November 22, 2019, 5:49 PM · Hello,

I've listen to a lot of recordings etc...
and today I just recorded myself for fun the Méditation from Thaïs and the Viotti n 23
I realised that it is extremly hard to get the perfect sound!For example you need to play F as MP so it don't get ugly.But then you need to keep vibrato and large sound(Thaïs).
So , when you listen to HH or any other violonists recording during the concert, how do they get that "perfect" sound?
They need to play loud so they don't get covered by the orchestra.Also the public need to hear the violonist.Are the microphones put in a special place?

Waiting for your answers(and of course practicing)...

Replies (26)

November 22, 2019, 6:01 PM · I tend to think the violinists sounding as beautiful as they do because of the hours and hours of thoughtful practice they have put in.
November 22, 2019, 6:09 PM · The microphones have to be placed strategically. The editing process can help weed out imperfections.
November 22, 2019, 6:49 PM · Home recordings with general consumer grade recording equipment are never very good. The microphones are usually too close and gain control is spotty or non-existent. If the recording device is a smartphone as is common today, the device tries to be a little too "smart" and flattens out the dynamic contrast.
Edited: November 22, 2019, 7:34 PM · If you look at my YouTube channel, you will find me playing imperfectly, but with what I think is a generally pleasant sound, recording with either an iPhone (no microphone) or a Zoom Q4n (an inexpensive consumer videocamera with a built-in decent-quality microphone). There is zero editing of the sound, and standard YouTube compression. Bunch of different playing types and venues... solo unaccompanied, with piano, with chamber groups, and as a soloist with orchestra. (LINK)

If you are playing with orchestra as a soloist, in most cases you are changing the color of your sound more than you are changing the absolute number of decibels that you are outputting.

If your forte is ugly, that's probably your sound and not the microphone at fault, and you want to think about what in the sound is causing the impression of ugliness. That's assuming that the recording device is placed a couple of feet from the violin, and not, say, on the Manhasset stand directly in front of you, where it will pick up vibrations from the metal and distort, especially with the extreme number of decibels emanating from a few inches away.

I assure you that if you record Hilary Hahn or other violinists with a smartphone, it will still sound great. Indeed, you can find various "bootleg" recordings undoubtedly taken by handheld smartphones at concerts, on YouTube. Sound is still lovely.

November 23, 2019, 12:32 AM · Hi again

The thing is that I use Audacity and while playing violin, it quickly become too loud(you can see this with the graphics)
Maybe I'm too close ?(or my violin playing is bad)

So Sometimes I use the "sordina" and it sounds very good(but my violin sound is a bit changed)

Well thanks for your answers

Edited: November 23, 2019, 2:52 AM · As Catherine and Lydia say, you can't expect the microphone to do you any favours, but it's surprising how good the result can be with a mike as basic as the Zoom1. I'd recommend recording in a fairly dry acoustic and experimenting with the Reverb function of Audacity. I learned a lot (as well as having a lot of fun) by recording myself in the Meditation accompanied by the LSO and Daniel Harding. The last track on Nicola Benedetti's first CD is a "music minus one" and you can easily rip it to .wav and import it into Audacity.
Edited: November 23, 2019, 4:01 AM · Lydia, it depends on the device, especially with limited gain control. With my Moto x4, and the default camera app, it actually starts clipping if I play above mezzo forte in my apartment. This is with my phone on its own tripod about 6 feet away. I'm using OpenCamera with a different filter setting just to avoid sounding like a distorted electric guitar.

The default camera app sounds OK if it's at least 15 feet from the instrument, but I don't have anywhere to play at that distance in my apartment.

My previous phone, a Moto X, did not do this. Recordings I took with it sounded pretty good even placed right on the stand in front of me.

November 23, 2019, 4:06 AM · The great violinists on recordings sound beautiful for many reasons apart from the fact that they sound beautiful in person. To capture the beauty and incredibly complex details of a violinist's sound, they are recorded in acoustically perfect settings, not someone's living room. And they are recorded with microphones costing thousands of dollars. And their sound is processed through and recorded on equipment costing many tens of thousands of dollars and all that is controlled by engineers with many years of experience.

Don't compare what you can record on a cellphone or on a microphone plugged into a computer running Audacity with what can be recorded in a professional studio with professional-level equipment run by experienced professionals.

November 23, 2019, 11:25 AM · OP's question seems to be more about basic tone quality at high dynamic levels rather than getting a sound that is acoustically perfectly clean and free of background artifacts.

That is more a function of the player's own sound than fiddling with expensive equipment. Easily addressed by asking a listener to listen while you are recording, then immediately playing back the recording so they can tell you whether you really sounded like that or the recording is distorting significantly. Ensure you have someone who is bluntly honest and reasonably discerning listening. Your teacher is a good choice for this.

November 23, 2019, 12:11 PM · Actually, the OP did ask how the professionals get that perfect sound. Here's the quote from the original message:
"So , when you listen to HH or any other violonists recording during the concert, how do they get that "perfect" sound?"
The answer actually is that in addition to having a perfect soudn wherever they play because of all the practicing they do and the fact that they're playing on violins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars using bows that are worth more than most people's cars, they are recorded on excellent equipment, controlled by professionals using excellent microphones.
Those live concert recordings by HH are definitely *not* recorded on cell phones or personal computers or handheld recorders like a Zoom. Given the sonic limits of the equipment most of us have access to the best we can do is to get adequate recordings if we're lucky but they will no way match the "perfect sound" the OP is asking about.
Edited: November 23, 2019, 1:16 PM · Honestly David, I don't subscribe to the idea that you need the best equipment and professional engineers to achieve truthful sound recordings (whether or not they are "beautiful" which of course is in the ears of the listener and the hands of the player). The history of recorded music suggests to me that today's commercial recordings are no more truthful than those of half a century ago. I even suspect that over-elaborating the recording process often actually results in a loss of truthfulness. Over the same period the quality of easily affordable recording gear has improved immensely.
November 23, 2019, 1:57 PM · People who are satisfied with cell phone recordings, must be people that were raised on and used to really cheap stereos.
Edited: November 23, 2019, 2:52 PM · The OP wrote, "I realised that it is extremly hard to get the perfect sound! For example you need to play F as MP so it don't get ugly.But then you need to keep vibrato and large sound(Thaïs)." He then uses "perfect sound" in reference to Hahn in the next paragraph.

That sounds like it's fundamentally about tone production and not recording. Of course a cell phone recording posted to YouTube will not sound like a professionally engineered CD, and nobody on this thread said anything remotely resembling that assertion.

However, using ordinary consumer equipment -- say, an iPhone or cheap videocamera -- you should NOT need to play forte as mezzo-piano in order to get a beautiful sound. And the assertion that this might be somehow incompatible with vibrato is another hint that the issue is the OP's technique (and maybe their violin) and not the fact that they aren't recording in a concert hall with high-end equipment and digital processing.

Hahn produces a "perfect sound" (beautiful, projecting, precisely modulated and controlled) in concert, and sounds even better live than she does on recordings. She sounds terrific in every venue I've ever heard her perform in, on CD (and better still on SACD), on live broadcast radio, and on cellphone bootlegs on YouTube. Her Vullaume is a perfectly nice violin, but I've heard her try the not-necessarily-expensive violins belonging to friends of mine, and she sounded terrific on those, too. She gets that sound by having possibly the best right-hand sound-production technique of any violinist, but mere mortals can at least be pleasant to listen to regardless.

The OP's follow-on question and assertion, "They need to play loud so they don't get covered by the orchestra.Also the public need to hear the violonist." also suggests that his real question is how to carry without the sound becoming ugly.

The answer is that soloists focus on projection and not purely on decibels (though the decibel volume tends to be high at all times against an orchestra). Projection often involves producing a broader spectrum of overtones, especially the higher partials which will carry. That often means playing nearer the bridge, and thoughtful use of vibrato. And the amount of articulation will also determine how well a soloist carries against a background texture of orchestra.

Edited: November 23, 2019, 3:18 PM · I dunno. It's hard to tell what the OP was referring to. As I said, on my current phone with its default camera app, I need to stay at mezzo-piano or below just to avoid clipping, because of the ridiculous mic gain. And that was definitely the first thing that came to mind when I read OP's question.
November 23, 2019, 5:56 PM · Probably 90% training and practice, and 10% quality of recording equipment.

I totally agree with Lydia about Hahn's sound production technique. Look at this hidden cam video someone shot of her Prokofiev 2nd mov. No professional level recording equipment but sounds amazing as can be because of her technique.

November 23, 2019, 6:03 PM · Thanks for your answers!
Edited: November 24, 2019, 1:04 AM · This issue has cropped up in previous threads, can one really achieve decent quality recordings in the home using inexpensive devices like the Zoom H1? It could well be the case that some of us have more critical ears than others and I'd truly appreciate it if the likes of Lyndon and David could tell me whether this clip
(recorded on a Zoom H1 in a small bedroom with a touch of reverb added in Audacity) strikes them as sonically inadequate. To me it sounds pretty truthful, but of course I'm the only one who knows what it sounded like in the flesh. (by the way, the last letter e in "file" for some reason fails to copy)
November 24, 2019, 4:36 AM · "To me it sounds pretty truthful...."

This brings me to a suspicion I have developed making attempts to record myself (always abortive BTW, in part because I keep having technical "accidents" that don't happen when the mike is off or even when I play for people).

It is well known I guess that a recording of one's own voice sounds quite different from the way one hears oneself talking (or singing). I suspect this is also true for violin: What I hear when I practice is different from what an audience or a mike would hear/record.

What is your opinion on this?

November 24, 2019, 6:28 AM · Hi Albrecht. My speaking voice certainly does come as a bit of a shock when I hear a recording of it but the same doesn't apply to the violin. Maybe it's on account of having spent so/too much time recording myself?

When it comes to technical accidents I usually just stop, erase the last few bars and start recording a new track at the break. Spliced together in Audacity ("Mix and render") the joins can be undetectable

November 24, 2019, 7:44 AM · I have generally found that when I record myself, what the recording sounds like is what listeners are generally getting, but it's not equivalent to what I get under the ear. The sound smooths significantly with just a couple of feet of distance. Under the ear there's a little more grit.
Edited: November 24, 2019, 9:28 AM · That would also be my experience when the microphone is placed more than a few feet away. My own preference is to set the mic right on the music stand, not quite like a rock singer but close! The further away the mic the greater the contribution will be (proportionately) from room echoes and coping with these is I think where much of the skill of the recording engineer comes into play. Natural ambience is best, but when your house doesn't possess any the artificial sort will have to do instead.
Edited: November 26, 2019, 9:16 AM · My recorder is an EDIROL R09, about the size of a deck of bridge playing cards. It fits in my shirt pocket, which is where it spend a couple of hours (backed by an index card for acoustic improvement) each time my granddaughter sang with the San Francisco Girls Chorus up to a decade ago.

The EDIROL is similar to the ZOOM, but smaller. Using the original model was not intuitive since its few "buttons" have multiple purposes. But I just used it again yesterday (for the first time in a decade) to record a 20 minute - something on line and finally remembered (after reading the instructions again) how to do it - but it took me much of the afternoon to get it right. (my wife wants to give each of our family members a CD of a recording that we had on an old (1976) LP and one side of it is too scratchy to share - and I found an "audible" on line).

At the highest level of the SF chorus they performed with world-class musicians including the Cypress String Quartet and the the San Francisco Symphony's performances of Mahler's "Symphony of 1,000" (that later won an Emmy - their recording, not mine). With my ears, that were failing at the time, my EDIROL recordings sounded better to me than had the live performances from the balcony of San Francisco's Davies Hall. My recording of the Cypress's performance of Dvorak's American Quartet seemed to me to capture their sound about as well as what I had heard sitting in the front row of the SF Conservatory of Music hall. (I'll never forget the sound of that Amati cello - warm dark chocolate!)

Knowing that one is not supposed to record performances I always later purchased the recording of the same music by the performing professionals (including all the recordings of the SF Girl's Chorus that my granddaughter participated in). I tried recording my own practice but it was always a pain to spend the time and getting good placement of the recorder. I did record a string quartet "salon recital" in which I was the cellist and was quite pleased with the sound. I had mounted the EDIROL on a music stand in the middle of the ensemble.

I have seen my 55 year old son, who has been into music the past 50 years and now has his own free-standing 1,500 sq. ft. recording studio ( with a ZOOM - so they must be OK. After high school and his college time he spent a year at a recording engineering school in addition to what it says at the CDBaby link.

Edited: November 26, 2019, 12:16 PM · I'm not too knowledgeable when it comes to recording technology, but I agree with Lydia. We can sit here and talk about how the best pros play on expensive instruments and in amazing studios using top-quality equipment, but that doesn't do anyone any good, least of all the OP.

I want to address the OP's feeling that he/she feels like they have to play at a mp dynamic to have a nice tone. Here is my question to the OP: how to you control your dynamics? Do you use larger muscles, like the upper arm, to add weight, or do you press with the hand/wrist when you want to play loudly and tense up/hold back when you want to play softly? The latter can significantly limit one's dynamic range, as the hand/wrist are responsible for fine motor control and aren't free to do that important job if they also have to be responsible for providing pressure to the bow. Plus, you'll have a forced sound with little bow control for loud dynamics and a shaky unstable (i.e. too airy/not enough core) sound for soft ones, only achieving an ideal tone at mp/mf, when you feel you neither have to press nor tense your hand. I apologize if this is not what you are doing, but your description reminds me a lot of this scenario, so I thought I'd offer a possible explanation.

I agree with those above about playing closer to the bridge and optimizing vibrato, but I also hope this helps.

November 26, 2019, 8:30 PM · I like to keep things simple for recording so I went with a Sony C800g PAC microphone and a Manley SLAM! channel strip and RME MADIface XT USB 3.0 Audio Interface going into my DAW.
November 26, 2019, 9:37 PM · "So , when you listen to HH or any other violonists recording during the concert, how do they get that "perfect" sound?"

I recall Zukerman once saying that he finds students too focused on making a big sound; that their job is to make a good sound instead - they'll make it big in the studio. So we need to be careful in distinguishing live performance sound from studio recordings or studio processing of live recordings.

November 26, 2019, 10:35 PM · Players like Hahn make a huge sound in the concert hall, too, where it is far more important to do so. I've heard very few soloists who don't have big sounds. Nobody gets to record in the studio professionally unless they've already proven themselves to be compelling in the concert hall.

Zukerman himself has a huge sound. I think that violinists who are also skilled violists tend to transfer some of those sound production skills to the violin. I have a violist friend who can pull a truly astounding, beautiful, absolutely massive sound out of my violin -- far larger than what I can pull -- and I have no idea how she manages to achieve that.

Producing a large sound shouldn't come at the cost of producing a beautiful sound.

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