Information about Accordion Microphones

Information About Accordion Microphones

Written by: Peter Shearer, Accordion-O-Rama Inc.
Publication: Accordion-O-Rama Inc.
Date written: June 2002

Well, we all know that Accordion-O-Rama has hundreds of accordions in stock. Lately, there is a lot of talk about accordion microphone kits. In order to have a perspective, let's take a quick look at the general history of accordion microphones. Accordion-O-Rama has been installing microphones since the 1950's.

From the 50's through the 70's the use of single or multiple "silver-dollar" mic's was all there was. "Everyone" was happy that they worked. The old amps used to clip the high frequency end. This was OK since the microphones had too much high frequency bandwidth. In other words, this meant that these mic's were a bit harsh. With the amps being a bit mellow, things evened out. Both the mic's and amps had very high impedances so they worked well.

When these old mic's were installed, they used tone controls on the accordion and the amplifier. If you made it too mellow, you lost the signal entirely. Those old mic systems did the job for many years. Many are still working now. They were/are not super-clear or very natural in tone. But, they are simple to install, cheap, easy to use, and they do work.

If you feed them into today's keyboard amps you don't generally get as good of an impedance match. So, much of what signal there is, can be lost. Still, they are useful for the occasional player, with a small high impedance amp, especially in a small accordion where you would put one mic in the center of the bellows and forget about it. No batteries and very little wiring. Simplicity is good.

With the advent of the organ-accordion, it became more important to get the reeds to keep up with the louder electronic voices and more powerful amps. The old Cordovox units came with an organ sound (electronic) and silver dollar microphones. They could be made to feedback quite easily. Something new had to be found.

The first modern condenser mic system I noticed was the Hohnervox-2P. Here the mic's in the accordion had to compete with an early digital synthesizer that was fed into any amp. Many of the new amps were more powerful than the 80 watts you get out of a solid state Cordovox.

Hohner started using condenser mic's because they already had DC power in the accordion to bias them, and the condenser mic's are clearer. At this point, Hohner electronic accordions still did not come with separate volume controls for the right and left sides and were still not refined, but they were a step up in clarity. They also used an R-C (resistive-capacitive) network to invert the signal. This attempt to stop the positive feedback (sound from the amp reinforcing the original sound at the mic.) lost a good deal of the signal so you never got the mic's to develop a really strong accordion sound.

The first popular condenser microphone system to come out as a kit used Sennheiser microphone capsules. These caught on quite quickly. Today many people are convinced they are the greatest because they were the first, and are/were much better than the old "silver dollar" mic's. These kits use an on board pre-amp. This boosts the signal to a level that can go into any amp. Many keyboard amps in use today are powerful. But they can't take a really low signal and bring it up to the maximum power level. This input level threshold, for the minimum signal required for the amp to develop the maximum output power, is its sensitivity.

It is like thinking of how well the amp hears the input signal as opposed to how strong the output is. Some of today's amps have some high and some low sensitivity inputs. The more sensitive, the better it is for a microphone. Keyboards produce a much higher signal and might pick up low-level noise if the sensitivity was low. The current hi tech improvement was the use of op amps (operational amplifiers) in the microphone kit. These were not only used to boost the signal, but they were used to invert it, without a loss of signal strength. This inversion can help curtail the positive feedback. The designer needs simply uses the negative input. These op-amps are now common practice in many new mic kits. Essentially these op-amp chips can be the same ones found in the modern amplifiers.

The down side is they now contribute to the overall frequency response since they are an extra stage for the signal if they are not needed. They also use a lot of "juice". It is a common design question in amplifiers as to how many stages to use. If you boost the signal form input to output level with a small number of stages you can maximize the clarity by not exceeding the linear range of each stage. If you use too many equal bandwith stages you square off the signal and add noise. Trade-offs are always there.

As always, technology keeps going. Some of the newest systems mount the single microphone element externally. These are most suitable for a clarinet or saxophone. This makes it easy to attach to any instrument. A few say they prefer the acoustics outside of the accordion. These so-called strap-on mic's don't have any capability for the left (bass) side if used on an accordion. Most of these "external" mics mostly hear the immediate section the keyboard they are closest to.

They also hear more of whatever else is going on in the room other than the reeds that are inside the accordion. These are not the greatest but they are better than a mic on a floor stand. Being placed on the accordion will eliminate the booming caused by tapping a mic on a floor-stand as well as the fadeouts caused by stepping away from a one.

Accordion-O-Rama prefers the built in styles. More new kits are coming out all the time. Most noticeably Excelsior offers its basic 3+1 kit that comes with a useful, if not elaborate, diagram, installation instructions, and user instructions. It is fairly simple to install.

This was a big improvement over the mic's that went into their last generation, MIDIVOX II systems. These kits have been allowing all the newer MIDIVOX III purchasers to allow their reeds to keep up with the MIDI generated voices. They seem just as easy to install as the King Major kit or other kits that uses the Sennheiser or other high quality condenser capsules.

These sets use a 9 volt battery that can last for months. We have never used the Limex (3 + 1) as a kit, but understand, they all use a strip to hold the mic's under the grill and of course they use a battery.

The only different internal microphone kit is the Arpeggio Super-mic system. This is a 3 + 2 system with special bass mic's for the left hand. Here each mic mounts on an individual post directly on the frame of the accordion. This means the grill acts as a shield, not a soundboard. This prevents positive-feedback. Remember, sound travels though a solid more favorably than through the air. These are also the only "kit" we know about that can be routinely set up with the MONO/Stereo switch and has a re-chargeable battery.

It is important to be able to use separate EQ and effects for the right and left sides when you are feeding into a mixer or working at a studio. Then later, you should switch to mono for wireless live playing. The rechargeable battery is ecologically and financially smart. You recharge them while they are in the accordion.

On the down side, these mic's are difficult to install. Not your typical strip to install. Different mounting hardware for different situations (some for inside the mute) can take advantage of any and all niches in each unique accordion. These Super mic's allow you to quickly re-charge them in 5 minutes to play for another set or give them a full charge that can last for months.

Whatever mic system you use, it is still important to have a good accordion. The microphones can always boost your loudness. If you need to keep up with keyboards and the like, you need a really strong boost. This means the signal from the speakers will become louder. If the reeds are too weak, the mic's will hear more of the sound coming back from the amp. This causes feed-back (whistle sound). Everything should be good, the accordion and the mic's.

We generally find that many people honestly swear by whatever their new mic's are. A really fair comparison of the ultimate sound, features, and performance is difficult. This depends on the ideal amplifier match for each mic system. It also depends on the strength of the accordion and, finally, there is the matter of taste. Who is to say one tiny difference in tone is better than another. Remember the "Beatles"? They used a "Mellow-tron" for "Strawberry Fields" and were highly successful. If the tone is little bit more mellow, or has a little more bite, that is what can boost your style and make you a unique artist.

Overall, most people are very pleased with the improvement of most of the new condenser microphone systems. If people know what to expect they can even be happy with a simple "silver dollar mic". All the new electronics, including those advances in MIDI accordions, have greatly improved in our era.

The MIDI accordions require far less service than the old organ-accordions did. You also get an abundant variety of accordion sounds out of the current sampling "synthesizers" called modules or expanders. Using these non-mic'd, electronically generated, accordion sounds is the only method that is a 100% foolproof way to avoid all feedback because no mic is involved.

I have a feeling that I will get some feedback on this article even though no mic is being used.

Peter Shearer
Accordion-O-Rama Inc.
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