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Micing string quartet

Hi All,

I'm going to record a string quartet next week and I was hoping to hear some mic technique suggestions.
I have a choice of two different rooms, one is a very "live" small hall . it has a high domed ceiling and hardwood floors.
The other is a medium sized hall although fairly "dead".
I'm opting for the live hall I think, unless anyone can give me a reason that the medium sized "dead" hall would be better.
For mics I have a pair of AT 4050's and I'll be using a discrete, class A, transformer coupled mic preamp (home-made).
Should I try an XY pattern in front of the group? OR above? How far away?
Thanks in advance,


FifthCircle Fri, 08/20/2004 - 12:18
I assume this is a classical group... First of all, I'd go for a live room rather than dead. Your performers will be a lot more comfortable playing in that.

I use a rather unconventional micing method for a string quartet, but it sounds great. I use a blumlein pair (but XY would work too) positioned down at about shoulder level of the performers about 3 feet or so in front of the group. You end up with a very mellow, but intimate sound...


Ellegaard Fri, 08/20/2004 - 16:03
Classical musicians want the best possible acoustic conditions. The more reverb, the better - there has to be a WHOLE lot of reverb before we start actually complaining against it. The room has so much to do with the sound of especially strings, so you should do everything you can to get the best room possible. Every bit of reverb gives the musicians the freedom to play even more freely, phrase more musically and take advantage of their instruments to the limit.

For pop music, however, it's my experience that dead, acoustically controlled rooms are often to prefer because they tend to blend better in the mix, and I would much rather add a little electronic reverb than being stuck with some string parts that suffer from early reflections and way too much ambience that can't be removed and will never fit into the mix.

For me, as a violinist, what I want when recording my quartet is the presence and brilliance of the instruments, yet the clear sound of the room. It's very hard to hit that balance, but it is possible, and it's something you should spend time on if you want to get a satisfying result. Bring some reference material, or ask the ensemble to bring some CDs, and compare. Reference material is crucial, I think - you can be really happy with a session until you load the CD into the CD player and compare the result to your favorite records and find that the microphones are way too close, the stereo image is totally off, or the record sound like it's been recorded with a MiniDisk from last row at a live concert.

There are many different miking techniques. I would try with a simple XY or A-B setup, experiment with the miking distance and try to set up the microphones a couple of feet above the instruments, pointing down toward the ensemble.

earz Sun, 08/22/2004 - 05:12
As always, it depends on the purpose, but in general I usually set up an A-B room pair.
Find the best spot where I ve got enough detail of the instruments, but also enough of the room.
Additional to that , I use close miking just to give me the opportunity later on during the mix, if needed,
I just can blend in a tiny bit of the close mikes to make it stand out better in the mix.
Don t know what others think, but that's what I usually do.
feel free to comment :mrgreen:

Hemophagus Sun, 08/22/2004 - 14:33

There are many mic techniques that work well with string quartet recordings. A-B, X-Y, M/S, ORTF... etc.

If you are looking for a standard quality sounding for classical music, most engineers use the ORTF technique, that consists in a near-coincident two mics with cardioid pattern and capsules angled 110 degrees with a separation of about 17 centimeters. This is the most used technique in live recordings.

If you're looking for a more modern sound, you should try to close mic each instrument of the quartet and then add a main stereo pair for ambient.

My favourite method is the DECCA TREE, that consists in 3 spaced mics with omnidirectional pattern. Then I usually mic the instruments closely to add more definition. This method is the main used for recording film soundtracks.

You should take a look to this article by Ron Streicher about Decca Tree and other stereo microphone techniques on the following link:

This article is very good.

TanTan Sat, 08/28/2004 - 09:28
Well , classical players are the worst .... :-)
Just kidding , the way to record strings depends only on the kind of music you are recording. when you want strings to cut through a mix where drums, bass ,guitars ,vox and keyboards are playin' too , it will be different treatment then a solo string quarted cover for "summertime" as a default , strings sounds better in live rooms because of all of the reasons you've already mentioned. i also
think that a wooden room (floor and roof) are complimenting strings , and without judging anyone, classical players usualy have no imagination about studio treatment with fx or any hi tek treatment after recording, their ears are familier with concert halls and they will just not feel comfortable in acusticaly dead rooms ,and belive me , 4 unhappy classical players is a nightmare. another thing you should consider when micing strings is dynamic range, if you are recording strings on pop music you should remember that classical players do not have the "flat" dynamics behaviour like poprock players , they are not minded to it at all , in concert halls you can play in a huge dynamic range from whispering to screaming and it's not a problem because it's a part of the music and you don't have to fight over volume presence and details of instruments in the radio
that's why sometimes you should even use close mics and do the blend yourself by automate the volumes in the mix or use soft compression for the group ,
i did a pa tour last month with almost 40 classical players on stage together with rock drums , electric bass , two guitars , piano , and 4 vox channels and i used pickups for all the strings (17 players i think) , i had no other choice , it was a large format outdoors concerts so i had to tweak up the eq to extreme point and it wasn't sounding as natural as ambience condenser mics ,but you could deffenetly heard the strings !!!. discrete transistor pre amps are for sure the best for this type of recording , my favourit is a modified class a version of neve 1081 , the 10731064 are amazing as well , but they can be too agressive for that aplication sometimes
GOOD LUCK :-))))

Ellegaard Sat, 08/28/2004 - 12:13
TanTan wrote: without judging anyone, classical players usualy have no imagination about studio treatment with fx or any hi tek treatment after recording, their ears are familier with concert halls and they will just not feel comfortable in acusticaly dead rooms ,and belive me , 4 unhappy classical players is a nightmare.

It's not as easy as such. I would turn it around and say, producers who think they can put a bunch of classical musicians in an acoustically controlled room (read: A dead dry room) and think the musicians will play their best, they have no imagination. It's as ignorant as asking a heavy guitarist to play his solos on a classical guitar with piezo pickups - we'll just smack on some Amplitube afterwards, no biggie; but the result is not gonna be optimal.

That's not the same as saying the result can't be good enough for a professional record; of course, it all depends on how good the musicians are. Professional musicians will likely adjust very quickly and easily and play in tune and in time without much hassle, especially when just tracking rather simple string parts for pop/rock music. But from the musician's perspective, it will never be ideal because the room is so important for the development of the instrument's sound.

With classical music with the instruments in focus it is, however, a completely different thing. You can't just tell the musicians that we'll put some reverb on eventually (it's not going to sound even close to the real thing anyway) and expect the best results. It's like asking someone to run a marathon bare-feeted and say, hey, you'll get your shoes on when you reach the end. Doesn't work. Believe me, if you track a violin in a dead room, it's not only going to sound bad, it will sound like crap! Totally stripped, a violin is no more than a string vibrating with some wood, and that alone is not even nearly as pleasant as we want it to be. If you track the same instrument in a rich concert hall or church, the result will be completely different.

The compensation is to give the musicians headphones and give them a headphone mix with a suitable amount of reverb. That often works - but since playing with closed heaphones on gives a strange feeling of being weightless, it might give better security and intonation if one of the headphone cups are removed. But you can't get around the importance of the acoustic environment whenever it comes to acoustic instruments.

TanTan wrote: another thing you should consider when micing strings is dynamic range, if you are recording strings on pop music you should remember that classical players do not have the "flat" dynamics behaviour like poprock players , they are not minded to it at all

If dynamic variations is a problem, I would consider being more specific in my scores. If you write forte in your score, most serious musician would read forte and play forte. Depending on the music, compression may be necessary. Now you make it sound like the possible dynamic changes is a disadvantage, but writing intelligent arrangements also includes knowing the instruments you're writing for, and in the case of strings, the sound changes remarkably from pianissimo to just mezzopiano. Knowing all such small things allows you to choose the exact character you want for certain passages and adjust the actual dynamics later in the mix for radio-level, if that's a necessity (although I personally prefer turning up the volume knob).

TanTan wrote:
GOOD LUCK :-))))

Yes, absolutely!

TanTan Sun, 08/29/2004 - 10:27
Dear Ellegaard
Im 100% agree !!!

But , i'm not writing scores myself , i'm an engineer and sometimes part of my job is making things sound good and solve scores problems with studio technique ...

I also100% agree that a dead room for strings is not recomended , specificaly not for more than 3 players at a time because the blend is just not right, but for pop music in many cases you use instruments as an effect, just a few weeks ago i recored the best flute player in my country which is the best world music flute player i've ever heard , playing rim shot sounds with his fingers on the flute body, and playing tam tam by slaping his hands on the flute's hole ... sometimes producers wants to take things to the extreme and you always have to keep your mind and ears open ,
but as a rule for old school strings recording i 100% agree with you

Ellegaard Sun, 08/29/2004 - 13:15
Different styles, different approaches, I think. I've done lots of stuff with rock and pop bands as well as classical CDs, and the same technique that works great with rock and pop records sounds terrible in classical context. Recording classical music is also a completely different art - it's the art of getting as close to the original performance as possible, while the same is not necessarily the truth with rock and pop, where the producer more often than not tends to be the most influential 'musician' in the band.

For instance, close miking every instrument in a string quartet in a rock project gives the producer the liberty of panning, doubling and processing the individual tracks much easier than if he was stuck to a single stereo track. With classical music, this is going to sound awkward, like being somewhere right in the middle of the ensemble, and the recording is going to lack the timbre and sound of the group together. Here, a stereo pair is much to prefer.

bap Fri, 09/10/2004 - 22:22
I will record a demo for a string quartet that my daughter's [9 yrs old] violin teacher plays in. They are good players with good but not great instruments and I found a church with acoustics that make a so-so violin sound remarkably good. They play real quartet literature and not wedding/reception type stuff.

I'm a classical piano player [ a pianist I guess ] by trade. An acompanist/chamber musician. I am enjoying learning to record and do mostly acoustic music - classical, folk, and jazz.

I agree that recording classical music in particular is a matter of honestly capturing a good or great performance by good players with good instruments in a good room. It is not a manufactured product.

I remember reading a review of a quartet, however, that at one time had the use of a quartet of instruments by Stradavari which had to be returned after a number of years. The reviewer commented on the quality of the recording engineer who had worked for them as the sound on their cd's was markedly better than their live sound. There seem to still be tricks that the knowledgable recordist can use!

ghellquist Sun, 09/12/2004 - 02:19
>> I will record a demo for a string quartet that my daughter's [9 yrs old] violin teacher plays in

Hi bap,
you have a good start. Musicians knowing each other playing together in a nice room.
What you need now is good mics placed where it sounds best.

My general recommendation is to go with a stereo pair and no close miking.

There are a few techniques you can use that the great people before us has tried and proved to work. My current favourite is a technique called ORTF (after the french radio):
-- two small diameter cardoid condensors, say Sennheiser MKH40.
-- 17 cm between the front of the mics and an angle of 110 degrees. (This setup looks completely weird, you have to measure it up to believe it).
-- on a high stand a bit in front of the players.

Now the last part is what really counts. How high, how far away? There simple are no simple answers. I would do my first test with the mics about 2 meters high, about 3 meters in front of the players (in a semicircle). Farther away to make the sound little less harsh (we are talking fine details here) and getting just a bit more of ambience. Depeninding on the hall, maybe backing off a few meters, maybe creeping a bit closer. Maybe the sound is better a bit up, I have a stand that goes up 5 meters. Trying is the only way I know of.

The alternative technique would be to use to omni mics, say Sennheiser MKH20, spaced a bit from each other. (In searching the net, the technique is alternatively called spaced pair and A/B). The omnis generally can go a bit closer to the musicians than the cardoids and in general they have a little more "rounded", more "warm" sound (again the details). The spacing between them is a very delicate affair, say start with half a meter and then go outwards to say max two meters. Further apart gives more stereo width, but there will also be more and more of a "hole in the middle" in the stereo image. Careful placement here is the key. One specific technique, Decca tree, uses a third mic to fill the "hole".

A very good idea is to test the mic placement in a separate occasion from the recording. The musicians will get used to micing and they will not be completely exhausted once it is time. Carefully note every placement, measuring everything and making drawings in order to be able to get a quick-start on the big day.

As for mics, this is one place where quality really makes a difference. The low-price large diameter project studio mics are in general not very suitable. Instead the recommendation is small diameter condensors, as good as you can get. Some really good large diameter mics can be used, but be aware that some of them has very much character. Character to be used on close miking voices, and not an advantage in this particular setup.

You will also need low noise premps and a good recording system. In general avoid the studio project level tube amplifiers, they are there to add a character that you do not want to have here. 24 bit recording is almost a must today, although with careful setting of levels 16 bits is OK. Personally I find little difference running faster than 44.1 kHz, but some people seem to do that.

Good luck


bap Sun, 09/12/2004 - 08:29
Thanks. I don't have anything quite as nice as the MKH40's but will play with AKG SE391's. I also have NT5's and will probably see how they sound as well. I record into Samplitude 7 Pro through a Lynx 2 card. The only pre amps I have are the RNP and the Hamptone JFET. The Hamptone is very quiet and slightly colored but is quite nice.

I have a 13 ft stand and an AKG stereo bar. I'll monitor through Sony MDR7509 headphones. Headphone pre is a Presonus.

It should be fun and educational!

ghellquist Mon, 09/13/2004 - 13:19
Hi Bap,
looks to me you have what is needed, quite a decent list of equipment there.

As for my list, I recently acquired a used pair of Sennheiser MKH-406, an older model, in addition to a pair of Neuman KM-184 and odd other mics at times. Run all through a MOTU 828mkII with an 8-channel Swedish made pre (nothing special). Sony MDR 7506 for headphones on location. Use a highrise ligthing stand sold locally here, made by Manfrotto supposedly a well known firm (me, never heard of it before).

Might add that you should work out well in advance how to actually setup the mics in ORTF on the stereo bar. It is a good idea to have shockmounts in order to not catch footsteps. I find it near to impossible to place the mics in ORTF unless you have a spacer insert of an inch or so on one of the micholders, the backside of the mics gets in each others way. You may alternatively have one mic above and one below the stereo bar. And once you are there, the setup looks positively weird, I have a small cardboard template with 17cm 110 degrees marked out as a reference.

Samplitude Pro is my choice as well (eagerly waiting for the v8 upgrade).


bap Mon, 09/13/2004 - 17:45
Yeah, my stand is Manfrotto by Bogen. Samplitude is a great tool indeed!

A church I do some things for is remodeling and they have had a pair of KM84's hanging above their choir loft. I'm hoping that they might sell them to me if they no longer need them. I would be very pleased with that!

Thanks for the input.

Bruce P.


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