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Recording orchestras and choirs


Jeremy Katz
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An alternative to the NT5's for those on a tight budget, could be a pair of Line Audio CM3. They are subcardioid mics with a quite neutral sound, and great quality for the money. Seing as they are subcardioid though, the placement might be a bit more tricky than just an ORTF.

 

Interesting:

http://www.lineaudio.se/CM3.html

 

Has anyone else used these mics? Or Jesper, can you comment further?

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I have. They're fine... but kinda "dull" and noisy. I guess for dynamic sources they're not the best choice but for, say drums, they might be good.

I used them one time as plant mics. That didn't really work... And then one time I used for singing, not great either.

And then I recorded a tread wheel speeding up and it sounded great! But I guess that time was a fluke, or maybe I knew just the limitations of the mics and could tell they'd do a good job on that source... They're dirt cheap.

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Have done two orchestral recordings

 

First was with an older Soundfield microphone in 2001 for CD release

 

One more recently for the orchestra website.

 

Use for the first time my 664 with a crossed pair of AKG cardiodes on a very tall stand over conductor

 

Plus another tall stand with a Sanken CSS-5 aimed at the rear of the concert hall

 

Very pleased with the result and a friend mastered it - wow!

 

Ok if there are soloist spot mikes are needed but otherwise an orchestra has an integral balance

 

mike

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Has anyone else used these mics? Or Jesper, can you comment further?

 

I have. They're fine... but kinda "dull" and noisy. I guess for dynamic sources they're not the best choice but for, say drums, they might be good.

I used them one time as plant mics. That didn't really work... And then one time I used for singing, not great either.

And then I recorded a tread wheel speeding up and it sounded great! But I guess that time was a fluke, or maybe I knew just the limitations of the mics and could tell they'd do a good job on that source... They're dirt cheap.

 

 

I haven't had the chance to use them myself, but I've heard several raw recordings made with them on both acoustical instruments and FX, and I thought they sounded great for the price - very natural. I've heard them compared to pairs of KM184 and even Schoeps (one of the SD, forgot the model), and I thought they held up fine. I don't know about the details of those recordings though, so it may have been due to placement, source etc.

 

They have a 16dBA self-noise and only 6mV output, so they may be a little noisy on quiets stuff.

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" the "sweet spot" "

" the conductor has the best spot in the house, so above and behind... "

Not if you want the room acoustic also.   Now for the outdoor gig,  yes.

 

When using MS be certain that the acoustic space does not have a side to side bounce where you place

your mic.  I had to record a string quartet in a room that had place glass side walls.  The flutter was a true

nightmare.

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In film school I had a great one-week course on recording orchestra (not scoring). For comparing different approaches we had the use of the conservatory's decca tree, and loads of Schoeps Mk4/41 spot mics and the Mk4 ORTF pair. Also, we had two Soundfield mics for testing.

Of course, this isn't always possible but our workflow with the ORTF was as follows: plonk the mic near the middle of the hall facing the orchestra. Sit down, record and listen the performance from the same spot. Listen to the result, then place spot mics for those sections that seemed to need a little boost.

As someone said, having the main pair near the conductor might be a good idea, this would depend on the space.

I once did a recording with two Shure SM81's in a church. Not my choice but they were handed to me. Pretty funny since the production also had three-four cameras and a large crane. I put the mics in ORTF around 10 metres behind the conductor and it sounded fine. The musicians liked it as well. Then, to my dismay, the thing went out as a webcast with mono sound!

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These were all recorded with Schoeps CCM4Lg in ORTF or a CCM8Lg/CCM4Lg in M/S. All of these samples are straight off the recorder before any editing has been done.

Choral Samples

 

Unley Symphony Orchestra Samples

 

General Orchestral Samples

 

All ORTF were behind the conductor and up around 3.5 - 4 metres. The M/S were also behind but at various heights depending on the venue.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi,

Thanks everyone for all the great information that stems from many years of your recording experience.  

I am doing some orchestral recording for a youth orchestra at SUNY purchace. So far with rehearsals we've been using a wider-than-90° XY pattern with schoeps mk4 cardioids SDC's. Which sounds okay but I have noticed that the pattern isn't super wide, doesn't sound very great in mono, and tends to lose some of the players on the edges of the orchestra. I'm thinking its a good idea to switch to ORTF Based on this post and other research I've done, but I have a few questions:

With ORTF placement, how important is it for the angle of the mics to be at exactly 110° and 17 cm apart?

if I want to adjust the spread by being more narrow or wide will I end up with phasing issues in mono?

i am a little worried that with that kind of angle I will be missing parts of the orchestra in the middle, does ORTF generally do a good job of catching the sounds right in front of it as well?

best,

Brett

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With ORTF placement, how important is it for the angle of the mics to be at exactly 110° and 17 cm apart?

if I want to adjust the spread by being more narrow or wide will I end up with phasing issues in mono?

i am a little worried that with that kind of angle I will be missing parts of the orchestra in the middle, does ORTF generally do a good job of catching the sounds right in front of it as well?

 

It's been a while since I did any orchestra recording. As I was constrained by the budget to basically work with the two Shure SM81's, I put them in an ORTF'ish configuration (couldn't do a perfect placement since the mics are so long) and found a good spot for them in the church the concert was held at. So, not a full orchestra, but several pieces with varying configurations of players and sections. Anyway, the musicians seemed to love the sound, however it was only later I heard that the webcast I was doing the recording for was put out in mono...

ORTF downmixed to mono might end up with some phase issues, some loss of high frequencies etc. But the technique is quite wonderful for this kind of thing when listened to in stereo. So I think the benefits outweigh the possible downsides.

As far as setting the mics wider or narrower... well, the angle probaly wasn't set at 110° to ensure maximum mono compatibility anyway. I think this is very much one of those "if it sounds good, it sounds good" questions. You will pick up the center players just fine if your distance is in the right ballpark.

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If you only want to use one main system with out spot mic, I would recommend Decca Tree or Jecklin Disc, I did a orchestra recording with Mr.Jecklin together with his OSS Jecklin Disc when I studied Tonmeister with him in Vienna, It sounds very nice even without any spot mics. And we use Decca Tree (or we also call it AB-C System) a lot in the golden hall Vienna to record classical concert (from Mozart to Strawinsky).

Downmix to Mono, in principal, if you have time difference between two microphones, there will be some phase issue when you mix these two mic into mono, XY and MS are 100% mono compatible, with Decca Tree is better because you have not only a phantom center, but also a real center microphone. 

But Phasing is a good thing for recording, if it has been used properly, it makes the recording sounds more interesting,. 

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Hi,

had some very very good experiences with ORTF and Schoeps. I love it. It's my first choice when a choir or a classical orchestra has to be recorded, especially when it's an ENG syle job with not much time and no chance to visit the location before shooting.

You need some space between orchestra/choir and the ORTF pair to get best results, some metres behind the conductor. Soloists need support microphones of course, especially solo singers, but also solo violins.

Instruments in a classical orchestra are positioned to sound good without any electrical amplification, and the ORTF records it more or less as it is. Sounds coming from the middle are captured correctly in my experience.

Greets! Mungo

 

 

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With a professional beginning in classical music, both as a recording engineer and a French Horn player in symphony orchestras, I'm of the opinion that you can, indeed, often make the best orchestral and choir recordings in a concert hall with a single stereo pair. In the event it may be listened to in mono (which is highly likely in film/video production), it is usually best done with an XY or closely spaced AB setup. Of course, I realize that many recording engineers put mics all over the place to record an orchestra in an acoustically beautiful concert hall, which makes me cringe to see and cringe even more to hear.

In support of that opinion here's one of my favorite Jerry Bruck stories (Jerry Bruck is the owner of Posthorn recording, award winning orchestral recordist, and original US Schoeps distributor). To the best of my recollection...

Jerry was recording a symphony concert in New York. To cover all the bases, he used two synchronized Nagra D recorders for a total of eight tracks to have a forward stereo pair close in front above the conductor, a pair spread out AB pair near the back of the auditorium for ambience, a forward wide spread pair, and two spot mics over the strings.

The next day was spent with the conductor and producer mixing the tracks to stereo. They finally got a mix they were happy with and decided to come back the next day to check the mix with fresh ears. The next day they were VERY pleased with their work. It sounded even better than they remembered the day before. It was later that day that Jerry realized that they had not been listening to their mix from the day before... As a fail-safe backup, Jerry had hung an ORTF Schoeps pair (basically a closely spaced cardioid AB rig) plugged directly into a Tascam DAT recorder. This is the recording these artists with highly developed senses for what an orchestra should sound like, unknowingly preferred. An ideal blind test [re]proving the stereo pair.

When you think about it, 8 microphones placed in ways to supposedly to give options for mixing a natural image, are 8 microphones naturally in the wrong places. Multiple microphones always create phase and time anomalies, and these anomalies are not too subtle to be noticed, either... Our brain uses these anomalies to determine the position of sound sources and sonic character, so it's important that they be correct when recording an acoustical performance. The Decca tree was designed to achieve this with a reasonable compromise of 3 fairly closely spaced microphone (within 1 meter). This minimal compromise was chosen to allow a small degree of adjustment (mixing) for changes in stage and auditorium acoustics, variation in orchestra configurations, and small variances from optimal mic placement. Even still, the better choice is a single pair of microphones when they can be optimally positioned. This was the concept behind the Schoeps ORTF stereo rig... a pair of mics in a fixed relation that can be placed in front of a performance to get consistent, high quality, natural-sounding results.

When recording symphony orchestras and/or choirs in a concert hall, it's important to remember that the recording engineer is not and should not be considered one of the artists in the performance. The music was written by composers who know what an orchestra sounds like in a concert hall listened to with two ears per person, conducted by someone in charge of the balance and dynamics of accomplished players. Unless there is a specific reason for a calculated compromise, the best way, by far, to record the work of the composer, conductor, players, architect, and performance, is to use as few mics as possible, preferably two. Pop a couple of cardioid condensers above and behind the conductor, and you'll get applause and a request for an encore. 

ps: Whatever you do, please please please don't mic the French Horns from the rear. Please.

Edited by Glen Trew
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+1000 to Glen Trew! The summary statement says it all: "Unless there is a specific reason for a calculated compromise, the best way, by far, to record the work of the composer, conductor, players, architect, and performance, is to use as few mics as possible, preferably two." The philosophy and principle represented here can be applied to so much more than orchestral recording, but it speaks most directly to the responsibility for simplicity and authenticity when recording an orchestra in a concert hall.

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