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How has the typical full-orchestra recording setup changed over the past 60 years?
Old 21st July 2019
  #1
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How has the typical full-orchestra recording setup changed over the past 60 years?

Hello, hope this is the right place for this question! I'm currently studying the history of recording/engineering (focusing primarily on classical and filmscore recording) and am having trouble finding any clear summaries that give the big picture of how a typical full-orchestra recording setup has evolved and changed from, say, 1960 to the present. Some things are fairly obvious (no spot mics until the bigger, more modern desks came out in the 80s/90s?), but I know there's a lot I'm not grasping.

I realize a truly comprehensive answer to this could fill entire books! And if it HAS filled any such books, I'd love to be pointed toward those, but for purposes of this thread I'm only looking for a very general picture. Mic types, number and placement of mics, common engineering and mixing approaches, etc., and how the trends in each of those areas changed from decade to decade.

I'm fairly well aware of how things tend to be done nowadays, but am not clear on how the contemporary approach differs from what would have been the case in 1960 or 1970 or 1980, etc., and am not sure where else to turn for that sort of info. Also interested to know about how and when the divergences between the classical approach and the filmscore approach would have come into vogue. Any and all info about any of the above would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
Old 21st July 2019
  #2
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fred2bern's Avatar
Hello,

You could watch "The Golden Ring", a 1965 long docu (88mn) by the BBC about the Decca recording of Wagner's Götterdämmerung.

John Culshaw, the artistic director, also wrote a book called "Ring resounding".

Fred.
Old 21st July 2019
  #3
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You're simply wrong about the spot mics not being used until higher channel count desks became available. They were used since the late 50s, usually by chaining multiple desks together. You'll see this even in the Culshaw/Golden Ring/Ring Resounding film. These spots were all mixed down live to stereo at the session, until multitrack tape started to be used in the early 70's

The Polymath perspective link in the 1st post of the following thread is a good starting point: The Decca Sound: Secrets of the Engineers

How many mics do you see being used according to the Electrical Session Record shown in the first photo from top, Royce Hall UCLA, 1971, Mehta (The Planets) Decca session....live to Studer 2 track ? The Tree alone was 5 mics....
Old 21st July 2019
  #4
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tourtelot's Avatar
I went looking for the film. I see some DVDs for sale. Is it streamed anywhere? I'd love to watch this.

D.
Old 21st July 2019
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
I went looking for the film. I see some DVDs for sale. Is it streamed anywhere? I'd love to watch this.

D.
A short teaser sample here, gotta get your horns right.....and, how to get traffic diverted when you're recording quiet passages (the police-cognac factor) ! Get the DVD, don't cheap out, it's worth it...just to see the horse brought in to the session....human fingers for live mix balance, no automation, b/w tv monitors...no Dante networks here. Best guess is that it was filmed in 1964.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MbIeE2A03Z0

Last edited by studer58; 21st July 2019 at 08:16 AM..
Old 21st July 2019
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
I went looking for the film. I see some DVDs for sale. Is it streamed anywhere? I'd love to watch this.

D.
for those in the cheap seats at the back.....the whole shebang (good timing, it only became available yesterday !)

http://www.operaonvideo.com/the-gold...entation-1965/

No shortage of M50's then.....and remember, live to 2 track. 12 mics for 100+Piece orchestra

Plus, smoking in the control room was fully compulsory...

For those hanging out for the "horse scene" : 1:15:20....the look on Birgit's face is priceless !

I really want that red light you see behind Solti's right shoulder....classy beyond words....ditto for the talkback speaker behind him also. Would those be three widely spaced M49's for the solo singers ? Note the lines on the floor in front of the singers, to delineate how far they should step forward, for more vocal-spot focus.

The between takes editing (39:30) ...love how those scissors blades shoot up and cut the tape, after he's rocked the reels to and fro for the edit point....instantaneous commitment ! Today....days later.....command/control z, if we don't like it.
Culshaw with 2 talkback mics, 2 assistant live mix engineers (orchestral and choral/solo) ...these guys earned their pay ! Haven't we got it easy today

Last edited by studer58; 21st July 2019 at 11:24 AM..
Old 21st July 2019
  #7
This is a very deep topic and there is no easy answer and single resource to point you to.

Listen to recordings, read any technical liner notes, study session photos... Google, Discogs, YouTube, Allmusic.com, Spotify, and any library with an extensive classical music selection are your friends.

Start by researching the major labels and their main/pioneering engineers from the advent of stereo onwards. DG, Decca, Philips, RCA, CBS, EMI, Mercury, etc. and engineers like Lauterslager, Straus, Wilkinson, Fine, Layton, Graham.... Each had their own take on how to do it, and they borrowed a bit from each other and passed on their techniques to the next generation at their respective labels.

You’ll find that “how things are done nowadays” by the best engineers follows a lineage from these early pioneering engineers.


Quote:
Originally Posted by househoppin09 View Post
Hello, hope this is the right place for this question! I'm currently studying the history of recording/engineering (focusing primarily on classical and filmscore recording) and am having trouble finding any clear summaries that give the big picture of how a typical full-orchestra recording setup has evolved and changed from, say, 1960 to the present. Some things are fairly obvious (no spot mics until the bigger, more modern desks came out in the 80s/90s?), but I know there's a lot I'm not grasping.

I realize a truly comprehensive answer to this could fill entire books! And if it HAS filled any such books, I'd love to be pointed toward those, but for purposes of this thread I'm only looking for a very general picture. Mic types, number and placement of mics, common engineering and mixing approaches, etc., and how the trends in each of those areas changed from decade to decade.

I'm fairly well aware of how things tend to be done nowadays, but am not clear on how the contemporary approach differs from what would have been the case in 1960 or 1970 or 1980, etc., and am not sure where else to turn for that sort of info. Also interested to know about how and when the divergences between the classical approach and the filmscore approach would have come into vogue. Any and all info about any of the above would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
Old 21st July 2019
  #8
Having "been there" in the 60's and doing classical recording in that time period I can tell you that many recordings were still being done in MONO. I did my first stereo recording when I started working for the local college/conservatory in 1969. Most of the recordings were done using one stereo microphones like the Neumann SM-69. They were recorded on reel to reel tape using Ampex 350 and 351 stereo tape recorders. Many of the recordings were done in M/S, most were done in X-Y using the SM-69 and later the AKG C422. Vlad Maleckar of the Audio Recording Studios in Cleveland, Ohio did the Cleveland Orchestra with multiple microphones and a custom built Daniel Flickinger audio console in the 60s and 70s. I used the same type of console when I did the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music center. Some things have changed but the basics are still the same. Good performers, good hall, good equipment and a recording engineer who knows what he or she is doing are what it takes to make a good classical recording. FWIW
Old 21st July 2019
  #9
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The Decca boys cracked it and the BBC filmed it in action
Its all there for analysis
Culshaws books are illuminating
This was the Golden Age of Classical Recording imho
Big Artistes,Big Budgets,Great Venues,Ingenious Recordists and clever engineering.
Old 22nd July 2019
  #10
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Thanks everyone, this is helping! That '60s documentary looks awesome, I'll definitely be putting in some quality time with that. However, it would seem that no amount of watching documentaries or looking at pictures can answer the question I'm really asking, which is specifically about how trends shifted over time. I suppose I could track down dozens upon dozens of different documentaries and sets of pictures and suss out the trend shifts from a comprehensive survey of them all, but that doesn't seem very practical...

I'm totally open-minded to the possibility that the actual answer here is simply, "there were never any major trends in the first place that could have shifted, since these kinds of recordings have always been done in an extremely individualized way"--though I'll admit I find it a bit hard to believe that there haven't been quasi-standard practices that enjoyed periods of waxing prevalence before eventually waning. But, regardless, my questions will presumably not be answerable by looking at individual examples of recording setups from various different eras, because I have no way of translating those data points into the kind of big-picture understanding of prevailing trends that I'm seeking.

With that being the case, summaries provided by old hands who spent decades working in this area strike me as the only logical solution. This is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe View Post
Having "been there" in the 60's and doing classical recording in that time period I can tell you that many recordings were still being done in MONO. I did my first stereo recording when I started working for the local college/conservatory in 1969. Most of the recordings were done using one stereo microphones like the Neumann SM-69. They were recorded on reel to reel tape using Ampex 350 and 351 stereo tape recorders. Many of the recordings were done in M/S, most were done in X-Y using the SM-69 and later the AKG C422. Vlad Maleckar of the Audio Recording Studios in Cleveland, Ohio did the Cleveland Orchestra with multiple microphones and a custom built Daniel Flickinger audio console in the 60s and 70s. I used the same type of console when I did the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music center. Some things have changed but the basics are still the same. Good performers, good hall, good equipment and a recording engineer who knows what he or she is doing are what it takes to make a good classical recording. FWIW
Thanks so much for sharing that Thomas, anything further along these lines from any other old-timers who may be lurking here would be immensely helpful! Particularly involving any sort of emphasis on "we did XYZ during such-and-such era, you'd rarely see that today" or "mic model X/placement Y was de rigeur for a long time and it's much less popular nowadays", etc. Or, of course, "I was there the whole time and I wouldn't say there were ever any systematic changes in how things were done" would be just as helpful!
Old 22nd July 2019
  #11
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when assisting jürg jecklin in the eighties, he used way more ldc's than sdc's, m/s more often than other approaches, not only for mains but also for sections and spots (i even had to rewire/relabel some of the patchbays specifically for de-matrixed m/s), positioning of mics was more often in semi-circles (inner circle, outer circle, even three circles for orchestra plus choir) than along the front of the stage; lots of tube mics (and huge booms rather than small stands, at least for radio-only work) - oh, and media, mic/track count and editing options sure changed!
Old 22nd July 2019
  #12
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The Wilma Cozart Fine era of Mercury's Living Presence recordings deserves some investigation too, representing the "American tradition" of 3 spaced mics across the front and few if any spots, compared with the Decca (and later Deutsche Grammopon) approach of using spots to augment the main stereo pickup.

This should give you some good insights into the Mercury approach: http://www.soundfountain.com/amb/mercury.html#MIKE
Old 22nd July 2019
  #13
“I suppose I could track down dozens upon dozens of different documentaries and sets of pictures and suss out the trend shifts from a comprehensive survey of them all, but that doesn't seem very practical...





Quote:
Originally Posted by househoppin09 View Post
Thanks everyone, this is helping! That '60s documentary looks awesome, I'll definitely be putting in some quality time with that. However, it would seem that no amount of watching documentaries or looking at pictures can answer the question I'm really asking, which is specifically about how trends shifted over time. I suppose I could track down dozens upon dozens of different documentaries and sets of pictures and suss out the trend shifts from a comprehensive survey of them all, but that doesn't seem very practical...

I'm totally open-minded to the possibility that the actual answer here is simply, "there were never any major trends in the first place that could have shifted, since these kinds of recordings have always been done in an extremely individualized way"--though I'll admit I find it a bit hard to believe that there haven't been quasi-standard practices that enjoyed periods of waxing prevalence before eventually waning. But, regardless, my questions will presumably not be answerable by looking at individual examples of recording setups from various different eras, because I have no way of translating those data points into the kind of big-picture understanding of prevailing trends that I'm seeking.

With that being the case, summaries provided by old hands who spent decades working in this area strike me as the only logical solution. This is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for:



Thanks so much for sharing that Thomas, anything further along these lines from any other old-timers who may be lurking here would be immensely helpful! Particularly involving any sort of emphasis on "we did XYZ during such-and-such era, you'd rarely see that today" or "mic model X/placement Y was de rigeur for a long time and it's much less popular nowadays", etc. Or, of course, "I was there the whole time and I wouldn't say there were ever any systematic changes in how things were done" would be just as helpful!
Old 22nd July 2019
  #14
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Plush's Avatar
One of the biggest changes in orchestral recording has been the change from session recording to now mostly live recording. Going along with that one must discuss the change from straight to stereo to super multi-track.

In general, track counts have grown tremendously. It is not uncommon for orchestral recordings tied to television to balloon into a hundred tracks (or more). Also true for opera.

Acceptance of movie score type aesthetics in classical recording meant many more microphones in use. And these microphones used closer to the instruments than in "zone" micing.

The OP has taken on a very broad topic.
Old 22nd July 2019
  #15
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Eric D's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
One of the biggest changes in orchestral recording has been the change from session recording to now mostly live recording. Going along with that one must discuss the change from straight to stereo to super multi-track.

In general, track counts have grown tremendously. It is not uncommon for orchestral recordings tied to television to balloon into a hundred tracks (or more). Also true for opera.

Acceptance of movie score type aesthetics in classical recording meant many more microphones in use. And these microphones used closer to the instruments than in "zone" micing.

The OP has taken on a very broad topic.
I will never understand why some consider as a necessity to use tons of microphones and tracks to record classical music .
If the musicians are good, if the hall is good and if the sound engineer is good, marvelously natural recordings can be done with only 2 or 3 microphones, as a lot of great recordings tells us (from Decca, RCA , Erato, and others recordings labels) .
More microphones and multitrack recordings always mean less natural sound for classical music recordings ...
Old 22nd July 2019
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric D View Post
I will never understand why some consider as a necessity to use tons of microphones and tracks to record classical music .
If the musicians are good, if the hall is good and if the sound engineer is good, marvelously natural recordings can be done with only 2 or 3 microphones, as a lot of great recordings tells us (from Decca, RCA , Erato, and others recordings labels) .
More microphones and multitrack recordings always mean less natural sound for classical music recordings
Me too. Just imagine the amount of phase problems one has to deal with by individually miking every instrument and vocalist (if there are some). Some of the best recordings in the world were done with less than five or six microphones. Never understood the idea of miking every thing. You are not going to do any "punch ins" so why the need. I guess for balance later in the mixing and editing? I think Plush knows what he is talking about but I disagree with him on this.
Old 22nd July 2019
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric D View Post
I will never understand why some consider as a necessity to use tons of microphones and tracks to record classical music .
If the musicians are good, if the hall is good and if the sound engineer is good, marvelously natural recordings can be done with only 2 or 3 microphones, as a lot of great recordings tells us (from Decca, RCA , Erato, and others recordings labels) .
More microphones and multitrack recordings always mean less natural sound for classical music recordings ...
What do you define as the zone between "2 or 3 microphones" and "tons" of them ? In the Decca video referenced above related to the Solti Ring Cycle recording of 1964, it was clearly outlined that 12 orchestral mics plus another 3 for the soloists were used. I suppose that's more into the realm of pounds/kilograms...rather than tons

A jazz quartet plus singer recorded today, either on stage or in the studio, could use as many mics as the 100+ orchestra plus chorus and solo singers mentioned above.
Old 22nd July 2019
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe View Post
Me too. Just imagine the amount of phase problems one has to deal with by individually miking every instrument and vocalist (if there are some). Some of the best recordings in the world were done with less than five or six microphones. Never understood the idea of miking every thing. You are not going to do any "punch ins" so why the need. I guess for balance later in the mixing and editing? I think Plush knows what he is talking about but I disagree with him on this.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric D View Post
I will never understand why some consider as a necessity to use tons of microphones and tracks to record classical music .
If the musicians are good, if the hall is good and if the sound engineer is good, marvelously natural recordings can be done with only 2 or 3 microphones, as a lot of great recordings tells us (from Decca, RCA , Erato, and others recordings labels) .
More microphones and multitrack recordings always mean less natural sound for classical music recordings ...
you can perfectly well mess up phase with just two mics, something which is considered to be standard for classical music btw (and one can even argue that classical music better should be portrayed this way/an orchestra 'by design' is about uncorrelated sound) - i rufuse to agree that some of the best recordings were made years ago; maybe regarding the interpretation but certainly not on technical terms: we are living in the best days for recording (and mixing) classical music!
Old 22nd July 2019
  #19
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jnorman's Avatar
Ha ha! Messed up phase is often considered to be standard for classical music....
Old 22nd July 2019
  #20
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Eric D's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
What do you define as the zone between "2 or 3 microphones" and "tons" of them ? In the Decca video referenced above related to the Solti Ring Cycle recording of 1964, it was clearly outlined that 12 orchestral mics plus another 3 for the soloists were used. I suppose that's more into the realm of pounds/kilograms...rather than tons

A jazz quartet plus singer recorded today, either on stage or in the studio, could use as many mics as the 100+ orchestra plus chorus and solo singers mentioned above.
Well,very simple: a lot of great Decca recordings were done with only 3 microphones, same for RCA Living stereo . I don't refer to a specific vidéo .
Several very good Erato recordings were done with a single ORTF pair, and the intergral Mahler symphonies recordings were done in the eighties with mostly a single pair of Bruel and Kjaer omni microphones for the Denon label (Eliahu Inbal and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony orchestra) . These are remarkable, and just a few examples of what can be done with 2 or 3 (or very few microphones) .

More humbly, my personal experience has showed it is perfectly possible to record a full orchestra, even with soloists, with only a pair of microphones, and obtain great results .

Sorry for my poor English, but when I was speaking about "tons of microphones and tracks ", I was refering to the "hundred tracks" evoked by Plush .

And of course, my point of view applies only for classical music recordings, jazz, pop or rock music are an other story !

Last edited by Eric D; 22nd July 2019 at 05:39 PM.. Reason: typo error
Old 22nd July 2019
  #21
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@ jnorman

watch a goniometer when comparing coincident and spaced mic's...

seriously: there is very good reason to think of the entire orchestra as of a hugely uncorrelated bunch of sources and hence one may prefer to portray the orchestra that way as well, in an attempt to reproduce of what the audience is hearing - this is what's successfully getting done and there's nothing 'wrong' with it: it just that i personally often do not like the soundfield very much and i prefer a sound with more precise directional information.
Old 22nd July 2019
  #22
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fred2bern's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric D View Post
I will never understand why some consider as a necessity to use tons of microphones and tracks to record classical music .
If the musicians are good, if the hall is good and if the sound engineer is good, marvelously natural recordings can be done with only 2 or 3 microphones, as a lot of great recordings tells us (from Decca, RCA , Erato, and others recordings labels) .
More microphones and multitrack recordings always mean less natural sound for classical music recordings ...

You have the answer in your own post...
If the musicians are not balanced, if the hall is horrible, if the enginner is not good better going to the swimming pool!
but If he's good, he'll go the safe way to track with more microphones than a stereo pair and try to balance in post, in his own acoustic environment, to bring to the client the best solution to these problems.

I think Plush wrote an interesting point regarding "session recordings" and "live recordings".
All my CD recording productions are in sessions.
All the job done for the radio is "live". I don't use the same setup, for quality with safety reasons and also for the audience. In a radio live recording job, most of the time here you've got the General Probe for the sound check and you're ready for the concert.

All the acoustics are not super top, especially during the summer festivals where a barn can be a concert room etc.

When it's not balanced, and sometimes it's not only a musician problem, if it needs to be broadcasted, the "theoretical purists" with just an AB or an ORTF setup can really go back home.

I set enough microphones to be happy in session recordings, safe and happy in live recordings.

By the way I never had any phase issue.

Once more just my small experience.

Fred.
Old 22nd July 2019
  #23
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wildplum's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric D View Post
the intergral Mahler symphonies recordings were done in the eighties with mostly a single pair of Bruel and Kjaer omni microphones for the Denon label (Eliahu Inbal and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony orchestra) .
How was that pair of Bruel and Kjaer omnis positioned?
Old 22nd July 2019
  #24
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Eric D's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by fred2bern View Post
You have the answer in your own post...
If the musicians are not balanced, if the hall is horrible, if the enginner is not good better going to the swimming pool!
but If he's good, he'll go the safe way to track with more microphones than a stereo pair and try to balance in post, in his own acoustic environment, to bring to the client the best solution to these problems.

I think Plush wrote an interesting point regarding "session recordings" and "live recordings".
All my CD recording productions are in sessions.
All the job done for the radio is "live". I don't use the same setup, for quality with safety reasons and also for the audience. In a radio live recording job, most of the time here you've got the General Probe for the sound check and you're ready for the concert.

All the acoustics are not super top, especially during the summer festivals where a barn can be a concert room etc.

When it's not balanced, and sometimes it's not only a musician problem, if it needs to be broadcasted, the "theoretical purists" with just an AB or an ORTF setup can really go back home.

I set enough microphones to be happy in session recordings, safe and happy in live recordings.

By the way I never had any phase issue.

Once more just my small experience.

Fred.
You are absolutely right, but please read my first post : of course there are some basic conditions to obtain à great result !
Old 22nd July 2019
  #25
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Eric D's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wildplum View Post
How was that pair of Bruel and Kjaer omnis positioned?
I was not there, but no reason they should have used a "special" AB technique . Just the ear and the talent of the sound engineer and a proven "simple" technique...
Old 22nd July 2019
  #26
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fred2bern's Avatar
Another old timer (too short) video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MeXAi4RokQ
Old 22nd July 2019
  #27
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lukedamrosch's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by fred2bern View Post
Another old timer (too short) video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MeXAi4RokQ
"All it takes is recording equipment of enormous cost and capacity."

Thank you so much for sharing this!
Old 23rd July 2019
  #28
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Plush's Avatar
Just so I'm clear on the subject. I don't like a lot of mics.
Old 23rd July 2019
  #29
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fred2bern's Avatar
I'm among those who prefer to have too much microphones and just use the main instead of not enough and with the non possibility to get a nice balance to my taste at the end.

I think there are two separate worlds, the session one and the live one.

With sessions you always have the possibility to solve a problem.
For example, you have 2 microphones for the woodwinds and it's ok during the sound check.
The day after you're in the middle of a flute solo, really low register, too many things around, and even if you talk with the conductor you don't have enough flute... Or because everyone agree the poor flute player tries to give as much as he can and the sound is horrible...You can bring a mic.

In a live situation, you're dead.

I record some Klaus Simon ensemble versions of Mahler symphonies. We already did the 4th, the 1st and "Des Knaben Wunderhorn". The third next year.
the first is 1.1.2.1 2.1.0.0 Percussions, accordion, piano and a string quintet. (The flute plays also piccolo, etc.)
I did a live for the radio with a minimal setup in a not so bad room. It was fine as a "live take", but even if the musicians are among the best here and really want to play together, you can't balance a string quintet when the woodwinds, brass, piano, and percussions play fortissimo.

In sessions, with time to optimize the main setup and with some spots over all the instruments you can create a "natural" mix created with artificial tricks.

If you're happy with a 2 mics result it's fine, if you want to hear in your final mix the third part of this counterpoint you never heard in any recordings, if it's not in the balance you need more mics.

Personal aesthetic choices and circumstances need one or another option, or a mix between both. Depends on the situation, the time, your own taste and the goal you want to reach.

Fred.

Last edited by fred2bern; 23rd July 2019 at 09:05 AM..
Old 23rd July 2019
  #30
Back in the 70s I got an "Editor's Choice Award" for three months running from Stereo Review for my recordings of a Baroque Ensemble and Orchestra. I can vouch for the fact that I only used one stereo AKG 422 microphone for the recordings. FWIW

I do not believe is the the "mic/channel" count but it is in the skill of the engineer and ensemble.

On the other hand I was privy to a recording session at the The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1990. It was a recording done by a German Tonmeister who used 23 microphones to do the recording of the American Soviet Youth Orchestra. He was incredible. The recording sounds amazing. I watched him work and was amazed at the sound he captured with so many microphones. It was done on a Studer console and monitoring was on a pair of stacked Quad speakers driven by four Quad amplifiers. Simply amazing...

FWIW
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