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String quartet - mics n arrangements? Condenser Microphones
Old 4 weeks ago
  #1
Gear Head
String quartet - mics n arrangements?

Hi GS community

I do occasional concert recordings, and I'm recently asked to record a live string quartet concert at a church in Surrey (Holy Trinity in Claygate, UK) in a few weeks.

I'm aware that there's been numerous threads on string quartet recording before, but I'd be grateful if anyone has opinions on the following options very much appreciated:

Microphones:

- 2 x Sennheiser MKH 8020
- 2 x AKG C414 XLS matched pair
- 2 x AKG C214 matched pair
- 2 x Rode NT2A none matching
- 2 x Rode NT55 matched pair (cardioid + omni capsules)

Options?

1) Room pair + spot
2) Room pair + MS
3) Room pair + XY

Selected mics go through Audient ASP880 and Prism Sound Lyra 2 to Studio One Pro. Samplitude Pro X4 standby in case. Also have a pair of Line Audio 2MP pres in case.

Thank you.

PS. suggestions for any other microphones / pres in the market more suited to this sort of set up always very much appreciated.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #2
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fred2bern's Avatar
 

Do it simple.
I'd go main pair + 1 spot on the cello.
Main pair omni if usable in the acoustic.

Fred
Old 4 weeks ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fred2bern View Post
Do it simple.
I'd go main pair + 1 spot on the cello.
Main pair omni if usable in the acoustic.

Fred
I agree. Try to position them in a half moon shape, so that each one has the same distance to your main array, otherwise second violin and viola won't be as present...
Old 4 weeks ago
  #4
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Crazy4Jazz's Avatar
 

Since you have enough mice & inputs why not the Sennheisers for the main spaced pair, AKGs for room or overhead or whichever position sounds best, 214s as spots for violins only to be used if necessary, 55s for viola & cello and the Rode also on cello just in case. Lot of room for phase problems but you don’t have to use every track. Use whatever sounds best in whatever combination. Just options.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
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Crazy4Jazz's Avatar
 

Many listeners prefer best seat in the House perspective so the spaced pair and room pair should do it. The players will “mix” themselves.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
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i tend to decide on setup not based on a formula but on how good i consider the room, what result i'm looking for, what options i want to have while mixing, whether it's a live recording or not, potential noise issues, budget, time available for setup and of course on the available gear...

setup then could be anything between just a pair of mains (you're not doing surround?) or a full armada of two different pairs of mains, spots on every instrument and multiple ambis!

the audient's pres are quite nice, the prism's too and (some of) your mics are fine as well but most anybody would have his/her own way of how and what to use; many folks use schoeps, neuheiser, dpa, some love ribbons, tube mics, some use esoteric preamps, specific converters...



p.s. maybe better do not call a mic setup an 'arrangement' (even if correct in another language): this could upset some folks...
Old 4 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Head
Thanks for all your thoughts so far.

I look forward to testing different set up if time permits. Otherwise, main pair & room pair and cello spot sounds sensible.

If I get more requests to do recordings in the not too distant future, I'd love to add Schoeps or Microtech Gefell pair. I'd stick with the Prism Sound - perhaps swap my Lyra 2 for Atlas but otherwise I'm happy with the set up for my occasional recording activity purpose for now.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #9
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digital mics

are the d1's yours and would you rent them out, including a dmi8? and have you got any experience regarding the handling of the dmi compared to the rme 842? - i'm interested in rental options (not based on the this listening experience though...) to occasionally bump up my more modest km-d mic setup (which i like a lot btw).

sorry to the op for going somewhat off topic (but there are not too many folks around here using digital mics).

Last edited by deedeeyeah; 3 weeks ago at 01:54 PM.. Reason: edited for clarification
Old 3 weeks ago
  #10
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didier.brest's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
are the d1's yours (..) ?
No.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by didier.brest View Post
No.
too bad!
Old 3 weeks ago
  #12
Gear Maniac
The second recording of the Mendelssohn is in my opinion the sort of recording to be avoided, at least for my taste. Both the players and the way it has been recorded are far too extreme and the music is being treated like it is Shostakovich (Of whose music I love by the way). String instruments are meant to be lyrical and legato and beautiful, and that's how Mendelssohn wrote for them. To close mic them and for the players to be so violent towards this music is not a pleasant listening experience. Just my opinion.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #13
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Plush's Avatar
I suggest to use only REAL microphones. Omni mics.
Spaced main pair of 8020 at 67 cm on a bar.

414 in omni as spot on the cello.

String quartets don't really project into the room very much, so no "room mics" are needed.

Quartet should sit in the regular position, NOT in a semi circle.

ie.

vln 2 (cello , alt.) cello

vln 1 vla
Old 3 weeks ago
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
I suggest to use only REAL microphones. Omni mics.
Spaced main pair of 8020 at 67 cm on a bar.

414 in omni as spot on the cello.

String quartets don't really project into the room very much, so no "room mics" are needed.

Quartet should sit in the regular position, NOT in a semi circle.

ie.

vln 2 (cello , alt.) cello

vln 1 vla
May I ask if you advocate the same inter-player spacing as for performance? Or somewhat expanded along either axis while preserving the standard seating?

Many thanks as always for your recommendations,
Luke
Old 3 weeks ago
  #15
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The advantage of using the normal positioning of the four players is that they will be in their normal habitat and that they will have maximum contact for timing etc.

The disadvantage can be that the two players closer to the mics will be more dominant. The (in)famous recordings of the Alban Berg Quartet for EMI were good examples. While their first violinist would also dominate in the concert hall, the effect was even more pronounced in their studio recordings. This can somewhat be mitigated by putting your main mics more towards the center of the quartet, but that will also bring about another sound from the violins. This is all about making choices for the best compromise...

Then their is the choice of microphones. The 8020 will do a nice job with strings. Unfortunately a lot of very fine and well known quartets have fallen victim to engineers that chose totally unusable LDC's with boosted treble (so called vocal mics), resulting in strident and ugly sounds. Some of the musicians have become really fed up with recording because they never recognized or liked the sound that was recorded. A string quartet should get a warm and full bodied sound.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #16
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Plush's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by lukedamrosch View Post
May I ask if you advocate the same inter-player spacing as for performance? Or somewhat expanded along either axis while preserving the standard seating?

Many thanks as always for your recommendations,
Luke
It would be bad recording practice to ask the quartet to re-arrange their positions on stage. They like to set up a certain way. The group balances themselves so the sound heard from the front is the sound they want to present. Cello accent is not for volume but to pick up pizz. and soft gestures. 2 omnis pick up the natural balance. Raise the mics if you don’t get enough vln2.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
It would be bad recording practice to ask the quartet to re-arrange their positions on stage. They like to set up a certain way. The group balances themselves so the sound heard from the front is the sound they want to present. Cello accent is not for volume but to pick up pizz. and soft gestures. 2 omnis pick up the natural balance. Raise the mics if you don’t get enough vln2.
I'm with you 100% on this. My view of recording has always been that the key is capturing the best performance possible, not just the best sound quality possible. Rearranging of musicians should be minimized in order to capture the best performance.

Admittedly, I'm working at a *much* lower level than most of the members here, dealing only with amateur or semi-pro musicians, but in my world the best thing you can do as an engineer is get the musicians to forget you're there! It's probably less of an issue with seasoned professionals, but still seems like a generally good idea regardless.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #18
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jnorman's Avatar
I always prefer ORTF over AB omnis for string quartet, because I like a nice clear stereo image that places each instrument where it is supposed to be. However, your best mics are the 8020s, so use those. I would stay rather close to the group with omnis, perhaps 4-6 feet out, or even closer depending on how reverberant the space is. I do prefer a slightly arced arrangement for the players such that they are approximately equidistant from the mic pair, but I always defer to what the group wishes, and work from there. If they arrange themselves in a rather normal arc shape I would use a AB separation of 30-40cm at about 4 feet out. If they prefer a more linear arrangement, I would use an AB pair with 50-60cm separation at about 6 feet out. I have never found a cello spot to be helpful in a final mix, though it Is fairly standard practice and it never hurts to have more options in post if you need them. I have also never found room mics to be helpful.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jnorman View Post
...I have also never found room mics to be helpful.
with omnis as mains, i'm mostly not using room mics either, same when i consider the room sound to be unpleasant, but with directional mics, i like having the option to either use 'natural' reverb as recorded or to feed the room mics into a 'artificial' device. also, they can give a some idea of what can be experienced in the far seats (regardless of the projection of an ensemble).
Old 3 weeks ago
  #20
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James Lehmann's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
The group balances themselves so the sound heard from the front is the sound they want to present.
But how can they know what that sound is if not from listening to previous recordings of themselves?

Unless it's the Quantum Quartet who are able to exist both onstage and off it simultaneously.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #21
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Plush's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by James Lehmann View Post
But how can they know what that sound is if not from listening to previous recordings of themselves?

Unless it's the Quantum Quartet who are able to exist both onstage and off it simultaneously.
Of course they know what the relative volumes of vln 1, vln 2, vla, and violincello are. They are musicians and key to their performances are an agreed upon internal sound balance within the group.

They probably attended music conservatory where they learned about how a quartet should sound. Commentary by professors aids their progress in presenting a proper balance.

They are listening to each other.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #22
I like the suggestion of Plush, but the acoustic of your venue is unknown to me. In your place, I would go with his suggestion as "Plan A" and be prepared to switch to "Plan B" if the the acoustics prove problematic. Plan B is to use your 414's as a near-coincident main pair for a drier sound. then use the 8020's as a widely-spaced hall pair about 3 rows farther back. In normal quartet seating, the cello requires no spot for arco material -- just be certain (s)he has a low wire stand, not a large black Manhasset orchestra stand.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #23
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Going too high with your mic stand can also be a significant mistake when miking a quartet. "Intuition" might advise you to go higher...to achieve an organic mix or blend of the instruments, but it often results in emphasis of screechy highs from violins' vertical HF projections, and a simultaneous thinning out of the cello's richness and presence....driving the imperative to spot mic it. Not to mention the well-known 'disappearing viola effect'

Instead of capturing that organic mix/blend of the quartet, you're actually pulling it apart, thus having to rely on band-aid measures like spots to glue it all back together. You can get a nice rich violin tone by miking at players shoulder height, where that sideways projecting sound has fewer of the ice-pick highs, and the cello benefits from floor bounce reinforcement.

The one departure from the 'don't rearrange the players to suit the miking rule' would be to encourage them to stand rather than sit (cello excepted !)....and ideally to put the cello on a low riser to get their height up to somewhat match the standing players. I think they play better when standing anyway, better posture, breathing etc....

A mic position too close to the floor is of course going to induce comb filtering/cancellations (the very thing a PZM mic avoids....and no, I'm not advocating that approach !) so find the happy medium by going neither too high nor too far out front of the group. YMMV of course....
Old 3 weeks ago
  #24
I've occasionally mentioned my habit of adjusting the stand height while wearing headphones. What I'm listening for is a good spectral balance, and "balance" is an appropriate term because one is sometimes trading bass (i.e. cello) flatness against a pleasing upper string sound. The cello sound may be affected by floor bounce and also by floor-ceiling axial modes. One hopes to find a height where neither bass anomalies nor excessive "screech" occur. If no compromise seems possible, try moving the stand a bit right or left, because violins radiate the offending upper partials in a fairly narrow beam.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
Of course they know what the relative volumes of vln 1, vln 2, vla, and violincello are. They are musicians and key to their performances are an agreed upon internal sound balance within the group.

They probably attended music conservatory where they learned about how a quartet should sound. Commentary by professors aids their progress in presenting a proper balance.

They are listening to each other.
I agree, but I was concerned about the phenomenon that there can be a difference in loudness between first and second violin at the 2 or 3 meter distance to the mic array, while that difference is of course much smaller at 10 meters or more where the audience would sit. Going higher or more upfront will probably make the string instruments brighter sounding which can also be undesirable. It will of course also heavily depend on acoustisc and the choice of mics.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Going too high with your mic stand can also be a significant mistake when miking a quartet. "Intuition" might advise you to go higher...to achieve an organic mix or blend of the instruments, but it often results in emphasis of screechy highs from violins' vertical HF projections, and a simultaneous thinning out of the cello's richness and presence....driving the imperative to spot mic it. Not to mention the well-known 'disappearing viola effect'

Instead of capturing that organic mix/blend of the quartet, you're actually pulling it apart, thus having to rely on band-aid measures like spots to glue it all back together. You can get a nice rich violin tone by miking at players shoulder height, where that sideways projecting sound has fewer of the ice-pick highs, and the cello benefits from floor bounce reinforcement.

The one departure from the 'don't rearrange the players to suit the miking rule' would be to encourage them to stand rather than sit (cello excepted !)....and ideally to put the cello on a low riser to get their height up to somewhat match the standing players. I think they play better when standing anyway, better posture, breathing etc....

A mic position too close to the floor is of course going to induce comb filtering/cancellations (the very thing a PZM mic avoids....and no, I'm not advocating that approach !) so find the happy medium by going neither too high nor too far out front of the group. YMMV of course....
Standing musicians play differently, and I did some satisfactory live recordings with standing string players, but I would never ask this for a many hour recording session, because as it is, it is already very demanding for them.

I do use a riser for a cello whenever I can, because the cello sounds better. If not possible, a small but thick carpet at the feet of the cello player also helps a lot.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucas_G View Post
Standing musicians play differently, and I did some satisfactory live recordings with standing string players, but I would never ask this for a many hour recording session, because as it is, it is already very demanding for them.

I do use a riser for a cello whenever I can, because the cello sounds better. If not possible, a small but thick carpet at the feet of the cello player also helps a lot.
I dunno, standing desks are all the rage now, for millions of formerly sedentary office workers worldwide...and try telling a percussion player or double bassist to sit down for a session, they seem to be able to handle it for the duration, so why not others ? Maybe they're just made of tougher stuff...or their instruments are less demanding, or of an order less skill to play ? If so, you break the news to them...I'll be hiding behind that tree over there while you do it

I wonder if the direct spike coupling of the cello into the riser doesn't help the latter to act as a resonator chamber, so you get "free" bass with no additional effort or outlay ! As an analogy, think of a tea-chest bass...where the broom-handle and the thick string or rope are all coupled by the tension supplied by the player....and how the vibrations are transmitted along the string into the tea chest/resonator cavity chamber.

Now, substitute that cello's steel spike for the string under tension of the tea-chest bass, and i'd argue you have a similar principle of coupling in active play**

I've heard the thesis advanced that some of the older, hallowed and esteemed European concert halls rely on the cavity below their suspended wooden floors to provide similar "free bass gain" by acting as a sympathetic resonant chamber for the bass frequencies eg Vienna's Musikverein

** one way to verify would be to put an omni mic just inside the riser's cavity and see if it picks up anything meaningful in the lower to upper bass region...?
Old 3 weeks ago
  #28
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post

I've heard the thesis advanced that some of the older, hallowed and esteemed European concert halls rely on the cavity below their suspended wooden floors to provide similar "free bass gain" by acting as a sympathetic resonant chamber for the bass frequencies eg Vienna's Musikverein

** one way to verify would be to put an omni mic just inside the riser's cavity and see if it picks up anything meaningful in the lower to upper bass region...?
There was a hall in London (Kingsway Hall - now demolished) which was famous for a great sound. They then cleared out the piles of rubbish under the floor and the sound was not quite so great!

Re: second violins in quartets. They are usually quieter as they play mostly in lower registers, and sometimes they don't have the power of a typical first violin. The same can apply to viola players, but in recent years they have mostly upped their sound and some can be damned loud these days.

But I think the players should be in control of the balance, and not the producer or recording engineer, I'm afraid.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #29
Gear Head
Thanks again all for further comments - always nice to get wide range of views.

I genuinely don't know the church but I heard from one of the players that only the raised stage area is wooden floor and the rest of the main church space is carpeted. That suggests drier and unpredictable acoustic. It's also a live concert so I'm not sure if spot mic all players a good idea. Still undecided other than taking 8020 and 414 pairs
Old 3 weeks ago
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leushira View Post
Thanks again all for further comments - always nice to get wide range of views.

I genuinely don't know the church but I heard from one of the players that only the raised stage area is wooden floor and the rest of the main church space is carpeted. That suggests drier and unpredictable acoustic. It's also a live concert so I'm not sure if spot mic all players a good idea. Still undecided other than taking 8020 and 414 pairs
Wooden floor and carpet could prove to be a blessing. If you are uncertain then do try the Faulkner array with the 8020 omni's and the 414 in cardioid. Personally I would use 50 cm width for the omni's and the 414 in NOS, but that's a matter of taste. I would choose 2 to 2.5 meters of height and 2 to 3 meters distance to the instruments based on acoustics. I would point all mics slightly above the heads of the second violin and viola players to compensate for loudness difference and overall tonal balance...

Good luck! It will go well.
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