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Hello everyone,

I'm helping some friends of mine, two of whom are two members of a classical piano trio, to create a recording setup for them. They want to spread their recording time over a long time -- many months -- and felt it would be more cost effective (and practical, timewise) to buy recording equipment than to hire a sound engineer to constantly come in and work. Their intention is to have me take the raw audio files and edit and process them using my software (DP). I much more experience than they do in this.

So I've conceived of a setup for them, based on what they'd like to do and their budget. They're looking to get started pretty soon, so there isn't a huge amount of time for experimenting / shopping around. I'd welcome thoughts on any aspect of this. I'll run through the elements, with a short explanation of why I've selected that element.

This is a classical trio -- piano, violin, and cello -- recording in a home studio, basically a garage that's been converted to a studio. The instruments (including the Steinway grand) will all be in one room; no iso booths. The ceiling is that of a normal home, so I'm planning to close mic the instruments and put on some reverb later.

Summary: Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 connected to my friend's Macbook. He'll initially record in Garageband. It's likely that he'll upgrade the software to something more sophisticated in the near future. Two RODE NT1-A mics. Two CAD M179 mics. This equipment, plus six mic stands (they come as a package) and four cables comes out to about $1250, through a couple of on-line stores. This is approximately the budget they wanted.

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40: They and I felt it would be good to be able to do multi-tracking, although I know there will be some bleed between mics. I chose this interface based on its cost-effectiveness and very positive on-line reviews. Yes, it may be overkill, especially with Garageband, but I've a feeling my friends will upgrade their recording software at some point to Pro Tools or perhaps Logic.

RODE NT1-A: For close Micing the violin and the cello. I realize this is a low-budget mic, but I happened to have one with me, and my friend really liked the sound of it on violin. My friend says he's more likely to trust a mic that he's actually heard.

CAD M179: two of these would be on piano. I've recorded piano a lot with my two AKG C1000 mics (not close-micing, though) and while adequate, I don't think they're great on piano. I really think a large condensor mic (or two of them) would do a better job. The CAD M179, though a budget mic, seems to have pretty solid reviews. Budgetary considerations are another reason I chose this mic. I felt that the Focusrite would be a very worthwhile investment, so it took up quite a bit of the $1200 budget.

I'd welcome your thoughts on any of this. Thank you!


Boswell Sun, 06/30/2013 - 15:41

I didn't gather from your post whether you have already bought the interface and mics and are looking for some sort of confirmation of your choice, or whether these are the items you are thinking of getting and want comments on your selection or suggestions of what others you might consider.

To start with, I'm far from convinced that close-miking three instruments playing together in a low-ceilinged treated garage is going to give you the tracks that could make an acceptable classical recording. Chamber music of this type is as much about the interaction between the players as it is about individual performances, and to capture that interaction, chamber trios are conventionally recorded with a central stereo pair of microphones, augmented lightly if necessary with spot mics on certain instruments or parts of instruments. Taking the main sound from a stereo pair gives not only the spatial positional information of how the instruments are placed in the acoustic of the room, but also it preserves the phase coherency and delays in the sound field as it would present itself at a representative listener present at a live performance.

You may be feeling that you have to put in a lot of effort to overcome the acoustic problems inherent in a garage space with a low ceiling, and I can sympathise with this. However, to over-compensate by close-miking every instrument and having no central pair can result in tracks that would fit perfectly in a pop arrangement while not settling well in a classical mix.

I would also mention a couple more potential problems that can arise with the sort of microphones that you are considering. Both types that you mention are good-value large-diaphragm condensers (LDCs), but they both have a "presence" peak in their response in the 12KHz region. This peak can lead to a lack of comfort in long-term listening to recordings of certain instruments, including both grand piano and violin. It's not something that can easily be corrected by EQ in the mix, although the immediate effect can be tamed. The other traditional problem with LDCs is the fall-off in quality of sound as you go off-axis. This would not affect the sound from a vocalist or from a flute, but it is something you have to bear in mind with larger instruments such as a grand piano and is the main reason that you tend to see small-diaphragm condensers (SDCs) above orchestras and other wide sound sources.

I don't mean to be discouraging of your plans to record chamber performances, but I wonder whether you have the possibility of borrowing microphones for a short time to test your proposals. Trying out a couple of SDCs positioned as a central stereo pair would give you a reference on the sort of spatial information, phase coherency and time delays that you would have to emulate when mixing the results from closely-positioned LDCs.

tunefoolery Sun, 06/30/2013 - 16:29

Thanks, Boswell. I appreciate your lengthy reply. I have not purchased any of this equipment yet, so, yes, I was thinking of getting this equipment.

It did occur to me that a stereo pair might be a better choice. However, my friends are interested in me being able to edit individual tracks (that is, individual performances), so that's why we were thinking of a multi-track setup. Given that there will be considerable bleed from other instruments on each mic, I'm not sure how feasible individual track editing will be. In any case, I'm thinking now that I'll have a stereo pair in front of the musicians and some close mics to augment that track.


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