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Sound beginner building a recording package, classical and jazz music

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by Aaron, Jan 19, 2015.

  1. Aaron

    Aaron Active Member

    Greetings all.

    As a photographer, filmmaker, lifelong audio enthusiast, and beginner sound recorder, I'm glad to have found this website to research, ask for, and perhaps sometime, offer advice for the art of recording.

    My first post here I will keep as simple as possible for now. For the past year or so I've read a couple of books on audio recording, some articles here and there, flipped out while flipping through the pages of Sound on Sound magazine, etc, and am ready to jump into the process.

    I've recently developed an affinity to listening to classical music and have gone to several live performances here at the world great Symphony Hall in Boston. I would like to start capturing the sounds of classical music, although it won't be at the Hall anytime soon. Eventually I'd like to be able to help record entire orchestras, but I think for someone like me who hasn't recorded anything yet, something like a smaller solo or quartet performance at a local high school or college will be a more realistic place to start.

    For now, I guess I'm not so interested in mic placements yet, although I know that's most important, and the further details, so much as I'm interested in the basics of what types of equipment will help me begin recording excellent sounds from instruments and vocal chords.

    So with some research I've decided on a few pieces of equipment and would like to know what you think, along with any advice you can offer with what you're thinking.

    Going with the idea that I might begin recording soloists(strings,winds,piano,drums,brass,etc), or small ensembles, quartets, and ever perhaps slightly larger groups, in spaces ranging from small rooms to slightly larger halls during rehearsals (no audience). Even small jazz/blues clubs and restaurants capturing audience recordings(from the soundboard and mic recordings), I've decided that I may purchase the following to begin with:

    Microphones: Neumann KM 184's . Probably the pair, but I'm on budget so am considering one to start, but will probably end up with a pair of whatever mics I go with.

    XLR Cables: I'm still researching these and am looking for a quality brand, maybe not the most expensive, but a type that will carry quality. How are Mogami's?

    Mixer/Recorder: I'll be mobile and also recording sounds/dialog from the field(for film making), so I'm looking at a field mixer/recorder. I'd love to be able to get a nice Sound Devices PreMixD or 302 to start, but I can't afford that yet. I was directed toward a Fostex DC-R302.

    At this point, should I be thinking about purchasing mic-preamps, equalizers, or compressors, or would a setup like this be a good place to start.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this and I'm looking forward to join the conversation here.

  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Your list looks good. I'd go w. Canare cable to save money with no difference in quality or qc between them and mogami. The quadflex is good stuff and in potential noisy wifi busy places, this is where the real difference in cable matters. Durability and shielding.

    A nice pre for you would probably be a true precision 8.

    If you go th route of a standalone recorder, wich is good for quality and reliably, you would still need a daw for any serious mixing and editing. This would include an audio interface and their are a ton at any price point. There is also the option of a Mac mini or laptop, and an interface and pre, or something like a digital mixer from mackie or Allen and Heath or presonus is also a nice turnkey option too.

    If you have a tablet you can get some decent low Channel count interfaces and some pretty heavy editing and mixing capabilities in some of the premium apps for around 50 bucks they or also GarageBand which is free and quite good I use it it's I don't miss my home in DA W set up at all,other then the capability of moving projects from the studios back at home
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    with classical recording, mic technique/placement is everything, and you are going to want at least 1 pair of good condensers for field recording. The Neumann's are a good choice, but you're really going to need 2 - so that you can record in stereo.

    At this point, capturing the audio with as high fidelity as possible is the key, so yes, preamps will matter a lot - much more-so right now than things like compressors. You will want to look at a multi-channel pre amp that is as transparent as possible, meaning you don't want a pre that will color the sound (like a tube preamp for example). You will also want a pre that has good converters as well. There's no point in going the cheap/budget route for this, because you won't be happy with the sound, and you'll just end up having to replace it with something better a short distance down the road. For what you are doing, I would suggest something like a Grace or a Millennia. They ain't cheap, but if you want a pro sound, you're gonna need to accept the fact that the only way to get that is to use pro gear.

    I don't know anything about the Fostex, someone else will have to chime in on that. What you should be doing right now is researching multi-mic arrays, because this is going to be key - not only in getting a nice recording, but also getting a natural sounding recording as well.
  4. pcrecord

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

    Its a nice project but it's a bit sad that you start with the 'on a budget' road.
    If you want a pair of mics. You better buy a match pair, you will have more consistent stereo field result.

    Being able to go on site is great. Althought you will often be victime of room acoustics, it is important to choose gear that will be of high quality.

    If dealing with a computer is not a problem. You could use a laptop and a Antelope Zen studio (Great 12 preamps and many more inputs with nice converters. Easy to move in a bag or a case.) http://www.antelopeaudio.com/fr/products/zen-studio-portable-audio-interface
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Yes, but if he's recording mostly classical/orchestral, the venues where those types of performances take place generally have very nice acoustics to begin with. But, Aaron is still going to need to familiarize himself with multi mic arrays in order to capture that ambiance in the most natural and pleasing way. I'm not kidding on this... mic quality and technique is really really important for classical music - especially on-site.

    Truthfully, Aaron, if you had mentioned being interested in doing simple rock and roll or blues or something, you could have probably "gotten by" with a cheaper rig - I'm not a proponent for cheap gear at any point or with any style, but rock can be more forgiving of those gear inadequacies than other genre's - and classical is a style where the caliber of the gear matters the most.

    In short, you've chosen to record a style of music that is probably the most expensive to do - if you want to do it right, that is.

    Believe me when I tell you - and I'm speaking from experience here, having learned this while doing a stint as an assistant engineer years ago with Telarc Records (which was the official record label of The Cleveland Orchestra), that classical aficionados - those people who love classical music - are fanatical about the recordings they listen to, and they want the highest quality possible, they want to hear everything, and in a way that is as close as possible to actually going to the performance.
    And, you won't be able to provide that cheaper gear; you won't get that with one good mic, or, two cheap mics, either. But it's not just the mics that matter. Your conversion is going to need to be stellar, because classical is so dynamic in character; there are lots of ultra-soft passages that then explode into crescendos, and you're going to need a conversion system that can handle insuring that the music sounds just as fantastic when it's soft, as it does when it's louder.
  6. pcrecord

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

    Donny, I think I focused on a different part of this sentence than you ;) :
    Soloists in small rooms are those who can bring room acoustics challenges. But of course, there is a lot to care about before getting there...

    I should emphase on the fact that classical music is a very dynamic art. Going from ppp to fff, you will need high quality, low noise microphones but also highquality preamps that offer a fair amount of power while producing a very low noise signal.

    @Aaron : Your list of activities is a bit too wide to begin with :
    small ensembles, quartets, and ever perhaps slightly larger groups
    spaces ranging from small rooms to slightly larger halls during rehearsals (no audience).
    Even small jazz/blues clubs and restaurants capturing audience recordings
    Many of the things you want to do call for different approach and equipement. If you would narrow the needs on which you want focus first, it'll be easier to guide you.
  7. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I beat ya to that one, pal:


  8. pcrecord

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

    Well I thought I'd say it again to be sure the OP gets it ;)

    Portability, clean preamps and converters : that's why I suggested the zen studio.
    As for mics, recording a blues band in a club and a classical ensemble in big theater are very different things.

    I think we should wait that the OP returns and narrow down his needs.
  9. Aaron

    Aaron Active Member

    It's great to be surrounded by people who are far more knowledgeable from where I'm at with recording, so thanks so far everyone.

    kmetal: I'll check those cables and do a little more comparative research on those with reviews,etc. For editing DAW, I'll go with a MacBookPro and software, perhaps ProTools, but that is far beyond my capabilities now and realize that's going to require quite a learning curve before I can exploit what it does. I may start with something more simple from Adobe or related.

    DonnyThompson: I do like what I've read about the Neumann 184's so far and will get the pair of mics. I was looking at the preamps you recommended and they look great. I realize the importance of having professional gear throughout the chain, however, I'm not at that level yet and won't be creating work for high caliber record labels, just yet (sounds like a great possibility that I hadn't considered), and given other important places where I need my money to go, a new MacPro, and non-related and more important, a car, I cannot afford multiple thousands of dollars on a preamp just yet. When I've got a bit more of cash flow, yes. Although it won't be as high caliber as what you've mentioned, can you or anyone else reading this recommend a good quality 2-channel, portable preamp that would a balance between, unfortunately, price, specs/sound quality, and my and potential clients' happiness, given a nice pair of the Neumanns? And yes, I know of the character and dynamic range of classical music you speak of; I've got several cd's of recorded pieces where it'll be the silence of a solo violin followed with the explosion of the entire orchestra. Again, could you recommend a preamp that puts that dynamic range into consideration?
    With listening to and eventually recording music, yes my ears do think in terms of enjoyment of high-fidelity sound and capture and look forward to the challenge of recreating that, so I am aware of the importance of mic placement of given instruments in various rooms, which leads me to pcrecords comments.

    pcrecords: Thanks for the recommendation of the Antelope Zen Studio. I'm not aware of that and what it does so I'll look more into that. Yes, I do realize my list of activities are quite a range. I'm thinking a little too far ahead in what I'd eventually like to record. I'll start with smaller rooms for classical recording: soloists and quartets, probably not in a live audience setting so I'd be able to work with the musicians and get nice close mic placements. From what I've read, recording piano might be better in a room with higher ceilings to give some breathing room to the natural sound of that. Recording violins and violas, I've read it might be a good idea to place the mics over the shoulder, some distance away from the instrument to mimic the sound that the musician is hearing. Keeping in mind the idea of starting in a smaller place versus an entire 1,500 seat hall, I would also like to record jazz and blues bands, rock bands at clubs eventually. With that I'm thinking of direct mixing/recording from the house board, if possible, and also audience recordings. I used to goto concerts (10,000 seat arenas to several hundred person bars/clubs) where friends would make audience recordings using shotgun mics, which I know are better to shut out recording the endless, unwanted sources of ambient sound of being in an audience, and pointed at the source house speakers. I'll do that type of recording eventually, maybe, but for now I'm interested in the smaller, quieter, controlled scene of those non-live, probably classical rehearsal recordings,etc. I mention the jazz/blues bands because there are several restaurants/ tiny clubs who do have bands and I wouldn't mind capturing the 'quieter' ambiance of places like that, with perhaps an audience more interested in listening to the music versus drinking booze and talking to everyone around them about what their day, or whatever.
  10. Aaron

    Aaron Active Member

    I ordered what looks to be a good book to start reading about live recording, ' Recording Music On Location : Capturing The Live Performance ' by Bruce and Jenny Bartlett , which I think will be a good additional educational reference. It just arrived as I was typing my last post :) If anyone reading this is starting to think about recording live music, check it out SPL
    DonnyAir and pcrecord like this.
  11. pcrecord

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

    I suggested the Antelope because of the count of good preamps and they might fit your needs. Of course they are not as good as some outboard preamps like Millennia or Focusrite Red or others very clean pre. But the Antelope pre are very close to them, close enough to do a great job in studio and remote location. + you got 12 of them and eight line inputs for other pre or line level signals

    Thing is, specially in studio, most could go and buy a converter/interface like the Orion32 and buy some selection of outboard preamps.
    But for the sake of portability, the zen seems like a good choice... My opinion might be teinted by the fact that I'm considering it for my next interface, but I assure you I'm no Antelope seller ;)

    Regarding recording live, recording the master bus of a live mixer is far from ideal. You should know that mixing for a live venue imply that your priority is to make the show sound good for the audience, so we always compensate for the room and for the speakers and for the direct sound of the instruments.
    I tell you, it doesn't sound good on recording..
    What you want to do is to have a recording unit or interface that have enough inputs to grab the direct outs of the mixer (which gives a signal before EQs if possible)
  12. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    +1 on Antelope Zen studio. However, if your having an initial budget constraint, equally, and for less money, a MOTU may do the trick. As for 2 channel preamp (interfaces) there are MANY to choose from. RME, Universal Audio, Focusrite, Presonus all make smaller quality hookups. You'll regret starting too cheap on that style of recording, that much is very certain, but if you're really going to do it, at least come in semi decent, and, it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on eBay, can save 100s if someone got broke and or can't use something anymore.

    My .02 FWIW.

  13. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I looked back to the first post and this sentence.
    I'm wondering that maybe before investing in the nice kit suggested in this topic, the basics of direct to stereo recording need to be tried out - just in case you discover it isn't for you. Top class mics, in a top class acoustic space with excellent musician doesn't remotely guarantee a good recording until you've 'tuned' your ears to the tiny differences that all the variables control. A friend of mine used to record musical performances in a rather dreadful venue. He spent more and more money until he got fed up and gave up. If you have a nice space, can you physically get your mics where you want them?

    I bang on about how difficult acoustic recordings are and have always found that the space and the techniques, coupled with positioning have much more real impact than the microphones - until you have that bit sorted, and then you can hear the difference the better mics reveal.

    Is it worth spending serious money right from the start? Not sure.
  14. Aaron

    Aaron Active Member

    pc - Recording live from the board; makes sense what you wrote. I was helping as stage tech for a recent show and their sound person brought the XLR's from the house mixer directly to his digital mixer and controlled things that way(let alone the bands' wireless ear monitors and wi-fi i-pad mixing from stage during sound check).

    Mak - Thanks for the advice and recommendations on those. I'm going to look further into options from some of those manufacturer's. Have you or anyone heard the sound from the Focusrite ISA Two? http://global.focusrite.com/mic-pres/isa-two#

    Paul - I haven't set anything up yet, but for starters I'm looking to record events like rehearsals and music classes for children and adults, so I think after I talk to the various music directors or musicians and explain my situation it'll be easy to experiment and set proper mic placements. I've also read of people recording orchestra concerts by setting up stereo mics a few rows back from stage, 10+ feet up(although I'm not sure what anyone in the audience though about that). I haven't heard what those recordings sound like though. As far as spending money, I can't afford the best pro gear, but I also don't want to buy the equipment of where my skill level is currently. I want to be able to establish a certain level of quality and grow into and learn more about the fairly good/great equipment and techniques for capturing proper sound.

    Concerning preamps, before I purchase one, would it be a good idea to buy the mics and the Fostex mixer/recorder that I mentioned above to see what the sound is like? I've talked to a few people who have used/heard the sound coming from the Fostex and Sound Devices 302 mixer and although the SD is superior, they said there was barely any discernible difference, if at all, in regular listening situations. Are some of the preamps in these mixers good enough for someone like me(non-pro as of yet) , or will a separate preamp from the start very noticeably send out punchier, cleaner, smoother, obviously notable sound to the mixer?
  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    with the type of recording you want to do, the first thing you should investigate is, can you place your mics where they would need to be?
    if you can't do that, it's not worth pursuing.

    correct mic placement and selection are paramount. nothing else is as important. next would be mic pre choice. there are a lot of neutral sounding / uncolored, high resolution mic pres marketed but be ready to pay for them. this is not an avocation for the light hearted. you need to have deep pockets in most situations.






  16. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    When I did a lot of this type of recording in the late 90s, I had a second hand one of these (from ebay)
    Really useful, and with a couple of stage weights on the bottom, it was quite good. The new one says carbon fibre, but I'm pretty sure my one was aluminium?

    I would always take a small mixer and a couple of monitors and if possible work near field in the vestry, if it was a church, or any convenient quiet spot in a theatre or concert hall. The biggest problem I ever had was any kind of recording with an audience - they are a real pain, but just the musicians, and it's fine. If you do it regularly, then a mic and an active speaker going the other way, so you can talk to the conductor is very handy.

    Never expect it to be easy. Especially when the musicians are either too 'thin' quantity wise, or not experienced at playing in ensemble. You frequently find with these types of musician, tuning is a bit tricky, and before you record it, you need a bit of courage to mention it, quietly to the conductor. Making a superb recording of an out of tune orchestra is quite awful. Although most examples on Youtube are dreadful quality in technical terms, the original recordings were sonically good, but dreadful to listen to - a bit of a quandary.
  17. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    These Manfrotto Quick Stands are really nice 12ft. tall stands. They're lightweight, but have a wide enough base to be very sturdy. The way they fold flat and lock together for transport is pretty clever too. Since you're a photographer / videographer, you might find them useful for softboxes, and similar lights too. When I can, I use one to get a Blumlein pair up behind the conductor (AKG C414XLS).
  18. Aaron

    Aaron Active Member

    Thanks again for your help and time everyone.

    Kurt- I will be able to get my mics anywhere I want them. I mean, everyone in this conversation are artists, and we all know we're more privileged than average citizens, so that we can eventually get the shots or sounds what we want. We're confident and courageous. There is no other choice. And, recalling the great prophet, Mahatma Gandhi, who once said, " I believe in equality of all people except reporters and photographers. ", it'll be relatively simple! Plus, if we look to sell our work, before we're artists, we're salespeople, aren't we? We're sharks, not minnows.
    Also, the more I read from you all, the more I'm realizing the importance of mic pres. Still, it'll be awhile before I can afford the ones I would like, and I'd like to start recording before that time. The Grace and the Universal Audio Apollos look like something to be had. Probably sound too.
    Thank you too for posting those great photos of the orchestra and mic configs. I'm a visual learner. So thank you sir

    Paul - That's another sort of recording I'm thinking of, choirs or musicians in churches. Great points on the out of tune musicians too. Something we might not think about before we hit the record button. After reading all those critical, sometimes negative, and unnecessary, comments of world-class orchestras, from classical CD's on Amazon, I'm sure there will be some out of tune musicians and will keep that recommendation in mind.
    Concerning the audience, when I'm working with people, usually photographing, and in this case recording audio, there is no audience to contend with. Only me and the people I'm photographing or recording. The audience doesn't really exist in my mind, and if they do, they work around me and the orchestra or band.

    dvdhawk- thanks for the ideas and writing in here. You read my mind. I have those exact stands, two of them, twelve footers and literally a few hours ago was thinking why the hell can't I use those to mount a couple of stereo mics on. I'm looking into that AKG mic you mentioned because I've heard some great sounding live recordings from AKG's before, also preferable, along with the Neumanns I'd like, and Schoeps that I can't afford yet.

    Was Alan Blumlein a genius?
  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I am primarily a classical concert recording engineer. I rarely use more than a single stereo mic or a pair of coincident microphones. If I place them correctly anything else I might throw up would not be used anyway. Also, I am not sold on "matched" pairs of microphones.
  20. Aaron

    Aaron Active Member

    Why aren't you sold on matched pairs? Do you get a certain sound character with various specs?

    Does anyone here have online links to live recordings they've made; posted on Soundcloud or related site?

    Also, is there anyone from the Boston, Providence, Worcester, or around there that will be recording performances soon? To where I might be able to see how a recording team sets things up?

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