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Best Microphones for live recording of classical chamber music concert ?

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by concertmaster, Mar 7, 2010.

  1. My chamber music group (violin, viola, cello and piano) will perform in several cities, and we would like to bring portable equipment to these concerts in order to record these performances for archival purposes. If we bring a Mackie 802-VLZ3, what mid-priced microphones would work best in our particular case, and should we go for the ORTF, or a different positioning system ? We would, naturally, prefer the best possible recording results with a moderately priced equipment ( around $ 1000 for a pair of microphones).
    Looking forward to your advice - many thanks !!
     
  2. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    For rugged small diapghram condensers, I would recommend a pair of AKG C391. Add a CK94 capsule or two and a pair of CK92 capsules and you can use any stereo technique in the book pretty much. Of course the VLZ series mixers don't have great preamps for classical. The Onyx mixers are better for that purpose. Also, what are you recording to? Flash recorder? Hard drive recorder? Laptop?

    You'll want the tallest portable boom you can find because you will not know the stage situation until you arrive on site. I like the On Stage Stands 9400 and I have extra boom shafts in case I need to really reach up. You'll also want to make sure you have quality mic cables. For transparent sound and classical volumes cheap cables can add noise. You'll also want to make sure you have four 50' 12/3 or 10/3 extension cords (black) with a multi plex on the end of one of them. I can't tell you how many times I've had to really look for a working power outlet. Get many rolls of black or brown duct tape. You want to tape your cables down if they are anywhere near where people will be walking. I would also mark my mic cables with colored electrical tape so I could look at the mic on the boom and know what cable in my hand should be plugged into what mic jack.

    I have more thoughts on this but I don't know your recorder situation etc.
     
  3. Thank you so very much for your reply. Being pretty inexperienced with the live recording situation, we don't really know what "portable boom" refers to. We checked the website of On Stage Stands, but couldn't locate any mention of 9400 there.
    We had no idea that Onyx series was preferable for classical/chamber music - thanks so much for your suggestion ! Please suggest the Onyx that might be particularly suitable for a piano quartet live recording, in your opinion ?
    We were thinking of recording into a Mac laptop with 1.25 GB memory (would it be enough, in your opinion, for a 2 hr. concert program ?).
    Many thanks and best wishes !!
     
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Concertmaster: If I were you, I would not use a mixer for this task. A mixer is primarily for mixing live sound, and does generally not make the best recorder. There are two or three exceptions, one of which is the Allen & Heath Zed-R16, which would plug directly into the FireWire port of your MacBook and has the pedigree for superlative sound quality for classical recordings.

    You mention a budget for microphones, but it is not clear whether you already have the Mackie mixer or would be spending extra on that. Also, I don't know whether you realise that you cannot just plug the mixer into the MacBook and expect to get reasonable results. The internal sound card of the Mac is not up to the job of recording classical music.

    What you really should be looking at is an audio interface. An audio interface incorporates microphone pre-amplifiers, analog-to-digital converters and a digital interface of some sort. You plug your mics in the front and take a cable out of the rear to plug into a digital port in your computer.

    You don't mention which MacBook you have, so you should find out whether it has a FirewWire port or not. All MacBooks have optical S/PDIF, so that could be used.

    If you know that you are never going to need more than two channels, it makes the choice of interface easier. A two-channel interface like the Audient Mico has good pre-amps and an optical S/PDIF interface that would plug directly into the MacBook with the correct optical cable. Using an optical cable eliminates the possibility of electrical noise from the computer's power supply getting into the microphone pre-amplifiers and causing audible problems.

    As for microphones, you have already had some good advice on this topic. I have make some great classical recordings using a pair of MBHO MBNM440-CLS., which fall well within your microphone budget and are visually discrete. X-Y or ORTF configurations work well, depending on the instrumental layout of the particular concert.

    You can record on the MacBook with Garageband, but you should really get a better program for the task. You don't need to spend a lot for just two-channel recording capability and then top-and-tail editing of the recorded files.

    A further necessary expense is an external disk drive for your MacBook. It is not recommended to record to the system drive, as that is used unpredictably for system operations during recording, leading to dropouts and other glitches in the audio. For only two channels, an external USB drive is perfectly adequate, and reasonable ones are really cheap these days. You will also need a good pair of closed-back headphones for checking the signal at the Mac headphone jack.

    So here's a suggested shopping list:

    Stereo pair of microphones
    Two-channel audio interface
    Headphones
    Tall boom microphone stand
    2x 20m microphone cables
    Optical or FireWire cable (for the interface)
    Mac-compatible audio recording software
    USB external disk drive

    Come back to us for further recommendations on the individual items.
     
  5. cloche

    cloche Guest

    Hi,
    your situation seems similar to some live recordigs I made years ago. The "purist" way of recording a classical ensemble would leave out a mixer at all. Rather, use a pure two-channel recording with a couple of high-sensibility, flat-response omnidirectional condenser microphones, connected to one mono preamp each, then a recording device having a balanced input. The exact placement of the microphones will depend upon their polar diagram, but as a rule of thumb place the microphones sufficiently far from the musicians so you can capture the ambiance (otherwise everything will sound like if you record in an anechoic chamber...). Substancially, there are a lot of good microphones on the market, IMHO the weakest section of the recording chain is the preamplifier, not really the microphone. Hi-end cables also cost fortunes, but you can build a very good balanced cable by yourself, most of the complete cables with connectors are costly more or less only because of the brand they have... As regards the recording device, I used to use a DAT recorder, a TASCAM DA-P20, with great satisfaction. The microphones I owned were Sennheiser, though I've been told that AKG as the ones mentioned in the previous posts give a better sound-for-money. I once had the opportunity to record with a pair of Schoeps Colette (not mine, unfortunately... sigh...), if you can find them used and in good state they are really "another planet" (they used to cost ten times your budget each one, new...), but very exigent as regards support/standing as you can imagine (best of the best "suspending" them with a floating retention system so they are virtually 100% isolated from any vibration coming from the stands).
    Regards
     
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I would agree to leave the mixer out altogether unless you needed it. Another very real option for you is to purchase a flash recorder. These are small versatile and easy to travel with. I use a modified flash recorder for stereo recording or backup often. In the US a good resource is Doug Oade. If you ever had any inkling of a thought to record three tracks then I'd look at an Edirol R4 Pro from Oade. The advantage to one of these types of devices is that it is much simpler to set up than the average computer recording system and generally less problem with artifacts. The recorded concert can still then be imported into a computer and edited at a later date.

    Now the preamps in these units stock are not the best you can find but they are usable too. A less versatile version of flash recorder but very portable is the Zoom H4n.
     
  7. cloche

    cloche Guest

    Hi,
    sorry, I didn't pay attention: I wrote "omnidirectional" but it's not the best for small ensembles: better use cardiod polar diagram or other kinds of semi-directional (NOT strictly directional, or you will loose spatiality !!). As said, the choice of the polar diagram will impact microphones' placement. I've seen recordings of small ensembles done with two omnis, where the ambiance was captured by the "rear" part of the microphone while the instrumentists were captured by the "front-side" portion. This may be a trick in order to use lower-sensibility microphones. I personally prefer two semi-directional high-sensibility, placed farther from the instrumentists, because I think it better "simulates" what we do hear when listening to a concert. IMHO, however, it depends on personal tastes.
    I find TheJackAttack's solution for recording up-to-date and interesting (the last live recording I did is dated back in 1999... I really miss that a lot...); I also think, like he does, that it needs good attention in checking that the circuitry of the device is not too "cheeply-built"... AND... if you don't use an external 2-channels A/D converter (extremely expensive...), check that the built-in A/D converter(s) is(are) audiophile or near-so...
    IMHO you could check to see if you can find a used DAT in good state: semi-pro appliances of this type were affordable years ago, and should be VERY affordable on the used market; or, at the same budget you could even find a professional appliance (this latter kind of device is not necessarily bigger and heavier, though it frequently is due to the larger use of discrete components). Yes, the more I think about it, the more I think if I were you I'd explore the used market, for microphones, pre-amplifiers, and recording device.
     
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    The current equivalent (and in many ways better) version of the DAT format is to record to flash cards. I use an 8gb CF card for my 2 track machine. The stock machine gave adequate results but the modified machine is very good. If I had it to do over I would have gone with the four channel R4 Pro but that ship has sailed. The converters in all of these machines are generally as good as the average DAT machine of ten years ago and in some cases better. More importantly, DAT tapes are hard to find and are not very reliably for archiving. They tend to go bad easily especially when traveling. I use to use installed and field DAT recorders a decade ago as well with my Marine Band. Flash cards are much more reliable and stable and have no moving parts which is a big plus.

    In regards to omni microphones: a spaced A-B pair of omni's can produce a nice stereo image and is a valid technique. It does require some practice to get the proper spacing and distance from the ensemble. Also, an omni as the center channel in a Mid/Side recording can be useful as well in certain situations. There is a nice general article on stereo techniques (coincident and others) on Wikipedia. It's not in depth but covers the basics.
    Stereophonic sound - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    and a visualizer
    AB Mikrofonbasis 51 cm - Visualisation des Stereosystems - Aufnahmebereich Laufzeitdifferenz - sengpielaudio Sengpiel Berlin
     
  9. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    On-Stage Stands SB9600 | Sweetwater.com

    Sorry, changed the model number on me. These are nice because they reach up high and the pivot points are via a toothed ratchet. They won't slip once they are locked into place. You'll also want an adjustable stereo bar like the Sabra Som.

     
  10. ebs1

    ebs1 Active Member

    That is the German link. Here is the same link in English:
    AB apart 60 cm - Visualization of AB Stereo Microphone System, 60 cm apart - sengpielaudio Sengpiel Berlin

    Best regards ebs1
     
    audiokid likes this.
  11. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Alot of these posts our out of my area of knowledge. I but i do know that the vlz is "okay" for rock band bar gigs. I'd say sell the mixer, put the $ towards interface w/ decent pre's, and better mics. Shure SM 81's have a rep for being nuetral, but my lack of experience with them says' try 'em?
    My close friend does own the zoom h4 and i was surprised by the quality. i told him he was wasting money, and was proved wrong after hearing it. Sounds like your looking for more of a "finished product" tho.
    Don't forget how important an external hard drive is, or RAM. The best mics/pre's sound crappy w/ dropouts.
     
  12. Thanks so much, everyone, for your suggestions and advice. This is what we now settled on as a shopping list for our live recording of a classical chamber music group (violin, viola, cello and piano):

    TASCAM 2488 neo;
    a matched pair of MC-930 Beyerdynamics cardioid microphones;
    Tall boom microphone stand On Stage SB9600;
    Adjustable Stereo Bar : Sabra-Som ST-2;
    2x 20m microphone cables;
    4x 50' 12/3 or 10/3 black extension cords;
    black duct tape and colored el. tape;

    Since the Tascam 2488 neo ($700 at Sweetwater.com) looks to have all built-in features (pre-amps and hard drive and even mastering abilities), we feel that it is the right item for our purposes (archival field recording).

    One question - what kind of "quality" (but not awfully expensive) microphone cables would you recommend for our classical live music recording ?

    Many Thanks again !!!
     
  13. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I think you'll want 50' microphone cords. By the time you use up 12 feet getting from the mic down the stand you'd almost have to put the recorder underneath it. For decent cables I would stick with Whirlwind or Pro Co or the Sweetwater (made by Pro Co). I would recommend the Sabra ST-4 because it is wider. You can pop off the unused two mic studs and you would have a little more variation for positioning. The preamps in the Zoom H4n are superior to the Tascam in my opinion, and the Zoom is cheaper. 24 channels seems a bit overkill anyway for a stereo recording. Of course if you're looking at hard drive recording and a CD burner all in one I guess that limits you somewhat for options.
     
  14. Yes, I was actually saying 20 meter long microphone cables (on the suggestion from the UK), but, of course, it will be 50 feet long each.

    Thanks so much again for your valuable advice.
     
  15. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I'm sorry to say that I can't see you being happy with the Tascam 2488 neo. It's simply not designed for what you want to do, and you will be lugging unnecessary hardware around with you while at the same time not having the sonic qualities that are needed for classical recordings.

    If you could be certain that you could get away with a stereo pair of microphones at each and every venue you played in, a two-track recording is all that is needed. Where portability is an issue, I often use an Audient Mico pre-amp feeding its S/PDIF optical output into an iRiver H140 hard disk recorder (with RockBox firmware installed). This gives me 40GB of wav or MP3 recording and the ability to connect to a laptop via USB as an external disk to archive the recordings. For even more compact recording, I can use my Zoom H4N, with the added bonus of a further two channels via the built-in microphones or external stereo pair. However, the H4N pre-amps, while respectable, are not up to the standard of the Mico. I have used, but do not own, a Korg 1-bit recorder, and have been impressed by the sound quality, but the different output file format is problematic when it comes to editing.

    To cater for the instances where you may need additional spot microphones on the piano, a multi-track (greater than 2) recorder is required, and I think this is where you got into the Tascam possibility. I know of no easily-portable multi-track recorder in this price range that is suitable for classical recording. You have to go up to something like the Sound Devices 744T to get this. You would be better served by either a laptop with audio interface (RME FF800 would be great), or a hard disk recorder with external pre-amps. It's getting to be a lot to lug around again, but a Studio Projects SP828 feeding one of the new JoeCo Black Box recorders and an external USB disk drive would give you excellent sonic quality plus the ability to monitor the recording process and replay a mix of the tracks to headphones.
     
  16. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Boswell,
    Have you heard the Edirol R-44 or R-4 Pro? These seem to have the features required and if necessary can be had modified from places like Doug Oade. Superior to the Tascam by a light year for sure but don't know it's relative comparison to the Sound Devices.

    In the FWIW category, the Korg MR-1000 will also record in wav/bwf format and the analog circuitry is excellent enough not to need any upgrade mods.
     
  17. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I was aware of the Edirol recorders, but have never had the chance to use one. The specs look good, and I know that the Doug Oade tweaks improve on them, and they may well have the sonic qualities needed for good classical recording. You are certainly right that the OP should be including the R-44 (standard or pro) in his shortlist of products to investigate.
     
  18. ampexguy

    ampexguy Active Member

    IMHO, the same is true of the M-Audio Microtrack II. In fact, I find the Microtrack *slightly* (and I mean it's real subtle) more neutral than the MR-1000. Last night I was googling around for a good price on Microtracks because I'm thinking of buying another, and saw that B&H has them for around $160 including shipping. That's quite a bit cheaper than the Korg. It's the size of a pack of cigarettes, and mine puts out 50.7 VDC of phantom power open circuit. The original Microtrack's phantom output was justly criticised.

    Also, once you pass a certain level (that is increasingly cheaper to reach), the storage device (i.e., recorder) becomes unimportant. This is true of either analog or digital. IMHO, either the Microtrack or the MR-1000 are at or above this level. At that point, the "action" is in getting a good hall (by far the most important factor in making a classical or other acoustic recording), positioning the microphones properly, and having high-quality microphones, definitely in that order of importance.

    Do yourself a favor and get eight 25' (total of 200') star quad microphone cables. A lot of the time you'll need that much. For the times that you don't, the individual 25' lengths make winding up what you do use quicker. Fifty feet isn't enough. Learn how to wind cables (hint: your elbow should never touch the cable) and they will both always lay flat and last a long, long time. I'm not trying to be a wiseacre (for a change). I know I can't write up instructions for winding cables properly. I suggest a bright color like orange for visibility.

    In sum, there are many ways to skin this cat, all of which will work. The solution needn't be very complicated.

    HTH.
     
  19. Shadow_7

    Shadow_7 Active Member

    How long are the concerts?

    Where do you plan on having the gear / mics? (on stage with you, in the audience, ???)

    Are any of the venues open air / outdoors?

    Zoom H4n and Avenson STO-2's? Not the best of the best, but in the ballpark. If you had a Bass listed, I probably wouldn't recommend the STO-2's. And you'd need some proximity to make the noise floor less of an issue. And if your concerts are more than an hour, you'd need to run on something other than batteries IMO. Which I'm not a fan of, something to trip over, plus 50' or more of extension cables can weigh a ton, relative to the actual recording gear. And if you're a performer who also has performance gear in hand, a mega hassle.

    Most everything else can get quite pricey. I wouldn't use the mixer unless you have other needs for it. 2 channel recorders are quite common these days, and relatively cheap. And not all that bad either. The on board mics on a lot of them are pretty fair too. It really depends on how good is good enough for your needs.

    My current concert setup - Korg MR-1000 (field recorder) + Sound Devices MM-1 (x2) (preamps) + Avenson STO-2 (mics)

    I'm wanting to swap my mics for Senn. MKH 8020's or Schoeps QTC40mp. But not quite in my current budget, and well past yours. Beyer MC930 or MC910 are in that budget. And a few other mics / pairs of mics. BSC1, STO-2, MK-012, ...... You shouldn't have to worry too much about high SPL's with your instrumentation. But you probably want an SDC with a relatively flat frequency response curve. Lots of options depending on wants / needs. If you even want a stereo image.
     
  20. mathieujm

    mathieujm Active Member

    I just re-discover this forum. So I will give my contribution on this subject.

    I mostly record chamber music concerts.
    My gears have evolved with time.
    Now I am very happy with a simple and efficient set :
    Two Beyer MC930
    Recorder Fostex FR-2LE
    Sony 7506
    004 Manfrotto tall
    2X25m mic cables

    The Beyer give me very realistic and pleasant sound everywhere musicians can play. They have a hot output and low noise. They are specially good on strings.
    The Fostex is really a bargain. The preamps and converter are the best for portable recorders less than 900 $/€. Battery can give 8h of recording with phantom.
    The Sony is ok with the Fostex which have a not very hot phone output.
    The Manfrotto is light (sometimes too much) and easy to transport and use
    Get good cables. Nothing more irritating than having light noise in the recording

    I can gice you some samples with this setup.

    JMM
     

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