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Fiddle Clip-on Microphone Placement

July 15th, 2012
contra, experiment, music, fiddle

When using a clip-on microphone for a violin, where should you place it and what way should it be pointing? I've heard conflicting advice on this, and seen fiddlers put them in several different places, so what sounds best? Chris Jacoby and I tested a common cardiod condenser clip-on microphone (the Audio Technica pro 35) in several positions and orientations. We simultaneously recorded with a common cardiod dynamic stand-mounted microphone, the Shure sm57, positioned about four inches above and pointed at the bridge. As we varied the position of the clip-on, we didn't change the dynamic one.

I asked several people to evaluate recordings of the 10 mic positions plus two randomly chosen ones of the sm57. These were blind evaluations; no one knew which recordings were which. Evaluators were:

Jeff Kaufman (me)
Contra dance musician (mandolin, octave fiddle) listening on a QSC K10 speaker.
Alice Kaufman
Classical violin player and fiddler, also listening on a K10.
Chris Jacoby
Classical and contra dance musician (mandolin, guitar), unknown speakers.
Audrey Knuth
Classical and contra dance musician (violin, viola) listening on Tannoy pbm-6.5 speakers

Everyone listened to the samples in the same randomized order, which in retrospect wasn't ideal. If you would like to test for yourself what you liked and disliked, before reading further make up your mind from these blinded samples and then check the key.

noteschords
1162 1035
1179 1111
1264 1132
1304 1168
1338 1276
1359 1300
1445 1345
1463 1448
1476 1569
1657 1616
1726 1738
1942 1818

Overall we were surprised how many sounded good. There were some we didn't like, but most of the tests gave clear sounds across the range of the instrument. Looking at everyone's preferences, position 11 with the mic just above the G-string seems to be the best all-around:

Aside from that, we were kind of all over the map. There were a few that we all agreed sounded bad (#4), and we had some agreement on ways particular ones were unusual (#8), but there was no clear second choice position. Contrary to my expectation, the dynamic mic (sm57) was not generally preferred to the best clip-on locations.

Labled recordings with pictures, sound samples, and reviews:


1: Center, 45 degrees, 1.25" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: good
Alice: worse
Chris: 0
Audrey: not too shabby, #1
chops
Jeff: good
Alice: ok
Chris: -
dynamic:notes chops


2: Center, 0 degrees, 0.38" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: good
Alice: no
Chris: 0
Audrey: meh
chops
Jeff: good
Alice: ok
Chris: -, too dark
dynamic:notes chops


4: G string, 0 degrees, at the body
clip-on:notes
Jeff: ugh
Alice: muted
Chris: + 0, #6
Audrey: meh
chops
Jeff: interesting, dislike
Alice: no
Chris: -, seems like more mids, less other things
dynamic:notes chops


5: E string, pointed at the sound post, at the body
clip-on:notes
Jeff: interesting, unsure
Alice: good tied #1
Chris: + + 0: bassier, less highs, #3
Audrey: meh
chops
Jeff: interesting, unsure
Alice: too much baritone or something, unbalanced,
can't decide if I like it, #1
Chris: 0, whoa more lows/mids, interesting sound,
not bad, but not what I like, #5
dynamic:notes chops


6: Center, 0 degrees, almost touching
clip-on:notes
Jeff: muffled
Alice: fine, tied #2
Chris: less shrill
Audrey: meh
chops
Jeff: fine-
Alice: not quite as good
Chris: +, #2
dynamic:notes
Jeff: good+, some light buzzing
Alice: fine, tied #1
Chris: + + 0, #4
Audrey: yuck
chops
Jeff: fine
Alice: fine
Chris: + Has a lot of bow noise, but that
might be okay. Otherwise, I like it. #5


7: bottom of the bass f-hole, straight down, 2" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: good-
Alice: fine, tied #2
Chris: + 0, #5
Audrey: ok
chops
Jeff: slightly muted
Alice: good, more bass sound, good for chops #3
Chris: + +, seems most balanced (is this the sm57?) #1
dynamic:notes chops


8: inch below the bass f-hole, straight down, 1" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: too screetchy, bad bass
Alice: fine, #3
Chris: 0
Audrey: yuck
chops
Jeff: ok, electric
Alice: no; too much treble
Chris: -, scratchier, sounds more electric
dynamic:notes
Jeff: maybe a little too much high
Alice: shrill
Chris: + + + 0, #2
Audrey: yuck
chops


9: bottom of the treble f-hole, straight down, 2" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: very good
Alice: fine, tied #1
Chris: 0
Audrey: meh
chops
Jeff: ok
Alice: good, not balanced, but I like it #4
Chris: -, in comparison to the previous bunch
seems dull in the low mids.
dynamic:notes chops


10: inch below the treble f-hole, straight down, 1" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: good-, not so vibrant
Alice: worse
Chris: 0: Less
Audrey: yuck
chops
Jeff: ok
Alice: fine; breathy grumbling
Chris: -, darker
dynamic:notes chops
Jeff: not quite as good
Alice: slightly better
Chris: +, #4


11: G string, 0 degrees, 0.5" away
clip-on:notes
Jeff: good; slightly screetchy
Alice: no
Chris: + + + +, #1
Audrey: alright
chops
Jeff: fine
Alice: good, more balanced #2
Chris: +, #3
dynamic:notes chops

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