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How to record a harp? Will a Shure SM57 and AKG D112 do the trick?

An RP visitor with a limited selection of microphones asks whether they are suitable to record the harp.

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Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

"I'm going to do some recording of a harpist but I have a VERY limited mic selection. (SM57 and AKG D112--yes I'm a drummer!) I was hoping if I placed the AKG close to the low end of the harp and the SM57 up by the top I might get a nice combination of pick up across the instrument's range. Thoughts appreciated!"

David Mellor responds...

It's clear that the Shure SM57, being a dynamic mic, is not going to capture the harp at its best or most accurate. And the AKG D112? Well that's a kick drum mic - surely it will be hopeless on the delicate sound of the harp?

Not having a harp to hand (though I do have the mics), I can't give definitive advice. But the first thing I would say is that these are both mics of professional quality.

If the harp, the harp player and the acoustics of the room are all good, then you can get a good recording. Maybe not the best possible recording, but certainly a good one.

The placement you suggest however might not be ideal. Placing the mics at opposite ends of the instrument will result in an undefined stereo image.

And if you play the recording in mono, the timing differences between the two mics will resulted in a blurred sound. You may decide that mono compatibility is not important, but it is certainly something to be considered.

You could possibly place the mics close together, in a position at right angles to the plane of the strings, one mic pointing at the low strings, the other at the high.

This will work and give a clear stereo image. But the harp will sound as though it is as wide as the distance between the speakers. You might consider panning both sides in to reduce the width.

But there is another problem here - the mics are now edge-on to the sound board of the instrument.

So although the strings are picked up well, the sound radiating from the sound board is mostly going to waste.

So I would move the mics around in front of the instrument, not quite head on. The mics now are picking up both the sound from the strings, and the sound from the sound board.

There won't be much stereo width in the instrument itself, but there will be in the acoustic.

Clearly it is not ideal to record in stereo with different mics. But that's not a reason not to do it, if you see what I mean.

With careful microphone placement and careful EQ to match the sounds of the two mics, a good recording should be possible.

Any chance you'll let us hear it?

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By David Mellor Monday June 5, 2006
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