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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Q. How should I mike-up a violin?

I am attempting to record a violin for the first time. I want a nice deep sound, but am unsure about using stereo mic techniques such as M/S, X-Y or ORTF, for example. I want to get the most natural sound possible with minimal amounts of processing.

When recording a violinist, it’s important to find the right room; violins do not respond well to close miking techniques, and the rich tonal quality of the instrument may be lost in a small, dead-sounding space.
Photo: Danchuter / Wikimedia Commons
The recording space is less than ideal: not a nice reflective surface with good acoustics, which would lend itself to distant miking techniques, but a small, treated, dead space that doesn’t have an especially nice sound. Will I have to use close mic techniques and artificial reverb, or can I get a reasonable sound out of the room?
I have a pretty good selection of microphones to choose from and have thought about using large diaphragm condenser mics, such as AKG C414s but, if close mics are the way to go, I also have access to dynamics. I want to capture the full, rich sound of the instrument and have looked at some diagrams showing the frequencies present at different places around the room; now I am wondering if I would need different types of mics at different places? I will be using a PT8 HD system and have hired a Neve desk. I might also add some tape warmth afterwards with a Studer tape machine.
Via SOS web site
SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: 
If you want a natural, full-bodied sound from a violin, you have to give it space. Close miking will always sound coloured by comparison and there will be a disproportionate amount of mechanical bow noise. Recording in a small, dead acoustic will result in a small, dead-sounding recording, no matter what you do in post-production.
When recording music the priorities are the music, the performer and the place, in that order. After that you can think about where to put the mics and the types of mic to use. And only then should you think about preamps, converters and recorders, for example. Your priority should be to find an acoustic space worthy of the performance, and then work out how to record there.
As far as the stereo techniques are concerned, there’s really no point in close-miking a violin in stereo. The instrument is not big enough to warrant it. However, recording a violin performance in a nice-sounding room often is worth doing in stereo, although whether you choose to work with X-Y, M/S or ORTF, for example, will depend on the nature of the room acoustics, the perspective you require, and the kind of stereo imaging you favour. All those techniques (and more) can produce pleasing results in the right situations.
For mic choice on a solo violin, personally I prefer to use either small-diaphragm omnidirectional mics (I think they sound significantly more natural than cardioid mics), or ribbons. The latter tend to give a smoother, more mellow sound, while the former retain more edge and detail. Which is best will depend on the music, the instrument and the technique. For a stereo recording, my personal preference would probably be X-Y ribbons or spaced omni small-diaphragm condensers (with a spacing of about 30cm).
Whatever mics you choose, though, avoid anything with a big presence peak and invest plenty of time in experimenting with both the position and height of the mic(s) around the player. You’ll be amazed at how dramatically the sound and tonal balance can vary in different places, and with different instruments and players! Finally, I’d suggest finding a room with lots of wood; a wooden stage or wooden wall panelling (or a wooden, vaulted ceiling) helps to maximise the tonal qualities of the instrument.  

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