Best Microphones For Miking Contrabassoon


The contrabassoon is an amazingly deep sounding woodwind instrument. Its tube is twice as long and plays an octave below as its smaller cousin, the bassoon. Contrabassoons play in the same sub-bass range as tubas, but with a deeper more string-like tonality.

The contrabassoon finds its home mainly in orchestral and chamber ensembles. When it comes time to spot-mic (a rare occurance) or record the contrabassoon, a microphone is surely needed. What microphones lend themselves best to the contrabassoon? Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Top 3 Contrabassoon Microphone Recommendations:

  • Schoeps MK4/CMC 6: The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a cardioid condenser capsule (MK4) and mic amplifier (CMC 6) combo. This microphone is incredibly accurate and works wonders as a spot mic in orchestral settings as well as in studio environments when recording the contrabassoon.
  • Royer R-121: The Royer R-121 (link to check the price on Amazon) is the flagship microphone by the ribbon mic manufacturers Royer Labs. The warm, natural capture of the R-121 accurately reproduces the dark character of the contrabassoon. Although it’s a bit pricey for the average home studio, the R-121 is worth every penny and sounds incredible on contrabassoon.
  • DPA d:dicate 4011: The DPA d:dicate 4011 (link to check the price on Amazon) is an incredibly precise small diaphragm condenser microphone. The 4011A high-quality preamp model is an industry leading spot-miking microphone while the 4011C compact preamp model is perhaps the best instrument clip-on mic in the world.

Let’s discuss these microphones further in this article and talk about why they make for excellent contrabassoon mics.


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 Contrabassoon 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 contrabassoon sound like?

The contrabassoon is the lowest woodwind instrument in the modern orchestra. Its range is from B♭0-C4.

The lower register of the contrabassoon is dark and powerful while the upper register (above F2) sounds weak. There is not a whole lot of meaningful harmonic content above 4 kHz in the sound of the contrabassoon.

Because of the long tube, the contrabassoon has a slow attack and is very transient.

Sound emanates from the bell and the tone holes of the bassoon. In general, the higher frequencies are more directional (from the bell) than the lower frequencies, which leave the contrabassoon in an omnidirectional sense.

A Note On Miking Contrabassoons

Contrabassoons typically find themselves in orchestral or chamber ensembles, so we’ll discuss miking them in the general context of these ensembles. The techniques translate to studio recording as well.

One technique is spot-miking. To spot-mic a contrabassoon is to focus in and isolate its sound as much as possible.

Position a directional microphone between half a foot to three feet away from the contrabassoon and point the mic at the keys in the centre of the instrument (not at the bell). Experiment with the distance and positioning to get the best sound.

Clip-on mics are an alternative strategy for close-miking contrabassoon. Simply clip a small directional microphone (like the DPA 4011C) to the bell of the contrabassoon and point at along the tube at the keys. Again, experiment with mic position to find the “sweet spot.”

When miking solo contrabassoon in studio environments, experiment with greater distance from the instrument. Distant-miking works best to capture the full sound of the contrabassoon. This technique works best when the room also sounds nice. Positioning a microphone (or a stereo pair of mics) several feet from a contrabassoon allows the sound of the instrument to fully develop before getting picked up by the microphone(s).

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

Frequency Range Of Contrabassoon

  • Overall Range: 29 Hz ~ 4,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 29 Hz – 262 Hz (B♭0-C4)
  • Harmonics range: 58 Hz ~ 4,000 Hz

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


What Factors Make An Ideal Contrabassoon Microphone?

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

  • Flat/Extended Frequency Response: When recording of reinforcing a contrabassoon, it’s best to capture the sound as accurately as possible with little or no colouration. This is fairly standard for miking orchestra woodwinds. The contrabassoon has a very deep range down into the sub-bass (down to B♭0 or 29 Hz) and so choosing a microphone with an extended low-end response helps to reproduce the full sound of the instrument. Since the bassoon doesn’t have a great amount of harmonic content above 4 kHz, having an extended high-end response is a subjective choice.
  • Directionality: Choose a microphone to best suit your miking techniques and performance situations.
  • Sensitivity: Although the contrabassoon sounds dark, it is still quite expressive. Choose a microphone capable of accurately reproducing the quiet, loud, and nuanced moments of a contrabassoon performance.

And For Live Applications, A Few More Considerations:

  • Price: Pick a microphone you can afford. This is important for performers and crucial for venue owners and audio technicians who plan to make money from their microphone investments.
  • Directional Polar Pattern: Although the deep tones of the contrabassoon are very much produced omnidirectionally, selecting a cardioid-type directional microphone to work well with fold-back monitors and to isolate the contrabassoon on noisy stages.
  • Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.
  • Mounting: Because of the size of the contrabassoon, it’s best not to use a clip-on microphone (though good results are possible). When mounting a microphone live, try to hide the microphone away and still have it at a good position.

So we have a general idea of what we’re looking for. Let’s discuss the recommended contrabassoon microphones through this lens:


The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6

Schoeps
MK 4 / CMC 6

The MK4/CMC 6 is a capsule/microphone amplifier combination with the MK4 being the cardioid small diaphragm condenser capsule and the CMC 6 being the mic signal amplifier. This microphone is an excellent choice for spot miking contrabassoon live or recording the instrument in a studio setting. The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 get the top recommendation on many woodwind instruments, including the contrabassoon.

Frequency Response Of The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6

The frequency response of the Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 is rated from 40 Hz – 26,000 Hz. This range goes above the range of human hearing (20 Hz – 20,000 Hz). The frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from Schoeps MK4 Website Page

This beautifully flat response picks up the full range of the contrabassoon with pristine accuracy. An accurate capture with no added “colour” from a microphone is ideal when recording orchestral instruments like the contrabassoon.

The slight roll-off of the MK4/CMC 6 toward the lowest fundamental of the contrabassoon (29 Hz) should not negatively affect the sound of the instrument. In fact, this roll-off may be beneficial depending on the distance between the bassoon and the microphone due to the proximity effect inherent in the MK4 cardioid capsule.

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

Polar Response Of The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6

As mentioned, the MK4 is a cardioid microphone capsule. Here is its polar response graph:

Image from Schoeps MK4 Website Page

This microphone has a very consistent cardioid polar pattern and excellent rear rejection. Contrary to many cardioid mics, the MK4 does not “colour” sound coming in from its sides. This yield a much more natural sound than many cardioid microphones on the market.

The MK4 provides superb rejection and, therefore, is a fantastic choice when spot miking the contrabassoon in an orchestra. It’s also great when recording the contrabassoon in an environment where other instruments are also being played.

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

Sensitivity Of The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6

The sensitivity rating of the Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 is given as -36.5 dB (V/Pa), 15 mV/Pa. This value is within the typical range for condenser microphones and the microphone will output a strong mic signal.

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

The small diaphragm of the MK4 reacts with pristine accuracy to the variations in sound pressure around it. The sensitivity of the MK4 diaphragm gives the microphone a spot-on transient response and picks up on the subtle nuances of the contrabassoon performance.

Price Of The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6

As of the writing of this article, the MK4 with CMC 6 amplifier goes for about $1,500 USD. That’s quite expensive for a contrabassoon microphone. However, the value and versatility of this microphone is worth every penny.

The MK4/CMC 6 is nearly ideal for spot miking any instrument in an orchestra. Not only the contrabassoon.

In the studio, the microphone will surely be a go-to for capturing sound sources as accurately as possible.

For even more versatility, consider checking out the Schoeps MK5, which has a switchable option between cardioid and omnidirectional mode.

For more information on the price of microphones, check out my articles How Much Do Microphones Cost? (With Pricing Examples) and Top 20 Most Expensive Microphones On The Market Today.

Size/Mounting Of The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6

The MK4/CMC 6 is a small pencil microphone measuring 138 mm (~5½”) long by 20 mm (~¾”) in diameter. The microphone is easy to mount to a stand and fit in with an orchestra or band as a spot mic. In the studio, the mounting is even easier due to increased flexibility with the potential microphone positions.

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


The Royer R121

Royer R121

The Royer R121 is a famous ribbon microphone manufactured by Royer Labs. This legendary microphone sounds beautiful on nearly any instrument, and the contrabassoon is no exception. The R121 has a precise transient response and a warm, natural tone that works wonderfully for capturing the truest sound of a contrabassoon.

Frequency Response Of The Royer R121

The frequency response of the Royer R121 is given as 30 Hz – 15,000 Hz ± 3 dB. The R121 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the Royer R121 Specification Sheet

We see that the response is fairly flat over the range of a contrabassoon (29 Hz – 262 Hz). The Royer R121’s low-end sensitivity excels at capturing the lowest tones of the bassoon’s range.

The high-end drop off inherent in the Royer R121’s frequency response makes it sound warm and rich. This warmth benefits the sound of the room moreso than the contrabassoon, since the instrument has little harmonic content above 4 kHz.

Though these boosts and cuts may seem small (± 3 dB), they play a big role in determining the sound of the R121. These boosts and cuts are part of the R121’s charm and part of the reason this microphone sounds so great on contrabassoons.

Polar Response Of The Royer R121

Like most ribbon microphones, the Royer R121 has a bidirectional polar pattern. Here is the R121 polar response graph:

Image from the Royer R121 Specification Sheet

Bidirectional microphones exhibit the greatest amount of proximity effect (the increased bass response of a microphone proportionate to the distance from a sound source). This can benefit the low sub-bass range on the contrabassoon. Use caution, however, as miking the instrument too closely may result in an overrepresentation of these sub-bass frequencies and a muddy signal.

For more information on the bidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Bidirectional/Figure-8 Microphone? (With Mic Examples).

Sensitivity Of The Royer R121

The sensitivity rating of the Royer R121 is given as -47 dB (re. 1v/pa). This is low, and so I’d recommend feeding the R121 mic signal to a quality preamp with lots of clean gain in order to reap the full benefits of this beautiful microphone.

The 2.5-micron aluminum ribbon diaphragm of the R121 is amazingly accurate and picks up the subtlest variations in the sound of the contrabassoon.

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

Price Of The Royer R121

As of the writing of this article, the price of the Royer R121 is about $1300 USD. What you’re paying for here is a top-of-the-line ribbon microphone that sounds amazing on just about anything, including the contrabassoon.

Size/Mounting Of The Royer R121

The Royer R121’s is 158mm (6.25″) long and 25mm (1″) in diameter. The R121 is easy to mount to any mic stand and fits neatly in typical contrabassoon mic positions within orchestras.


The DPA d:dicate 4011

DPA 4011A

The DPA 4011 is a top-of-the-line instrument microphone in spot-miking and clip-on miking situations. The 4011 is a cardioid condenser microphone capsule that comes with the choice of two attachable preamps: the High-End Preamp (making it a 4011A) or the Compact Preamp (making it a 4011C).

The 4011A works amazing well as a spot-mic in loud environments and as a deadly accurate transducer in the studio. Let’s focus more on the 4011A.

Frequency Response Of The DPA d:dicate 4011

The frequency response range of the DPA 4011C is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz, which coincides with the entire range of human hearing. Here is the frequency response graph of the DPA 4011A:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4011 Explore Specs Page

The graph shows us the response of sound coming in at various angles. Because the 4011 is a cardioid capsule, there is maximal rejection at 180-degrees. We notice here the lines of 0, 30, 60, and 90 degrees are all very much similar to one another, albeit at lower sensitivity. This tells us that the 4011’s polar response is consistent.

The flatness of this response graph tells us the DPA 4011A will capture an incredibly accurate sonic picture of a sound source. The 4011C’s frequency response is nearly identical.

Polar Response Of The DPA d:dicate 4011

As we’ve discussed, the 4011 capsule has a cardioid polar pattern. Here is the polar pattern graph of the 4011A:

The consistency of the 4011’s polar pattern makes it sound beautifully natural when spot miking instruments. There is a negligible amount of off-axis colouration, which is often the main con of cardioid patterns.

Pointing this microphone properly at a contrabassoon will yield great results. The amount of isolation attainable is fantastic with spot-miking techniques.

Sensitivity Of The DPA d:dicate 4011

The sensitivity rating of the d:dicate 4011 is given as 10 mV/Pa; -40 dB re. 1 V/Pa (nominal, ±2 dB at 1 kHz). This rating is true of both the 4011A and 4011C preamps.

Though this may be considered on the low end of the condenser microphone sensitivity spectrum, the 10mV/Pa sensitivity works quite well in loud orchestral or band situations. The microphone will output a strong signal, but won’t be overly influenced by all the sound around it. Rather, its pickup will be focused on the instrument it points at.

The reactivity of the 4011 capsule’s small condenser diaphragm is top-notch. Transients and nuances in the contrabassoon’s sound will be picked up effectively and accurately by the amazing DPA 4011.

Price Of The DPA d:dicate 4011

With a price point of roughly $1,900 USD for the 4011A, this DPA microphone is likely out of many bassoonists’ budgets. However, if you’re looking for the best option for spot-miking a contrabassoon, these are probably your best bet.

The versatility and pristine sound quality of these high-end small diaphragm condenser microphones make the investment well worth it, in my opinion. That being said, I’ll be holding off on buying one of these for a good while!

Size/Mounting Of The DPA d:dicate 4011

The 4011A high-quality preamp model measures 170 mm (6.7 in) long, 19 mm (0.75 in) in diameter and weighs 158 g (5.6 oz).

4011A’s are excellent spot-microphones and are able to fit in many of the practical positions in orchestral or band settings in order to capture the best sound of the contrabassoon.


Let’s Recap

So these are three of the best microphones for capturing the sound of a contrabassoon. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on the contrabassoon, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 3 recommended contrabassoon mics. Let’s recap:

  • Schoeps MK4/CMC 6: Top recommended mic for contrabassoon.
  • Royer R121: Recommended ribbon mic on contrabassoon.
  • DPA d:dicate 4011: Recommended for spot-miking or as a clip-on contrabassoon microphone.

Honourable mentions:

  • Coles 4038 (another superb ribbon mic option)
  • AKG C414 (an incredible and versatile large diaphragm option)
  • AKG D112 (a wallet-friendly moving-coil dynamic mic designed for kick drums that works well on contrabassoon)
  • Shure Beta 52A (another wallet-friendly moving-coil dynamic mic designed for kick drums that works well on contrabassoon)

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

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