Best Microphones For Miking Violin


The violin (also known as the fiddle) is a beautiful instrument. It’s the smallest, highest pitched instrument in the violin family that sees regular use in music. The violin can be heard as a key member of orchestra, chamber, and string ensembles, as well as in many other genres of music, notably folk, country, bluegrass, and jazz.

When recording the violin or reinforcing it live, the signal path starts at the microphone. These are my top recommended microphones for violin:

  • AKG C414 XLS: The AKG C414 XLS (link to check the price on Amazon) is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser microphone that sounds amazing on violin and other string instruments. The C414 sounds great in many of its polar patterns and work amazingly well in different mic positions around the violin. Its sheer versatility makes it a top recommendation.
  • Beyerdynamic M 160: The Beyerdynamic M 160 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a top address ribbon microphone with a hypercardioid pattern. It’s marketed as a superb microphone on strings and deserves a mention here. The M 160 sounds incredible on violin and is the most inexpensive microphone on this list.
  • DPA d:dicate 4011C: The DPA d:dicate 4011C (link to check the price on Amazon) is a small diaphragm condenser mic and is my top recommended “clip-on” violin microphone. The 4011C is an expensive microphone, but its quality is second to none when it comes to close-miking violin in both studio and live settings.

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


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 Violin 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 violin sound like?

The violin possesses the potential for a vast number of natural timbres, so describing its characteristic sound is a difficult task indeed. The violin may sound lively and full, shrill and offensive, dark and solemn, or anything in between depending on the player’s performance.

The violin has an outer shell, a hollow body and sound holes that provide natural amplification. The outer shell helps to project the higher frequencies of the violin while the hollow body and sound hole amplify the lower, fundamental frequencies.

The sound of the violin is, of course, more than the notes played. There’s also characteristic string and/or bow noise as the player moves positions.

Frequency Range Of Violin

  • Overall Range: 196 Hz ~ 17,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 196 Hz – 3,520 Hz (G3-A7)
  • Harmonics range: 392 Hz ~ 17,000 Hz

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


What Factors Make An Ideal Violin Microphone?

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

  • Wide Frequency Response: Choose a microphone that will effectively reproduce the wide range of the violin’s frequencies.
  • High-end frequency roll-off: Because of the violin’s strong high-frequencies, it’s often preferable to have a flat or even a rolled-off high-frequency response. Many microphones with boosts in the upper frequencies will make a violin sound overly harsh.
  • Directionality: A directional microphone will help to isolate the violin if it’s in a room with other instruments. This is less important when recording the violin in isolation.
  • Sensitivity: Pick a microphone sensitive enough to capture the nuances in the violin sound. This helps to capture the fullest sonic picture possible. There’s more to the sound of a violin than the vibrating strings!

And For Live Applications, A Few More Considerations:

  • Durability: Accidents happen, and so it’s important when choosing a live microphone to pick one that can handle a bit of rough and tumble.
  • Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.
  • Mounting: Choose a microphone that can easily clip-on to the violin in multiple positions.

Now let’s see how the top recommended microphones stack up against the criteria that make a great violin microphone.


The AKG C414 XLS

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 superbly on nearly any instrument in any situation. On the violin, it’s an excellent choice.

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 (cardioid position) frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the AKG C414 XLS/XLII User Manual

Though the range of the violin is from G3-A7 (196 Hz – 3520 Hz), the notable harmonics of the instrument go up to 17,000 Hz and beyond. The AKG C414, as we can see, does an excellent job at capturing these frequencies.

Though there is a slight boost in the upper frequencies, the roundness of the increased response and the high quality of the C414 diaphragm and electronics makes it so that the violin doesn’t sound over harsh. Rather, the violin sounds enhanced, allowing it to shine bright through a dense mix.

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

By engaging either the 80 Hz or 160 Hz high-pass filter (HPF), we can effectively reduce the low end rumble from the microphone signal. Both these HPF increase clarity and do not affect the true sonic information the violin has to offer. Use you ears and select the one that sounds best!

For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?

Directionality Of The AKG C414 XLS

As mentioned, the AKG C414 XLS has a whopping 9 selectable polar patterns. A common choice for recording violin is the cardioid pattern. The 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 studio recording. 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).

But when speaking of the cardioid pattern, we can see that the microphone becomes much more directional at higher frequencies. This means that when pointed at the violin, the C414 will exhibit its full frequency responsiveness to the instrument, while subtly dampening off-axis sound sources.

If the room and violin would better benefit from a figure-8 or omnidirectional pattern, the C414 offers these modes as well as 6 others!

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

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 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.

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

However, as we’ve mentioned, the microphone output isn’t the only way to talk about sensitivity.

Because the C414 XLS is a condenser microphone, it has electronics that cause self-noise. Fortunately, 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 violin sound.

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

The light-weight large diaphragm of the C414 is very reactive and the microphone has a very accurate transient response.

A Note On The AKG C214

As a cost-effective alternative to the AKG C414 XLS, take a look at the AKG C214 (link to check the price on Amazon). It’s a fraction of the price with a fraction of the options, but still sounds amazing on violin and many other sound sources.


Beyerdynamic M 160

The Beyerdynamic M 160

The beyerdynamic M 160 is a double-ribbon microphone. It is a top address mic that has a hypercardioid pattern (both rarities in ribbon microphone design). The M 160 sounds absolutely stunning on string instruments and especially on the bright sound of the violin.

Frequency Response Of The Beyerdynamic M 160

The M 160 is rated as having a frequency response ranging from 40 Hz to 18,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph:

Image from the Beyerdynamic M 160 Specification Sheet

The first thing I notice when looking at the above frequency response graph is that there are 3 bass-response curves. Like nearly all directional microphones, the M 160 exhibits the proximity effect. The closer the M 160 is to the violin, the more bass response it will have to the violin.

At one meter, the M 160 has a relatively flat frequency response. The microphone, at this distance, would also pick up the fullest, most accurate sonic image of the violin.

If we’re tasked with close-miking the violin with the M 160, caution should be taken to not overdo the proximity effect.

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

The gentle high-end roll-off of the M 160 suits the violin perfectly. This roll-off helps greatly in reducing the harshness of the violin, which is crucial in achieving a listenable violin signal.

Directionality Of The Beyerdynamic M 160

Although a typical ribbon microphone is side address and bidirectional, the M 160 is a top address hypercardioid mic.

Here is the polar pattern diagram of the Beyerdynamic M 160:

Image from the Beyerdynamic M 160 Specification Sheet

When miking a violin in a room with other instruments, this hypercardioid pattern will allow for a decent amount of isolation (depending on the placement of the mic and other instruments relative to the violin).

If you decide to use the M 160 live for violin, be aware of the foldback monitor positions. Having a fold back monitor at 120-degrees (or 240-degree) from the microphone will give the most gain before feedback. The default 180-degree position of a foldback monitor may give you microphone feedback issues.

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

Sensitivity Of The Beyerdynamic M 160

The M 160 has a sensitivity rating of 1.0 mV/Pa = -60 dBV. This is low, but not out-of-the-ordinary for a ribbon microphone. The M 160 will, therefore, require a preamp with good, clean gain to really shine through like it should in a mix.

However, the double-ribbon diaphragm of the M 160 is very reactive to changing sound pressure, so the M 160 will, in fact, capture the nuances of the violin’s sound.


The DPA d:dicate 4011C

DPA 4011C

The DPA d:dicate 4011C is a compact small diaphragm condenser microphone. This microphone was designed to be out of view and to sound breathtakingly accurate. It’s my top recommendation for a live clip-on violin microphone.

Frequency Response Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The d:dicate 4011C is rated as having a frequency response between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4011C Specification Sheet

The frequency response of the 4011C is extremely flat. This tells us the microphone will capture the sound of a violin very accurately. We can also see that the rear of the microphone does an amazing job at rejecting sound and noise.

What we get with the 4011C is a natural, accurate sonic picture of the violin even when close-miking.

Directionality Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The d:dicate 4011C is a cardioid microphone. Here is the polar response graph for the 4011C:

Image from DPA d:dicate 4011C Specification Sheet

The cardioid pattern of the 4011C allows for isolation of the violin in live and studio settings. The microphone is so compact that it can safely attach under the strings near the tail piece of the violin. Pointing the 4011C toward the neck picks up the body and strings of the violin. Though close-miking never really capture the full sound of an instrument, the d:dicate does a fine job approximating the full sound of a violin when it’s attached to one.

Sensitivity Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The d:dicate 4011C has a sensitivity rating of 10 mV/Pa; -40 dB re. 1 V/Pa. This may be considered low for a condenser microphone, but is preferable for loud live settings.

The small diaphragm of the 4011C is very reactive to changes in sound pressure and will effectively reproduce the slight timbre changes the violin has to offer.

For more information on microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm?

Durability Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The DPA d:dicate is a very expensive and small microphone. I would never suggest foul play with this microphone. However, the microphone is designed for film, theatre, and concert, so it’s fairly durable. That being said, exercise caution when using this beautiful microphone on violin.

Size/Mounting Of The DPA d:dicate 4011C

The DPA d:dicate 4011C is a very small microphone with a 19mm (¾”) diameter and a 64mm (2½”) length. This includes the MMP-C preamplifier. With various mount options, this microphone is very easy to clip onto a violin.

A common position for the 4011C is to attach it to the strings of the violin between the bridge and tailpiece, and between the strings and the top-board. Point the 4011C slightly up toward the neck of the violin. This position is easily attained, sounds great, hides the microphone from plain view, and keeps it out of the way of the performer!

For more information on microphone mounting, check out my article How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand.


Let’s Recap

So these are three of the best microphones for capturing the sound of a violin. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on violin, but these are my top 3 recommended mics. Let’s recap:

  • AKG C414 XLS condenser microphone: Best sounding condenser mic on violin.
  • Beyerdynamic M 160 ribbon microphone: Best sounding ribbon dynamic mic on violin in studio and live performances.
  • DPA d:dicate 4011C condenser microphone: Best clip-on microphone for violin in studio and live performances.

Honourable mentions:

  • AKG C214
  • AEA R84
  • Royer R121
  • Neumann U87
  • Sennheiser MD441
  • Shure Beta 98H/C

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

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