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A quick way for a cappella choir recording?

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by recordwithnosweat, May 20, 2007.

  1. I have been asked to make concert recordings af a quite good choir (a cappela, about 24 singers) where I am one of the singers myself. I have no experience in that regard but are the 'technical guy' in the choir and do also the concert light. Now I do not worry so much about the gear necessary, also because that expense will be covered by the choir anyway. My main concern is whether the entire idea is practical, since recordings would be simply made by setting mics up on the basis of a quick look of relative distances, maybe have a quick check with some headphones during a half hour rehearsal before the concert, and start the recording without any more intervention from my part. After the concert I would then bring home my 'catch' and see what to do with it.

    The concerts would usually be given in rather 'acustic' reverberant large halls, typically churches (anywhere between 100 and 1000 seats). Since the choir is regularly making CD recordings with professional sound technicians/producers and ditto equipment costing tenths of thousands of dollar, there is no doubt the people know how the 'right stuff' sounds. I am not asked to compete with the CD's of course, however if the result of my work is put on a stereo, I still think it should sound OK and not too embarrasing, neither technically (hiss, distortion, colour, whatever) nor acustically (room, balance, etc.)

    Any comments on whether I should go further with that suggestion, which could be fun and a challenge, or should I just let it be to save me from a lot of frustration.

    So the quick version of my question is: Can one do a reasonable recording without being a prof sound-technician with a lot of knowledge and a truck full of gear. I my naive conception I would try to simply place two omnis on a 3 to 4 m stand pretty close to the conductor as simple AB pair and then record everything with a solidstate recorder (for example Fostex FR2 or similar).

    Thanks in andvance for your comments

  2. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    Well, it's certainly worth a go, even if just for the experience. What type are your omnis? Is the choir in rows or arranged in a semicircle? What separation distance were you thinking of using between the two mics?

    You may find that omnis in A-B give too much reverberation from the hall (or church), and that cardioids in ORTF or one of the other near-coincident configurations would give a better balance of direct sound to reverberant sound. I've just done some choir recordings in a very reverberant venue using a Rode NT4 stereo mic with excellent results. The singers were in a semicircle with no conductor in front of them, but it took a bit of forward-and-back adjustment of mic position to get the right balance.

    I've not used an FR2, but it looks a reasonable machine for this sort of work. To set a level, you should get the choir to rehearse their loudest piece (obviously without you amongst them) and set the gains for a peak of not more than -6dBFS. This allows for more enthusiastic singing during the actual performance when you set the recorder running unattended.
  3. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    Hi, go ahead. It is definitely possible to get very good recordings with "only" two mics and a recorder. I often record that way myself, playing the trombone in symphony orchestras, and then making a CD of the results to the members.

    My setup includes a Sound Devices 722, but I would expect the FR2 to be quite up to the work. My favourite mic is a pair of Schoeps in ORTF (I use an MSTC64) as it seems to give decent results in most acoustics. Omnis are better to my ears, but also much more sensitive to the acoustics of the room. As always with mics, good quality will cost you a bit. On the other they do last a lifetime.

    Important to have is a mic stand going high enough, I use a Manfrotto 004 which I can highly recommend. Put the mics up, record the rehearsals and try position around to find the really sweet spot. A bit of experimenting is good to do, and a bit of experience will help in getting there quicker. Expect to be surprised, both positively and negatively, as things never turn out as expected when on location.

  4. Thanks for the reply. Regarding the stand I already have various stands for lighting , with maximum height of 5 m. The choir would usually be placed
    in two rows (women in front of men) in an U shape approx. 8 m in diameter. My idea was to place AB omnis approx. 4m up in the air right behind the conductor. In that case basically all singers are some 5 to 6 m away from the mics.

    My concern is actually to make way to much fuzz out of the recording (mic placement, me monitoring, etc). Also the stand has a considerable size, I need to protect cables from the audience, etc. The reason for being at a given locating is defenitely for the concert not for me doing the recording.

    Regarding the mics (also still to be purchased), I have been told by some of the sound-engineers that have been recording the choir, that the omnis are less problematic to get placed all right. I might of course get to much room, but in any case the voices get nicely mixed without me needing to adjust direction and placement of cardiods. The advise basically has been, if one gets to much of reflections, then place the mics closer. However, it is clear closer than 4 to 5 m to the source will be impossible.

    If you want to make suggestions for mics and other equipment, the suggested budget was somewhere between 1500 and 2000$, for the mics itself I would hope to spend 1000 for a pair.
  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Hmm....with a distance of 4 to 5 meters in a highly reverberant space, you are not going to like your results with omnis. It will be a wash of reverb. If it were a 300 person chorus, maybe not, but for a smaller chorus....nope - not good.

    4-5 meters would definitely be suited better for ORTF or even MS. (There's a Schoeps MS set on Ebay for a little bit more than your budget:
    http://cgi.ebay.com/Schoeps-CMC6-US-Edition-MS-Stereo-Microphone-Set_W0QQitemZ290118234445QQihZ019QQcategoryZ41466QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem )
  6. Cucco

    Its not the first time I have heard this advice, not to go for AB with omnis, but to use cardiods in something like ORTF. I am about ready to believe that your are right.

    The initial suggestion to use omnis came from the professional who did quite a few of our CD recordings. And here the truth is, that he did rely on two alternative mains (both AB omnis, approx 50 cm apart and a set of cardiods in something close to ORTF). plus 8 near field mics, etc. He wasn't short of channels and neither mics and most those were DPA's, anyway.

    If I would aim for cardiods, the Schoeps exceed my budget quite a bit. The type of mic which has been suggested to me in the shops were in the range of Oktava MK012, SE 3a (are these small diaphragms, actually?), Rode NT4. I found myself on the net MBHO (MBNM 440 can maybe just be squeezed in the budget). Any of these good enough for my purpose?
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA

    8 MORE channels in addition to the 4 mains???

    For most chorus work (unless there is a lot of instrumentation and staging), I can get by with 4 to 6 mics. I used 12 tracks recently for a recording of a chorus made up of 150 persons, a 30 person orchestra, a pipe organ and a brass sextet and rarely did I ever have more than 8 channels live at any time.

    Anyway, back on subject -

    I would personally avoid the cheaper chinese mics (Oktava - most are made in China now, only a few, hard-to-distinguish versions are actually made in Russia and the SEs are chinese). The Rodes are very nice mics, especially for the price. As well, the MBHOs are quite nice. You might want to consider the Rode NT55s (since they come with both omni and cardioid caps so you can give them both a try). Also the new Mojave pencil mics are rumored to be quite nice (I will probably buy a pair in the near future!). They are a tad pricey, but might very well be worth it!

    Other mics to consider -
    Earthworks - they make a few more affordable pair of directionals and omnis

    Josephson - quite nice

    You can often pick up a matched pair of KM184s on Ebay for not much. I'm not a big fan of them myself, but that's in comparison to my Schoeps and Gefells. Without the direct comparison, they're quite decent. Add to that, they have a slight (not) HF boost which could actually work to your advantage given the distances you are working with.

    Hope this helps!

  8. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    I think there's a lot of well-meant but overthinking going on here.

    If you're looking for a 'point & shoot" recording, you can get by with just about anything, depending on your space and size of the hall. For big places, do as Jeremy suggests; use an ORTF cardioid setup with the mics close enough to the choir, but far enough away to get some of the hall sound. If you have the budget, inputs & time to do it, add some omni outriggers.

    For closer, smaller, warmer spaces, you may be able to go with the omni's alone; that would certainly reduce the tendency to get single singers instead of a more desirable blend of everyone.

    For a medium sized a capella choir, you shouldn't need any more than two cardioids in the middle and a pair of omni' outriggers, period, unless there's soloists going on as well.

    Scheops are wonderful, beautiful mics, so are Geffels. But if you're on a budget, you could take care of both needs with a pair of LD AT 4050's; they have both settings on them; cardioid and omni. (The SD 4049's are pretty nice, too....they're not DPA's, but great in a pinch.) They are gorgeous, detailed mics, perfect for this sort of thing and will give you wonderful results. (In 95% of your concerts, I'm betting the space itself and the performers will account for much more of the sound than the choice of mics.)

    As for recorders, there's plenty of reliable, chip based stuff out there to go with 24/44, 88 or even 96k recordings for about $500-1000. If you want to go with better preamps, you could get something in between, but it's going to impact your budget.

    The new Korg looks tempting, too...DSD and/or PCM recording in a small package for again, about $500. (not sure on the price, and there's two models, the big brother is more like $1200 or so.)

    Seriously, don't overthink this; get some nice mics, Chinese, German or Martian-made. Try them out, and have some fun. As long as you don't get too far away from the choir and lose detail, you should be fine. Even a dry, close recording can be improved in post with a little bit of tasteful reverb.

    Good luck with it.
  9. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    I agree a lot with Joeh, part of this could be boiled down to the old Nike slogan "Just do it". Just two more thoughts though.

    1 - try to borrow or rent equipment before buying. Renting mics can be surprisingly cheap (they last a lifetime so the renters makes a profit anyway). Renting a recorder is more expensive, but do make sure to if at all possible try out before buying -- I really hate some of the boxes out on the market.
    2 - you need a program on your PC for post-processing. Unless you have a favourite already, I have no problem recommending Magix Music Studio deLuxe (odd spelling I know) in the budget price class, check the Magix web site. It is a small brother to Samplitude with decent functions and a good sound. From a workflow point of view burning a CD from inside the program saves a lot of time (as compared to eg Protools, where you have to bounce every song in realtime first).

  10. Thanks everybody,

    Since nobody here has really tried to discourage me from giving it a try, I decided to give it a try. I have now got some offers at various dealers, and seemingly one is willing to let me try things out for about a week before buying. My plan is now to purchase the following:

    A sodidstate recorder, Fostex FR 2 LE (approx 600$) and a matched set of omnis from MBHO(I will give a try afterall), of the type mbnm 410 (420 $ a piece). With some 5 m cables, extra compact flash cards, stereobar, etc. that is going to cost my choir approx. 1600 $. All editing I will try to do in audacity, so no software cost for now (that I hope.)

    This is maybe not a foolproof plan, but I hope that it will give me the first experiences without me making terrible mistakes from the very start.

    cheers everybody and once again thnk you
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Good luck and best wishes!

    Please let us know how everything turns out - post a sample if you'd like.
  12. Embarrassangly to me, this thread is more than 2 years old without me posting any sort of result alltogether. However, within the last 3 month I actually invested in a very simple limited 'recording kit', that has been used at a couple of occasions, usually rehearsals and church concerts.

    I decided that I wanted to make the recording kit as invisible as possible, therefore I got a stereoset of DPA 4060 omnis together with 2 x 10 m of the thin DPA extension cable. The mics are then hung in between two light stands (on either side of the choir) by means of thin wires. Of course the mic position is to some extent fixed by this, however I managed to position the mics about 4 meters pretty much above the conductor, with the choir standing in a half circle around him. Distance to the individual singers is about 4 m for the first row and maybe almost 5 m to the second row in the choir (about 24 singers in 8 voices).

    The signal path is very simple, since the mic signal goes straight into a Fostex FR 2LE, recording in 24 bit, with preamp gain that leaves about 12 db of headroom. Only prostprocessing (audacity) has until now been normalizing of level to -0.1 db and sometimes resampling to 44.1 kHz.

    Below you find two examples:

    1) Rehearsal in stone church (lenght 30 m, height to ceiling approx. 10 m). mic distance 60 cm. Cello positioned just in front of choir. The score dictates 'funny sounding cello' in the start sequence, this is no mistake. Recorded in 48/24, and resampled.


    2) Concert in stone church a bit smaller than the first and filled with audience to the last row. Mic distance 50 cm. Recorded in 44.1/24.


    Actually in view of my rather modest expectations I am rather pleased with the results. However I couple of questions arose during this work, that you may be able to answer:

    1) I have begun to decrease the AB mic-distance more and more from initially more than 70 cm to now close to 40 cm and seem to get (surprising to me) a better directional perspective, however I am still very much in doubt here.

    2) Is there any kind of other post-processing (compression, equilizing, etc.) you would do on this kind of material.

    3) Is there any point in recording at anyything else than 44.1 kHz, if the result anyway will be that sample frequency. Does for instance going to double freq (88.2) give me options, that would make a difference? My own conclusion is by now, that this is not really the case and that the resampling most probably does more harm than good.

    4) In the second recording, the audience (mostly babies and small children) are pretty disturbing. Would you think, that going to an XY or ORTF setting with cardoids would be a (much?) better way of doing it? Of course the noise from the audience would be damped, but is it worth the sacrifice in tonal balance, etc? In any case the recording is not meant to be material for a CD, but documentation of the concert for internal uses.

    I am looking forward to any comments. Don't be to harsh with me here, these are my first attempts.
  13. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Distinguished Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Can't help with much as I'm no expert. I talk up a storm, though.

    For archiving, I would suffer the audience - unless you're actually struggling to hear any of the notes, that is.

    If the purpose is to create a recording for playing to the musician(s) to work on tone/playing (not totally applicable in your situation however) then I would seek to minimise more of it.

    Also, I wouldn't want to compress a single instrument unless it's for broadcast.
  14. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    Listened to your recordings and they are really nice. To my ears they sound exactly like what they are -- omni recordings in churches. I like this, but I would not expect everyone to do that. It is sort of an acquired taste dependant on the listener actually having visited real-life concerts. Nothing for the pop scene, but who cares. Keep it up.

    Som short notes, take them as my idea of encouraging, I am no expert.

    First, you selected the DPA 4060. This is a good choice. They can be a little more noisy than larger mics, but in this usage that is not any problem. They also give you the possibility to create a mic stand with a really tine signature. Think something like a heavy plate in the bottom and a carbon fibre fishing rod going straight up.

    There are no rules to this as far as I know. Select the distance that gives the best sound. Personally I tend to end up around 40 cm, others want to meters or more.

    Possibly two things to improve the sound:
    - esses seems to be a little exaggerated. You could try by pointing the mics straight up, or even away from the choir. Even if they are called omnis, they are not totally consistant in their patterns. Or you could use some slight cut, a few db, somewhere around 4 to 8 kHz. This might (or might not) deess a little without losing the character.
    - sopranos typically tend to have a favourite tone that sings out stronger than other tones when recorded. A slight eq cut there might help as well.

    As for compression and such, you might try a setting of 1.1 or 1.2 of ratio, it sometimes makes the sound sort of melt together slightly. In a varied concert, especially with an orchestra, you probably like to do a bit of "gain-riding", increasing the weakest parts and decresing the strongest. Generally though, it is too easy to destroy things so it is better to leave things alone.

    No use going higher if you ask me. Good equipment, which you have, is all it takes and then 44.1 is plenty. I always go 24 bits, leaving ample headroom above for unexpected things.

    Leave good things alone is my motto here. Audience is part of the experience.
    But you should not count other mic settings without trying them. I like my set of Schopes mics, and maybe you could rent something at one time or another and try them. Might not suit you, or, be warned, might make you want to make a large hole in the pocket.

    Keep the good work up. Record a lot.

    // Gunnar
  15. Thanks ghellquist for your positive response and the detailed answers of yours. On most of issues I raised, you seem not to disagree with me too much. However on the postprocessing you had a couple of points where I would like to ask some more questions:

    The esses problem that you identified, I have heard my self, however it shows itself very differently dependent on the playing equipment (speakers, headphones, amplifiers, etc....), which is not surprising at all, hence to adjust Eq according to one owns listening impression seems a bit arbitrary, if you have no 'reference monitor-room', what ever that is. To be specific, on my headphone I have a bit to much of esses, on my stereo it is just right, and on the stereo of my friend (very expensive cinema surround system) the recording sounds just dull. I know the fora on the internet are full with remarks on precisely this issue, but there seem to be not so many clear answers for a guy like me. In my opinion I could reverse with the Eq the slight 3db increase above 8 kHz that DPA reports for the 4060. I will try that and see what happens.

    Which brings me to the next question: Are the algorithms in the 'inexpensive' open source software like Audacity (resampling, equalizer, compressor, ...) up to the task or does one find large differences in the quality of those simpe 'effects' between the cheap stuff and the professional software? I am not talking about reverb and such, I guess here quality costs in any case.

    My last remark is, that yes I can borrow quite a bit of equipment from people I know, including more high end microphones (pretty much anything from DPA, so it seems). However, the problem is not a technical one: If you run around and setup equipment worth more than 10.000$, you better end up making good recordings, if you do not want to make a fool out of yourself. Therefore I want to learn a bit before I do this. That includes learning to press the right bottom at the right time (record!!): On the 'first gig' I missed the entire half of the concert because I did not start in the right mode of the recorder.... But I'll get there eventually.

    Cheers Stefan

    Is the solution to this

    First, you selected the DPA 4060. This is a good choice. They can be a little more noisy than larger mics, but in this usage that is not any problem. They also give you the possibility to create a mic stand with a really tine signature. Think something like a heavy plate in the bottom and a carbon fibre fishing rod going straight up.
  16. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    Firstly, I did not find this to be a large problem. Only one of several things that suggested themselves as potential places to polish a bit. No recording I ever has made has been perfect -- sort of like, when that day comes, it is time to stop doing this and do something completely different.

    This is where knowing your listening equipment comes into play. You need to listen a lot to "good" recordings on your equipment in order to find out how speakers and room modify the sound. Given that knowledge you can sort of "listen through" the equipment and make better decisions at mastering your recordings. Of course, stepping up a few price brackets for the listening equipment may be part of the solution, but then again that might end up an obsession with no end and very little effect. Do remember that a lot of the "hifi" people spend a lot of money but often has really crappy sounding systems (to my taste, wanting to hear exactly what the recording sounds).

    If you find the esses disturbing you might want to find some headphones that actually increase the problem. Use these when setting up the mics to find a better spot with less esses.

    In the end of the day it is also a lot about fuzzy decisions involving things like taste and what you are aiming for.

    There is no simple answer to that. Some of the effects in the free programs are exactly as good as the ones you find in expensive programs. But then again some are not. One suggestion might be to see if you can download trial versions of several different programs and see how they work for you. Personally I like Samplitude, but again it is very much about taste.

    Been there. Done that. And a million other mistakes. Seems like the only way to learn is by making your own mistakes. Keep it up. Record a lot. Make a lot of mistakes.

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