Recording my choir



Hi all.

I'm new to this board and new to the recording thing, and have a question or two.

First of all, let me apologise for any semblance to other postings on this site. I guess what I'm looking for are solutions specific to my situation, and the hardware that I'm considering.

In January 05 I formed a SATB choir specialising in serious (read "classical") repertoire. We do our concerts in a local church with a pipe organ. (The choir sings from the front, and the organ console and case is in an alcove off to the left, but still close to the front. The building, however, is not that large.) I would like to make archival recordings of each concert, and, once we improve, perhaps make some CD's to market locally as a fund-raiser.

We don't have a huge budget, but manage to squirrel away a little money through dues and ticket sales. We did record our first concert (a friend with a mini-disc machine and a two-in-one type of mic arrangement (little capsule-like thing). I was not really taken with the result. He was sitting about half-way down the nave, and there was lots of audience noise, which didn't help. My son's guitar teacher is probably going to record our next concert (12 December) but I'd really like to move in a direction where we could do this independently.

The bit of research I've done tells me that recording to hard disc is probably a better option than mini-disc, memory card or CD. Tape (analog or DAT) is not under consideration.

So far, I've managed to unearth two entry-level machines which I think might do the trick: the Fostex MD8HD and TASCAM DP01FX. I'm leaning toward the Fostex because (a) it can take four tracks at once as opposed to TASCAM's two; (b) it provides four inputs with phantom power for condenser mikes, and (c) reviews I have read say that the TASCAM's digital display is difficult to read -- a finicky point, but probably valid in my case!

I'm opting against an integral CD burner because (a) I'd rather send the result to my computer via USB (which both can do) and do any editing with GoldWave, and (b) it's just one more thing to go wrong on what otherwise appears to be a pretty good basic unit. As I don't fully trust my laptop, I don't really want to go with a software based solution.

Are either of these units suitable for recording this kind of music?

Then there is the question of mikes and placement. I'm assuming that I should be looking at cardioid mikes fairly close to the choir, then, in a couple of years (when we can afford it!) perhaps another cardioid for the organ, and an omnidirectional placed further back in the nave for some ambience. Is this making any sense?

Finally, any recommendation for microphones of reasonable quality and price?

Many thanks in advance for any help you might be able to offer.



Well-Known Member
Sep 4, 2004
Indianapolis, IN
One reservation I would have with these units is 16 bit recording rather than 24 bit. Choral music can be EXTREMELY dynamic - your recordings could go from a very quiet a capella piece to a BLASTING organ cresendo. Granted your noise floor in a church with an organ blower running will likely be about -45dB, I record choirs with a lot of headroom because the dynamics can be so huge - and the choir always sings with a lot more energy in the performance than in the sound check.

I would suggest you look at Adobe Audition for software - a choral recording in a church with an organ blower running will need some careful noise reduction to quiet the background noise. Audition's noise reduction is quite good, it's audio quality in general is very good, and you'll pay less for Audition that for a third-party noise reduction tool.

Audition also has some excellent reverbs which might help add some dimension to your small church recordings.

For microphones, I would recommend a pair of small diaphragm condensers. Probably the Studio projects C4s. For $300 you get a pair if mics with both cardioid and omni capsules. I have not used them, but I have read that they are very respectable mics. Probably not a first choice for choral recordings, but in that price range they're probably as good as anything.

I use AKG Blue Line mics - the cardioid version is the C391B which is an SE300B body with a CK91 capsule. I bought a pair used on eBAY for about $500. Very flat response and quite a nice sounding mic for the price. I also have a CK94 figure-8 capsule so I can record MS.

I would start with an ORTF mic setup as my first guess. Pay VERY close attention to the stereo image when you are setting up - it's easy to get a "hole" in the center if your mics are angled too far out. Being able to listen with good isolation is key to getting a good microphone position. With 1 pair you'll need to experiment a lot to find the right balance of organ to choir to room. You can also try XY if you want a little more room in the recording - or if your church sounds quite nice you can use the OMNI capsules, but resist the temptation to spread the mics too far apart. Often times 27-30" is all the spread you need. Too wide and you'll end up with a dead center. I've made some nice choir recording with a pair of Rode NT5s. If you shop carefully, you should be able to get the Rodes for under $300.


Well-Known Member
Mar 8, 2004
Tacoma, WA
Hey Bill! Welcome to RO!

My first question to anyone posting a question like this is to ask where you are located in the world. Often times, folks on this board are willing to help if they're physically close to you.

Second, I would resist much of the stuff you've referenced and start to question the advice that's been given to you thus far. (Not Zemlin's - he's got good info, but everything up to his.)

Close cardioids, to me, implies CLOSE. IOW, within a few feet. Due to their directional nature, you will likely hate this sound. You will pick up individual vocalists too much.

Also, a cardioid on a true pipe organ is a no-no. (I've only found one exception to date - the Gefell M930) There is too much going on in the low frequency for a directional mic to pick up. Also, you'll again localize certain pipes this way and emphasize a range of the organ rather than capturing it in its full glory.

My advice would be to get a good firewire type interface (such as the Firepod (entry-level-ish) or the Fireface (higher-end)) and some decent mics. Be prepared to spend some money on the mics though. The Studio Projects stuff is okay, but you will quickly want better if the group is any good.

Install the firewire device onto an existing computer that you hopefully have and in some cases, these interfaces come with software for you to use.

Depending upon the size of the choir, here would be my recommendation. Use omnis - possibly quite a few if the group is large. To minimize organ bleed, get them closer to your ensemble. If the group is very wide, you'll need 4 or more. If it's not, you can get away with 2-3. Then, use an overhead pair of omnis brought out in front of the group and potentially quite high. These mics will lend cohesiveness to the choirs positioning or soundstage and serve to pick up the pipe organ as well as the ambience from the church. Getting them high will help minimize audience noise too. (Unless they're partying whilst you sing...)

My real advice is more simple - hire a GOOD recording guy who does this kind of stuff (not your local rock-band recording dude) and have them come out and explain what they're doing. Of course, let them know what your intent is - to record yourself eventually - otherwise, they may feel used...

That person should hopefully be able to work with you to assess what the acoustics of the room require as far as mics and placement.

I know personally, I would typically charge around $300 for a full recording and consultation (2 hours of recording with 1 hour set up and take down and free consultation.) Paying that minimal fee to get good guidance and knowledge can save you far more than that in the short run.

Just some thoughts.