Best Microphones For Miking Concert Harp


Oh the magical and mystical sound of the concert harp. To capture the best sound of a harp takes time and patience. The room, the harp position in that room, and the microphone position(s) play a huge role in determining the quality of harp recording.

The signal of the concert harp for recording and/or live reinforcement starts with the microphone. Here are my top two recommendations:

  • AKG C414 XLS: The AKG C414 XLS (link to check the price on Amazon) is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser. The sheer versatility of this microphone makes it a top recommendation for not only concert harp, but many other instruments as well. With 9 selectable polar patterns, 3 high-pass filters, and 3 attenuation pads, this microphone is a top choice in most harp miking situations. Whether we use a single C414, a stereo pair, a mid-side configuration, or any other miking technique, the AKG C414 is our best bet.
  • DPA d:dicate 4011C: The DPA d:dicate 4011 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a small diaphragm condenser microphone. The 4011C is designed to attach to performers or instruments in the least obtrusive fashion. This microphone is recommended for spot-miking concert harps in live settings and for recording harps in tighter studio spaces (the two scenarios that are less than ideal for the AKG C414).

We’ll discuss each of these microphones shortly, but first, I’d like to talk a bit about the sound of a concert harp.


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 Concert Harp 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 concert harp sound like?

The concert harp boasts a giant range of musical notes and frequencies. Its open string notes run from C♭1-G#7 and even higher with harmonics. However, the harmonics of the harp do not span too far. The most notable harmonic is the second (an octave above the fundamental).

The lower register (C♭1-F#3) is used mostly for bass application. These lower notes (longer strings) have a slow attack and long decay and can help support higher arpeggios. However, these notes get blurred if played in glissando.

The middle register (G♭3-C#6) sound warm and brilliant and is where most of the melody, harmony, glissando, and arpeggio happen with the harp.

The upper register (G♭3-G#7) yields very bright and transient sounding strings with barely any decay .

The concert harp has a soundboard to help resonate the string vibrations and project the sound of the harp.

Frequency Range Of Concert Harp

  • Overall Range: 31 Hz ~ 6,700 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 31 Hz – 3,322 Hz (C♭1-G#7)
  • Harmonics range: 62 Hz ~ 6,700 Hz

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


What Makes An Ideal Concert Harp Microphone?

Let’s discuss a short list of the critical specifications that make up a great concert harp microphone:

  • Flat/extended frequency response: Choose a microphone with a flat frequency response to accurately capture the sound of a concert harp. Although the harmonic content of harp strings isn’t very strong in the high-frequencies, having extended high-end helps to capture the air and character of the harp and the room. Extended low-end frequency responses allow microphones to capture the lower fundamentals of the harp, which go all the way down to 31 Hz.
  • Accurate transient response: It’s always preferable to have a pronounced transient response when miking stringed instruments. There is a lot of information in the transients of the harp strings that should be captured accurately.
  • Low self-noise: Condenser microphones are often the best bet for miking concert harps. 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 harp and better reproduce the quiet moments of a harp performance.
  • Directionality: Select a directional microphone to better suit the various miking techniques used in recording harps.

And For Live Applications, A Few More Considerations:

  • Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.
  • Mounting: Choose a microphone that can easily clip-on to the violin in multiple positions.

Let’s now discuss the recommended AKG C414 XLS and DPA d:dicate 4011C according to the above criteria:


The AKG C414 XLS

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 concert harp in nearly any situation. Whether we’re using a single mic or using multiples in a stereo configuration, the C414 is my top choice.

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 (cardioid position) frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the AKG C414 XLS/XLII User Manual

The concert harp has a huge range from C♭1 to G#7 (that’s having fundamentals from 31 Hz to 3322 Hz). As we can see from the graph of the C414 frequency response, this mic has a nearly flat curve throughout this range. This, combined with the flat upper range response of the microphone, means the AKG C414 will reproduce the sound of a concert harp with excellent accuracy.

The slight boost of the upper-frequency range helps enhance the “brilliance” or “air” of the harp.

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

As for the high-pass filters (HPFs), the C414 will capture the entire harp’s range beautifully with no filters engaged. However, if you’re finding the harp is muddying up a mix, simply engage one of the HPFs on the C414 to help thin out the sound a bit (or EQ the signal after the microphone).

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

Directionality Of The AKG C414 XLS

As mentioned, the AKG C414 XLS has a whopping 9 selectable polar patterns. A common choice for recording and live sound reinforcement is the cardioid pattern. The cardioid pattern graph is shown below:

I chose to show you the graph the coincides with the cardioid mode polar pattern since it’s a common pattern for studio recording. 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.

But when speaking of the cardioid pattern, we can see that the microphone becomes much more directional at higher frequencies. This means that when pointed at the harp, the C414 will exhibit its full frequency responsiveness to the instrument, while subtly dampening off-axis sound sources.

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

If the room, harp, or microphone position configuration would better benefit from a figure-8 or omnidirectional pattern, the C414 offers these modes as well as 6 others!

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

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.

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.

Because the C414 XLS is a condenser microphone, it has electronics that cause self-noise. Fortunately, 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 harp sound.

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

The light-weight large diaphragms of the C414 are very reactive, giving the microphone a very accurate transient response.

For more information on microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm?


A Note On The AKG C214

As a cost-effective alternative to the AKG C414 XLS, take a look at the AKG C214 (link to check the price on Amazon). It’s a fraction of the price with a fraction of the options but still sounds amazing on harp and many other sound sources.


The DPA d:dicate 4011C

DPA 4011C

The DPA d:dicate 4011C is a compact small diaphragm condenser microphone. This microphone was designed to be out of view and to sound breathtakingly accurate. It’s my top recommendation for a clip-on or close-miked concert harp microphone.

Frequency Response Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The d:dicate 4011C is rated as having a frequency response between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4011C Specification Sheet

The frequency response of the 4011C is extremely flat and extended. This tells us the microphone will capture the full sound of a concert harp very accurately. We can also see that the rear of the microphone does an amazing job at rejecting sound and noise.

What we get with the 4011C is a natural, accurate sonic picture of the concert harp even when close-miking.

Directionality Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The d:dicate 4011C is a cardioid microphone. Here is its polar response graph:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4011C Specification Sheet

The cardioid pattern of the 4011C allows for isolation of the harp in live and studio settings. The microphone is so compact that it can safely attach to the harp (often to or near the pillar). Pointing the 4011C toward the soundboard picks up the body and strings of the harp. Though it’s impossible to capture the full sound of the harp with close-miking techniques, the 4011C sounds great in many positions on the harp (experiment to find the sweet spot for your harp).

Sensitivity Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The d:dicate 4011C has a sensitivity rating of 10 mV/Pa; -40 dB re. 1 V/Pa. This may be considered low for a condenser microphone, but is preferable for loud live settings.

The small diaphragm of the 4011C is very reactive to changes in sound pressure and will effectively reproduce the slight timbre changes the harp has to offer.

Size/Mounting Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The DPA d:dicate 4011C is a very small microphone with a 19mm (¾”) diameter and a 64mm (2½”) length. This includes the MMP-C preamplifier. With various mount options, this microphone is very easy to clip onto a harp.

For more information on microphone mounting, check out my article How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand.


Let’s Recap

So these are two of the top microphones for capturing the sound of a harp. Of course, there are many microphones that sound incredible on harp, but these are my top 2 recommended mics. Let’s recap:

  • AKG C414 XLS condenser microphone: Best sounding condenser mic on concert harp.
  • DPA d:dicate 4011C condenser microphone: Best clip-on microphone for concert harp in studio and live performances.

Honourable mentions:

  • AKG C214
  • Neumann U87
  • Sennheiser MD441
  • Shure Beta 98H/C
  • Neumann KM184
  • Shure SM81

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

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