Best Microphones For Miking English Horn


The English horn is neither a true brass horn, nor originally from England. It is, however, one of many straight tubed woodwind instruments.

The English horn’s sound is rich but dark. If the oboe were considered a soprano, the English horn would be the tenor.

When it comes time to record or spot-mic the English horn, a microphone is surely needed. So what microphones lend themselves best to the English horn? Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Top 3 English Horn Microphone Recommendations:

  • Schoeps MK4/CMC 6: The Schoeps MK4/ CMC6U (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 English horn.
  • 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 English horn. Although it’s a bit pricey for the average home studio, the R-121 is worth every penny and sounds incredible on English horn.
  • 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 English horn 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 An English Horn 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 an English horn sound like?

The English horn has a range from E♭3-B♭5 and the timbre of the instrument is relatively homogeneous throughout its range.

The English horn produces the full harmonic series, but its harmonic content is diminished in the upper harmonics. Although the English horn produces upper harmonics to about 12,000 Hz, the horn sounds somewhat dark.

Higher frequencies radiate from all the open tone holes and the bell of the English horn. Sound emanates from the bell (where the English horn “points”) and from the top of the instrument. In general, the higher frequencies are more directional than the lower frequencies, which leave the instrument in an omnidirectional sense.

A Note On Miking English Horns

Typically English horns find themselves in orchestral ensembles, so we’ll discuss miking them in the general context of an orchestra. The techniques translate to studio recording as well.

One technique is spot-miking. To spot-mic an English horn 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 English horn 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 another common strategy for close-miking English horn. Simply clip a small directional microphone (like the DPA 4011C) to the bell of the English horn and point at along the tube at the keys. Again, experiment with mic position to find the “sweet spot.”

When miking solo English horn in studio environments, experiment with greater distance from the instrument. Distant-miking works best to capture the full sound of the English horn. This technique works best when the room also sounds nice. Positioning a microphone (or a stereo pair of mics) several feet from an English horn 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 English Horn

  • Overall Range: 156 Hz ~ 12,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 156 Hz – 932 Hz (E♭3-B♭5)
  • Harmonics range: 312 Hz ~ 12,000 Hz
  • Formant 1: 930 Hz
  • Formant 1: 2,300 Hz

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


What Factors Make An Ideal English Horn Microphone?

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

  • Flat/Extended Frequency Response: Because of the typical orchestral nature of the English horn, it is often best to capture the sound of this instrument as cleanly and accurately as possible. Choose a neutral microphone with a flat frequency response to reproduce the sound of the English horn without any colouration.
  • Directionality: Choose a microphone to best suit your miking techniques and performance situations.
  • Sensitivity: Although the English horn sounds dark, it is still quite expressive. Choose a microphone capable of accurately reproducing the quiet, loud, and nuanced moments of an English horn 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: Select a cardioid-type directional microphone to work well with fold-back monitors and to isolate the English horn on noisy stages.
  • Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.
  • Mounting: Is it best to position the mics on stands or clip them to the English horn? There are pros and cons to both.

So we have a general idea of what we’re looking for. Let’s discuss the recommended English horn 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 English horn live or recording the instrument in a studio setting. The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 get the top recommendation on many woodwind instruments, including the English horn.

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 English horn with pristine accuracy. An accurate capture with no added “colour” from a microphone is ideal when recording orchestral instruments like the English horn.

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 English horn in an orchestra. It’s also great when recording the English horn 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 English horn 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 an English horn 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 English horn.

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 English horn is no exception. The R121 has a precise transient response and a warm, natural tone that works wonderfully for capturing the truest sound of an English horn.

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 an English horn (156 Hz – 932 Hz). The slight boost into the upper midrange helps to bring the relatively dark harmonic profile of the English horn to life.

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 English horns well.

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 English horns.

Polar Response Of The Royer R121

Like most ribbon microphones, the Royer R121 has a bidirectional polar pattern. This bidirectional pattern is accurately maintained in both horizontal and vertical planes, helping to ensure a consistent tone as the English horn moves slightly during a performance. Here is the R121 polar response graph:

Image from the Royer R121 Specification Sheet

A bidirectional microphone benefits the sound of an English horn in the studio environment by capturing the natural sound of the horn in front and some room sound from the back.

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 English horn.

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 English horn.

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 oboe 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. The 4011C has much of the same specs but is better suited to clip directly onto instruments, making it one of the best, most versatile clip-on microphones on the market today.

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 an English horn will yield great results. The amount of isolation attainable is fantastic with spot-miking techniques and even more isolation is possible with the 4011C compact preamp clip-on version.

Note that the polar response of the 4011C is nearly identical to that of the 4011A pictured above.

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 English horn’s sound will be picked up effectively and accurately by the amazing DPA 4011.

Price Of The DPA d:dicate 4011

With price points of roughly $1,900 USD for the 4011A and $1,800 USD for the 4011C, these DPA microphones are likely out of many English hornists’ budgets. However, if you’re looking for the best option for spot-miking or clip-on-miking, these are honestly 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 English horn.

The 4011C compact preamp model measures 64 mm (2.5 in) long, 19 mm (0.75 in) in diameter and weighs 58 g (2 oz).

4011C’s make for excellent clip-on microphones when used in conjunction with the GSM4000 gooseneck shock mount. Though not all that common on English horns, clip-on mics may wind up being the best choice for a consistent pickup of woodwinds.


Let’s Recap

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

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

Honourable mentions:

  • Coles 4038 (another superb ribbon mic option)
  • AKG C414 (an incredible and versatile large diaphragm option)
  • Sennheiser MD441 (perhaps the best moving-coil dynamic mic on English horn)
  • Shure SM57 (Recommended English horn microphone for under $100 USD)
  • Shure Beta 98H/C (A less expensive clip-on microphone option)

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

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