microphones for quartet...

March 7, 2023, 9:15 PM · Techie question.

I want to start recording our quartet sessions. I have a nice Mac Pro and an interface and plan to use Bandlab for a 2 channel setup. My question regards the best microphones. I'm inclined to get a pair of condensers -but wondered if I should use a microphone with a different frequency sensitivity range for the violins vs the viola and cello.

Price for the two up to (say) $600. Specific suggestions very welcome.

Replies (83)

March 7, 2023, 9:34 PM · With 2 channels you are not going to individually mic the instruments, and have mics for the room etc.

You will have a stereo pair that captures everything, instruments, hall, etc.

In many instances people use condensers in xy or ortf configurations.

Oktava mk12 are well regarded budget mics. Line Audio cm4 are also very good.

Howewver, condensers on strings can be harsh.

You may want to consider ribbon mics if the environment is safe. Mid side.

600 is on the low side for the ribbons. A favorite is the beyerdynamic m160 paired with a traditional figure 8 ribbon. The 160 alone is more than yoir budget.

Edited: March 7, 2023, 10:47 PM · I assume you don't need professional quality, in which case a pair of pencil microphones will do the job. For $600 there are many comfortably within your budget. Ribbon microphones are fragile and expensive.

I am not a pro engineer but for what it's worth, I continue to be surprised with the quality of my super-cheapo Lyx Pro stereo pair.

Edited: March 8, 2023, 2:51 AM · To summarise then.
Option a) buy a pair of ribbons that cost more than twice your budget
Option b) buy a pair of pencil condensers

But why pencils - won't they have too little bass response for the cello, and the ambience?

Two more options are c) a pair of large diaphragm condensers (more bass than pencils). Condensers are fabulous for more percussive sounds like ukuleles or guitars, but if Mark says they are harsh on strings, then he's probably right, leaving:
option d) a pair of dynamics. I'll leave it too mark to discuss those.

I own a pair of Shure PGA81, a Shure SM27, an AKG P120, a Shure SM57 and a Shure SM58, but not enough experience of using them to advise. They were only acquired for live uke and singing gigs.

The SM27 and the P120 were both obtained from Amazon half price because their boxes were scuffed. The only advice I can offer is, see if you can find a similar deal.

Maybe a serious question is, how well do ribbon mics usually survive the trip through the mail system or FedEx?

March 8, 2023, 3:00 AM · In recording so much depends on the acoustics of the venue. Will you get a chance to borrow some kit for a try-out "in the field"?
Edited: March 8, 2023, 3:11 AM · This page is useful to refer to

The problem with recording venue acoustics is it's technical - you need balance - the ambience inclusion is proportional to the square of the distance from the mics to the instruments. Safest for amateurs is to mic as closely as possible then add artificial reverb if the sound is too dry.

Disclaimer: -
the above is all "theory" that I have read about but not practised.
I'll now shut my mouth and wait for the forum's sound engineers to speak up.

Edited: March 8, 2023, 4:04 AM · For two channels and inexpensive I think it's difficult to beat something like the Zoom H4n with the built-in mics, even has extra inputs. Helps you to accept the limitations of simple, and to avoid the downward spiral of needing more and better gear. (Been there, interested in my old Line Audio OM1s and CM3s and Audient ID44 interface for $600? :-)

p.s. Didn't you post about getting Hifiman headphones a few years ago? I heard these a while later and ended up with a pair, still very satisfied with how they sound. (Build quality could be better.) Way better sounding than my old Sony cans, and also a good example of how folks can spend way more money than this for diminishing returns.

p.s. Along the lines of simple, my current favorite setup for string quartet is a single, active, stereo AEA R88a ribbon mic...active so that you don't have to fuss with additional pre-amps, stereo so you don't have to mess with positioning individual mics. Google AEA OneMic series and John Cuniberti for videos of what can be done with this.

Edited: March 8, 2023, 4:35 AM · I bought a Zoom H1 for recording lectures. What came was about 5g of plastic and no memory card and no leads. I had to spend as much again on a bundle of extras to get it to work. In the end I never used it.

I hope the H4, H5, H6, H8 etc. are a damn sight better than that.
There's also Tascam. I've seen them used on TV by professional zoologists in jungles, but I've also heard others complain they are unreliable.

You also need to beware of the various international specs of these devices. I was once looking at a Sony video camera. The American spec allowed external mics; the British spec didn't. Go figure.

March 8, 2023, 5:11 AM · I was going to write "Oktava MK12" before reading the replies......

The response in critical frequencies is flatter than other mics in similar price range. Especially the omni capsule.

Edited: March 8, 2023, 5:47 AM · I didn't realise pencil mics could have such good bass.
Otoh, it makes me wonder why they bother selling large diaphragm condensers.
March 8, 2023, 6:12 AM · Microphones, like violins have individual character. None perfectly reproduce the sound that contacts them.

If you just want a recording, you can use your phone. A step up is an all in one recorder, such as the zoom series. However, when you want a still higher level and more control over things like microphone placement, then individual mics such as the ones I mentioned above are needed.

A professional microphone such as the Royer sf24, or schoeps cmc6 with mk4 capsule can run several thousand dollars. So you have an idea of price range.

When I say condensers can sound harsh, it is not as if they are worse than the mic on your phone. In general condensers are very detailed. It is their level of detail and quick response that can be tiring or harsh. Most professional orchestras record with condensers, as do some violin soloists.

Ribbon mics handle violins very well. The Coles 4038 was a favorite of some soloists. RBP has recorded on a Royer sf24.

Microphones are delicate. Ribbon microphones are especially so, as they contain a thin foil strip that can be damaged by wind. When I mentioned a safe environment for a ribbon, I mean one that is indoors, and does not have animals that may knock over the stand.

I think you would be very happy with the oktava or line audio mics. However, if you have the funds you may want to consider a ribbon mic.

March 8, 2023, 6:30 AM · Ribbon mics have come down in price in the last few years, I've noticed. The SE Electronics VR1 is around $400 and I've heard that's a nice mic, but it's still $400. Royers are great ribbons but cost even more (I've got my heart set on a matched set of R10's). I think if you're doing this for $600 you are going to be using condenser mics, even though there ARE ribbon mics starting at $100. I can't imagine what they sound like though. Probably MSO's -- microphone-shaped objects.
March 8, 2023, 7:38 AM · Ribbon microphones are very simple, there is a thin metal 'motor' suspended between two strong magnets. Inexpensive ribbon mics can be good. However, their quality control can be an issue.

Golden age projects r1 mics are good inexpensive ribbon mics. There are others such as the cascade fatheads. A pair with a preamp such as the cloudlifter should be less than 600.

So you can have a ribbon setup at that price. There is more of a risk that the mics are not to spec or matched.

March 8, 2023, 7:42 AM · For under $500, you can easily put together a basic but complete portable setup that will do just fine for recording in home, school, and other relatively uncontrolled environments.

Audio interace: Scarlett, Presonus, or Audient (~$129)
Condensers: Audio Technica AT 2020 ($99 each)
Cables: Monoprice XLR
Stands: Any

Of course, this requires a computer to run the DAW (digital audio workstation) software. Bandlab online works, as well as their free release of CakeWalk (based on SONAR Platinum), as does Apple's GarageBand, or any one of the other free options. I grew up on ProTools, and they have a free version limited to 8-tracks (ProTools Intro), but nowadays I use Reaper or Logic Pro for most things.

Sure, my colleague with his collection of multiple matched sets of Coles 4038, Neumanns, and whatnot would laugh, but a single one of his heavy duty wheeled microphone stands is $500+. Just for one mic stand! He lives and works in a completely different universe than most of us for audio...

Edited: March 8, 2023, 8:06 AM · Gordon, I bought a Zoom H1 for my daughter's violinist friend during the pandemic, I think it cost 89 bucks. Yes it's super cheap plastic and flimsy but it still works, she made all her pre-screening recordings with it...passed every single one, including the big names (she didn't apply to Curtis, no Economics double degree there :-). Definitely better than cell phone mics, and it lets you get experience with the workflow with DAW software to produce decent videos.

Real portability is also super nice, vs. dragging your laptop and audio interface around and an extension cord, cabling, etc. etc.

Edited: March 11, 2023, 9:59 AM · About 15 years ago I played in a temporary quartet that prepared a concert of 2 quartets for an afternoon performance in the 1st violinist's living room. We placed the quartet in one corner of the room and sat in the same circular shape we had been rehearsing in. I placed my EDIROL recorder in the middle of the quartet.

EDIT: I mounted the recorder on a 5th music stand (without the desk) in the middle of the quartet, which was sitting in the same circular positions we had used in all rehearsals.

The recorded sound seemed excellent to me. I had played cello for that quartet group.

March 8, 2023, 9:06 AM · @Gene: "Stands: Any"
I agree. I happen to have a nice heavyweight easygrip K&M (like the mics, half price), but that doesn't matter - first time I used it I put a pair of mics on the boom and it fell over, lol.
It's easy once you get rid of the boom and put a stereo bar on the upright instead, then literally any stand will do.
March 8, 2023, 12:39 PM · If you feel adventurous, you could make your own ribbon mics: see for example Austin mics or Artur Fishers' Bumblebee mics. I built a pair of both. They both sound excellent. The Austin ones are more difficult to assemble, because you are expected to cobble the "motor" together yourself, whereas it is included ready built in the Bumblebee kits.
Have fun!
Edited: March 8, 2023, 8:05 PM · LD condensers are more expensive (if you want decent ones) and they do not have favourable high-end response on their own for violins or violas. Dynamic microphones are just all around a bad choice for the situation as they are intended for live use.

Gordon, the difference between large diaphragm and small diaphragm microphones when it comes to low frequencies is not really a matter of what they can record (they both will capture pretty much everything in one way or another) but how the actual diaphragm will respond to different frequencies. You could technically capture a bass or a kick drum with a pencil, but only a large diaphragm will get that voluminous THUMP. Imagine putting a C string on a violin versus a 20" viola.

March 9, 2023, 7:30 AM · Cotton, I think that you are painting with too broad a brush.

There are large diaphragm condensers that are well suited to recording strings. Their response at the high end is fine. The legendary Neumann U87 has been used on many classical recordings.

Dynamic mics are not only for live music. They typically do not have as hot a signal, but are perfectly usable.

Overall though, I think there is agreement in all the responses. Small diaphragm condensers, or ribbon mics are the types to consider.

The ribbon mics will likely be more expensive and require greater care. However, many engineers and soloists prefer ribbons.

March 9, 2023, 8:34 AM · For confirming what Mark wrote, once in a studio i had a test with a run of all mics available.
Speaking of recording in proximity, the absolute best sound i got (over vintage Neumann and ribbons) was with an Electrovoice RE-20 (which is a large dynamic). Second was a SM-57.....
Edited: March 10, 2023, 10:22 PM · Hi Elise, chiming in with yet another option that might fall in your price range if you shop around:
The Rode NT-4 stereo microphone. It runs off phantom power provided by your preamp, or on battery power for use with a portable recorder (such as the Zoom recorder mentioned above). Nice and simple!
And a very nice sound for the price! It can often be found used in the US$ 300-400 range.
Here is a video documenting the NT-4's sound when recording violin at various distances, and it also describes how to interface it to a Zoom recorder.
I use this mic for recording small groups on location with the Zoom recorder and it's a very low stress setup compared to lugging a laptop, interface, etc.
March 11, 2023, 12:17 AM · I used a Zoom Q4n for many quartet and quintet performances as well as rehearsals. The sound was more than good enough for being posted to YouTube, and offered plenty of detail for careful listening post-rehearsal.
Edited: March 11, 2023, 7:23 AM · Hey Jon, the Zoom H4n and others with XLR inputs provide switchable phantom power. And it looks like it can be powered with a USB power bank. (Edit, the H4n Pro is the current model, H4n has been discontinued with minor feature differences.)
March 11, 2023, 7:50 AM · Yes the higher priced recorders have better inputs/phantom power etc. (if you want to get really super hi-fi there is now a 32-bit float version, the H3). I was referring to the 'cheap and cheerful' H1n... with any of these devices, the nice thing about an external mic is that you can place it optimally for sound and route the recorder to a position where you can monitor levels while playing, leaving out the guesswork.
Edited: March 11, 2023, 10:40 AM · I use the 32-bit F6 six-channel field recorder. Doesn't sound quite as open as my Audient interface but unlike a standard interface, other than running mics, it is entirely self contained and portable, and I can run a console wirelessly on my phone or iPad. (If they had made it when I got this I would have bought the newer F8n for the two additional channels.)

Edit to add to all this talk earlier about ribbon mics - if you don't get active mics with built-in preamps, you will need to buy in-line preamps separately. And with built-in preamps, the manufacturer has already matched the preamp to the microphone, so one less thing for you to worry about.

Edited: March 14, 2023, 8:03 PM · Advice here is going to be a real mix and could confuse you further!
I've long advocated ribbon microphones. This discussion has come up before and I did a microphone comparison so that comparison can be more objective:

My favorite, for both price and function, is the Burd Igor ribbon microphone which is handmade in Russia (clone of Royer R121) and was a steal at about $150, but I fear Putin may have changed the way we do business with Russia and I don't know if they are still available. I did get an MXL R40 on sale and I'm impressed with it as a budget microphone ribbon microphone. I paid about $80 but they go full price for around $160 [I have no experience with the 144 but see it go for about $100].
It's kind of annoying how studios get the idea that condensers are the way to go. If you want a sharp sound then I guess it is!
If your budget allows, then Royer 121!

March 14, 2023, 7:55 PM · I've heard good things about those Russian Royer clones but first, as you have suggested, there may be trade sanctions in place, and second, I'm not sure what kind of warranty you get. And third, you really want to type your credit card number into a Russian website?
March 14, 2023, 8:39 PM · The MXL 144 is okay. I recorded lots of violin, viola, and clarinet with a pair of them 2021-2022 creating stems for symphonic backing tracks. It needs some EQ in post-processing to get the recorded sources sounding their best, but it does have the attractive characteristic one expects from ribbons, dampening that harshness of stringed instruments up close.
March 14, 2023, 8:46 PM · Another way to get rid of harshness in stringed instrument recordings without using a ribbon mic... Try the Shure SM-7B. They're about $400 and I think are superior to ribbon mics. The other advantage is that it doesn't have a figure-8 pickup pattern, so it's practical for live sound reinforcement as well. Seriously, give it a try.
March 15, 2023, 4:00 AM · The sm b7 is a dynamic mic. When used from a distance, as opposed to speaking directly into th3 mic, it may need additional amplification, such as th3 cloud lifter.

The Royer 121 is one of the 'new generation' of more detailed ribbon mics. Other such mics include the superb Mesanovic model 2, and thr aea n8.

The very inexpensive ribbons, such as the mxl can be fine. However, they also may not be. It is a matter of quality control, handling, and warranty.

March 15, 2023, 8:40 AM · Wow, wonderful discussions and advice, thanks all.

I can get my hands on a AKG C414 - which is I think, a high-end dynamic condenser microphone. How does that compare to the ribbon mics for the violin? From Mark's comments, I guess I need at least one more longer-range microphones.

However, it seems that eventually I'll look for a good ribbon microphone, especially for solo recordings.

March 15, 2023, 8:44 AM · "Dynamic condenser" is something i've never heard of.... :)

I've never liked the 414s (new and vintage) for solo violin. As an ambience mic, i would not know......

March 15, 2023, 9:21 AM · If you're planning to add mics you should plan to get an interface with more channels :-).
March 15, 2023, 9:43 AM · If you do use condensers you should get some distance on them - air is a filter. An overhead pair may be fine - a ribbon pair would be better. That's if you want to record a whole quartet with two microphones. Individual instruments don't need stereo.
I don't mind condensers for lower strings. Condensers are very good for detail but for high strings that translates as harsh. Ribbons have detail too but the color is different.
When it comes to finding recommendation for microphones from Youtube etc., you have to understand the mind of the studio engineer: "Violin high - need treble! Take out mud!! Condensers work on instruments - violin is an instrument!!" Understand that studio engineers are looking for punch in everything else they record - voice, drums, guitar, bass. They are also concerned about the rich, warm end of strings that can interfere with vocals and want to cut those mid frequencies. That's fine when there are vocals but they will do it if it's just strings being recorded too, and it is a fine line to tread between warmth and muddiness. "Mud" frequencies are between 200-500hz. That's the G string on a violin to B on the A string. Cut those too much and it ain't pretty! One trick is to boost the frequencies after the ones you have cut. It's a lot of experimentation but it all comes down to the mix and the sound you want.
March 15, 2023, 9:54 AM · The akg 414 is a condenser microphone. I think it sounds good on strings. Some people consider it their goto mic on strings. It has a larger diaphram (think eardrum) than the line audio cm 4.

It is well out of your budget. In its price range there are other contenders. This being said, yes the 414 would be on the short list.

Yes, you need two mics to record in stereo. The 414 is a multi pattern microphone. It can be used in omni directional mode to record sounds equally from all directions. Thus you could use a single mic to record the group in mono.

You certainly do not need to get a ribbon. There are many wonderful condenser mics even for violin. However, most such mics are more expensive than your 600 budget.

James Ehnes bought Telefunken m60s for his home concerts during covid. They are condenser mics.

Learning what mics are used on recordings can give you some idea of what they can do.

March 15, 2023, 10:35 AM · Thanks Mark - perhaps I wasn't clear, but I actually have access to the AKG 414, I'll give that a go first of all then. Winner budget of $0!

March 15, 2023, 10:59 AM · When making a stereo recording you usually need two mics of the same kind that are matched, so their responses are similar. This is true for xy, ortf, blumlein, or even ab or Decca tree (which also needs another mic as well). The exception is mid side recording, which commonly uses ribbon mics as they have a figure 8 response.

So it is great that you have the 414. However, if you like it, you would be in an awkward position. You could buy another 414, and hope they match well. You could also sell the 414 and then buy a matched pair of 414s.

March 15, 2023, 11:14 AM · What is your interface?
March 15, 2023, 5:43 PM · I just bought a MOTU M6 interface, still in its box.
March 16, 2023, 2:41 AM · For casual home recording this looks like a serious piece of completely superfluous kit! KISS?
Edited: March 16, 2023, 4:05 AM · I've stepped away from this thread because I can't resolve the question of whether these recordings are meant to be amateur or professional.

You have an AKG C414 - £900.
You buy another one - £1800 (your budget was $600, what the hell?)
Disaster - they might not be matched!
I have various problems with this statement.
a) if they are that expensive then they should have tighter specs.
b) the degree of mismatch, I'd hope, would be minimal compared with the effect of placing the mics an inch too far from V1.
c) Otoh, I did a course unit in acoustics in 1980 and it was clear that the whole subject in those days was just trial and error (and audiophilia was for suckers), so perhaps it still is.

March 16, 2023, 4:00 AM · They are for amateur use only. I can make fairly good ones on my cell phone - but while the three lower instruments sound pretty good it does not do justice to the high frequencies of the violin. I want to be able to up my game to share some of the music on social media. I want to be able to record audition material at home for summer festivals.

And its fun!

March 16, 2023, 4:23 AM · Sorry, elise, I added to my post as you were posting. I hope I haven't spoilt your reply.
March 16, 2023, 4:57 AM · An important element in the fun for me is that with today's technology one can obtain 90% of the quality with 10% of the outlay and a minimum of faff. That's got to be good enough, considering that most of the deficiencies in my recorded performances are irredeemable by any amount of technology. The last thing I want is to have to grapple with a lot of electro-acoustic degrees of freedom as well as violinistic ones.
Edited: March 16, 2023, 7:31 AM · Also good enough because no matter how good the mics and electronics, a recording will never be any better than the crappy or so-so room you record in plus the inevitable compression that youtube applies.
March 16, 2023, 7:45 AM · I wanted to say something like that in my second post, but neglected to mention that room acoustics are crap.
Otoh, the opposite extreme is no better: -
March 16, 2023, 7:58 AM · Hi Elise, self-recording can definitely be fun and rewarding! (Also frustrating at times...). Now that you have shared your objectives, it’s a bit easier to offer advice. I believe the simplest way to ‘up your game’ from a cell phone recording would be to use a well-placed stereo condenser pair (or a good stereo microphone; see above) that captures the entire quartet at an appropriate distance. This assumes you have a good recording space with minimal extraneous noise (traffic, fan noise, cats etc). There will be some trial and error in figuring out the optimal positioning, but once you do, you can document distances with a tape measure and have a reproducible setup.

The resulting recording will be pretty much ready to go and should sound good to internet listeners without much editing.

The alternative path, since you do have 4 preamp channels available with the M6, would be to mic each instrument separately and then mix them down to stereo using a digital audio workstation (DAW). The amount of effort involved in getting a final product with this approach could easily be 10x the first method. However if you are willing to research and learn good mic placement techniques, equalization, and all the twiddly bits required to use a DAW, it can result in a very enjoyable output that captures nuances of each instrument in a way that may be difficult with a stereo recording. Your microphone outlay for 3 more mics could be kept under budget if you shop carefully (considering the used market), with the 414 as your ‘flagship’ mic. Mic placement will play as big a role as mic quality in the sound you get.
Good luck!

March 16, 2023, 9:02 AM · A good advice is to have someone experienced and skilled for recording and editing and producing final results.
March 16, 2023, 12:03 PM · Marco - I wish but to be honest, the quality of our playing is really not at the level where that is warranted, though we can but hope :) . I plan to use Garage band (GB) for the computer input and editing. I used it a bit before and found it fairly accessible but there is definitely a learning curve. Thing is, I want a good product but I'm a violinist, not a sound engineer so I hope to keep it as close to a tape recorder as possible for now. Still, there are lots of things you can do with GB so there is room for growth.

Jon - I think you get the level I am aiming at - your plan B. My current thought was to use the 414 for the cello-viola and a better (but complimentary) mike for the two violins. However, Marc and others have talked about matched mikes - which is at best I guess two of the same kind that have actually been tuned to be near-identical. Is this important? What happens if you use different mikes as an in my plan? Does it not mix well anymore?

March 16, 2023, 7:35 PM · To record in stereo, two microphones of the same type are usually used. One feeds the right speaker and the other feeds the left.

If two different types of mics are used it would create an unusual stereo field.

With software you can assign different levels of the signal from different mics to the right and left track.

This being said, you will want to capture a bit of the room as well. I do not recommend having a mic for each instrument and placing them close to each. Overkill, and you will not get as much of the room.

A matched stereo pair will get good results.

Start with a mono recording with the 414. See how you like it.

March 16, 2023, 8:00 PM · Elise- matched mics are often used as left and right inputs of a stereo pair. Stereo mic’ing refers to placing two mics in such a way that the resulting recording creates a stereo image in listeners ears— when done well you can close your eyes and feel like you’re in the room. There are several techniques to accomplish this audio ‘trick’ but it works best with identical mics (and ideally, matched at the factory), and, (most critically) depends on the mics being positioned in a very specific orientation to each other. If you were to pursue this approach you’d want to acquire a second c414 of the same model (there are multiple types — but matching is not an option alas!) and place the two mics at a precise distance and angle from each other (Google ‘ORTF mic placement’ as a start), in front of the quartet. The C414 is an excellent mic for this — but be aware you will need to set both mics on ‘cardioid’ pattern and set similar high pass filter settings. You will be recording to two channels and you’ll want to pan them hard left and right in Garage Band to achieve a stereo effect.

If you instead choose a different mic as your second mic (admittedly more in your budget) and point them both towards the pairs if instruments as you propose, you will not be able to create a good stereo image even if you use ORTF spacing, as the mic qualities will differ sufficiently that your ears will not be fooled. Your best bet there would be a mono mix or lightly panned left and right. But I see that as less satisfying for the listener.

There is still that plan A option of a good quality stereo pair or a built-in stereo microphone (or even a Zoom stereo recorder) which, in an acoustically pleasing space, will give you s very satisfying recording with considerably less muss and fuss…

March 17, 2023, 12:39 AM · If you are recording one stereo image then matched microphones are important. However, it's no problem to have each instrument have a different microphone. For me that would be the preferred scenario. You certainly have better mixing options. Even better is to have individual mics and then a stereo overhead pair.
These are all ultimate solutions. I'm sure you can get a good result with what you have given the scope of the project.
March 17, 2023, 4:12 AM · I'd strongly support Jon's last suggestion, Plan A. I'm presently rehearing a chamber concert I recorded with permission last year using a Zoom H1 recorder parked on the floor beneath my seat in the middle of Row C. The result I find entirely satisfying, above all for a sense of "being there" that you often don't get from commercial recordings using gear of far greater complexity and cost.

My suspicion is that by mixing signals from a number of different recording locations one confuses the phase (timing) information that is an important factor in recreating the sound stage. Over the past 50 years recording companies have periodically gone through phases (sorry) of overcomplication, sometimes favouring a very close-up acoustic in which each individual instrument is sharply spotlit. The opposite tendency also occurs, where engineers seem to favour a more distant and blended sound which at worst might be described as "mushy". Listening to some of the classic recordings from the 1950's and 60's you may wonder if any important advances have been made since then.

March 17, 2023, 10:21 AM · To me, the issue is mic'ing two instruments with one mic and the other two instruments with a second mic, as is apparently proposed. Any panning left-right with this setup would sound strange, I think -- two multi-instrument mono mixes coming at you from different angles. Since I've never tried this, I could be wrong, but I suspect a straight-up mono mix would sound better.
Of course, a 4-mic strategy (possibly augmented with a stereo overhead) would be the most flexible and could be mixed with spatial separation among instruments.
March 17, 2023, 10:43 AM · 4 plus mic setups are not bad. However, for the amateur audio engineer, they require more care. The mics are closer to the performers and are more sensitive of the performer moving, and thus changing the sound. Without additional mics you will not capture the room, which is very important. Lastly and most importantly, they require more post production.

For a first time user, setting up a stereo array is simply much easier.

And of course the easiest place to begin is with a mono recording. She can experiment with mic placement, etc.

Edited: March 18, 2023, 10:47 AM · Thanks all - I've learned a lot from this, especially about the decision of doing mono or stereo recording.

I see that my main concern seem to not be that of the group - that is the faithful input of each instrument according to its dynamic range (which is why I thought of the two different microphones - and yes, a mixed mono output.

As Mark said, I think the best strategy now is to go ahead with the mono since I have a good starting condenser microphone (414), and see how that contrasts with the cell phone. Since all the social media outputs (FB, Soundcloud, youtube etc) only input mono anyway I'm not sure I have a need for a stereo recording. We'll add that when we become competitive for Banff (LOL!).

However, I will put the ribbon mike on the wish-list - in particular for playing solos and with piano. I listened to some examples and, yes, the recordings were stunning, even from youtube.

Again, thanks for all the input. More anon....

[Steve wrote "Listening to some of the classic recordings from the 1950's and 60's you may wonder if any important advances have been made since then." Yes, what is that about? Some of those are marvelous - but maybe that should be a separate topic....]

March 18, 2023, 11:58 AM · Not sure what you mean by social media outputs only input mono, youtube does stereo and up to 4K video.
March 18, 2023, 12:27 PM · Oh! Learn some more :) That kinda changes things...
March 18, 2023, 10:06 PM · I'd just say that before you buy a ribbon mic, book an hour at a good studio and listen to a Shure SM-7B, along with a good ribbon mic. I have both, and my ribbon is now in its nice wooden case in the mic closet. That is one thing that I didn't see mentioned here--for the price of a good meal, you can book an hour of studio time and line up a bunch of mics, record a bit, have them burn it to CD, and go home to compare the difference.
March 18, 2023, 10:09 PM · I don't have a mic closet. Dang.
March 18, 2023, 10:25 PM · Don't fret Paul, just push the shotguns to one side. Lo.
March 19, 2023, 8:17 AM · You mean push the violins to the side ;)

Paul's suggestion of going to an engineer and auditioning mics is a very good one. They work odd hours so it should be possible to schedule time. Large stores may also let you audition mics. Academic institutions may also be able to accommodate you as well.

You can explain your situation and request that they use your interface, or affordable equipment. Hearing a mic through a grace preamp is much different than an inexpensive one.

Be sure to explain your use case. That way they will record you from an appropriate distance, as opposed to close micing the violin. Although you may want to hear the close micing as well, to consider that sort of set up.

March 19, 2023, 9:04 AM · ['micing?' Sounds like an expedition for the barn cat! Rhymes with 'dicing?' I get that mic is a word so micing seems logical - but it can't be read without knowing what it means beforehand - there are very few words in English with a hard 'c' before an 'i' - syncing, arcing...? any more? And those words can't be read either - phonetically they are read as 'synsing' and 'arsing', not the intended meaning.

Not Micking I guess, that would rhyme with ticking but 'miking' is legit is that preferred?? English is enough of a nightmare as it is! :) Maybe it should not be 'mic' at all but 'mike'.

OK, English pedant will go practice...]

Edited: March 19, 2023, 10:06 AM · While we are geeking out over here I thought you guys might get a kick out of this demonstration of mic placements for a number of different instruments, http://soundmedia.jp/nuaudk/. DPA and Schoeps mics.

In terms of the shotgun closet, one of the best things I did for my mics was to get a Pelican case for two of my mic pairs, but it makes it look like I am carrying around a pistol.

March 19, 2023, 11:23 AM · Aha! That's more like it Stan. Appreciate the work to be objective here. I voted for G. Which microphones were they?
March 19, 2023, 11:36 AM · One observation is how different it is capturing a concert hall performance vs recording studio. I get the whole stereo pair setup in this context, capturing the ambience of the space. Most of my work is in my studio where I'm recording one thing at a time with one microphone - fairly dry with a lot of post processing. I'm not a great fan of hard panning. Live vs. studio are quite different and I think that should be relevant to the discussion.
March 22, 2023, 11:42 AM · Just a postscript: I found this video quite useful for violin/viola recording (but not much about ensemble).


Edited: March 22, 2023, 11:59 PM · I did some poking around the site and it looks like at least for the violin they were the DPA 4006A Omnidirectional Microphones. Some pretty expensive microphones ranging between $2100-$2600 depending on who you buy them from.
March 23, 2023, 12:34 PM · Interesting how he had to play a long way away from the microphones themselves to get the best sound - consistent with the tendency of the condenser microphones to capture too much at the top end. He also said that the ribbons were best - partly because they did not pick up the highest frequencies.

However, if that were the only difference one would have thought it possible to make the two similiar with a post-recording high-frequency cut off...

March 23, 2023, 12:39 PM · My next challenge is to select a DAW to work with. Initially I thought I would use garageband - but on review, it seems more focused on synthetic music than on processing audio. In particular I could not find a way to modulate dynamics - make crescendo/diminuendos which are essential of course for classical music. Looking around I found that it is possible and quite straightforward on Logicpro (and likely many other higher-end DAWs) so currently that is my likely choice.

If anyone knows of a better DAW for classical music (and not insanely difficult) please let me know!

March 23, 2023, 1:58 PM · I would recommend starting small so to speak. Do not try to create crescendi, artificial reverb, etc.

Just record mono with the 414 at a distance of 6 feet or so with the mic six feet in the air.

See how it sounds.

It is much better play the dynamics than to try to post process them.

March 23, 2023, 4:35 PM · For sure, its not for the violin but for any accompaniment that I generate.
I think I'm falling down a rabbit hole!

Microphone interface working, MIDI keyboard plugged in... waiting for Apple to let me download the DAW - I can always start with Garageband and upgrade to Logicpro.

[Note, this stuff does not scare me - I did world-class electrophysiology for 30 years so lost any fear of wires and data software ;) ]

March 23, 2023, 5:34 PM · Not so much a rabbit hole as a sink hole, when you can do SO much with a Zoom H1n and Audacity!
March 23, 2023, 5:40 PM · Pro Tools and Logic Pro are both great professional level daws.

You are now talking about new things, creat8ng accompaniments. One option is to record an acoustic performance of the accompaniment. This is what I would recommend, as the other options will sound not quite acoustic at best. Another option is to use a program to generate the accompaniment. A midi file cam be used as a start. DAWs are not necessarily the best programs in this regard. Most are designed to work with audio, as opposed to having tons of tools and interfaces to handle non acoustic music.

The daw that is best suited to non audio is probably ableton live. However there are lots of other non daw options.

However, again, I would recommend that you make a recording of an acoustic performance of the accompaniment.

March 23, 2023, 6:05 PM · Sure - I plan to do that too, when I'm at summer festival it should be easy. The DAW composition was just for the fun of it, I think its time I did something more than just play classical music. And yes, its definitely beyond the scope of the original topic.

But if you don't use a DAW to record what do you use? I did sort of think that that was essential if you have multiple mikes - if just to adjust the volumes for mixing....

March 23, 2023, 7:28 PM · Daw are what is used for acoustic recording. However, before daws began to incorporate many different tools, there was and still is music sequencers to work with digital music files, such as midi.

Rosegarden is a free sequencer, that let's you record and edit midi. It is kind of like a word processor. Cubase was originally a sequencer.

Different daws have different strengths with regard to these components, such as sequencers.

Many notation programs also have some features to create audio or midi output. These features are usually not as robust as the Midi sequencers.

There are just so many types of software out there, from virtual instruments, to audio processing software such as izotope.

There are also programming languages, such as max.

Experiment and see what works for you. Most paid software has free or inexpensive trials.

It all depends on how far afield you want to go from audio recording.

Audacity is a fine free program for audio recording, as Steve noted.

March 23, 2023, 9:58 PM · Thanks Mark.
March 24, 2023, 5:41 AM · Do you have an immediate family member in college or working at a university? Apple has a fantastic deal for the educational bundle with Logic and all of the associated tools (Logic, Final Cut, and Compressor are what you need), something like $199 when I bought it, you get free upgrades for life, and everyone in your immediate family is allowed to access the license.
March 24, 2023, 8:23 AM · That's quite a deal Stan - I wonder if my 'Professor Emerita' status would work - I'll check it out!
How are you finding it for audio editing? Effective? Well designed?
Edited: March 24, 2023, 10:04 AM · Good tool, does everything you need it to do, good help via a google search. FCPX the video editor is excellent, and automates syncing external audio to video with camera audio. (Garage Band is like a very-dumbed-down FCPX, user interface is similar.) With your .edu email address you will be fine. My son started college a few years ago and I ostensibly bought for him, and Apple confirmed that the whole family has access to the license. You have a Mac?


March 24, 2023, 11:01 AM · Yup, almost new Mac Pro. Wonderful machine except I keep trying to stroke the screen :P

Have to reactivate my university account, should not be a problem. Thanks for the tip! And also on the video syncing - that's down the line. I'm going to play with creating my own accompaniments for fun and see where that goes.

March 26, 2023, 5:23 PM · I've been using Logic for 24 years now and love it. I think most of the DAWS can do the same things but if you have a Mac then Logic is very cheap and has a lot of plugins included.
Edited: March 28, 2023, 9:23 AM · The definition of matching in this case is 1dB or less difference, in case, like me, you weren't aware.
I'm a little surprised, as it makes me wonder how crude the manufacturing tolerances can be in non-matched mics.

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