portable classical recording system

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by soondae, Aug 24, 2015.

  1. soondae

    soondae Active Member

    Hi all,

    I am looking to start a recording studio at a local conservatory dedicated to classical musicians, especially pianists and strings. I am a pianist by trade, but have always wanted to learn more on the recording end.

    My venue would be small / medium concert halls from 150 - 400 seats. Currently, I am looking at purchasing DPA 2006A x 2 with a Grace Design m201 mic preamp. I chose these primarily from the multiple mic / preamp shootouts I listened to and believe them to have the sound characteristics I desire. With my equipment, I hope to grow and develop with them over time. I may invest in better mics in the future, but for now this is my start.

    Now, I believe I am missing an audio interface to sync to my computer. With a premium mic preamp like this, I want to clarify if buying a cheap audio interface such as the Roland MobileUA or a FocusRite Scarlett 2i2 would tamper with the quality? If so, What are some audio interfaces that could be recommended? My budget would ideally less than 2k for more equipment. If I am correct, I am looking for a line-in input to bypass any other mic preamp on the audio interface?

    One solution I thought of is getting a Sound Device 722 portable recorder, but if there are any other equipment that are cheaper and not alter the mic preamp I am open to any suggestions. Also, if I am missing anything please let me know. Thanks for any advice.
    eBrown100 likes this.
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    DPA mics are awesome. The 2006 are essentials , nice choice. The 4011 is another good one to have on your radar.

    To chime in on advice with the interface. I wouldn't even look at those for this level of sound but I'm spoiled and also have never used the two you are considering. If it were me, (classical / acoustic music) "personally"... I would only be looking at top level converters and that choice would start with Prism.
    For two channels, I'd look at Lyra, next the Orpheus and Atlas. I've owned the Orpheus and now have the Atlas. I need another two channel and Prism would be my first choice. Lyra..(y)
    Antelope are also excellent, they are sweet transparent and USB stable, excellent resale.
    Lavry Blacks are really nice but they have stopped production. Love the Blacks.
    RME are excellent as well but I'm not big on RME preamps. The Converters and interfaces are excellent but not quite the same level as the others I mention.
    I think these are all better choices than the two you are considering.
    Being said, you should try as much as you can out before buying.

    You can find used Lyras and Orpheus within your budget ( and sell them for close to what you buy them for. Used hold their value. I sold my Orpheus for $2200. The pre's in all these Prism products are excellent and the interfacing is flawless. Not sure how the pre's compare with Grace but the converters are something you do not want to compromise on.

    I'd drop the idea of Grace for now and put that money into Prism ADDA because your get really solid SS pre's in those that will get you going excellent. Its a very good mobile combo. You can add additional external pre's after.
    Sound Device portable recorder are something I'm considering but its more for outdoor field work. But, again, another great choice!

    Hope that helps.

    Welcome to RO. :)
    eBrown100 likes this.
  3. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    To be honest, I'm not certain that the sorts of audio differences Chris is talking about will be obvious to a fledging recordist, as nowadays, we just don't have horrible sounding equipment any longer, and we are talking levels of subtlety. The art (not science) of mic placement has such a huge impact on the recording sound that throwing money on really nice mics and kit might not be the way to go ...... Yet. Trying some modest kit first, and training your ears to hear the things it just doesn't quite do well is a necessary stage. It's like hearing a good piano after playing a less good one, but then hearing smaller differences on an even better one. These are tiny differences, totally missed by the casual listener, but heard by the experienced pianists. You need the trained ears to progress. Very often , beginners hear differences, but can't identify them. Is a certain microphone better, or just has a different frequency response? It might sound dull on a certain sound source but really shine on another. I play sax, and use a mic setup and choice that I like, and have used for years, but a friend loaned me a VERY expensive sax he can't play, but bought as an investment. My technique with my tried and tested mic is rubbish. Clearly nothing wrong with the mic or instrument, just the combination.

    If you have your budget and have time, buy a pair of cheaper mics. I'd suggest any of the common sdc types and maybe the Scarlett you mentioned and spend a month or two experimenting with your chosen monitors, and really study the results then you have a base line to compare your future purchases against. They're never wasted, you will use them again. If your recording space sounds excellent, you have so much choice. I suspect I might consider a pair of multi pattern mics myself, maybe AKG 414s? You'd then have many even more interesting recording options open to you? A pair of really nice fixed pattern mics is in my view, less useful than something switchable. They will be excellent, but to me, a bit restrictive if your needs are a little vague at your present stage?
    eBrown100 likes this.
  4. eBrown100

    eBrown100 Member

    First of all, thanks Audiokid for bringing me to the site, and thanks for bringing me to this particular discussion b/c it is exactly what i'm interested in. I want to learn how to record and mix symphonic bands and brass ensembles. I watched a YouTube clip that PureStudios (in Durham North Carolina) posted of the Millennia Origin Channel Strip. In the clip they recorded some type of band with sax, brass instruments, and drums and it sounded wonderful. Does anyone have any suggestions on what gear to buy to get this type of recording?
    To the OP, soondae, I am simply a hobbyist so i can't give you the sound advice that maybe Audiokid, Paulears, and some of the others can give you but in my opinion, you should get high end converters (mastering grade if you can) b/c they make a huge difference when making mix decisions and even gear decisions b/c you'll actually be able to hear how everything in the chain is affecting the sound. For years I used Focusrite, and other low end equipment, then i graduated to the RME UFX and the difference was noticeable. I recently acquired the Prism Lyra, i was shocked at the difference in sound quality. The UFX in comparison sounded hazy, or cloudy...just not clear. The stereo image in the Lyra is very defined and the entire spectrum is detailed, not harsh in the high end...not wooly and out of control in the low end. I tested the ADC and the available mic pre on the Lyra and it was super. I'm noticing that with the Prism, mixing and EQing is way easier and you even get less artifacts when using plugins. Again, go for the high end converters, when you're trying to train your ear and trying to implement advice from experienced engineers you will have a very capable converter to tell you what's happening as you manipulate or capture the audio... if nothing else get a high end DAC, maybe even a used Mytek Stereo 192, they go for around $650/700...I even saw a used Benchmark DAC 1 for 399.
    audiokid likes this.
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    While I agree with my esteemed colleague Paul that you will develop critical listening skills over time, and that it does help to be able to hear the difference between lo -mid -hi grade gear; in this situation, I think I'd be trying to get as good of a sonic signature as I could right out of the gate.

    Pop, Rock, and other contemporary music is different than Classical. With the former, "smearing" isn't as noticeable as it is with classical, where there is a definitive and required sense of space and definition - in short, there's nothing to "hide behind", no distortion, no synths or other instruments that present "less than pure" sonics. With classical, You either capture those instruments in the most natural way possible - along with the space in which they inhabit - or you don't. I'm not saying that those other forms of popular music wouldn't sound better with better conversion and pre-amplification, but a lack of quality is more noticeable with Classical/Orchestral styles.

    I would be looking at the best conversion and SS ( non-transformer) preamp/i-o that I could afford; and I would do the same thing with the mics as well. DPA makes very nice microphones, as does AKG, Neumann, ADK, etc...

    The Grace is a wonderful preamp, more transparent than most in its price range, very clean and pure sounding, but, it lacks any i-o, so you would also need to add some kind of conversion device.

    At that point, I think I'd follow Chris's recommendation and be looking at all-in-one models.

    IMHO of course.

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  6. DM60

    DM60 Active Member

    I use a Tascam 1800 (replaced by the US16X08) for portable tracking. It is a low end interface to be sure. It does a good job, but I would not put it up against the higher end interfaces. That being said, I agree with a few of the comments that, being new, the higher end will get you marginally better results. If funding is an issue, I would start with the lower end and when ready, upgrade. Plus the Tascam is so inexpensive that if something happens to it, you don't have a melt down (under $300). Plus, you get 16 channel of inputs, which really gives lots of options for the price. I am just of the opinion when someone is starting out, start with decent low cost equipment until you understand what you are buying when you start getting into the $2000+ range.

    Tracking is as much of an art as mixing. The better you track, the easier the mix. I think the portastudios are harder to use. A low end laptop for tracking ($250ish, Reaper $60, and $300 for the interface) you are ready to record and have more options, then a better computer in the mixing studio for final, seems to be a good combination to me.
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    You have had a lot of good advice here. Maybe the most valuable of what's been said is not to start out shooting for what you perceive to be a top-of-the-range set of gear, only to find that it's excellent quality but not the best suited for what you want to do. A more modest rig might well be a better starting point, allowing you to refine your trade and gain an experienced feel of what you should aim for, if or when you decide you need to expand or upgrade.

    Roughly half my location recordings are of classical performances, varying from full orchestral down to a single instrument (flute, guitar, piano etc). I rarely take the same recording rig to each gig, particularly if I am already familiar with the acoustics of the location and whether it's a public concert, recording with an invited audience or recording with no audience. It's not usually acceptable from a visual perspective to set up a full recording set of microphones when there's a paying audience present.

    That said, because I often get called out at short notice, I also keep a "grab and go" classical recording set to hand consisting of a pair of MBHO microphones, an Audient Mico pre-amp and a (pre-Retina) Macbook Pro laptop, along with appropriate leads, stands and an optical cable. I recommend that you have a look at the Mico, as it is a really good dual-channel pre-amp with its own internal converters. It has both analog outputs and a digital optical output, which in my case can feed into the optical input jack present on the pre-Retina Macbook Pros, which even many of the highly-knowledgeable staff in Apple stores don't know is there. This rig produces recordings that are usually limited by the constraints of available microphone positions rather than any deficiences in the quality of the gear.
    audiokid, kmetal and pcrecord like this.
  8. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    If you are willing to invest for Grace preamps, it make no sens to me to send their signals to the cheap preamp inputs of a cheap interface.
    We have to keep in mind that nearly all affordable audio interface line ins circuits go throught its own preamp and not directly to the converters.
    A good way to know is if the gain knob affects the line level input... But some don't and still pass through the preamps circuits and therefor colors the sound. (not always in a good way)

    Our sound is as good as the weakest point of the signal path...

    Boswell have a good point, starting small would give a better Learning curve and help you make better decisions ;)
    audiokid likes this.
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    The OP mentions DPA 2006A and Grace. This sounds like higher expectations. I don't think he's thinking budget here?

    Just thinking as I'm reading into all this, while qualifying the OP targeted tracking chain.... the people I know who use DPA aren't even remotely in the camp of budget or mid level. If I was expecting DPA sweetness, I wouldn't put those through anything but a stellar front end.

    Those mics are so accurate and sound absolutely delightful when they are in a chain worthy of them. And so it goes with all this top level gear.

    FYI, 'My 2 DPA 4011A / 2006 caps plus shocks and bar cost me over $6000 USD lol. In Canadian that would be close to $9000 now.
    Put those through a $150 converter interface, pre/combo... not me lol. The OP conversion seems like a serious miss match.

    If the OP said he had the standard low to mid level mics in his radar and was searching for a good middle of the road sound, then I share the rest of your opinions on starting out with the run of the mill.
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  10. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I've heard excellent reviews on the the Mico. Grace is probably the best 'out of the box' solutions out there for 2ch transparency. The True Precision 8 always comes to mind in this type of recording scenario. It's at them upper end of the OP budget, but leaves plenty of room for more mics, which are inevitable is the OP perues recording further. But this unit also, has no conversion, just pres.

    Perhaps some nice but simple, like the apogee duet, would do the conversion trick decently. Other than that, it's close to 1k per channel, for high end pres, and fairly close to that per channel in high end conversion.

    It's tough because the details in classical take good solid gear, and solid know how. So it's to me, really a question of whether you OP, would rather grow into the gear, or out of it. Good gear holds its value better, and the performance it offers usually cannot be simulated. It's just a matter of dealing w the wtf did I dos, for a while, until it clicks.

    The advantage you have is good. Your trained at music, classical performers are usually quite good, and the classical performances are usually in good rooms. This is huge. Good rooms, good players, and good gear, make good or great recordings. Your job becomes, 'don't screw it up ' which for better or worse, leaves most of the responsibility on your knowledge of some basic things like mic placement, and phase related issues.

    Millennia, grace, and GML are the most recognizable well established 'transparent' pres. And the true precision 8 has an excellent reputation. I don't do classical, so my opinion is based on research and conversation.

    My friend recorded the Boston symphony with some senheissers a TLM Neumann, and either a sound devices box, or a motu traveler, and i still barely believe it was he who recorded it. The equipment your thinking is truly professional and suited for the cause, as long as you can be patient during the learning curve, you'll be putting out some killer stuff.
    pcrecord likes this.
  11. soondae

    soondae Active Member

    I would like to thank everyone who contributed to my post! I have been reading forums and magazines for the better part of a year and finally decided to get into the recording art. And yes I fully understand the idea of growing out of cheaper equipment and Gear Addiction Syndrome. Before this recording project I ventured into camera work a while back with consumer/pro equipment and have grown with my equipment. There was a huge learning curve.. and months before I gained a real confidence in my art, and it is my idea this will translate into this next project. Reasons being I myself and my colleagues desperately need high quality recordings for competitions in the near future.. and financially I'm hoping to take the market at the university this year which is currently nonexistent surprisingly.

    At the moment I am looking for 2ch and in a year or so reinvest into 8ch, variety of mics, mixing chamber music, etc. but for now this I believe this would be the initial setup for now. I should have mentioned my budget for a converter on top of mics, preamps, stands, wires, etc. would ideally be less than 2k as this entire project is funded from my extra earnings as a pianist. I also understand mic placement, DAW work, mixing etc. is just as important as buying expensive equipment. I wanted to hear my suspicions about a cheap conversion (could not directly find any information on this before), feedback, and really appreciate your thoughts. I will definitely look into the Prism Lyre, Tascam 1800, Mytek Stereo 192, etc. before acting on anything. Thanks so much again! Feel free to add any more thoughts or converter ideas.
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  12. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    This looks cool, reminds me of the Lavry Blacks half rack but a bit more colored maybe. Looks practical/ versatile.
    I tried looking it up via Sweetwater for a price comparison buts its been dropped. Lavry dropped their Blacks too.
    I suspect people have a hard time getting past the half rack designs. I know I did up until I actually used them and quickly realized they were simply just compact gems in a small package.
    Nice suggestion Bos, I suspect these are really good for the price.


    The Zen might be the ticket.

  13. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I've used a Mytek AD96 for the past 2 years with 2 x UA LA-610 and the AD has been a fantastic converter.
    I've been checking out the Zen too.. If it wasn't for the budget that I don't have, I'd be using one of those babies ;)
    kmetal likes this.
  14. DM60

    DM60 Active Member

    The Zen looks to be a very nice piece of equipment. That would be a unit one could easily grow into, high end enough to get good sound, expandable enough to cover 99% of most recording needs. Price range is high for a starter unit, but if someone already has invested in high end mics, then as stated before, high end interface should be considered.

    The Zen looks like a great interface.
    pcrecord likes this.
  15. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I dunno I always got the feel of a prosumer peice from the zen. It doesn't pair well on my mind to a pair of DPAs.
    audiokid likes this.
  16. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    The only limitation of the Zen is that it has only 4 zero latency mixes, compared to RME which has a mix for every output...
    Of course I get you K, I would prefer having 16 millennia preamps and prism converters/interface if I had the money ! ;)
    Then will come the usual Customer saying : 'I don't want go to your studio because you don't have Art MPA preamps and I don't know Mellenias...''

    I guess the zen could be a transitionnal interface for the OP because it has good enough converters to serve the Grace preamps or other Hi-end pre (compared to a Scarlett 2i2) and if the day comes in a rush where he needs more preamps, those included in the zen could help those occasionnal needs.
    For exemple, I already have 10 somewhat high-end pre and I don't use them all at the time very often. So adding 12 average preamps would make me band friendly in one move...
    But I don't have the 3k (CAD) for it. So I'm considering cheaping out of it with the long awaited Audient ASP800 and keep my RME ff800 as interface.
    Anyway, at this point I'm asking myself that even if I had 3k, getting a Precision 8 might be a better choice than switching to the Zen.
    Well now, my head hurts, too many choices and not enough money !!! :confused:
    audiokid likes this.
  17. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Something like the apogee duet or UA Apollo twin, would get the conversion tasks done just as well, at a bit more cost per channel, than the zen. The twin having adapt inputs. I think because the channel counts are relatively low a kinda rock band style all in one interface is money spent on unnecessary fat, in the form of un need medium grade channel inputs.


    Two of these and a duet or twin is the same price point as a zen. Paired with a pair of DPAs one is full out pro, the other is not gonna deliver full performance of the mics capability. Resale value, is better, as the disposable part is the interface, in most cases. Out growing a duet cost $600, outgrowing the zen costs $2200. While the grace preamps will probably retain at least half of their value for quite some time. It seems like way more bang for the buck, especially considering there's very small channel counts. imho

    pcrecord likes this.
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Interesting to read your response, Kyle. I totally agree, btw.
    Totally agree as well!

    my two cents. The OP is clearly above prosumer and just learning or quizing about interfacing. I'm pretty sure he is reading between the lines on this one.

    The way I think, I always approach my personal effort at a pro mindset. Even if I don't earn a living at something, I still want to do it the best I can. My painting business is no different than Pro Audio. I earn more than the average painter because I am better than the average painter. Its a win win if you are able to be who you say you are. People that pay for excellence tell others. Birds of a feature flock together. You will never catch me doing something that is inferior at a job where other peers are circling. Classical people that have money expect pristine, everything. If they don't know it now, they will later. Sure you can tell them that a Prism is no better than a $150 product some of the time. But, the one time you try that with someone that knows better (who counts), you are done.
    The OP say's, he want to attract a better client. You do not do that on budget gear, even if it works good enough. People who hire excellence do their research. They can read posers so I make sure I never BS them or myself.
    If my clients want budget, they would do it themselves and those people are the clients I never want.
    To my ears, DPA requires excellent preamps to be worthy of their stellar craftsmanship. Otherwise they sound more like brittle condensers. At least that's how I hear it.
    I doubt the Zen is worthy of them but its definitely a worth while mobile candidate for a lot of what we are suggesting for the less serious.

    Although I like the Orion32 and bet most of their gear is above average, the 10M is the biggest ripoff out there today so I don't really trust their videos anymore. They all seem to target users that think the 10M is special which also spells a user that isn't up to todays standards.But, even if its a BS product, just the fact of having it will most likely get a few more to your door.

    Gear does matter but most of the time, simple is really all we need to get it done. This business is a lot of hype, a big money pit.

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  19. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    It's funny how our expectations and what we consider the top changes when we actually try them or discuss with those who have experience with them.
    If I was to built it all from scratch It would be very different.
    2 or 3 Grace m801 with an Orion 32 and madi card seems like a good plan that I wouldn't have consider 3 years ago...
    The OP is in an exiting step of the recording world ; gearing up is fun !! (if you still have hair once you're done) ;)
    audiokid likes this.
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    What has changed in your understanding towards 3 years ago to now?
    If you were 3 years back, what would you be saying to someone then and why?

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