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microphone to record violin - sub $600. Any ideas?

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by VioKash, May 17, 2016.

  1. VioKash

    VioKash Active Member

    Ok so I play a lot and would love to record. Recording is also great for practice. However there are SO many different types of microphones from large diaphragm condensers to tube mics to ribbon mics and it gets overwhelming. I am looking for something that will sound closest to whatever Perlman uses. I have a fairly small room to record in that I could load with acoustic foam if it helps. Should I just rent expensive Royers whenever I want to record? Will they make that much of a difference?

    I was looking at the Rode NTR
    Royer 101
    AT 4081 - I could get for relatively cheap
    Cascade Fat Head.... but I really don't know. There are so many models.

    Thanks!
     
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The short answers is that any of those mics will work.
    The longer answer is that your sound will depend on which you use, as well as the preamp that you use with the mic, and the environment in which you are recording.

    A serious player, someone who is releasing commercial records, is most likely recording in a pro facility, where the performance spaces are acoustically balanced and favorable, and where top notch gear is being used by pro engineers who know how to use it, and who are in most cases very familiar with the musical style. Regardless of how good you are, you won't be able to achieve the same high caliber sonics from a home recording rig, tracking in a spare bedroom, having a novice level of engineering knowledge, that an artist like Perlman who records in a pro facility would get.

    Mics:

    Ribbon mics tend to be "darker" sounding than condenser mics do, with smooth mids - but with a top end that is usually subdued past 8-10k. Also, most ribbon mics - with few exceptions- are bi directional/figure 8 in their pickup pattern. This may not be the best choice if you are working in a space that has problems acoustically ( usually any room in your house is less than optimal) because it's going to pick up the sound of your room - which is fine if you have a good sounding space, but not so good if your space sounds poor. Ribbon mics also require a lot of gain to work at their optimum level. If you are using a budget level mic preamp/I-O that offers a typical gain of 55-60db, you'll end up with noise, because you'll have to drive your mic pre full-out to get a high enough level for the mic - but which will also boost the noise level, which is typical in cheaper pres as their gain is increased.

    Condensers are far more sensitive to the full frequency spectrum, can operate at their optimum with far less gain requirements, and are known and desired for their ability to pick up subtle nuances of voices and instruments. The down side for this choice is that because of their sensitivity, they will also pick up quite a bit of the sound of the space in which they occupy.

    Tube mics - generally condensers - will have an inherent "warmth" to them, with an "edge" that is the result of the tube overdriving. This may or may not be advantageous for you. More expensiv tube mics will sound smoother than cheap tube mics will, which have a tendency to sound more "muddy" than smooth. You can also accomplish a similar sonic character using a solid state mic with a tube-based mic preamp.

    Treating your room with typical 1" acoustic foam - hanging packing blankets can also be effective - may help to dampen upper frequency flutter echo, top end reverberance and "pinging", but it won't do a thing for frequencies below 1k. If your room's acoustic signature happens to carry heavy amounts of mid range or have low frequency problems, you'd need to get into broad band absorption or bass traps to effect/attenuate those frequencies.

    You may want to try recording in your space with a variety of mics first, to find which model will best suit your scenario.
    My personal recommendation would be to look for a condenser with a hyper-cardioid pattern option; if it were me I would be looking at an AKG 414 or a Neumann U89/87, and adjusting your distance from the mic according to how it sounds to you to get the best balance between room and direct. The closer you are to the mic, the more of the nuances of the instrument you'll capture.

    Again though, the quality of your preamp will matter, too. If you are renting, and have enough in your budget, I would suggest trying one of the mics mentioned above, with a solid state preamp that is more transparent - like a Grace or Millennia. You could then output the line out of the preamp to the line input of your interface.

    The other option is to find a pro studio that has a nice sounding recording space, that has nice gear, and let a knowledgeable and experienced engineer handle the technical side ...while you focus on your performance. ;)

    FWIW
    -d.
     
  3. Keith Johnson

    Keith Johnson Active Member

    Agree in the main with Donny....though just being slightly pedantic a U87 doesn't provide for hypercardioid...

    Not really being aware of prices over on your side of the pond off the top of my head, I'd also look at some of the small diaphragm condensers as well including Neumann KM184 (or KM185 if you're wanting the hypercardioid), the Gefell M300 and something like the Rode NT55 on the (slightly) more budget end.

    I guess it depends on how much of this you're planning to do yourself or whether you really would get a higher cost benefit from studio time as previously suggested.

    Edit: Having completely missed your reference to Perlman (sorry!) you may find those a little bright...with that in mind, again depending on your room environment I'd definitely look at ribbons (my new favourite is the Nuvo N8 but it's above your budget, sadly)...I'd likely avoid the 414 for the same reason that it'd possibly be a bit harsh.
     
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    With all due respect, no matter how good your instrument and your playing, you are not going to sound like Itzhak Perlman if you record in a small, untreated room using a budget microphone.

    Before selecting microphone(s) for your own recording or deciding you would rather use a professional studio, it's necessary to think carefully about the reasons for doing the recording. Is this for practice comparisons, archiving, sharing with other musical colleagues, comitting to CD for possible sale or for some other purpose? The reasons for recording have a profound influence on where you should record, the equipment you should use and how it is set up.
     
  5. rmburrow

    rmburrow Active Member

    Arrange to spend a few hours in a professional studio where you can try various microphones, preamps, etc. and hear your performance under good technical and acoustic conditions and determine what is best for you. Don't buy before you try...this also applies to the tools of your trade...
     
    dvdhawk and pcrecord like this.
  6. VioKash

    VioKash Active Member

    Is it better to record in a small round room with the foam or in a large open part of the house with marble floors and windows? So I should be leaning toward a ribbon mic with a solid state preamp. I could get an AT 4081 for $400. Would it really sound that much different from a small diaphragm condenser like the Rode NT5 (s)?

    Thanks
     
  7. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Obviously depending on the sound that's best for the song... But in general, it's far easier to make a large room sound tight and close, than to make a tiny room sound big and smooth.

    Grab yourself some moving blankets and a couple mics stands to drape them on, and find a nice comfy place on the main room, and set the blanket baffles up around you, with enough room so you can move freely. And there ya go, instant vocals.
     
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    can you post a violin track / youtube link from Perlman that you'd like to emulate sonically?
     
  9. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Forget the equipment - what does your instrument sound like? Some wonderful instruments in a live environment record pretty badly out of it. I've noticed that older, more 'quality' instruments need the room to assist them, otherwise they sound a bit nasal. If I record these I tend to avoid smaller condensers and brighter large ones. My favourite 414 does a pretty nasty job on some rather expensive instruments, but my 20 year old Oktava sounds warmer, and it's also the one I try my only ribbon on. Often I've used the Oktava - and it's old and rather clunky, but seems to do a nice job on those awkward instruments.
     
  10. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Another aspect of the violin that makes it more difficult to record, is capturing it to the satisfaction of the violinist. With one ear just an inch or two from their instrument, they have a very unique perspective on what it should sound like.

    I'm with Boswell on this one though, you really need to ask yourself what your goal is. You've set the bar quite high with referencing Mr. Perlman's recordings which is fine, but unless you rein in your expectations, I believe it's sure to end in one of two ways: 1) self-delusion to try to justify the money spent, which is human nature, or 2) the more realistic, sheer disappointment with the results. (speaking strictly about recording sonic quality - not judging your playing ability) I can safely assert Mr. Perlman did not make any of the world's pre-eminent violin recordings in a spare bedroom crammed full of foam.

    If you want to record rehearsals for self-critiquing and improvement, you could accomplish that with any garden-variety mic - or even a standalone solution like a Zoom.

    If you want to record something for sale to the general public that is anywhere near those top level productions you listen to, you're presented with at least two more 'ifs'.

    If you take the money you'll save by not buying a $600 mic, and who knows how much cash constitutes a 'load' of acoustical foam, that would easily fund a fair amount of time at a professional studio (which leaves you free to immerse yourself in the musical performance - not splitting your brain between playing and recording tasks).

    If on the other hand, you're 100% determined to learn the art of recording, that's completely different, and I'd welcome you to dive right in. In which case, you have to start somewhere, and you'll improve your recording technique that same you learned the violin - which I assume was through a great deal of training, practice, and repetition. However, this may cut into the time you could be using to play the violin. Oftentimes a budding musician will start on a 'student' instrument, and as they develop they step up to more and more professional caliber instruments. The same goes for recording, get the best recording-chain you can afford to start, and learn how to get the absolute best from what you've got. If you're dedicated enough, I have no doubt you can do both things to a high level. I just hope in the long run your playing doesn't suffer or stagnate, because you were preoccupied with the recording arts. The world needs more great violinists, we're kinda 'full up' on fair-to-middlin' recordists (a group I'll include myself in).

    Anyway… food for thought. Do as you like. Carry on. And best of luck.
     
  11. drumrob

    drumrob Active Member

    It's been hinted at by others here, but I think it needs to be reinforced - the sound of a recorded violin is all about the space it is recorded in. If you close mic a violin, you will get a very dry, scratchy sound that no one will like. You have to back off the violin a couple of feet or more to fully capture the sound of the instrument and its environment. That means that if you record in a room with acoustic foam to deaden it, you will get a dead, dull sound that is NOT what you want for violin. You need to record in a space that sounds good on its own.

    I also agree with others that if you can set up a situation where you can try several mics out, that would be best. If not, then it does depend on your ultimate goal. For just hearing yourself and learning from how it sounds, something like the Zoom H2N recorder would be great. It's easy to use and sounds pretty good. For making recordings to showcase yourself or sell, you would need the better space mentioned above. As for mics under $600, I would suggest checking out the Cascade Fat Head II (with Lundahl transformer if possible). I have also used the BLUE Mouse and an Audio-Technica AT4047 succesfully. Both of those might be over your budget, but you could check out a used Mojave M201, or maybe an ADK Hamburg for other options of condensers that have a smoother high end.

    Good Luck and have fun!
     
  12. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I'd agree totally with drumrob - in actual fact, I've come to the conclusion that its how some mics cope with the room that makes them distinctive. I find clarinets are very similar - a cheap one and an expensive one can share a similar timbre - typically that woody resonance, yet put them in a really good room and the expensive one sings. Soprano saxes tend to be similar - but the sax family all have very different tones between baritone and soprano - and some are great for playing live, but record horribly, while others that record well sound dreadful and feeble, live.

    Violins are probably the worst instrument to record, I think.
     

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