My Smule Setups

Okay, let’s get right to the money for folks who are looking for practical advice/help based on my mistakes and experiences these past years on Smule. (I’m @_SparkleCityHop_ on Smule https://www.smule.com/_SparkleCityHop_Come sing with me!!!)

 

HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY RECORDINGS FOR SMULE???!!

If I was going to give you an order to focus on improving your quality of recording for smule, here it is:

  1. Room Acoustic Treatment
    1. Even if it is just recording in a closet full of clothes, or hanging blankets, or finding a quiet place, or singing inside a car that isn’t running/moving — the more that you can get rid of background noise, echoes, etc. you are starting out with a better quality source audio at step one. This helps whether you have a full blown condenser mic setup or are just using your phone and ear buds. DO THIS FIRST!!!
      1. Options based on budget:
        1. Professional Whisper Room vocal booth ($3000-5000) http://whisperroom.com
        2. DIY Build your own vocal booth ($1200-2000) https://www.reddit.com/r/audioengineering/comments/8agxps/has_anyone_tried_building_a_diy_whisper_room_does/ and https://www.gearslutz.com/board/studio-building-acoustics/
        3. Add Acoustic treatment to an existing room ($100-500) https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/acoustic-treatment-101/
        4. Kaotica Eyeball Mobile Microphone Isolation ($200) http://kaoticaeyeball.com 
        5. Hang some heavy blankets
        6. Sing in a closet full of clothes
        7. Sit in your parked car with it not running
  2. Ring Light
    1. Having a full sized ring light to hold your phone or tablet for you and provide consistent lighting is a game changer — even if you are still just using headphones. DO THIS SECOND!!!
      1. Options based on budget:
        1. Stellar Diva II 18″ Ring light plus side lighting (around $450) https://www.stellarlightingsystems.com/stellar-new-diva-18-cel-r18c-ring-light-w-tray-2-led-sun-panel-lights-bundle/
        2. Stellar Lighting RGB Chroma LED 18″ Ring Light (around $250) https://www.stellarlightingsystems.com/stellar-rgb-led-chroma-star-diva-ring-light-18/
        3. Stellar Diva II 18″ Ring Light (around $200) https://www.stellarlightingsystems.com/the-new-stellar-diva-ll-pro-ring-light-photo-stand-and-tray/
        4. Stellar Table Top Ring Light (around $45) https://www.stellarlightingsystems.com/stellar-table-top-usb-led-ring-light-dimmable-and-bicolor-kit-for-video-conference-lighting-for-zoom-meeting-videocalls-streaming-youtube-tiktok-makeup-light-modes-with-phone-holder/
        5. NOTE: You can find other lighting kits on Amazon and eBay that are cheaper, but I can’t speak to the quality of their build or support from the manufacturer. Stellar Lighting is a professional company and you can talk to real people for support. They have never sent me anything for free or sponsored me, but have earned my loyalty by their products and support. They are the BEST IMO and well worth paying for quality the first time.
  3. iOS Device
    1. Even if you love Android for your phone, get a dedicated iPhone or iPad for use with Smule. Even before you go out and buy a pre-amp trying to improve your sound quality, just switch to an iOS device and it will make a bigger difference. Trust me, friend — quit fighting the uphill Android device battle and complaining about it on Singtopia. And having a dedicated device waiting in your favorite quiet place just makes recording so much easier. DO THIS THIRD!!!
  4. Good Pre-Amp + XLR Mic + Mic Stand
    1. Decide your budget and choose from the below based on your budget for a preamp (but it is better to buy bigger once than waste money buying multiple times):
      1. FocusRite Scarlet Solo or 2i2 + USB adapter for compatibility with your device + dedicated charger (around $250 all in all) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QR6Z1JB/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_DFCCZ81JTCD0PDX1MJ85
      2. iRig Pro I/O + iRig charger (around $200 all in all) https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irigproio/
      3. For iOS lightning adapter devices: iRig HD 2 (around $100) https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irighd2/
      4. For Android and iOS 3.5mm headphone plug devices: Saramonic SmartRig II Preamp (around $30) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0719KPL7W/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_WJF2VK35XYVW79V62YCZ?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1
    2. Decide on your budget and choose from the below based on your budget for a mic
      1. Shure SM7B ($400 – you’ll need the FocusRite above, or a CloudLifter CL1, or a professional preamp for this mic to shine – I’ve included it because it is my “next step”) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002E4Z8M/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_QV9T26T0DH6GHCFAX910
      2. Rode NT1A with Shock Mount ($250 – this mic is quite bright and requires phantom power, and you need a VERY QUIET ROOM FOR RECORDING, but remains one of my favorite condensors for the money, clarity, and detail in recordings — good with any preamp) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002QAUOKS/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_83QGSG8XPKG5GSB2G8XK
      3. Shure Beta 58a ($150 – this mic is great for environments where there is background noise that you want to avoid picking up in your recording because it is a super-cardiod – it is good with any preamp) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002BACB4/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_7DMVWH5XVR7W6E6NSK66
      4. NOTE: Some other folks use Blue Yeti USB mics and a USB adapter for around $200 — but I personally don’t like the quality of their preamps or how they emphasize certain frequency ranges. I’d rather my source recording be flat/realistic and I can make changes in post if I want to EQ a certain range (not really applicable for Smule, but for other recording. If you want feedback on this option, I’m just not your guy because I really haven’t tried them other than my first impressions inside Guitar Center and listening to others who use them.
    3. You need something to hold your mic for you.
      1. If you want to be able to move around and move your mic during performances, I can recommend the Rode PSA1 boom arm. I’ve tried and compared it to others, and it is hard to beat for $100. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001D7UYBO/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_EHCFHFAF91DM4VFRJV5S
      2. Otherwise, get a basic mic stand from your local Guitar Center or similar. (around $20-$30) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019NY2PKG/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_2PQ57GC2EAZ7E7Y59Z3Y?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1
  5. More-Me Setup + Studio Headphones
    1. Once you have a quality mic and preamp, the next thing you need is a real-time way to hear yourself in detail while you are singing — that doesn’t introduce any delay at all (doesn’t have to go into your phone and be played back to you by the app itself). Do this with the Behringer MicroMon More-Me monitor and some good quality headphones. Seriously, it is a complete game changer when you hear your own voice in perfect detail while singing. Headphone choice depends on your budget. It is better to spend more the first time than buy twice later.
      1. Behringer MicroMon (around $25) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000KUCQXY/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_MAYF0E68RMJD94QKM0M5
      2. I can personally recommend the following headphones based on budget:
        1. AudioTechnica ATH-M70x (around $300) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SC80YLM/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_XYJ5S13CK3FCYCY6XEBK
        2. AudioTechnica ATH-M50x (around $150) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HVLUR86/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_H8Q9ZE2KNP6WHAPFDB9R
        3. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 ohm (around $150) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0006NL5SM/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_A3ZM3C54ZG9XQVY3HF4Y
        4. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro (around $100) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IT0IHOY/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_HDQA3BX1JS3435W5JQDG
        5. Sony MDR7506 (around $100) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000AJIF4E/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_FE7KV19QX7T5W82RNHBA
  6. Power Conditioning + TC Helicon Correct XT
    1. There is electro-magnetic hum/distortion that makes it into your recording setup through the power lines in your house. Adding a commercial level power conditioning that all of your gear is plugged into can cut that out and make your signal floor quieter — similar to the way that your acoustic treatment to the room lowers your signal floor by decreasing background noise
      1. Not all “power conditioning” is equal. I recommend Furman Merit Series 8 for the cost (around $200) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CHV3H5G/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_NEWTDA7EWWSHVM78NKDC
      2. Or if you want to get serious and have room in the budget, the Furman Elite Series is nice (around $400) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000WV3J6O/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_368SJHKTR7Q1RW873KX1
    2. Recording studios have sound technicians running the sound boards in real time to adjust levels to prevent feedback, to keep signal from getting too high or too low, adding compression, etc. to make adjustments on the fly. These things are what the Correct XT does for you by just plugging it in and setting everything to automatic. It isn’t “necessary”, and it isn’t as good as having a live audio tech running your sound board, but when you’re alone in a vocal booth by yourself — its set it and forget it nature covers things quite nicely. I don’t normally engage the soft auto-tune function (it isn’t like T Pain auto-tune BTW, but subtle) for Smule. NOTE: It is handy if you’re singing live or busking and your voice isn’t quite warmed up or you have a bit of a cold — it just helps knock the edges off. It will NOT make it sound like you can sing if you can’t hold a tune. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004GWFQB6/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_3ST2387P9RKRHBJ7NT4E

BACKGROUND/HISTORY FOR MY RECOMENDATIONS

You can break my progression down into:

  1. My phone + its provided headphones
    1. If you have an non-lightning adapter iPhone + the Apple 3.5mm headphones, this is a great inexpensive option
    2. If you have Android or a lightning adapter iPhone, this isn’t a great option, but it is cheap
  2. Zoom H6 + Seinheisser Studio headphones
    1. Everything in this was a mistake. Do not make my same mistakes. Enough said.
  3. iRig Pre + Rode NT1A Mic
    1. This is a good basic setup, but leaves you without a great option for self monitoring that isn’t delayed
    2. If you have an iPhone with lightning adapter, get the iRig Pro I/O instead, along with the power adapter
    3. If you have an Android, go with the Saramonic preamp instead
  4. Add “MoreMe” monitoring
    1. Aside from acoustic treatment, this is one of the best upgrades I’ve made
    2. Real-time monitoring of yourself with no delays and complete control of mic vs music levels at your fingertips
    3. Seriously, you need this if you are using an external preamp
  5. Samsung Tablet + Saramonic preamp + Rode Boom arm + 4 channel headphone amp
    1. This was “okay” but I should have gone with an iPad for SO MANY REASONS
    2. The Rode Boom arm is so perfect for moving around quietly while singing and keeping the mic in the right position
    3. I love being able to switch up to a different type of headphones for longer sessions or listen on Studio monitors to review before saving
  6. TC Helicon Correct XT + Power conditioning + Acoustic treatment
    1. This was all about sound quality
    2. Acoustic treatment to the room changed the whole game. Seriously. DO THIS FIRST!!! EVEN IF YOU USE HEADPHONES AND YOUR PHONE!!!
    3. I love how much cleaner my sound is before it gets into the preamp now
  7. iPad Air + iRig Pro I/O + Ring Light
    1. These three things really changed the game, but represent some significant investment in my setup
    2. If you’re on Android and serious about improving your recordings, just go ahead and plan on having a dedicated iPhone or iPad device eventually
    3. Going to a digital input for my preamp got rid of all that weird hum while charging, etc.
    4. Having a ring light makes a huge difference visually — and Stellar Lighting costs a bit more, but it lasts

I discovered Smule in 2016, but it was just a passing interest. I had never really sang much other than in the car, in the shower, and maybe if we were at a bar that had a karaoke machine. But I loved to sing.

In 2017, I got my Samsung Note 8, which came with AKG tuned headphones. This was my first real improvement in recording quality, and it is also when I got interested in singing on Smule:

Smule Summer 2017 AKG Headphones

Samsung SM-N950UZVAXAA Galaxy Note8 (US Version) Factory Unlocked Phone – 6.3″ Screen – 64GB – Orchid Gray (U.S. Warranty) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07539DSV3/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_6IJABb52AD264

I got a chance in 2017 to sing in the choir at church, and I started to put my first effort into putting together an actual “setup” for Smule recording. I had never really sang with a microphone, etc. so this was all pretty new to me. Since I already had some camera and video recording gear, I found that my biggest challenge was that I needed to be able to hear BOTH the music AND my own voice WITH NO DELAYS!

So I came up with something that worked for me for a short while:

Smule Fall 2017 Setup

Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone (new model) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IT0IHOY/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_tKJABb5F1BB84

Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KCXMBES/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_fLJABbDF831C4

AmazonBasics 3.5mm to 2-Male RCA Adapter Cable – 4 Feet https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D5H8JW0/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_qPJABb6CE9294

3.5mm to RCA Stereo Audio Cable Adapter – 3.5mm Female to Stereo RCA Male Bi-Directional AUX Auxiliary Male Headphone Jack Plug Y Splitter to Left / Right 2RCA Male Connector Plug Wire Cord https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JEBLEIC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_8PJABb8B96544

Maeline 3.5mm Female to 2 Male Gold Plated Headphone Mic Audio Y Splitter Flat Cable https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PYZ2BT4/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_0RJABbD7C4A94

Headphone Mic and Audio 2 in 1 Adapter Cable, iXCC 1 Feet 3.5mm Male to 2 Female Premium Gold-Plated Corrosion-Resistant Y Splitter Cable for Headphone, Headset https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073RXXS4N/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_nRJABbCE45884

Movo WST-R30 Fitted Nylon Windscreen with Acoustic Foam Technology for Zoom H4n, H5, H6, Tascam DR-100 MKII and Sony PCM-D50 Portable Digital Recorders https://www.amazon.com/dp/B012Y85YME/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_ZMJABbDEE97A4

However, I quickly grew tired of not being able to listen and review the songs in stereo without having to change cabling around, mess with levels, etc. I also found that my best time for singing was late at night, and I didn’t want to keep my family awake with my late night singing.

So I worked on a DIY studio / vocal booth setup in my basement underneath our stairs:

Smule Summer 2018 Studio v1

IK Multimedia iRig Pre microphone preamp for smartphones and tablets https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007534LFK/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_DSJABbCD2F724

Rode NT1A Anniversary Vocal Condenser Microphone Package https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002QAUOKS/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_yTJABb6DFCE04

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 9.7-Inch, 32GB Tablet (Silver, SM-T820NZSAXAR) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MRDL916/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_5UJABb750EA64

Harbinger L1202FX 12-Channel Mixer with Effects https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PV6GZG6/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_5WJABb9016444

Shure SE425-CL Sound Isolating Earphones with Dual High Definition MicroDrivers https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003NSBKSC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_ZYJABbC36A454

Sterling MX8 Studio Monitor

https://www.guitarcenter.com/Sterling-Audio/MX8-8-Powered-Studio-Monitor.gc

Neewer Universal Smartphone & Tablet Stand (Sturdy Metal Arm, Padded Holder, Adjustable Mounting Clamp) for iPhone 6 Plus, GALAXY Note 5, iPad Air/iPad Air 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab and More–Black https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016F5HXBC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_61JABbF447514

Microphone stand

https://www.guitarcenter.com/Musicians-Gear/MG100B-Tripod-Boom-Microphone-Stand.gc

Recently, I decided that I would really like to have a similar level of quality for monitoring while singing, but I would like to be able to take it with me to perform recordings in different locations.

So I have come up with this setup that I am currently implementing along-side my studio setup:

Smule Fall 2018 Portable

I then added on to these setups over Fall 2018 and into Winter 2019 to include a nice scissor boom for my mic, acoustic treatment for the room,

Smule Fall 2018 More

And I made some additional improvements that included a vocal pedal and lighting improvements:

Smule Winter 2019

And then I switched to iPad and an iRig Pro I/O for digital audio:

 

Future Considerations:

I currently have all of this in a small vocal booth in my basement built underneath the stairs. I have the following considerations for the future:

  • Switch to a FocusRite Scarlet 2i2 or similar for my main preamp
  • Add a Shure SM7B mic (and possibly a CloudLifter paired with it – this will be much better for recording in my office than the condenser because of less acoustic treatment in the office)
  • Set up a second recording area at my desk in my office since I now have a Autonomous SmartDesk that allows me to work sitting or standing. (need to add sound proofing, full second set of gear for recording, background drops for green screen, etc.)
  • More Acoustic Treatment in vocal booth (raised floor, two levels of solid core doors, additional thickness of exterior walls and caulking to make it air tight)
  • Improved quiet ventilation for vocal booth (especially as it becomes more and more air tight)
  • Lighting effects for background (in vocal booth and office setup)
  • Device with improved camera quality for vocal booth
  • Wall mounted TV/Monitor to display via HDMI (instead of having to view on smaller phone/tablet screen in vocal booth)
  • Setup for streaming recordings/performances to multiple services simultaneously

None of this is necessary just for good Smule recordings. I know folks that seem to get better recordings out of their iPhone and iPhone headphones. But I use this studio for other voiceover, recording, and broadcasting needs, so the key to me is making it easy to sit down and get right to recording, reviewing, and broadcasting quickly and easily, with expected, reproducible results.

Stay tuned for more improvements.

If you have any questions about my gear or setup, leave a comment below!

Harold “Hop” Ballinger aka “SparkleCityHop”

2 thoughts on “My Smule Setups

  1. Hello, my name is Ryan. I am a smuler too. In your set up of 2018 Summer V1, did you experience any delay doing smule? I want to set up the same exact thing, but also plug in a instrument into mixer to record in Smule.

    Basically,
    Condensor Mic and/or guitar –> Mixer –> Irig –> Smule on ipad

    Thanks for the great information!

    Like

    1. I did not experience any delay, but the mixer in that setup did not feed output from the mixer into the smule app. Are you using an Android or iOS device? If you are wanting both mic and instrument from your mixer output to go into your smule input — while being able to monitor smule backing track plus your voice and instrument — that will look a bit different.

      Liked by 1 person

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