Recording Trumpet: What Mic to Use

I recently had the pleasure of recording trumpet tracks at Beach House Studios with Chris Barrett on some Americana blues songs written by Phil Austin, and I decided to have a little mic shootout between the Neumann U87 and the Oktava MKL 2500.  I wanted to establish what my go-to mic should be for horns, now that I have a selection to choose from.  In the past I have tested both the Neumann U87 and the Oktava MKL 2500 mics on vocals, and the result was practically a toss up.  I was hoping to have my CAD M179’s in as a third contender, but unfortunately shipping was delayed beyond the date of the session.  Perhaps I will have the chance to add that as a comparison test in the future.

Ok.  Down to it.  Both mics are large diaphragm condensers, but the Oktava MKL 2500 has a tube in the body of the mic (6C315P) and its own power supply that has been designed to introduce a measure of third-harmonic distortion for adding presence and warmth.  The Neumann usually sells for around $3k, and the Oktava can usually be found in the $300.00 to $600.00 range.

Chris Barrett recording trumpet at Beach House Studios in candlelight

Sometimes you just have to get the mood lighting right to nail the vibe of the track.

Both mics were set up at about three and a half to four feet high and about six feet away from Chris slightly off axis. Both mics were cabled with Mogami Gold XLR, and run into DigiGrid IOS preamps.  A 12db per octave high pass filter was applied to both inputs at 100 Hz.  No other compression or EQ was added on the way in.

Unlike on a previous vocal test, when recording trumpet, the difference between the two mics was blatantly obvious right away.  The Neumann U87 sounded slightly brittle and hyped in the high end, just a little too piercing, whereas the Oktava MKL 2500 retained a warm, smooth, and intimate sound that settled nicely into the track. This could be caused by the U87’s high end bump of +3db around 9kHz, where the MKL 2500 has a +5db bump at 4kHz and begins a roll off at 7kHz.  Obviously the high end could be eq’d out of the Neumann if that was the only mic you had available, but in the case when you have a choice, why do the extra work?

Frequency response chart of Oktava MKL 2500 and Neumann U87.

Frequency response chart of Oktava MKL 2500 and Neumann U87.

I still love my Neuman U87 for vocals, and as a drum room mic, but the Oktava has clearly established itself as my go-to mic for recording trumpet in the studio.

If you’ve been reading this article because you are recording trumpets or brass, and need some help getting them to sit right in the mix, contact me with your project details and get the clarity and depth of a professional mix.

Leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite mic is for recording trumpet or brass.

Audio Examples:

Oktava MKL 2500

Neumann U87