Recording Equipment

Edited: September 12, 2021, 12:53 AM · I'm look to start putting together a portfolio of my playing to use for auditions for festivals and such and was looking into getting a better set up for audio than my usb microphone. I know that in order to use an xlr microphone I need to have a preamp. I was looking getting one by Scarlett since it's a popular brand that people seem to like.

However, I'm not sure what microphone to get. I know brands like Audio Technica, AKG, and Rode are well-respected, but beyond that I don't know what model to get. I'm not looking to get something super expensive, but I still want something better than a usb mic. Does anyone know if the more affordable offerings from these brands or others like them are reliable/worth the money?

Thanks

Replies (39)

Edited: September 13, 2021, 2:33 AM · I use 2 AT2020's and a Scarlett with 2 XLR inputs.
These condenser mics are too harsh for close-up work.
I place them at at least a bow's length away for self criticism, or more for performance.
September 12, 2021, 11:03 AM · What USB mic are you using right now? As far as I know, the Rode is somewhat better than, say, a Yeti. I think to use the XLR thing you first need to get an interface and then a mic. Personally I have not gotten myself an external setup because I don't need it but I'm just sharing what I know from my virtual ensemble circles becuase they have a lot of good advice lol
September 12, 2021, 1:25 PM · You would probably be better off with a large diaphragm condenser such as the Warm Audio WA-87 (ca. $600) or a ribbon mic such as the Royer R-10 (ca. $500). The AT2020 is a cheaper offering at around $100.

Scarlett is a model of audio interface (pre-amp) made by Focusrite. There are many brands of interface. I recommend comparing those that are in the $100-200 price range, as these will generally all have phantom power for your microphone, a couple of inputs, MIDI capability, and a serviceable preamp. Of course you can always spend more but I personally feel that the microphone is where you want to be making the most significant investment. I have a PreSonus Audiobox and I'm very happy with it, however I am interfacing mostly to my MIDI keyboard, not a microphone.

The PreSonus interface came with their DAW (Studio One), which I really like, but I had to upgrade it for about $100 to do the stuff I wanted to do. Probably most interfaces in that price range come with some kind of software you can use. It's nice to have one where there is a lot of YouTube content available to show you how to do stuff.

Getting the sound you want is going to take a LOT of tinkering with mic placement, room environment, etc.

September 12, 2021, 4:29 PM · To the OP:
what do you precisely mean with "better setup" ?

A logical approach would be: post an excerpt of some actual recording you have already made, and point out (or let someone point out) the aspects that could be refined.
It could go from doing (spending) much to doing nothing ...

September 13, 2021, 7:26 AM · If you have the budget then get a Royer R-121 ribbon (with a decent preamp)

If you don't have the budget then you can buy a handmade Russian clone for a fraction of the price:
https://gearspace.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/1079451-rm-biv-ribbon-microphones.html

September 13, 2021, 7:53 AM · http://www.bashaudio.ru/bashaudio.eng.html#catalog.eng
September 13, 2021, 10:25 AM · Chris that really looks like a fly-by-night operation, to tell you the truth. I looked at the website. No price. You have to click on an eBay link. No product listed. Doesn't inspire confidence.
September 13, 2021, 11:16 AM · Paul they have good street cred over on the recording forums like gearslutz.com. I bought 'Line Audio' mics based on recommendations like that that are legitimately decent and inexpensive. My issue with ribbons is that without additional external preamps it will be difficult to get them to perform well, unless they are 'active' with preamps built in. And at least with my AEA ribbon, whereas it sounds great in a smaller space, it is too dark in a large hall as a main pair. And since these are all handmade, if you have any issue, support from Royer and AEA is immediate and helpful. Not so sure about returning things to Russia though.

I personally think most people are better off getting something simple like a Zoom H4n Pro than components.

September 13, 2021, 3:56 PM · There are non-seedy-Russian active ribbons available at around $500, like the SE Electronics Voodoo VR2. Pretty good specs on that one. It's not going to beat the Royer 121 but that's a $1300 microphone.
September 13, 2021, 4:20 PM · Paul, why so much shade and negativity on the talented guy in the 3rd world who's built a world-wide reputation with very limited resources? I've corresponded with him before and he seems very smart and capable. He sells equipment all over the world, and his products are pretty much handmade. Do you have any reason for calling him seedy, etc.? Seems very judgmental and ugly.
Edited: September 13, 2021, 9:35 PM · Why so much shade and negativity? Because I went to this company's website. The website is dominated by a rant about someone who cloned his product. There is no pricing anywhere of his products. Despite searching all over his website, I have absolutely no idea what his microphones cost.

I could not even PLACE AN ORDER for his product. There was a button that says "BUY" so I clicked it. This brought up a page that contained a link to eBay. When I clicked it there was nothing there. Tom, have you tried any of this? Or is the "secret" to dealing with this individual to ignore everything that is on his website and just contact him by email? If so, why doesn't the website just say that?

Elsewhere on the website was a URL for "Sales Department." Hoping to BUY A MICROPHONE, I tried that ... but I was not able to read the page because IT WAS IN RUSSIAN.

I searched his website for the word "guarantee" or "return policy" or "warranty" but did not find those words or phrases. I conclude he does not guarantee his products or offer any sort of warranty. Perhaps these words exist on the web pages in a language other than English.

I don't see what's "judgmental and ugly" to say that the forgoing "doesn't inspire confidence." The man may be a blithering genius but he's not getting a dime of my money until I can see the PRICE, learn how to PLACE AN ORDER, and read the terms of the WARRANTY on the product.

September 13, 2021, 9:50 PM · So we get a little frustrated things aren't done our way, and we attack and smear? Ok, as long as we can see what level of maturity we're dealing with. None of your criteria have anything to do with him or the mics. Some people have to do business in countries that have very repressive laws and currency restrictions, etc. It's a great challenge for many who do not live in the American bubble. Just buy the Royer!
September 14, 2021, 12:09 AM · I'll try and answer any questions, but thank you for the replies I've gotten so far.

Right now I'm using a microphone called the Jlab Talk. It is essentially a mic aimed at competing with the Yeti mics at a cheaper price point and does a pretty good job doing it. I haven't gotten any complaints when using it for zoom. I've messed with it while recording and since it's a USB mic it's quite limited in what it can do IMO.

By better setup, I mean better microphone. I suppose "setup" was a poor choice of words and was a little unclear. If it would help, I could record a little something with the microphone and upload it as an unlisted video for review.

I've seen some threads on here mentioning the zoom mics in the past. How are they different from something like a USB or even condenser/ribbon mics?

September 14, 2021, 3:57 AM · > If it would help, I could record a little something with the microphone and upload it as an unlisted video for review

Exactly what i meant.

And if you have some complaint of something in the recording, that came out differently from what you played or had in you mind, write it.

PS: i often wondered when regularly here people, in similar issues, go on posting advices for extremely expensive microphones and preamps, for recording some violin, that is not intended to confluence in some eternal recording to be shipped into some new Voyager satellite ...... Now i accepted the reality....... :D
It's not unlike from what happens in the photography forum and groups........

Edited: September 14, 2021, 4:12 AM · I was lucky enough to find both a Shure SM27 and an AKG P120 (both large diaphragm condensers) for half of their RRP on Amazon because their boxes were "damaged". I run them into a Scarlett 4i4. With my listening equipment, the difference between them is not obvious. One channel has more noise than the other, so I may have to buy a better cable, although the noise level isn't audible. I'm using Audacity, but I'm not convinced it's the most user-friendly.

Behringer are a strange make. Dirt cheap. Some get horrible results from them, some get superb results.

I'm only at the experimental stage - I'm trying an idea I saw of putting the mic under/behind the violin, so as not to pick up the harsher noises. I don't have enough experience to advise. Stereo is probably not essential - mono is probably fine.

Edited: September 14, 2021, 8:33 AM · Christian you asked how are Zoom recorders different from something like USB mics or even condenser/ribbon mics. I expect that the mics themselves are similar quality to what you find on a good stereo USB mic - inexpensive condenser mics, along with a USB interface. You can use these exactly like you'd use a stereo USB mic. However, these add what you find in a simple audio interface (metering, additional XLR inputs), plus storage (writes audio files in standard formats to a memory card). When you are recording, you don't need to carry a computer with you and you don't need AC power.

I have both a nice Audient interface and a 6 channel Zoom field recorder (recorder part minus the built in mics). Even though the Audient sounds a little better, I almost always bring the Zoom recorder because it's so easy to set up.

September 14, 2021, 2:30 PM · I have a Zoom H4n, and agree that they're great. Would probably suit OP's needs very well. The built-in mics are fine for general recordings, and you can plug external mics into it and use it as an interface if you end up with some nicer mics. You can put the files on computer and process them with other software. You can use them out of the box and simple recorder, and they have a lot of more advanced features to use as you grow.
September 14, 2021, 3:35 PM · Tom wrote, "None of your criteria have anything to do with him or the mics." Of course I don't have criteria about "him" because it's not personal. I don't know anything about the individual who designs microphones for Royer either.

As far as the mics are concerned, they're fine as far as I can tell. I listened to the recordings that were provided comparing the Royer with the advertised mic, and those were impressive.

However, that information is not really relevant, because the item does not actually appear to be available for sale. I will contact the proprietor and see if (s)he can clarify this (and the matter of the warranty) for me, as these microphones do sound promising. I agree with you that every business cannot be as smooth as SHAR or Sweetwater. (Both of those businesses have problems with their websites from time to time too.)

One possible reason why there is no warranty is because it might be completely irrelevant. If you buy something from Russia and the item is not as advertised, is there a means to recover your funds? I have no idea.

September 14, 2021, 3:43 PM · Marco, I think recordings for auditions is something people take pretty seriously, but I also wonder if it's really necessary. The big question is whether the listener will really be seriously judging your tone from a recording, knowing that there is a great diversity in the quality of equipment that applicants are using?

It's equally weird to see people spending tons of money on other stuff but then they don't want to spend more than a few hundred dollars on this.

September 14, 2021, 4:52 PM · But more simply, is the final result something that gives pleasure when listening ?

Not necessarily a recording for an audition has to be aimed to be a clinical monitored representation of sound, which is impossible anyway.

Then, "it's equally weird to see people spending tons of money" on microphones and then not care for mic positioning, room tweaking, post-production tweaking and in general the production itself. :)

Edited: September 14, 2021, 7:41 PM · Marco, certainly that's true but the fact is that professional recording services are very expensive, at least here in the US. Meanwhile I guess a professional recording engineer would argue that DIY tinkering with production setup isn't likely to bring a professional result.
September 14, 2021, 7:56 PM · > "Meanwhile I guess a professional recording engineer would argue that DIY tinkering with production setup isn't likely to bring a professional result."

It's not far from my opinion on the subject.
In the sense that's not this easy.......

So, the same way that there are violinists that tweak soundposts by themselves (like me) and those that prefer to have professionals to do it, recording something for a professional purpose like a high quality showcase should be treated with the same regards:
many things can be done by ourself..... but is it the best option?......
Recording a violin isn't so trivial.......

I'd prefer to listen to someone playing by listening to a recording made with a good phone and a good app rather then with a Royer microphone used with a bad placement and at 16 bits.

September 14, 2021, 8:09 PM · Well, even my $100 PreSonus interface is 24-bit ADC. I think that's the easy part nowadays.
September 14, 2021, 8:42 PM · Well, I recorded a little excerpt of a piece I'm working on. It's about a minute and a half of the first page of Vieuxtemps' 5th concerto. It is nowhere near perfect or where I want it so excuse the mistakes, but I think it shows what my microphone is doing for me at the moment.

https://youtu.be/eeqwOEEVr_c

To me, it just feels/sounds like it's missing something and I figured that perhaps a better microphone would help. I can't quite put my finger on it.

September 14, 2021, 10:16 PM · The sound of your recording is very dry (could be a blessing), and the overall sound level seems low, and it's lacking brilliance (higher frequencies and overtones seem lacking to me). I certainly don't have the expertise one would need to pin all of that on your microphone.
Edited: September 14, 2021, 11:06 PM · What paul said, and I hear the room acoustics, which are soft. Try placing the mic closer to the violin. This might make it "drier", though. You could then add a little artificial reverb, but err on the side of too little, rather than too much.
September 15, 2021, 1:06 AM · Yeah, that's the word I'm looking for. It's very dry-sounding. I did lower the gain on the microphone because I wanted to avoid clipping. I probably lowered it too much. And Paul you're right the higher notes and overtones aren't coming through.

Gordon I would add a little reverb, but lots of organizations for camps, festivals, and especially music schools don't want editing of any kind. They just want the raw audio which is why most people record in a room with better resonance.

Maybe with the lowered gain placing the mic closer to me would've been better. Or I could just raise the gain a bit.

September 15, 2021, 4:03 AM · I think you recorded TOO close and probably the mic was in front of you or at your left, and not high (respect to the plane where the violin was), probably lower.
And the final volume is way too low, really low.

You could try to record (even a more brief excerpt of that piece) while keeping the recorder as high from the floor as your head, or some more, and in front of you or better slight at your right. About 1,5 - 2 metres far from you.

Then send me the original file non compressed (wav format, 24 bits, 44.1 or 48 Khz), better if zipped, and i'll raise the gain for you, and then i'll send you back the result in an mp3 format. By email:
marcobrancalion@gmail.com

Let's see the results, without buying a Royer ..... :D

September 15, 2021, 4:51 AM · I think the general rule of thumb with 24 bit samples is record with peaks at -12dB, then normalize the result in your audio editor (scaling each sample value to effectively increase volume). I wouldn't add reverb or compression but a subtle equalization curve is virtually indistinguishable from using different mics. For something important, do reserve some time in a good-sounding hall or church, and get some experience recording there.
September 15, 2021, 8:54 AM · A checklist I go through for recording...

- Make sure to turn OFF any automatic gain control, compression and equalization on the recording program.

- Set the mic as high as the violin and about 5 feet away.

- Play the loudest part of the music and set the volume gain to about -6dB.

- Now make a test recording and check for clipping. If the loudest part clips, reduce the gain. If the loudest part is much lower than -6dB, boost the gain.

Now you are all set to record. With a "good" mic position, proper gain settings and no processing of the sound while recording, you should get a good raw capture that can then be adjusted in postprocessing to correct for a "dry" room.

You might be pleasantly surprised at how good a recording a USB mic can make that is in the $80 to $100 price range.

September 15, 2021, 3:40 PM ·
September 15, 2021, 9:25 PM · Marco,

Wow, you're good. The mic was exactly where you said it was, right in front of me and not very high at all. I think my violin was maybe 3 feet or so from the microphone as I was quite close to it as you said. I'm not sure how that all leads to the final volume being too low. Could you explain how that works?

I'll try the things you all suggested and record another short audio sample. Not tonight though as I've played about 5 or 6 hours today for rehearsals alone. I'm exausted!

September 16, 2021, 4:08 AM · @Christian,

i heard the probable location of the player relative to the mic (certainty is out of this world, anyway).
The sound was very direct, but there were few harmonics than a listener could hear in a normal space, a bit wide and tall, and overall at your right.
Note: a violin spreads directly more high frequency content at its right wing (similarly to a wide directional tweeter in a cab).

The low gain in the recording is not related to the position but only to the gain the mic has and the gain of the preamp (inside your eventual recorder) and to the (absence of) post-production.

As Carmen wrote, recording some material without clipping is quite important. Now, the -12 dB figure is excessive ( :) ). Let's say that having the typical strong part some dB less the 0 dB wall is good.
There isn't an absolute problem if in a small number of times there's a very small transient the exceeds the 0 dB limit (they can be limited in a transparent way).

The total gain of the track, so, can be raised and controlled (hoping that others noises in the background don't become too important ;) ).

When you record something, in wav format at 24 bits minimum and 44.1 Khz minimum, zip it and send it to me by the above mentioned email account.
(i won't keep the original, after processing, and the resulting file, after sending it back).

Greetings.

September 16, 2021, 8:21 AM · I've done a fair amount of chamber music recording with a variety of equipment and I'm going to say that you will get a lot more bang per buck by working to improve your mic placement, room ambience, etc. than by buying new equipment. Most equipment, even a phone, is better than the way it's used by someone with no experience.

For a start, keep everything away from walls and ceilings, which implies a larger space. Then mess with placement. Violins radiate different things in different directions, so placement and distance are very important.

RCA Red Seal vinyl used to be the benchmark for classical orchestra recordings. They would send engineers in weeks in advance with a single microphone, a pole, and a ladder to move around the hall while the orchestra was playing to find the best spot in the hall to place their single (mono recording) mic. It's that important.

September 16, 2021, 9:18 AM · I could not agree more with what Michael Darnton wrote.
This is the reason that makes the advices for this or that microphone (especially if expensive) not a good strategy (IMHO), in the beginning.

It's obvious that some devices work better than others, or fit more a particolar situation. But it's a further step....

September 16, 2021, 1:53 PM · In a sense it's like learning the violin. You learn to get the most out of your student model, and only when you are pretty sure that the instrument is limiting you, and not the other way around, then you trade up.
September 17, 2021, 7:13 AM · Paul. Burd Igor makes his microphones by hand and they are not always available on his Ebay site so you have to watch until he makes more and they become available. They are probably snapped up quickly now. He may not have the best site but I've contacted him before and he responds. I believe he sells direct. He has a presence and reputation within the audio community so I doubt he would be fly-by-night. The reviews were so good that I wouldn't be surprised if he has put his price up by now. He is one of those hidden gems but if you feel uncomfortable then nobody is making you buy.
Edited: September 17, 2021, 8:40 AM · Mainly I agree with Paul, but even then, there's only so far you can trade up the mic before the room becomes the weakest link. You can put a 3000 dollar mic in a toilet, but it will sound like a toilet.
September 17, 2021, 2:59 PM · Chris that is good to know. If he is respected in the audio community then I am happy to withdraw my statement that is business is "fly-by-night". Even though I didn't say that. I only said it LOOKED that way based on what I could determine based on the appearance and performance of his publicly available e-business apparatus. Still, I'm willing to give his product a chance, since a few hundred dollars isn't the most expensive experiment. I'd still prefer something with a warranty because I'm just basically a risk-averse person.


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