A fresh start

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by T-L, Mar 22, 2007.

  1. T-L

    T-L Guest

    I've been reading this board for a year and some now, without having had prior to now anything genuinely interesting to contribute - seems you all are asking/answering pretty much the same questions I encounter. But now I think I have a question some of you will find entertaining.

    Before I get to the real thing, my question necessitates I waste a number of bytes of server space with an introduction:

    I started the classical music recording by accident - being the most technically-oriented in a group of wanna-be musicians, I several years ago promised to find out just how we could record our (rather awful) playing. And so I was lured into the dark side---

    The following years I picked up equipment as I went forward, selling what I didn't use, buying new things gradually, finally ending up with a mixed gear which was serviceable, but not perfect: several channels of rather nice signal path from the collection of varied microphones through pre-amps to a firewire i/f to a laptop.

    I mostly record for budding artists, who need a demo CD to start a career, or for conservatories who want something or other documented, or for similar semi-professional musicians and talented amateurs. My clientele consists mostly of lied duos (or more precisely operatic voice, either male or female, plus a piano), quite often I do a string instrument with piano accompaniment, and sometimes a small vocal ensemble - largest thing was this amateur choir with a few instrumentalists doing Baroque motets. I do almost exclusively classical - pop/rock artists have a supply of sound engineers who now how to do their business and with whom I cannot compete. I've found a narrow niche created by those young sopranos finding your archetypal rock sound engineer half deaf and fully frightening...

    By no means I can label myself a fully accredited professional, but most of the times I end up with the microphones placed not-totally-wrong, and in the end the musician is often more or less happy. Even a few careers have been started with the demo CDs - or at least there are cases where the CDs have not ruined the career... Locations I work in include churches, conservatory chamber music halls, small concert venues etc.

    This isn't exactly what could be considered a thriving business, and for a very long time I considered this more a hobby, where almost all money earned went into the equipment. I still supplement the income with a related job, but lately this semi-hobby has indeed been adding something to my chronically cash-challenged family economy.

    Next, this lengthy introduction is followed a short but sad story, and the real question:

    One of these days, I was on the homebound leg from a recording gig, driving my trusty old van on this small snowy road, when the car in front of me suddenly did something surprising. Surprised, I hit the brakes only to find that - oops - it was precisely the wrong thing to do. Next thing, the bushes on the side of the road do a surprise attack, and there I am, in the ditch. In a surprisingly muddy, deep and cold ditch, with water seeping in the van. I had literally all the equipment worth the name with me - back home I had only a few things I already had dropped but hadn't yet managed to sell out.

    So, after a futile but heroic fight against the fine company on whom I had trusted my insurance, I ended up with a deal: they keep all the equipment involved in the accident - and they meant it: all includes mic stands, cables etc. - and I get a lump sum compensation which to me seems to be on the low side, but which also seems to be the maximum I can get.

    Now, finally, I get to the question:

    I can either spend the cash on food, drink and pleasurable company, or I can approach the situation as a fresh start for my recording enterprises. Let's assume I take the latter option: what would you buy if you were in my boots? I know what I liked amongst the equipment I used to had, and I also know what I found lacking amongst it - but no way can I claim that I can assemble the best possible rig, where all the pieces perfectly complement each other. There, I would value your insight:

    So, given a fresh start, what would you do? Which is the centre piece around which I should build the new rig. On instinct, I would say the microphones - what do you think?

    Parameters, which should not limit your ideas, but which do limit the things I can do:

    - Total expenditure of, say, 12,000 Euro (max 15,000) for a recording solution accomodating the needs I tried to describe above - new van (and a few driving lessons) not included in this, but cabling and stands, yes (I do still have a few lengths of cable and some instable cheap-o stand-like thingys, but most was lost).

    - I commonly record 4-6 channels, but I would think 8 channels is the minimum I should have at my disposal.

    - I have preferences on the make and model (or type) of equipment, but on purpose I'm not telling these yet.

    - Portable solution is needed, but here "portable" should be reflected against the fact that when younger, I worked for this company doing piano removals: I suspect I still have slightly distorted view to what is portable and what is not...

    - Location is Europe, and I would hope to be back in business in four weeks from now - I have a lied duo booked there which I did not (yet) cancel. This places a limit on availability: used gear is OK, but the core equipment I need rather soon.

    And that's the end - I apologise the length.

  2. d_fu

    d_fu Guest


    sad story - at least you had an insurance for pro gear. No idea where I'd be in the same situation.

    Would you care to disclose where in Europe you are?

    To recommend a setup, it would help to know what you had before, what you liked about it or not, and also what kind of mic setups you like to work with. What's the use of recommending a nice pair of omnis if you believe in Blumlein... :wink:

    I think you can go quite far with second-hand gear. A substantial part of my own mic collection consists of ebay bargains, most of which I'd never part with. Good second-hand mics will take you further than brand-new chinese imitations.

    I also do most of my recordings these days with a second-hand laptop - a Toshiba Tecra 9000, which once was something really expensive... It's got a new internal hard drive and a DVD-RAM drive, and it's been perfectly reliable. With only 933 MHz, it's more than fast enough for recording, and at the same time, it's rather quiet.

  3. Duckman

    Duckman Active Member

    Aug 2, 2006
    Hi Tim,

    To be blunt, I'm far less knowledgable than most on this forum, so my suggestions must be taken with a grain of salt... but here goes.

    The other caveat is that I usually think in terms of Mac rather than PC or other portable recorders :)

    Macbook ($1100)
    Logic Express ($250)
    Metric Halo 2882 + DSP: 8 channels of great conversion and very nice EQ/comp if needed ($2195)
    DAV BG8 (not sure of price, perhaps $2500?)

    4x Schoeps CMC6 with matching sets of MK2s and MK4 and MK8 capsules (around $7400)
    Beyer M130 and M160 ($1200)

    Reverb: Altiverb ($500)

    Monitoring: AKG K701 headphones through Metric Halo (approx $400)

    It's slightly over budget and leaves nothing for cables and stands... but most of the prices quoted are around the full retail price, so I'm sure with street prices/ebay you could fit it all in under budget.

    Or not.


  4. rfreez

    rfreez Active Member

    Jun 17, 2006
    Chennai, India
    Home Page:
    Greetings and welcome...

    I am far from an expert on this, and the question is far too generic, but have recently made a resolution to contribute at least one post to this forum everyday, so here goes :)

    Your budget is between 12 and 15k euros, lets split the difference and go with 13.5k euros, which is about US$18k...

    Microphones - $6000*
    Mic Preamps - $2600*
    Mytek 8x192 AD/DA - $3175**
    Your Choice of spruced up Laptop - $1500
    Mytek Digital 8X192 Firewire DIO Card - $725
    Cables, Stands, Power Conditioning, Headphones, Misc- $1500
    Recording Software ( Samplitude?) - $500

    * choice of mics and pres is so subjective, that detailing here is just a fun game, but FWIW, I would, purely on reputation or specs go with:

    2 x Milab DC196
    2 x Beyer M160
    2 x Mojave Audio MA100
    2 x AKG C451B
    8 Channels of DAV preamplification

    ** The Mytek has the advantage of being an 8 channel summing mixer and a master clock source...

    Your pockets are still heavy by $2k, I would recommend the following as a fine approach to easing the weight:

    1. An evening with family and friends with painstakingly fermented grape juice in abundance, and lots of dead animals cooked to perfection on an open air grill. Make no compromises here, better microphones can wait. ($1000)

    2. An endowment of $1000 for any struggling young sound engineer from chennai, india, who gives you a bunch of ideas within 5 minutes of my posting this :)

    a struggling young sound engineer from chennai, india.
  5. T-L

    T-L Guest

    d-fu - you're correct, I did not tell how I set up, I told only what I try to record. Below something more on the techniques I have commonly utilized. As for the location, Germany, and I did receive my school time indoctrination, you oppressors from the capitalist west. :p

    Given this background, I believe some of my equipment would have been rather exotic to many of you. For example, I had once a pair of Lomo 19A19, which I then sold to a band trying to be the new Pink Floyd. Haven't heard from them since, but that's probably not because of the microphones...

    Anyway, most of what I regularly used was made through careful, boring Bundesengineering, with a few American goodies thrown in. I have to admit that there was a lot of stuff I more or less hauled around just in case I need it, even though it was in truth falling out of use.

    So, the techniques I've used with moderate to good success: M-S of ribbon microphones when trying to produce a recording where a singer is in the highlight (this would be the typical demo CD work). This often seems to call for condenser spots on the piano. Omni condensers have been lately the preferred tool of trade when in an excellent location trying to produce a well-balanced recording, but for some reason (perhaps the microphones I owned?) it was very unforgiving for an operatic voice. Blumlein I've done also, but more as an experiment or for practice. When under schedule pressure, I seem to be going for something else. ORTF, X-Y geometries - yes, but somewhat less often than M-S or omnis.

    rfeez - your idea of spending a share of the money on things fun and refreshing certainly is luring. Unfortunately, since the insurance company told me that something called depreciation had eaten the value of my perfectly working equipment (OK, admittedly some were old, and only a few were brand new even when I acquired them) I fear that I cannot get new gear with similar utility given the budget. So there goes not only the insurance money, but also some savings.

    There is perhaps a lesson on insurances hidden here somewhere, but I'm not certain whether I've learned it.

  6. d_fu

    d_fu Guest

    Your English is remarkable for a commie... :D :D
    I somehow still suspected you might be german.

    I live fairly close to the fence, so if you want, you could PM me with your phone number and we canhave a chat... And if you are interested, maybe I could help out with some gear for that recording you've got coming up, so you won't need to buy stuff in a haste that you'll regret later (provided I'm not busy elsewhere on the date and you're not all the way near the Polish border).

  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Well, by "Fresh Start", I still think you need to define things a little bit more.... Will you be going "pro" from here on out, or will this continue to be a part-time/some-time hobby, passion, etc. Will you take a new, more aggressive approach with this as a business from here onward?

    I think it could impact the kind of recordings you're trying to make.

    Some of the recommendations are a bit high-end, IMHO, and while they're certainly very good and nothing to complain about, I think you could stretch your budget a bit better, depending on where this is all going for you in the long run.

    For example, if this is a money making enterprise for you currently, and you need to get gear ASAP so you can get back in the game, you might want to look at some more (less esoteric, perhaps) expenses so you can get back into basic recording, generating invoices, and getting on your feet - so you can generate more invoices and buy better gear as you go. There are many very good, mid-level products out there that will more than do the job for you.

    I realize your question was what we would suggest for a fresh start; but I think there are two approaches here: what would we spend the money on if that was IT, and no more purchases happening any time in the future, or what would we suggest to get you STARTED, with more to come.

    In the case of the latter, I'd get a good 12 pair snake with four returns, a case of mic cables (2x 100' 4x50', 10x25' and so on), some decent stands, a laptop of your choice running the softwre of your choice, using a decent converter/preamp w/Firewire that won't break the bank for you. (Fireface 400 or 800 comes to mind...) Ditto for the HD storage and mics. Scheops are wonderful, but for now, perhaps you'll want to consider something more afforable to get you started.

    For monitoring, headphones on the gig are fine, as you'll probably be mixing this back at home base afterward.

    If you go the ultra-high end approach, you'll have less to work with initially, and your flexibility may be limited, no matter how much the converters cost or sound.

    Final thought: as you grow and expand into the ultra high end stuff you'll be able to afford later on, you can gradually move your "new" (slightly less esoteric) stuff into a second or backup status.
  8. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    Joe makes a lot of sense, but I'm going to present a different point of view...

    T-L, with your past experience I think you ought to know what you're doing by now, and I'm sure over the years you've been building up a 'wish list' of stuff. The accident, though tragic, has the positive outcome that you are able to update your equipment. I am sure there are many readers here who would embrace such an opportunity!

    My personal point of view comes from having spent too much money in the past on 'second best' and 'this will do for now' products, always purchased with the intention of buying the better stuff later "when I can afford it"...

    In the end, all I really achieved was the frustration of wishing I had waited longer and bought the better stuff; coupled with the realisation that the money I'd spent on 'second best' would've been much better utilised as the beginning of my savings towards the better product. As an example, buying a $1000 mic when the one you really want costs $2000. Scenario A says that you buy the $1000 mic and make do with it until you can afford to buy the $2000. Scenario B says the $1000 you currently have is already half-way towards the purchase price of the $2000, so keep saving.

    The difference is that in Scenario A, by the time you get the $2000 mic you really wanted, you've actually spent a total of $3000 - you've got the $2000 mic at last, but you're also stuck with a $1000 mic you hardly ever use (since getting the $2000 mic) and you can't help thinking "I wish I had that $1000 back". In Scenario B, however, you have only spent $2000 and don't have a mic you rarely use and a sense that you wasted $1000. Scenario A gets you up and going faster, but Scenario B gets you going with the good stuff faster than Scenario A does, and for less total outlay. If you are in this business for the long haul, you may be better off following Scenario B...

    Regarding specific recommendations, I agree with others that the information you have provided so far is a bit vague, but I suspect that is deliberate and so I'll give you a vague and non-specific suggestion: don't economise on the microphones - buy the ones you have always wanted or dreamed about, while you can, even if it means getting a cheaper preamp, converter or interface to start with. The mics will have a far greater impact on the overall sound than the choice between preamps, converters, interfaces and software. Preamps, converters, interfaces and software come and go, people are always replacing them, there's always a new flavour-of-the-month preamp or AD converter that everyone is raving about, there's always a more powerful interface just around the corner, and there's always a new version of software coming out real soon now. This 'autumnal' gear is not the stuff to build your rig around, because it is always changing.

    But a good microphone will always be a good microphone. It is ever-green; it holds its value and it defines the sound of your recordings more than anything else in the signal path. A good mic through an average preamp will always sound better than an average mic through a good preamp.

    So, spend big on the microphones and economise on the rest (if you have to)...
  9. T-L

    T-L Guest

    d-fu, thanks for the kind offer - gave me very optimistic and good feeling for the weekend. Unfortunately, the situation probably makes it impractical: I'm relatively close to Polish border and the Czech border is much closer still (South and East from Dresden, to spell it out). What comes to my English skills, they were a bit helped by a year and a half I spent abroad as soon as the governement and my Mother allowed. Have to say my Dear Mother was more persistent of these two, and still hasn't really forgiven me for abandoning her...

    JoeH, this is currently an important source of income, even though not the only one. Expanding this business would be very nice, but first, I'm not that good in taking risks (most of the time I don't dare, and when I do I quite often end up hoping I didn't...), and second, given how the business has been evolving this far, a sudden jump up in volume (sic) seems unlikely.

    I need to be back on the job rather soon - every job cancelled hurts, and I did right away cancel several weeks. But, what else could I? Even if I'm going to start the purchases this week, I need time to learn to work with the new rig, and doing that on the Customer's expence wouldn't be fair (apparently I'm not much of a businessman). Anyway I gave my Customers the advice to postpone everything important, and to take someone else on jobs that cannot be postponed. I'm really hoping at least few of them appreciate the gesture enough to be back later...

    Anyway, the question I'm trying to answer is, what to buy to get me started again knowing, that the next equipment purchase after the budget is spent will be a long time coming.

    Simmosonic, I think I tend to agree with what you say about microphones, but I'm bound by the budget, so what JoeH is saying makes very much sense. The real problem seems to be, that my dream list simply is too expensive, and if I buy what I really would wish to have, I end up with a very limited ability to react to the needs of the situation.

    And, since almost everyone pointed out that I should reveal my preferences: I would really like to be able to buy a number -say, 6 pieces - of Schoeps CMC6, plus a selection of capsules MK2Hg, MK4g and MK8g. Then, two both Beyerdynamic M130&M160, since I'm quite used to and like ribbons on operatic voices. To complement this, some large diaphragm condensers - MBHO or Gefell or Beyerdynamic. The problem is, my budget would not get me even to the end of my microphone wish list.

    Daydreaming aside, I'm now looking into the direction of affordable small capsule condensers, while keeping my eyes open for used Schoeps... I think I still simply want two new ribbon microphones: buying ribbon microphones used doesn't seem attractive. For these, I need a sufficient quality preamplifier, preferably one that can do M-S, even though the decoding can also be done with software. I believe I can find this piece used. Then, if I take the advice from JoeH and opt for FireFace 800, I have the four in-built preamplifiers plus the two I purchase for ribbons - total 6 serviceable channels. Previous experience says that being able to set up and record 6 separate channels is in most cases sufficient for a duo work, and even a small ensemble, perhaps a piano trio or string quartet, should be manageable. That is, in good conditions if no surprises happen. However, previous experience also contains a lot of examples of surprises happening...

    So, current plan is to begin with
    - 4 pieces of small capsule condensers so, that I have the option to configure these for omni or for cardioid. Rode NT5+NT45 capsule seems to be providing this. Another option I'm thinking is the Oktava MK-12, which comes with three capsules. Netkaufhaus Thomann and oktava-shop.com seem to quote roughly Euro 1000 total for 4 pieces.

    - Beyerdynamic M130 + M160, which would hurt me roughly 980 Euros total. On top of that, the preamplifier I should be able to get below Euro 1000.

    - The RME Fireface 800 costs new Euro ~1200, a laptop would cost at least 2000 - external storage media included, I hope... Software I have - I lost the instances on my old laptop, but the installation media plus the licences I still own.

    - Finally, something like 400 Euros on connecting and powering up the units and pieces (a small multitude of microphone cables, "snake" - an older colleague who teached me a lot refers to this as the "medusa" - power feed cables plus UPS), another 400 on stands, adaptors, clamps etc., and yet 500 on cases, bags, tools and different accessories and expendables - I need at least a good multimeter (in these-here parts it cannot always be taken for granted that the electrician was sober when he connected the wall socket...). Basic hand tools and the quintessential soldering iron I still have.

    So, I would spend something like 7500 Euros - half of the max. budget - and I'm only equipped for the very basic work, where no surprises ever happen. The first job is however covered and I've bought a bit of time to get stronger on the microphones and preamplifiers department with the rest of my budget.

    Opinions, anyone? I'm probably missing something completely here - anyone kind enough to tell me what it is?

    OK, if I replace the Rode/Oktava with Schoeps, the cost goes up by roughly Euro 5800 to Euro 13300 - I would be very limited, even though the microphones would be quite better, I believe. Alternatively, replacing the Fireface with Mytek 8x192 I would also need the 4 channels of preamplification built in the Fireface. Assuming I could find this (perhaps used) at Euro 200/channel, I would end up at roughly 11,000 total - this woud be attractive if my plan would be stronger in microphones. As it is, there would be only Euro 4000 max. left - I think this is worth considering but on the instinct it feels too light on the microphones department, and (relatively) too heavy on the digital end.

    Contrasting opinions are most welcome. And, I'm truly sorry I cannot keep it short and to the point.

  10. larsfarm

    larsfarm Active Member

    Aug 6, 2005
    Home Page:
    Yet another reasonably priced option might perhaps be AKG C480 with exchangable capsules. http://akg.com/site/powerslave,id,2,nodeid,2,pcategory,9,_language,EN.html

  11. d_fu

    d_fu Guest

    Ok... But the offer is valid in principle, if there is something urgent and I'm free on the day. I am used to long drives...

    What's your view on buying second hand? My experience has been mostly positive by a big margin..

    This may be prejudice, but I've never been interested in Oktavas. Somehow, I have a feeling they may not be as reliable or well-matched or whatever as others...

    I'd cast another vote for AKG 480s. The bodies are about € 400 apiece, and the capsules are relatively inexpensive (around 200). There are omnis, cardioids and hypers. Many people don't like them, but I've had 460s and 480 for a long time and I've always liked their clear open sound.
    When I first bought mics, Schoepses were unaffordable, and the AKGs offered exchangeable capsules and a swivel mount at a good price. Meanwhile, I've actually found I don't like Schoepses very much...

    And if you can afford Schoepses later, the AKGs will indeed make good seconds/backups.

    If you need another good pair of cardioids, Beyer MC930 is worth considering.

    I use a second-hand Tecra 9000, not very fast by today's standards, but fast enough for recording. I do the editing on a desktop PC.
    You can get a laptop of this kind under € 400 (even from commercial dealers who will offer a warranty), a new system drive won't cost much, you can even add a DVD (-RAM) drive, plus some external drives, and you're set... As for the Tecra 9000 in particular, its internal Firewire works well with the FF800 (which is something that not every current laptop can claim). You could also consider a Fireface 400, an external preamp with ADAT, and something for the ribbons to connect analog, if you want a separate preamp for the purpose...

  12. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    be very aware that Thomann sells the chinese version of the oktava's,
    not the russian ones: http://www.oktava-online.de/

    I'm very happy with my 2x mk012-06
    (but I'm definetly no pro)
    I wish they also had figure 8 capsules
  13. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    Hmmm... I put my Dear Mother on ebay so that I could afford the Nagra V. Priorities, T-L, priorities!

    Rather than passing them on to someone else, perhaps you can find someone to collaborate with? Someone who has the gear and will work with you, splitting the income of course. But it remains your job; you place yourself between the musicians and the collaborating engineer, so you are essentially *his* client. That way, you don't risk losing *your* clients.[/quote]

    I had a pair of Oktava MC012s with cardioid and omni capsules for many years. They were the Russian models; never had any problems with them beyond particularly XLR fittings and slightly gritty threads on the clips. I didn't like them for distant miking, but they were often chosen for spot-miking acoustic guitar and similar in the absence of a KM84 or 184...

    As for the Rodes, I recently took a pair of NT55s with cardioid and omni capsules around the Himalaya with me for three months. As cardioids, they were certainly good *for the price*, but it was the omni response that really impressed me. In omni, I think they perform considerably above their price point.

    That would be my two cents worth except that I'm broke so I'll invoice you for it. Okay?

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