Violin amplification. Good violin pick up and wireless microphones for live exibitions?

Edited: February 11, 2018, 11:58 PM · Hello everybody, here is Arianna, violinist from Florence, Italy. I’m the violinist of Golden Salt, an unusual duo comprending the violin and the electric guitar.

I’m looking for a very good pick up for my live exibitions. I use a liuther classical violin and I would like a very good and real sound. Actually I’m using an Audiotechnica pick up. It is great, but it needs phantom power and I would like something that doesn’t need it. Do you use any pick-up in your exibitions? Do you recommend me something? Thanks for your help and greetings from Florence!


Replies (37)

February 11, 2018, 11:58 PM · I know someone using one of these: http://www.barberatransducers.com/violinpickups.html

and it sounds quite good.

February 11, 2018, 11:58 PM · Arianna-

Please edit the spelling of the first word of your title unless you truly want to be inundated with nerd help on this site.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 12:21 AM · Hi Michael, thank you for quick reply! I’m having a look, it is very interesting. The only iussue is that I should substitute the bridge :) but It could be a solution too
February 12, 2018, 12:10 AM · Toby sorry! :) it was a mistake related to tablet editing “nerd” instead of “need”! Ahah :)
Edited: February 12, 2018, 12:45 AM · I assume that your "Audio Technica pickup" is actually an ATM-350 microphone. And I further get the impression that you want an acoustic violin sound, but louder. Other high quality microphone options are the DPA 4099V and the Remic violin microphones, both more than twice as expensive as an ATM-350, and like an ATM-350 they both require phantom power. I don't understand why that's a problem for you.

There are so many pickups available, mostly piezo electric, but also Schertler electrostatic, and StringAmp electromagnetic, to name just a few, but none of them will yield a "natural" acoustic sound. There are more digital processors coming out all the time that can do a very good job of simulating an acoustic violin sound. One thing to bear in mind is that in a very loud venue it really doesn't matter how acoustic your sound is. The subtleties are lost in the loudness anyway.

I kind of believe that digital processing is the way to go. Then almost any pickup will yield a signal that can be processed to suit your sound ideal. So you can choose the one that meets your expectations in terms of convenience.

February 12, 2018, 12:42 AM · Hi Mark! Yes, I actually use ATM-350. Thanks so much for your opinion. I think you are right. ATM-350 and similar are very good but pheraphs not the best choice for a live high volume exibition. I’ll take a look to your suggestions in particular for my recording studio.

About phantom power: for live exibitions I would like something passive becouse of 2 reasons: first i would like something wireless and I did not found anything smart to be wireless if the pickup needs phantom power. Second: the sound volume return of condensor michrophone is big (I hope you understand, I’m not sure of the correct name of return in english).

So... any specific addice about a passive pick-up for live easy to make wireless?
Really thanks for your help! Very helpful
:)

Edited: February 12, 2018, 1:37 AM · "Feedback" is the word you're looking for. I have a Mi-Si pickup that uses a Kremona pickup element and improves it with a preamp powered by a charged capacitor, so no batteries, and that's all incorporated into the cable jack on the violin. So it's only passive for about 12cm, then it's an active signal going to your wireless transmitter or hard wired to an amp. It's very convenient, but without some signal processing I'm not satisfied with the sound (though I think it's better than most). But I've never been satisfied with the unprocessed sound of any violin pickup.

Note that the "Pure Acoustic" violin pickup by Skyinbow also uses Mi-Si's preamp technology under license. Mi-Si mounts the preamp in a carpenter jack. Skyinbow mounts it in a custom designed chinrest, but if it's not your preferred chinrest design then that's not so great. The Mi-Si pickup is easily installed and removed without modifying your violin.

"Realist" violin pickups, of which there are two designs now, are usually highly regarded. One of them needs to be placed under your bridge feet, so you have to loosen the strings to install or remove it. The newer design, called the "Soundclip," goes on and off in seconds without any adjustments to the instrument. I've never tried either of them, but the Soundclip, just introduced a few months ago, interests me.

February 12, 2018, 5:16 AM · The problem with Realist is that you have to get used to playing with your bridge slightly higher, and for most violinists that's a significant concession. I use Fishman V-200 pickup with a custom pre-amp. The Fishman is easily removed. It's definitely an "electric violin" sound though.
Edited: February 12, 2018, 5:48 AM · Although pickups vary so much, I would say that the pre-amp is more important. Not only is it necessary for the signal of most pickups but usually there is some kind of tone control and shaping. Baggs do a decent pre-amp (Venue, Para DI etc.), Grace designs are very nice (Alix and Felix), some amps have a preamp built in (Fishman for example, vintage Trace Eliott acoustic amps are amazing!).
Really, the world of amplified violin is not about what is best but what you want - the sound you want, what you want to use it for, what you will put it through and so on.
http://electricstringplayer.com is probably the best resource and has comparisons of a wide range of pickups and preamps. Just bear in mind that when you hear somebody demo a pickup or electric violin that it's more of a starting point or blank canvas.
Oh, I use a Baggs pickup. I'm happy with it but you do need to have it fitted as it is built into a bridge. This is considered a permanent solution but you can get one of those bridge jacks and swap it out fairly easily if you want to.

Yes, you can get a more acoustic sound with a microphone but all said and done they are very close to the violin. Personally I'm not a big fan of close miking on a violin but it all depends on your violin etc. A violin that projects well acoustically may sound harsh under the microphone but a dark, duller sounding violin might work. I've had some success with mutes. Microphones are fine though as long as they are directional and your volume is not too high.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 11:50 AM · I've often read how this or that pre-amp is better, etc. I think there is a lot of BS out there about pre-amps, the same way there is for expensive stereo equipment. A certain unit "sounds better" but nobody can tell you how or why, except that, of course, it costs a lot more. Of course that's a familiar refrain in the world of antique violins -- but modern consumer electronics?

As I understand, a pre-amp fundamentally provides gain to bring the signal up to the appropriate level so that you can plug into an ordinary amplifier or mixer -- ideally as a "flat" function with respect to frequency and without introducing distortion or noise. So the only specifications of a pre-amp should be impedance, gain, frequency response, noise, and total harmonic distortion (THD).

If a pre-amp has additional "shaping" or "tone control" features, then it's more than a pre-amp. I'm curious to learn why these features would necessarily be better (aside from convenience) when packaged with the pre-amp than provided as a simple equalizer or other inline effects device.

I can envision possible reasons, but I'd like to know what the real reasons are. One possible reason could be that equilization band frequencies or filter characteristics (offset, roll-off) have been optimized to match and compensate for the deficiencies of a particular type of pickup, or to get a certain sound that the manufacturer believes you're likely to want. For example, it is known that bass amplification benefits from the use of a high-pass filter, so one can purchase a pre-amp that has that filter built-in:

https://sites.google.com/site/hpftechllc/home/hpf-pre

Edited: February 13, 2018, 12:42 PM · Arianna,
Selecting the right pickup for your playing, traveling, budget, and performance needs is full of trade offs. Go to thepickuptest.com, pay the $10 for lifetime membership, use the Media Player in the top navigation bar, and listen to dozens of different pickups that have been scientifically recorded by this independent group of string players. Its a bit "techy", but you can figure out the selections - they have some directions. You can hear the violin with pickup attached and not working, violin with the pickup working, see prices, and listen to reviews on all the commonly used pickups and many uncommon / very expensive pickups.

Its good to get comments from performers (After hearing comparisons, I chose a Realist and love it), but even better to hear carefully prepared sound comparisons on several that are in your price range. You will hear large differences among pickups that are in the same price range, but on the same violin. Decide which sound suits you best.

I also recommend that you get a Radial Stagebug. All pickups are 'marginal' with low pitches and better with high pitches. That's why many pickups sound "stringy" or strident. Whatever pickup you get, you will sound better with the Stagebug. It is a low frequency pre-pre-amp. It boosts low notes in a graduated way before the signal gets to your amplification system. Its about $65.

February 12, 2018, 11:06 AM · Dear Paul, Christopher, Mike, really really thank you too for your advices, they are very precious for me! I’ll take a decision soon and I’ll let you know :) many thanks from Italy to you all!
Edited: February 13, 2018, 3:11 PM · Paul. Yes there is BS out there and it's an expensive minefield! I only care if it sounds better rather than how or why or how much it costs. As I understand it some preamps are transparent and some color the sound. Sometimes tonal differences can be subtle or drastic. The subtle ones work with other subtle improvements in an accumulative way - much like acoustic instruments.
Yes, you need one to get up to line level otherwise you will have a weak quiet sound without much oomph. (That's not very technical I know!)
Why have eq built in? Mainly convenience but there are all sorts of signal chain considerations. Effects loops are also a very good thing to have if you want them in a particular place in the signal chain. I would rather have the electronics matched from the same manufacturer rather than a train of different units and I don't want to carry too much stuff. I used to have a heavy rack of things but now have reduced that. Also, these things usually have a DI output that you can give to the soundman so he can (hopefully) get the sound you put in (he will add treble anyway!). I'm not crazy about Fishman amps but that's a very convenient package - you have pre-amp, eq, effects and amp in one. Now they have one that runs on battery too. It can also be your stage monitor and D.I. - easy setup. Personally I use a vintage Trace Elliot Acoustic Cube from the 90's - no longer made but you can find the vintage amps or the stand alone preamp (the old one, not the new one which is harsh) on eBay/Reverb etc. Just my preference but I can dial down the nasty highs and beef up the lows very nicely and it's a tiny amp with huge power, tone shaping, reverb, notch. I like it all in one. I like it because it colors the sound. It's the same in the recording studio - I don't want an honest representation of the sound - I prefer to darken it.

Sorry I can't give you very technical answers but I can say in my experience that it makes a big difference. I'll second that to pay the $10 membership for Electricstringplayer.com and hear the differences.

February 12, 2018, 12:26 PM · I just went to electricstringplayer.com and found it to be an organizational mess. They have a video that says everything is free now, but they're looking for voluntary subscribers. However, there are hardly any functional links.

So I went to the old website, thepickuptest.com, and found the original page where you can get a lifetime membership for $10. But when I started filling it out I couldn't avoid noticing the page is not web secure, and there's a snowball in hell's chance that I'll be entering my credit card info there.

Any comments from our posters recommending that site?

February 12, 2018, 12:35 PM · I think I used PayPal. Maybe contact the owners of the site and let them know it's not working.
February 12, 2018, 12:41 PM · I definitely understand the convenience factor. But "signal chain" and "electronics matched from the same manufacturer" sounds like salesman-speak (i.e., baloney) to me. Unless you are doing a studio recording you do not really need to be super concerned about small sources of noise.
February 12, 2018, 2:45 PM · Yeah okay Paul!
February 12, 2018, 6:15 PM · I would hate to have to listen to my music on Paul's non audiophile sound system!!
Edited: February 12, 2018, 6:33 PM · Well, partly I'm just very skeptical about things that seem to be more about the jargon than any actual substance, and the other thing is that my ears ring constantly so anything "audiophile" is totally wasted on me and that very likely includes really fine violins.

I remember being in a hi-fi store looking at an amplifier that cost $20,000 or some such and it looked like a glowing black and orange ziggurat sitting on the floor in the middle of the room. I asked the salesman what was special about it and he told me it's because of the "warmth" of the sound. Apparently "warmth" comes from vacuum tubes. This has been the sales pitch of the McIntosh amplifier company for a long time. They put windows in their gear so that you can see the glowing vacuum tubes, which enables the prospective buyer to make that all-important connection between the glow of the tubes and the "warmth" of the sound. Turns out you can get that "warmth" by introducting just the tiniest bit of distortion. Guitar players and recording engineers have known that for decades.

There's one born every minute.

February 12, 2018, 8:00 PM · I've met violinists that say the same kind of thing about strings. I actually went to a violin shop where the owner was adamant that all string were the same and that I should buy Red Label strings as they were just as good as high end strings (his price of Red Labels was $20 more than online I have to say). Also, I've known violinists who insist that a $20 bow is just as good as any other bow and that it's all baloney and really there is no difference. But guess what? There is a difference. Sometimes it's more experienced people that notice the differences. Sometimes it's the people that have been doing it for years that know what they are talking about believe it or not.
Edited: February 13, 2018, 7:33 AM · Oh, and my tube microphone preamps in my recording studio sound great but apparently it was all my imagination - thank you. Maybe you could tell me what kind of distortion I should put on digital preamps to save me some money next time! Is that digital distortion? Also, thanks for telling me my signal can go in any order and that it's really only about small sources of noise. Next time I'll buy a Behringer :) <- smiley face! Wink wink!
February 12, 2018, 8:29 PM · Tell us about your stereo, Paul, what kind of speakers do you have hooked up to your computer for listening to violin videos, I spent 6 months with an anechoic chamber designing my speakers, and built them myself.
February 13, 2018, 8:51 AM · I use an LR Baggs bridge that has a piezo transducer installed, with a Red Eye preamp. The volume is unlimited and the feedback is minimal. The stock Baggs bridge is of medium quality. You can have your luthier fit a high-quality bridge and have it sent to Baggs for installation of the transducer. The tone with the Red Eye preamp is quite good, though you may (depending on your violin) find that your D string will ring sympathetically on its own. This is not a problem with my current violin, but I have had that happen in the past. A bit of foam in one of the f-holes will put a stop to the D ringing. It won't sound quite as good as your acoustic sound, but it will sound very good and produce massive volume with no problems.
February 13, 2018, 10:29 AM · I know Baggs were using Aubert then switched to Despiau. What are they using now?
February 13, 2018, 12:47 PM · Mark Bouquet, thanks for the note about ElectricStringPlayer.com being an organizational mess. It is, and it doesn't have the pickup tests. I edited my post above to direct people to thepickuptest.com where they can use the Media Player in the top navigation bar to get information and the comparative sound tracks.

Things have changed since I was last there a couple years ago. The comparisons are very useful, but navigating the site is now a bit messy.

Edited: February 13, 2018, 2:40 PM · Lyndon as you know my hearing is compromised, so I don't do "audiophile." My "stereo" is an ordinary Onkyo receiver. When I listen to stuff coming through my computer I usually wear headphones ... decent Sennheisers, nothing special. And that's usually because I'm listening late at night when nobody else is awake, or when I'm on the treadmill.

And Chris you're right, I don't notice all that much difference between different brands of violin strings (although I think I could tell Evahs from Red Label), and I have had a pro violinist play my violin with my CF bow and with two of his priceless bows and I could not hear any difference there either. (Thereby saving myself at least $100,000).

So obviously my hearing is questionable. I concede that limitation freely.

Just because I don't hear as well, however, doesn't mean I don't enjoy music just as much as the next guy.

And by the way, unlike my ears, my nose is just fine, and I can still smell bullshit from quite some distance.

February 13, 2018, 2:58 PM · Likewise.
Edited: February 13, 2018, 4:09 PM · One thing I'm glad I didn't do is pay an extra $500 so that my headphones could come in a box that had the word "reference" written on it. And I 'm glad I didn't pay an extra $19500 so that I could see vacuum tubes glowing inside my receiver (sorry ... "amplifier"). I'd be very curious to learn what blind-listening tests have revealed about so-called "audiophile" equipment as to whether one can actually hear the difference that $10000 makes in an amplifier. Oh I forgot ... such a test was published in Stereo Review many years ago. The result? 50% of listeners picked the "audiophile" amp and 50% picked the entry-level Pioneer amp. A total bust.

Remember the cable wars? First came $1000 speaker cables (which were indistinguishable from lamp cord in blind tests) and then the coup de grace: Directional cables! Yes indeed. It matters (to audiophiles) which way electrons flow through a wire. When that was thoroughly and unequivocally debunked through blind testing, the maker (Belden) cheerfully said that they would be happy to continue making "directional" wires available to enthusiasts. You can't make this stuff up.

February 13, 2018, 4:11 PM · Well if you're hearing impaired you hardly make a good case against audiophile products if you can't notice differences.
Edited: February 13, 2018, 4:40 PM · Not individually, no. But I can still read about all the blind tests that have been conducted that expose various audiophile claims as myth.

What kind of AC power cord do you have on your glowing ziggurat, Lyndon? A "good" one I hope.

February 13, 2018, 5:05 PM · there have been no blind tests that claim differences cannot be heard between different loudspeakers.
Edited: February 13, 2018, 5:40 PM · I would fully expect there to be significant differences among loudspeakers. But I wouldn't necessarily expect a strong correlation with price. My loudspeakers are a set of hand-me-down Advent floor speakers that I re-coned about 10 years ago. They were better than the Bose bookshelf speakers that they replaced. Almost all of my serious music listening is through headphones.

Remember "linear tracking" turntables? LOL

February 13, 2018, 8:40 PM · Arianna asked about pickups. Why can't we let this discussion be for that? Too late now anyway.
February 14, 2018, 5:25 AM · The OP returned and thanked everyone. We're good.
Edited: February 14, 2018, 5:33 AM · Well I'll just add that as far as microphones go there is always the possibility of just having a microphone on a stand. I've seen a lot of people do just that. Microphones like Shure SM57 or SM57 Beta are not expensive and can always be used for something else when you upgrade. They are sturdy and easy to setup. The downside is restriction in movement, less ability to shape tone, no chain of effects, tone is on the treble side. However, you can alter your distance for some tone/volume control. You also don't need to modify your violin in any way. It's certainly a simple and cheap option not to be overlooked.
February 14, 2018, 6:13 AM · The stock Baggs bridge is a Despiau Two-Tree.
February 14, 2018, 10:23 PM · I use a The Band and a Baggs Paracoustic DI and it works well for church where feedback can be an issue. It’s also nice to be able to move around more than when I was on a fixed mic.

I usually use it for the praise band, but it works for other sorts of music too. For Ash Wedneaday this evening I played with the choir and piano and the mix between everything was good I hear.

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