Best Microphones For Miking Sitar


The sitar is a wildly popular string instrument in the Indian subcontinent. When recording or reinforcing the sitar, it all starts with the microphone. Let’s talk about my two top recommendations for miking the sitar:

  • Neumann KM 184: The Neumann KM 184 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a small diaphragm condenser microphone that works incredibly well on string instruments at close and distant mic positions. This microphone gives us an incredibly accurate recreation of the sitar’s droning and twangy sound.
  • Shure KSM137: The Shure KSM137 (link to check the price on Amazon) is also a small diaphragm condenser that sounds awesome on sitar. It is a fraction of the price of the KM184 and nearly as great a microphone on the sitar.

We’ll get to the specifics of each of these mics shortly, but first, let’s talk a bit more about the unique sound of a sitar.


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 Sitar 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 sitar sound like?

The sitar is a string instrument that typically has between 18-21 strings. The instrument has a distinctive timbre caused by its sympathetic strings, long hollow neck, and gourd-shaped resonance chamber.

The sitar sound is very rich in partials. The higher partials decrease in amplitude before the lower partials, giving the sitar a distinctive attack and decay.

Frequency Range Of Sitar

  • Overall Range: 65 ~ 18,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 65 Hz – 1,047 Hz (C2-C6)
  • Harmonics range: 131 Hz ~ 18,000 Hz

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


What Makes An Ideal Sitar Microphone?

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

  • Flat frequency response: Choose a microphone with a flat frequency response to accurately capture the sound of a sitar. The sitar has wide range and a rich set of harmonics that run wide across the audio frequency spectrum. A mic with a flat frequency response will more accurately reproduce the full sound of the sitar.
  • Accurate transient response: It’s always preferable to have a pronounced transient response when miking stringed instruments. There is a lot of information in the transients of the sitar’s strings.
  • Low self-noise: Small diaphragm condenser microphones are often the best bet for miking sitars. These mics are active and therefore have self-noise. Choosing a quiet active microphone will help to further capture the subtle nuances in the sound of a sitar performance.
  • Directionality: Select a directional microphone to better suit the various miking techniques used in recording sitar.

Now let’s talk about how the Neumann KM184 and the Shure KSM137 compare to the above criteria as sitar microphones.


The Neumann KM184

Neumann KM184

The Neumann KM184 is one of my favourite all-time microphones. I’ve been fortunate to have had at least one pair of these mics in all the studios I’ve worked in. 184s sound clean, professional, and really capture the essence of the sitar. They sound great close up and far from the instrument. Let’s review the KM184 according to the aforementioned criteria.

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 sitar. This means a clean, accurate capture of the instrument’s harmonic content.

The gentle boost in the high frequencies helps to accentuate the upper harmonics of the sitar’s sound, giving the instrument a just a tad more shine to its sound.

The slight roll-off in the lower frequency range helps to naturally remove rumble from the sitar signal without causing a thinning of the sound. Note that there’s really only a 3 dB drop at 65 Hz (the sitar’s lowest fundamental).

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

This should not be an issue in recreating the sound of the sitar and is actually beneficial when close-miking due to the proximity effect.

For more information on microphone proximity effect, check out my article In-Depth Guide To Microphone Proximity Effect.

Transient Response Of The Neumann KM184

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

Some SDCs even overshoot, producing an exaggerated transient response. However, the KM184 is nearly spot on in capturing the true sound of the sitar.

There’s so much information in the transients of sitar strings (both in the fundamental frequencies and harmonics). The KM184 provides a beautifully accurate reproduction of this sonic information.

Self-Noise Of The Neumann KM184

Speaking of nuances, self-noise is an important specification to look out for in condenser microphones when choosing a sitar mic in the studio. The quieter the mic, the better it’s suited to capturing all the finer details of the sitar and the room.

The Neumann KM184 has a self-noise rating of 13 dB-A. Although this isn’t extremely quiet, it won’t be noticeable in most iso-booths (unless the sound dampening is top-notch). This means the mic will work wonderfully in picking up the quiet sounds of the sitar.

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. Let’s look at its polar pattern:

Cardioid patterns work amazingly well when miking sitar at close range or at a distance.

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

Pointing the KM184 at a sitar from a distance (about 4-8 feet) will capture a clean, full sound of the sitar with no worries of an exaggerated bass response (due to the proximity effect). The 184 will “hear” the sitar similarly to how our ears do naturally.

When close-miking a sitar with a KM184, the microphone will essentially reject the sound from behind it and “focus” on capturing the sound of the sitar. This is useful in less-than-ideal recording rooms and in situations where many other instruments are in the vicinity.

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


Shure KSM137

The Shure KSM137

The Shure KSM137 reproduces the sound of a sitar very closely, making it a top recommendation. Let’s talk about this fantastic mic in more detail:

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:

Image from the Shure KSM137 User Guide

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.

Some distance between 15-60 cm, the bass response should flatten out, allowing a more accurate recreation of the sitar sound. Keep this in mind when positioning the KSM137 around a sitar.

Transient Response Of The Shure KSM137

The Shure KSM137, like the aforementioned Neumann KM184, is a small diaphragm condenser. Because these small diaphragms are very easy to move, they react well to transients.

The KSM137 could potentially even accentuate the transients of sitar.

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 sitar 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:

Image from the Shure KSM137 User Guide

Distance-miking a sitar with the KSM137 will yield a full, natural sound.

When close-miking a sitar with an KSM137, the microphone does an excellent job of “hearing” the sitar while rejecting the extraneous background noises and instruments.


Let’s Recap

So these are my two top recommended microphones for sitar. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on the sitar, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 2 recommended sitar mics. Let’s recap:

  • Neumann KM184: best sitar microphone
  • Shure KSM137: second best sitar microphone

Honourable mentions:

  • AKG C414 XLII
  • Shure SM81
  • Rode M5
  • Rode NT5
  • Shure SM57

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

Recent Posts