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Old 17th May 2006
Gear Nut

Long reply but I hope useful

Your observations and questions are good ones. You have gotten some good advice here so far so but I think the problems you are experiencing are more fundamental than whether you should use your firepod's s/pdif. I am primarily a classical music recordist and it really is a different animal from studio recording. What I outline below is one of the last exercises from the basic audio course I teach at my university. It's a set of stereo recording experiments. The important thing is to be systematic in your experimenting and learning and take careful notes as you go.

First, remember the task. In classical recording you are trying to capture the feeling of being at a specific place in a specific hall with instruments playing. That is you want the sound of the room with the instruments in it. You are capturing a single event. That is quite different from a studio recording where you are tracking multiple separate events then assembling them into a whole new entity--a thing that never actually exists in the real world. You have a tough task. Classical trombone and trumpet, especially when accompanied by piano, can be among the most difficult things to record for the very reasons you note. Placement is CRITICAL to the sound of the brasses and often you have to be much further away than you think to avoid all that articulation noise. Remember to mic the room, NOT the trumpet or trombone in this setting.

So, I am glad you got the blowers turned off. That's the first step. If you have a reasonably quiet hall to use that's really important. For every hall there are probably several good mic placements and techniques, and one best one for each kind of group your are recording. Your task is to find those out. Learn how to make a simple, stereo recording as well as you can before you ever worry about spot mics or anything else. Many of the greatest records you ever heard were made this way. Two mics. With the right placement. No spot mics. NO COMPRESSION.

I would prefer small diameter mics for this exercise (we use multi pattern Schoeps in my class) but in your case the 414's will be fine, because they are reasonably flat and have switchable patterns. As you go on you will use other mics, but start with these and learn them well. You can make some very fine recordings with these. You need to get some cooperative players, a student brass quintet, woodwind quintet or some other who will help you out in exchange for a couple of nice tracks. Pick several standard stereo techniques--I would try A-B stereo with the mics set to omni, ORTF with them set to cardiod, Blumlein (mics in figure of 8) and finally M-S. This last can be great for taming less than great halls btw. These techniques are described in lots of web sites and books. Try these for a start:

and check out the "Microphone University" at

Find a nice starting point and have the groups play and LISTEN. REALLY LISTEN through the mics. Move them higher and lower, closer and farther, and note the differences. For the kind of hall at Whitewater (if I remember correctly, I have not been there in perhaps 15 years) i would start with say omnis in A-B maybe ten feet from the group and a full 10-12 feet above the stage. Space the mics at 44 cms apart then experiment. Closer in and farther out with them. Higher and lower. Then try the same mics only much wider, say two meters apart. Record your results. For these and other trials I try to get an average level when players are making a full sound of about -12 dbfs. If your big accent attacks are clipping, pull your levels down. Don't do it with compression when tracking.

Then repeat this with the ORTF set up. Mics to cardiod and somewhat further back. This set up has more "reach". As you use this one you may end up moving it quite far back in the hall as you experiment. You might try XY as well, but that seldom gives a very satsifactory stereo image in my experience in concert hall recording.

Blumlein (crossed fig 8's) is the least useful generally so skip this if time is a problem, but it does work in some halls and it might work in yours. M-S will take a little programming in your DAW, but it can work wonders. Try it with the mid mic set to cardiod first. Then try again with it set to omni (you will probably move closer in for this setting.) There is a really great article/tutorial on this here:

Your experiments need to be very systematic. Don't vary the musical selection or placement of the players take to take. Keep careful notes. Play it back for the performers and have them help you decide about advantages and disadvantages for each.

I know it sounds like a lot but keep in mind that pro engineers in an unfamiliar hall often take hours to place mics. Given that the hall and the performers are constant, its the biggest and most useful variable we have for creative recording.

When you evaluate, listen for tone, balance between direct sound and reverberation, and especially natural stereo image. Often when the reverberance/direct balance is right, the rest seems to fall into place.

Sorry for the didactic tone and length here. As you can see I love this topic. Other ensembles, orchestras, bands, jazz groups, all present new challenges and that is what keeps our jobs so interesting.