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Two mics for orchestra

Ok. I know this is a hotly debated topic, so I suppose it deserves a thread of its own.

Does anyone get good results with this approach?



Profile picture for user Thomas W. Bethel
Member for
19 years 6 months

Thomas W. Bethel Fri, 06/17/2005 - 04:47

When I worked for the local college we had an Neumann SM-69 hanging in the concert hall and the chapel that we used to record all the concerts with (coincident pair) and had excellent results for archives and broadcast. I also recorded the Cleveland Orchestra with the same setup and got rave reviews from the radio station when the tapes were broadcast. We also had an AKG C-24 that we used in the same configuration for our smaller concert hall. The only problem with the C-24 was that it was never balanced and even though we sent it back to AKG numerous times we could never get the two channels to sound or act the same. I think the microphone was jinxed. We even replaced the cord and the power supply but still had the same problems. I understand that after I left they sold the microphone. I think a lot depends on the hall and what you are trying to record.


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16 years 7 months

ptr Fri, 06/17/2005 - 04:48

Well John,

That depends on what orchestra we are talking about, strings, brass/military band even chamber orchestra, sure why not. I've done dozens of such with just my pair of TLM 50's. I've even recorded Mozart and early Beethoven/Schubert symphonies this way. But then, it's quite dependning on the room You are working in! As with any recording situation, You have to use a sollution that works. Sometimes two mikes is the best way to go!

Most Symphony recordings I've don have been 4 mikes anyway (Two main Omni and two Omni on the woodwinds (KM130)), sometimes a spot on double bass to get some umph in the bottom. Then the odd spot on any instrument that has "solo like" parts within.. (Like harp or the leader) - And if there's a soloist I'll spot it with a pair of KM140..


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JoeH Fri, 06/17/2005 - 08:46

Of course! it's the staple of most classical recordings for me. I always say: Look, if we HAD to, we could do this gig with a pair of B&K 4006's hung in the right spot and be done with it. That's always the fallback plan, for us anyway, should everything else goes to hell.

Unless there's video or supertitle projections, or whatever, I find the optimum spot for a space pair of them is usually 10-15 feet over the conductor's head, (flown or on a tall stand) and that's what I'm working from. The rest is icing on the cake. I regularly record a 30-35 member chamber orchestra in a 650 seat recital hall. We fly some ambient mics in the rear of the hall, over the audience, and drop a solo mic (or put it on a stand) when we can, but the main sound is done with the omni pair. Again, if we had to, we could still turn off the other extras and use just the main pair (in most cases).

Very often in other venues, we'll do a simple "soloist with an orchestra" type of recording - one spot for the soloist, and the main omni pair for the orchestra. If the hall sounds good, and if the ensemble is balanced, you can pull it off. Not always, of course! But it can be done, no arguments there.

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51 years 5 months

Sonarerec Fri, 06/17/2005 - 17:56

Regarding 2-mic orchestral, Steven Epstein said this in a 2002 interview:

"I like to use as few mics as possible; many of my symphonic recordings have been done with only two microphones, even though I like to set up more than two and send them to other tracks just in case we need to call on them during a mix. But you can also do a natural-sounding classical recording using 20 mics—it depends on the acoustics of the venue thatyou’re in. You basically have to tailor your setup to the acoustics of the hall."

This from a guy who could have as many tracks as he wants (in DSD at that!). And his Yo-Yo Ma Baltimore Sym things were a single pair of 4003s.


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16 years 8 months

John Stafford Fri, 06/17/2005 - 19:22

Hi gentlemen
Thanks for the opinions. I always use just two mics (or a stereo mic) and I've got some good results.

I suppose I should have phrased the question differently. I should have asked if anyone finds the two mic approach superior for a full-size orchestra. That's the really contentious issue. There are of course purists who think anything else is blasphemous, but I don't know that I ever heard such a recording. Of course the fewer mics the better, but it seems that in most cases, people tend to prefer to have a little extra, for ambience or whatever.

I'm really looking forward to doing some piano recordings with a single stereo mic, but I will probably use a couple of omnis further back. I'm looking for a radically different piano sound, so that should be fun. Oops -I've just realised I've gone way off topic.

Cheers everyone

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16 years 2 months

Zilla Fri, 06/17/2005 - 19:24

I have never been impressed with coincident or near-coincident pair recordings of orchestral music. In all my attempts at such an arrangement I have always come away unsatisified. I also feel the same way about highly praised audiophile recordings by others using the same technique. Directional mics just don't have the full frequency response that an omni has. Also, the coincedent positioning of the capsules prevents inter-aural time delay information from creating the illusion of spaciousness, which I prefer.

That being said, a single pair of spaced omni's can provided excellent results, given an obliging acoustic recording space.

And with THAT said, orchestral recordings which I am most impressed with have tended to be multi-mic'd. I suppose it is a matter of personal taste.

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DavidSpearritt Fri, 06/17/2005 - 19:44

I agree on nearly all these points. In my early days, I was a minimilist and pushed two omni mics, but that because that's all I had :) and I use to throw up a couple of omnis for everything.

But now I am wiser and older and have more mics, and well, it can be better. I think in an excellent hall and with a small source size like a chamber orchestra can work well. Certainly, our recordings of the Aust Chamber Orchestra sound great with just two 4003's.

But when the orchestra is symphonic in size I am not so sure. Some of my favorite orchestral sound recordings are from Keith R Johnson with the Minnesota Orch on RR, the Rach symphonic dances disc is unbelievable, does anyone know what his techniques are. I am sure its multi miked, cause I can hear the percussionist scratching his leg and picking up beaters, close! I also like some of softer Decca Boston Symphony stuff, some of the DG and they are multimiked.

I think in the end it comes down to the hall and the orchestra size. I agree omni's are best for the main pair, although a Blumlein pair close with omni flanks filling out the side quadrants can sound superb.

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51 years 5 months

Sonarerec Fri, 06/17/2005 - 21:18

I recall in the late 70s-early 80s a D-G Bartok Piano Concertos project with the Chicago Symphony in Orch Hall- a pair of Schoeps tube omnis for mains, a pair of M50s (?) on piano, and about 3 dozen U87s thoughout the orchestra. Such depth! (Not!)

Perhaps Plush can fill in the details....


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16 years 5 months

DavidSpearritt Fri, 06/17/2005 - 22:08

Yeah, I only said some of the DG. I like some of the Berlin Phil stuff they did, and I have a nice Rach 2 with the Russian National Orchestra under Pletnev.

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16 years 3 months

0VU Sat, 06/18/2005 - 05:44

In the 1980's Denon recorded a complete cycle of Mahler Symphonies (Frankfurt Radio SO/Eliahu Inbal) using just a single pair of B+K (DPA) 4006 omnis. An extract from the Fourth Symphony featured on a Series 4000 recording mic demonstraction CD issued by B+K, also in the '80s, and it ws good enough to make me shell out the cash for yet another set of Mahler Symphonies!

The Denon series long ago was deleted from the catalogue but recently I was told that it was licensed to a company called Brilliant Classics and is available again as a boxed set. As an example of what can be done with a single stereo pair on large orchestral forces it's well worth a listen.

(Musically, the performances are very good though to everyone's taste (cool, calm, measured readings - not cold or uncaring, just not overly emotional or indulgent) and the playing throughout is very good indeed. I quite like them, they give an interesting alternative take on the music that's often surprising, but if you prefer your Mahler the Bernstein way you might find them lacking.)

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FifthCircle Sat, 06/18/2005 - 13:41

DavidSpearritt wrote: I think in the end it comes down to the hall and the orchestra size. I agree omni's are best for the main pair, although a Blumlein pair close with omni flanks filling out the side quadrants can sound superb.

This is my usual starting point for orchestras... Right now at this festival, I've got my 426 in blumlein with my 4006's as flanks. Sound is wonderful with it... I also have a pair of M930's as woodwind spots up at a very low level for articulation of their sound. Also, harp, celeste, piano and the concerto soloist are spotted in the ensemble.

In the case of my piano concertos, the blumlein pair was positioned so that the null of the pair is facing the lid of the piano as to minimize reflections.

If going minimal, I like 3 omnis- either in a decca tree or spaced a la the old Mercury stuff. 2 omnis, I find has a tendency to give very strange image issues.


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Cucco Mon, 06/20/2005 - 10:44

Hey John!

I like to think of the 2 mic technique for picking up an orchestra as one of the ultimate tests of one's chops.

A well placed AB pair can pick up most any orchestra given the quality of the room. A poorly placed AB pair can cause all sorts of problems such as excessive brightness or dullness, phasing and imaging issues and many other problems.

That being said, I don't often used simply 2 mics for picking up an orchestra. That's for a few reasons. First, while I feel confident in my abilities to place mics carefully, I don't want to be wrong and kill a recording. The use of flanks can seriously narrow the chances of a major screw up. (Of course a bad recording with flanks or spots can be FAR worse than a simple AB recording - it just tends to be a bit more fault tolerant.) Second, I like the versatility and wide imaging inherint in larger mic setups. My personal choice/favorite for most large orchestral ensembles is double AB - or one main array of omnis and one pair of flanks. Of course, given the hall, I've been known to use XY or ORTF as the main array with flanks externally.

I can't imagine an orchestral situation where I'd want to use XY and only XY. Also, very rarely would I ever consider this for ORTF - spaced omni is really the only position I would try with only 2 mics. There's one exception to that - concert bands. I've been known to record concert bands with only an XY or ORTF setup and get pretty good results. The sound of a concert band tends to lend itself better to this type of setup over an orchestra.

As for stereo mics - I personally don't currently own one. I can't say that I wouldn't, I just don't personally see the "Value Added" benefit to me. If one came along with a good price point that truly blew wind up my skirt, I might be inclined to buy it, but I can do so much with 2 individual mics that I just can't do with a single point stereo mic.

Just some thoughts.


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16 years 8 months

John Stafford Tue, 06/21/2005 - 17:48

Cucco wrote: I like to think of the 2 mic technique for picking up an orchestra as one of the ultimate tests of one's chops.

Jeremy, I remember reading some company's website where they used lots of spots, but for clients that wanted a more minimalist approach they charged a fortune, due to the difficulty of setting up two mics.

Anyways, I'm thinking of using a stereo centre mic in Blumlein (if I can fit everyone in 90 degrees!), with two others placed elsewhere.


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16 years 6 months

mathieujm Wed, 06/22/2005 - 04:51

FifthCircle wrote: 2 omnis, I find has a tendency to give very strange image issues.

I don't have this problem with a Jecklin Disc. It gives a very spacious but precise image but it's not ok in not good sounding halls.


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FifthCircle Wed, 06/22/2005 - 10:04

Jeklin disk is a very different thing than just 2 omnis (spaced usually). I'm not a huge fan of this technique, but I have heard some good work done with it.

2 spaced omnis is asking for image issues.


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ptr Wed, 06/22/2005 - 12:53

FifthCircle wrote: 2 spaced omnis is asking for image issues.

That quite depends on Your choice of Omnis...

I rearly, if ever, have any image issues with a spaced pair of TLM 50 or M 150.. Myself on the other hand, never seem to quite beeing able to get a likable image using blumlein or anything closely paired... but then, I am but an amateur, who do this of love to the craft, so I'll keep on trying till I understand why it don't work for me... ...Could it be that we are listening for diffrent things...