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I am an amateur violinist. I would like to start to record my playing, doing the recording myself. I will be playing and recording classical, eastern European folk and Jazz. I would like your help in planning a simple but reasonable quality setup for recording to my PC. I don't currently have any recording equipment apart from a Windows PC.

So I need your help with three things -

An overview of the components that are required. So, what sort of microphone do I need? How do I connect the microphone to the PC. Do I need any boxes to relay the microphone through before connecting to the PC? What software should I use to capture the input? Is there simple to use or free software available? Is there anything I should generally be aware of when recording to a PC?

What should I consider when choosing individual pieces of equipment for recording violin? What should I consider when looking at second hand equipment?

And could you give any instruction and advice on recording? Are there any good introductory tutorials on recording in general and or recording acoustic instruments like violin?

Also I'm not so much interested in pickups as it seems to me that they don't generally produce sound of a fine quality.

Thank you very much for reading and helping me get started with recording!

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2 Answers 2

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Well, it depends! The first important consideration: what style do you play / wish to record? For a classical performance, you need quite a different sound than for a folky dance tune, a jazzy improvisation or even a rock or metal lead role.

The main part of the differences in sound is the room component. For a classical recording, you want a good-sounding room/hall with a considerable amount of natural reverberation. That's probably not feasible for you right now, so I shan't discuss it further here.

For other styles, such a concert-hall approach generally isn't really needed or even desirable. Still, it's advisable to record in a room with pleasant acoustic character: unless you place the microphone(s) very close to the instruments, the room will be audible.

Microphones

In my experience, it's impossible to get a properly "smooth" sound when recording string instruments with close microphones only. This probably has to do with the combination of the instrument's sound surfaces: only if all emission directions contribute to the overall sound (via reflections), it sums up to something with both good bow definition and pleasant body tone.
That said, even a close-mic sound has its applications; it tends to be pretty harsh, but the immediateness makes it possible to place in a loud rock environment audacious solo parts that would with more traditional sound just "drown" in the mix. If you want precisely that, you need just one microphone. A large-diaphragm condenser mic (e.g. AKG C3000, low-budget Behringer B1) would be my preference here: it gives you a very full, powerful sound. But you might even try a dynamic microphone (e.g. the classic Shure SM57), this would give you an even harsher mid-oriented tone.

More likely, you should permit some natural room sound dissipation as part of your recording, with not-too-close mics. You won't get around condenser technology then, only this offers the treble-fidelity, linearity and noise ratio required for a really good "natural listening experience".

A single large-diaphragm mic, merely placed a bit further away, can yield quite a good base sound. However, the reverb part usually comes out much more efficient in stereo, so (keeping it simple) I would prefer a matched stereo pair of small-diaphragm mics. The Oktava Mk12 has become a quite popular still-affordable choice, and for even less money there's again a Behringer offer, the C2. There also are readily-built stereo microphones around; those are easy to set up (at the expense of flexibility, but that may not matter much to you).

Connecting to the PC

You need an audio interface with at least two built-in mic preamps incl. 48V phantom power (that's needed for condenser mics). There's a wealth of such interfaces available, e.g. M-Audio Fast Track pro, Focusrite Sapphire...

That's pretty much it then, just connect the microphones to the interface with XLR cables and the interface to the PC with the USB or FireWire cable.

Software

Apart from the drivers for the interface (ASIO is de-facto standard on Windows) you need a DAW. For you application the free Audacity should be fine; should you need some more post-arranging, editing & FX stuff I'd recommend Reaper.

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Thank you for the breakdown of what is required! I intend to record some classical, some eastern European folk and some Jazz. I would like to capture a natural sound, warm and whole with good fidelity. –  FunkyFresh84 Nov 10 '13 at 20:20
    
I see the AKG C3000 is described as being for both studio and on stage. In the future I aim to get more into jazz. Possibly playing alongside a trumpet maybe with oboe / bassoon, double bass and possibly a fair amount of wooden percussion making a very open sound with good structure and rhythm but so that the violin and trumpet can be heard clearly in the mix. But I'm really interested in capturing the natural sound of the violin. I know it's a different scenario to recording a lone violin but do you think this approach is achievable. Would this mic be suitable for this live scenario as well? –  FunkyFresh84 Nov 10 '13 at 20:49
    
Ok, but you still ask only for the violin part, right? For recording a jazzy setting with wind & percussion you probably need more than just two microphones overall. At least violin and double bass should have dedicated mics to properly come out in the mix. Four mics might be fine, e.g. a stereo pair of small-diaphragms for the whole band and room sound, plus a large-diaphragm for each string instrument. Better also add some small-diaphragms closer to percussion and woodwind, perhaps even dynamic mics for the brass instruments. –  leftaroundabout Nov 10 '13 at 23:57
    
For just live, the bass should probably use a pickup system. For violin I would indeed prefer a microphone, though that's obviously more susceptible to feedback problems. And I generally avoid large-diaphragm mics live: a good small-diaphragm one is easier to handle, not quite as fragile and often gives a more useful sound (less rumble etc. problems, somewhat clearer response). But that's more a tendency than a rule, you could try it with something like the C3000 and perhaps you indeed like its "big" sound better than anything you can achieve with small-diagragm mics. –  leftaroundabout Nov 11 '13 at 0:05
1  
This is a great answer. To (possibly) add to it, I wrote a an answer about choosing audio interfaces that might be relevant here. –  Warrior Bob Nov 11 '13 at 19:42
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For recording violin, I tend to favor a small diaphragm condenser such as the Nuemann KM-184 as my 'go-to' choice. It doesn't have to be a Nuemann though ... the truth is that there are so many good choices in small-D mics out there that you can find a good sounding mic at almost any price point. I typically position the mic above the instrument by 12-16 inches or so, aimed at the F-Hole on the 'G-string' side of the instrument. BUT ... mic placement depends on the individual instrument and a few inches in any direction can have a big effect ... so ... experiment!

For live applications, look no further than the DPA-4099V. This is a mini shotgun style condenser mic that is used by many of the top touring violinists out there. It comes with a (non-permanent) mount that is gentle to the finish of your instrument but that holds the mic securely in place. The mic itself is really, really wonderful at capturing the acoustic sound of a violin but I've seen them used on mandolins and with the proper mount (DPA offers a variety of mounts) double bass, guitar, and brass instruments as well.

Because the mic is positioned so closely to the instrument and because its pickup pattern is very directional, it has excellent feedback rejection too.

Check them out ... you will be very glad that you did!

Hope this helps! :-)

Note: I have no relationship with DPA whatsoever. I am just an extremely happy customer that loves his 4099.

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