recording chamber music

Hi all, there are a couple of chamber concerts coming up that I’m being asked to record. I am hoping to lean on the experience of the good people here to advise me.

For equipment, I have a Zoom F4 recorder, and an old laptop running Cubase and interfaced via firewire through the Steinberg MR816CSX interface. My setup will be a pair of microphones into a mic splitter feeder both recording systems ensuring redundancy in case anything fails.

For mics, I have a pair of AT4041’s (cardiod SDC’s) and a pair of AT2020’s (cardiod LDC’s).

In another thread, people have helped me understand the variables in recording an orchestra. Now I’m hoping to prepare for a student chamber music concert featuring ensembles ranging from two to probably 8 players, and a professional woodwind recital featuring up to six players, including piano. They will both be in small rooms (a library lecture room, typically).

Based on this video:
I should probably set up a stereo pair in x-y configuration not too far back from the center of sound, say five to six feet, and above the ensemble, but not too high, and pointed down at the ensemble, and I should use the SDC mics.

There was a similar video that I watched from AudioTechnica with basically the same advice (aiming to sell their microphones).

What do you guys do? Am I on the right track with the x-y setup, or is another configuration more appropriate in your experience?

I had thought x-y was the place to start with an orchestra, but was happily advised otherwise, and I thank all the contributors for steering me in the right direction.


Based on what I’ve seen a friend of mine do (who records chamber and choral music professionally), he does use an X-Y for the overall sound and then spot mics solo instruments. He does have other mics for ambient sound / reverb that he places strategically as well.

If you’re using your Zoom then you don’t need your laptop. However, if you have a multitrack interface that is portable, you may want to use that instead so that each mic gets its own track, which is a big deal for mixing especially given that chamber music has huge dynamics as I’m sure you know.

Thanks, Larry. I take the laptop along as a parallel/backup to the Zoom in case of any failure. You can only get one try to record a concert!

My advice is to go to one of their rehearsals hopefully they rehearse in the same space you’ll be recording. Listen 4 instrument balance at different positions.

Thanks, TEEF, good advice; I am hoping they’ll arrange a dress rehearsal in the room.

Alternatively can go to some chamber music performances that you’re not recording to get your ears on them. Listen with your eyes closed. Sit yourself in a spot where you think you would setup. Basically, your training yourself.

Thanks TEEF, very helpful. Contrasting this task with the recording of an orchestra, it seems to me I need to be closer, and I need to be aware of the stereo angle. Although I have capability to position two more mics (actually I could do even more with my MR816CSX setup), I’m thinking I should focus on capturing what the audience will hear. After all, I’m not making a professional CD out of it.

Hey, one other thing to throw into your Noggin. Think of your microphone as a flashlight . Cardioid microphones, the on-axis response, imagine a flashlight beam, is roughly 60°. You have exact on-axis at 0° then it is flanked 30 degrees positive and negative

-30°\ | / +30°

What does it mean? #wtfisteeftalkinabout

It means that the distance you are from the source is almost equal to the diameter of what the microphone is most sensitive to. Direct sound. Another way to look at it is if you are 10 feet from your source, the microphone will be picking up a 10-foot diameter circular area. If you’re 6 feet from your source, a 6-foot diameter circle. And so on…

I always tell people, you want to capture the essence of the instrument? Measure its body and move the microphone back that same distance then adjust to taste. That should sound the most natural when you’re using a cardioid microphone.

Now you have a group of players. They’re standing 5 feet apart. How can I capture all of them with two microphones…

Wait, that one player is louder than the other. Maybe I should move the microphone a little closer to the softer player and start getting the louder player into the off-axis area of the microphone… the area of pick up beyond that +/- 30 degree area where sensitivity decreases.

Last couple notes from me. Understand instruments and innate volume levels…

What’s louder, a piano or a flute, a saxophone or a cello, a violin or a double bass?

If you are spot miking, forethought of instrument levels can direct you to what may work for placement. If the students are mindful, they should have an understanding of how they relate to their fellow players and allow space for each other. That’s not always the case with students though.

#thanksforreading #ithinkalot #beendoingthistoolong

Thanks, TEEF, great points! From your point of view, is a good starting point x-y, or ORTF, perhaps close up? I used ORTF on the orchestra; it seemed to produce a good stereo image, but I’m thinking with 6 instruments close together, this is not a good approach, which is why I’m leaning to x-y much closer to the center of things.

But should I be considering, say, two mics closer together at a smaller angle (say 75 degrees) rather than the x-y? I’m not planning to use spot miking at all, expecting that the small ensemble will self-balance, and it’s not for a CD or any other publication. So I’m thinking my aim is to capture the sound of the concert, rather than create a better balance than the group does on its own.

And one other consideration, does piano make a difference? Some of the configurations will include piano. I’m still thinking I should not do any special miking of the piano, but I’m listening!

Thanks again for your thoughts!

Personally, I’m with you on XY. Bearing in mind the equipment you have. Don’t come in closer than 90°. You’ll have no image if you do. You can go wider if you want. The angle is what I’m talking about.

With XY recording the width of the on axis area is a little wider. My rule of thumb is 1/3 of the width closer for starting placement. For instance, a 15’ wide area to pickup, distance to source would be 2/3 of the width equalling 10’. For a direct, natural sound, that is where i would start. Want more ambiance, move away from the source.

Your aim is to have the “sound of the concert”, do you mean what it would sound as a spectator 10 rows back, or a capture of the performance with more nuances. The former would be setting up ortf back in the room where the latter would be the math i posted above.

Want the best of both? Do the 2/3 technique and add a 3rd microphone and point it at the ceiling. 90° up from the plane of the xy. Blended however you want.

Personally, I prefer Blumlein.

I wouldn’t rule out ortf either. You already have a lot of experience with it, right? Use that experience. It’s a common technique to use within ensembles as well.

Thanks again, TEEF, I would want to capture the performance with nuances, as if I were sitting in the first or second row, I think. I like your 2/3 rule, that sounds like a great starting point for me to try. I’ll have to go study up on Blumlein technique. If you were doing ORTF, would you also use the 2/3 rule? Would you strictly conform to the 110 degrees/ 17CM apart, or would you fiddle with the “Stereo Recording Angle” that Tommie-boy explained on the other thread about recording an orchestra?

I didn’t have a chance to read the other thread. But how about we switch roles here for a moment.

What was your experience using ortf? If I came to you and asked you how to record an orchestra with or ortf, how would you guide me? Tell me what to do.

Hah! I set the mics up at 110 degrees, with their heads spaced 170 mm’s apart. I put this configuration up about 2 feet above the conductor’s head, maybe a little less, hard to judge, about ten or twelve feet back. The mics were AT-4041’s. I had recorded the dress rehearsal, and I thought the stereo separation was very realistic compared to what I heard, sitting in the front row. And it worked with the piano soloist in the second piece. The piano was front and center on the stage with the top fully up, and I had been worried that the piano would dominate at that distance, but it did not, I assume, owing to the fact that the mics were high above.

The recording I got was full of detail, and not a lot of hall sound; I guess due to the fact that they are cardiods.

My mix added reverb, normalized the volume, had a few minor eq tweaks (done by ear comparing with the Detroit Symphony on the same piece), and had a hard limiter. I had noticed that every time a bass drum hit, there was 7db on the table, so that’s why I had the hard limiter.

And here you have an example of what I got (which I had posted in my other thread):

Fantastic job. :wink:

Agreed! Listened a bunch of times. Where is the remaining. I wanted to hear more. :slight_smile:

Thanks, guys, I’m getting somewhat confident that I have a good setup for this orchestra in this hall using ORTF at the distance I have it set at. But still, due to lack of experience, I am pondering whether to try ORTF for chamber music, with the mics just a little over the heads of the players, and with the stand much closer (I do want to try your 2/3 technique, TEEF), or whether that situation calls for x-y also using 2/3 technique. Or something in-between. I was wondering what would typically be done by a pro in this situation. I really can’t post more than I did, given the recording was for private use.

So back to TEEF: if I got it right, then Blumlein is x-y but with figure eight mics? I don’t have any of those, but I want to make sure I’m following. I wish I had the opportunity to experiment. I would like to record the same chamber performance using an x-y (foot or two above the heads of the performers and 2/3 distance from the center of the group vs width of the group ) vs. something akin to ORTF, where the height is the same.

Yeah, it’s two figure 8 microphones in coincident. It just has a very very natural sound in my experience. I love the sound that you’ve gotten with ORTF.

So based on further reading, I think, given my earlier results with ORTF, I should use the same approach for chamber music, but position it close enough to get an angle that matches what the chamber ensemble presents. That means I’ll be much closer to the ensemble, and I guess pointed down at them. So I think that’s the setup I’m going to go with. Thanks for ideas, everyone.

Early21@ I was reading a few articles about recording chamber music. So, what you did so far for your set up? Would you like to share your experience or guide that I can follow.

Signature: My tactical flashlight guide for everyday use.