Complete newbie hoping for simple advice on choral recording

Discussion in 'Microphones & Recording' started by a06275, Mar 16, 2007.

  1. a06275

    a06275 Guest

    Hiya guys,

    I hope that I've found the right place for this question. I'm a recent member of a choir (been with them about six months), and I'm hoping to record in some way our concert a week tomorrow, which is being held in a medium-sized church near Maidenhead, England. For a "floor plan", see this page from their website. The choir will be positioned just in front of the Chancel Steps. There will probably be some accompaniment from musical instruments, but definitely not all the songs, and if there is any, it's likely to be no more than a quartet of musicians. The choir itself consists of about four tenors, half a dozen basses, 6-8 altos and about a dozen sopranos, and the style of the music is renaissance choral (this concert contains works by Bach and Buxtehude).

    I currently have no equipment whatsoever, although a work colleague has offered an eight-track hard disc recorder to borrow. I'd kinda like to buy my own equipment so that I can record us more regularly (maybe even some of our rehearsals which tend to take place in less echoey locations!).

    With all this in mind, my questions are fairly short, and hopefully simple to answer, although knowing how massively complicated recording can be and how much combined knowledge you guys have on the subject, I do worry slightly about how simple the answers will be!

    Firstly, how should I best record this concert (techniques)? Things like "where should microphones be placed?".

    Secondly, what really ought to be my absolute minimum recording equipment?

    I want to record something whose only intention really is just to put on a website and say "look - this is the sort of music we sing". I don't need anything expensive - in fact, quite the opposite - and I am only after fairly basic stuff. I have a friend who has Cakewalk for us to mix it in, and I only really need two-track, stereo recording, so I'm hoping I can buy very cheap stuff.

    Any and all help will be very gratefully received.

    Thanks in advance :D
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    That's a beautiful sanctuary! Have fun!

    Onto the questions -

    It really depends on your definition of "cheap".

    At a bear minimum, for a stereo recording of orchestra, you'll need:

    1) 2 microphones (matched)
    2) A stand (at least 8-12 feet tall - higher preferred)
    3) A stereo mic bar
    4) 2 lengths of mic cable (30 meters or beyond to get your gear out of the way)
    5) Microphone preamplifiers (often built into consoles, mixers or other recording devices)
    6) Recording medium (Hard disc, mini disc, CD, etc.)

    For advice on how to mic ensembles, check out: and choose their "Microphone University".

    My preferred methods for chorus (assuming the use of condensers) is A/B or ORTF depending upon the situation and the hall. In your case, a well placed ORTF can be quite rewarding. A very well placed AB could be magnificent!

    As for microphones...there are several "affordable" options available today (I don't like to use the word "cheap" when referring to microphones...)

    Studio Projects C4, Rode NT4/NT5, AT 4041, and many others. Most will be small diaphragm condensers as that's usually a better choice than Large Diaphragm Condensers.

    As for recording medium...nowadays, you can get an affordable 2-track recorder that has **basic** mic pres built right in. Marantz, M-Audio, Korg and many others offer hard disc or solid-state recorders with these options.

    My personal preference would be to shy away from such preamps. The recorders are just fine, but the preamps usually leave a LOT to be desired. Try getting an inexpensive mixer (Mackie or Yamaha) or perhaps even a DAV BG1 (mic it...) He's close to your neck of the woods and the quality is simply breathtaking. The price is a little higher, but considering that you get a PHENOMENAL pre for very little money, it's well worth it (especially if you plan on doing more recording in the future.)

    Good Luck!!!

  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    You don't have much time to get your gear and do some preliminary familiarisation with it!

    I've being doing recordings in English churches since 1967 (!) with varying complexities of equipment and varying degrees of success. I have to say that I don't think you'll get acceptable recordings in this type of environment with "very cheap stuff", but you don't need to spend a fortune. If you had more time, you could afford to wait for suitable gear to come up on Ebay, but I think the timescale precludes that.

    Looking at the plan of Taplow church, I suggest you get permission to run a wire between the two (east) end pillars of the nave at about 12 ft height. This would probably put the wire 4 - 6 feet behind the conductor. You would suspend a microphone from the centre of the wire, and tape the microphone cables to the wire in one direction and run them down the pillar to a recorder at the base.

    When it comes to gear, you need to choose carefully in order not to waste your money by purchasing items that you will become dissatisfied with after a few recordings. You don't give any indication as to budget, but my recommendation as to what to buy as a starter kit would be a stereo microphone, a solid-state, minidisc or hard disk recorder and some cable. At the next level of complexity, you could think of having separate microphone(s) for the musicians, but it's probably better to start simply.

    That said, there is the question of what makes and models. What make is your colleague's hard disk recorder?

    For a single-point stereo microphone with a cardioid pick-up pattern, you have to go a long way to beat a Rode NT4 at the price. The NT4 is a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) mic of a quality that you would continue to use after you have upgraded your recording equipment to full pro standard. It can run off phantom power if the recorder provides it, or from an internal battery.

    For recorders, there is actually quite a choice available now. Examples are:
    Edirol R-09
    Zoom H4
    Sony PCM-D1
    M-Audio Microtrack 24/96
    Sony MZ-RH1 minidisc recorder

    Many of these have built-in microphones, but don't be tempted to use the built-in ones for this type of assignment. Not all of the recorders are suitable for all types of external microphone, so take care.

    You will also need microphone cables fitted with the right type of connectors for the microphone and the recorder.

    Good luck! Feel free to PM me if you need further detail on any of this.

  4. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    a06275, There's lots good advice there so far - especially the bit about picking things up gradually on eBay. If you're on a tight budget, taking a bit of time and grabbing bargains on the secondhand market will hugely help to stretch your money - either you can get better gear for the same money or the same gear for less. Either is good :)

    Since you're quite close to the concert now, you could always hire some equipment for this one whilst you scope out the bargains for the next concert. Have a look at Richmond Film Services for some idea of costs. At their rates you could hire a portable recorder of some sort and a pair of very decent mics for around £50 or less (Though you'd have to pick them up and return them). (No, I don't work for them but I have hired from them for the last 20-odd years and I can't recommend them highly enough.)

    Unfortunately, (given that I live about 10 miles away from Taplow, have more than enough equipment to do the job, enjoy recording choral music, have recorded at St Nick's before (some years ago)) and normally would be only too happy to help out), I'm already recording a concert in London that day, and taking my son in the evening to watch his horn teacher play the R. Strauss First (Horn) Concerto so I'm afraid that I don't think I can offer to help on this occasion.

    However, if you're stuck for equipment, I won't be using anything like all of my kit and could possibly lend you something to tide you over. PM me if you think I may be able to help in any way.

    (Incidentally, it's quite difficult to make slinging (hanging) mics between the pillars work well at St Nicks (a shame as slinging is usually my preferred way of getting a pair of mics into a usable position whilst keeping them out of the way of people's feet/sightlines). It can just about be done there but it's not particularly easy and if you're not used to it you're better off with a stand; preferably something without too large a base area so as not to block the aisle too much. If the front pews are in use for audience, they can find it awkward to navigate past it going to and from their seats - especially if the organisers have designated the front row for disabled audience members.)
  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    At the risk of hijacking the thread (sorry...)
    Who is your son's horn teacher?
    Just curious...
  6. a06275

    a06275 Guest

    Wow ... thanks, guys. Looks like I did find the right place to pose the questions!!!

    I guess I didn't mention budget, because I didn't really know what prices were for the sort of things I needed. The costs involved in the equipment mentioned looked like they would push me well over £500 of purchases, and I guess - naively - I was hoping I could spend less than £200 all in!

    Talk about specific advice for a problem!!! We are the organisers, per se, and I don't believe disabled access has ever been a problem previously, so shouldn't be too much of a hassle. I'm still yet to get concrete go-ahead from the choir master and the vicar, so I would imagine I'd have to promise minimal disruption for them to not mind too much.

    While I'd be very grateful for the loan of any equipment, I'd hate to put anyone out too much, but I'll PM you and maybe we can work out something that wouldn't inconvenience greatly :)

    I guess the idea of getting all this stuff new and before the concert is maybe a little silly ... and if borrowing/begging/hiring equipment that I don't know how to use will result in an awful recording, I might well be better off trying to buy over time and recording our next concert instead. We do about four per year, so it'll only be a few months until the next one, and I could use the time well to buy secondhand, learn more about the art of recording, and practice/refine by recording our rehearsals.

    I don't want anyone to have to repeat wisdom that would easier by read by me elsewhere, so if anyone does have any other useful links like the "microphone university" that I could gen up on, I'd very much appreciate it.

    With regard to starting to look for things on eBay, is there some way I can tell what I'm looking for without your experience of the equipment/market? I'd hate to just be bugging you guys the whole time saying "what about this one? is this any good? this one's cheap", etc.

    Thank you for the very, very sound and useful advice (no pun intended!) so far, and thank you again for any other comments anyone adds :)
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    When shopping, you generally have in mind equipment for a paticular function, or you are looking for a particular make and model. Ebay is a great second-hand shop, but buying audio gear there has its own set of problems.

    Things to consider:
    1. Does this item perform the function I need?
    2. What condition is it in?
    3. What is it worth to me?
    4. Can I trust the seller?

    While all these are applicable to any second-hand sale, nos 2 and 4 are more uncertain with Ebay because of the inability to inspect first-hand the goods and the vendor.

    From your post, there is also an unwritten question no. 0: what functions do I need? That's where these forums can come in, and I hope that the replies you have received so far have gone a little way to answering that. However, audio engineering is not an exact science, and there are often many ways to solve a problem. The matter of personal preference plays a big part, and what may be the obvious way for one engineer to record a live performance may be no-no for another who would do it totally differently. Neither would be wrong, but the listeners to the end result of the recording would have to say which they preferred.

    There is a hard core of experience on this board, and the folks here are usually always willing to give an opinion or advice, so don't worry about asking.
  8. a06275

    a06275 Guest

    I think the function I need is, for the moment at least, to be able to make stereo (A-B seems nice and straightforward), choral recordings in either a church or a rehearsal room. Is that specific enough? Difficult to answer exactly when I don't quite have a clue what I'm talking about lol.

    Obviously there's a fair old minefield out there in terms of make/models of equipment. I've been trying to check eBay (and online prices) for the things mentioned, and it seems to me that - brand new - I'm easily looking at spending a grand to get into this as a hobby (and I thought cycling was expensive). Is this correct?

    Now, according to Cucco ...

    In the absence of an easy way to impart knowledge, my experience of any market tends to be that similar prices engender similar performance, although obviously there can be glaring errors there.

    If I could get an idea of prices for each of the above items (probably combining 5 & 6 to save money), then I can spend some time browsing online shops and then looking for those products on eBay.

    For the recording medium, I think I'd prefer hard disc if possible, and then I could send that back to my computer later on to mix/tweak, rather than having to buy extra media (cards/MDs/etc).

    So, the two questions are:

    (1) What sort of prices should I be looking at paying for each of the items above (pair of mics, stand, mic bar, 2x30m cable, pre-amp/recording medium)?
    (2) Are there any manufacturers I should either tend towards or avoid?

    Thanks :)
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Hey there A06275...
    Here's some ideas on pricing...Although, it might be significantly different in the UK.

    Mic stand -
    For very little money, there are the QuikLok variety of stands (12-14 feet in height - roughly $100-$150 USD)

    Cables -
    I would strongly recommend finding a custom cable shop in your area or, if you're good with a soldering iron, make your own. For stereo recording, I like to use custom stereo cables. It's 1 cable with 2 connectors on each end. It simplifies all cable runs. (I make mine out of Mogami 2-channel snake cable). I'd gladly whore my wares here except 1 - I haven't paid for advertising and 2 - It would cost way too much for me to ship to the UK and it would negate any potential value.

    For recorders/preamps, I would recommend the Marantz PMD660. It's about $500 USD and while it's only a 16bit recorder, it does have decent built-in pres and over all a decent sound. Perhaps more importantly - if you get a new medium in the future, this would be a handy device to keep around as a back-up rig. (I always look to the future on all purchases. If I see that it will be obsolete at the next upgrade, I won't buy it!)

    For "budget" mics, stick with the Rodes. A pair of NT5s will set you back around $400 USD. A used NT4 will be around the same.

    While I LOVE a well-placed AB, it is anything but straightforward. If not done to exacting quality, it can sound downright wrong. To me, ORTF is one of the safest bets. XY is fine, but I find it to be rather unimpressive. MS is great, but definitely not for the realm of "inexpensive."

    Good luck!

  10. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    somewhat (budgetwise) comparable budget mics I (=newbie) like are
    Oktava mk012-06
    then you'll have both cardioid and omni capsules
    and you can try both AB and ortf / xy for yourself

    be sure to read the "Stereophonic zoom" article and all others linked at the must read thread on top of this forum

    have fun
  11. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    PM replied. (Sorry it took a while.)
  12. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    No-one you'd be likely to have heard of ;) My son is only 11 and he started the horn last year, studying with the peripatetic brass teacher who takes care of all brass lessons at his school. Fortunately, this particular peri teacher is actually a horn player who teaches other things rather than the usual trumpet player so he is at least getting some good basic training from someone who actually knows how to play the thing properly.

    I'm sure that the concerto performance will be fine but I'm not expecting Mike Thompson or Radovan Vlatkovic ;) The orchestra is a local amateur group and again, I doubt they'd worry the LSO too much but it should be a good evening and the main thing is for my son to go along and hear the piece live for the first time.
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