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Capturing Classical Solo Harp

Discussion in 'Recording' started by blizzardwolf, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. blizzardwolf

    blizzardwolf Active Member

    I'm a student at my local college, pursuing an audio engineering degree, and I'm finally in my capstone course, and one of the requirements for our portfolio is capturing a solo instrument along the lines of our chosen specialties.

    I'm specializing in classical music, and I'd like to record a solo harp, but I've never mic'd one up before. Here's what I have to work with:

    A recital hall with wooden, non-parallel walls and a tiled ceiling that, based on the length of XLR cables I've connected throughout it, measures about 50 x 30 x 30. The recital hall has a wooden stage I can set the harpist on, but has an A/C near the ceiling that can be heard by the house mics up there. I haven't heard it in spot mics before, but I've read that a channel for harp has to be extremely clean, even compared to other classical recordings.

    A Toft ATB 24 Channel board

    An Apogee Ensemble for my interface, and a MADI Xtreme PCI card.

    A relatively old, but quiet 10 channel snake with two noise returns.

    Mic List:

    1 AKG 414 ULB II
    1 AKG D112
    2 AKG C41B
    2 Audio Technica 4050
    3 Audio Technica 825 (stereo)
    2 Audio Technica AT801
    1 Audix D1
    1 Audix D6
    2 Cascade Fatheads (ribbons)
    2 Crown PZM
    1 Neumann TLM-103
    1 Heil PR30
    1 Heil PR22
    1 Heil PR20
    1 Mojave Audio M200 (tube)
    1 Royer R-121 (ribbon)
    1 Rode NTK (tube)
    1 Rode NT4 (stereo)
    4 Rode NT5 w/ Omni and Cardioid capsules
    3 Sennheiser 421
    2 Sennheiser 441
    1 Sennheiser 609
    3 Shure SM-81
    3 Shure SM-57
    3 Shure SM58

    I'm using Logic Pro 9 as my DAW, and I have access to a Manley Massive Passive and an 1176 if anyone thinks those might augment the sound of a harp in a pleasant way. I also plenty of cabling and stands. Some things I've read recommend XY, others Blumlein, and still others spaced pair or even MS. I've heard solo harp before, but I have no idea what to expect or what kinds of problems and pitfalls to look out. Any advice would go a long way toward helping me out.
  2. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    It sounds like you have most of the building blocks available to you. Unfortunately in that mic list you don't have the perfect thing you need which is a pair of really outstanding LDCs or SDCs.

    However you have 3 perfectly reasonable options; the AKG C14s, the 4050s or the Fatheads and I'd suggest on avoiding anything but decent, clean pres and converters.

    So you're basically going to be stereo pair > Either Toft or Apogee preamp > Apogee Conversion > DAW

    With the choice of either the Tofts or the Apogee pres, together with 3 different mic sets, you're already looking at 6 variants before you look at mic positioning.

    This will give you 12-18 more once you decide on some mic placement.

    I know very little about best practice recording cellos, simply illustrating that with such a wide selection there will only be a few useful and appropriate variants an after that your ears will decide.

    Just turn the AC off before recording what can't be that long a section?
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I've never mic'd one either but I plan to one day. You do not have the mics I would use however, you do have one that I would try for the sake of hearing it for a learning process. I'd try the 1 Rode NT4 (stereo) right off the bat just to see how they sound X/Y
    I have the 1 Rode NT4 and they sound pretty decent through my 3500.00 Millennia M-2b. They sound pretty decent through a tube amp with balls. It helps off set the harshness.

    For fun, try that and let me know what you think?
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Very interesting problem. If this were a paid gig I'd go with a stereo outrigger pair and a mono spot mic in the center. After recording I'd experiment with the 1176 on the mono center and the definitely put the Manley on the stereo mix.

    Since this is a capstone project you may want to try all the likely candidates as the mono center and the stereo pair (maybe trying several stereo configurations for the stereo pair). You should be able to audition 10 mics a take through the snake. I'd want a student to evaluate a lot of different mics, get the maximum out of each one, and make a final judgment based on the evaluation of the outcome.
  5. blizzardwolf

    blizzardwolf Active Member

    That's not a bad idea. It hadn't occurred to me to shoot out 10 mics at once, probably because I'm used to mine and my talent's time being pretty limited, but I think I can schedule that with enough advance.

    I've never heard the term "outrigger" before, so I don't quite know what that means I'm afraid. But I like the idea of a stereo pair with a mono center image being augmented with the Manley. Definitely something I'll try to see how it sounds.

    I can't turn the A/C off in the room :( I don't have access to those controls, and the college keeps it running nonstop to keep the grand pianos in there cool. Hopefully I can avoid catching it in the recording, otherwise I'll just have to find another space for my recording.

    One idea that I think I'd like to try is a Blumlein with the 4050's. The Fatheads came with a Blumlein bar that I can probably adapt to work with the mounts for the 4050's.

    These suggestions are a lot of help. I think now, it's just up to me to do some experimenting with, and find a good sound out of my options. My biggest concern now is where to place the harp, where to mic it, and how far away I should have my mics when I do.

    It seems harp doesn't get recorded very often. That's sad for such a beautiful instrument.
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    To record an instrument like harp, a LDC is normally utilized. I would place the C414 in omni about 18" from the harp and about two feet off the ground pointed up toward the harpist's head. Augment this with an ORTF SDC pair. Blumlein is not ideal for a room with noise. I agree with the others that none of the mic's listed would be ideal for this instrument. Unfortunately, the more complex the sound of the instrument the harder it is to record accurately. With harp, the main duality is the short hard transients of the plucking with the resonance of the strings/resonator. Average-ish mic's just don't do well with it. It's a similar problem with piano. You might try the R121 in place of the C414. You'll have to angle it a little differently and I don't think it would be ideal either but would give a very smooth sound for the harp as trade off. This would be a prime spot for a M50 or U87 or something from DPA.
  7. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    I recently recorded harp with great success... however, it was not a large classical harp, but a smaller harp that the player wore with a strap, the harp extending out from her body in front of her. But I think the challenges are the same.

    I don't think that the Rode NT-4 stereo mic, nor Blumlien, will give you what you need. The reason is that your sound source is in the center, not to the sides. The only thing that side-oriented mics will pick up will be room reflections.

    For my project I used a matched pair of Royer R-121 ribbons spaced about 16" from the strings, one on the left, one on the right, pointed directly at the strings. On a larger, classical harp you would need to space them further out from the strings I would think. The tone and presence I achieved were very pleasant and realistic. In your setting I think I would add a LDC omni to pick up the room and blend to taste!

  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    The Royer's are the first thing I thought of but he doesn't have access to two R-121's. Sounds like a great plan though and a really fun project! I'm with Jeff.
  9. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    What I meant by "outrigger" is a wide A/B pair. In this situation I'd put it a couple feet behind the spot mic and 2-3 feet apart. I'd just use them to add some room/stereo feel to the mono recording.

    You are going to have to talk to your advisor/teacher about my shootout idea. It is something that I'D want my students to do, but that doesn't mean that it wants your professor wants.
  10. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I don't get all this fuss over mic'ing a harp...
    I just hand the player a Green Bullett and shove a 57 in front of the amp.
    Oh, THAT harp ! Never mind...
  11. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I also like a little of Rose's Lime with my Harp......
  12. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I'll have to give that a shot (pun intended)..:)
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    You put fruit in beer? I thought you had to be Belgian to do that ... or in a silly Coronas ad.
  14. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Being a dark beer sort I rarely touch harp. However I have several Brit friends that love a Harp and Roses lime juice. They also work with black and tans. Those days were long ago and a land far away.......
  15. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    And they have tomatoes for breakfast.
  16. blizzardwolf

    blizzardwolf Active Member

    I made the recording on Monday, and I thought it turned out great, and wanted to share the results here if anyone would like to hear or share their opinions. For those of you who just want to listen, here's the link. It's a bit long and hasn't been edited yet, with lots of glissando at the beginning and end, so you may want to skip around a bit.

    Exotic Music From Enchanted Lands : Joy Killian (Artist) Richard Beserra (Engineer) : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive

    It's also an .AIFF file, so completely uncompressed the way .mp3's are.

    I ended up going with a pair of Audio-Technica 4050's in a Blumlein configuration, set about 6 feet from the harp, being as it was 6 feet tall (concert harp). I set them off to one side, about 2/3 of the way up the soundboard, and aimed them toward the soundboard, with a slight bias toward the strings, in order to capture some of the finger pluck sound. For the A/C problem I had, I used the low cut feature on both mics, and EQ'd another shelf at the board at 80Hz.

    This clears out the rumble of the A/C, and attenuates the low end a little bit on the harp, but no so much that it destroys or unnaturally imbalances the sound. For the pres, I originally tried the DBX pre amps, but found them to be too noise, so I switched to the pre's on the Toft. In an absolute kicking myself move, I completely forgot we had the UA 2-610, or that would've been my first option there. I didn't think about it until the next day when my instructor pointed it out.

    I put my harpist near the corner with the back quadrants of the mics facing the audience area, to pick up that room sound.

    To minimize electronic noise, I turned down every gain, monitor pot, and aux I wasn't using on the board, and tried out different cables until I found a pair I felt were quietest. I also ran into problems with some of the lights, so I had to play around with those to get the whine out, and to make my harpist comfortable, because the way they glared off the floor was making it hard for her to see some of the strings.

    Mix level for this is currently K-20, with no compression or limiting applied.
  17. stevesmith

    stevesmith Active Member

    You let the harpist SEE THE STRINGS?

    That was your first mistake. Should have used 10kW "daylight" lighting units pointed directly towards the player's eyes from about 10 feet away. That also warms up the strings nicely for some wonderful tuning problems. Make the player sit on a vinyl chair, wearing PVC pants, and sit the NTK under the player for some nice flatulence-like noises.

    I would have close mic'd the Aircon with a Sennheiser MD 441 - these are vastly underrated for air-con. You can usually pick up some nice hum at 50Hz and again at 220Hz with some judicious EQ. Another mic in the aircon intake will capture the rush of air nicely. I'd recommend cheap Chinese condenser mics for their natural hiss.
  18. stevesmith

    stevesmith Active Member

    Seriously, that's a great recorded sound, although I would have EQ'd some of the pluck out at 6kHz. -5dB or so. It will sound less scratchy.
  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Though Steve was being somewhat facetious talking about micing the HVAC, it is possible to actually mic the vents/or noise source with the purpose of inverting that track's phase and summing into your audio. Done well this can eliminate hum and noise. Done not so well it creates more noise. Most classical performance locations have more noise than you'd think unfortunately.
  20. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Steve was bang on the nail for the serious and all-too-common problem of flatulence, but I easily saw through Jack's April Fool about miking the HVAC and inverting the phase to cancel out noise in the main mics.

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