The accordion (often referred to as a squeezebox) is an interesting free reed aerophone instrument. Though strange to many, the accordion is used around the world and its tone and character are unmistakable.
To capture the sound of the accordion for a recording or reinforcement in live gigging situations, the microphone should be carefully considered. What microphones work best on accordion? 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 high sound quality and versatility of this microphone make it a top recommendation for accordion. With 9 selectable polar patterns, 3 high-pass filters, and 3 attenuation pads, this microphone is a top choice for any mic configuration around an accordion.
- Shure KSM137: The Shure KSM137 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a top-address small diaphragm condenser with a cardioid polar pattern. This microphone is an excellent choice for spot-miking any specific part an accordion. KSM137s work amazingly well as microphone pairs on the accordion whether we choose to use them in stereo or in mono.
Let’s dive into why these two microphones work so well on accordion in this article.
“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)
- 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 Accordion 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 do accordions sound like?
Accordions are considered “squeezeboxes.” The instrument is played by compressing and expanding the bellow while pressing buttons and/or keys. The keys and buttons cause pallets to open, allowing air to flow across the reeds, which vibrate to produce the sound.
The vibrating reeds (made of brass or steel) create a sound very rich in harmonic content that is unique to the accordion. Sound emanates in all directions from the accordion.
A Note On Miking Accordion
For its size, miking the accordion is quite difficult and requires some thought. There a many ways to mic this instrument.
Because sound comes from either side of the accordion, miking either side could work and miking both could work even better. However, the bellows side is constantly in motion, and so it’s tough to pinpoint an ideal mic position from that side.
A successful spot-miking technique for accordion includes a pair of unidirectional mics: one pointed at each side of the instrument at a distance of roughly 6″ to 12″.
In studio situations, it may be best to position microphone(s) several feet in front of the accordion to best capture the full sound of the instrument.
For more information on microphone placement, check out my article Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement.
In tighter situations, a lavalier mic can be attached to the collar of the player’s shirt, pointed toward the instrument, though this wouldn’t pick up the full sound of the accordion. Similarly, some accordions have microphones inside their bodies.
For more information on lavalier microphones, check out my article How And Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone.
Frequency Range Of Accordion
- Overall Range: 87 Hz – 17,000 Hz
- Fundamentals range: 87 Hz – 3,520 Hz (F2-A7)
- Harmonics range: 174 Hz ~ 17,000 Hz
So we want a microphone that will accurately capture the true sound of the accordion. Knowing the fundamental frequencies and the harmonics of the accordion is a great place to start. On top of this, there are a few more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the best accordion microphone.
What Factors Make An Ideal Accordion Microphone?
Let’s discuss a short list of the criteria that make up an ideal accordion microphone:
- Versatility: There are many ways to mic an accordion. This is due to the various sound sources of the accordion, its different timbres, and its mechanics of producing sound. Choose a microphone that works well with the many accordion miking techniques.
- Flat/extended frequency response: Choose a microphone with a flat frequency response to accurately capture the wide range of an accordion’s sound.
- Sensitivity: A sensitive microphone will record more subtleties in the accordion 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 accordion passages.
- Low self-noise: Condenser microphones are often considered the best mics for m
ikingaccordion. 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 an accordion and better reproduce the quiet moments in the instrument’s performance.
- Directionality: Select a directional microphone to better suit the various miking techniques used in recording an accordion.
Let’s now discuss the recommended accordion microphones according to the above criteria:
The AKG C414 XLS
The AKG C414 is an engineering feat in the microphone world. It gets the top recommendation as an accordion microphone due to its astonishing versatility, wide frequency response, low self-noise, accurate diaphragms, and unbeatable price (for the quality). Let’s talk more about this multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser and why it’s so amazing on accordion.
Versatility Of The 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 accordion in nearly any situation. Whether we’re using a single mic or using multiples in a stereo configuration, the C414 is my top choice.
Let’s quickly list out the AKG C414’s switchable options:
9 Selectable Polar Patterns
- Omnidirectional/Wide Cardioid (intermediate)
- Wide Cardioid
- Wide Cardioid/Cardioid (intermediate)
- Cardioid/Hypercardioid (intermediate)
- Hypercardioid/Bidirectional (intermediate)
- Bidirectional (Figure-8)
For more information on microphone polar patterns, check out my article The Complete Guide To Microphone Polar Patterns.
3 Selectable High-Pass Filters
- No HPF
- 12 dB/octave HPF @ 40 Hz
- 12 dB/octave HPF @ 80 Hz
- 6 dB/octave HPF @ 160 Hz
For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?
3 Selectable Passive-Attenuation-Devices (PADs)
- -6 dB Pad
- -12 dB Pad
- -18 dB Pad
For more information on passive attenuation devices, check out my article What Is A Microphone Attenuation Pad And What Does It Do?
I think it goes without saying that the AKG C414 fills any roll in any microphone array/configuration when miking an accordion.
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 (omnidirectional position) frequency response graph is as follows:
I chose to show the frequency response of the C414’s cardioid polar pattern (of the 9 polar pattern options). This is because caridoid microphones are often the best choice when spot-miking the accordion. You can check out the other polar patterns and frequency response graphs in the manual here.
The C414 has a very flat frequency response. This means the microphone will reproduce the sound of the accordion (in the form of a mic signal) with pristine accuracy.
The slight boost of the upper-frequency range helps enhance the “brilliance” or “air” of the accordion along with the space around it.
As for the high-pass filters (HPFs), the C414 will capture the entire range of the accordion with the 80 Hz HPF engaged. Experiment with the other filters (or with no filter at all) and listen to what sounds best for you. I’d recommend the 80 Hz HPF for solo accordion, whereas I’d likely use the 160 Hz HPF if the accordion was part of a dense mix.
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
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 when subjected to exterior sound pressure. This ensures a usable signal even in the quietest accordion moments.
For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.
The reactivity (sensitivity) of the C414 diaphragms to changing sound pressure levels is also ideal. The large diaphragms will react effectively to the nuances of the accordion sound (include the key noise and the sound of the moving bellows).
For more information on microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm?
Self-Noise Of The AKG C414 XLS
Because the C414 XLS is an active condenser microphone, it has interior electronics that cause self-noise. These electronics are there, in part, to help boost the mic signal for a better sensitivity rating. They also work by altering the polar pattern, PAD, or HPF depending on the user input.
Fortunately, though, 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 accordion’s sound.
For more information on microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).
Directionality Of The AKG C414 XLS
As mentioned, the AKG C414 XLS has a whopping 9 selectable polar patterns. A common choice for recording the natural sound of the accordion is the cardioid mode. The C414 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 accordion miking. 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.
For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
The cardioid mode of the C414 will help to isolate the accordion from other instruments in the room or stage.
Cardioid patterns also work well with foldback monitors. Position the foldback monitor(s) to point at the accordion player. Then position the C414(s) to point at the accordion and away from the monitors. This will reduce the likelihood of microphone feedback, giving us more gain and a stronger mic signal.
For more information on microphone feedback, check out my article 12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback.
The Shure KSM137
The Shure KSM137 is a top-address small diaphragm condenser microphone with a very consistent cardioid polar pattern. KSM137s are superb as single mics and as microphone pair when it comes to capturing the true sound of an accordion.
Versatility Of The Shure KSM137
Although the KSM137 only has one polar pattern, it is still quite versatile.
It has a 3-position high-pass filter switch as well as a 3-position PAD switch to ensure we’re outputting the best signal possible.
The size of the KSM137 makes its positioning very versatile. Unless we’re trying to mic in the accordion, the 137 will work wonders for proper mic positioning.
Let’s quickly list out the Shure KSM137’s switchable options:
3 Selectable High-Pass Filter Options
- No HPF
- 18 dB/octave HPF @ 80 Hz
- 6 dB/octave HPF @ 115 Hz
3 Selectable Passive-Attenuation-Devices (PADs)
- Default (-0 dB)
- -15 dB Pad
- -25 dB Pad
The Pads likely aren’t needed for
Frequency Response Of The Shure KSM137
The frequency response of the Shure KSM137 is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. The KSM137 frequency response graph is as follows:
The first thing to notice is there are two response lines in the bass-frequencies of the KSM137. These are due to the proximity effect of the microphone. At 15 centimetres, the mic is much more sensitive to bass frequencies than it is at 60 cm.
For more information on microphone proximity effect, check out my article In-Depth Guide To Microphone Proximity Effect.
Some distance between 15-60 cm, the bass response should flatten out, allowing a more accurate recreation of the accordion sound. Keep this in mind when positioning the KSM137 around an
Sensitivity Of The Shure KSM137
The sensitivity rating of the Shure KSM137 is given as –37 dBV/Pa (14.1 mV). This is a great value for both solo and spot-miking the accordion. The KSM137 will output a strong mic signal containing the sonic information of the accordion.
Because the KSM137 has a small, 2.5-micron thick diaphragm, it is very reactive to changes in sound pressure. The diaphragm is so sensitive that it may even accentuate the transients and nuances of the accordion’s sound.
Self-Noise Of The Shure KSM137
The self-noise rating of the KSM137 is 14 dBA. This is a low amount of noise and will not negatively affect the accordion signal unless it’s recorded in an extremely quiet environment.
Directionality Of The Shure KSM137
The Shure KSM137 is a cardioid microphone with the following polar pattern diagrams:
As mentioned, cardioid polar patterns are ideal for miking the accordion live. They also work very well in the studio environment.
There are, of course, many microphones that sound amazing on accordion, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 2. Let’s recap:
- AKG C414 XLS: Recommended LDC on accordion.
- Shure KSM137: Recommended SDC on accordion.
- Neumann TLM102 (another great LDC microphone on accordion)
- Rode NT1-A (Best “budget” LDC microphone on accordion)
- Rode M5 (another great SDC microphone on accordion)
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.