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Pointers for Recording Acoustic Violin (first time)

Member for

6 months 3 weeks
Hello Recording Gurus,

I am (primarily) a classical violinist and newbie when it comes to microphones and all things audio/technical. I am looking for pointers for recording acoustic violin and piano (steinway grand). I'll be recording in a small recital hall with wonderful acoustics (and a good amount of reverb). Also, I have access to a number of different microphones as well as any other relevant equipment that would be needed to produce an EP (preamps, etc).

The full list of microphones I have access to is here.

Would love to get your experienced recommendations as to which mics to use, how many, and where to place them. For the violin, I was thinking of using the AKG C414 large diaphragm condenser placed above and 3 feet away as well as a second one further away for the room. For the piano I was thinking two Avantone CK-1 pencil mics on the piano to record in stereo. Does this sound like a good place to start?

Here is a reference recording of the sound I'd like to get in my final mix. Any guesses as to what the set up was for this recording? Is it even possible to guess at that based only on a recording? Haha.

Open to any and all thoughts on this. I do plan to experiment and move the microphones around a bit before recording. Also, this work is part of a thesis paper, so if you have any books/materials I could use for further research and to cite in the paper, that would be awesome!

Thanks so much for any assistance you can offer.

Comments

Member for

11 years 8 months

bouldersound Sun, 02/28/2021 - 14:00
I generally use a small diaphragm condenser about 12" above the violin. You could increase the distance to allow more of the ambient acoustics to get in, but at the cost of more bleed from the piano. Perhaps close mic both instruments and place a stereo mic of some sort (I prefer coincident pairs) at a distance to capture the space, then time align (delay) the close mics to the far mics.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Davedog Sun, 02/28/2021 - 15:05
Are you recording both instruments live off the floor?

If so I would look at The Lawson mic and the Avantone CK12 as the piano mics. Both have multiple patterns which can be handy under the hood of a Steinway. It's pretty amazing what rotating the axis in figure of 8 can do to piano tone while at the same time with a judicious choice of placement in the room, put the violin in the null position of the piano mics giving you a clearer and cleaner reproduction.

The 414 on the violin and probably just one. You have to position it to eliminate the bow hiss and any wolfing you might get on some notes.

You said the room has a nice ambient sound so I would use the Crown Stereo Head somewhere in the room for such a purpose. You find that spot by listening to a performance whilst walking around till you ears are happy. Thats where the head goes.

Member for

15 years 5 months

Boswell Sun, 02/28/2021 - 15:14
The 414s are obvious candidates in that mic list, but I would not use them as a stereo pair on the violinist. The difficulty is that violinists are not stationary creatures, and their natural expression of the music makes them sway and move. This is picked up by an X-Y stereo pair and tends to result in magnified movement when replayed. It can be reduced in the mix by not panning hard L and R, so narrowing it a bit.

I would prefer to use a mono microphone above the violinist and then probably use the 414s switched to omni as an A-B pair on the piano. Exactly which other mic from the list you would use for the violin is the difficult choice. If I were in your position, I would want to try the KM183, but as it is an omni, it would have to be in closer than a cardioid to avoid capturing too much of the piano, and also the response bump in the high mids may need some taming, depending on the tonal qualities of the instrument.

The Crown head would make an interesting room microphone pair.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Davedog Sun, 02/28/2021 - 16:02
Boswell, post: 467974, member: 29034 wrote:
I would prefer to use a mono microphone above the violinist
Exactly why I chose one of the 414's. They don't lose a lot at the edges of their pattern so the swaying of the fiddle won't be as obvious!

That being said, the Lawson is an awesome mic... 47ish with some nice smooth top end. So you could get that thing down in the low end and just peak the second 414 over the edge of case in the high end of the piano. Another choice for the violin might be the Shure KSM32. They use em a lot on all things with strings in Nashvillage. Certainly would be worth a try.

Member for

11 years 8 months

bouldersound Sun, 02/28/2021 - 16:46
Davedog, post: 467975, member: 4495 wrote:
Exactly why I chose one of the 414's. They don't lose a lot at the edges of their pattern so the swaying of the fiddle won't be as obvious!
If it's a close stereo pair then I would expect the technique itself to magnify movements. I'm not sure why you'd mic a single small instrument up close with a stereo pair.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Davedog Sun, 02/28/2021 - 18:00
bouldersound, post: 467976, member: 38959 wrote:
If it's a close stereo pair then I would expect the technique itself to magnify movements. I'm not sure why you'd mic a single small instrument up close with a stereo pair.
I never said a stereo pair on the violin. I agreed with Boz on why a single and you are correct on what happens. For what it's worth....I have found that recording a single violin and a piano in a recital situation gets better violin with an LDC. In a group such as a quartet of strings an SDC works better on all the instruments. You can find the tone spot , if you will, on each instrument and give it more of an individual voice.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Davedog Sun, 02/28/2021 - 18:41
Kurt Foster, post: 467977, member: 7836 wrote:
they have a pair of Coles ribbons on the violin. looks like Neumann 's and a pair of pencils. someting is over the piano too but i couldn't catch it.
These recordings were made at Teldex Studios Berlin. They have a really nice collection of mics. Guess where MOST of them are made.....

They also have complete control over any idiosyncrasies of sound in that big hall. I suppose they could mic things with an old Sony electret and it would sound pretty good.

The OP mentioned recording in a small recital hall with wonderful acoustics and a LOT of reverb. I would think choices start there.


Historical aside: Just sharing so don't take it wrong. I attended a classical recording session in a 'larger' room with the solo piano being played out in the middle of the room. The lid was open on the Steinway. They used a coincidental stereo pair of SDC's much like is illustrated. There were a scattering of LDC's around the outside of the piano cabinet much like is seen in the video capture that Kurt posted. I gotta remember but I think there were 4 separate lines. The was an overhead a ways up in the air. There were gobos at about 10' off the sides of the open lid and there were three mics as room mics scattered around. My engineer friend who invited me told me why they were there in those particular places. his response "Thats where they sound good" Highly technical.

Member for

7 years 7 months

paulears Mon, 03/01/2021 - 02:12
I can't see the video here in the UK, it's not available. but if the space sounds wonderful, then I'd probably go with the 414's in a Blumlein setup, at a point where the violin and piano are balanced in level, but if you can record 5 tracks - I'd go with your idea of the two mics on the piano and use another to cover the singer. Belts and Braces. If you can find the right spot for the stereo pair, that will sound the most realistic, but really you'd need to set up in a separate room with a pair of monitor speakers so you can tweak this. Position is probably more critical than the mic type - but 414s work very well in these pairs.

Member for

16 years 4 months

ronmac Mon, 03/01/2021 - 05:10
My take.... based on the statement that the hall has a pleasing acoustic...

1) Use a spaced pair of KM183 for the main capture, placing the violinist closer than the piano and adjusting violinist position to create desired depth and balance between instruments.

2) Use the KSM32 pair spaced to support the piano, placed at the tail ala Decca (similar position and width of Neumanns shown in picture).

3) You may prefer to add a single or pair of mics on the violin for a more forward sound, but that will be totally dependent on the room, player and the aesthetic you wish to create. Selection of mic(s) will be based on how much "bite" you will need for augmentation.

If you had a nice pair of ribbon mics I would let them do the heavy lifting as main pair.

Good monitoring while placing mics and artists in the room is critical. The room and repertoire will dictate the optimum mic choices and placement.

Member for

7 years 7 months

paulears Mon, 03/01/2021 - 05:23
The trouble with any form of multiple mics on a violin is the damn players never stay in one place - some almost have fits while playing. Sometimes you can use two mics to blend the fingerboard screetch with the f-hole tone, but it goes horribly wrong if they're mobile. Even worse - stereo techniques are nausea making if they move about - the stereo field radically wobbles around and in headphones it really is a nasty feeling as it swirls around your head. Grand piano gets two mics for blend and balance and a tiny bit of width if they're closer than proper near field or far field recording, and the soloist one mic - if the idea is to recreate the space, or to be used as fill, but I've never found any kind of 'rule' - but when you walk in, a finger click or two usually tells you what is going to sound nicest. After the finger clicks, my second job is to play the piano just to see how nice it is, and how it works in the space. Then while I'm sitting there, I'll be looking around looking for structures to hang things from/attach things to/or totally avoid. My pre-event emails are always carefully constructed to find out if it's an audio recording only, or an audio recording with a video as secondary, or a video as primary purpose and this is the audio for it. Best locations for audio are ALWAYS the worst for video, and vice versa. Pecking order is vital. Much as I want that special mic placement location, often, audio is not the Primary Purpose - so I have to compromise. Almost everything I do is a compromise - it's very rare for me to be primary - that's just how it works.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Davedog Mon, 03/01/2021 - 07:59
paulears, post: 467982, member: 47782 wrote:
I can't see the video here in the UK, it's not available. but if the space sounds wonderful, then I'd probably go with the 414's in a Blumlein setup, at a point where the violin and piano are balanced in level, but if you can record 5 tracks - I'd go with your idea of the two mics on the piano and use another to cover the singer. Belts and Braces. If you can find the right spot for the stereo pair, that will sound the most realistic, but really you'd need to set up in a separate room with a pair of monitor speakers so you can tweak this. Position is probably more critical than the mic type - but 414s work very well in these pairs.
Paul, I don't think there's a singer

Member for

7 years 7 months

paulears Wed, 06/09/2021 - 09:48

For some reason the video is now viewable for me. I suspect that much of what is seen, is not quite being used as we've mentioned. The piano and violin in the video rang bells. I don't think that just because we see two mics we should jumps to stereo as the purpose. The two Coles for example, two figure-8 facing the same way don't produce a stereo image, and in the recording, she thrashes around left to right and up and down, exposing the mics to all kinds of different angles and timbres. If they were being panned, then we'd get the really horrible beginners problems with stereo techniques too close in
where the image is really wild. We don't get that, so what we hear will be predominantly just one of them. The two close spaced mics could be a stereo pair to give a sense of realism, but again - a gentle left to right. The more distant Neumanns could be an alternate perspective, and we do hear the piano as a typical accompaniment instrument in places - distant, less precise, less in your face and 'roomier'.
I suspect the cathedral stand over the piano carries a stereo array of some kind, and then all these close and distant perspectives get blended in the mix. We probably have the best sounding violin mic, with some more distant room added, and the piano recorded as a wide instrument, panned and blended with room sound.

I love the sound (and hate the music). Definition of the focus instrument is the vital thing - two slightly different distances from the Coles, and plenty of options on the piano and build it afterwards.

With these kinds of recording the key feature is the eyes closed perspective. In past times, you would set up the placement of musicians and record the room. The recording's success is the blend of the two and the blend between them and the room. It's getting more common for musicians in the know, to want to record with definition, clarity and precision. Hell, we're talking about people who have great ears - far better than mine. I spent some time in the 90s recording a young clarinetist. I'd watch with my jaw dropped - he would open a new box of reeds, pop one on, play three notes and take it off and throw it in the bin - then repeat until one was worthy of trying more notes. This would usually come off too, but be put on a new pile. Eventually one would be deemed worthy of extended warbling. He'd often pull out a small mirror and pop a reed on it and he'd polish it by rubbing the reed on the glass. In the 90s, stereo techniques in a nice room would be just two, or maybe four mics and we'd need to move things to get the blend right. He ALWAYS complained he didn't hear in the recordings what he heard when playing.

I can imagine the lady in the video being similar, but now, she can get that clarity. Of course, we could have done it like that in 1995, but we didn't. The in your face closer perspective was frowned on in classical circles. Go to spotify and listen to Deutsche Gramaphon recordings from the 70s-90s period. Some are excruciatingly bad recordings of excellent musicians but at the time, people wanted the sound you heard in a concert hall - which is NOT always that good. The Royal Albert Hall, for example has never had excellent acoustics and they've tried all sorts to tame it over the years. Now, with close miking techniques the venue is producing some great stuff in multi-genres.

It's like classical people he only just discovered the fine tuning (and editing) we can do with close miked recordings and they want it!

I've mentioned it before but when I was a Music Technology exam person, at that time students had to record 1 multi-track and 1 stereo natural acoustic. They always did better on the Multi-track than the stereo recording. Just two mics, and gentle EQ and some could sound absolutely dreadful.

I've attached an mp3 of music from that time that was considered as one of the better recordings. If you listen to I I am sure you will hear lots of issues. There's a very strange sounding piano, a rather loud but OK flute and a choir. Stereo mic pair - suspended on a tall stand in a professional venue. I didn't keep the technical details but it's typical of the results of a stereo recording using minimal kit - but clearly uncontrolled. The trouble of course is the student was presented with a concert. Moving the piano or the fluautist and spreading the choir and moving the mics were probably impossible. Somebody thought it a great exam opportunity but they didn't allow the student the ability to do what they would do for a multi-track. As in try it, move it, change it, do it again. Even worse, there was an audience and many of the tracks were ruined by a man with a repeating cough!

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