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best set-up for recording classical concerts

Hello All,

I work for a university putting on classical concerts. They have just built a lovely 500 seater hall for the concerts, the room is great (imagine a nice modern classical music concert hall) with a fancy new 24 channel digital mixer in the control booth.

I've been asked to suggest some gear to buy to help with recording the concerts to a professional standard. They are usually chamber music size, some string quartets, the occasional soloist. My experience up until now has not been in recording classical music (more bands).

My boss said don't worry about cost (within reason)

Any suggestions? Was thinking about a stereo mic pair fed into the mixer and then feed the mixer into a hardware recorder like a Tascam or something. Often we will be recording live concerts for CD so the recorder could sit in the control booth with the mixer. Anyone think I should be getting preamps too? Or would be better off going into a soundcard & computer? Without a budget it's a little hard to know my boundaries.

All advice much appreciated.


paulears Tue, 10/21/2014 - 15:52
Another critical aspect is are the recordings to be made with or without an audience? If there's going to be an audience, then your mic technique probably needs tweaking - will chunky cathedral stands be acceptable, or will the mics need to fly on cables? We spend ages on here discussing and often arguing about A/B, X/Y, M/S and the dozens of even more specific and niche techniques, and that's before we argue about mic choices. Natural acoustic ambient recording is a real experience skill. It's a combination of knowledge, skill and experience and takes a long time to develop. It's possible to get a pretty good multitrack, close miked recording with common sense and a bit of luck, but to walk into a space, hear it, see the musicians and then predict a suitable technique and mic position takes experience. Poor placement, by even just a few feet stops your recording sounding like a commercial CD and makes it just a record of the event. What you record onto, to a large degree is unimportant - the key features are mic location and choice.

If the concert hall sounds good, then it's easier than if it doesn't. If visual elements matter, then large chunky mics may simply be out of the question, so you buy small, slim ones, and nice mountings - fit cable connection points and build a system. On the other hand, if visual aesthetics don't matter - you might buy something different?

My own opinion is simple. Put the effort into finding the right place and technique for the space, then modest mics will work so much better than truly excellent ones in the wrong place.

Before you buy anything, find a local 'expert' with some gear and get him or her to do some test recordings so you can assess the sound and try a few things - well worth the outlay to prevent you wasting your budget on kit that just won't work for you.

Boswell Thu, 10/16/2014 - 05:06
Hi, and welcome! A few questions before we can start to make realistic suggestions for recording:

What make/model is the "fancy new 24 channel digital mixer"? What is it used for?

Do any of the classical concerts need to be amplified to loudspeakers, PA-style, other than for announcements? Do all the events that you might wish to record always have a full array of microphones set up? Are there additional microphone tie-lines from the stage to the control room that do not go into the mixer?

Recording so the result is "a professional standard" involves a bit more than accurately capturing the signals that happen to be going through the mixer. That part is the easy bit, and could be done by dedicated hard disk or solid-state recorders or by digitising to a computer. The much more difficult part of the "professional standard" is the choice and positioning of microphones for the particular combination of instruments and the type of music that is being played. Is there a set of microphones already in the hall that you would be expected to use or can your remit extend to specifying and purchase of new microphones specifically for recording? Would you be expected to specify new pre-amplifiers for the recording operations?

scottymh Thu, 10/16/2014 - 18:27
Thanks for the reply, here's a bit more info.

Mixer is a Presonus StudioLive 24 channel digital mixer so I suppose could be used as a sound card. Not sure what it was intended for exactly (as I wasn't working here when it was bought) but I believe they'll use it mostly to feed signals to the PA speakers from radio mics. The PA will mainly be used for announcements/lectures and direct from CD music rather than amplifying the musicians. That being said, we're flexible so I can probably use it as I see fit ultimately.

We have no equipment at all except the mixer. No more mics, no nothing. My brief was to "suggest a stereo microphone for recording so we can make professional recordings" (the brief was given by someone not particularly in the know of how these things work). Although since then I've been told to suggest whatever set-up I think is best.

As far as mic-ing goes, I was thinking I'll mostly use a stereo matched pair set-up in ORTF or a spaced pair configuration depending on the performance. I don't think I can justify buying more than a matched pair at the moment, as originally they just wanted 1 "stereo microphone" (which immediately made me think of video cameras haha).

I can ask for pre-amps as well. And we will need something to record with (either computer or solid state or whatever).

The brief was very vague, hence I'm a little out of depth trying to work out what would be best.

Thanks again.

scottymh Thu, 10/16/2014 - 19:20
Thanks very much for the advice audiokid, The millennia hv-3 has been suggested to me before also. I think the Royer SF-24 is a bit out of the price range unfortunately. Although my boss has not specified I imagine my budget is something like $2000 - $3500USD.

It has been suggested to me I could record directly into the Presonus mixer as it has got the hardware built in. Does anyone have any experience with this?

audiokid Thu, 10/16/2014 - 19:43
Your boss sounds like a cool guy, what a fun opportunity you have!

Your setup and room may benefit with some acoustic treatment too?

I have a SL 24.4.2 ai on its way so I'm exited to use it too.

Dvdhawk is one of our long time valued members who has the most experience with those so let's wait for him

Other than that, why not just start recording and see what you need over time now.

You will need a group of mics for various apps. Omni, sdc.

Reverend Lucas Thu, 10/16/2014 - 22:30
I'm no dvdhawk, but do have a 16.4.2. My vote would be to connect through a computer, rather than a hardware recorder. No need for a soundcard as the board functions as one, but FireWire is becoming more difficult to come by. You can easily capture all the channels
you need, and you'd have more editing flexibility that way.

Good luck!

Member Fri, 10/17/2014 - 04:51
With classical live recording, mics and mic technique are everything.

Yes, of course you need a decent mixing console, decent preamps, and for what you are doing, the Presonus would fit your needs, as it is what it says it is... a Live - Studio console. You have the ability to mix for FOH as well as recording performances to a DAW, via Firewire connection from the desk to a computer. When your boss bought the desk, there was multi-track software included: [=""]Presonus Studio One[/]="http://www.presonus…"]Presonus Studio One[/], which will run on any healthy computer with a firewire interface.
If for some odd reason., he didn't receive the software, you can download the Artist Series Studio One software [[url=http://="http://www.presonus…"]HERE[/]="http://www.presonus…"]HERE[/] for free.

Reverend Lucas, post: 420254, member: 48050 wrote: but FireWire is becoming more difficult to come by.

It's only becoming more difficult to see as a stock I/O in store bought computers. PCIe Firewire Cards are abundant, and inexpensive.

There are several multi-mic arrays that are commonly used for classical recording: XY, M-S, ORTF, Blumlein, Decca Tree, Jecklin Disc and Dummy Head.

Part 1:
Part 2:

The type of mic array you choose will determine the type of mics you use in terms of pickup response (Omni, Cardioid, Fig 8, etc.,). There are some tried and true's that are commonly seen for live classical recording, such as the Neumann KMS Series of SD Condensers, the AKG 414, Earthworks Omni's (Decca Tree), the Neumann Dummy Head and Beyers, Coles, AEA and Royer Ribbons.

The SOS articles above do a pretty good job of explaining the various arrays and techniques.



Boswell Fri, 10/17/2014 - 05:29
If you can find a computer of a suitable type for the occasions you need to record, then it sounds as though the majority of your budget could be put into acquiring microphones and the necessary stands and local cables.

However, I think you need to build this capability up in stages. Show what can be done with a single stereo microphone or (better) a pair of mono microphones recording through the StudioLive console to a computer. With careful choice of microphones, this would be a good-sounding system and reasonably versatile. However, it will not cater for all types of instrumental groups, and when you come up against one of these, you can show what you have been able to achieve so far and suggest that further modest investment in microphones would make a significant difference to the range of ensembles you could cover.

That point may happen relatively soon, for example, if you find you have a lieder recital coming up where as well has having an overall stereo pair you need to spot mic the piano and the singer separately.

For a good set of microphones that would be able to be used as the main pair for just about anything from an a capella vocal group to a symphony orchestra, I would suggest you consider a matched pair of [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]AKG C414[/]="…"]AKG C414[/]s. These could be had for about £1400 ($2400). Although the matched pair comes with a stereo bar, you should allow at least another $200 for a couple of sturdy stands so the microphones could be mounted together in a variety of configurations on a single stand or used separately.

For a computer, as the others have said, you need one with a FireWire port. This could be a pre-Retina Macbook Pro (as all the larger screen ones had FireWire ports), a PC laptop of a type that has FireWire, or a PC desktop and a low-cost plug-in FireWire card. My advice would be to go for the PC desktop and a FireWire card, as you can then make sure that the FireWire interface has a TI (Texas Instruments) chipset. This is important for reliable recording.