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The unbearable French horn!
Old 24th July 2017
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joelpatterson's Avatar

Thread Starter
The unbearable French horn!

Okay, okay... reaching for clickbait with the thread titles, this can't end well....

The actual output of a French horn, though... it just shudders, it disturbs the marine life much more than the actual basses, which always have a plumpness, a beginning and end. The French horn, by contrast, is all blurring and density, and it rattles the membranes of my lesser mikeyphones, das is fo' show, anyone had this experience?

Are there strategies for the remote recordist to approach the task successfully? Tips, tricks, essential wisdom?
Old 24th July 2017
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jnorman's Avatar
use a high quality condenser mic, placed about 6 feet high and about 1 mile away, same as for accordion.
Old 24th July 2017
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jimjazzdad's Avatar
Also mic strategies employed for the banjo may work on French horn...
Actually, I like the sound of the horn in orchestral recordings I have made. In those cases it was mic-ed from about 12 feet up and 20 feet away, not that different from what Jim suggests
Old 24th July 2017
Lives for gear
It also depends upon the direction it's pointing in, and how many of them ? If it's a typical horn section, towards the rear of the orchestra, with some sort of baffling or reflection shield behind them to bounce the sound forward, all can be fine (with a good conductor), but if it's a solo instrument ...?
Old 24th July 2017
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Iannis Xenakis has a piece for horn and small ensemble. I can not remember the title but I'll never forget the experience. The concert was very casual and multiple ensembles played. When this particular ensemble played I happened to notice a couple of things. First, the horn player did not have her hand in the bell of her horn. Second, the bell of the horn was pointed directly at my face. The piece starts with nothing unusual considering the program. Then the horn entered...

...her hand was still not in the bell and I am fairly certain the dynamic marking was "as loud as possible...and then some." This went on for 10 minutes. After 8 minutes I genuinely started to worry about potential hearing damage. When it comes to a single object creating directional sound, I still have never heard anything louder than that French horn. Afterwards, the horn player did not apologize for her performance, nor should she, but she did feel a little bad I had no prior warning of what was to come. The piece was actually funny in a weird sort of way so everything worked out.

I can certainly empathize with your microphones though.
Old 24th July 2017
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tourtelot's Avatar
Man, what a beast of a thing to master, if you ever do. Lovely when well played, one of my favorites.

Old 24th July 2017
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Don S's Avatar

Horn player and recording engineer here.
The only "trick" is to remember that in an orchestral genre, the horn is meant to be heard as both a direct and indirect sound. In a hall mostly as a reflection. That's what makes playing the thing so challenging. What the player hears is nothing like what the conductor and audience hears. We are always compensating. Even worse, since an attach (beginning of a note) has to reach the podium at the same time as the rest of the brass (facing bell forward) we have start playing every so slightly before the rest.
In regards to a micing tip for recording, as mentioned above, an omni or wide card about 6 feet away is a good starting point for an accent mic in an ensemble. Live as in Broadway, either an omni condenser clipped on the bell or the old 421 behind the bell.
Old 24th July 2017
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Yes, why is anyone ever spot miking a french horn?

Last edited by David Spearritt; 1st August 2017 at 12:49 AM..
Old 24th July 2017
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tourtelot's Avatar
Originally Posted by David Spearritt View Post
Yes, why is anyone ever spot miking a french horn?
Like Don says above, only in a pit orchestra, only the whole section: a pair of DPA 4011s usually.

Old 25th July 2017
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My greatest editing challenges have originated in the horn section ...

But I admire players that can achieve what Mozart (not 'Motzart' as spelt in our leading daily newspaper that has abolished sub-editing in its production) asked of them ... in the pre-valve era. They add a magical adornment. I often wish that I could hear what the virtuoso of the day produced in the way of sound on those early instruments. (And no mics around to divert attention ...)
Old 31st July 2017
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I find my treatment of horn (like everything else) is completely based upon the musical context. I *will* spot the horn fairly regularly. Why? Because (as Don said above), the sound we hear is a combination of reflected and direct sound. Even with a Brahms trio recording, I'll find that in many halls, there simply is not enough direct sound. And because of that, I'll mic it.

99% of the time, when I mic a horn, the mic will be somewhere behind the player. How that works depends on the music. I'm almost never tight on the instrument and "looking" up the throat of the bell. Unless I'm in a jazz/pop type context where that direct sound helps it cut. More often than not, I'm off-axis and from a distance dictated by need for clarity. Sometimes, I'll be 6 feet back with a TLM170 and off axis. Other times, I'll find that 2-3 feet back, off axis (usually above) the bell with a ribbon (say an AEA N8) is what is needed. The former being more of a "traditional" sound and the closer being more for a contemporary music sound. For live scoring orchestras, I'll use Sennheiser 441s or Shure SM7s on each player, again off axis and a couple feet back. Then using reverb to create the sound. Most of the classical orchestras I work with put the horns close to the wall so there is no need to spot them.

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