Best Microphones For Miking Celesta


The celesta is a truly beautiful instrument. I like to think of it as a limited range upright piano with metal bars instead of strings. The timbre of the celesta is full and rich with luscious transients.

When it comes to either recording or reinforcing the sound of the celesta, it all starts with the microphone(s). A strong microphone (or pair of mics) is the first step in a strong signal chain. So which microphones sound best on the celesta? Here are my recommendations:

  • AKG C414 XLS: The AKG C414 XLS (link to check the price on Amazon) is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser. The high sound quality and versatility of this microphone make it a top recommendation for miking celesta. With 9 selectable polar patterns, 3 high-pass filters, and 3 attenuation pads, this microphone is a top choice for any mic configuration around a celesta.
  • Rode NT1-A: The Rode NT1-A (link to check the price on Amazon) is a large diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone. It’s an extremely quiet and reactive microphone that provides pristine clarity and accuracy when used on celesta. The NT1-A is my top recommendation for a “budget” celsta microphone.

Microphone(s) play a big role in capturing the essence of a celesta’s sound and shouldn’t be overlooked in any studio or live environment.

Before we get into the details of the recommended celesta microphones, let’s discuss the sound of a celesta.


Disclaimer:

“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist’s price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.

Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:

  • Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
  • Instrument
  • Microphone technique/placement
  • Number of microphones used
  • Natural sound of the room
  • Content (whether that’s the song, discussion, or otherwise)
  • Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)

With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”


What Does A Celesta Sound Like?

When choosing a microphone for any application, it’s to our great advantage to know the characteristics of the sound source. So what does a celesta sound like?

The celesta is laid out similarly to a harmonium or piano with its chromatic keyboard. The sound of the celesta is made when its steel bars are struck by its felt-covered hammers (which are connected to the keyboard).

Each bar also has its own resonator made of a wooden box (located underneath the bar), which amplifies the fundamental frequency and softens the tone of the celesta. These wooden box resonators really help to clearly state the. pitch of each bar since steel has a high number of inharmonic partials.

The soft felt hammers and the steel bars yield a warm, rich timbre when comparing the celesta with other tuned percussion instruments.

The celesta is a quiet instrument with a limited dynamic range. It can have a fairly transient and sharp attack if a key is hit hard but is typically played softly. The resonance of the celesta is long.

A Note On Miking The Celesta

Although it’s certainly possible to capture the full sound of a celesta with a single microphone, a pair of mics will often yield better results.

For the fullest capture of the celesta’s sound with one microphone, place an omnidirectional mic several feet above the celesta with an open top. Of course, this is a gross generality. Mic positioning must be experimented with to find the “sweet spot” that suits the celesta, the room, and the tastes of the musicians and producers.

It’s often best to use a pair of LDCs (large diaphragm condensers) positioned equidistance from the center of the celesta’s top. On microphone will pick up the lower end of the celesta’s range while the other will pick up the higher end.

The capture of the celesta depends more on the instrument, its position, the microphone position, and the room than it does on the particular microphone used. This is true for all instruments, but particularly true for the celesta due to its wide range and dispersed mechanics of action.

For more information on microphone placement, check out my article Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement.

Frequency Range Of Celesta

  • Overall Range: 131 Hz ~ 18,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 131 Hz – 4186 Hz (C3-C8)
  • Harmonics range: 262 Hz ~ 18,000 Hz

So we want a microphone that will accurately capture the true sound of the celesta. Knowing the fundamental frequencies and the harmonics of the celesta is a great place to start. On top of this, there are a few more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the best celesta microphone.


What Makes An Ideal Celesta Microphone?

Let’s discuss a short list of the critical criteria that make up an ideal celesta microphone:

  • Versatility: There are countless ways to mic a celesta. This is mostly due to the size of the instrument and the mechanics that go into producing its sound. Choose a microphone that works well with the many techniques that lend themselves well to the celesta.
  • Flat/extended frequency response: Choose a microphone with a flat frequency response to accurately capture the sound of a celesta. Not only does the celesta have a decently large range from C3-C8 (131 Hz – 4186 Hz), but the instrument also has meaningful harmonic content up to the upper ranges of human hearing (18,000 Hz).
  • Sensitivity: A sensitive microphone will record more subtleties in the celesta performance than a less sensitive mic. Sensitivity also applies to the strength of the mic signal, which is an important value to consider when recording quiet celesta passages or when miking the celesta from a distance.
  • Accurate transient response: It’s always preferable to have a pronounced transient response when miking percussion instruments. There is a lot of information in the transients of the celesta’s metal bars that should be captured accurately.
  • Low self-noise: Large diaphragm condenser microphones are usually considered the best bet for miking the celesta. These mics are active and therefore have self-noise. Choosing a quieter active microphone will help to further capture the subtle nuances in the sound of a celesta and better reproduce the quiet moments of a celesta’s performance.
  • Directionality: Select a directional microphone to better suit the various miking techniques used in recording celestas.

Let’s now discuss the recommended celesta microphones according to the above criteria:


The AKG C414 XLS

AKG C414 XLS

The AKG C414 is an engineering feat in the microphone world. It gets the top recommendation as a celesta microphone due to its astonishing versatility, wide frequency response, low self-noise, accurate diaphragms, and unbeatable price (for the quality). Let’s talk more about this multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser and why it sounds so amazing on celesta.

Versatility Of The AKG C414 XLS

The AKG C414 is perhaps the most versatile large diaphragm condenser on the market today. With 9 selectable polar patterns, 3 different high-pass filters, and 3 different pads, the C414 will work with and sound superb on the celesta in nearly any situation. Whether we’re using a single mic or using multiples in a stereo configuration, the C414 is my top choice.

Let’s quickly list out the AKG C414’s switchable options:

9 Selectable Polar Patterns

  • Omnidirectional
  • Omnidirectional/Wide Cardioid (intermediate)
  • Wide Cardioid
  • Wide Cardioid/Cardioid (intermediate)
  • Cardioid
  • Cardioid/Hypercardioid (intermediate)
  • Hypercardioid
  • Hypercardioid/Bidirectional (intermediate)
  • Bidirectional (Figure-8)

For more information on microphone polar patterns, check out my article The Complete Guide To Microphone Polar Patterns.

3 Selectable High-Pass Filters

  • No HPF
  • 12 dB/octave HPF @ 40 Hz
  • 12 dB/octave HPF @ 80 Hz
  • 6 dB/octave HPF @ 160 Hz

For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?

3 Selectable Passive-Attenuation-Devices (PADs)

  • Default
  • -6 dB Pad
  • -12 dB Pad
  • -18 dB Pad

For more information on passive attenuation devices, check out my article What Is A Microphone Attenuation Pad And What Does It Do?

I think it goes without saying that the AKG C414 fills any roll in any microphone array/configuration when miking a celesta.

Frequency Response Of The AKG C414 XLS

The frequency response of the AKG C414 XLS is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. The C414 XLS (omnidirectional position) frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the AKG C414 XLS/XLII User Manual

I chose to show the frequency response of the C414’s omnidirectional polar pattern (of the 9 polar pattern options). This is because omni microphones often yield the most natural sound when miking the celesta. If we were tasked with capturing the sound of a celesta with a single microphone, my first thought would be to place an AKG C414 a few feet above the top of the celesta with the top open. You can check out the other polar patterns and frequency response graphs in the manual here.

The C414 has a very flat frequency response. This means the microphone will reproduce sound (in the form of a mic signal) with pristine accuracy.

Because the celesta’s lower register bottoms out around C3 (131 Hz), it may be beneficial to engage the C414’s HPF at 80 Hz. Unless you’re trying to pick up the mechanical noise of the instrument, a HPF will help to clean up the sound. The HPF at 80 Hz effectively reduces the amount of potential low-end hum and rumble from the microphone signal while preserving all the important harmonic content of the celesta.

A flat frequency response is critical when miking a celesta. This is due to the vast harmonic content of the celesta (ranging upward to roughly 18,000 Hz)

The slight boost of the upper-frequency range helps enhance the “brilliance” or “air” of the celesta and the space the celesta is in.

For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).

Sensitivity Of The AKG C414 XLS

The open circuit sensitivity rating of the AKG C414 XLS is given as 23 mV/Pa (-33 dBV ± 0.5 dB). This means the microphone will output a strong signal when subjected to exterior sound pressure. This ensures a usable signal even in the quietest moments of a celesta’s performance.

For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.

However, the microphone output isn’t the only way to talk about sensitivity.

Transient Response Of The AKG C414 XLS

The light-weight large diaphragms of the C414 are very reactive and the microphone has a very accurate transient response. This is critical in capturing the truest sound of the celesta. The celesta is, after all, a percussion instrument and percussion instruments have strong transients.

Self-Noise Of The AKG C414 XLS

Because the C414 XLS is an active condenser microphone, it has interior electronics that cause self-noise. These electronics are there, in part, to help boost the mic signal for a better sensitivity rating. They also work by altering the pattern, PAD, or HPF depending on the user input.

Fortunately, though, the self-noise rating of the C414 is only 6 dBA, which is barely noticeable even in the quietest iso-booths. This allows the C414 to capture the slightest amount of sound pressure variation and, therefore, the little nuances of the celesta’s sound.

For more information on microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).

Directionality Of The AKG C414 XLS

As mentioned, the AKG C414 XLS has a whopping 9 selectable polar patterns. A common choice for recording the natural sound of the celesta is the omnidirectional mode. The C414 omnidirectional pattern graph is shown below:

I chose to show you the graph the coincides with the omnidirectional mode polar pattern since it’s a common pattern for celesta studio recordings. That being said, please experiment with the 8 other patterns the C414 has to offer. You can check out the other graphs in the manual here.

As we can see here, the C414 does become more directional at higher frequencies in the omnidirectional mode. This is typical of microphones. When using the C414 in omni mode, I’d still suggest pointing the microphone toward the celesta for the best capture of the high-end frequencies.

For more information on the omnidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).

But this is just the omnidirectional mode. As discussed earlier, the C414 has a whopping 9 different selectable polar patterns. Getting back to versatility, the AKG C414 will work in any position or miking technique.


The Rode NT1-A

Rode NT1-A

The Rode NT1-A is my top recommended “budget” microphone for the celesta. The Rode NT1-A is a large diaphragm electret condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.

Though this microphone is not nearly as versatile as the C414, it does sound awesome on the celesta. The quality of the Rode NT1-A far surpasses its price in my opinion. Let’s talk about how it sounds with the celesta.

Versatility Of The Rode NT1-A

The NT1-A is not a versatile microphone. It has no selectable options.

That being said, the mic does sound pretty great in many common mic positions around the celesta (in front, over the open top, etc.).

Frequency Response Of The Rode NT1-A

The frequency response of the Rode NT1-A is listed as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the NT1-A:

Image from Rode NT1-A Data Sheet

The frequency response of the NT1-A tells us the microphone is fairly consistent at picking up sound across the audible frequency spectrum (20 Hz – 20,000 Hz). This is what we want in a celesta mic in order to capture the celesta sound accurately.

We see slight boosts in sensitivity in the presence range (3-6 kHz) and in the upper frequencies (around 12 kHz).

The presence boost helps the celesta cut through in mixes by enhancing its upper range and harmonic content. Too much presence could potentially cause competition between the celesta and vocals, but the slight boost of the NT1-A should not cause problems. This boost should only modestly enhance the character of the celesta.

The boost in the high frequencies will add brightness and brilliance to the sound of the celesta, further enhancing its upper harmonic. The high-end roll-off of the NT1-A makes it so that the microphone is not overly bright and harsh (a negative quality in nearly any situation).

Sensitivity Of The Rode NT1-A

The sensitivity rating of the Rode NT1-A is given as -32 dBV or 25 mV/Pa. This is a great sensitivity rating that is typical of condenser microphones. The Rode NT1-A will deliver a strong mic signal of the celesta to whatever preamplifier it’s connected to.

Transient Response Of The Rode NT1-A

The large 1″ gold plated diaphragm of the NT1-A is light-weight and very sensitive to changing sound pressure levels. The transient response is accurate and will capture the true sound of the celesta notes.

Self-Noise Of The Rode NT1-A

The Rode NT1-A is marketed as one of the quietest condenser microphones on the market. Its ultra low noise, transformerless surface mount circuitry gives off only 5 dBA worth of self-noise. That’s incredibly quiet! There’s virtually no risk of self-noise being a factor when recording the celesta (or any other instrument) with an NT1-A.

Directionality Of The Rode NT1-A

Unlike the other recommendation, the Rode NT1-A has only one polar pattern: Cardioid. Here is the cardioid pattern graph of the NT1-A:

Image from Rode NT1-A Data Sheet

For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).

When miking a celesta with the NT1-A, ensure the microphone is pointed at the celesta for the cleanest results.

A favourite miking technique of mine for the celesta is to have a spaced pair of NT1-A (or other cardioid mics) pointed down at the open top at either side of the open top. This setup captures a fuller sound of the celesta with an opportunity for a stereo image in the mix that has a frequency component (lower frequencies on the left, higher frequencies of the right, for example).

The cardioid pattern of the Rode NT1-A works excellently in close-miking positions and in live situations. The microphone provides effective isolation of the close source. This helps to spot mic specific piece of the celesta. It also provides isolation for the celesta when recorded alongside other instruments.


The Recap

So here is my top recommended mic and my top “budget” mic for capturing the sound of a celesta. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on celesta, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 2. Let’s recap:

  • AKG C414 XLS: Best sounding/most versatile mic on celesta.
  • Rode NT1-A: Best “budget” microphone on celesta.

Honourable mentions:

  • Telefunken U47
  • Soundelux U99
  • Neumann TLM102
  • Rode K2
  • Neumann U87

For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.

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