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Recording voice & piano - what preamps?

Discussion in 'Preamps & Processing' started by EvilOverlord, Mar 5, 2007.

  1. EvilOverlord

    EvilOverlord Guest


    I've been recording choirs for about a year now using a matched pair of Oktava mics (MK012) with some great results. The only problem is the signal is usually very quiet.

    Now I'm no expert and making this up as I go, but I get the impression this is normal and I'm supposed to get a couple of pre-amps. However I don't know what would be suitable. I do alot of travelling for this, so the more portable the better. I like the idea of tube preamps, but only because they are supposed to give a more natural sound, though fragility worries me.

    I've been recording direct into an M-AUDIO Microtrack 24/96, which has been faultless and I would highly recommend.

    I have now been asked to record an audition for someone, which is going to be just a piano and a single voice. It doesn't need to be a stunning recording, but I'd like to provide him with something as untained as possible. Given my previous signal problems I'm now pushed to do something, so which preamps would be appropriate?

    Also, I usually record ORFT, would a single mic on the piano and one on the singer be better in this case? I am aware the MK012's need a pop sheild for vocal work.

  2. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    You haven't been using preamps to now?!? :?

    So, it sounds like ANY preamp might be a step up! Cheap preamps are widely available (some here like the Mackie Onyx boards) and can deliver good results. For something more boutique in nature, DAV BG-1 is great value for the dollar and is small to boot.

    If the recording is a voice audition and you are only to use the Oktavas, I'd maintain a single ORTF main pr and position the singer/piano appropriately in the space. Obviously the focus should be the voice ... however, you don't want the singer right on the mics, so a pop shield won't be necessary. Start around 2-3 ft away from the singer and get the mics up and aim the array down at their face, a bit above their mouth. They will be off-axis anyway in ORTF. Then adjust to taste.

    I much prefer this to mono miking everything ... achieving a natural stereo image is tough in that approach.
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Michael is right on.

    I guess you're assuming that your mixer doesn't have preamps and thus getting pres will make it better?

    I don't imagine you'd be getting much sound if you used your oktavas without preamps...

    As for tube or not tube- please dont' get caught up in that marketing hype. Some tube gear is quite nice. Most of the stuff you'll find on the market today (especially that which is in the same league as the oktavas) that claims the use of tubes is merely a joke.

    As for choirs being quiet...I don't find this to be the case at all. In fact, I often have similar gain settings for choir as I do for orchestra (or pretty close at least). Granted, their not as loud as screaming guitars through a full stack, but even through ribbons, I'm rarely maxing out my gain.

    Now...onto the pres.

    The DAV BG1 is a lovely, portable, flexible preamp. It sounds amazing and it's size can't be beat. It will take a little while to get to you (a week to two) so, if you don't have that kind of time frame, consider something else.

    I like the Lunatec V3 as well (though others here have complained about it, I think it's a lovely pre with great A/D as well - especially for the money). The Mackie Onyx pres are nice for choir as well.

    Mic placement...

    Definitely do NOT solo mic the piano and then the vocalist. If you only have 2 mics, do as Michael recommends and go for an ORTF or other stereo setup and go for a balance between the two.

    Check out my pictures here:
    (Dead Link Removed)

    This is a set of pictures from a soprano recording that I did a few months ago.

    Notice, there is a piano pair (not a single mic) and a soloist mic.

    There is distance between both sets of mics and their point-source counterparts.

    Also note the overhead ambience mics (a good 5 to 6 feet between them).

    Here's the sample from that recording:
    (Dead Link Removed)

    Cheers -


    PS -
    The pres are Millennia HV3D in this case.
  4. EvilOverlord

    EvilOverlord Guest

    Well seems like I was telling you lies. The Microtrack recorder I use has a build in preamp.

    Thanks, that's just the kind of advice I was looking for. I have to record a large choir (100) live choir performance once a year, which I hire equipment for, but I can't seem to get any solid advice on mic placement, can you give me any tips?

    It was what I was planning to do, I'm just not sure about the loudness of the piano, I didn't want it to drown out the singer.

    Well... I'm probably doing it wrong, but I don't have a mixer. I bought this equipment with an eye on portability, and I usually only get to take what I can carry. Which is the microtrack, mics, mic stand, 20m power extension cable and some gaffer tape. Since the preamp is in the microtrack I have the mics plugged into it directly, two channels, two mics. This is possibly a stupid question, but why would I need a mixer? I'm not always guaranteed to have access to power, hence getting the microtrack which provides phantom power.

    Well having done some reading today, it appears the inbuild preamps have three level setting, only the manual doesn't mention it and directs you to just use the lowest one. However there are also several comments that the inbuilt preamps are noisey at higher levels, so I could probably still use one.

    Why the delay? Are they built to order or something? While looking very nice, they are a bit pricey for my budget, though I understand they are very good value so I might consider it. (though it would be odd spending almost as much on the preamp as I spent on the pair of mics).

    Having looked at some reviews, it says the output from the BG1 is very high, at +20dBu.

    The Microtrack max input is listed at:
    Which seems to be a HUGH difference, or am I reading this wrong?

    The Lunatec appears to be a very nice bit of kit, but is rather out of the price range. It also strikes me as a bit odd that an 8 channel Onyx pre can be had for nearly the same price as the dual channel BG1.

    Could you explain why not?

    Has anyone used Denecke AD-20's before? I've found a report of someone using this with a microtrack very happily.

    Thanks for the pics, and all the advice.
  5. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    Hi mr Evil.

    The microtrack is in many ways a nice machine. Compared to "top-line" stuff though, the mic preamps are more noisy and has lower gain and the AD-converter is more noisy as well. Now everything is relative and we all work within budgets. For a lot of usage they are definitely adequate, in other cases not quite there. One problem with starting to upgrade is that it sort of never ends, there is always even more interesting equipment to get. Well, that is life I guess.

    One improvement is to add a mic pre and then run line in to the MT using the inbuilt AD (Analog to Digital converter). One alternative to look at might be the Lunatec V2 (the older model) that can be found on ebay at decent prices. The MT does not have any digital in if I remember correctly, so you would not use the AD conversion part of the V3. I believe both can be run from battery power, a small external battery will do.

    The DAV BG1 is up among the very top level of equipment, several degrees above the AD in the MT so it might be a little bit of overkill right now. You can live with it for the rest of your life though, regardless of what other equipment you get. The reason for the delivery time is that is not sold through shops, only direct. That saves you a lot of money in not paying the importer+the distributer+the shop, but it costs you a week or two of waiting. (I run the four channel version in my rig).

    But there are a lot of models of mic pres to choose from. Just stay off the very low-price segment, it is probably not much better than the built-in preamps of the MT. If you want to go for tubes in the mic pre, aim for a price level above the DAV BG1, then you can get some really nice stuff. Tube units below that price are all just jokes.

    For a lot of more input on portable recording you can go to http://www.taperssection.com (another forum, similar to this but with a bit different audience which you will quickly find out).

  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA

    1 - piano is a VERY large source. It would not only be insulting to the performers, but to the listeners as well to force it through a single mic.

    2 - I'm making the assumption (which you know is dangerous) that you are not accustomed to recording vocal soloists. Unless you're referring to jazz/pop/rock, you do not want a close-placed microphone. If you are in fact recording a jazz musician, pop or rock musician (or even country, gospel, etc) then maybe a close mic is good, but in the case of "classically oriented" (opera, chorus, etc.) it is a definite NO-NO.

    In the case of the classical type of soloist, you will want to get a good balance between the piano and the vocalist and how they interact together within the given room. If you only have two mics, the only way to do this is with a well-placed stereo pair. ORTF is good as would be A/B.

    If this is a genre other than classical...a close-vocal mic would be appropriate as would a *stereo* pair on the piano. Add a little ambience with room mics or artificial reverb and you're golden.

    Let us know...

  7. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    It's hard to give advice without specifics. What type of music? A cappella or accompanied? If accompanied, what instrumentation? Are you limited to your Oktava pair or will you have supporting mics?

    And even if all these questions can be answered, the biggest variable is the acoustic of the recording space. Without knowing that, meaningful recommendations are impossible.

    Properly position the musicians, keep the lid on short stick or even closed if necessary, and you'll be fine. By all means, MONITOR what you get on location via cans or monitors in an isolated space away from the musicians, and make positional adjustments until you get good balance in the main pr. Take your time in this step. The cardinal rule is to let your ears tell you when it's right.

    Good luck,

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