Oboes are beautiful and expressive instruments with a variety of distinctive tones. This bright sounding instrument takes its place in the soprano range and often has a notable role in an orchestras and chamber ensembles.
When we’re tasked with recording or reinforcing the sound on an oboe, microphone selection should be considered. What microphones suit the oboe the best you ask? Here are my top three recommendations:
Top 3 Oboe 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 reinforcing or recording the oboe.
- AKG C414 XLII: The AKG C414 XLII (link to check the price on Amazon) is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser microphone. The immense versatility of the C414 makes it a top recommendation for many instruments. It can be used in nearly any miking technique in order to best reproduce an accurate capture of the oboe’s sound. The AKG C414 XLII is my recommended large diaphragm condenser microphone for the oboe and many other instruments of the double-reed woodwind family.
- DPA d:dicate 4011: The DPA d:dicate 4011 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a remarkably 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 oboe mics.
“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 Oboe 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 oboe sound like?
The oboe’s range is from B♭3-G6. The lowest notes sound the fullest and loudest, and as we move up the range, the oboe’s notes get thinner and quieter.
The oboe tends to sounds bright, full, and reedy in the middle register B♭4-A5.
Higher frequencies radiate from all the open tone holes and the bell of the oboe. Sound emanates from the bell (where the oboe “points”) and from the top of the instrument. In general, the higher frequencies are more directional than the lower frequencies, which leave the oboe in an omnidirectional sense.
A Note On Miking Oboes
Oboes typically find themselves in orchestral ensembles, so we’ll discuss miking them in the general context of an orchestra. The techniques of spot-miking and close-miking translate well to studio recording as well.
One technique is spot-miking. To spot-mic an oboe 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 oboe 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 oboe. Simply clip a small directional microphone (like the DPA 4011C) to the bell of the oboe and point at along the tube at the keys. Again, experiment with mic position to find the “sweet spot.”
The main pros of clip-on mics are a consistent pickup of the instrument and maximal isolation from other sound sources. The cons are increases bass response due to proximity effect and an incomplete capture of the instrument’s full sound.
When miking a solo oboe in studio environments, experiment with greater distance from the instrument. Distant-miking allows the fullest sound of the oboe to unfold before hitting the microphone. This technique works best when the room also sounds nice.
For more information on microphone placement, check out my article Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement.
Frequency Range Of Oboe
- Overall Range: 233 Hz ~ 14,000 Hz
- Fundamentals range: 233 Hz – 1,568 Hz (B♭3-G6)
- Harmonics range: 466 Hz ~ 14,000 Hz
- Formant 1: 1,400 Hz
- Formant 2: 3,000 Hz
So we want a microphone that will accurately capture the true sound of the oboe. Knowing the fundamental frequencies and the harmonics of the oboe is a great place to start. On top of this, there are a few more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the best oboe microphone.
What Factors Make An Ideal Oboe Microphone?
Let’s discuss a short list of the critical specifications that make up a great oboe microphone:
- Flat/Extended Frequency Response: The oboe has a variety of bright tones and most often finds itself in orchestral music. Therefore, it is 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 oboe without any colouration.
- Directionality: Choose a microphone to best suit your miking techniques and performance situations.
- Sensitivity: The oboe can be quite expressive. Choose a microphone capable of accurately reproducing the nuances in tone and the dynamic range of an oboe.
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.
- Cardioid Directional Polar Pattern: Select a cardioid directional microphone to work well with fold-back monitors and on noisy stages.
- Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.
So we have a general idea of what we’re looking for. Let’s discuss the recommended oboe microphones through this lens:
The Schoeps MK4/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 oboe live or recording the instrument in a studio setting. The Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 get the top recommendation on many woodwind instruments, including the oboe.
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:
This beautifully flat response picks up the full range of the oboe with pristine accuracy. An accurate capture with no added “colour” from a microphone is ideal when recording orchestral instruments like the oboe.
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:
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 oboe in an orchestra. It’s also great when recording the oboe 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 oboe 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 oboe microphone. However, the value and versatility of this microphone
The MK4/CMC 6 is nearly ideal for spot miking any instrument in an orchestra.
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 AKG C414 XLII
The AKG C414 XLII is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser microphone modelled after the legendary C414 microphone. With 9 selectable polar patterns, 3 high-pass filters, and 4 pads, the C414 is king when it comes to versatility. Nearly any oboe miking technique will benefit from the C414 XLII.
The XLII is the model specialized for vocals, whereas the XLS is specified to instruments. Though the differences are slight, I recommend the XLII over the XLS since the oboe sounds similar to the human voice and often plays a similar leading role in music. Both microphone models deserve a recommendation but I’ll be talking about the XLII here.
Frequency Response Of The AKG C414 XLII
The frequency response of the AKG C414 XLII is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. The C414 XLII (omnidirectional position) frequency response graph is as follows:
I chose to show the frequency response of the C414’s omnidirectional polar pattern (of the 9 polar pattern options). This is because
The C414 has a very flat frequency response. This means the microphone will reproduce sound (in the form of a mic signal) with pristine accuracy.
The slight boost in the upper presence range will help to accentuate the oboe in a studio mix. The boost of the upper-frequency range helps enhance the “brilliance” or “air” of the oboe and the space in which it is being played.
The high-end boost and the brightness that comes with it could be subjectively good or bad. It all depends on the role of the oboe, the room, and how we want them to sound. The roll-off at the very top of the frequency response range help to keep the oboe sounding bright but not overly harsh.
As for the high-pass filters (HPFs), the C414 will capture the entire oboe’s range with the 160 Hz HPF engaged. I’d recommend experimenting with the filters, listening to which sounds the best to you. I typically end up with either the 80 Hz or 160 Hz HPF on oboe.
For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?
Polar Response Of The AKG C414 XLII
As mentioned, the AKG C414 XLII has a whopping 9 selectable polar patterns. A common choice for recording the natural sound of a solo oboe is the omnidirectional mode. The C414 omnidirectional pattern graph is shown below:
I chose to show you the graph the coincides with the omnidirectional mode polar pattern since it’s a common pattern for solo oboe studio recordings. In other settings, different patterns would likely work better. You can check out the other graphs in the manual here.
For more information on the omnidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Sensitivity Of The AKG C414 XLII
The sensitivity rating of the AKG C414 XLII is given as 23 mV/Pa (-33 dBV ± 0.5 dB). This means the microphone will output a strong signal when miking the oboe.
The large diaphragms of the AKG C414 are incredible reactive to the subtle changes in sound pressure level that happen around them. In this meaning of the word, the C414 is very sensitive. This means the microphone will capture the nuanced tones and transient information of an oboe with pristine clarity.
Price Of The AKG C414 XLII
At just under $1000 USD (as of the writing of this article), the XLII is a bit on the expensive side. But for a high-quality microphone as versatile as the C414, it’s well worth the investment.
Size/Mounting Of The AKG C414 XLII
The AKG C414 XLII is a large diaphragm side-address condenser microphone. It’s the largest microphone on this recommendations list. The microphone’s dimensions are 50 mm (2.1 in) x 38 mm (1.7 in) x 160 mm (6.3 in) and weight is 300 g or 10.2 oz.
The C414 is easy to mount but not as easy to hide within an orchestra as the Schoeps MK4/CMC 6 or the DPA 4011. In studio settings, mounting C414s is not a problem.
The DPA d:dicate 4011
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:
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 oboe will yield great results. The amount of isolation attainable is fantastic with spot-miking techniques and 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 oboe’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 oboists’ 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 oboe.
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 oboes, clip-on mics may wind up being the best choice for a consistent pickup of woodwinds.
So these are three of the best microphones for capturing the sound of an oboe. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on the oboe, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 3 recommended oboe mics. Let’s recap:
- Schoeps MK4/CMC 6: Top recommended mic for oboe.
- AKG C414: The recommended large diaphragm condenser on oboe.
- DPA d:dicate 4011: Recommended for spot-miking or as a clip-on oboe microphone.
- Royer R121: (recommended ribbon mic on oboe)
- Sennheiser MD441 (best moving-coil dynamic mic on oboe)
- Shure SM57 (Recommended oboe 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.