Need advice on complete recording outfit for solo clarinet

Discussion in 'Woodwinds' started by erict206, Nov 1, 2009.

  1. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    I am a professional clarinetist who has dabbled at various times with recording. I am now looking to put together a home recording kit for a project involving overdubbing myself. Equpiment on hand currently is a Mackie 1202 mixer (original version) along with a pair of Shure BG 4.0 mics.

    Overall budget is about $1000 and I'm guessing about half should go towards the mic. It's hard to know where to begin but I have found a lot of good reviews on the Rode NT2A. Would this be a good choice for solo clarinet in a small room? If so, which interface/preamp would make a good pairing?

    Beyond the mic, I like the idea of an interface with DAW software but have one big issue: computer fan noise. I need to have the controls at my side as I record. I have a recent desktop and a 4 year old Dell laptop with typical fan noise, both with firewire. I also have an Acer netbook (windows/linux) that is quieter but it does not have Firewire and with 1.5GB RAM may not have the necessary memory or horsepower. I have been considering a Zoom R16 but am not thrilled with the uncorrected latency and likely less-than-stellar audio quality.

    I am open to all suggestions and hoping to get started soon. Thanks in advance!
  2. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I don't have a really clear idea about how you plan to do your recording, so it's hard to give specific ideas for an interface. What kind of things do you plan to overdub? Is it simply a matter of clarinet over piano? Ensemble? We should use more info on type of instrumentation, any logistic constraints, etc.

    With that said, a couple of observations. First, there are preamps in the Zoom and in your Mackie. Your budget is tight enough that you are not going to get a stand alone preamp that is markedly better than those in the Mackie. I'd put off buying a preamp until you can get the most out of the preamps you already own. In fact, while I'm sure you would like to do this all at once, you probably ought to buy the interface or recorder - use it for a while - then buy mics - use them for a while - and then buy preamps.

    Anyway, I've only done a little classical recording, but I'll give an opinion that's worth what you paid for it. I have liked ribbons on on woodwinds in general and clarinets in particular when close micing individual instruments. As far as ribbons that I own and like - at the top of your budget is the Beyerdynamic 130 or 160. At the bottom is the Cascade Fat Head. You could get a pair of the Fat Heads and use them in Blumlein for stereo recording duets, ensembles or piano.

    For recording ensembles I like small diaphragm condensers. A pair of Rode NT55s would be in your budget and give you a ton of options.
  3. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    Thank you, Bob. I will investigate those mic suggestions.

    The project starts with recording clarinet part 1. Listen to part 1 while recording part 2. Listen to parts 1 & 2 while recording part 3. Etc. There may be some other non-accoustic layers added as well. It's analgous to recording an a cappella vocal group one voice at a time. I want to capture a rich, intimate, accoustic clarinet sound although the end result obviously will sound like a studio creation rather than a live, concert hall recording.
  4. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    VLZ1202? You will need an interface obviously. If you were speaking of an Onyx 1220 then the solution for interface would be the firewire card.

    As it is, you now have to decide whether to go with a computer interface or an all in one digital recorder like the Zoom R16. Personally I would skip the Zoom. If you want an interface I can't state strongly enough to make sure you get enough channels for not only now but for your future endeavors as well. Many folks posting here started out thinking all they needed was one or at most two preamp/inputs and then post later wondering how to cobble more devices into there setup.

    As far as your noisy desktop is concerned-don't worry. You can purchase an extra long VGA cable for the monitor and an extra long USB cable for the mouse/keyboard and put the tower in another room.

    I will second Bob's recommendation of the Beyer for woodwinds. You'll get a nice smooth sound without any harshness. You just need to make sure there is enough gain on the interface which there likely is for solo overdubbing.
  5. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    As far as the computer goes, you probably want to go with the desktop. You want a separate drive for your audio files. A wireless keyboard and mouse will get you a good deal farther away from the machine. You can build some gobos with sound absorbing material to shield the noise. See how hard it would be to replace the fan with a quieter one - might not be as big a deal as you think.

    As far as the interface, I'd get something that allows for at least four inputs even though you don't need that many for the current project. I don't have any direct experience with the ones that would be in your range, so I'll leave it to others to comment.
  6. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    Thanks for the suggestions.

    I looked into getting some distance between keyboard/mouse/monitor and the noisy CPU. Here are a couple relatively inexpensive remote KVM solutions that work up to 500 feet:

    - TRENDnet Cat5 KVM Extension Kit. $120 on Amazon
    - Aten Technologies USB KVM Extender with CAT5 Cable. $243 on Amazon

    Checking on the Beyerdynamic microphones, it looks like the M160 would be appropriate for close up studio micing. Any recommendations on an interface with a worthy preamp to pair with an M160?
  7. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member



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    How many channels are you needing/desiring? 2, 4, 8?
  8. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    That last item looks similar to the Trendnet Extension Kit. Price is the same, too.

    Right now I really just need to record one channel at a time. But I'll need up to eight for playback.
  9. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Your budget is a bit stifling to get a high-quality interface, M160, stand, cables and headphones. The M160 is going to set you back the best part of $700, which doesn't leave a great deal for the interface. However, a TC Electronic "Konnekt 8" FireWire interface could be one to go for. It's hard to find, but Florida Music has them for $300. It has two mic channels with 62dB gain (enough for close miking of the M160), good pre-amps and ADCs, headphone output and expansion capability in the form of an S/PDIF input and two line inputs to take external pre-amps. If your desktop computer does not have a FireWire port, a plug-in PCI or PCIe card with the TI chipset can be got for about $10.

    Did I mention headphones? Very important to get the correct closed-back type to minimise bleed when over-dubbing. You will need good monitors when it comes to mixing your tracks, but you won't get those in the budget as well.

    You will also need audio software. Audacity is free but not up to the job because of uncertain latency when tracking. Reaper is very cheap and adequate for this task.
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    You've gotten great advice so far. Let me add a little bit and provide a few other opinions.

    1st - your budget, as already stated, is a little restrictive, but not impossible.

    2 - Moving physically away from the computer would be a great idea - it looks like you've already got that down.

    Regarding the mics -
    I LOVE my Beyer 130s and 160s. And I love them on clarinet. However, for you, this may not be the best choice. First, the price would all but wipe out your budget. Second, a recording using nothing but 160's on multiple clarinet tracks would likely be a little on the dull side. The 160 is a darker sounding mic. Also, it's pattern is pretty tight. If you're in a tiny room, you're likely going to find yourself putting the mic pretty close to the body of the instrument. If done carefully, you could still get a full sound (directly in front of your face aiming down the instrument versus in the middle of the instrument aiming towards the break).

    I would agree that the Konnekt device would be a great choice! The konnekt 24D can be had for only a little bit more and gives you so much more opportunity for expansion later. You mention that you'd need up to 8 tracks for playback. That's likely not quite accurate - unless you want 8 channel or 7.1 discrete surround sound. However, if you're just anticipating recording up to 8 separate parts, then you'll only need 2 output channels (L&R) where everything is summed and mixed.

    So the bad news is still your budget. It would be akin to a student of yours coming to you saying "I need a professional clarinet and have $1000. I've been looking at these wooden Noblets..." Just like with instruments, you can take up the quality a notch or two by adding a few bucks - go from the Noblet to a LeBlanc or Yamaha or Greenline, or add a bunch of bucks and go Buffet Tosca. The NT2As into the Mackie then into the Zoom or similar would be the Noblet. (Behringer would be Bundy) Going to the TC with the NT55s or M160 (if you go that route) into the PC would be the Yamaha - always a good, stable performer, but not the top choice in ultimate quality. (although my wife loves her Yamaha A clarinet!)

    If you're able to expand the budget by a little bit, you'd be able to get a stellar performer that's only a few ticks off the mark of a top-notch recording system. While this may not be your ultimate goal at the moment, it will give you PLENTY of options in the future - even if that means selling it off!

    Best wishes,
  11. jg49

    jg49 Well-Known Member

    erict"Right now I really just need to record one channel at a time. But I'll need up to eight for playback."

    Typically you will only need stereo return for playback (i.e. headphones or monitors) the software DAW you use will mix your playback tracks to stereo.

    If you choose the TC unit it comes with a very good DAW software program Cubase LE, (which Boswell may not have been aware of.) If considering interfaces be sure to check computer specs and compatibility issues on the product website before purchasing.
  12. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    Thank you for all the terrific suggestions. If I understand correctly, the prevailing recommendation is for the Beyer 160 and the TC Konnekt 24D, which includes adequate DAW software. You (collectively) did an excellent job of staying reasonably close to the original budget!

    That said, if I bump up the range to $1500 for mic, interface, and DAW, would that get a kit with substantially better quality and/or increased flexibility?

    JG and Jeremy, you're exactly right about my confusion on the number of channels needed. My minimum requirement is one channel of recording with a stereo return. Looking to the future, I'd want to be sure I have at least two record channels/preamps and more would be even better, though not at the expense of audio quality. The Konnekt 24D allows daisy chaining up to four devices for a total of eight input channels--an excellent upgrade path if/when needed.

    Boswell, headphones and studio monitors were a complete oversight on my part. Can mixing/mastering be done well with the same headphones or is it important to use monitors? If I budget an additional $3-500 towards this, what equipment would suit my purposes?

    Jeremy, the analogy to instruments definitely hits home. I realize my overall budget just doubled, but there's no way in hell I'm sinking good time and money into a Noblet!
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

  14. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Sorry, can't talk clarinets properly. We always bought Greenlines in MBSD and they were OK to work on. Proper horns, now that is another story. I can run on about them until even Jeremy rolls his eyes back in his head.

    I'm going to agree with Bos and the Chimp with a gun. For your purposes you'll likely be best served by a Konnect 8 or 24D. That and the Beyer would be an excellent combo. Toss in a set of great cans like the ATH-M50 (shop around) and/or some good solid monitors (NHT?) and you're set for your project.

    Don't forget that in classical recording the room is the unseen 800# gorilla.
  15. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    A friend who does a lot of live, classical recording expressed concerns with the Beyerdynamic M160 and a ribbon mic in general:

    - coloration: too dark
    - delicate and requires very careful handling
    - limited utility
    - positioning is especially critical
    - requires an especially powerful preamp

    He suggested Neumann KM 184 for my close up studio recording and said it would also serve well for live recording, such as a chamber ensemble.

    I'm curious to get your comments on his concerns with the Beyer and suggestion of the Neumann.
  16. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    The modern ribbon microphones like the Beyers are not as fragile as the vintage mic's. Certainly a modicum of care must be taken but not more so than a tube microphone. Primarily, don't blow air across the diaphragm and don't drop it.

    I also record live classical chamber, orchestra, band, and choir and I don't know that I agree inre the "dark" comment. I think in fact a good ribbon mic can be quite detailed for winds or strings especially in a studio setting.

    Ribbon microphones do require more gain than many other types of microphones but for your proposed setting of solo clarinet in a room or studio I see that as a non-issue. In a perfect world you might wish for a hotter preamp than you'd find in the Konnect 8/24D but this interface should be sufficient for you initial purposes. Once you decide you like your setup you might consider a future purchase of one of these.

    I personally do not like the KM184 much on woodwinds or choirs. I was looking at it's predecessor for a while because it was a modular setup but ultimately chose a different line. I specifically don't like the high end bump. I'd rather use the NT55 if I were going this route or the AKG C391. Despite my opinions, Neumann makes excellent microphones and they hold their value fairly well like all quality microphones.
  17. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I agree with many of John's comments, but I'll go through point by point.
    I would describe the 160 as "darker" than most small diaphragm condensers that I've heard. But that silky smooth top end is the reason it sounds so good on woodwinds. Pure matter of taste here. Have you listened to the sound clips from our ribbon shootout? Jeremy threw in a condenser as a "mystery mic."
    Not as bad as the old days where a strong breeze could destroy a ribbon, but not as tough as an SM57. I don't treat mine any different than my condensers - carefully.
    Again, this depends on taste. There are probably more applications in classical music for a pair of condensers. But I use my ribbons all the time.
    When isn't it? I don't find the Beyer more sensitive to position than other good mics.
    A good point. I didn't mention it before because it should not be a problem for the application under discussion. But it is a problem for very quite or distant sources. I had to really push the gain when recording a guy playing a nylon string guitar softly with the pads of his fingers. But I've never had a problem with woodwinds, percussion, etc. I may get a preamp like the True or the AES at some point, but I've been using the 130/160 pair for a while and have been able to do without it.
    I have not used the 184s. If you do a lot of classical recording I'd expect that at some point you are going to get at least one pair of SDCs. That's another thread.

    Again, this comes down to a matter of taste. There are a lot of people on this board who are ribbon fans. Maybe more than other places. So it's good you are getting your friend's perspective. In the end it's going to come down to your ears. I haven't seen any suggestion here that is clearly "wrong" or a waste of money.
  18. erict206

    erict206 Active Member

    More great advice... Thanks Bob & John. You answered all the major concerns my friend brought up. On the issue of mic handling and storage, I read somewhere that ribbons need to be stored in a certain orientation. Perhaps that is true of vintage mics but not newer ones. Does this apply to the Beyer?

    The ribbon shootout is very interesting. I could hear some differences through my notbook speakers but obvoiusly need to listen with good headphones. The mic choice is still a bit up in the air but a couple things are certain. I will start by getting the Konnekt 24D and ATH-M50 headphones. That's enough to start experimenting and learning Cubase LE (using my old Shure microphones). Next step will be to try a few different mics (especially the M160) and see how they work for me. Where are places in Seattle that would rent out mics?
  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member



    None of the manufacturer's information shows the need for special storage. Being ribbons I would make sure the case is quality and perhaps has some shock absorption itself.

    I don't know many folks in Seattle at all that aren't Symphony related so someone else will have to chime in there.
  20. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    AEA Mics with their large ribbon element are said to be best stored vertical.

    However, having chatted with Dave Royer about this very issue, he mentioned that the mass of his ribbons (and likely the Beyers since they're a smaller ribbon element even still) did not warrant this same concern.

    The only thing he did mention to me had something to do with flying the ribbons. I can't remember, but he had mentioned if it would be in a Pelican case and in an unpressurized cargo hold, something needed to be done to the Pelican (I can't remember if it was "open the pressure valve" or "close the pressure valve.") Next time I fly with my Royers, I'll be sure to call him in advance and ask.

    Otherwise, I do feel that the M130 and M160 are some of the best values in microphones out there. While I would agree that they aren't overly dark, again, be aware of "stacking" multiple tracks of nothing but clarinet recorded with 160s.

    However, also bear in mind that the Beyers take high frequency EQ better than most any other mic on the planet. A slight boost above 5K can make all the difference in the world.


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