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Overwhelmed with how to upgrade!!

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Bulldog23, Jan 31, 2008.

  1. Bulldog23

    Bulldog23 Guest

    For many years, I have recorded my Wind Ensemble with multitrack cassettes and then DATs. It seems time to move into the 21st (or even at least 2oth) century. However, I start looking at the different options and get completely overwhelmed, not being familiar with the current trends.

    I am fairly pleased with the Shure SM 81 mics we have, but to go into what? A hard disk recorder? A laptop? A memory stick?

    We need some editing capabilities, slight effects, balancing, etc. We typically record in different locations, so it needs to be semi-portable.

    I realize this is very wide subject and I do apologize. But, any help would be appreciated, even if just a general direction standpoint.
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    External pre-amplifiers feeding an Alesis HD24XR hard disc recorder are what I still use, although the trend these days is for a multi-channel digitizing pre-amplifier going via FireWire into a laptop computer and out to an external hard drive. I had a bad experience of using a laptop for recording when I tried it a year or two back, but many folks on this board record that way and find it reliable.

    You don't say how many channels you are looking for. Some of the modern memory card recorders give very respectable results when used with external microphones, but most of the low to medium priced ones are limited to two channels.

    Once the sounds are captured digitally, you can do what you like with them in the way of editing, effects and dynamics by using software in the computer. The HD24 route needs the additional step of transferring the files into the computer, but it's not a problem.

    I play in a wind ensemble, so I know that instrument balancing can be a real issue, both at the musical (performance) level and also when it comes to microphone choice and positioning. In addition, the acoustics of the venue can make a huge difference to how well the players can hear one another and to the recorded sound. How do you position your SM81s for recording your ensemble?
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Welcome Bulldog23!

    You'll find a good home over in our Acoustic Music forum - a forum that focuses entirely on recording ensembles such as wind ensembles, etc.

    Boswell's points are spot on.

    There are so many options nowadays that it's purely a matter of choice and pricetags.

    I've got several different rigs that I use for on-location recording. 1 is centered around a laptop with a Firewire interface and external hard drive (the one that scares Boswell though I've had no issues as of yet...knock on wood). Also, a portable desktop PC with a PCI card that receives digital signals, then a number of stand-alone units such as the HD24 (though I just sold my HD 24 as I found it collecting dust since adding the laptop) and little portable units such as the Korg MR-1000.

    The nice thing is, they are all VERY usable and quite powerful. And as Boswell mentions, once it's digital you have the power to do with it what you please in the editing stage (light compression, EQ, stereo image shifting, etc.)

    Tell us a little more about your requirements. Also, how do you set up your SM81s for the ensemble?

    BTW - Boswell - I didn't know you played in a wind ensemble. What do you play? Have you mentioned this here before and I just blindly missed it?
  4. Bulldog23

    Bulldog23 Guest

    Almost always just two channels. I usually position them on a slight x pattern, on a 15 foot pole directly in front of the ensemble, approx. 30 feet away. That is when we record on our own stage. Stage acoustics are very nice, with nice projection. The size of the group varies from time to time, so sometimes i have it closer, sometimes a bit further away. Both mics are currently only about a foot apart. With the upgrade in equipment, we are also purchasing a second pole to move them apart a few feet.

    Cost is not too much of a factor. We have allotted $3500 to upgrade.

    Also, thanks for the info on the Acoustic forum. I will certainly be checking it out. I have a LOT to catch up on!
  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    If you don't mind me offering a little advice in regards to the positioning -

    The distance is pretty far for just about any mic pattern that you could use with the SM81s. Generally, for wind ensemble, the traditional patterns would be ORTF (capsules 17cm apart angled 110 degrees or 55 degrees each off of center axis) or XY (capsules directly above eachother aimed at 90 degrees or 45 degrees off dead center axis).

    In any case, a distance of 30 feet will make the ensemble seem as though it's coming from a very small spot between the speakers on playback.

    Generally, for stereo mic'ing, anywhere between 3 and 12 feet (depending upon the hall) back is a good starting point.

    The 15 foot pole is probably helpful. Generally, we settle on a placement between 7 and 10 feet above stage level occassionally varying from that for different circumstances.

    For $3500, you have a wealth of options, particularly if you plan on keeping the SM81s.

    A nice pair of outboard preamps and a digital recorder would do well such as what Boswell mentioned. For example, the Alesis HD 24 and the Alesis FirePort would set you back around $1200 on the used market or $1600 or so on the new market. Add to the cost of that a nice, multi-channel preamp such as a DAV BG2 (around $1500 IIRC) or a pair of Grace 101s and you'd have some room to play and it would all fit neatly in a single rack case.

    Are you going to consider adding any more microphones in the future? Perhaps a pair of omnis for outriggers?

    Another option to help incorporate this would be:
    Edirol R4
    True Systems P8 or Audient ASP008 or similar
    Rode NT 55 Pair for omni outriggers.

    This would give you a truly powerful and great sounding system that could compete with much more costly setups.

  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    That last sentence worried me a little. What's the basis of your wanting to space the microphones a few feet apart? If it's to position the mics as A-B (stereo effect achieved by different arrival times at the two mics), then there are a couple of things to be aware of:

    (1) the SM81s are cardioid pattern mics, and A-B operation is conventionally done with omni pattern mics.

    (2) unless the two mics are physically on the same mechanical support, small differences in the flexing of the floor or of the boom supports will cause the inter-microphone spacing to vary, creating problems in the phase relationships at high frequencies. The result could be that the stereo image swirls around disconcertingly as the harmonics of the sounds from some instruments lose their positional information. This would be not so much a problem with coincident (X-Y) or spaced/angled placement (e.g. ORTF) using cardioids, where most of the image comes from the microphone directional properties. The usual solution for A-B is a wider spacer bar carried on a single (stable) stand.

    Jeremy C's points are really good. I know he speaks from experience as both a player and a recording engineer. If I'm playing (flute - I may have mentioned that before, J, but a long time ago) as well as recording, I often have to use a setup-and-hope approach to the microphone positioning, even if I can manage to keep half an eye on recording levels during the performance. I usually make some positional adjustments at run-through, but it's difficult to predict things like just how much effect an audience has on the acoustics, especially if it's a new venue. There are always those venues that ban mic stands or mics in the sight-line, so flying the mics is the only way sometimes, and the additional height over what one would have chosen can make quite a marked difference in the recorded sound.

    As for gear, you can do yourself proud with $3500. If you went the hard disk recorder route, make sure you get the HD24XR (not the regular HD24), as the converters are much better and well worth the extra. DAV pre-amps are what I use for this purpose, but they are relatively expensive in the US, where Grace is relatively expensive here in Europe. Despite saying all that, on balance I think the digitizing pre-amp and laptop approach is probably the better one for you. The Mackie 400F or RME FireFace have good pre-amps (although possibly not quite as good as the DAV or Grace). Jeremy also mentioned additional microphones, and it's certainly worth considering the Rode NT55 with the interchangeable cardioid/omni capsules. The other route would be to consider switchable-pattern mics so you could set up Blumlein (X-Y crossed figure-8s) or Mid-Side (cardioid or figure-8 facing forward and figure-8 facing sideways) for when you have just a few players but want a good stereo image.
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I didn't catch the comment about 2 separate stands.

    I am curious to know the motivation behind that.

    Boswell's absolutely right though - a main pair of mics should be on the same stand with a quality 2-mic adapter on that stand (I like the Sabra Som mounts as well as the AEA mounts which are considerably more pricey).

    The only thing that's making the DAV expensive right now is the friggin conversion rate. If we could gain some strength back, they're downright cheap and worth the money. I sold mine some time back and I'm now kicking myself for it!! (I only sold it b/c the combination of Grace, Millennia and all the other one-off pres I've got sitting around here, I had my bases covered. Grrrr...dumb mistake on selling it.)

    Anyway - the only other thing I'd ask is where you're located Bulldog23?

    The reason I ask is that there are several engineers representing a good portion of the civilized (and even uncivilized...;-) ) world here on the boards and often, they're willing to come lend a hand. Sometimes at no charge, others for a nominal fee.

    I know that if your within a reasonable drive from Washington DC, I'll gladly come work with you and your ensemble to explain how to record and what gear would be appropriate for upgrades at no charge.

  8. Bulldog23

    Bulldog23 Guest

    Moving the mics apart a couple of feet was recommended to me by a acquaintance who has recorded groups in this facility before. He felt it would make the overal result a bit warmer. However, I do understand it is not a common mic placement, and Boswell's explanation makes perfect sense as to why it would be inadvisable.

    Cucco, I am located in the central part of Texas. Dallas and Austin are both about 3 hours away, likely putting us more in the UNcivilized portion. At least it feels that way at times.

    The advice has been fantastic, and is certainly helping to give me some direction. The Mackie preamp that Boswell recommended looking at is appealing to me.
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Ahh...so you're down by Ft. Hood?? I get the extreme pleasure of hanging around there and Killeene quite often. Your description of "uncivilized" fits in oh, so many ways... ;-)

    There are folks around you though. Maybe some will chime in.

    In any case, I would strongly suggest learning the basic elements of stereo microphone techniques, particularly XY and ORTF. (AB would be a helpful one to know as well.)

    The information at:
    http://www.dpamicrophones.com under microphone university is a good place to start.

    Making the SM81 "warmer" is a daunting task as it's a relatively bright sounding mic. However, with wind ensemble, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    The mics truly shouldn't be too far out in the hall or not only does the balance of direct sound (the band itself) versus reflected sound (the reverb in the hall) gets thrown out of whack. Additionally, the stereo image gets very narrow the further you move back.

    The mics shouldn't be directly on top of the musicians, of course, but getting much closer will definitely warm it up.

    I'll see if I have any pictures floating around that I might be able to post of any recent wind ensemble recordings...or at least some orchestra stuff - similar techniques and all...

  10. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    This is my inclination as well. The HD24XR seems like a lot of bulk (much of it dedicated to 24 channel capability) for this application.

    Let me mention one option that would work for you. You can probably do better with you budget, but it might give you or someone else ideas for another situation. You could take your SM81s, buy a good two channel preamp, and feed it into the line input of an Edirol R09. After you are done recording, you transfer the wav files (16 or 24 bits 44.1 or 48 sample rates) to your computer either by USB or by simply popping the flash memory card into your multicard reader. Process in your DAW to your heart's content. Burn CD.

    So if you already own a computer, that means you spend, say, $500 on DAW software, $400 on the Edirol, $100 on cables, and the rest on the preamp. Now, I'm sure that the converters on a good interface will be better than the Edirol's, but this system has no waste - everything gets used. And you can pack everything in an small case.

    Here's a recording that my daughter made yesterday for her audition disk for Ohio State. She had to site read this piece with her teacher. I was going to record them in the studio, but it didn't work out. So she just took the Edirol over to her lesson and put it on the music stand (not like she's ask me about where to put it - she's eighteen) and recorded on the internal mics. All I've done to it is to fade in and out, high and low pass, raise the peaks to -.03dBfs., dithered, and burned. (Which took all of 5 minutes) I don't know what you all think, but It's hard for me to believe it sounds this good for this little money and effort.

    Update: The R-09 does not do sample rates of 88.2 or 96. Correction made above.
  11. Bulldog23

    Bulldog23 Guest

    A supplier actually brought the Edirol by for me to look at a few weeks ago. I am still considering picking one up for recording and analyzing rehearsals.

    My current thought is the laptop, with the Mackie preamp, and Cubase or some similar. It seems the Mackie will also allow us the option of two more mics in the future.
  12. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I think it's ideal for recording rehearsals. The leather case (which you have to buy separately) has a threaded hole that fits a standard camera tripod. I would at least try it with the internal mics since that's so easy. I don't know how you use your rehearsal recordings, but you at least have the option of recording directly to mp3 so you can just email everyone copies directly. It has been a very handy little tool for recording music lessons, rehearsals, song ideas, etc. Gets a lot of use around our house.

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