Best Microphones For Miking Glockenspiel


The glockenspiel. This seemingly childlike instrument is heard across many genres and is a staple in music production. I like to think of glockenspiels as higher-pitched metal xylophones. The instrument is fun to play (and say), and has a unique, shiny sound that can really stand out in orchestral settings and add value to musical productions.

But how do we best capture the sound of the glockenspiel? To answer this question, we start with the microphone. Here are my top two recommended microphones for capturing the sound of the glockenspiel:

  • Neumann KM 184: The Neumann KM 184 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a small diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. The KM 184 is excellent at capturing the top end and the transient response of the xylophone with precision while providing isolation from other instruments in the same room.
  • Royer R-121: The Royer R-121 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a famous ribbon dynamic microphone with a bidirectional (figure-8) polar pattern. The accuracy of this ribbon mic effectively captures the important transient information in the glockenspiel’s notes while its natural high-end roll-off lessens the sometimes harsh high frequencies. The result is a microphone capture that sounds strikingly similar to the way we’d hear the glockenspiel with our ears, naturally.

Let’s talk about each of these recommendations in more detail after discussing the sound of the glockenspiel.


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 Glockenspiel 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 glockenspiel sound like?

The modern orchestra glockenspiel is made of chromatically tuned steel bars. Each bar is isolated from its neighbouring bars by pegs, so that it hangs and can vibrate freely. The case of the glockenspiel acts as the resonator.

The tone of the glockenspiel is very bright since the bars are made of steel and, therefore, contain many partials. However, the sound may be dampened depending on the striking position and on the type of mallet used. Harder mallets and harder hits yield brighter tones with more partials.

The timbre of the glockenspiel is relatively continuous throughout its octave but is most pleasing three or four octaves above middle C.

A Note On Miking Glockenspiels

Glockenspiels are fairly small instruments compared to other tuned percussion instruments (marimba, piano, xylophone, etc.). A single microphone positioned above the glockenspiel can effectively capture the sound of the instrument. Choosing a directional microphone for this application gives you the added benefit of isolation for other sound sources.

That being said, stereo miking techniques sound awesome and should be experimented with to capture the best glockenspiel sound possible.

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

Frequency Range Of Glockenspiel (3-Octave)

  • Overall Range: 523 Hz ~ 18,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 523 Hz – 4186 Hz (C5-C8)
  • Harmonics range: 1,046 Hz ~ 18,000 Hz

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


What Makes An Ideal Glockenspiel Microphone?

The glockenspiel is a very bright instrument. Therefore there are two main schools of though when choosing a glockenspiel microphone: to accentuate the high frequencies that are characteristic of the instrument, or to gently roll them off so that the glockenspiel doesn’t sound overly harsh. Here are some other points of concern to help in our glockenspiel microphone selection:

  • Flat/extended frequency response: Choose a microphone with a flat frequency response to accurately capture the unique sound and the high frequencies of the glockenspiel.
  • Sensitivity: A sensitive microphone will yield a stronger output signal than a less sensitive microphone. Choosing a mic with a higher sensitivity rating will pick up the nuances and transients of the xylophone’s sound.
  • Accurate transient response: It’s always preferable to have a pronounced transient response when miking percussion instruments. Percussion instruments, generally speaking, have very strong transient information that should be captured accurately. The glockenspiel is no exception and produces wonderful transient information.
  • Low self-noise: Small diaphragm condenser microphones are often considered a great choice for miking glockenspiel. 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 glockenspiel and better reproduce the quiet moments of a glockenspiel performance.
  • Directionality: Select a directional microphone to better suit the miking technique you’ll be using to record the glockenspiel. If the situation calls for it, use a directional mic to provide isolation for the glockenspiel.

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


The Neumann KM184

Neumann KM184

The Neumann KM184 is a small diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. It’s a top recommendation for plenty of instruments, including the glockenspiel. Whether we use a single KM184 (on a small xylophone) or a pair of them, they should yield an excellent, accurate capture of the glockenspiel’s sound. Let’s talk a bit more about this SDC and why it’s a great choice for glockenspiel recording and reinforcement.

Frequency Response Of The Neumann KM184

The frequency response of the Neumann KM184 is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. The KM184 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from Neumann KM184 data sheet

The KM184 has a beautifully flat response in the range of the glockenspiel’s fundamental frequencies and harmonics. This yields a clean, accurate capture of the xylophone.

The slight roll-off in the lower frequency range helps to naturally remove some of the low-end rumble from the glockenspiel channel without causing the glockenspiel to sound thin. The roll-off happens well below the glockenspiel’s lowest fundamental.

The gentle boost in the high frequencies adds “air” and “brilliance” to the sound of the glockenspiel. Depending on your tastes, this could be good or bad.

Because the glockenspiel is a fairly piercing instrument already, some would argue that a roll-off of high-frequencies in a microphone is a better choice than an extended frequency response. A roll-off would tame the “harshness” while an extended response may accentuate it. A high shelf EQ on the mic signal could easily solve this issue if the KM184 yields too bright of a sound.

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

Sensitivity Of The Neumann KM184

The sensitivity rating of the KM184 is given as 15 mV/Pa ± 1 dB. This rating is not out-of-the-ordinary for a small diaphragm condenser microphone. The KM184 will output a strong mic signal when miking a glockenspiel closely and from a [practical] distance.

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

Transient Response Of The Neumann KM184

Other than thin diaphragm ribbon mics, small diaphragm condensers (SDCs) generally offer the most accurate transient response.

Some SDCs even overshoot, producing an exaggerated transient response. However, the KM184 is nearly spot on, and therefore excels at capturing tuned percussion instruments like the glockenspiel.

Self-Noise Of The Neumann KM184

On the topic of nuances, self-noise is an important specification to look out for when choosing a glockenspiel mic. The quieter the mic, the better it’s suited to capturing all the finer details of the glockenspiel.

The Neumann KM184 has a self-noise rating of 13 dB-A. Although this isn’t the greatest rating on the market, it won’t be noticeable in most iso-booths (unless the sound dampening is top-notch).

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

Directionality Of The Neumann KM184

The Neumann KM184 is a cardioid microphone with the following polar response graph:

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

As we can see from the graph, the KM184 holds a fairly consistent pattern up to 16 kHz (where it starts becoming more directional). This is typical of a cardioid pattern microphone. Although the off-axis colouration is minor, it’s still worth thinking about when deciding whether to single-mic the glockenspiel or to use a pair of 184s.

The cardioid pattern provides a consistent pickup of the instrument and a bit of isolation if the glockenspiel is playing alongside other instruments. Point the KM184(s) at the glockenspiel and away from the other instruments to reap the benefits of isolation.


The Royer R121

Royer R121

The Royer R121 is the flagship microphone from the ribbon mic manufacturer Royer Labs. The R121 a top recommendation for plenty of instruments, including the glockenspiel.

This microphone has an excellent transient response, an incredibly natural sounding pickup, and a frequency response that helps to tame the sometimes harsh sound of the glockenspiel. Let’s talk a bit more about this ribbon microphone and why it makes for an amazing choice for glockenspiel recording and reinforcement.

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

As mentioned, the R121 sounds incredibly natural. This is partly due to the frequency response.

We see that the response is pretty well flat over the range of a glockenspiel. The slight boost the R121 offers in the upper mid-range helps accentuate the middle and upper registers of the glockenspiel and enhances the harmonic content of the instrument.

The gentle high-frequency roll-off of the R121 proves to be helpful when recording the glockenspiel. The glockenspiel has a naturally bright timbre and often sounds harsh (particularly when captured by condenser microphones). Though this quality is subjective, the glockenspiel will likely benefit from the R121’s high-end roll-off and reduced harshness.

Again, this is a subjective thing, and some would argue a slight boost in the high frequencies (like the aforementioned Neumann KM184) would help accentuate the character of the glockenspiel.

Though these boosts and cuts may seem small (± 3 dB), they play a big role in determining the sound of the R121.

Sensitivity Of The Royer R121

The sensitivity rating of the R121 is -47 dB (re. 1v/pa). This, on paper, is low. After all, this Royer is a passive ribbon mic. I would strongly recommend getting a high-quality preamp with a good amount of clean gain when using ribbon mics on the glockenspiel.

Try positioning the R121s a bit closer to the glockenspiel than you typically would with condensers. This will help with getting a stronger mic signal.

Transient Response Of The Royer R121

Though the R121 has a low sensitivity rating (which shouldn’t be an issue if the signal is sent through a quality preamp), the microphone is very reactive.

The diaphragm of an R121 is a 2.5 micron-thick aluminum ribbon. Its transient response is extremely accurate and it doesn’t take much to make it move.

The responsiveness of the R121 ribbon makes it an ideal microphone for capturing the unique transients of the glockenspiel with pristine precision.

Self-Noise Of The Royer R121

The Royer R121 is a passive ribbon microphone and, therefore, has no self-noise.

Directionality Of The Royer R121

As discussed, the Royer R121 is a ribbon microphone. Ribbons are naturally bidirectional (have a “figure-8” polar pattern). Here is the polar pattern graph for the Royer R121:

Image from the Royer R121 Specification Sheet

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

As we can see above, the R121 has a standard “figure-8” bidirectional polar response. It’s equally sensitive to sound coming from the front and from the back while rejecting sounds from the sides.

Though the bidirectional pattern doesn’t explicitly benefit the miking of a glockenspiel, it does provide a few advantages.

The directionality of the R121 (to the front and back) is wider than most cardioid patterns. This allows for closer miking of the glockenspiel without as much worry of off-axis colouration and decrease in sensitivity.

A bidirectional mic like the R121 also provide some isolation for the glockenspiel when there are multiple sound sources in a room.


The Recap

So these are my two top recommended microphones for glockenspiel. Of course, there are many microphones (and microphone pairs) that sound amazing on the glockenspiel, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 2:

  • Neumann KM184: best small diaphragm condenser/live microphone for glockenspiel.
  • Royer R121: best ribbon/studio microphone for glockenspiel.

Honourable mentions:

  • AKG C414 XLII
  • Rode M5
  • Rode NT5
  • AEA R84

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

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