Recording an orchestra

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Early21
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Fri May 05, 2017 2:12 pm

Thanks, Tom, these are good ideas. I don't have the full Wavelab, but I do have Ozone which has many good tools. Meanwhile, I found this article by Mike Senior (who wrote the excellent book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio):
http://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advic ... -recording

It's not a recording for a competition so I'll feel free to experiment.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by marQs » Sat May 06, 2017 12:24 am

Interesting read. In the end he mentions parallel compression - I said it before, in the end it's really just rock'n'roll :lol:
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Sat May 06, 2017 2:42 am

Yeah, it's a good point!
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Mon May 22, 2017 3:48 am

Early21,

Have you recorded the groups yet? I would love to know how it went.

-Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Mon May 22, 2017 1:25 pm

Recording dates in about two weeks. Hope to get to a rehearsal for an equipment test before then.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Fri May 26, 2017 4:07 am

I recorded part of a rehearsal tonight. I used the ORTF setup, having already purchased a mic bar. Here's something cool you can use:
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/ ... mplate.pdf
I printed this out, stapled it to a piece of stiff cardboard, and cut out the correct holes for my mics. No ruler or protractor!

I definitely like the stereo of the ORTF configuration. Obviously I didn't have a comparison with X-Y, but I'm certain the stereo effect is much better. So I want to go with this for the concerts.

I was wondering about my mic stand. I have several standard mic stands, so I took the sturdiest and extended everything toward the heavens. In the rehearsal venue, it was at about the level of the conductor's chest. I'm thinking it should have been higher? What sort of mic stand should I be looking for?

Thanks to all for advice on this.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Sat May 27, 2017 10:14 pm

Ideally the stand should reach above the conductors head. Somewhere in the 7-10 feet range (from the deck) usually works well. Typically this works out to be a foot to a few feet above conductor's head You don't want to go too far up though. The farther you raise the stand, the more you increase ambience (reverb versus direct sound), and the more you emphasize the rear of the ensemble/group. To contrast this to the horizontal axis, the closer the mic stand is moved to the group, the more you increase direct sound and the more you emphasize the front of the ensemble/group. So many variables, so little time.

Stand should be sturdy, or at least weighted down. People at performances do all sorts of crazy things. Things that can injure themselves and your equipment. I like stands that have a very sturdy base, such as the Quicklock A-50 (which I use for remote recording), or even a latchlake (which is what I use in my studio). The other way to go is to sandbag the stand. Manfrotto stands are popular with many remote recordists, but they are usually lightweight - so they get sandbagged.

On the other hand, if you're happy with the results of your rehearsal, you could repeat the with the same stand. Listen to your recording. If you believe that the front of the ensemble is emphasized too much, and the rear isn't being picked up enough - then raising the mics higher should help blend in more of the rear.

-Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Sun May 28, 2017 12:07 am

Thanks again, for great advice. I thought I would have preferred the back of the ensemble to be a little louder than it is, but I was happy with the direct vs. reflected sound, about 10 feet away from the conductor. Not too much hall sound and not too little. I just learned that at the performance venue, the stage is only a foot or two above the seating, which is lower than the rehearsal stage, so I should be able to get the mics a little higher over the conductor's head. I'm thinking I'm in good shape for this session, but I will need to get some other stands for other venues in which this outfit performs. I'm feeling somewhat confident, assuming the 10-year-old laptop doesn't fail. It's been solid as a rock all this time, so crossing fingers. Once we put something on YT I'll let you guys know.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by matjones » Sun May 28, 2017 5:08 pm

In addition to Tom's mic stand suggestion.... the Sontronics Matrix 10 is worth checking out too, i have one here as i got fed up with bending mic stands with reflection filters and heavy valve mics... very nicely made and hugely flexible bit of kit!
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Strophoid » Sun May 28, 2017 10:37 pm

Nice, I'm looking forward to the results :)
Take some pictures of the setup if you can!
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Sun May 28, 2017 11:22 pm

Thanks for suggestions everyone. Looking at specs, the Quicklock A50 extends to 7.5 feet, which is not much higher than I get with my current mic stand. The Sontronics Matrix 10 looks to go over 12 feet. Did I get that right? If I'm at a venue where the stage is say 3 feet above the floor, and my mic stand is down on the floor because the stage is not so deep that there is 10 feet behind the conductor, then I need something that goes as high as the Sontronics, right?
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Mon May 29, 2017 5:04 am

The quicklock a50 goes to a little under 15 feet. 7.5 feet comes from the stand extension. The remaining comes from the boom extension, which is a little less than 7.5 feet.

Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by matjones » Mon May 29, 2017 10:32 am

Early21 wrote:Thanks for suggestions everyone. Looking at specs, the Quicklock A50 extends to 7.5 feet, which is not much higher than I get with my current mic stand. The Sontronics Matrix 10 looks to go over 12 feet. Did I get that right? If I'm at a venue where the stage is say 3 feet above the floor, and my mic stand is down on the floor because the stage is not so deep that there is 10 feet behind the conductor, then I need something that goes as high as the Sontronics, right?
Yep, it's a BIG beast!
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Thu Jun 08, 2017 4:06 am

I did the recordings last weekend, and I'm mixing them now. I used the ORTF configuration, which, as I begin to appreciate, is akin to one's own ears. 17 CM apart on center, and 110 degrees apart on angle. Stereo image is fantastic. I used my cheap AT2020's, and I have to admit, I'm not unhappy with what I got. I think they're maybe a little exaggerated on the high frequencies, or maybe you could say deficient on the mids and lows; in any case, since they're very clear and able to handle a wide range of amplitudes, there's something to work with in the equalization stage.

I was able to set up about 10 feet behind the conductor, and a couple of feet above his head. I'll need a new stand to get that high in another hall, so thanks for the suggestions, but in this hall, I could do it.

Things I'll try to remember next time:
1) while I was setting up in dress rehearsal, I had my laptop on the floor in front of the first row. Within minutes, the conductor stepped off the stage and tripped over the laptop. Lucky for me, he didn't step on it directly or damage it.
2) While recording in the first few minutes, a latecomer musician ran across the front row to her position and tripped over the extension cord I had just placed there. Next time, I would tape it down before I did anything else.
3) During the concert on the first day, I had the mics in the row behind me. A family with young kids decided to sit in that row, mom on one side of the mic stand, and dad on the other. The kids were little, and running back and forth between mom and dad. Fortunately, they were fairly well behaved, and with the mic positioning, when the 3-year-old began whistling, my mics didn't pick it up. Second day I took the seats on both sides of the mic stand.

About mixing, I did feel the need to equalize, in the first place because the bass section was only two players (so boost), and in the second place, because the mics are quite trebly (so cut appropriately). Although I normalized the two tracks to 0 db, I also felt the need to use some of Ozone's tools to diminish the difference between the loud and soft. Specifically, to use Ozone's loudness tools (multiband compression and maximizer) rather than trying to play with limiters and compressors myself. I am not comfortable with riding the main volume manually as that SoS article suggested, especially if the tools have a good result. If I compare to professional orchestral recordings on YouTube, I'm still being very conservative in what I've done.

Here's a draft you could listen to:
https://soundcloud.com/incontinentals/w ... -04-dvorak
featuring a guest soloist.

As I try to mix the other piece performed by the orchestra, (Tchaikovsky 4th) I run into the fact that the dynamics are much more extreme compared to the concerto above. Specifically, every time crash cymbals are hit, 2 or 3 decibels of ceiling are lost. So I was not getting the same basic loudness as with the Dvorak. So I think I took the difficult way, and I edited out the peaks of each channel wherever it got loud. It was never anything anyone would miss - basically an extremely loud crash cymbal hit or a bass drum would have the same effect. How do you guys handle this automatically?
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Sat Jun 10, 2017 6:43 pm

Some thoughts:

Going battery powered and not using a laptop eliminates need to tether to wall and the extra cords. Even using a laptop, you'll want to have it situated where it issn't in the way. I have a bunch of snakes I use for accomplishing this. Whirlwind makes reasonable priced snakes that hold up well and are easy to see channel numbers in low light. Proco is also good, but not as easy to see in low light.

Always tape down all cords. Leave no part untapped. Also, always tape off recording area. Some people can be unaware of the mics and accidents happen. Because my back bothers me from time to time, I invested in a gaff gun. This provides a quick way to tape down a long cord run (without having to bend over or get on one's hands and knees). I'd like to congratulate whoever invented that thing. It's brilliant.

Comments about the mix in the link (I only listed to the first few minutes):
Nice overall job. Your first foray into remote recording produced results that far surpassed my first try. I do have a few minor comments for your consideration. Stereo image seems a tiny bit stretched. This is a very minor comment and is not worth adjusting, just noting for next time. Was the layout of the group wider than a 96 degree angle coming from the ORTF array?

One reason you had to bump the bass is that you were using a mic with a card pattern, which inherently rolls off the low end. Omnis typically don't have this problem. Everything we do in recording is balancing a bunch of trade offs. The low end roll off is worth it for the ease and consistently good overall sound ORTF delivers. EQ - I'm not sure the high freq cut is fully helping you. It seems like you've removed a little too much here - there's not enough air to the sound. Also - I don't get enough sense of the hall. Also - how much did you compress (or adjust loudness with Ozone?). What is average RMS or LUFS?

On your other question on peaks and dynamic range. The process I use is as follows. I bring the level up in WL so that I'm peaking at -0.3. Then I use hard limiting. In my case, I use the Precision Limiter in the UAD bundle. Any hard limiter should work. Then I use WL gain adjustment to add say 3-5 db of gain. I use the WL gain plug in so that it's a precise process. I listen carefully to see how the peaks were handled. May need to horse around with settings and redo it. If I really need to bring the peaks down a lot, I try to do 2-3 passes of the limiter, rather than one pass with a massive reduction. After this, then I use WL's loudness normalize function. I typically aim for -17 LUFS (I'll go with lower average levels if the recording is to be submitted in a competition). I see that you have the light version of WL, so you could probably do the same using RMS as your scale. Won't be much different. I can't comment on Ozone as I have no experience with it.

I have also used volume automation as well as multiband compression. However, these are more difficult to do (at least for me). Running through a hard limiter with a precise increase in gain is easy. If the limiter is good, it should sound good. Often this is a process of trial and error. I use the undo button frequently. I also put plugins in/out of signal path for A/B comparisons. Your ears are the ultimate guide. I probably use volume automation in WL in 30% of my recordings. Your WL essentials might have this. I often use to adjust the volume of applause relative to the piece. If the piece is at -17, I set the applause for -20 or -21. I hate it when applause is as loud as or louder than the song. Just doesn't seem right. I also use volume automation when I'm failing at hard limiting. And then if volume automation fails, I reach for the multiband compressor - assuming it's just a narrow freq that's too loud.

Overall - you should be very happy with the quality of your recording. Nice job!

-Tom

If you want - feel free to put the raw files up. I'll process them and send them back to you for your review.

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Sun Jun 11, 2017 12:08 am

Thanks so much Tom, this is great help. First quick reaction; I'm doing this as a favor, so I'm not investing in battery-powered recorders at this point. I'm using my old laptop and the Steinberg MR816CSX, which both need to be plugged in. And I'm using AT-2020's, so it's quite difficult to estimate the real recording angle, since all I can do is look at the back of the mic and try to align it with the angle I'm shooting for. Since I had three ensembles to record, I stuck with 110 degrees based on the template I printed out. I can imagine in the future I would have small diaphragm condensers and the angle would be easier to play with. But, to be honest, they would be cheap! Nobody's donating to this cause.

On the mix, thanks for the comments. I think I might be able to move the tracks toward center to make the stereo less extreme. I may have misunderstood, but isn't ORTF intended for cardiods rather than omnis? I'll give another hearing to the high frequencies and their impact on hall space. I did a little a/b with some classical videos and I noticed that they were decidedly more mid-range than what I captured, so that's why I didn't feel so bad about cutting the highs.

Much appreciate the suggestions about how to handle those pesky cymbal and timpani peaks. I think my version of Wavelab can do that. As well as do the RMS analysis.

And I would love to hear your take on it. Let me know where I should post the giant files.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:55 pm

I did a poor job at expressing my thoughts in my prior post. I'll try to add some clarity here.
Early21 wrote:Thanks so much Tom, this is great help. First quick reaction; I'm doing this as a favor, so I'm not investing in battery-powered recorders at this point. I'm using my old laptop and the Steinberg MR816CSX, which both need to be plugged in. And I'm using AT-2020's, so it's quite difficult to estimate the real recording angle, since all I can do is look at the back of the mic and try to align it with the angle I'm shooting for. Since I had three ensembles to record, I stuck with 110 degrees based on the template I printed out. I can imagine in the future I would have small diaphragm condensers and the angle would be easier to play with. But, to be honest, they would be cheap! Nobody's donating to this cause.
It seems like you did the ORTF just fine. The overall stereo image is fine. I would not mess with it. My comment was designed to address the SRA (Stereo Recording Angle), not the 110 degree angle of the mics in ORTF. Even though the mics are at 110 degrees, using ORTF yields a 96 degree SRA. Any performers outside of the 96 degree mark will be pinned to the side channel. It sounded to me like some performers were beyond the 96 degree mark. However, this is very very minor. So no worries here. Probably best to ignore my comment.
Early21 wrote:On the mix, thanks for the comments. I think I might be able to move the tracks toward center to make the stereo less extreme.
Do not pan the channels in. They should be panned hard left and hard right. This is how ORTF works. What you have is good.
Early21 wrote:I may have misunderstood, but isn't ORTF intended for cardiods rather than omnis?

You have it right. ORTF is designed to be used with cardiods, not omnis. The point of my comment, which I should have made clearer, is as follows. When ever you pick an array, mics, distance - everything is a bunch of trade-offs. To compare ORTF to a standard AB configuration, here are the trade-offs. ORTF uses mics with a cardiod pattern. The laws of physics usually cause a low end freq drop for a card pattern. However, ORTF presents a great stereo image, is very forgiving, is hard to screw-up, and sounds good even in rooms that don't have great acoustics.

If you went with an AB config, it would typically be omni mics spaced 50-60cm apart. The omnis typically don't have a low freq roll-off like cardiods do. So more base is captured with omnis. In a great hall, omnis can sound glorious. However, there are downside trade-offs. If the room isn't great acoustically, omnis will capture this unattractive sound and reproduce it. Also, an AB setup with only omnis relies only upon timing differences to create a stereo image. So the imaging isn't as quite as precise as it is with ORTF (which uses a combination of timing and intensity/volume differences). Everything is balancing tradeoffs based on the equipment you have, the performers, and the recording space.

I believe that ORTF was the way to go. The slight low freq roll-off is a small price to pay for all that ORTF brings to the table. ORTF is a very versatile array.
Early21 wrote:I'll give another hearing to the high frequencies and their impact on hall space. I did a little a/b with some classical videos and I noticed that they were decidedly more mid-range than what I captured, so that's why I didn't feel so bad about cutting the highs.
OK. difference of opinion here.
Early21 wrote:Much appreciate the suggestions about how to handle those pesky cymbal and timpani peaks. I think my version of Wavelab can do that. As well as do the RMS analysis.

And I would love to hear your take on it. Let me know where I should post the giant files.
I'll pm you - I have a drop box account. Might work to do it there.

thx,
Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Sat Jul 29, 2017 3:36 am

OK, interesting additional note, the local professional orchestra would like to have me record them on the basis of my recordings of the youth orchestra. They are looking for a recording for their archive, and nothing more. My main concern is redundancy of the recording, as I don't have equipment for that. As mentioned earlier, I'm recording on a very old sturdy and reliable Thinkpad (into Cubase 4.5), but anything could happen. So very short term, I was thinking to get a Zoom as a backup to ensure that they have something for their archive. Eventually I'll get a new laptop, but this laptop is essentially my field recorder, with two hard drives, no internet connection (most of the time), tuned for Cubase, and a record of solid success.

I intend to buy a new stand, as has been suggested by Tommyboy and MatJones, and maybe I'll spring for a couple of new SDC mics before the gig. Ideas about which mic are welcome.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Thu Aug 03, 2017 4:13 am

Congrats on getting a nice recording gig!

Redundancy is very important in live events. My two cents: Figure out what will happen if any one part of your signal chain fails. Build redundancy to eliminate failure.

Use passive transformer splitters. Art is OK. Radial and Whirlwind are better. Signal should be mic-splitter-recorders. Put the direct through to the recorder with the best pre-amps and ADC. The transformer side to the lesser recorder. A simple Art S8 will cut the mustard. If you save up money down the road, I recommend Radial and Whirlwind splitters. If you can get them with Jensen trannies, even better. Radial JS2s and JS3s are very nice.

Recorders - Using a zoom is fine. Even better if the zoom can run on batteries and not be reliant on system power, or automatically switch to battery if the main power stops working.

Mics - your AT2020s are fine. Consider a backup pair. Could be built in mics on zoom recorder. Reason for this is if the power goes out (from a loose cord, etc...), you need something. Could use a 4 channel zoom - two channels for built in mics, two for split

SDC Mics - if you want to get SDCs, consider saving up before putting money on lesser mics. Consider mid-priced mics (or better if possible). The mics used make a difference. Mics and mic position impact sound more than the pres and ADCs. Ideally, you'd have a slight HF lift on the mic to compensate for the distance btw the group and main pair. My best pair of SDC mics are Schoeps MK5s, which sound beautiful. My medium priced SDC mics are Sennheiser e914s. Sounds good, but not as good as the Schoeps.

Some people like Shure 141s and you'll sometimes see these recommended on forums as a starter mid priced mic. I have a pair and really don't like them for main pair on orchestra because they are dark sounding mics. Recording orchestra with these results in a dull sounding recording.

If you can only swing lower priced SDC's, maybe consider R0de's M5 and the Audio Technica 4041s. I have no experience with these mics, so I can't comment on sound quality. I would also not try these mics without using the AT2020s at the same time to have an insurance policy. It would be good to to be able to return them if their sound didn't suit the recording being done.

For mic'ing - keep it simple. If you do decide to experiment with other mic configurations or mics, consider setting up a simple ORTF array in addition to whatever you experiment with. That way you're covered if you don't like the other config. ORTF almost always sounds good. It might not sound best, but will generally sound good.

-Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:58 pm

Thanks, Tom! Sage advice as always.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Fri Aug 18, 2017 12:34 am

Hi all, I'm re-examining my mixes, particularly of the concert band. The problem here is that their set went from a flute quartet to a piece featuring two drum kits (both at stage front, left and right, showing off their two drummers). If I normalize the whole set, then the first three pieces are very quiet, and the mastering settings have barely any effect, because the ensemble doesn't even get to the threshold settings. What do you guys do in that situation? I'm thinking ride the gain on the first three pieces and hope listeners don't actually notice. It was a bit unusual. Just before the concert band got on stage, there was a small string ensemble, and I had normalized their part, but now they're louder than the first three concert band pieces. I guess there is some happy medium.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Fri Aug 18, 2017 1:13 am

And, I have to ask another question, thanks for your patience... why are SDC's better than LDC's for an orchestra/ensemble? I can think of two reasons not related to sound: hardly visible to the audience, and much easier to set up the ORTF or other method angle! I tend to use my LDC mics (AT2020) for anything where high frequency is an important qualifier, such as acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and drum overheads. For guitar amp, snare, toms, I'm using SM 57's. Nobody cares about the high frequencies there! Thanks to all.
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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Fri Aug 25, 2017 3:36 am

Early21 wrote:
Fri Aug 18, 2017 12:34 am
Hi all, I'm re-examining my mixes, particularly of the concert band. The problem here is that their set went from a flute quartet to a piece featuring two drum kits (both at stage front, left and right, showing off their two drummers). If I normalize the whole set, then the first three pieces are very quiet, and the mastering settings have barely any effect, because the ensemble doesn't even get to the threshold settings. What do you guys do in that situation? I'm thinking ride the gain on the first three pieces and hope listeners don't actually notice. It was a bit unusual. Just before the concert band got on stage, there was a small string ensemble, and I had normalized their part, but now they're louder than the first three concert band pieces. I guess there is some happy medium.
I would suggest mastering each song/piece on its own. For maintaining cohesiveness of the set, aim for different average volumes for the pieces (but not that different). If the flute piece is super quiet and drum piece is super loud, master these so that the flute piece is a little quieter than the drum piece. It's a balancing act to maintain a difference, but to make them both listenable.

Some peeps who do classical would call that blasphemy, but I think it makes things easier to listen to. Gain riding that you suggest is a fine way to approach it.

Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Tommy-boy » Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:16 am

Early21 wrote:
Fri Aug 18, 2017 1:13 am
And, I have to ask another question, thanks for your patience... why are SDC's better than LDC's for an orchestra/ensemble? I can think of two reasons not related to sound: hardly visible to the audience, and much easier to set up the ORTF or other method angle! I tend to use my LDC mics (AT2020) for anything where high frequency is an important qualifier, such as acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and drum overheads. For guitar amp, snare, toms, I'm using SM 57's. Nobody cares about the high frequencies there! Thanks to all.
SDCs are generally better for recording an orchestra for the following reasons:
- Less visible (very important for live performances)
- Generally better (more sensitive) for transient response
- Generally better (more accurate) for off-axis pick up. This is a key reason, especially if you're using ORTF where you're picking up critical elements of the orchestra off-axis. Even when using a spaced pair (AB), SDCs will usually win out over LDCs because the reflections (reverb) they pick up will not have their off-axis responses skewed (freq) as an LDC might.
* - these are all generalizations. One needs to really analyze on a mic by mic basis.


LDCs can have a slight edge in lower noise. However, good SDCs have such a low noise floor that this is irrelevant.


All this being said, AT2020s are still fine for recording an orchestra. And if that's what you got, it should be fine. The high freq lift helps for use as a main pair for an orchestra. As you go further down this path, you can consider upgrading mics. I used AT4050s at first, then (after a while of saving) bought a used pair of Schoeps mics (MK5 caps) from Vintage King. There is a big difference. It's easier to dial in a great sound with Schoeps. Less monkeying with EQ or other measures (in fact, I almost never use EQ on the Schoeps). Sounds natural.

-Tom

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Re: Recording an orchestra

Post by Early21 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:52 am

Thanks, Tom, I bought the AT2020's based on affordability at the time. They've been good drum overhead mics. I am thinking SDC's for reason number one: not so much in the way! And I have no experience with them, so I'd like to advance, eventually. My sense at this point is that the mic is far more important than the pre-amp, but the pre-amp is also important. I have the MR816csx for preamps, and I am sure there would be arguments about requiring a tube preamp, but I think it's not my weakest link.

On the other hand, if I bought better mics, and fed them into a Zoom H6 (I only mention this because I was recently at a really good classical concert where the guy recording was using a Zoom H6 with Beyerdynamic SDC's (I don't know the model)) and I wondered whether the better mics would be a greater improvement than the presumably worse preamps of the Zoom H6). As I mentioned earlier, I'm wary of depending on my old laptop, and thinking of backup, so might want to buy a Zoom or equivalent as long as it would take external mics. But I don't want to take a step backward from the MR816csx.

And thanks for your thoughts on mastering. I'm trying to find a middle course.
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