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recording saxophones!
Old 19th February 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
recording saxophones!

i am a professional saxophonist, primarily doing recording in the studio setting. i need a mic that'll give me solid response for all four primary saxophones - mostly alto and tenor, but i want the response needed for a bari and the touch needed for a soprano, too.

the local recording guy swears by the AT 4033, which (used) would fit perfectly into what i've got to spend (i'd like to stay under 250$, but i can go as high as 500$ for something that's really good). he mentioned looking into a ribbon mic as well, though. i know very little about ribbon mics, so i was looking for the forum's feedback.

this would (theoretically) be running into either a focusrite saffire pro 40 or an m-audio 2626 into a custom windows system i'll be building.

i'm primarily a cool jazz and classical player, but i do bigger stuff on occasion. i will never need to worry about someone else in my studio, since it's just a project studio and i write my own backups. i'm just worried purely about sound.

any thoughts? thanks in advance, guys.
Old 19th February 2010
Gear maniac
lblstudio's Avatar

Cascade Fathead II with Lundahl Transformer.
Old 19th February 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
...i should have mentioned that i appreciate it when people do more than say random stuff and leave. any reason why i'd like that one?
Old 19th February 2010
Lives for gear
surflounge's Avatar
glad to help
Old 19th February 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
i wasn't trying to be short, i was trying to get more information.

of those five websites that you have in that screenshot, only one actually fit my topic. when i went to post this thread, i got the same five threads, and i read them all. none really did what i asked.

that's why i'm trying to get more information =)
Old 22nd February 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
does anyone else have any suggestions? i did some research on the cascade ribbon mics, and they sound bloody fantastic. just want to cover all my bases, though!
Old 22nd February 2010
if you like your horns sounding like a kazoo a 4033 is a good bet. I don't know the cascade but a decent ribbon would be a good bet, especially if you have a bright tone
Old 22nd February 2010
Lives for gear
PlugHead's Avatar


A few of my favourite 'low budget' mics (under $500) are:

Beyer M260NC (ribbon)
Beyer M500NC (ribbon)
Sennheiser 441 (dynamic/used)
Shure SM7 (dynamic)
Audio Technica 4050 (condenser)
many cheap chinese ribbons (too many to list)

Some of my current faves (Sony C38b, Neumann KM88) are more pricey, but also make me happier.

I'd first suggest auditioning a couple of ribbon mics: some players don't like them as they are not as bright and can soften the edge/bite of the instrument. That said, most ribbon mics take EQ fantastically, so you can adjust those freq. without paying a huge sonic penalty.

Most importantly tho - mic placement. It's often more valuable learning where to place the mic than switching them (if they are 'quality' mics) - if you're experienced, you already know where to place them, but if not - DO NOT MIC THE BELL!!! Start by placing the mic a foot or so back from the instrument, split vertical distance between mouthpiece and bell - adjust to taste...

I hope this helps,
Old 22nd February 2010
Lives for gear
bitman's Avatar
I'm really lo budget here. I have an APEX 205 Ribbon mic.

I stuck it about a couple feet front the horn.

Worked. I was very pleased. No edginess like sometimes can happen with some condensers. Just a nice natural warm sound.

Old 22nd February 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
Originally Posted by Musiclab View Post
if you like your horns sounding like a kazoo a 4033 is a good bet. I don't know the cascade but a decent ribbon would be a good bet, especially if you have a bright tone
hah! i'll keep that in mind =) the guy at my school was raving over them, and they're definitely cheap, but i'm not personally a fan of kazoos.

i'm definitely not a super-bright jazz player, more of a cool jazz and classical guy. i'm more worried about freq response than anything, because i don't want my bari to sound like it's farting when my alto sounds fine, you know?

i'll do more research into some of the ones that you listed, plughead. if you had to pick one - one under 500, one over, preferably not a dynamic - what would you suggest for a project studio?

thanks again, guys.
Old 23rd February 2010
Gear Addict
amanitas's Avatar
What kind of horn do you play?

Mark VI means you should get a nice condenser unless you really want to keep it super smooth. Condenser will get more of the breathyness and reedy stuff depending on what you want.

Yanigasawa means you should get a warm ribbon and avoid condenser mics.

Yamaha would probably work with either.

But that's just me. Sax player I work with has Mark VI alto, tenor and bari, and 9/10 times I use a condenser on him, usually a fairly bright one like a TLM 103 or a Blueberry, particularly for tenor sax. Bari sax I might favor an RE20 or something with a little more body to the sound and less brightness as it can get a little chainsaw on aluminum siding vibe. Alto is probably where the ribbon would come in most useful, to tame the Jackie Maclean/Eric Dolphy/Charlie Parker/Johnnie Hodges bright and edgy thing a bit, particularly for smoother jazz...
Old 23rd February 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
wait, you've actually worked with someone who recorded with a yangiasawa? those horns are pure unadulterated trash. tried one or two out at one point. waaaay too much money for a horn that only does one sound.

i play a series III alto, and a mark VI clone tenor (little smoother, doesn't have the flexibility that the VI does). bari and soprano are whatever i can get my hands on.
Old 7th March 2010
Lives for gear
balanceman's Avatar

I've recorded lots of different saxophones/winds/brass/etc...
Most often I use a coles on lots of these. Great sounding ribbon mic, but maybe out of your price range.

Had good luck with small diaphragm condensers as well...

One thing to consider:
with a soprano (assuming straight design like a clarinet) there are a few notes that will get completely LOST with only 1 microphone. Best case scenario, the horn is recorded very unevenly.

think about it; on many notes air is escaping throuhg the finger holes, at the bell, a bit at the mouthpiece.. but on other notes, all the keys are held down and the note pretty much comes out of the bell.

To get everything coming out of the instrument, I recommend a mic somewhere near your upper hand and another down at the bell.
The relative position of the two mics to one another and to the instrument is key to getting a well balanced, free from phase issues recording.

Not a rule, but a good tip.

I've been involved in several ROVA albums done this way and with other techniques (1 big condenser each player + room mics).

Any way you do it, placement is really important..

I like a close mic and far mic on baritone - up close is often "too much" for me and far away can lose a bit of impact, but the two together can give you attack plus tone...

I stumbled on this thread b/c I have bari sax coming in later today and am looking for a good alternate mic technique than I have been using lately. My coles is in use elsewhere on the session.

I have some cheaper ribbon mics, but they don't seem to deliver the goods well enough. I have had good luck lately with a Bock 151, but that's a $3k mic and out of your price range...

dare I say - get three mics: ribbon (I'm sure a fathead will be fine for this) and a coupla small cap condnesers (ocvava?) then you can try cond. pair or ribbon close w/ cond. OH or far.....
Old 7th March 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
that's some good advice. you mentioned octava mics (i think)? which ones would you suggest?
Old 7th March 2010
Lives for gear
balanceman's Avatar

mc012 are popular and cheap. I don't like 'em, but they ARE cheap. maybe look at peluso or Audio technica or chamelean labs
Old 8th March 2010
Gear nut

Sax Mic

On the high end I would say a used 414 B-uls for pop music or a used peluso r14 for a more vintage ribbon vibe. The r14 supposedly competes with the aea r84 which is killer but more than you have to spend. The Md-441 is a pretty good choice too. On the low cost end the ev-re20 sounds great. Good luck

Old 8th March 2010
a 414TLII has a scoop in the mids that works nice on saxophone. Whenever a player comes here with an ultra bright sound I pull that out
Old 9th March 2010
Here for the gear

I am a saxophonist as well, and am partial to the Sennheiser 421 dynamic. It handles high SPL well. I have also had very good results with a Rode NT1.
Old 9th March 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
lots of good suggestions in this thread. i'll have to condense it all down and see what comes out.
Old 12th March 2010
Gear interested

Hi, I use AKG 414 B-uls which has been modified by Jim Williams at Audio Upgrades. I record in my own studio and my audio chain is 414 in to Avalon 737 and in to Lynx converters. I am very happy with the results. You can listen some of my music here: IGOR - Discography
All the Best. IGOR
Old 12th March 2010
The thing with sax is the player really determines the sound. There is an alto player who album I produced named Paula Atherton, she has an enormous sound, whereas there are tenor players I've recorded who are good players but sound much thinner with the same setup. So part of recording yourself is also a bit of a reality check on your own sound.
Old 12th March 2010
Lives for gear
I always seem to come back to the Sennheiser 441 for sax. Nothing else does the trick the same way for me, open without edge. I've also used all the regular suspects from low dollar to mega dollar, vintage, new, etc. Here's a record I did with the 441 if I remember correctly, we may have used a U87 on some of the stacks but my memory says it's all 441... Soul Music: Harold Rayford: Music
Old 13th March 2010
Gear nut

Your sax sounds very good in the mix. Mind sharing what reverb you used?
Old 13th March 2010
Gear Head

Thread Starter
Originally Posted by Musiclab View Post
The thing with sax is the player really determines the sound. There is an alto player who album I produced named Paula Atherton, she has an enormous sound, whereas there are tenor players I've recorded who are good players but sound much thinner with the same setup. So part of recording yourself is also a bit of a reality check on your own sound.
yeah, i've been keeping this in mind as i'm looking at different mics, and trying to find one with a demo that sounds like me. my tenor and alto playing is usually more reserved, but i want to be able to blow when i need to, you know?
Old 19th March 2010
Gear interested

Originally Posted by EricB View Post
Your sax sounds very good in the mix. Mind sharing what reverb you used?
Hi Eric,

On a typical pop ballad I would normally use:
1. Altiverb 6 Some kind of a suitable Room
2. PSP 84 Delay
3. Altiverb 6 IR Lexicon IR or 2CAudio Aether Reverb

I usually EQ my reverbs so they sits better in the mix. Sometime I use up to 6 effects to create the right space around my saxophone. Because I play/record primarily pop instrumental music I treat my saxophone as if it was a pop vocal. Hope this will help.

IGOR - Smooth & Silky Saxophone
Old 31st March 2010
Lives for gear
teleharmonium's Avatar

I've been very happy with the Blue Baby Bottle after having used it for baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano, plus trombone, flute, and clarinet. The high end is smoother than most other condensors in that price range, it has a nice full midrange, and no weird resonance which IMO is another common issue with cheaper condensor mics. You can get them for about 250 used. I put the mic 1 to 2 feet from the horn, you could easily put it further away if your room isn't boomy, the mic has a hot output so signal level is not a problem.
Old 7th April 2010
Gear interested
SpeakUpStudios's Avatar

recording sax....

I used a combination of 3 fairly cheap mics...

shure beta 87a

then i panned the 87 and 609 and kept the 4040 in the middle as a room mic - no preamps. The jazz heavy, (Dave Clark) was more than pleased with the sound and was excited that it sounded exactly as his horn did live. this was done with some pointers from a mentor of mine and some experimentation.
Old 26th March 2011
Gear Maniac


you're a day's drive from NYC. Advertise your services as a session player on weekends. Get paid to see how a few pro engineers mic you up and hear the differences. Then post samples and tell us how it's done.

Then, if the mics they use are two expensive, check back in for advice on what sounds like a ____.

I like a large diaphragm condenser without a lot of eq a foot back, a bit above the bell of my tenor, but I'm a bass player, so I haven't messed around as much as I should. I learned a lot from the above posts that I'm now looking forward to trying out.
Old 27th March 2011
Gear Maniac

If you want just one mic, you're going to have to eq it differently for different horns. Most mics have some built in eq as a function of how big the transducer is and what it's shaped like.

You can find graphs for each mic on the market (that's worth considering) showing how efficiently they transfer sound to electricity at a given frequency. Then look up what the lowest note is on a bari and, well, assume that the overtones on a soprano go up higher than the 20kHz you can hear to.

If you want clear sound across all four horns, you probably want a mic that responds as evenly as you can afford between 20Hz and 20kHz.

But if you want to be able to stick something into the soundhole and not have it break up, you want a high spl tolerance, which you'll probably find from a dynamic. The Sennheiser mentioned above is a large diaphragm dynamic, so it'll get the low notes out of the bell of the bari and the tenor really well (and do okay in the same role on alto). The same could probably be said of an SM57 for (used) a quarter of the price.

Among condensers, those with large diaphragms tend to pick up low frequencies better and those with smaller diaphragms tend to pick up high frequencies better. So you really would want different mics for different sources, but if you find something that doesn't have a lot of innate eq, you can make it work.

But you might find two or three different specialized mics to combine for less money than one good clean flat-eq'd mic.

I wouldn't buy a ribbon if you only have one mic to buy. Maybe for a fourth. But not top three.
Old 8th May 2012
Lives for gear
Greg Curtis's Avatar

We see a LOT of sax recordings, as part of a larger group, here, for some major productions. Nearly all these sessions they use TLM170s. 2-4' from the player, looking down from in front. Like standing in front of the seated player, mic at chest or maybe even ear height.

If you are missing some notes, that means the mic is too close. Good rule of thumb is a minimum distance greater than the size of the instrument. The sound needs to develop before it hits the mic.

For features or solos I personally like an RCA44 on tnr, alto, soprano saxes. U47 on bari's. But 170's sound great.

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