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  • Fiddle Clip-on Microphone Placement

    July 15th, 2012
    fiddle, contra, experiment, music  [html]
    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.

    notes chords
    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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