Best Microphones For Miking Pipe Organ


Pipe organs makes up some of the biggest instruments in the world. They boast the widest range of any instrument and are built of massive pipes that connect to a keyboard. Pipe organs are typically found in churches and rarely require amplification due to their natural loudness. Therefore, when miking a pipe organ, we’re most often looking to record the sound of the instrument. Let’s talk about the my two top recommended mics for recording pipe organ:

  • DPA d:dicate 4006A: The DPA 4006A (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is a small diaphragm omnidirectional microphone that gets my top recommendation for recording pipe organ. This microphone is well worth the money when tasked with capturing the most natural sound of a pipe organ. It even catches the infrasound waves produced by the biggest pipes of the organ!
  • Schoeps MK5 capsule/CMC 6 preamp: The Schoeps MK5/CMC 6 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a small diaphragm condenser microphone with a switchable cardioid/omnidirectional option in the MK5 capsule. In omni mode, this microphone will capture the sounds of a pipe organ as accurate as any.

The pipe organ deserves the best recording equipment when it comes time to capture the instrument’s immense sound. Microphone(s) obviously play a big role in recording a pipe organ. Before we get into the details of the recommended pipe organ microphones, let’s discuss the sound of a pipe organ.


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 Pipe Organ 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 pipe organ sound like?

The pipe organ creates sound by pushing pressurized air through pipes. Each pipe corresponds to a particular keyboard key and the pipes are placed in specific formations called ranks, each containing the same sound character. The pipes can be either open or closed at their ends (closed pipes sound an octave lower than open pipes, all else being equal).

Some pipe organ can be massive and have a huge range (possibly spanning over 9 octaves and having fundamentals below the human range of hearing). The harmonic content of the pipe organ is full and rich.

A Note On Miking The Pipe Organ

The pipe organ is a massive instrument. For the fullest capture of the pipe organ’s sound with one microphone, place an omnidirectional mic several yards away, straight from the centre of the pipe array. Of course, this is a gross generality. Mic positioning must be experimented with to find the “sweet spot” that suits the pipe organ, the room, and the tastes of the musicians and producers.

I’d recommended using multiple microphones placed equidistant from the centre of the pipe array. A pair of either of the recommended microphones here would be a great place to start miking a pipe organ.

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

Frequency Range Of Pipe Organ

  • Overall Range: 8 Hz ~ 20,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 8 Hz – 4,186 Hz (C-1 – C8)
  • Harmonics range: 16 Hz ~ 20,000 Hz

So as we can see here, bigger pipe organs can produce sound well below the human range of hearing. Is it worth capturing these frequencies in our microphone if we can’t physical hear them?

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


What Makes An Ideal Pipe Organ Microphone?

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

  • Flat/extended frequency response: Choose a microphone with a flat frequency response to accurately capture the sound of a pipe organ. It’s best to have a microphone that remains accurate down to 20 Hz (the lower limit of human hearing), and even better to have a frequency response that extends below that (to capture the infrasound notes of the bigger pipe organs).
  • Sensitivity: A sensitive microphone will record more subtleties in the pipe organ’s 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 passages.
  • Low self-noise: Small diaphragm condenser microphones are usually considered the best bet for miking pipe organ. However, these active mics typically have louder self-noise ratings than other mics. Choosing a quieter active microphone will help to further capture the subtle nuances in the sound of a pipe organ and the room the organ is in.
  • Directionality: Select an omnidirectional microphone to capture the most natural sound from the pipe organ. Close-miking pipe organs could work well in some instances, but in general, it’s best to distance mic them with omni mics.

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


The DPA d:dicate 4006A

DPA d:dicate 4006A

Like all DPA mics, the d:dicate 4006A is designed and manufactured with the highest standard and is a high-quality microphone. It’s a top choice for many engineers that record pipe organ.

The 4006A gets the top recommendation as a pipe organ microphone due to its astonishingly wide frequency response and nearly spot on accuracy when recording pipe organ. Let’s talk more about this small diaphragm condenser and why it excels at recording pipe organ.

Frequency Response Of DPA d:dicate 4006A

The frequency response specification of the DPA d:dicate 4006 is an astonishing 10 Hz – 20,000 Hz (±2 dB). This microphone’s response spans below the human range of hearing and accurately capture infrasound between 10-20 Hz. The 4006A frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4006A Specifications Sheet

Notice that the on-axis response of the 4006A is brighter than its off-axis response. The difference is only truly apparent above 10 kHz. This is to say that the omnidirectional pattern of the 4006 is very consistent. It also implies that pointing the microphone toward the pipes of the pipe organ will yield a brighter capture of the instrument.

The frequency response of the 4006A is extremely flat. It reproduces sound with almost unrivalled accuracy. This microphone will truly capture the real sound of the pipe organ, which is a difficult feat.

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

Sensitivity Of DPA d:dicate 4006A

The sensitivity rating of the 4006A is 40 mV/Pa; -28 dB re. 1 V/Pa. This means the microphone has a very strong output (due to its high-quality built-in preamp).

Distance miking a pipe organ is no problem for the 4006. The sound will get picked up accurately and the 4006 will output a strong microphone signal to its preamplifier.

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

Self-Noise Of DPA d:dicate 4006A

So omnidirectional small diaphragm condensers are the best bet when recording pipe organ. They typically have very accurate responses to changing sound pressure and a consistent polar pattern with little off-axis colouration. However, they have the general issue of high levels of self-noise.

The D:dicate 4006A, however, has a self-noise of only 15 dBA. This is by no means the quietest microphone on the market, but it’s a solid spec for a small condenser mic. The self-noise should not be a problem, especially in non soundproof rooms like inside churches (where pipe organs tend to find themselves).

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

Directionality Of DPA d:dicate 4006A

The DPA d:dicate 4006A is an omnidirectional microphone. Here is the microphone’s polar response graph:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4006A Specifications Sheet

As we can see, the d:dicate 4006A becomes more directional at high frequencies. This is typical of every microphone.

However, the response is very consistent up to about 8 kHz, and even then, there’s little off-axis colouration that will happen to the 4006A’s sound.

The omnidirectional pattern is ideal for capturing a natural sounding pipe organ due to the need to mic the instrument at a distance. A microphone with little or no off-axis colouration will “hear” sound the same way regardless of the direction the sound is coming form. This yields a more natural sounding microphone signal.

The 4006A gets the top recommendation partly due to its excellent omnidirectional polar pattern.

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


The Schoeps MK5/CMC 6

Schoeps MK5 / CMC 6

Schoeps has been building high-quality microphones since the late 1940s. The MK5/CMC 6 is but one of these excellent mics and sounds incredible on pipe organ. This microphone has a cardioid and omnidirectional option, making it versatile and awesome as a close-miking option in cardioid mode. It is another common choice for recording pipe organ and gets the alternate recommendation here.

Let’s discuss the specs that make this small diaphragm condenser such a great choice for miking the pipe organ.

Frequency Response Of Schoeps MK5/CMC 6

The frequency response of the Schoeps MK5/CMC 6 in cardioid mode is given as 40 Hz – 26,000 Hz (spanning above the human range of hearing into ultrasound). The response in omnidirectional mode (which is more common for miking pipe organ) is given as 20 Hz – 28,000 Hz (spanning the entire range of human hearing and above into ultrasound).

The frequency response graph of the MK5/CMC 6 in omnidirectional mode is as follows:

Image from Schoeps MK5 Data Sheet

The frequency response of the MK5/CMC 6 is wonderfully flat with a slight high-shelf boost of roughly 2 dB above 2,500 Hz. This graph tells us the MK5/CMC 6 is incredibly accurate at capturing sound and has a slight brightness to its quality.

This kind of response suits the pipe organ (and other instruments with wide ranges) very well by accurately reproducing all the notes of the instrument while ever-so-slightly accentuating the upper harmonics that help to give the pipe organ its character.

As for the lower limit of this Schoeps microphone, the spec sheet does not say that the MK5/CMC 6 will accurately capture infrasound frequencies. However, we as humans cannot actually hear these sounds, so it’s not the biggest deal if they are lost by the microphone.

In fact, often times these infrasound frequencies are filtered out of signals to increase headroom in a recording.

Sensitivity Of Schoeps MK5/CMC 6

The sensitivity ratings of the Schoeps MK5/CMC 6 are -38 dB (V/Pa), 12 mV/Pa (omni) and -37 dB (V/Pa), 14 mV/Pa (cardioid).

With ratings like these, the Schoeps MK5/CMC 6 will provide a nice strong signal to its preamp and not require copious amounts of gain to bring the pipe organ signal up to a usable level.

Self-Noise Of Schoeps MK5/CMC 6

The self-noise ratings of the Schoeps MK5/CMC 6 are 12 dBA (omni) and 13 dBA (cardioid). These are great specs for a small diaphragm condenser mic and should pose no issues when recording a pipe organ in omni or cadrioid mode.

Directionality Of Schoeps MK5/CMC 6

As mentioned, the MK5 has a switchable option to go between an omnidirectional polar pattern and a cardioid polar pattern. Since the omnidirectional pattern is more common for miking pipe organ, we’ll take a look at the omni graph:

Image from Schoeps MK5 Data Sheet

Like the aformentioned DPA d:dicate 4006A, the Schoeps MK5/CMC 6 has a very consistent polar pattern (though it does become more directional at higher frequencies).

This consistency allows for a very natural capture of the pipe organ when the mic is positioned at a recommended distance from the pipes.


The Recap

Let’s recap the top 2 recommended microphones for recording the pipe organ:

  • DPA d:dicate 4006A: Most accurate microphone on pipe organ.
  • Schoeps MK5/CMC 6: Best sounding microphone on pipe organ (in omnidirectional mode).

Honourable mentions:

  • Schoeps MK2/CMC 6
  • Neumann KM183
  • Sennheiser MKH-8020
  • Audio-Technica AT4022

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

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