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recording a string quartet

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by mstedeford, May 5, 2004.

  1. mstedeford

    mstedeford Guest

    Hi, I'm recording a string quartet, and I've got the following mics:

    lots of opus 53 condenser mics
    a pair of bayer mce84 condenser mics
    a pair of audio technica 3035 condenser mics
    one akg c4000 condenser mic
    one studio projects C1 mic
    a few sm58 dynamic mics
    a few sm57 dynamic mics
    a few beyer tgx58s
    4 opus 51 boundary mics
    a set of drumkit mics

    I'm looking for a sweet sound, it's for a pop track. I plan on using 4 mics, but I'm not sure which combination or mics, or mic placement. Does anyone with experience recording string quartets have any advice for me? The above are the only mics I can use for this..

  2. lorenzo gerace

    lorenzo gerace Active Member


    I belive there's a similar thread posted recently so you may want to check that out too.

    Anyway, I hope I can give you some advice based on my personal experience (I record strings often, classical and acoustic music being my main gig).

    I'd go something like this:

    I usually set up a main stereo pair to get the whole ensemble sound and the room (BTW how's the room you'll be recording in?); I like ORTF, but for a pop tune I'd go with MS due to its mono compatibility. Set the mics at about 7' to 10' high and 10' to 12' away, depending on how much room sound you want.
    Supplement the stereo pair with spot mics closer to the single instruments; if the ensemble is like a standard classical quartet (1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello) I usually mic the violins and viola from the upside, a little to the right (looking at the player) and angle the mic about 45°, looking for the sweet spot: pointing the mic more to the bridge will give you more bow sound, while away from it will give you a mellower tone. For the cello I usually go a little lower pointing toward the f hole.
    Experiment and find what works best for your tune.
    Usually string players like to sit next to each other for intonation and timing, in a semi circle; ask them for the most distance they can get in between without causing troubles, and try to aim the mics so that each one has the maximum rejection of unwanted sources (tricky).
    Monitoring: if they are playing for a pop tune you'll nedd to supplement a click track or guide track in headphones, so closed cans are a must for better isolation, sometimes players take one cup off to have a better perspective of balance and intonation.

    Mics: I don't know the Beyer mics so I cannot comment on them; I like small dia mics on violins and as stereo pairs; if you are going with an MS as the stereo pair you'll need a bidirectional mic (for the S). The AT 3035 though quite inexpensive are very flat and good sounding, you can try them on viola and cello, or even main stereo pair (though only for coincident or near coincident techniques).
    I read good things about the Studio Projects C1, but I've never tried it.
    I'd stay away from dynamics, they are not sensitive enough for strings, but who knows maybe they can give you the sound you're looking for, after all if it's a pop tune you may want to try out some unusual things.

    I'd record everything in multitrack, so that later when mixing you will be able to pan each instrument as needed and decide for the right balance of direct signal vs room sound.

    Hope this helps

  3. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Yes, I asked the same question some time ago, looking for microphones and techniques. I got a handful of excellent replies - I highly recommend you to read that thread! Find it here: http://www.recording.org/postt18626.html

    However, recording strings for pop music is undoubtedly a very different task. In that case, I would NOT stay away from close miking the strings, to have the liberty of picking out individual instruments and panning them around in the mix if needed. When we're doing pop arrangements, we're using some small clip-on microphones combined with a stereo pair of Brüeler&Kjær, often recording a number of takes of all passages to double it all up.

    While microphone choices may be more or less the same for classical music, the approach doesn't necessarily have to be the same.
  4. lorenzo gerace

    lorenzo gerace Active Member

    Originally posted by Ellegaard:

    I agree, I hope my comment about classical and acoustic music being my gig didn't mislead the original question about strings.

    I've done strings for pop tunes too; it's just that close miking alone gives a too thin and a bit unnatural sound of strings (IMO) so I like to supplement them with the stereo pair in the right proportin, in fact for pop tasks the close miking tracks will be most forward.
    Its' kind of like the opposite approach to classical strings, but it's only in the balances, tools and miking techniques are quite about the same.

    Hope this helps

  5. mstedeford

    mstedeford Guest

    Hi, thanks for the replies. I have read that link, but I'm not sure how to apply any of these techniques to my mic selection. My plan was to have the players in a kind of circle/square formation, with two mics in the middle facing opposite each other, and two omni mics high up near the ceiling, capturing the room sound.

    However, I only have one omni mic (the akg4000), so I'm not sure whether to use another one for replacement, or to create a whole different set up. There is not time to experiment, as I'm recording pro musicians in a one hour slot. So, I'm anxious to get this right first time. Maybe I should set all mics up all over the place and take the best sounding combination..

    The room is the size of a small classroom. (about 5 metres by 3 metres)

    Cheers for the help
  6. mstedeford

    mstedeford Guest

    also, i don't have 4 pairs of closed cap headphones unfortunately, so I was thinking of wearing headphones and conducting them myself during recording.
  7. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    3x5 meters isn't much, so I certainly wouldn't count on getting room ambience. Such small rooms usually don't compliment the sound at all, they rather tend to sound boomy, box-like and quite terrible - so I'd rather try to dampen it down (fast reflections are horrific on tape) until it's reasonably dry and then later on add reverb electronically if it is needed in the mix. Especially I'd stay away from setting up microphones near the ceiling.

    Also be aware that although the quartet may sound pleasing in the room, it is not necessarily the same when captured on tape. I recommend checking the sound over a pair of headphones once you've recorded the first take just to be sure the setup is OK.

    I'd also be careful with using omni microphones. While I believe omnis are to be preferred in classical recordings, it is to get the most out of the acoustics. So for a pop recording in an ordinary room I would attempt to, as far as possible, merely get the sound of the instruments, so cardiod microphones might be a better choice.

    As for how to record them - they'll probably automatically line up as a classical string quartet, meaning first violin, second violin, viola and cello in a half circle, and it's fine if you're just conducting. Just be sure to have a click track in your ear!

    Good luck...
  8. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    If you are in a small room like that I would not favor close micing the group. You will have no end of multipath problems and none of them will sound good.

    I would use 2 omni mics in a spaced pair above the quartet. I would move the mics and seat the players to get the desired mix. i.e if you need more cello move the mics a little toward the cellist.

    Strings don't sound like the real thing until you get about 3 or 4 feet away from the instrument. Close micing requires excellent isolation, and players with amazingly good tone.

  9. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Well, I see the point of view on not close miking the strings, but depending on the conditions, close miking (well, individually miking at least) may be a better alternative to room miking. We recorded our jazz string quartet some time ago in the studio (acoustically treated and quite dead) and ended up only using the individual mics, which were some AKG C414 series mics for the violins and violas and, hmm, an AKG C3000 (not sure here!) for the cello. In fact, the strings DID sound like strings (pretty much indeed), but the mix was way too close in the sense of almost being in the middle of the ensemble. Not an approach I would recommend when recording that type of music, but for pop music it's fine and flexible.

    But eventually it all depends on the room, and the acoustic conditions are very important when recording strings. If there is just a little too much reverb, I would definitely try to get as close to the instruments as possible to get more of the violins, less of the room. If there isn't a lot of time for experiments, set up a pair of stereo microphones and individual mics, then you can create a nice balance. Better to be safe if the stereo microphones turn out to sound terrible.

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