Recording Classical Instruments with Ribbons and Condensers? Possible?

Snake220

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germany
Hi Recording.org community! I wanted to reach out to your collective wisdom! Is it possible/recommended to record classical instruments (I am a professional flutist) with both ribbons and condensers?? I have seen this in a couple of places eg. on the Royer website they have a recording of a flutist with a SF-24 and 2 Rode NT-6 omnis flanking on a stereo bar.

http://royerlabs.com/library/poulenc-flute-sonata-1st-movement/

And in Ray Chen’s new home-recorded solo album Solace, he recorded it with a pair of Sennheiser At4080 and a stereo pair of DPA 4006s. No idea how they managed that though as the mics are spread kinda randomly through the room! However he was directed by Jonathan Allen from Decca so there must be logic to it..


In both case the results are lovely! And the obvious similarity is that both the condensers are omnis. Is that the only way to do it with classical instruments? I know that a very popular electric guitar combination is Royer 121 with a 57 or some use a ribbon in a m-s setup.

The reason I’m asking is I’ve been testing a bunch of mics, and ribbons such as 121 or R84 have much more body than a condenser but the top end is lacking. So my thought was that a combination would be the next step...

Any thoughts or suggestions would be much appreciated!

Dave
 

Boswell

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Hi Dave, and welcome!

There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when using multiple microphones (as opposed to a simple stereo pair) for this sort of recording.

Firstly, what you are recording is the instrument in the acoustic of the room. The YT video you linked shows Ray Chen in a low-ceilinged, untreated room, which would normally be a red flag to any recording engineer. However, after the Decca producer added considerable artificial reverb to the recording, the reflections off the walls and ceiling were pushed almost below audibility. What we don't know is how much he time-shifted the various microphone signals to get them to reinforce in a pleasant-sounding way. One point about the microphones used is that they are all top quality and top-dollar. I didn't care for the stunt with the cheap instrument.

Secondly, the output from pressure-sensitive (e.g. condenser) and velocity-sensitive (e.g. ribbon) microphones are inherently 90 degrees out of phase with one another for the same wavefront, so the microphones have to be both physically positioned relative to the sound source and then mixed with this in mind. This is really only a big problem when trying to use a mix of condenser and ribbon in a mid-side (M-S) configuration, and once you get away from near-coincident positioning, the phase problems diminish rapidly.

In contrast to a violin in an apartment, your first link (to the Poulenc flute sonata) was recorded in the Potton Hall, Westleton, which is a venue I know. It's simply a lovely recording acoustic, and it's difficult to go wrong in there.

Being a flautist myself, I know a lot of the things you have to look out for when recording the instrument. One of them is to take account of the performer's natural head movement when playing, and therefore to set up microphone positions that are not unduly sensitive to movement of the sound source. I've heard some flute recordings done using a stereo microphone (Rode NT4) that magnify the head movement almost to the point where on replay the sound bounces between the speakers.

I think we need to know a bit more about the acoustics of the location where you plan to record your flute playing. You have told us a little about the microphones you have been trying, but do not mention the pre-amps you will be using for the job.

BTW, the AT4080 is Audio-Technica, not Sennheiser.
 

Snake220

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.

I think we need to know a bit more about the acoustics of the location where you plan to record your flute playing. You have told us a little about the microphones you have been trying, but do not mention the pre-amps you will be using for the job.

BTW, the AT4080 is Audio-Technica, not Sennheiser.

Hi Boswell, many thanks for your post! Firstly, sorry for writing Sennheiser, should have realised what I was writing with the AT...! I maybe didn’t mention the preamps out of embarrassment as they’ll probably torn to shreds in these forums! I’m currently using a Scarlett 18i8 and was planning to get a Cloudlifter if I end up with a low output ribbon like the 121...

When you mentioned the phase issues, are they the kind of things that could be corrected in the same way one corrects the M-S phase issues?

Dave
 

paulears

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Lowestoft - UK
I see no issues with using dissimilar mics for capturing an authentic sound of a player in a space. A recent recording of a solo singer in a church left me a little undecided. The space was nice but not excellent sounding, so I set up two microphones - an AKG 414 around 700mm from her mouth, waist height looking up to her head so the space behind her would feature in the capture. This mic was around 35 degrees to one side and on the other side a ribbon, same location and angle so it's rear lobe was aiming at the floor, with a hopeful bounce of the sound from the larger body of the church. The 414 was what I expected, nice, bright and perfectly usable but the ribbon was warmer and needed less artificial reverb to create the stereo sound field artificially.

I'm not sure I have too many rules on mixing mics when the aim is to create a balanced mono(ish) sound. Like on an acoustic guitar, the most common blending of body sound and neck sound. The oft quoted phase issue solution of 3:1 doesn't because we're doing different things. Phase cancellation happens but is part of the sound because the mic outputs are significantly different in content. I don't like recording flutes because many individual instruments are very hard to make sound nice. Some are cutting, some are mellow, and some clack like devils. The mouthpiece sound and the sound coming from the uncovered pads is significantly different. I'm pretty sure that there is some technique available to make even student flutes listenable. The biggest snag is the damn players - they move all over the place and because it's artistic and practiced, it cannot be switched off. Trying to play static when you area great flamboyant flautist is not possible. This means I like omni patterns - no real timbre shift as distance changes, but it's very much like a cheap piano - there is a workable mic position somewhere, it just has to be found. I rather like thick rug on the floor, and a more overhead position. One does the lip end, the other the rest, and then blend for taste. Omni are so forgiving compared to cardioids on flutes, and also to a degree clarinets although they get waved about much less er, enthusiastically.
 

Snake220

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I think we need to know a bit more about the acoustics of the location where you plan to record your flute playing. You have told us a little about the microphones you have been trying, but do not mention the pre-amps you will be using for the job

My room is pretty much a recording nightmare - low ceiling, laminate flooring etc. I plan to get a large rug and some thicker curtains to try and improve things a little.
Good to hear you're a fellow flutist? What is your preferred method of capturing yourself/flutes in general?
 

Snake220

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germany
I don't like recording flutes because many individual instruments are very hard to make sound nice.

At the moment I'm still just trying to find a setup that makes me sound like me! I started trying a 414 XLS and XLII and they just made me sound like they had different filters on different ranges on my flute. Next thing to try is Schoeps CMC65..
 

paulears

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Feb 7, 2014
Location
Lowestoft - UK
Ah - I wonder if you have fell into the trap. Some players never find that recordings sound like them - because you never listen from the other side of the instrument. "I'm still just trying to find a setup that makes me sound like me!" could just mean that you are unaware what your instrument sounds like. Trumpet and French horn players are I think, the worst for this - trombones and tubas should be, but somehow the issue isn't quite so obvious. With a flute the focus of your instrument is shortest path from lips to ears. that is what you hear, and this is where you are most familiar with the sound. The notes that have the most open pads extend the width of the instrument. Playing lower and lower gradually shifts the origin of the sound to the mouth end. From the other side, the distance to the listener doesn't change very much as the instrument gradually gets lower, and the lowest notes don't sound like they are just the lip plate end - the whole tube resonates. As the player, the resonance is much quieter than the quite piercing lip sound because it's closer to your ears. This is why you are hearing these big tonal changes - because to a degree that's what you really sound like. Worse for the trumpet player. They only ever hear reflected sound, yet the front row probably get their ears blistered! Ask somebody you respect to listen to you live and listen to the recording. They may have a very different opinion of the realism. One trick with two mics is to aim one at the lips, but the other you arrange at the side and slightly higher so it can look down on the entire length fro m slightly above in the normal playing position. This will pick up some of the resonances which you can blend in. However, it also picks up the clack of the keyways, and pads flapping down.

EQ is obviously helpful, but again, if you eq to the sound you hear when playing, it will sound horrible. My quite average sax playing sounds better on recordings to what I hear in the room here. I find hearing reverb, even if it doesn't;t make the mix, helps me play better by softening it up. I play differently with reverb.
 
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