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Tips for recording string quartet Condenser Microphones
Old 5th May 2018
  #1
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Tips for recording string quartet

Hello all,

I know there have been a lot of threads on this topic, but a lot of it seems to be room-specific, so I thought I'd start yet another.

I'm hoping/planning to do some work for my church this summer recording a few string quartet pieces. I do have some experience with audio/live sound/recording but generally speaking I only know enough to be dangerous. I'm hoping to get some advice on a couple of points:

1) - Mic choice. Experience so far has been with some SM57s and AKG C535s. I would be open to acquiring some more options, if cost isn't prohibitive (>$1k or so). Advice so far seems to be a pair of small diameter condensers, maybe KSM141s or the Line Audio CM-3s which seem to be very nice mics for the price.

1a) - Pickup pattern. Why would I choose cardiod, omni, or something else?

2) - Mic placement. My gut would be to get as high as possible (with the stands I have, probably about 9-10 ft) and back 10 ft or so. Is this a good idea?

The room is a fairly large auditorium, brick walls and carpet floor. (Picture attached.) From my personal experience (I'm a violinist) it carries fairly well and is acoustically decent... not too dead or too wet.
Attached Thumbnails
Tips for recording string quartet-fullsizerender.jpg  
Old 5th May 2018
  #2
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jnorman's Avatar
I typically like an ORTF pair of cardioids for this application since they image the location information of the players the most effectively. Other folks here prefer an AB pair of omnis for their spacious feel and better bass response. The cm3s are sub cardioids and are very good for the money, though rather lowish output and would need to be used in a modified NOS pattern. The line audio OM1s are a great choice for affordable omnis. I don’t think you need to be quite that far out for a string quartet but it depends on how reverberant the space is, how loud the audience is, etc. I prefer getting in pretty tight and adding a bit more reverb in post if it needs it. Since you are beginning at this, you might consider using a boojum/jnorman array with a center NOS pair of cm3s and a spaced pair of OM1s on a single stereo bar (I use a 14” KM 23600) - then in post you can choose which pair to use or blend them to preference.
Old 5th May 2018
  #3
TSM
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I agree with Jnorman. I did a recording many years ago in a large church and used MKH40/30 in MS and it sounded really good. Didn't have the option to try AB or ORTF. If possible get the players in and playing then move the mics to get the best sound/reverb.
Old 5th May 2018
  #4
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i'm mostly using directional mics and hardly ever use arrays, definitely not on smaller ensembles. for ambient pickup, i prefer putting mics in the back of the room.
mains often ortf, ambis almost always wide a/b.
Old 5th May 2018
  #5
I usually start ortf no more than a couple feet in front of the ensemble about 7 feet high. 10 ft is too far back for any decent stereo width. You can always adjust the height or distance if you find the sound is too hard or dry.
Old 8th May 2018
  #6
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I did a string quartet with acoustic bass, drums and tenor saxophonist recently. Had the quartet in a circle and used a spaced pair of Neumann km 183s. It came out surprisingly good until the drummer got carried away and nearly drowned out everyone.

I started with the mics pretty high up but lowered them progressively until I got something I liked.
Old 9th May 2018
  #7
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I quite frequently record string quartets and other chamber music ensembles in a fairly non-reverberant venue. I use an AB pair of omnis, usually around 28" apart on a single bar, suspended above the musicians around 10-12', the bar nearly bisecting the quartet along an imaginary line running left-right between the front and back two rows of musicians.

In some instances, like a quintet or other small ensemble, a piano joins the strings. In those instances, I'll move the bar stage forward several inches, and then aim the omnis ever slightly backward toward the piano. That's almost enough to get the piano, but I'll spot mic the piano and mix to taste.
Old 9th May 2018
  #8
Directional vs. non-directional mic has more to do with the room than anything else. In a beautiful-sounding acoustic that is properly (but not too much) reverberant, a small AB pair of omni's can be very nice. Otherwise, I get a lot of mileage out of sub-cardioids (which are probably out of your specified budget). A stereo pair of cardioids in some sort of near-coincident arrangement are generally a good place to start, if you only have the money to buy one thing. I started off with Oktava MK012's and was never sorry about the sound of them.

Placement has to do with listening. String quartet with two mic technique will present you with the following challenges: maintaining proper balance and presence between 1st and 2nd violins; achieving proper presence and balance of cello; viola often faces upstage, and so has less bite than the first violin on the other side of the stereo field, unless you are close enough to get within the throw of its topside - this can be dependant on the violist too: some are aware of this and face a little more downstage than in to compensate.

Height and down-angle are the tools you have to work with for front-to-back balance and presence. If front seat instruments are more present and loud than the rear-seat ones, increasing height will help the balance, raising down-angle to focus more upstage will bring up the presence on the rear seats and reduce presence on the front seats. Increasing distance from the ensemble will blend them more and add more room to the sound, but will also narrow their spread from right to left. Sometimes I end up very close and very high, with a steep down-angle. Other times a little further back, a little lower, with a straighter down-angle. Hard to say what's "right" until you hear what you're getting.

Start a few feet out (what that means depends heavily on the room, but your spot will likely be somewhere between the seat back of the front audience row, and the music stands of the first violin and viola) and about 8 feet off the deck with a slight down-angle just over the heads of the first violin and viola. Tweak from there.

Very occasionally, I might have to spot the cello (just very little touch in the mix) to get back some of the presence, if everything else is in balance; but generally this is a two-mic affair.

Just my $.02 and worth every penny you paid for it. YMMV
Old 10th May 2018
  #9
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grrrayson's Avatar
 

The mic pattern will mostly be determined by the room (and the sound the composer and you are going for).

It's common to use a stereo pair with a spot on the cello—adding just a little bit of presence for the cello, down low in the mix.

People often go up high because that's the typical classical thing to do, yet strings often sound warmer lower. I tend to start around shoulder height. (Sometimes even lower can sound surprisingly good.) I move my head around shamelessly like a weirdo and get in people's business and find a spot where things sound good. Listen for how scratchy/rosin-y/warm/airy the instruments sound at different heights as well as the level balance and consistency of tone between the four.

Here's a video of a concert I recorded that shows mic placement:
YouTube (I didn't do the video.)

This was for a contemporary composer who likes a very clear and rather forward sound, so some more classically minded people will find this too close for their taste. The composer and I and the ensemble all think it's great. (I do lots of contemporary/experimental stuff so maybe my taste is skewed.) Of course if this were Debussy or something I'd go farther out.

I also add one or more pairs of room mics whenever I can. You're hearing some of the main pair and the outriggers here too. (This was an insane 10-part circus kind of thing with different ensembles in different places all over the stage.)

For your budget, three Shure KSM 141 mics used would fit the bill well. (Switch to a KSM 137 if current market prices are pushing your budget.) That would give you the option for cardioid (ORTF/NOS/whatever) or omni so you can see which sounds better in the room.

The Oktava 012 mics are forgiving and nice too, although they might not match as well and they're a little more grainy/not quite as airy. (I've made some great recordings with them, though. I even still miss having them sometimes even thought I have much fancier stuff now.) Whatever you go with try to get multiple capsules if you can for sonic options.

And most of all, remember that the performance and placement will trump microphone minutia all of the time.

Good luck!
Old 10th May 2018
  #10
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grrrayson's Avatar
 

Here's another video that shows a typical way to tackle it. (I didn't record this, ha!) Amazing players playing great music in a not-great sounding room with fake reverb: In Performance: Emerson String Quartet - Video - NYTimes.com

Note that even with the cello on a riser they thought a spot useful.

Here I suspect that going lower might not have hurt, as it may have sounded warmer with less of that small-room sound. Of course in broadcast you never have time to play with it and I wasn't there so I can only be curious.
Old 10th May 2018
  #11
Quote:
Here's another video that shows a typical way to tackle it. (I didn't record this, ha!) Amazing players playing great music in a not-great sounding room with fake reverb: In Performance: Emerson String Quartet - Video - NYTimes.com
Ew. Strange sound. Bad room, sub par post production. Typical 3 mic approach though.

I like 5 mics. 2 main pair. One for cello (cardioid), one for viola (cardioid) facing toward sound board, and a shared omni above and between the violins. Good balance of all instruments. Gotta be careful with the cello/main spot balance so it does not get muddy (like the video above).
Old 10th May 2018
  #12
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grrrayson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
Ew.
Agreed.

How would you have handled recording them in such a small, unflattering room?

Quote:
a shared omni above and between the violins
Hmmm...I've not heard of this. Do you have any samples?

I'd be concerned that the focus of the violins would be too different from that of the viola, but I suppose the spots are going to be so low in the mix any little touch of closeness will do.

But what if a the composer/client wants a little more dig on one of the violins?
Old 10th May 2018
  #13
Quote:
How would you have handled recording them in such a small, unflattering room?
God knows. I think the major problem is the way it was handled. Maybe that boxy sound is the reverb.

Most rooms I work in for live string quartet are rather unflattering. Warehouses, and galleries, and even boat museums. The best I can do is get in there with enough spot mics to compensate for poor acoustics and noise.

Quote:
I'd be concerned that the focus of the violins would be too different from that of The Viola, but I suppose the spots are going to be so low in the mix any little touch of closeness will do.
Well the violins are so present in the mains compared to the viola in many situations, a bit of focus correction is, on occasion, beneficial. I usually find a cardioid for each violin too much and an omni between the viola and cello to be muddy, and conflict with the cello spot. It is a compromise that seems to work well most of the time.

Here is one from this last weekend on an extremely dry and noisy boat.

Schoeps CMC622 mains in NOS pattern. Josephson C617set for violins. Sennheiser MKH8040 for cello, and Neumann TLM 107 for viola. Reverb added of course.
Attached Files

Glass mv2.mp3 (2.83 MB, 1249 views)

Old 10th May 2018
  #14
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I f going in so close, why not go the whole hog and DPA them like the Kronos always do in performance and recording?
Its a different sound, and requires eq and pan, which I abhor, but can work well on minimalism, which is almost machine music
Roger
Old 10th May 2018
  #15
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...requires dynamics, eqs, pan and several efx devices imo, so more gear/work/time - still prefer mics on stands at short distance over mini mics on instruments.; i only use mini mics if separation/reduction of bleed from other sources has to be achieved no matter what.
Old 10th May 2018
  #16
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grrrayson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
boat
Boat gig sounds fun!

The focus here indeed does not sound too inconsistent. Thanks for the sample.

I do wonder if a really close stereo pair would still work fine there.

As for the NYT video, hopefully it gives the o.p. hope that even the best musicians in the world play in less-than-ideal venues sometimes.

Here's a random video I found (that I didn't record) that shows the mic (a ribbon stereo pair, precisely, I think) even much closer, although there are certainly far room mics here as well: http://davee.music.northwestern.edu/...640&height=365

They probably just went that close for video. (Audio 101: visuals are always more important.) It's OK, but not ideal in my opinion. I still think mine sounds better. =)
Old 10th May 2018
  #17
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grrrayson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rolo 46 View Post
why not
Oh, Roger—sometimes people out here in the real world ask us to record things in places other than in the beautiful European churches and concert halls you all are spoiled with over there.

And I've been meaning to buy a set of four DPA 4099 mics since people keep asking if I have them for live work, but there are other things on the to-buy queue first. Alas: audio is just an endless money pit.

But I agree with deedeeyeah's comment above: a foot or two of air is often better/easier than no air.
Old 14th May 2018
  #18
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Hey everyone, thanks so much for the help! Especially appreciate the tips on the effects of different mic placements.

Regarding number of mics and mic choice, I'm afraid that I don't have the budget or the time for more than a couple mics. Right now I'm considering a few options:
1) - pair of Line Audio CM3s and pair of OM1s, probably in a boojum/jnorman
2) - pair of KSM141s, flip the switch between cardiod and omni a few times and go with whichever sounds better (I don't really like this option because #1 , it sounds like it would take a long time to figure out the optimal configuration and #2 , if the cardiod sounds better I don't have any way to put omni in the mix)
3) - pair of KSM 137s with a single omni (this is driven by budget constraint - is this crazy? if not, which omni?)
4) - Another remote possibility would be to use a pair of my AKG C535s plus a pair of omnis (Line Audio or maybe the KSM141s?)

I'm pretty sure that it would be helpful to have some omni in the mix, as the room has a decent acoustic. I really dread the bare, dead sound of close micing strings in a dead room... Am I right in thinking that the omnis can help me avoid this?
Old 14th May 2018
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by njspix View Post
I'm pretty sure that it would be helpful to have some omni in the mix, as the room has a decent acoustic. I really dread the bare, dead sound of close micing strings in a dead room... Am I right in thinking that the omnis can help me avoid this?
Yes. Although if the room is really dead/dry, judiciously applied artificial reverb will almost certainly serve you better than hoping omnis will extract some sort of lush envelopment out of an unsatisfactory acoustic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by njspix View Post
1) - pair of Line Audio CM3s and pair of OM1s, probably in a boojum/jnorman
This would be my recommendation for several reasons. I have extensive experience with both the CM3's and OM1's and with the KSM141's and while not "interchangeable" you should have no reservations about making very good recordings with the CM3/OM1 combination.
Old 14th May 2018
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukedamrosch View Post
if the room is really dead/dry, judiciously applied artificial reverb will almost certainly serve you better than hoping omnis will extract some sort of lush envelopment out of an unsatisfactory acoustic.
It does have some acoustic to it, so I'm hoping I won't have to do this. But point taken.

I suppose another option would be a pair of KSM137s and a pair of OM1s. This would give me dedicated cardio and omni options... but I guess it begs the question of which is to be preferred in this application, the Shures or the Line Audios. I know there are already threads on that... I'll try to read those sometime soon.
Old 14th May 2018
  #21
Did not mean to appear snarky with regard to your room acoustics comment, hope no sarcasm was inadvertently conveyed!

The KSM141 is only 30% more expensive, but gives you 100% more polar patterns to choose from. For this reason the single pattern 137, in my opinion, seems like a weak link among all the various options you are considering.

As you may already know, the CM3 is more like a wide cardioid, while the KSM141 is a tight and textbook cardioid. This might be of more concern/interest for you to reflect on.
Old 14th May 2018
  #22
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No worries, I didn't hear any sarcasm!

Since the CM3s are wide cardioid, would they be as useful for live sound reinforcement as KSM141s? That is a consideration as well - I don't want to buy these mics only for recording, it would be nice if they were useful for services as well.
Old 14th May 2018
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njspix View Post
Since the CM3s are wide cardioid, would they be as useful for live sound reinforcement as KSM141s? That is a consideration as well - I don't want to buy these mics only for recording, it would be nice if they were useful for services as well.
the newer ksm series mics are much better than some older shure mics! however, i don't find much use for omni patterns in recording and even less (actually almost none) in live sound while i often use wide cardioids in both situations.
Old 15th May 2018
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njspix View Post
...
Respectfully, you're overthinking it (as most of us tend to do early on). Keep it simple. It'll be fine.

Quote:
I don't have the budget or the time for more than a couple mics.
Then just use one pair. Take the time you save futzing with extra mics and just get the main pair right. Take 15 minutes, record a snippet, listen back, and adjust a couple of times.

Quote:
(I don't really like this option because it sounds like it would take a long time to figure out the optimal configuration
If it's going to take too long to get two mics optimal, it would take even longer to get more mics optimal.

The cool thing with switchables is that you can easily and quickly audition the difference between cardioid and omni in a given position.

Quote:
if the cardioid sounds better I don't have any way to put omni in the mix
But what if you buy wide cardioids and omnis but cardioids would have been better? What if____/what if____/what if____?!

Don't worry about all that. If you have one basic pair of microphones, it should be a cardioid pair. Start there, get it sounding as best you can, then branch out when you can identify what else you need beyond that when such a need arises.

Quote:
I'm pretty sure that it would be helpful to have some omni in the mix, as the room has a decent acoustic. I really dread the bare, dead sound of close micing strings in a dead room... Am I right in thinking that the omnis can help me avoid this?
I'd say you're wrong there. Omnis will generally give you more of the room. If the room is bad, omnis will give you more bad. Directional mics generally let you get further away while maintaining the same focus. Your usage of "decent acoustic" with "dead room" is a bit contradictory, by the way, and doesn't really make sense.

If the mics are too close, simply back them up. This is how it works with cardioids or any other pattern.

If you're worried and don't have time or money, just get two decent mics, give as much time as you can listening in situ, don't be afraid to move mics to where it sounds right to you, and then focus on your playing most of all.

(By the way, I haven't used the AKG535 but I understand it's a flat condensor—a pair might work. Or maybe one would be fine as a cello spot. Never know until you try!)
Old 15th May 2018
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
in live sound...i often use wide cardioids
Where/how, exactly? I'm curious. I have four wide cardioids but haven't given them any action in PA work.
Old 15th May 2018
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grrrayson View Post
Where/how, exactly? wide cardioids [...] in PA work.
single overhead (often favoured over stereo overheads in my case) for drums and percussion, additional drum mic over bass drum/between toms, on horns/reeds if used as one mic on two instruments with big bands, on bass clarinet, (bass) trombone, baritone sax, horn, on bag pipes if single miked, on close miked grand piano in a/b (if drums aren't too close/plexi is available), as leslie low mic, on acoustic guitar to give some air, on electric bass combo, on instruments that move quite a bit such as bandoneon, sometimes acoustic guitar, some singers...

wide cardioids let me use less early reflection/small room emulations from my efx devices
Old 15th May 2018
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grrrayson View Post
Your usage of "decent acoustic" with "dead room" is a bit contradictory, by the way, and doesn't really make sense.
Sorry about that... the "close mic in a dead room" refers not to the current situation but to some previous experiences. I guess it wasn't really that relevant. And you're right - my previous post was anything but clear.
My main concern with the KSM141s is that I'm guessing that the omni pattern will pull in too much room, making the sound muddy, and the cardioid pattern will be too "cramped" sounding.
My main concern with the Line Audio mics is that they won't be as useful in live sound, although deedeeyeah's experience is interesting. I'm a bit worried that using the wide cardioid pickup pattern in that setting will create potential for a lot of feedback, especially in the hands of our volunteer team. (Trying to phrase that politely, but I think you know what I mean.)

Are either of the above concerns valid? What are your thoughts?

Thanks for all your comments and insight - I really appreciate it!
Old 15th May 2018
  #28
Hi njspix,

I used a Decca Tree in this video. The spots were 2 Tube LDCs and 2 line audio
CM3s (couldn't use the ribbons because of camera guy .)

I would say in general I prefer diffuse field omnis and ribbon fig 8 to SDC cardios on all the sources that I tested (soprano, piano, organ, cello, trumpet, trombone, harp)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZqmNfKz39E
Old 18th May 2018
  #29
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I do both live sound and live recording and I would stick with cardiods (not wide
cardiods). Cardiods would be more forgiving
of volunteers ability, performers needing loud monitor levels, performers moving mics around,
less than perfect eq of the monitors, loud instruments, poor room acoustics, etc. I respect deedeeyeah’s positive experience with wide cardiods on a live stage but their expertise and circumstances may be more forgiving. I prefer the more foolproof route and use only cardiods and hypercardiods (and sometimes fig 8’s) on a stage with PA.
Old 18th May 2018
  #30
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fully agree - although i love wide cardioids for recording, i do not use that many in live sound at the same time either: it was more about mentioning on what source i use some of them.

my mic setup usually has many cardioids, a few hypercardioids while the wide cardioids get as often (or rarely) used as fig8's, shotguns or omnis (in live sound). hard to stop me from using them as single overheads though (unless stage volume is high)...
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