Stringed instruments, like the violin or ‘fiddle’ for some, have a uniquely beautiful sound that should be heard well in an orchestra or any string ensemble. It can be a challenging chore to capture the sound. Amplifying it through the use of microphones is the only way to do it. It would be an injustice not to record the distinct sound of the violin whenever it is played solo or with a group of other instruments.
We have the modern technology to back us up these days, but just imagine how difficult it was in the past to amplify the volume of an instrument during an orchestral performance. Isolating the violin sound from other instruments is no longer an impossible task, but making sure it can be heard or blend well with other instruments can be tricky. However, with the following tips in choosing the right microphone for violin recording, it would not be as difficult as it seems.
Buyer’s Guide: Important Things To Consider
When recording the violin, the first thing to do is to choose the best microphone for your needs. It should have the ability to properly capture the exquisite tonal qualities of the original. Making an educated choice can only be done through experience, but it does not hurt to listen to an expert’s advice.
Remember the frequency range that is needed for violins. The microphone should have a range between 150Hz and 18000Hz. Outside of that range and you will likely not pick it up. Mic with tempered high frequencies is a great choice to have a clearer result.
Sound Pattern and Directionality
Sound engineers would often suggest using cardioid patterns, including cardioid, super-cardioid, and hyper-cardioid polar sound patterns. Omnidirectional microphones can also be used, provided that the recording is done at a well-treated studio. They pick up every single sound around them. If you need to reject unwanted and unnecessary sound during recording, it is best to go with hyper-cardioid microphones. Also, it is best to keep in mind the option of using clip-on mics, especially during solo playing.
Recording Venue/Room Acoustics
Not all recording environments can be considered ideal, and that could present a problem for sound engineers. It is best always to find out the venue where the violin recording will take place. Having it in a recording studio is quite easy, but many factors will come into play if it is done outside. The microphone distance should be around 3 feet away from the violin, and it has to be strategically placed where the bow meets the strings.
Choose the Appropriate Microphone for the Recording
If you want to capture the sound of the violin, use the right type of microphone. It is as simple as that. No matter how talented the violinist is, it would not resonate with the audience if the sound could not be captured correctly. Forget about the budget and focus on what is needed to get the job done. However, always remember not all mics with a high price tag commensurate to the quality that it offers the user.
Unless you are using a clip-on microphone, never mic a violin too close to the instrument as the sound will get fuzzy. It is a general rule that you have to place the microphone 1.5 to 3 feet away from the violin. If it is done in a recording studio, chances are the room is well treated for its acoustics. If not, one easily adds artificial reverb on the mic to mimic the live-sounding space that is required for stringed instruments.
A pickup mic is a small electronic component that you attach to your violin bridge to amplify its sounds. This way, you can be sure your audience can hear your music, even with other instrumentalists doing their thing. Interestingly, that is not even the best part.
A pickup mic is extraordinarily portable and doesn’t get in the way of playing. Indeed, at some point, you may not even notice that it’s there. More importantly, pickup mics do not compromise the quality of violin music even while amplifying it. Of course, this is likely because of the mechanics of the mic.
You see, the pickup mic works on the same principle as the transducer. It captures the vibrations you make on your violin strings and converts them to digital signals. Then, it sends these signals to an amplifier or recorder, as the case may be.
A) Best Pickups for Recording Violin
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Here are some of the top microphones for recording the violin sound.
1) Audio-Technica PRO 35 Cardioid Condenser Clip-on Instrument Microphone
Key features: 6 foot (1.8 m) microphone cable, Cardioid polar pattern, Extended Frequency Response.
It has been a great clip-on microphone for sax, percussion, and other woodwind instruments that using it on stringed instrument live recording would undoubtedly result in clear capture of the sound of the violin. With the extended frequency technology, it can smoothly record all the nuances of the violinist. Accurate positioning is effortless with the Uni-Mount mic clip with shock resistance, not only ensuring the protection of the unit but also reducing the possibility of fuzzy audio feedback.
The cardioid polar pattern feature of the microphone can isolate the ambient sound that comes from the rear and sides. The mic would only capture the sounds of the instrument, thereby giving a clear recording of the original. The 6‑foot cable is permanently attached to the microphone, which is normally enough for recordings.
2) The Feather Violin Pickup
This is another fantastic option from Myers if you’re looking for a pickup mic. One of the most distinctive features of The Feather pickup mic is its lightweight. Indeed, that’s the reason behind its name.
There is no doubt that The Feather deserves a place on our list of the best pickup mic for violin recording. You see, this mic offers an unparalleled natural, accurate, and beautiful amplification of the sounds of your violin. Of course, it also has a built-in preamp that derives its power internally.
Furthermore, The Feather has an omnidirectional mic, which means that placement is less of a problem. It also features a flexible gooseneck, which allows you greater freedom to determine your mic’s position.
To top it all off, The Feather violin pickup mic has a volume knob on its preamp. This soft rubber knob puts you (to an extent) in the driver’s seat of the volume control during your violin performance. All in all, this pickup mic is an excellent choice that will give you proper value for your money!
3) Carpenter Jack Pickup with Micro-Gooseneck by Myers Pickups
First on our list is the Carpenter Jack pickup mic. But, don’t let the name deceive you. The Carpenter Jack is a must-have for violinists trying to get serious with performances. The pickup mic is simply an all-in-one microphone perfection – from versatility to ease of installation.
The Carpenter Jack pickup comes with a small black box, complete with a slender microphone. This inconspicuous design is one of the factors that makes the mic quite popular. Indeed, after installation, it’s hard to know that the mic is there at all.
Also, installing the Carpenter Jack Pickup mic is a relatively straightforward process. All you have to do is clip the preamp onto your violin at the edge, and you’re good to go. After installation, all you will see is a tiny black box with a mic ready to amplify whatever you play.
Let’s not forget about the quality of sound the mic produces. The Carpenter Jack Pickup offers top-notch transparent tones without any feedback. Indeed, there seems to be no downside to using this mic for your violin recording purposes.
However, there is something you should note. The Carpenter Jack violin pickup mic has a long micro gooseneck, making a long-term permanent installation difficult. But, if you need a flexible and effective means to amplify your violin music, this is your guy!
B) Best Mics for Violin Recording
4) AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument Condenser Microphone
Key features: Large Diaphragm, Multi-Pattern. 3 Attenuation Levels, 3 switchable filters, Audio Peak Detection, Frequency range – 20 to 20000 Hz, Sensitivity – 20 mV/Pa (-34 dBV) +/- 0.5 dB.
The best option for violin recording with a multi-pattern large diaphragm microphone is the AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument.
There are total of 9 polar patterns you can set for every recording environment. Aside from the usual 5 sound patterns, namely omnidirectional, wide cardioid, cardioid, hyper-cardioid, and figure-8, that one would typically get from other microphones, it has 4 more patterns to choose from. It is a great investment for people who like to record in different environments.
It also has a lock mode to easily disable other controls, making live recording effortless to set up. The three attenuation levels offer additional options for close-mic recording and high-output of up to 158db SPL. Reducing wind noise and unnecessary sound is possible with the 3 different switchable bass-cut filters. Overall impressive engineering that gives warning for volume overloading and has a peak hold LED that can capture even the shortest of audio peaks.
5) Audio-Technica AT4040 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
Key features: Large Diaphragm, Low Noise, Wide Dynamic Range, High SPL, Transformerless Circuitry, Nickel-Plated Brass, Switchable 80Hz, Hi-Pass Filter, 10dB Pad, AT8449 Shock Mount included.
This large diaphragm condenser mic, the Audio-Technica AT4040, can easily handle violin recording with its advanced technology. It offers extremely low noise and a wide dynamic range with high-SPL that provides flexibility. It comes with a shock mount to provide comfortable use. The only downside is that it is intended to be used where there is remote power available. It has a 48V DC phantom power requirement, but since most violin recordings would either be inside a recording studio or an event hall, it would not be a problem.
It has an 80 Hz hi-pass filter that can be easily switched from flat frequency response to any desired low-end frequency. This capability reduces the mic’s sensitivity in a close-up recording as it limits the low-frequency unwanted noise from the background and vibrations from appliances such AC system or even traffic noise.
6) Beyerdynamic M160 Double Ribbon Microphone
Key Features: Hyper Cardioid pattern, Extended frequency response, Frequency range – 40HZ to 18,000HZ.
This German-made double ribbon microphone has been around for quite some time, and many music icons have used it in the past. It is not only great for violin recording, but it also captures drum playing and vocals superbly. The full frequency range makes the microphone very flexible and makes the violin’s high and low tones sound rich.
It is an exceptional way of capturing an emotional violin solo, which is normally done during film scoring. For those sound engineers that do not like the violin to sound brighter than it should, this M160 is the right choice for just capturing its luscious natural tone.
The downside to this hyper-cardioid polar pattern is that it is such a tight pattern that any slight changes in movement by the violinist would place him in an off-position that may affect the clarity of the recording. However, if the musician will stay in position, the beautiful nuances of a violin will be recorded flawlessly.
7) Neumann TLM 103
Key Features: Large Diaphragm microphone, Cardioid polar pattern, Transformerless Circuitry, Nickel Finish, Low noise, Swivel mount, Frequency range: 20HZ to20KHZ, SPL for 0.5% THD: 138dB.
The TLM 103 cardioid condenser microphone has been used for both professional and amateur recordings. It offers the Neumann patented technology of true transformerless circuitry, which means an electronic circuit has replaced the output transformer. It prevents RF interference, just like what most traditional transformers do to avoid influencing the audio signal. The cardioid pattern mic ensures that it would not capture any sound from the rear and sides of the violinist—no need to worry about catching unwanted sounds due to the increased isolation of the sounds. Live recordings will benefit from the high feedback suppression capability of this microphone.
The mic includes a swivel mount for easy use, and it enjoys the self-noise level technology, which reduces even the smallest signals. It can handle sound pressure level up to 138dB without worrying about distortion. It can record all the nuances of the violin, both the bright and quiet tones. One downside, though (if you can call it that), the microphone would not be a good match for those violinists who do not want to sound brighter than the others when playing in an ensemble or orchestra.
Amplifying and recording the violin sound is not as difficult as it was in the past. Still, with so many choices of microphones in the market today, one must be smart to use the most appropriate one to match the working environment. If the budget would allow it, explore all options so that you will end up with the best microphone for your violin sound recording.