An oboe is a “bright” sounding, double reed woodwind instrument that is somewhat similar to a clarinet, and most often made from wood. It plays in the soprano range, and can be found playing either solo or with an ensemble.
Like any instrument with a lot of character to its sound, it can be tough to record an oboe well, but, with the right mic setup, it shouldn’t pose a problem.
Today we’ll be discussing how to record an oboe to get the best sound for your recording, regardless of what style of music it is.
How An Oboe Produces Sound
Because it has a bell at the end, you might think that an oboe produces sound strictly out of the its bell, like a horn, but this isn’t exactly the case.
An oboe is designed to produce sound throughout the instrument, including from the sound holes which are covered by metal keys. The bell also produces sound, but, for recording purposes, you’ll want to mic the whole instrument, using a mic that can capture all of its nuances.
Overall, you’re going to get some click-clack from those metal keys as the instrument is played, which is one reason you shouldn’t mic it too close.
Use an Omni-Directional or Hyper-Cardioid Mic
Also, take note that when recording an oboe, you should not aim a single directional mic at the flared bell at the end of an oboe and expect to get an amazing sound. No, it would be more prudent to have an omni-directional or hyper-cardioid mic near the instrument and slightly above it to get the best sound.
By “near”, you can go back a few feet and we suggest placing the mic slightly overhead so as to capture the fullness of the oboe in the particular room you’re using.
Testing 1, 2, 3
Always test your sound first. We recommend doing a variety of sonic tests of your oboe before trying to get your perfect “take”. These tests will include your player playing a few notes, or even up to 30 seconds, and you can record them live, and then adjust the mic after analyzing playback. After a few trial runs, you’ll get a better idea of where the mic should be placed when you hit “record”. You are looking to find that sweet spot!
Watch this video showing a recording engineer working with an oboist to get the best possible sound out of her instrument. Note the mic placement as well. There are two mics in use here, including a Rode K2, located about 3-4 feet away, as well as a Neumann KN 183 even further back.
Mic’ing Various Woodwind Instruments
Here is another video showing the mic’ing of various woodwinds, including an oboe.
You will see here that the microphone is placed overhead, and that it is a cardioid microphone so it has extra sensitivity and omni-directional capabilities. The oboe mic’ing takes place about half way through this video.
Oboe Frequency Range & Ensemble Recording Considerations
As we’ve mentioned in other articles about recording instruments considered to be classical in nature, if you are “building” your sound, eg. one instrument at a time, you’ll want to be aware of the various frequency ranges that you’re recording with your oboe. Ensembles, when recorded all at once, are one thing, but piecing together an ensemble one instrument at a time is quite another thing altogether.
For instance, the entire frequency spectrum is going to fill up quick if you keep adding instruments to it, so you’ll want to make sure that your oboe isn’t taking up valuable space in the ensemble, unless of course it is the lead instrument and you want it to cut through more.
The general range of an oboe is Bb3(233 Hz) to F6(1396.9 Hz). If you haven’t recorded an oboe before, don’t worry too much about these figures. Just take a general note of how you want the oboe to fit into your recording, and go from there.
Oboes have been referred to as sounding like ducks if they could sing. They’re also said to be quite difficult to learn how to play, so, if you are recording oboe, expect that your oboist might be a real pro musician since they’ve probably taken a long time to learn their craft. If done right, oboes can sound amazing in a recording, whether they’re solo, or part of a group.