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Classical music on location recording what do you think

Hi, my name is Paul. I am electrical engineering student in the latter half of my BS degree, and happen to be a violinist. I have been recently investing some of my time on the behalf of my girlfriend’s interest to do some small on location recording. This interest of hers is driven by her graduate application (ma and phd) requirements for her degree in music composition. So I just want to get a recording that would be better than average (better than a pocket recorder). I am not looking to create a hobby for myself or to start a microphone closet. If I need a recording that requires professional experience, I will hire somebody that has it. To help pay off the equipment my girl friend intents to make audition recordings of performance majors for hire.

My recording application is all on location probably in a recital hall and will be exclusively acoustic instrumentals. I want to be able to record a number different type of classical ensembles. Some examples include choirs, orchestras, and small ensembles. Some more examples of possible solo recordings with piano accompaniment could be brass, woodwinds, strings, and operatic vocals. Some more examples of possible small ensembles could be woodwind quintets, string quartets, duo, trios, you name it. Some examples of large ensembles full orchestra, brass, choirs, maybe a large ensemble with some type of accompaniment. Fortunately for my sake I get to practice recording on some great musicians most of them are on there way to big name schools or they have already made it.

Here is a run down on my current equipment. I went with the lowest quality on the recording and mixing stage of the process to save money and in anticipation of future upgrade if necessary. And, I plan to go with the higher quality for microphones, cables, studio monitors, studio headsets, and mic stands. To avoid playing lets re-buy everything game. I purchased mics stands that I felt are portable I didn’t stick with the really expensive studio type with a counter weight on the boom arm but they are sturdy. I stuck with a computer interface recording device I know they have ups and downs one of them is low price and convenience that is what I was shooting for. Again if I were to upgrade I would stick with this route and go with some high end connect device. Here is a run down on the equipment I have so far acquired.

1. Tascam US-122 usb audio midi interface
2. Eurorack UB1202 Mixer (I know this is a loved company)
3. Two German made decent quality tripod mic stand with boom ($80)
4. High quality cables
5. Two AkG-c 1000s microphones ($100 a piece)
6. K 240 Studio Headset

I am already fully aware of the limitations of the gear I have, the c1000s was a cheap way to get started. I plan on buying three omni microphones suggestions are more than welcomed. Then I will experiment with different configurations including spaced pairs, Decca tree, Jecklin Disk to get a stereo image.

I have put a considerable amount of research into this project (searching many forums, personal contacts and the internet) I have come up with some projected plans for a more permanent solution and it would be helpful to get some more experienced opinions. It’s worth it to me to buy quality equipment because my girl friend is going to use this to jump off into electronic music and midi gear. Although I think she will fill a more classical excuse the pun compositional role. With that aside education on this topic still can not hurt. Here is my proposed future setup.
1. HD rack mount recording device
2. pre amp’s for classical music
3. omni microphones and more
4. studio monitors (near field)
5. some microphone array positioners / stands
6. various cables
7. control surface (not important right now)

I know every one of these topics have been commented on quite a bit and I already have some direction. I just wanted to lay it all out for somebody with more experience to comment on. I would like some microphone suggestions. I am now looking at Earth Works omni SROs. As price is now a selection factor this may be the next upgrade. Sytek preamp was mentioned to me I have run into a few less affordable classical pre amp solutions. I had also taken a look at the Alesis ADAT HD24. I was thinking about a pair of Mackie hr624 monitors, they adequate for my needs. Audio Engineering Associates make very nice stands and array positions also seen some AKG with some nice products. I have run into some worthy retailers I would love to know more places I should buy these products from. Book suggestions would be very helpful to me here is one I may buy in the future.

First I was one a computer recording kick then the reliability and portability factors had been pointed out to me. I should have known this on account of all of my computer knowledge. I just think the powerful marketing schemes directed at amateur musicians soaked in a bit. I would have to say it was very difficult to get through all of the hype that this industry presents. To many creative people one place I guess. I sometimes get confused between the engineering world and the music world, but it all works out in the end. LOL The second reason why I wanted to go with this setup is for the advantage (I think it is an advantage in my case) of mixing/processing at home after the recording has been made. Please share you knowledge it will be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.



Member Mon, 05/24/2004 - 12:28
Thank you all for your input. I would just like to mention how useful I have found this entire bulletin board to be. This is defiantly one of the best online communities on this subject matter that I have found. I find it to be great that even professionals in the business are willing to comment and share their opinions on various issues.

Ellegaard we should keep the art alive. Many people are age immediately dismiss classical music. I think so called “classical” music gets a bad rap for a few of the reasons. Most business people do not tend to listen to this type of music, which creates a lot of problems for public relations and promotion to all. This type of music is just not marketed all that well. Some of the music requires prior knowledge and understanding to enjoy to the fullest. Many people are not willing to take the time to research this which is a shame. This type of music tends to fall under one category, one absolutely huge category. Over 400 hundred years of music, unbelievable amount of styles. There is a lot of classical music I flat out dislike and conversely a ton I do like. This music isn’t just for old people. A large portion of some of the greatest music was written by people who were relatively young. Would you be writing for the traditional band setup if it didn’t exist? Even the idea of a full symphony is a relatively new idea in the whole scheme of music. Although I have more reasons I hit on some of my major points.

I am personally attracted to all forms of music to varying degrees and I don’t cut myself off to any type. Why do I not do this? Because I might find something new that I can get some enjoyment out of. I introduced a good friend of mind one of Bela Bartok’s string quartets (they are pretty wicked to listen too). I could tell that he could get into it because he was into a lot of heavy metal. There are many other examples. Movie music and commercials tend to have quite a bit of orchestra influence. Whether you enjoy the music or not you are definitely submerged in it.


Member Wed, 05/19/2004 - 12:02
Hi Paul, I have done a number of symphonic and classical recording for NPR, Millennia Media, and others and the one piece of advice I can offer is to keep it simple.

IMO the "best" signal path is a straight to two track kind of set up. A pair of good mics, thru clean pre, strait to DAT or Computer.

If you can get into a practice session and record with your c-1000s give it a try and see. I am not familiar with those mics to tell you how they will sound.

For mics I have used AKG 414s, B&K 4000, Earthworks all work great.

For Pre amps I have only used the Millennia Media HV-3, It is a great preamp for this type of application. But another "clean" sounding preamp may work also. Basically, the type of preamp you are looking for is one that is as close to an "amplified wire" (read: no coloration) as possible.

Depending on the size of the acoustic environment, try placing the mics on individual stands an equal distance in height as the distance from the musicians. From what you described this distance will probably be greater than 10 feet for both measurements. Arrange the mic a few feet apart (in the 4-8 range), and place them in omni if possible.

You need to listen to find the best positioning, however this should give you a starting point. Basically the larger the ensemble and space the farther away the mics should be in depth and height.

I have even droped the mics down from the cat walk on many sessions (a technique I learned from the great John La Grou, Back in the day.)

Since you are running such a simple set up all you need is a pair of head phones that will allow you to listen in partial isolation.

One last note: if you are not getting enough of a featured instrument, do not be afraid to "spot mic" that instrument via a closer positioned condenser, and add a little into the stereo field.

Hope this helps - Sean

ghellquist Tue, 05/25/2004 - 14:40
I have to be really brief here because I am short on time.

I am an amateur musician and do record myself. Also a beginner here, sort of starting up. The setup is generally a four meter stand (actually a lighting stand), a stereo bar, shockmounts (this takes a bit of fuddling), 2 x Neumann KM184, thirty meter of cable.

I use a laptop together with MBOX + headphones Sony MDR7506. Add in a few bits and pieces such as net cable and gaffa tape.

The MBox is a real bargain given good specs, among them good mic pres, and does include Protools LE software which does a real good job on audio. (Well, not everything is perfect).

The laptop is noisy, fans and harddisk, so I have to put it up in another room.

Recently I tried recording the same Beethoven Romance (the second one, opus 50) using two different sets of mics. It is all early in the rehearsal process, so things are off here and there.

The mics are about 2 meters in front of the solo player, close to 4 meter up.

First mic pair is the KM184-s in a ORTF setup (and some other time I will tell you about the problems getting that up).

Second mic pair is Behringer ECM8000-s, on a long bar, about 50cm and pointing slightly outwards (a very first test with these mics). They are about the cheapest omni mics you can get, around $100 a pair. Perhaps a bit on the noisy side, but much better than I expected.

No EQ or anything on any of them, only a bit of gain.

Keep it up people.


lorenzo gerace Thu, 05/20/2004 - 01:42
Hi Paul

Lots of questions so I'll try to offer my advice and point of view on the subject hoping it will help.

I do classical and acoustic music recording as my main gig, though I come from a pop/rock background and I have then adopted a mixed approach to how I record those material, I mean, I'm not a audiophile purist committed to the 2 mic - 2 track approach, neither a 32 mic scoring session guy, if you get what I mean.

I almost exclusively record on location, since my studio isn't big enough to hold ensembles larger than a duo (with piano), so I have built my portable rig that I think is a good balance between portability (it all fits into the back of my car, though I'm waiting for my new car to arrive as I've recentely started to get larger and far away gigs :lol: ) and capability.

Just as you are doing I had to fit within a budget for my start, so you have to choose your pieces of gear carefully according to the material you are going to record and on how much versatility you need: my stock workhorse preamp is now a Focusrite Octopre with ADAT lightpipe card: it's not a high end pre, but it's clean and uncolored enough to be usable with classical sources; plus it's very quiet and has some nice features that help me keep levels under control when tracking a live session.
Anyway I'm adding some newer higher end preamps like the Focusrite ISA 428 (for 4 ch of higher quality) and I'm considering to get a "colored" preamp like an API.
If you think you are going to record only classical and therefore don't need color but transparency, then you may want to check out the "standard" pres used by classical recordists like Millennia, John Hardy, or Grace. My advice is, whatever preamp you choose get a multichannel one: sometimes 2 mics are enough, but there's times (and particulary if you use a mixed approach like mine) when you definitely need more than 2. I almost always supplement my main stereo pair (ORTF MS or XY, but I'm experimenting with Decca Tree too) with spot mics. My last session with a 20 piece string section and solo C Bass was recorded with an ORTF pair, spot on 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, celli and the solo bass, for a total of 7 mics. When doing this kind of setup always watch out for phase issues.

Mics, lots of models and manufacturers to choose from, my favorite for the bang for the buck factor is Audio Technica; you mentioned a very large array of ensembles you will be recording so I think that the 2 C1000 you have won't be enough for the larger sessions; getting a pair of large diaphragm mics will be a good start; I got a pair of AT 4040 and they are killer piano mics, very detailed as over heads and I use them on all of my sessions. Earthworks are good too, and for a pair of omni you aren't going to break the bank. If you are going to keep it at a lower amount of mics get a pair of good quality ones; Neumann get lots of use in the classical field too, but I've never tried the KM 184 in this particular application.
You may want to try out a stereo mic too, that will be easier to set up , like a Sanken CSM2, that I got to use on some orchestra sessions back when I was an assistant, it's an XY pattern only, but it's really high quality.

Recorders: I chose to go with a multitrack HD recorder and went with a Mackie SDR2496; it's affordable, easy to use (arm some tracks, push play+rec and you are good to go), reliable (after 8 months of gigs it didn't let me down once) and since I use the Focusrite AD card to go lightpipe in I baypass its converters using only the DA to monitor the performance.
The fact that you record on HD is convenient because I track the sessions (on a 120 Gb drive you can literally record hundreds of hours @ 24/48 if you use few tracks) and then pull out the drive (that I have in a removable tray) and plug it in my studio's Pro Tools sysetm for all the editing and mixing.
My advice on this is whatever recorder you choose supplement it with a 2 track device of some kind to have a backup and a rough mix for reference: I use a Sony PCM R 300 DAT that I run in parallel to the Mackie. I feed the Sony with a mix I create on a rackmountable B*****r mixer, (rackmount line mixers of a decent quality and with enough channels aren't easy to find so I had to make do with what I've been able to get), I plan to upgrade it soon to an Ashly model. Everything is in an 8RU shock rack
with wheels.
At first I used to bring my studio monitors (Genelec 1030A) to the gigs, but I found that a) nearfiled monitors out of an acoustically controlled space are almost useless and you can't turn them up loud enough to make decisions when you set up your gear in a dressing room or a few meters from the stage, b) they were an added on weight to carry and could get damaged , c) I rarely used them as I monitor on headphones and musicians seldom listen back to the performances, when they do I just hand them an additional pair of cans; so I decided to get 2 pairs of high quality headphones (Sony MDR CD780) that are very high fi and almost 3D; I confronted the recordings made on the field in my studio and I have no surprises. Some kind of talkback device is useful to get coms with e stage: I use a simple PC speaker that I hook a SM57 to, simple and effective.
For the rest, mic stands, cables and accessory devices, it depends on the situation: I travel with a big boom stand with long arm and counter weight that can be as high as 15' for my main stereo pair and several regular mic stands for the spot mics.
I found that getting a simple 8ch snake with stage box is a tremendous help when setting up, it's faster and keeps the cable clutter at a minimum. Get the best quality cables that you can, and try to keep the mic to preamp distance as short as possible: some folks use to put preamps on the stage near the mics so that the cable distance is short, and then have line level signals going to the mixer/recorders: this will make for a better S/N ratio, even though you have to have all of the signal chain as pristine and as Hi Fi as it gets to appreciate this (it's a bit of purist approach, but if you sum lots of small things together you have a noticeable difference in the end).

Well I think it's enough, I hope it can help, any further questions, just ask.

Good Luck


Ellegaard Thu, 05/20/2004 - 03:57
I'm a bit in the same situation as you, Paul - I study violin at the conservatory here in Copenhagen, but I'm also very interested in home studio recording and being able to get quite decent results with stereo recordings of classical ensembles. So far I've found it quite difficult to get any reliable recording tips from people on other mailing lists; most people don't realize that there's a huge difference between recording a jazz trio with drums, double bass and guitar and a classical string quartet: The approach is so different! As Lorenzo says, you don't need color but transparency, usually, less is more as they say meaning a ton of microphones isn't going to do much good in a chamber music ensemble, and while most people have some experience with miking a drum set with overheads, the same technique or microphone choice might not necessarily be the same when recording classical music.

Therefore, advice such as given by Lorenzo Gerace and Sean is very valuable. In case you haven't read the thread, this ( is very good reading.

At the moment I don't have a budget that allows me to pick anything else than budget microphones, so having browsed the web for reviews and comments I've kind of settled on trying out a pair of Røde NT5 to see if they work for me. They seem reliable, people are very happy with them, they look good, and they're within my budget.

I recently bought an M-Audio FireWire 410 soundcard because of the portability; it's small enough to be put in the same bag as my laptop, so that gives me a portable studio with a stereo pair of microphone inputs and preamps, thus no need for bringing extra mixer or preamps. It sounds very decent to me indeed - maybe because I'm not used to anything better, but the sound is clear and clean, and I haven't had any trouble with it yet.

At home I'm using a Behringer Eurorack 1204 mixer, and for my purpose it's great, in spite of all the negative comments you hear about that manufacturer. I also recently bought a pair of, well, Behringer monitors (Truth B2031) on sale. Also here my budget was limited, but I found the Truths way superior to the others in the same price range - Tapco that sounded horrific, Alesis M1 that were way too brilliant and had too much bass, and the Yamaha MSP5 just didn't have the same weight and impact in my opinion. If you get the chance, go to your music store and listen to all the different monitors. Adam monitors sounded very transparent and clear to me, as did the Dynaudios. Of the ones they had, the clear winner in my opinion was the Dynaudio BM15A, which was extremely detailed and clean - but unfortunately, they're priced about 3,500$ over what I could afford that day!

I would love to put up some sound examples once the Røde microphones are delivered. This far I've experimentet with using a, hmm, Shure SM58 (!) in lack of any better, but the results are good enough for rough demos. What I did was I put it up, just in front of the violin (I guess that's what you call close miking) in a fairly dry room, and hit REC. Having had enough takes I knocked the track together and smacked on some reverb, experimented a little with the dry/wet balance and reverb time, and got a quite satisfying result, all in all. If possible, I'd really like to upload a clip here somewhere if you're intersted.

Good luck!

johnthemiracle Sat, 07/31/2004 - 17:57
@lastounce: just use your ears. you can calculate the distance from the sound source that your main mic system should have, but when the room is too reverberant you might have to go closer anyway. i think there is no rule since there are varying tastes of how "roomy" your recording should be. i think you'll just have to try...

sdevino Fri, 05/28/2004 - 04:36
I agree with the keep it simple keep it pure approach. I have access to lots of great preamps and mics from my full time commercial studio, but what I use for live classical work is:

2 Earthworks Omni's -> Earthworks 1022 preamp ->MBox or 002R -> my laptop. I also mult the output to DAT as a safety.

NO plugin, no EQ, no nothing.

Mic placement is everything, and is usually very restricted by the audience, house, video people etc. The smaller the group the closer the mics. Yo need to make sure the mics are not beyond the CD (critical distance) where the room reverberation is equal to or louder than the source.

I also find that many of my customers love having a very vivid stereo image. I get this by using a spaced pair as close as I can get them while still getting an ensemble sound. Most rooms you will work in are not acoustically nice enough to capture, but if you are in a nice room be sure to get some of the space as well by moving the mics a little further away.

BTW its very rare that you will even get a sound check for a live performance so you need to be a little conservative on levels

Good Luck

Ellegaard Fri, 05/28/2004 - 05:27
Talking about keeping classical music alive, Paul, we've formed a string quartet but our main goal is to play jazz, inspired by ensembles such as Turtle Island String Quartet among others. For almost half a year now I've been busy writing music since no such repertoire for a string quartet exists, and it culminated in a little concert at a bar in central Copenhagen. It was a great gig, things went very well and it was an incredibly energetic 45-minute concert.

Fortunately, one of the recording students from the conservatory brought a pair of Brüel & Kjaer microphones and set them up pretty close to the ensemble and recorded it on a DAT tape. The result is actually amazing! The group is very present, the sound is warm and clear, and yet the whole atmosphere has been captured with people cheering, drinking and laughing. He later added a tiny tiny bit of reverb (it was a completely dead room) to lighten it up a little bit, and burned it down on a couple of CDs for us. We'll put it up on our website as soon as it's done (whenever that it...).