Organ mic techniques

Discussion in 'Live Sound' started by John Stafford, Feb 20, 2005.

  1. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Oct 1, 2004
    I know this is a huge area, and that no two instruments are the same, so this is one of those how-long-is-a-piece-of-string topics, but I'm curious to know what people's favourite mic techniques for organ are. I know the AKG 426 sounds amazing, but I've heard that some people have achieved great results with a pair of TLM-103s.

    For me, organ has always had to take second place to a choir, but I'm talking about recording solo organ where no compromises are needed owing to the presence of a choir or any other instruments. I'm thinking of using a pair of AT-4060s in a sort of stretched out ORTF configuration. To me, these mics seem to behave like wide cardioids in terms of the way they pick up from the front, although their rear pickup is classic cardioid. They also love 'big' sounding sources.

  2. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    With organ one must remember that you are really working with TWO instruments-- the organ and the room.

    Also, because of the inherent LF limitations of cardioids and their cousins, go with omnis. My favorites are DPA4003 or Schoeps (either CMC6 or M222) with MK2H caps.

    Spaced A-B works best, and you will want to experiment with width (50cm to 1m-- possibly 2m in a very reverberant room) and position-- it is common to encounter room nodes even in larger churches. Just tonight I encountered a spot where 16-ft E-flat (38.89Hz) was overwhelming but 2 feet away it was fine.

    Even in a reverberant space there may not be enough presence, or possibly the instrument is on one side of a divided chancel. In that situation a stereo pair that is closer can be mixed with the main omnis. In most churches there is a pretty drastic falloff in presence further back than the third pew.

    A few things to watch out for:

    - lack of blend-- get far enough away, but be careful that at least 60% of the sound is direct and not reflected. The early E. Power Biggs Columbia records were made almost unlistenable by C12s too close to a baroque-tone instrument.

    - make sure ALL HVAC is OFF- I have never encountered a system that was so quiet it was not audible in the quietest spots.

    - organs make noise (and occasionally organists also)- usually it is the sound of wind leaks, but you will also hear other things, especially if it is a mechanical action instrument. Blower rumble will be a problem unless it is in a different room. To rid yourself of it, have the reverb tail crossfade into a low cut at a frequency that will rid you of it-- maybe 75Hz hipass

    - unless you edit in clear breaks, a good crossfade editor and the ability to listen at half tempo are essential

    - you will need tall stands to avoid floor reflections- if the organ is in a rear gallery the 12ft Bogen with AEA extension (and sandbags!) will get you up to 25ft. Higher than that and you need an FAA waiver <G> and liability insurance.

    One good thing with organ is that no matter how large the instrument, there is usually an area somewhere in the room that is musically balanced. The organist is your guide to finding that spot. OTOH, organists perpetuate the myth that the best place for mics is at the other end of the room. Er, no. At least for recording.

    The organ is the ultimate in frequency and dynamic range. In the hands of a gifted musician it can be as intimate as classical guitar and as exciting and overwhelming as full orchestra. It is not for nothing that it has earned the nickname "the king of instruments"!

  3. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Permit me to offer a second to everything Rich said. My preference by far is spaced omnis; two almost always does the trick. Even with an antiphonal division to deal with, I've almost always gotten fine results with simple A-B. My mic choice has been limited, but between KM183 and Earthworks QTC1s, I prefer the latter.

    ESSENTIAL is getting HVAC silenced for this application. Blower noise is the nature of the beast. Never fall in the trap of recording too far away: the best spot for listening is 'out there', but not for placement. I just did a very successful project recording organ in a very nice space (approx 3.5-4.0 sec reverb tail); I used QTC1s in A-B, about 4.5' apart at 15' height (the highest I could go: the organ was in a gallery and was higher than my mic placement, but I had a clear shot over the balcony rail) and maybe 25' or so from the facade. For that room, it resulted in a nice balance of direct and reflected sound and the client was extremely happy. I got lucky and didn't experience any room nodes to speak of from my setup position.

    Would love to try DPAs sometime, and if time permitted, even a JEcklin disk (see other thread).

  4. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Oct 1, 2004
    Thank you so much forthe great replies.

    In the venue I have in mind, traffic noise is going to be a major factor. It's in the city centre and has huge windows with very thin glass that let the sound in.

    I sang on a recording that was made there a few years ago, and every time an ambulance passed by, we had to stop. To make matters worse, roadworks were going on at the time, and a hole on the street was temporarily covered with a steel plate, so when a bus drove over it we had to start again!

    The organ is very noisey -you can hear the bellows at the far end of the church, and most annoying of all is that the place rattles when the lower notes are sounded. Because it's a historic builiding, it's illegal to change anything in it.

    Having said all that, I'm not bothered by external noise once I can get a good tone. I'm still trying to decide on my nest mic purchase, and I will keep your comments in mind.

    Thanks again
  5. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Consider trying to convince the artist to record late at night. The project I just finished was also at a city-center downtown church in Dayton, Ohio. We started at 10pm, recorded the loud pieces first, and worked our way to the softer works. Ended up at 2:30am.... taxing for the organist, but with advance warning and planning (and sleep), the results are more than worth it....

    Blowers, rattling windows, slight tuning inconsistencies, mechanical noises .... all the nature of the beast. They add to the 'authenticity' of the recording in my opinion, so I wouldn't worry about it. I am a collector of organ recordings, and having the old buildings 'participate' in the performance just adds to the charm of the product!

  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    I think everyone here knows where I'd weigh in on this, especially with my love affair with omni mics. Agreed, a spaced A/B is the best approach. Room nodes can be tricky, and unfortunately, you are never in the clear; you just have to choose which node you want present. (Some are more bothersome than others.)

    If you need to get a little close to the organ, don't hesitate. You will lose some of the reverb, but another omni or two located carefully in the hall and then time-aligned and balanced will give you the liberties to adjust reverb. It is important to time align these though - for two reasons. First, you don't want the recording to sound as though it's coming from multiple sources. This would be a dead give-away with pipe organ. Also, you don't want the dreaded "2nd attack" present in so many poor organ recordings. (Sounds an aweful lot like a multi-tap delay :evil: )

    FWIW, I just recently got a chance to try the Gefell M930's and I used them on a local pipe organ in ORTF. These mics are often compared to the TLM 103, but I'm here to tell you, that's simply a bad comparison. The 930s blow away the 103s and it only gives up a little in the bass department compared to my Schoeps CMC6/MK2s's.

  7. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Oct 1, 2004
    Thanks again for the replies.

    Maybe recording at night would be a good idea, but the situation I described was particularly bad due to roadworks, in which case the results were not good enough to keep, but I'm beginning to pay less attention to noise especially if it's the regular steady flow of traffic -ambulances and fire-engines with their sirens are a different matter! I suppose problems start when one starts to see the venue as the enemy -a trap I've fallen into in the past!

    What you say about the M930 vs. TLM-103 is an opinion I've heard many people share -especially recently. I'm considering a pair, but I need a good pair of omnis first.

    BTW looking forward to hearing about your new MG omnis!

  8. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    One last word about noise-- listeners (customers) are forgiving of organ noises. Traffic is another matter. If it means staying up late you should seriously consider it.

  9. Crane

    Crane Guest

    I had a organ teacher who was the first to record the complete organ works of Durufle in Paris with the composer present. He had to record late at night because of the traffic. He said everyone just expected to record late at night because of the noise and that was the way they always did it. By the way when I record myself playing classical organ I use Earthworks SRO spaced about 15ft high and about 15ft away from the organ and am very happy with the results.
  10. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Herndon Spillman! (Call me a name dropper!) 8)
  11. Crane

    Crane Guest

    Yes it was Herndon Spillman, Studied with him for 2 years down in New Orleans, Best organ teacher I ever had and the best player of French organ music that I have come across.
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Wow....French Organ music, in New Orleans.....what a combination. I'd love to check something like that out next time I'm down there. Where did you study?
  13. Crane

    Crane Guest

    I studied at Dillard University although HerndonSpillman is no longer there. BTW hughesmr how did you no it was Herndon Spillman?
  14. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Because I am probably the biggest dyed-in-the-wool organ geek there is, at least in SW Ohio :) I have Spillman's Durufle recording, which is quite a valuable document not only for the performance, but since it also contains (at least on the CD release) an audio interview of Durufle (in French, but full English translation is in the liner notes).

    Spillman is now at LSU, I believe.

    Just got back from a concert by Briton Clive Driskill-Smith at the big E.M. Skinner organ in Cincinnati Museum Center, a 1930s art-deco former train terminal. About 8 seconds of reverb .... yum.

  15. Crane

    Crane Guest

    Yes he is at LSU. Dont' keep in contact with him but all I can say is he was the best teacher I ever had be it either on organ or piano. What did Driskill-Smith play on the program? He hasn't been to the St. Louis area so haven't had a chance to hear him yet. Did you happen to record his program? If so I would love to hear it. Peace, Van
  16. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    I didn't record Driskill-Smith (would have loved to), but there was someone there doing it. The Museum Center has started putting out a series of CDs of the organ: the first is out (Thomas Murray). The layout of the instrument along with the acoustics make it a bear to record well, I'm sure.

    Driskill-Smith played (sorry, temporarily off-topic):

    Wesley: Choral Song & Fugue
    Alain: Intermezzo
    Rachmaninoff (trans Lemare): Melodie in E
    Willan: Intro, Passacaglia & Fugue
    Widor: Symphony 6 (Allegro)
    Faure: Messe basse (with local highly accomplished children's choir)
    Rossini (tran Lemare): Overture William Tell

  17. TomGrubb

    TomGrubb Guest

    Organ recording

    Hi John & Michael,

    Interesting thread about organs and organists - I heard Clive Driskill-Smith in a concert in Melbourne Australia last year - plays very well, if a bit on the showy and fast style for my taste.

    Anyway, I thought I'd mention my personal favourite for recording organ. I use a pair of Dutch Sonodore omni mics and preamps.

    My main criticism with organ recordings is the lack of stability in the stereo image over the complete dynamic range - the image seems to collapse at higher dynamic levels. Many recordings also don't have the openess of sound that makes a recording sound natural. Even some SACDs in my collection don't sound much different to normal CDs.

    The Sonodores run on high-voltage (important as 48v mics apparently start acting as compressors at high SPL levels) and have an incredible transient response (which makes for great stereo imaging). They have the disadvantage that if the instrument or room sound ordinary, so will the recording.

    Doing a recent piano session, we tested various positions of the Sonodores and a pair of TLM170s. The pianist and piano-builder both agreed that the Sonodores sounded like the piano - I was surprised now hard and unnatural the TLMs sounded in comparison.

    I suppose I am biased, but everyone I have recorded since having the Sonodores has been positive about the sound - even to the point of them asking specifically for them (do they want me as producer or just the microphones?...)

    Of course, when using such a sensitive front-end, the software used for editing becomes critical, but that is another topic.


    Thomas Grubb - Organist and Producer
    Mano Musica Pty Ltd
    Melbourne, Australia
  18. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest


    Your reaction to some of your SACDs is not surprising. I know for a fact that some Naxos HD discs are upsampled from 16/44.1!

    The comparison with the TLM170 and Sonodores is not surprising either-- even on omni they do not approach the openess of pressure transducer omnis. The cardioid brother of the 170 is the 193, and only in special cases would I use mine as mains.

    The Sonodores certainly bear resemblance to DPA 4003s, but are as rare and hard to find (not to mention expensive) as hen's teeth. Would like to try some, however.

    The P48/130v thing can often be traced to a micpre whose powere rails cannot supply enough current to the mics in high SPL. The folks at B&K developed the 130VDC mic for very high SPL (jets. in fact) measurement appication. The 4003 and 4016 are a nice improvement over their P48 siblings. Very telling in the 4016 as its P48 version is also transformerless, not the case with the 4006, although the new transformerless version evens the score somewhat.

    For organ I will either go to 4003s or Schoeps M222 tubes with MK2H-- different flavors, but both prevent your complaint. The Schoeps, however, will only cleanly handle 142dBSPL as opposed to the 4003 154dBSPL (!) Either should be sufficient for the State Trumpet at St John the Divine!

  19. TomGrubb

    TomGrubb Guest

    Organ recordings

    Hi Rich,

    Sonodores are indeed rare, and I had buy mine directly from the maker. Interestingly it was slightly cheaper than buying the B&K/130v preamp combination in Australia.

    I visited Rens Heijnis in Holland while I was studying organ in Stuttgart, and remember him showing me a drawer full of transformers from B&K microphones. He had spent many years modifying them for various clients including Channel Classics before deciding on making his own.

    The Sonodores also handle the horizontal trumpet at St Patrick's Cathedral (where I am organist) cleanly (a stop said to part your hair at 50 paces). Rens has now introduced an even higher-voltage version.

    Must go do some work now...


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