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I have a Roland Tri-Capture interface and Sonar X1 LE software. I have a Shure Beta 57a dynamic mic, an MXL 4000 large diaphragm condenser and an MXL 603s small diaphragm condenser. The 4000 is selectable between cardioid, omni and figure 8 pattern. Low budget, but it has gotten me started. The Tricapture has only one XLR input so stereo Micing is out (I think). A friend has written a handbell arrangement and I have offered to record it- overdubbing his multiple takes. We would probably record in church for the ambiance. Any suggestions on which of the mics might work best and any tips on positioning or other thoughts? I really can't invest in new equipment so I'd like to record with what I've got. The recording is purely for personal enjoyment and fun but I am serious about learning something in the process. Thanks in advance for the tips and input.


mikej Mon, 02/04/2013 - 18:26

It would be one ringer doing each take. He would be standing up and the bell would be ringing at approximately shoulder level. I would imagine he would be ringing a bell in each hand as is the normal technique. Would you mind elaborating on the choice of the dynamic mic- what are the reasons you choose that one?

Boswell Tue, 02/05/2013 - 01:34

There were two reasons for suggesting the Beta 57A from the three mics you mentioned.

Firstly (and I'm not trying to be critical here) it's because the other two are MXLs. I haven't used MXLs on handbells, but I have used them in other circumstances and also once had to use one on orchestral tuned percussion, where I was unable to get a sound I was happy with. With the Shure dynamics, it's much easier to achieve a sound that can be added to through multi-tracking, whereas small irritations in a mic's sound (mainly at the top end) can reinforce themselves when that mic is used on its own for many passes.

The second reason applies to almost any dynamic/condenser choice, and that is the capture of unwanted reflections and other sounds from the acoustics of the venue. A dynamic is much better at reducing off-axis pickup from things other than the principal sound source, and, again, where you are tracking many passes with microphones in the same position in the same venue, unwanted reflections will reinforce. The off-axis sounds from condenser mics, even expensive ones, can be quite unpleasant.

These are just personal opinions derived from experience, and other contributers may well have different ideas.

Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 02/05/2013 - 03:36

When I record a handbell choir I try and use the best microphones possible to capture all the subtleties of the hand bells and have them above the bell ringers heads, Maybe borrow a better microphone from a friend??? I am afraid that non of the microphones you have are really up to the job. I usually record in stereo using ORTF or X-Y setups.

Best of luck!

mikej Tue, 02/05/2013 - 10:40

Boswell, post: 400117 wrote:
The second reason applies to almost any dynamic/condenser choice, and that is the capture of unwanted reflections and other sounds from the acoustics of the venue. A dynamic is much better at reducing off-axis pickup from things other than the principal sound source, and, again, where you are tracking many passes with microphones in the same position in the same venue, unwanted reflections will reinforce. The off-axis sounds from condenser mics, even expensive ones, can be quite unpleasant.

So a cardioid pattern dynamic will reject off axis sound better than a cardiod condenser? I've recorded my saxophones and my wife's flute with the MXL and I haven't been disappointed. Maybe because I don't know any better.... :wink: But I have read many reviews about it being too harsh or bright so that is not an uncommon complaint. Thanks for the input.

Boswell Wed, 02/06/2013 - 06:58

Yes, I know it sounds a bit screwy, but there is difference in the relative amplitudes of off-axis sounds captured by a cardioid dynamic mic and a cardioid condenser mic, despite both having nominally the same pattern. Added to which, the off-axis sounds from a dynamic mic tend to be more acceptable musically than those from a condenser mic.

I can easily believe your comment about getting good results when using your MXL condenser mic on flute and sax, particularly as these are blown instruments without percussive transients. When it comes to handbells, here you have a sound source that is even worse than a grand piano to get a faithful capture of leading-edge transients. At least with a piano you can put up a pair of high-quality SDCs and adjust them inch perfectly to get the sound you want, and the instrument does not move around much. Trying to capture the sound from a handbell being rung is much more difficult, as there is gross movement of the sound source through the pickup pattern of the microphone, not to mention the subtle Doppler effects that come in as well. These are all part of the natural sound colour of a bell, of course, but the effect is usually appreciated at a respectable listening distance.

Tom Bethel's comment is a good one that you may get a better-sounding result if you did the original tracking in stereo. This would need a stereo mic or a pair of identical mono mics, and we have been talking in this thread mainly about how you might use your existing mics. If you were to consider making a stereo recording, you would leave the mic(s) set up in the same position for every take, but have the handbell player move his position for each take so that he stands in the correct place for the bells being played. The final result using this technique would be so much better than at mixdown panning mono tracks into the L-R sound field to create a pseudo-stereo image.

mikej Thu, 02/07/2013 - 05:00

I know the church has a pair of SDC's (brand unknown) that I could probably use. I have a small Behringer Xenyx 802 mixer with 2 xlr inputs- so could I run the two mics through the mixer and then connect the mixer's stereo output RCA jacks to the stereo input RCA jacks on my interface? The interface has one xlr input, an instrument 1/4" input and an rca stereo input. I suppose I would pan right and left the mics on the mixer to get the correct stereo field?

Boswell Thu, 02/07/2013 - 05:34

In routing terms, it would be OK. If you need to, you can split a stereo track into two mono tracks at mixdown, but I would have thought you would want to keep it as stereo tracks all the way through. The two mic channels would indeed need to be panned hard L and R on the mixer.

However, when capturing high-transient sounds from handbells with that combination of gear, it's more likely to be the sonic performance rather than the routing that would give the problems, although a lot would depend on the microphones.

Boswell Thu, 02/07/2013 - 08:04

Yes, that's correct about the panning. However, the positioning of a stereo set of mics is altogether less prescriptive, even under controlled acoustic conditions such as in a professional recording studio. It's difficult for us to put forward a rule such as "6-10 feet" when we have no floor plan of where you propose to record, let alone any knowledge of furnishings, wall/floor coverings or reverberation time of the venue.

Tom Bethel mentioned in his post that he had recorded handbells with a pair of microphones positioned above performers' head level, presumably angled a little downwards, and this would be a good position to start. Without going back many years through my recording notes, I don't recall the detail of the mic arrangements I have used for handbells, but I do remember reflections of the walls and floor being a real problem when on location. The percussive bang of the clapper striking the bell is similar to a handclap echoing around, with the musical sound arising only after that.

mikej Thu, 02/07/2013 - 08:28

We can experiment with positioning and see what sounds best. My guess is that a little distance will reduce that percussive transient. Thanks for all the input and advice. My friend still has to finish his arrangement but I figured I'd do a little research well beforehand so I can show up with a plan.

RemyRAD Sat, 02/09/2013 - 01:16

The bells are percussive transients. Many condenser microphones will cause a nasty high frequency transient distortion on those Hells Bells. And I believe all of your microphones that you have will only help to make the sound even more brutal and less listenable than you would like it to be. And that was the other reason for suggesting the Beta 57 a pair of those. Better still are ribbon microphones for this kind of recording application. But you don't have any of those. You've got the right microphones for some purposes but you've got the wrong microphones for this purpose. They'll all give you an unflattering sound. Metallic crispiness at its worst. These condenser microphones were far more important back in the day of analog tape recording. Today with digital, the opposite has occurred. The medium is already too crispy, metallic sounding. And those microphones will only ramp that awful sound up. You just happen to be the sucker that purchased those. They are not universally usable. Not like a 57/58. And they are going to cause high frequency transient overload if you turn things up to get the meters moving. The transient of the bell is hardly even noticeable on peak reading digital meters. Forget about VU meters. Those have an overall slow averaging ballistics that don't show any peaks. So some of your recorded signal will not even display on meters even peak reading digital meters. So don't try to record them at a high volume level. You're just going to see little spiky peaks in the software waveform. Much of which will hardly be noticeable on meters. And if you do hear any crunchy sounds, you will lower your microphone gain trims and not necessarily the recording volume setting. And if ya don't know that deference? You're really screwed. There is a difference between record volume and preamplifier gain trim. Don't get them confused. It's easy to do. And that could reflect poorly in your recording. So when things go crunch it's not the record level per se but the preamplifier gain setting. And even with that set correctly, you can still over record the level with the record level set too high also even if the preamp is not crapping out from too much gain. And everything is interactive which makes everything twice as difficult. Or three times as difficult? Or four times as difficult? And the more inputs you take the more exponentially difficult it gets.

Most folks do XY or ORTF, which are both similar. For these kinds of recordings, I prefer MS with ribbon microphones. And that's a whole different ballgame. And one in which you may not be able to monitor properly until it gets into your computer and can be decoded. But this requires different kinds of microphones and microphone polar patterns. This type of stereo microphone technique is also done with 2 matching multi-pattern condenser microphones. Where one is switched to cardioid and is facing towards the stage. The other capsule is perpendicular and sideways to the cardioid capsule and is switched into figure of 8. Where it is facing the left and right walls. Then it is decoded in software with a specialized matrix to make it a beautiful spacious sounding stereo recording with great articulation and accuracy. And where you can also adjust the width of the stereo image after-the-fact. That which you cannot do on location and especially with XY OR, That Freaky other way which I personally am not very fond of. Although I do that also under different conditions where necessary, if necessary. But only when I have to. Otherwise it's always MS for me. And I use both condenser and ribbon microphones to be able to do that with. Because you have to have at least one figure of 8 microphone to make this stereo technique work. And it's really a mind blower when you hear this technique in action. It's also a similar technique as how FM radio is broadcast in stereo. Where your home receiver does the decode. And no one ever actually knows this except broadcast guys like myself. Stereo television was done the same way until it went digital. So no one other than the internal wiring on the receiver needed to know this. And that technique isn't any different from this MS microphone stereo technique. It's two microphones pointing three different directions. So, three is better than two isn't it? And all from just a pair. This is the only time in the world that 1+1 = 3 which works out well for me since I was such a failure in mathematics. At least I got this arithmetical equation right LOL. So don't let anybody tell you that one plus one equals two. You know it equals three. At least in this application. It's like magic. Sleight-of-hand. It's like David Copperfield making an entire jet airliner disappear in front of 100 people. And that's how this stereo microphone technique works.

Here I go with the math again. I'm a Ms. I also have MS and I like to record in stereo with MS. The microphones not my multiple sclerosis. So I do MS three different ways. In my name. My condition. My recordings.

MS cubed. Or is that to the power of three? See what I mean about my mathematical skills?
Mx. Remy Ann David

mikej Sat, 02/09/2013 - 06:15

Thanks to everyone for their input. I really appreciate it. I fully accept my equipment is budget-minded. My purchases were never made with recording hand bells as the object; the opportunity presented itself and I thought I could try my best to make something respectable with my limited skills. The consensus seems to be to go with the dynamic versus condenser. Ribbons are way out of my price range and from what I read you need a pretty robust pre-amp to make those work well (which I don't have). So, based on what I currently have, if I were to make an investment in another 57A and record in stereo, then I would have the most chance of success? I have a good handle on input gain versus volume. Normally, I try to shoot for a target of -12dB on the meters when recording flute and sax. From what Remy is saying I might want to shoot for a target much lower than that. -18dB?, lower? Would I hear clipping if I am monitoring by headphones while recording?

RemyRAD Sat, 02/09/2013 - 11:50

Sleep? Sleeping in? Yeah, after those hellacious winds and that rocking back and forth all night. Thought I was going to get sea sick while parked? The Remote Truck weighs in at 24,000 pounds plus. While my RV which is just as big only weighs in at under 16,000 pounds. So the remote truck is a lot more stable and doesn't move much while parked in the storm. The RV moves around a lot when it's parked in the storm. And I didn't even have the monitors up to be rocking and rolling as much as that last night. My goodness. There was nothing good about it. And I sure as heck could not sleep. Rarely do anyhow. There's a reason why I've worked night shift/overnights most of my career. I've got the best insomnia anyone could have LOL. And then comes that awful stuff they call... daylight. Don't know how I'm supposed to live through that?

I think I have Sandy in my undies?
Mx. Remy Ann David