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Adjust direct/reverb ratio - your method/preference
Old 19th May 2017
  #1
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Adjust direct/reverb ratio - your method/preference

Hello all,

I've been reading some interesting threads of years past regarding mic position and array type and noticed a comparative lack of threads addressing the critically important parameter of direct/diffuse ratio, particularly in the main pair. While bearing in mind the usual "every situation is different" factor and the ultimately subjective nature of the discussion, I thought it would be very interesting to hear some opinions on often-used methods for fine-tuning this ratio which have worked for you. Or, indeed, if you feel that every situation is totally unique, perhaps a case study from a particular session.

To be clear, without getting overly theoretical or philosophical, I'm mostly trying to get a sense of how exactly some of the more experienced engineers here get from the initial "point A" when the mics are put up, to the final "point B" of what is used in the recording.

Basically, with every variable of height, distance, and angle being potentially something to "adjust to taste" I find that there's still more guesswork and trial-and-error than I'd like in the average situation, especially live concerts of course, where I'm listening during a limited rehearsal/soundcheck.

As always, I apologize if this has been discussed in depth somewhere and I've missed it, though I have searched a bit.

Thanks very much in advance for your thoughts!
Luke
Old 19th May 2017
  #2
I usually start by searching the critical distance, the line you should not cross. Normally, the volume of the direct sound should drop when you move your main pair back, so I keep going back until the volume barely changes. That is the point where the room sound reflects as strongly as the direct sound, so that is not where you want to be. Which to me means that every point in between (between the stage and that critical distance line) is a possibilty and depends largely on the sort of ambience you get, how large the ensemble is, what type of music etc. -- it depends mostly on taste.

Another approach I use a lot is, once the above is clear, look for the desired ratio direct/diffuse (= distance from the ensemble), and then search for the blend of the ensemble. Higher mostly means more blend (= heigth from the ensemble), but in orchestral situations it might mean that brass etc. cut through more. So here as well, it depends on taste.

In a live concert situation, I tend to go too close rather than too distant, because of public noise, and it is easier to add reverb in post (either digitally or by use of room microphones) than to EQ for a closer sound...
Old 20th May 2017
  #3
Gear Maniac
Mostly agree with above but if choir/musicians are not as good may need to be in diffuse field to better hide some of the imperfections.
Old 20th May 2017
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Folkie View Post
Mostly agree with above but if choir/musicians are not as good may need to be in diffuse field to better hide some of the imperfections.
I have some youth bands that i record where the conductors ask for this.
Old 20th May 2017
  #5
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I don't think there's a perfect ratio that can be accomplished every time; I mean this somewhat hyperbolically but even in the same room with the same group in the same places, there will be times when a closer or farther sound will work better for the rep. Humidity also plays a big factor.

With that in mind, I listen and place in more of a musical mindset, and think about how the ambience serves the music, or is hindering it. Moving the mics up or down, nearer or farther in specific ways changes the timbre to better match what I want to hear.

I also like to place a pair of room mics, for instance in a drier space, to add in some room without sacrificing a more present direct sound.

When recording live, and you don't have a chance to move between different kinds of rep, it helps to have a bit of flexibility like this as well.

I think this way for everything from solo and chamber to full orchestra.
Old 23rd May 2017
  #6
For choirs, I prefer start without a mic, simply walking and listening for the right spot. Then I set up the stand.

As always, record, listen, adjust. Rinse repeat.
Old 23rd May 2017
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorseHorse View Post
For choirs, I prefer start without a mic, simply walking and listening for the right spot. Then I set up the stand.

As always, record, listen, adjust. Rinse repeat.
Could you expand on that thought...Are you listening for a balance of direct and reflected sound? Wouldn't the representation change wildly depending upon the capsule type and mic technique?

But, I agree, the dance of listen, place, record, listen, move, record, listen, move is the only way to get better at mic placement.
Old 23rd May 2017
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by apotheosis View Post
In a live concert situation, I tend to go too close rather than too distant, because of public noise, and it is easier to add reverb in post (either digitally or by use of room microphones) than to EQ for a closer sound...
For a concert, if there's a conductor, I'll always try and place a pair above and behind him as my starting point, and then I may adjust it a bit in height or distance, but not too much. That's my "direct" pair and my main source. Then I add flankers in line (again, "direct") as needed for coverage. Then I either add room mics if possible, and if not I know I'll add reverb in post.

If it's a "session", then I'll spend more time experimenting with mics out in the hall space itself, since I'm not worried about interfering with the audience.
Old 23rd May 2017
  #9
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Thread Starter
Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts. Perhaps an interesting way to continue the conversation and focus the discussion a bit (since we all have our methods and preferences) would be to ask, specifically:

What is an aspect of placement you felt was lacking (or under-informed) in your earlier work?

and

How do you work now to avoid this as much as possible?

Speaking for myself, I did not know very much about the radiation characteristics of instruments or the great tonal changes that can result from relatively small changes in height, particularly in some rooms. While I'm still very far from having expertise, I notice that I now make a more considered initial placement (somewhat as you described above, Tim) and now typically make smaller incremental changes than I used to, when I would once have tried 3 or 4 quite different positions (e.g. a couple feet apart each) and often felt like the result, when good, owed more to luck than anything else.

I suppose all of this could be quickly summed up simply by saying that, like anything, this process can only be improved by Experience and the easiest way to explain how more adept engineers work is that they have more Experience -- but, that said, I hope it doesn't feel like a superficial conversation to have
Old 23rd May 2017
  #10
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king 2070 made a very cogent statement. trust your ears. It is always amazing to me how much the capture environment, even in a closed structure, will change with temp, humidity and particular bodies seated in the venue. When the paying crowd shows up, the house AC is dialed back and you can wind up with a cool ultra dry Sahara desert environment. The best session players will alter their position to their mic pursuant to room condition. The great ones want to hear monitoring parallel to FOH in order to shape their micing approach. This is an artist not SR engineer controled maneuver. As always, player skill will determine the quality of most of the presentation.
Hugh
Old 24th May 2017
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hughshouse View Post
The best session players will alter their position to their mic pursuant to room condition. The great ones want to hear monitoring parallel to FOH in order to shape their micing approach. This is an artist not SR engineer controled maneuver. As always, player skill will determine the quality of most of the presentation.
Hugh
Hi hughshouse - Thank you for the post. I just wanted to clarify what you were writing. Are you saying that the musicians ("players") being recorded will change their positions to the mics according to room conditions independent of the recording engineer? Because when I am recorded I stay completely out of it and let the engineer take care of that. In fact, I don't even want to get involved or think about it! haha I just want to think about my playing.
Old 24th May 2017
  #12
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The performer will always be the final determinate in relative mic position in the case of card pattern deployment. To answer shotsy's question I was alluding to parallel recording of a live performance. At this point most of my work is providing audio for concert music videos but back when I was primarily tracking audio for CD prep, acomplished session players would shape their performance, both in concert and the studio, via close observation of the head phones or wedge monitors. If omni or other broad pattern mics are used the artist will have much less control: for this and many other reasons card pattern mics are a heavy favorite with most pro session players.
Hugh
Old 24th May 2017
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorseHorse View Post
For choirs, I prefer start without a mic, simply walking and listening for the right spot. Then I set up the stand.

As always, record, listen, adjust. Rinse repeat.
I always do that, for any source. With one finger in my right ear.
No joke, listening with just one ear makes us listen more like a microphone, easy to get a accurate sense of critical distance, and of the real tonality in that one spot.

Listening with two ears is a very forgiving experience, and allows our brain to filter out all flaws and unnecessary details.

I tend to record on the dryish side, either supplemented by room pair (two fig8 instead of two omnis a decade ago - I got to dislike the double direct sound), or a convolving reverb.
Old 24th May 2017
  #14
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I think that the main thing to keep in mind is the required aesthetic of the recording. Romantic music can take more hall sound than baroque music.

Orchestra sound can utilize the hall sound (more distant) more than a string quartet should do. Recordings with singers cannot be dry sounding.

The way you learn about aesthetics of recording is to listen to excellent commercial recordings of the pieces you will work on.

Audition recordings from several different eras (50's, 60's, 70's etc.) to learn about aesthetic viewpoints.

When setting up it is often helpful to wear headphones to listen while you move the main pair.
Old 24th May 2017
  #15
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Yes, use your ears! I try to get as close to a "finished" product with only my main array. Then I'll go just a little closer and add any spots needed. You can always add verb, but can not take it out. I like to have a little "room" in the balance to be able to make changes in post.
Old 24th May 2017
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
No joke, listening with just one ear makes us listen more like a microphone, easy to get a accurate sense of critical distance, and of the real tonality in that one spot.
.
I recently started doing this and it helps, especially when placing spot mics.
Old 24th May 2017
  #17
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Thread Starter
Thanks for the one finger suggestion, Yannick and Don. That does seem like a very effective technique to try -- surprised I have not seen someone doing it before.

I suppose that wrapped up in this discussion of direct/diffuse sound and placement is the issue of knowing the ways in which your mics will portray the source and room differently from how the ear ears. In other words, instead of using both ears audience-style to determine placement, the more "Platonically ideal" approach would be to base these decisions purely on what the mic(s) are hearing.

I suspect many of the shortcomings of my own recordings in terms of placement have resulted from trusting what sounds good to my ears too much and not thinking enough like a microphone, so to speak.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their thoughts. I continue to be amazed at what an incredible resource this forum can be for the less experienced trying to grow.

With gratitude,
Luke
Old 24th May 2017
  #18
Gear Maniac
 

I think Plush is right on with listening. It's the same with my cello students - listening as much as possible is an imperative and it is so much easier today with online resources than when I was a student. To proceed without an idea of the sound you are after in your head is difficult, if not impossible. And lots of listening gives you an idea of what are the traditions, where there is a great deal of variety, what you like and dislike, and helps you form your own opinions and tastes. Lots of listening - it's highly recommended.

BTW, related to this, I find it helpful to bring along reference recordings that I like and am very familiar with when on location. It not only helps to set up your listening environment but gives a frame of reference when making decisions on the direct/ambient sound ratio. Unless using headphones, your monitoring space on location will never sound exactly the same as in your studio.
Old 24th May 2017
  #19
Gear Maniac
Also consider listening to both stereo
and a mono blend. Ambience on headphones can sound good but when played over speakers may be too reverberant due to crosstalk cancellation and lesser ability of brain to filter out
ambient sounds.
Old 25th May 2017
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukedamrosch View Post
Thanks for the one finger suggestion, Yannick and Don. That does seem like a very effective technique to try -- surprised I have not seen someone doing it before.
Luke
That is because it looks utterly stupid when one does this.

Old 25th May 2017
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
I think that the main thing to keep in mind is the required aesthetic of the recording.
Bingo.

There's lots of suggestions about trusting one's ears and blocking one with a finger. But none of that is useful if you don't have any idea about what the sound of the particular ensemble, repertoire, style, composer etc should actually sound like and why.

You only get this from a musical education, listening to live concerts in different halls, with different groups and listening to lots of recordings, in short it is something that cannot be done quickly.
Old 25th May 2017
  #22
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If you record a Soundfield or other B-format mic, you have quite a lot of control over the direct/ambient balance at post, which can be useful, especially if you don't have much setup time.
Old 25th May 2017
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Spearritt View Post
Bingo.

There's lots of suggestions about trusting one's ears and blocking one with a finger. But none of that is useful if you don't have any idea about what the sound of the particular ensemble, repertoire, style, composer etc should actually sound like and why.

You only get this from a musical education, listening to live concerts in different halls, with different groups and listening to lots of recordings, in short it is something that cannot be done quickly.
To me it is not as bingo as that.
Once the repertoire, musicians, period instruments or not, the hall have been chosen, I fail to see how we as a recording engineer are going to impose a certain recording esthetic.

IMO we should merely record what is there as good as possible.

Sometimes a musician brings a (really good) recording to a soundcheck. With entirely different instruments, in an entirely different acoustic. So what ? What is the use ? Will we change our recording approach accordingly, radically, impossibly, with disastrous end results ?

I hear too many recordings that sound like recordings. For me, "recording esthetic" has a bad ring to it. Far too many recordists who feel the need to contribute something to the sound.
Old 25th May 2017
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
To me it is not as bingo as that.
Once the repertoire, musicians, period instruments or not, the hall have been chosen, I fail to see how we as a recording engineer are going to impose a certain recording esthetic.

IMO we should merely record what is there as good as possible.

Sometimes a musician brings a (really good) recording to a soundcheck. With entirely different instruments, in an entirely different acoustic. So what ? What is the use ? Will we change our recording approach accordingly, radically, impossibly, with disastrous end results ?

I hear too many recordings that sound like recordings. For me, "recording esthetic" has a bad ring to it. Far too many recordists who feel the need to contribute something to the sound.
Well, get used to the fact that by simply turning up with recording gear, choosing and placing mics and pressing REC > you are already bringing to the session "an aesthetic"...it is complete folly to think of yourself as an invisible 'channeler' of the event to final recording status, as if you are able to transport the listener "there", to the event (session or concert) with complete transparency.

You are, whether consciously or not (and we'd hope consciously !) making decisions about ensemble blend, direct to reverberant ratio, minimizing background noise, reducing sibilants (if chorus), using spot mics (perhaps) to bring out detail....and hopefully many other decisions as well.

You have visualized a desired end result, and are employing all this thought, reflective greenroom listening/monitoring, mic selection and placement to achieve this aesthetic. If not, your 4 year old untrained niece or nephew could do the same and expect a similar result....that is the logical conclusion to your assertion ? All David and Plush are saying is that extensive listening to historical benchmark recordings of the same or similar material are going to inform and fine-tune your desired aural outcome. Leave anaesthetics to the hospitals please.
Old 25th May 2017
  #25
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A tricky aspect is calculating the overall quality of the room sound, in deciding if the recording approach should negate the acoustic and will use reverb processing, or not, and to what degree. The room acoustic cannot be completely avoided so ideally a recording is made in a great acoustic without reverb processing. But if the room is too noisy or has standing waves etc. a natural approach will not work well, and the ensemble needs to be recorded closer than usual. The closer the ensemble is recorded the harder it is to balance with the main pair. The relative distance of each instrument becomes more critical.
Old 25th May 2017
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Well, get used to the fact that by simply turning up with recording gear, choosing and placing mics and pressing REC > you are already bringing to the session "an aesthetic"...it is complete folly to think of yourself as an invisible 'channeler' of the event to final recording status, as if you are able to transport the listener "there", to the event (session or concert) with complete transparency.

You are, whether consciously or not (and we'd hope consciously !) making decisions about ensemble blend, direct to reverberant ratio, minimizing background noise, reducing sibilants (if chorus), using spot mics (perhaps) to bring out detail....and hopefully many other decisions as well.

You have visualized a desired end result, and are employing all this thought, reflective greenroom listening/monitoring, mic selection and placement to achieve this aesthetic. If not, your 4 year old untrained niece or nephew could do the same and expect a similar result....that is the logical conclusion to your assertion ? All David and Plush are saying is that extensive listening to historical benchmark recordings of the same or similar material are going to inform and fine-tune your desired aural outcome. Leave anaesthetics to the hospitals please.
While I agree in general, I would never go so far to say I visualize an end result before the session. That is IMO simply impossible.

During soundcheck I of course have something in mind, based on experience and maybe listening to (some) recordings (which I actually never do, not of the same program, as it has no use whatsoever). But I would dare to say I try not to impose an aesthetic, and do try to be as transparant as possible.

Of course I am aware of the fact a stereo recording can never be transparant.

In less ideal situations, or extreme situations completely artificial and even rock/pop solutions are allowed. But one should never know by listening to the end result.
Old 25th May 2017
  #27
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Before we go down the rabbit hole into the phenomenology of recording itself and the ways in which it can never be a perfectly anticipated reproduction of a performance, and with all due respect to the very well-taken comments from David, Plush, and others about knowing the musical/repertoire/aesthetic background first and foremost, I'd love to hear any more thoughts along the lines of what apotheosis shared in post #2 of this thread:

Namely, any tips/methods/tools/techniques you often use to adjust from the "point A" of your initial mic placement(s) to the presumably more balanced "point B" of the final recording.

Needless to say, I hope none of the above posters will interpret this as a lack of interest in their thoughts, for which I am very grateful.
Old 25th May 2017
  #28
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by Peller View Post
If you record a Soundfield or other B-format mic, you have quite a lot of control over the direct/ambient balance at post, which can be useful, especially if you don't have much setup time.
Yes you do have quite a bit of flexibility in post but even then there are limits. I have gotten caught with having my Soundfield mic too far into the reverberant field. Better to err on the side of being a little too close if you have no chance to tweak position during a rehearsal/ soundcheck.

Soundfield recommends setting the mic to "omni" with 0 degree width setting and moving the mic to to get the desired direct-to-reverberant ratio AND balance of sound sources. This should give you
plenty of flexibility in post.
Old 25th May 2017
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukedamrosch View Post
Before we go down the rabbit hole into the phenomenology of recording itself and the ways in which it can never be a perfectly anticipated reproduction of a performance, and with all due respect to the very well-taken comments from David, Plush, and others about knowing the musical/repertoire/aesthetic background first and foremost, I'd love to hear any more thoughts along the lines of what apotheosis shared in post #2 of this thread:

Namely, any tips/methods/tools/techniques you often use to adjust from the "point A" of your initial mic placement(s) to the presumably more balanced "point B" of the final recording.

Needless to say, I hope none of the above posters will interpret this as a lack of interest in their thoughts, for which I am very grateful.
Practical advice might center on going to sit in the chairs of the players and see how your mics look from that spot. Go stand where your chorus is and observe where your main pair is.

You've got forward and back, and up and down with the mic stand and also tilting down the mics on your main pair.

You have to know what difference each of these adjustments will bring to you.
In general it is not really a great idea to be way up high since it offers a more diffuse sound and also accentuates what is at the back of the ensemble.

For choir, the mics should not be way over the heads of the top row of singers.

10-11 feet high is as good starting place for your main pair. Often you will gain blend and not be focusing on flubs if you move your stand back instead of forward.

In order to hear what differences your forward / back position and up / down position make, why not record the rehearsals and move your mics around in a situation where you have time to experiment.
Old 25th May 2017
  #30
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by lukedamrosch View Post
Before we go down the rabbit hole into the phenomenology of recording itself and the ways in which it can never be a perfectly anticipated reproduction of a performance, and with all due respect to the very well-taken comments from David, Plush, and others about knowing the musical/repertoire/aesthetic background first and foremost, I'd love to hear any more thoughts along the lines of what apotheosis shared in post #2 of this thread:

Namely, any tips/methods/tools/techniques you often use to adjust from the "point A" of your initial mic placement(s) to the presumably more balanced "point B" of the final recording.

Needless to say, I hope none of the above posters will interpret this as a lack of interest in their thoughts, for which I am very grateful.
OP, I know you are looking for more practical advice on mic placement, but IMO unless you have a handle on the room where you are monitoring, all the mic placement skills can be lost. For me this is step No. 1 and I like to really spend some time on it because it makes everything else so much easier. And having reference recordings helps you understand the characteristics of your monitoring space. For example, a reference recording can immediately tell you if your monitoring space is more live or more dead than your studio, which is excellent information to have in your decisions on direct/diffuse ratios. Otherwise, you may be making decisions based on the sound of the monitoring room rather than on the hall. The reference recording is not to copy but as a frame of reference (hence the term, "reference recording").
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