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JonesH
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16th July 2013
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Judging distance

Comrades,
What are your strategies to judge recording distance on location, particularly for the main pair? I sometimes find myself surprised back at the studio when the choir, organ or orchestra is too far away.

This is of course dependent on monitoring and I listen both in headphones and small speakers. Sometimes it's refreshing to bring reference recordings to reset the ears.

What are your strategies?
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Wow, that's really a great question. I find that after some time doing live acoustic recordings, choirs, ensemble, and orchestras that I almost always find that the mics are better closer than I originally think they should be. Almost universally. So now I just pick a closer spot than I think automatically

D.
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Uh-oh... here we go with my infamous goldfish bowl, again....

Which is the theory that if you could shrink the entire ensemble, chorus, orchestra or whatever combination down to the size where if would fit inside a goldfish bowl, you'd want to arrange your mics so they were touching the surface of the glass-- at the point where the sound coallesces, but hasn't had a chance to scatter, dim, and get washed out.

Easier imagined than done, clearly. So, in the real world, I find that you never want to be much farther than about 10 feet away from something you're hoping to get a clear capture of, and hopefully your array is multi-faceted enough to have mics surrounding the group, at intervals, roughly approximating this ideal.
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Normally for me its more a question of "where can I put the stand?", or "where can I get the mics hanging?", and then what the hall sounds like, and then I am picking a main pair from there.

Typically the Near-Coincident pairs are back ~3-8ft from the podium, while omnis are often as close as possible to the podium, maybe only just a couple feet back from there, depending on the hall.

Combine all these factors and you'll have an answer. One thing that is nice is to have a boom on the end of your mains stand, so you can move it a little bit forwards or backwards from the base of the stand. You gotta have a good base and counterweight for this to work safely, though.
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I always look for the conductor and station behind him
If I am very close to his back, because of audience placement ,then I increase height.
This weekend an orchestra event manager kept on changing podium and soloist positions and not telling me.
Most annoying, however the results were terrific......
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One of the pitfalls of headphones on location is the false sense of presence they give you. I default to standard distances based solely on the knowledge of my gear and the standard physics of recording and propagation of sound. Usually that means get in as close as you are allowed and if you better imaging, raise the height of the mic stand. Works 99% of the time.

I hate having to set up more than 5-6 feet back from the conductor. The sound begins to lose all of its energy and clarity. Since high frequencies travel upward first. Raising the height rather than moving back allows you to retain the clarity a little better.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
Since high frequencies travel upward first.
Hi Daniel,

I always come here to learn, and I am confused by this statement. Hopefully, I'll learn something....

Do you mean that some instruments' radiation patterns favor the dispersal of high frequencies upward? That would be true of some instruments, but not of others....

Or, do you mean that high frequencies would encounter phase cancellation near the floor (from reflections off of the floor) sooner and more strongly than they would higher up?

Or, do you mean exactly what you said? And if so, could you explain how/why? Thanks.

As a separate issue, high frequencies do fall off with distance (air absorption), but I don't think you are referring to this phenomenon.

The rest of your post made a lot of sense to me, and I agree with the sentiments behind it (especially the headphones pitfall).

Thanks,

Joe
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I mean exactly what I said. Shorter wavelengths have a harder time pushing the air and will travel the path of least resistance. That would be up. It is this essentially the same principal that diminishes high frequencies at a distance. They just this diminish less along that path.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
One of the pitfalls of headphones on location is the false sense of presence they give you. I default to standard distances based solely on the knowledge of my gear and the standard physics of recording and propagation of sound. Usually that means get in as close as you are allowed and if you better imaging, raise the height of the mic stand. Works 99% of the time.

I hate having to set up more than 5-6 feet back from the conductor. The sound begins to lose all of its energy and clarity. Since high frequencies travel upward first. Raising the height rather than moving back allows you to retain the clarity a little better.
What are some tips on deciding how far up to go? I see some mic stands posted here and have seen some at concerts that seemed very high up to me. To the point that I wondered exactly how many feet up they actually were.
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Common convention is that the mains will be between 9.5 - 12 ft high depending on your situation.

There's some guidelines to follow that will help you find just the right spot:

First, seek out the best balance. If you are too low, the strings will dominate and the winds and tympani will appear too low in volume and (especially the tymps) diffuse in its sound. If you go too high though, the winds will dominate, and the strings will also get a little thin and scratchy sounding.

Second, know your pair: if you are using a near-coincident pair (ORTF, NOS) you can place the mains lower, and use the off-axis response of the directional mics to help with balance. Aim the plane of the mics at the woodwind section, and the strings which are closer to the stand will appear just a bit softer because they are off-axis of the main mics. This is a good way to find a good balance and blend without sacrificing string sound. Omnis you will often find need to be a bit higher to find the right balance.

Anyways, that's my notes on it. Id love to hear some other takes on the topic!
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Simple here... I aim for midfield acoustic. The more ambient the space, the closer in they usually are. The deader the space, the more distance. Then I listen to my ensemble sound. How blended are my instruments? Is anything sticking out? I then tweak my sound to taste...

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Quote:
What are some tips on deciding how far up to go? I see some mic stands posted here and have seen some at concerts that seemed very high up to me. To the point that I wondered exactly how many feet up they actually were.
You certainly don't want to get too high. If you stick'm 30 feet up you will lose all midrange and just be left with gritty highs and boomy omnidirectional bass. I think 9-12 feet is a good goal as well, just behind the conductor. I aim for about 30 degrees up from the first row of winds, which usually lands in that range. If I have to set up further back, or the ensemble is especially deep. I'll raise the height to maintain the angle. Hopefully there is a 40 foot ceiling

Quote:
if you are using a near-coincident pair (ORTF, NOS) you can place the mains lower, and use the off-axis response of the directional mics to help with balance.
That has worked for me as well. If the sound is too harsh, I will lower the ORTF pair and refocus toward the middle of the ensemble.

Of course fine tweaking, up, down forward, back etc, especially in chamber music or choral where too close could lead to balance problems, is always a good idea if you have the luxury. Luckily the most valuable tool for judging the sound is permanently attached to your head. There is no forgetting that one at home.
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My Doughty C stand gives me 16', all of which I used this weekend for Organ ,Orch and 150 strong choir (Poulenc and Faure naturally)
Because I use beamy fig 8s as my main pair this give pan and tilt ability which was very useful...
Omni MS is a different matter.
I have an extension (umpadumpa) that gives a further 10' which I use for deep stages
Fig 8s can resolve good detail at even 26 '
As for cans 'false sense of presence' then my HD 25 present the same detail as my Quad 63s and my HD650 even give some depth .
They cannot present true scale however.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
Shorter wavelengths have a harder time pushing the air and will travel the path of least resistance. That would be up. It is this essentially the same principal that diminishes high frequencies at a distance. They just this diminish less along that path.
Sorry. but I can't quite follow the physics of this explanation. Why exactly would sound have an easier job travelling vertically through air? Is the air-resistance in the vertical direction less than in the horizontal direction? (The average air density in a vertical slice getting progressively lower, because hot air rises?)
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I have always figured go back as far as you go high. 15' back for a 15' mic stand. But of course it is only a starting point. Lots of decisions have to be made on site and if you are doing your listening only through headphones then you may get a false sense of what things sound like in the hall. Experience and lots of luck is what usually gets the best recordings. IMHO
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You can also study from the greats:

http://ivo-varbanov.com/wp-content/u...-Fiamma_5.jpeg

http://recordproduction.smugmug.com/...872253_hHmN94G

http://royalphilharmonicorchestra.fi...1/dscf0444.jpg

- Tony Faulkner rigs

http://altaramusic.co.uk/html/gallery.html

- String Quintet in pic 5 recorded by John Dunkerley (you can't see in the photo that there is a second Schoeps 2S to the left of the visible one.)

http://englishchamberorchestra.files...le-orch-21.jpg

https://m.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?..._user=54800074

http://www.greenacre.info/Keener/ima...7vii010001.jpg

http://ericwhitacre.com/wp-content/u...58-600x399.jpg

- Simon Eadon

http://csoarchives.files.wordpress.c...ember-1982.jpg

- James Lock

http://media.cleveland.com/musicdanc...f9deaf60be.jpg

- 5/4 Production, not sure who the lead engineer was on it. One would assume either Robert Friedrich or Michael Bishop.

Also included a pic that was too hard for me to find the hyperlink to on my iPhone, of a Jack Renner Telarc session with the Cleveland Orchestra @ Masonic Auditorium.
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Quote:
Sorry. but I can't quite follow the physics of this explanation.
The way I learned it is it has to do with temperature and refraction. It is usually cooler several feet above the ground (whether that is dut to warm bodies, AC, i don't know), and high frequencies will be more susceptible to travel in that direction initially until they hit a pocket of warmer air. Outside, that means never. That is one of the reasons a marching band will only project low frequencies even at moderate distances. In a large concert hall, that could be dozens of feet. Ever noticed how siting on the ground seats in a concert hall sounds warmer than sitting in the Balcony or tiers?
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I hope I don't get in trouble with the physics police on this one, but I would also think that the floor would help push the sound upward, especially the highs which are more likely to bounce off of a solid surface rather than pass through.
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Instruments radiate asymmetrically.
Obstructions affect tone.
Reflections affect tone.
Distance affects volume.
Plan accordingly.

With regards to the original question - I listen. Practical restrictions may also affect placements (e.g. a projection that can't be obstructed; seats with patrons, etc).
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Listening to correctly balance the direct to reverb ratio is something you either know or don't know. You cannot teach it or learn it from a formula or guess.

It comes from listening to music, concerts, recordings and having a sense of aesthetic and style for the music being recorded.
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An invaluable way to judge mic position is to listen to the mics as you are moving them. You can use small battery powered mic preamps or stationary stage mic preamps with a headphone out.

Wear your headphones as you move the mics around. Blast that level in to your ears so that you can discriminate the mic's sound over the
orchestra /ensemble live sound.

Adjudicate sound focus with varying degrees of hall presence as you move forward and back, up and down.

I used to do this with a modified Crookwood Paintpot ("the bucket") starting in 1992.
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Quote:
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Adjudicate sound focus with varying degrees of hall presence as you move forward and back, up and down.
This is the old way. I think it is the best way. After all, anything else will be guesswork.
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I bought a Wonka golden ticket finding machine on eBay and programmed it for Mic placement. However it keeps saying "I won't tell, that would be cheating"

Sent from my SPH-L300
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I bought a Wonka golden ticket finding machine on eBay and programmed it for Mic placement.
Does it work for saxophones?

Learning about mic techniques from saxes

DG
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Err on the side of too close if in doubt. It's not too hard to make too close sound further back in post production - subject to the balance within the group not being skewed by the incorrect placement, I'm chiefly thinking of direct/reflected sound proportions - but getting rid of too much room later is close to impossible.
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but getting rid of too much room later is close to impossible.
Expensive but it works pretty darned well.

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Anybody else have like 17 mantras that steer you fairly safely through the stormy sea of life?

One of my favorites is, "the mics will ALWAYS get the room, it's not like you can keep it out of them! The challenge is getting the thing that's in the room."
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Quote:
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Anybody else have like 17 mantras that steer you fairly safely through the stormy sea of life?

One of my favorites is, "the mics will ALWAYS get the room, it's not like you can keep it out of them! The challenge is getting the thing that's in the room."

"no matter where you place the microphone someone will not like your choice"

Either it will be blocking someone from the audience standpoint or upon listening to the final product the 2nd violin will say "I don't hear enough of myself" which is pretty much what they always say.

FWIW...
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