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Recording orchestra with stereo pair

Member for

13 years 8 months
I'm going to have to record a symphony orchestra and a flute soloist using only a stereo pair, in a good acoustic environment. I can choose from a lot of good mics though (TLM50, U87, Royers, 4006/4011/4015 and alot others). Do you have any immediate reactions or recommendations?


Member for

17 years 6 months

Cucco Wed, 01/09/2008 - 11:23
I would tend to agree with ptr.

One of my pet peeves nowadays is to see recording companies that charge extra for multi-track work but their basic recording setup is a simple stereo pair.

Yes, an orchestra can be captured qutie beautifully with a stereo pair. However, the following variables MUST be in line before it's even remotely (pun maybe intended) possible:

1 - The orchestra must be top notch and balance quite perfectly
2 - The hall must be top notch and project the timbre of the ensemble perfectly
3 - you have to find THE single spot where that set of mics in that pattern pick up the orchestra JUST right.

When all of these things happen, it's beautiful. I'll let you know when (or if) this ever happens for me.

However, wonderful recordings approaching the purity of what I just stated are quite possible by working with even a small handful of mics and channels.

Considering hard drive space is cheap and ADCs are cheap and mic pres are even more affordable now than ever...why should a client have to pay more for a couple extra channels?

I try to carry what I need for the job for whatever it is, regardless if it's a 800 person orchestra and chorus (Mahler 8) or if it's the Schubert Octet. My job as an engineer is to make the recording sound as true-to-life as humanly possible with perhaps my own spin or interpretation.

My goal lately has been to minimize the quantity of equipment while maximizing the quality of the equipment which I take with me. This benefits me, my customers, my back and in the end the final product and thus my business and my bottom line.

Anyway...this has just been my version of venting.

On with your regularly scheduled programming...

Member for

14 years 7 months

TheFraz Sun, 02/03/2008 - 07:15
You're saying that like it's a bad thig.
I am just glad i found a forum where i can be as geeky as I want.

When I first started school for all this, I had this thought that I was never going to be able to turn my self into a enough of geek to do well. That feeling went to shit. Now i can not talk to ny one with out having to seriously. dumb down my vocabulary when I talk about recording.
I have discovered, no mater how much fun it seems to you, no one gives a shit what the last thing you taped a PZM to was

Member for

16 years 8 months

Simmosonic Tue, 02/05/2008 - 22:15
I wrote: I just wet my pants.

Actually, I've been using the Nagra modulometer since 2003. It took very little time to get used to, and I have to say it's one of the best metering systems I've ever used. Then again, I grew up on VU meters [not much room for ball games, and on sudden transients the needle could knock your feet out from under you, but not a bad place to grow up nonetheless] and so I like a metering system with some kind of average indication.

My only criticism of the Nagra V's modulometer is that there is no 'over' indicator. Not that you need it once you know how to read it (hey, that rhymes - I'm a poet and I didn't think so). If I had the time and money, I'd replace those L>R and R>L green LEDs with bicolour LEDs that glowed red when there was an over. That would then be the perfect meter, as far as I'm concerned...

Member for

13 years 7 months

gsbe Mon, 01/28/2008 - 14:32
I agree with this post. I am still working to get an acoustic space to sound right with coincident pairs, even high quality DPA cardiods in ORTF!

If you have 4-channels to record with, throw up 2 of the 4006 in A-B stereo and bring one more pair of high quality cardiods for a closer ORTF if you need some presence for a particular section or soloist and/or can't locate the omni's where you'd like.

JoeH wrote: My choice is the 4006's in a spaced stereo pair config.

I usually add a spot mic for any soloist, just to be covered, although the soloist is often strong enough in the stereo pair that I don't need the spot for much at all. It really depends on the type of music, where they're standing, and placemnt of the stereo pair.

You may be ok with just the pair, but you'll probably have to experiment a little. Hopefully you can get some time during the dress rehearsal to try it out.

Member for

21 years

Member Wed, 01/09/2008 - 14:54
ORTF pair in front of conductor and it also picks up the flute soloist as s/he stands on the LFT. Call it a day, collect check, pack up everything in a knapsack. Walk out with light alu mic stand.

Drive away and adjourn to a smelly Indian or Thai restaurant to celebrate a monumental stereo picture!

Member for

17 years 2 months

JoeH Wed, 01/09/2008 - 15:42
I go with what Ptr and Cucco said, plus respond to this....

If my employer only pays for a stereo recording, that's what he's gonna get. If he pays for transport as well, I'll go all-out and bring the entire mic cache from the school...

There's a lot of things wrong with this statement, but you're certainly welcome to your opinions. I have about 40+ current employers. (Read: Clients). If I took this attitude, I'd have been out of business years ago.

I don't know if you're doing this as a school favor, or as a professional, or even what your relationship is to this person who is your "employer."

If you're looking to do this professionally, I'd suggest you re think your attitude. Very few people sell this kind of product "by the yard" these days, at least not at the level we're talking here. Very often, the competition is so cutthroat, you can't NOT offer extra goodies and services. Always assume there's someone breathing down your neck, waiting to get THEIR shot in front of YOUR employer. Even if you don't see them now, TRUST ME: They're out there, just waiting and scheming to eat your lunch tomorrow.

Sure, you don't want to be a doormat, that's for chumps. But as the Zen folks say: "To serve is to be served." You can always structure your rates to make yourself look great, while "Giving away" things that are already built into your fees, but in more subtle ways.

Let me explain further... As Ptr has already stated, most clients don't give a DAMN about how many mics you use, as long as you get the job done properly. All your soloist is going to care about is if HE/SHE can be heard properly above the rest. (You would not BELIEVE how many engineer wanna-bee's miss this very simple fact of life!)

Every time I do a choral concert (esp with a hired-on orchestra), I make DAMN SURE the choir can be heard above the din, no matter how many mics it takes - usually four, plus soloists. I make sure the conductor (who is usually also the choir director) can HEAR the singers on his CD copies. (Guess who gets the call-backs for the serious stuff next time, eh?)

Of course, I'm delivering a "stereo" CD to the client, but I go the extra mile every time I go out. I bring extra stands, plenty of cable for at least a dozen microphones, and more than enough mixer channels to cover all possiblities. I go to each client's website (or check in via email) to make sure I know the program ahead of time, how many soloists will be involved, extra and exotic instruments, etc. You just never know, and you DONT want to look like an idiot (I can do that just fine on my own) by not being ready for the gig.

Like many others, I went multitrack back in the early 90's, as soon as the Tascam DA-x8 machines became affordable, portable, and reliable enough to take out on gigs. Of course, rock had been multitrack since the Beatles and Les paul before them, but very few folks locally in the classical & jazz biz could understand why I was lugging around an MDM with extra tape when all they wanted was a CD. How times change in just a little over a decade! (Now it's 24 tracks on a laptop, if nec.)

Ditto for recordable CDs. I was one of the first kids on the block in the early 90's to offer clients a CDr copy (at no extra charge!) of their work in progress. Once the cost of a blank dropped from $10 or $15 down to less than a buck apiece, below the cost of a blank cassette - which had to be done in real time..guess who got the callbacks? Some clients didn't even GET why a CD would be a better sound & deal than a cassette dub, but eventually it became the norm. Now it's expected. I'm sure I'm not the first one that thought of this, but believe me, you wanna talk about Client LOYALTY???

One last bit of advice here....sure, you can charge for every little thing, and you may get away with it just fine. You may even become one of those super-rare, ultra-audiophiles guru-types, who sniffs at asking how high when a client says "jump".

But if you're like the rest of us work-a-day types who want to be in biz 5, 10, 15 years from now, you may figure out it's not about the least amount of work you can do for a client's project, but the BEST WAY you can get it done, with the highest quality, and at the same time make that client luuuve you enough to budget enough cash to hire you for the NEXT project, and the next and the next after that.

Or you can just record in stereo onto a DAT, charge him for the tape, postage, and hit him for cartage, too. :roll:

Member for

13 years 8 months

johannes_o Thu, 01/10/2008 - 01:23
Thank you very much for your replies!

Regarding the possibility of using more mics or my attitude towards this gig, I feel I expressed myself very clumsily :)

I'm a sound engineering student, and I live in a town 300 km from where the recording is going to take place. I can either take the bus and do a small recording, or I can bring loads of equipment and drive down. This is dependent on if my employer can afford to pay for the car, cause it'll cost me $400. I could do this for free of course, but I don't feel like losing money doing it. See?

But yes, you're all quite right about attitudes and expectations regarding the overall setup of a gig. I'm just looking for your great experience if it should come to that I'll have to settle for the stereo pair option.

Member for

17 years 6 months

Cucco Thu, 01/10/2008 - 05:35
Yikes...that is a pretty good distance to travel for a student.

Well, if you must, you must.

If you could somehow manage to squeeze 4 tracks of gear onto the bus (borrow mic stands at your destination or plan on flying in the mics??), you would be a lot better off.

However, if that wouldn't be possible, I would agree with Plush's (hopefully somewhat tongue-in-cheek) reply. Grab a pair of DPA Cardioids and go ORTF and call it a day.

I just can't imagine how miserable I'd be after a 4 hour bus ride lugging around audio gear. Then to have to turn right around and get back on the bus thanks.

Member for

15 years 5 months

BobRogers Thu, 01/10/2008 - 05:54

I'm with Joe here. Regardless of the reason that you got into this and the previous arrangements you have made, it may be important to your professional future that this recording is something that you are not ashamed of. It may not get wide distribution, but in particular, a lot of local musicians will know how it sounds. Whether this means getting the orchestra director to provide transportation or getting a couple of friends to help with the promise of bus fare, food, and beer it is in your interest to bring the equipment necessary to make a recording that you feel is satisfactoy.

Just a subtle point of language as an aside: In US English there is a distinction between the client/contractor and employer/employee relationships. The first is usually a specific agreement between equals. In the second, the employee agrees to be subordinate. In blatant contradiction to this we regard the customer (client) as always right while the boss (employer) is always wrong. :wink:

UPDATE: Gulp! I missed the bit about the 300km bus ride. You'd need some very good friends to help out with this. Yeah, a single ORTF pair may be what is realistic. On the other hand, if things like mic stands and cables were provided on site, you might be able to bring a couple of extra mics. Good luck. I hope this works out well for you.

Member for

17 years 2 months

JoeH Thu, 01/10/2008 - 06:16
Johannes; I'm glad you clarified this more, and I congratulate you in advance for having the desire to want to do this at all. I suspect that by the very fact that you're interested in doing this may mean you've got some serious interest in recording, and just might have a career at it. I was also under the impression you had a lot of stuff on hand there - at the school, or nearby, perhaps, etc. - than lugging it all 300km. Big difference, of course.

All that said, you may still be able to pull something off for the long run; perhaps using some of the gear that has been suggested in a "back pack" configuration. I don't envy your long bus ride to/from the venue.

yes, you're 'only' a student right now, but this is a good time for you at this level. (It may not SEEM that way now...hehe....but in 10 or 20 years, you may see it then.) You've got a good opportunity here, and even if you just go with 2 mic stereo, I'm hoping you can turn it into something you can use for a long time as you build your body of work.

Good luck getting it done, seriously. I hope it works out for you.

Member for

17 years 6 months

Cucco Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:18
aracu wrote:
Hi Jeremy, I guess I'd rather not go into the multitracking topic.

I understand. I just didn't understand your comment - not the intent, but the actual comment itself.

Not trying to get into the subject either way, I'm a big fan of minimalist recording and have done my fair share. However, I also understand the value of a quality multi-track rig. Call me a fence rider, but sometimes, riding high on that fence is a great way to see both sides of the issue.


Member for

15 years 11 months

aracu Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:52
Johannes, yes, that comment about the Sound Devices sounding like
they attenuate the high frequencies was based on a careful though subjective and unmeasured comparison of them, to Gordon pres, using a low output ribbon mic, in which they sounded like they had less top end and a more muffled sound overall. Don't get me wrong though, I like those pres a lot and use them all the time. I think that they counteract digital harshness, whether by accident or by design. It seems anyway that differences in good quality and boutique quality pres are pretty negligable compared to the differences in microphone selection and placement.

Member for

17 years 2 months

JoeH Tue, 01/08/2008 - 05:57
My choice is the 4006's in a spaced stereo pair config.

I usually add a spot mic for any soloist, just to be covered, although the soloist is often strong enough in the stereo pair that I don't need the spot for much at all. It really depends on the type of music, where they're standing, and placemnt of the stereo pair.

You may be ok with just the pair, but you'll probably have to experiment a little. Hopefully you can get some time during the dress rehearsal to try it out.

Member for

16 years 10 months

ptr Tue, 01/08/2008 - 06:14
I've done the same with spaced TLM50's, often the soloist can sound a bit off/unbalanced (especially against large tutti). Myself, like Joe, would often set up a spot on the soloist!

With the local band, I'll have just about three rehersal sessions to hone in on the best position, if its a conductor who knows how to balance orchestra and soloist, there's usualy no problem! if he does not (not uncommon), then there's a lot of leg work!!


Member for

17 years 6 months

Cucco Tue, 01/08/2008 - 07:59
Seems like a loaded question to me.

Let's see...if I get hired to do a gig and I haven't seen or heard the venue or group before (in other words, I'm in the situation I'm in now because I don't know the group you're recording and I don't know the venue...)I'd bring everything that I have and let the venue and group tell me what to do by listening.

In some venues, an SF12 would do the trick quite beautifully (and actually, Royer will be putting up a clip of mine on their site soon of an orchestra with a soloist recorded with nothing but the SF12). In some cases, I'd consider it quite bold and daring to even try an ORTF pair of Schoeps.

IOW, we need more information. Can you provide the details? Picitures of the venue? The ensemble type/size/quality, etc.?

If I have a chance later today, I'll post a clip of a flute solo with orchestra (Mozart Flute Cto.) recorded with only stereo pair. This may give you some indication as to the balance you could expect.


Member for

15 years 5 months

BobRogers Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:20
I'm one of the least experienced at this around here, so take this for what it is worth. With so little information, it's just a guessing game, but I'll play. I'd eliminate coincident pair configurations since they depend more on the acoustics to give a wide orchestral stereo field. That leaves me with something like ORTF or spaced omnis. Since the only info we have is that there will be a soloist, I'd choose ORTF.

If you eliminate the constraint that it has to be a single pair, I'd go with a center pair with omni outriggers. Since the outriggers can pretty much guarantee a sense of space, you are more free to choose the center configuration. I'd base the choice on the best mic pair - preamp combo that I had available.