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Method for attaching a mic to a violin
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (3 votes) 
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DanielB
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October 26, 2012 - 10:53 am
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My usual approach when recording acoustic instruments is to use a large diaphragm condenser mic at about the head level of an imaginary listener at a reasonable distance from the instrument.  That is a "classic" approach, and works well, as a general rule. 

It has some drawbacks, though.  If the room/location has very poor acoustics, then it will sound pretty much exactly like it would standing in that room with crappy acoustics.  Back in the old days (and for some instances even today) people went to great lengths with assorted "sound treatments" like bass traps and acoustic insulation in recording rooms.  That is an excellent solution, but expensive and not very portable.

The other thing about it which is good in some ways and not so good in others is that it will pick up what a listener would hear, but not what the player is hearing.  I found that miking at a distance of 10 ft or so lacked some of the natural warmth I hear when I play.  The sound could be good at a distance, and might be just what you want sometimes. 

So I decided to revisit one of the ideas I posted here as a 1$ condenser mic for recording violin.  The problem with that is that I didn't like the idea of using sticky stuff on my violin to attach the mic or having to clamp on another piece of hardware.  I wanted a solution that was portable, that could be put on and taken off quickly without tools, and that wouldn't risk scratching up the instrument.

Here's what I came up with:

 

100_0340.JPGImage Enlarger100_0339.JPGImage Enlarger

 

I used a somewhat nicer sounding mic salvaged from an old Cyber-Acoustics gamer headset and used a pair of fairly strong neodymium magnets to attach it to the chinrest.  The magnets are padded with a bit of cork so the metal won't risk scratching the wood of the chinrest.

It works reasonably well, at least well enough for a "proof of concept".  It stays in place while playing, and the cable to the computer is thin enough to not be a problem so far.  The flexible "gooseneck" and being able to slide the magnets to different places on the chinrest allows a reasonable number of options for positioning the mic to get the sound more like one wants. 

I'll have to play with it a bit to see if any problems arise or any improvements come to mind, but so far it seems to be working well.  Doesn't sound too bad.  This is a sample recorded with just plugging it directly into a laptop computer's mic input and going straight onto Audacity..

 

 

That was recorded in a room with quite a bit of background noise.  Computer fan on the desktop computer, refrigerator motor running, window open and traffic noises coming in, tv on a couple rooms away.  But the violin signal is robust enough that it would certainly be usable, and the tone isn't too bad.  Maybe not exactly what I was hearing when playing the notes, but very very close.  Considering I was mostly experimenting with the idea for how to attach microphones, I was pleasantly surprised that it actually sounds pretty ok.

 

...

Oh, but since this is the recording section of the forum, and recording is more than just getting a good sound to work with, here is the same sample with a couple minutes work to do some noise removal and add a little reverb.  Just to hopefully encourage folks to get into recording. 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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TerryT
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October 26, 2012 - 1:11 pm
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From the heading, I thought it was bad grammar and someone wanted to attach a mouse to their violin!!
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RosinedUp
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October 26, 2012 - 3:15 pm
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Wow, it sounds like a good way to go.  Kind of like being there.  I am not much inclined anymore to go with a pickup in the bridge as considered in a previous thread.

If you find that this works out, people would need some more details in order to reproduce your setup. I haven't used a headset that has a mic.  Is the mic on a flexible piece that bends and stays where it is put?  I don't see that it is essential that the mic be from a headset.  I mean maybe you could put the mic on a popsicle stick reaching from the chinrest to the sound hole for example.  Is the mic attached somehow---hooked in somehow---to the sound hole?  Where would somebody get magnets good for this job?

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DanielB
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October 26, 2012 - 4:22 pm
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The microphone is not hooked to the soundhole or anything on the violin except the chinrest via the magnets.  Neodymium magnets are all over places like ebay and amazon, I got these from a local craft store.

The mic is on a flexible little "gooseneck", so yes it can be positioned.  The magnets can also be moved along the chinrest to get the position one wants.

I used an old "boom" off a gamer headset because it was what I had handy.  One time when my son had borrowed it, he ended up breaking off the boom.  When I was thinking on possibilities for a mic for this experiment, I remembered I still had the pieces.  It wasn't the world's best mic (gamer headsets never are) but it had a fairly natural tone for human voice. 

I suppose one could build it on a popsicle stick.  I wanted something easy to position and that was at least "sorta" decent looking.  Well, or has the potential to look decent. 

This could be done better quality and better looking, of course.  Probably could be done a little smaller.  Mostly I was seeing if the idea of using magnets as a sort of clamp to mount the mic on the chinrest works.  In theory is should, but until one cobbles together a prototype, one doesn't know what little problems the concept may have that one simply hasn't thought of yet.  It was a pleasant surprise to end up with something I rather like the sound of, though.

Once I got levels set, it did a decent enough job.  It picks up the dynamics pretty well, and even playing very soft gets picked up well without just sounding thin.  If the player sniffles or clears their throat, it is audible, but much quieter than the violin

And if you do something dumb, like not noticing your're standing on the cable when you go to set the violin in it's case for a moment, the whole thing will slide off the rest, the pieces come together, the mic and mount are still fine and the violin didn't get hurt.  Already did that, but not as an intentional test.  But I'll want to cover the exposed metal of the top magnet with a bit of cork or leather.  I was lucky this time and it didn't scratch the violin.  I don't like to count on luck like that, better to design against mishaps.

I'll try to get a couple more pics later to give you a better idea of how the thing is put together and where things are in relation to the body of the violin and so on.

But so far, it is being a pretty easy setup to work with, and I think it sounds pretty much a violin.  A violin being played by a beginner, but that's life. LOL

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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cdennyb
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October 26, 2012 - 11:25 pm
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Daniel... do you think this setup would produce a better audio recording than a piezo cell attached to the bridge?dunno

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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DanielB
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October 27, 2012 - 2:29 am
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@cdennyb: Piezos can get some good sounds, even great sounds.  But they are different than the acoustic sound of an acoustic violin.  A piezo on or under the bridge doesn't get what the body of the acoustic violin does with the sound waves moving in the body cavity and being amplified and tuned.  Piezo outputs are high in the fundamental frequency and some harmonics and other products.

You may recall traces you did months ago of my electric violin.  It looks a bit like one is looking at a comb.  It was pretty much all spikes, though they are spikes in pretty musical frequencies.  Great for some things.  For running through effects, the simpler waveforms often give more pleasant results than a more complex waveform.

Also the piezo is one of the best choices for amplification.  It takes an awful lot to get them to feed back.  The sound pressure level from the speakers pretty much needs to be enough to set up a significant vibration in the bridge from probably at least several feet away.  They also won't pick up background noise when recording, unless it is a *very* loud noise.

I wouldn't say that a condenser rig is necessarily better.  It depends on what sound a person is going for and the situation/environment they are recording in.  Both have their advantages and shortcomings.  And honestly, neither option would be in my opinion a really "true" violin sound.  The violin radiates sound from almost every surface, in different degrees and frequency bands.  That makes it a complex sound field to mic with any arrangement.  It is sort of a moving 3D sculpture of sound that is constantly changing and that moves with every movement of the player and listener.   In some ways, it can only really be experienced in person.  At the least it should be recorded in stereo with a pair of microphones at a reasonable distance.

At best, this sort of rig will somewhat imitate what a player who is deaf in their right ear would hear.  But that will still be closer to the actual acoustic violin sound than most other options in the price/complexity range.  I wanted to play around with trying to capture a bit of the sound we hear when we play.  Something most listeners probably wouldn't usually get to hear.  This rig does that reasonably well, within it's limitations, I think.  At least a step in the right direction for that objective.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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cdennyb
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October 27, 2012 - 5:07 am
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Well D... I've done the traces for a true E violin and the A violin, so maybe I could compare the differences of all three in a while. I'm pretty busy the next few days, got a job in Vegas that's real important but after I get back I'll have a week or two free.

I bet they're really interesting. I wonder if the gooseneck picks up vibrations and transmits it to the mic thru the chin rest?

Hmmm, more experiments a coming.dazed

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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DanielB
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October 27, 2012 - 7:24 am
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I theorize it will be kind of close to what you usually get for test recordings for acoustic violins, assuming people followed your instructions on having the mic within a foot (Not sure as I recall if you usually want 8-10 or 10-12 inches), considering the mic is about typical of what is used on laptops, webcams and etc.  But even if we do get that close to record a sample for analysis, I think that fact is that most of us don't usually play that way when recording.  It can be a bit awkward.  Being so close to the body as this little rig is (less than 2 inches) and on the G side very near the f-holes will make some difference, I'm sure.

Won't know for sure until we take some samples and make some charts.

I would bet that the gooseneck is carrying some vibrations to the mic.  On the optimistic view, that might help approximate what a player hears via bone conduction through the jaw.  The pessimistic view would be that it is just as likely to harm as to help desirable frequencies because there's a 50/50 chance with a random bit of metal like that gooseneck as to whether it will reinforce or interfere with those desirable frequencies.  I do think that the player's jaw on the chinrest will damp the vibrations through the chinrest, though.  

Mostly I started tinkering with this because I just wasn't pleased with the results I was getting with my studio condenser mic placed several feet away.  I started thinking of something where I can just pack it into the accessory compartment of the violin case or tuck it into a pocket of the laptop case and where it didn't involved lugging and plugging several pieces of gear, but still could catch at least a reasonable sound for quick on-the-fly recordings.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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October 28, 2012 - 9:16 am
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Well, I found the first thing I'll want to change.  Cork is fine for the upper magnet, but it allows the lower one to turn too easy.  I think maybe padding the lower one with something with a bit more grip, like neoprene or maybe a thin slice of cosmetic sponge material would give it better hold. 

It works ok if one is fairly careful not to bump it, but a little bit of improvement can be better than a crapload of being careful.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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cdennyb
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DanielB said
...but a little bit of improvement can be better than a crapload of being careful.

How true that staement is... gotta print that out and hang it in the shop! exactly

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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