Product Review: sE Electronics' Reflexion Filter Pro Portable Vocal Booth

We’ll get to the strange-looking metal and foam device atop this post in a moment, but first some background material to set the stage.

Home recording is a series of trade-offs. In theory, the better the microphones you use, better your voice and instruments will sound. But the better the microphone, the more it will likely expose the sound of the room you record in. Adding permanent acoustic treatments to tame the room you record in is the safest bet, but what if that room serves double-duty as a den or bedroom?

Back in August, we interviewed Mitch Gallagher for the PJ Lifestyle blog. A couple of years ago, Gallagher, the editorial director for mail-order music giant Sweetwater, uploaded to YouTube a terrific hour-long look at how he built and acoustically treated his basement home recording studio. After discussing with him all of the elaborate lengths that Gallagher went to treat the acoustics in his basement, his interviewer David Stewart replied, “It really is vital to [treat the room before recording in it]. Sometimes what I tell people who want to get a good recording sound with microphones, is to start with the player and that’s usually the most important thing, and then the instrument, and then the next thing is the acoustics. It’s sort of in that order, in my estimation.  Look, I’m VP of sales at Sweetwater. I would love to sell everybody these really expensive great microphones -- and they are great -- and they do sound good. And they’re going to pick up your crappy room really well, and reproduce all that nastiness really well. So boy, I just can’t say enough how important it is to go ahead and tackle those acoustic issues right away.”

And he’s right. With today’s drum loops and drum machines, sample-based software synthesizers, guitar modeling technology and digital reverbs, it’s possible to record quite serviceable sounding home music recordings, until it comes time to put the lead vocal on. But as veteran musician and tech writer Craig Anderton once wrote, “For me, the paramount lesson from doing years of studio work behind songs is that everything supports the lead singer. Your [instrumental] licks are only there to make the lead vocal more effective.”

In other words, for the vast majority of listeners of pop, rock, or melodic soul, the lead vocal is the song. It’s what makes or breaks the song, and that includes the quality of the performance, how in-tune the vocal is to its backing tracks, and not least, how well it was recorded. While it’s possible to use a dynamic such as the venerable Shure SM-58, its primary purpose is as a live mic; it lacks the high-end of the best condenser mics.

In order to facilitate a more professional approach, in recent years, small portable mini vocal booths such as the sE Electronics Reflexion Filter Pro Portable Vocal Booth (pictured above -- told you we'd get to it) have appeared on the market, aimed at both musicians, and those doing voiceover work (“In a world...”) in their home studios. But do they work?

Yes, but.

The but comes from the fact that while the Reflexion Portable Vocal Booth can be a good first step to tame an unruly room, they won’t work 100 percent alone. To achieve truly dry sounding vocals in an untreated room, you’ll need to supplement the Reflexion with soft material behind the singer, such a pair of duvets. (You might also want to consider an acoustic treatment on your ceiling as well.) In his review of a similar competitor product, the proprietor of the DanceTech weblog performed yeoman work, testing the screen with and without duvets in a variety of rooms up to, as he puts it, the worst environment in most homes to record in, the tiled kitchen: