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Home Studio Viola and Violin recording
Old 7th June 2006
Here for the gear

Home Studio Viola and Violin recording

Hi there,

I've got a nice little band with violin, viola, steel pan, bass, vocals, and keys. We're about to start tracking our first album. ON A BUDGET.

So I've got a great board (Phonic Helix Pro 18 Firewire) which gives us 16 independent tracks in and two tracks back out for monitoring. I am going to buy a Behringer B2 Pro and a CAD M179. Both multipattern condensers.

I'm thinking:

Steel Pan, miced from above with either condenser.
Bass and Keys, DI to board (with direct box or line out from amp, we'll figure that out later)
Vocals will be laid in later.

But my problem is the violin and viola. We cannot afford 3 condenser mics (steel, violin and viola), so I'm hoping to get good results from a figure of 8 pattern with them on either side with pick ups on their instruments for isolation purposes. So three tracks total for the violin and viola. We'll likely have some bleed from the steel pan, but oh well...

Can anyone think of a better (by which I mean cleaner and as cheap) way to get all of these instruments somewhat isolated without iso booths?

Old 7th June 2006
Gear Head
dcpianoman's Avatar

Skip the mics you listed - not sure why you picked those. Never heard ANYTHING good about the B2, not sure about the CAD but for $200 there's certainly more proven options. Instead, spend that $300 on three mics:
I suggest
(1) Marshall V67G - $100 - large diaphragm condensor with cardioid pattern; not brittle or harsh at all, pretty big-sounding for a $100 chinese mic
(2) Shure SM57 - $80 - or really any dynamic that strikes your fancy (cardioid)
(3) Apex 205 ribbon - $100 from Front End Audio (figure 8)
I'll explain why these later.

You'll have bleed period - so don't try to avoid it - use it!

The string mic(s) will definately have some steel pan in them; it's just a loud, bright instrument. Find a reasonably large room (bedroom won't work) and then find the absolute best spot for the steel pan. I'd start with a spot away from the walls where the ceiling is relatively high.

Use your dynamic to mike the steel pan. If you use a cheap condensor, you'll probably get all sorts of high frequency stuff everywhere that will jump out at you in the mix...especially on an instrument like that. Mess around with where you place the mic, just put it where it sounds nice.

Then...walk around with a pair of isolating (as much as you can) headphones and the V67 plugged in and routed into those headphones. When you hear a spot where the ambiance sounds nice and mixes well with the steelpan mic, stop. Turn the V67 to where it's pointing the opposite direction of the steelpan.

This will be the "mid" mic in a mid-side configuration. Now put the ribbon mic right over/next to the V67, pointing parallel to V67. This is the "side". (If you don't know what mid-side is, I don't have time...but do a search - it's WELL worth the effort)

Your setup will now have the V67 and ribbon both positioned:
(1) in a spot where the steelpan ambiance sounds good
(2) in a way where there is greatest rejection (back of cardioid; side of figure-8)

Set up the string players a few feet in front of the M/S setup on different sides. When you play back the song in the DAW, copy the figure-8 to a second track, switch the polarity on one track, pan the two hard L/R and listen.

The steel pan should sound great, albeit dry on its own. But when you add the string mics, the ambiance should make it come alive! Solo'd, the string mics might still have a lot of steelpan and sound ridiculous. But because you set the mics up in a nice way, it will be beautiful in the mix.

The mid-side config will also give you a nice controllable stereo spread with the violin on one side and the viola on the other. AND when the mix is mono (car speakers at low volumes often sum to mono) there won't be any phase issues.

Critical points:
(1) Cardioid + figure-8 for the mid-side setup
(2) ribbons sound $ on strings and that Apex is a nice little mic for the money
(3) Position the strings where the steelpan ambiance works well with the close mic
(4) A condensor is not always the best mic for the job! I often use more (FAR more) ribbons and dynamics than condensors...especially cheap condensors.
(5) Dynamic mics usually sound great for metallic percussion instruments (this trick also works well with tambourines, shakers, hihats, ride cymbols, etc)

Hope that helps.


P.S. If you're worried about vocal sounds, the three mics I listed should give you many options. (1) For budgets <$300, the V67 sounds great for most guys' voices, and I just recorded a girl singer that it was superb with. (2) The SM57 or dynamic has been used frequently for vocals though it's rarely the best thing. Depends a lot on the singer and the mood. Bono (U2) recorded Joshua Tree with a handheld SM58 (almost the same thing) on all but "Trip Through Your Wires". (3) The Apex 205 can be nice, if a bit dark, on vocals. (4) If you like the character of the Apex but it's too dark, flip it around! The backside is somewhat brighter than the front. Don't forget to use a pop filter if you're <6 inches away from the mic. (5) Combine any of the above mics and watch for phase. If one mic by itself won't get you the body and the airiness you're looking for, use one mic for each part.
Old 7th June 2006
Here for the gear

Thanks, DCPianoman. Awesome advice and I appreciate your taking the time to respond to a post from a newb... hasn't happened in some of the other forums I've been to.

So will I have any ability (or need) to EQ/effect/compress/etc the strings separately from each other AND/OR separately from the steel?

Any suggestions for a condenser mic that is a little more expensive? I wouldn't mind making the next step up from a $100 condenser if it will help the sound a fair amount (or give me more patterns for future use).

Once again, thanks.
Old 7th June 2006
Gear Head
dcpianoman's Avatar

No problem bro, glad to help.

Don't think of EQing/compressing individual instruments as much as individual inputs/tracks/channels. You can compress the two M/S mics, but doing that might hurt more than it helps. It will bring out ambient noises more (bleed from steelpan, room ambience); it will also have the same effect on the violin as on the viola, and vica versa. The steel, however, you can probably do more to. EVERYTHING you can do get a good sound to tape. Ideally you won't need to do much more.

If you need more control (and that's a hard question - do you really need it or do you just want it) then you can do one of two things:

(1) Take the pickup/preamp outputs from the instruments like you mentioned in your first post
(2) Track piano/bass/steelpan together and overdub strings

#2 will give you better sound quality, but you'll possibly (probably) have a trade off from a good performance unless the band has played like that before. Never make that trade - it's performance that sells/inspires.

As far as a better condenser...I only want to recommend what I've used, and the V67G is it in the <$500 condensor market. It's really a nice little mic. Let me put it this way: when you get to the point where the V67 is holding you back from making better recordings, you won't need to come to this forum for advise! So please don't feel like you have to spend any more money than that.

Of course, the same can be said about most mics, and if you spend more money there's a chance (though not always) you'll get better quality. For $190 I'd look for the Stellar CM1 on ebay. It's the same mic as the Apex 405 (forum search will give you tons of info). I'm considering picking one up myself to mod (new tube, new capsule, maybe new output transformer, etc) but won't vouch for the sound (cause I've never heard it).

Old 7th June 2006
Lives for gear
Matti's Avatar
The MS rig would be OK but beware the ribbon (side) mic needs lot`s of gain
compared to the condercer (mid) mic. I would use condercers for both
especially as the ribbon used as side mic doesn`t affect the tone of the
instruments as much as it having totally different resp. curve makes the stereo
image unstable. You could use two ribbons in Blumlein pointing the
nulls to the steelpan assuming the ceiling isn`t low and the acoustics is nice
Old 7th June 2006
Lives for gear
scrubs's Avatar

The M179 is one of the better sub-$200 mics I've heard. It's pretty solid on most sources and has a relatively flat frequency response. Not the greatest on vocals (doesn't have quite the "flattering" bump common to LDC's), but it doesn't suck, either. I agree with skipping the Behringer, though. Either get 2 M179's or get something a little more colored (like the V67g, ADK Hamburg/Vienna, etc.).
Old 7th June 2006
Gear Head
dcpianoman's Avatar

Originally Posted by MATTI
beware the ribbon (side) mic needs lot`s of gain compared to the condercer (mid) mic.
Good point.

Originally Posted by MATTI
as it having totally different resp. curve makes the stereo
image unstable
Not sure how you can get more "unstable" than two completely different instruments...

It is true that when you collapse to mono, the side signals won't be completely gone like they would with a perfectly matched figure-8, but it's absolutely no reason to skip out on ribbons for figure-8 techniques (all ribbons are like this). I just used a ribbon + condensor M/S for piano the other day and it was beautiful.

Originally Posted by MATTI
You could use two ribbons in Blumlein pointing the nulls to the steelpan assuming the ceiling isn`t low and the acoustics is nice altogether.
Blumlein rocks...but not for rejection. Figure-8s have gobs of rejection on a very narrow dimension (more than the cardioid's null) but once you get just slightly off-null they'll start picking up sound quickly.

It might work though if the bleed isn't bad to begin with...or if that's the artistic direction you want to go.

I should note...there's absolutely nothing special about the mics I mentioned except (1) the patterns are necessary (fig-8 mic in particular), (2) they're cheap, and (3) I've used all of them frequently for similar applications. Definately mix/match...if a certain mic catches your eye and refuses to let go, I've often found it cheaper to just get that one even if others get better reviews. Otherwise I keep second-guessing "what if I bought the one I really wanted..."

Buy from a place that offers hassle-free returns (like Mercenary does on the high end stuff) and just trade out what you don't like.

Old 8th June 2006
Lives for gear
Matti's Avatar
You can test this by processing any recordings M and S signals differently when
mixing, in this case EQ the S signal to resemple a ribbon mics darker
tone and listen how the stereo image changhes with the frequency.
-Just mentioned; not to arque by any means, too old for that
Matti -since 1952
Old 8th June 2006
Here for the gear

Thank you all for your advice. You've helped me rethink how I want to record this band and that's EXACTLY why I came here in the first place. Much obliged-


(if anyone else has any thoughts, please do post them. I can use all the input I can get!)
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