you screw on any standard microphone shockmount. With that adjustability, you can position a mic in three dimensions to the left, right, up, down, close to and away from the filter, for achieving various amounts of ambient room correction.
With its seven layers (mmm…burritos) of sound absorbing and diffusing material, the Reflexion Filter blocks sound from both the outside and inside from penetrating. It first keeps sound coming from the recording source from hitting the studio walls and other objects — reducing the amount of reflectable sound — and then blocks part of the reflections that do occur from reaching the mic and thus, your recordings. The filter's outer shell starts with a layer of hole-punched aluminum that diffuses sound. Next, a layer of wool absorbs sound, followed by layers of sound-dissipating aluminum foil, an air gap, another wool layer and then another layer of hole-punched aluminum. The seventh and final layer is the Reflexion Filter's main sound absorber, a four-panel inner shell made of special acoustic-absorptive material. SE doesn't reveal its exact makeup but points out that there is no foam in the Reflexion Filter, addressing the bad rap foam sometimes gets as an acoustic treatment.
All that looks nice on paper, but results are all that matter. I tested the Reflexion Filter with a nice tube condenser mic in a very reflective bedroom (a single clap of the hands proves that). I recorded vocals and hand percussion, as well as an acoustic piano in a different, yet also reflective, room. There's no doubt that the filter does its job of reducing room ambience — not only reflections, but also to some extent other noise, such as the whir of an external hard drive. In many cases, the effects were subtle; it's not like there's a signature sound where you'd listen to a track and think, “that singer used a Reflexion Filter.” But for clean recordings, dry tracks are often better, and this product can help you achieve that.
SE recommends starting with the mic vertically centered and horizontally parallel with the sides of the Reflexion Filter. Moving the mic closer in made the sound more “dead,” and moving it out or moving the filter up and down reduced the filter's effect. Naturally, sounds that produce more reflections — for me, louder, sharper sounds with more treble — make Reflexion Filter's presence more noticeable.
Initially, the subtle effect of the Reflexion Filter may not seem like much for the money (about $300 street price). But if you are trying to wrangle professional-caliber recordings out of a small home or project studio that you can't or don't treat acoustically for either financial, aesthetic or practical reasons, it's definitely worth the investment. Another option is SE's smaller Instrument Reflexion Filter ($299 or about $200 street price), a portable version that fits a pencil mic (think Shure SM57) through a hole in the center, more intended for drums, pianos and other instruments.
REFLEXION FILTER > $399
Pros: Noticeably reduces room ambience on recordings. Provides some instant acoustic treatment wherever you choose to record. Accepts standard mic shockmounts.
Cons: Expensive. Tips over mic stands that aren't tripods.