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Old August 11th, 2010, 12:54 PM   #1
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Microphone Advice for Recording Ambient Live Music

I have not had any good luck with live music because I thought I could get away with using inexpensive handheld recorders. Just about everything I record is clipped. Now that I have my choice of professional recorders narrowed down to the Edirol R-44 and one other, I have to ask about microphones.

I will be doing a lot of band videos in clubs and showrooms. I like to get a line feed from the house soundboard. I am aware that it is mixed for the house only, but it should contain a good vocal track at least. I then set up two Shure KSM27 condensers somewhere in the room for ambient.

I am not sure if those mics are the best choice, but I have nothing to compare to. I have considered adding a stereo mic to the mix or to replace the two condensers. Sometimes I have to keep a small footprint depending on the venue.

I need to keep a very simple setup. no effects processers, EQs, etc. Just mics and a 4-track recorder. As long as I can hear what's going on and record a clean sound, which I have not yet been able to do.

I would also like some tips on microphone placement for different scenarios if any of you have that kind of experience. I am a videographer, not a sound guy, yet.

Performers can range from small combos to big band jazz and very loud salsa bands. I am not equipped to mic individual instruments.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 03:02 PM   #2
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You say that you have not yet been able to get a decent recording. You also say that everything you record is clipped. Then you seem to say that the reason for the problem is using inexpensive hand held recorders.

So then is clipping the reason you have not yet been able to get a decent recording? What are these inexpensive hand-held recorders that you think is the problem?

It is not clear from the information you provided that simply using an Edirol R44 is the solution to your problem. It sounds like you need to establish a better method of monitoring and setting record levels.

As for microphone position, that isn't something that can be recommended with a generic prescription. It is very much dependent on the nature of the performing group, the audience, and the acoustics of the venue.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 03:34 PM   #3
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I use the R4-Pro, which has the same pres as the R-44. For bands I try to get a board feed, and the R-44 will record at line level when the Trim is at 0. Along with that I use the Rode NT4 stereo mic for ambient sound. I put that back enough to pick up the mains, but not so far back as to cause a delay between the mic & line signals. That's called a "matrix" recording, and it makes for a nice sound.

If the PA is mostly used for voices, I may put the stereo mic closer to the stage to pick up the amps better. With loud music I use in-line attenuators set to -10db after the mic, before the recorder, to prevent clipping the input.

Audio-Technica AT8202 In-Line Attenuator AT8202 - B&H Photo
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Old August 11th, 2010, 05:19 PM   #4
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Thanks for the input Chad. Nice to hear you get good results with the NT4. I will probably return the Zoom for one of those. You still need an attenuator with the R-44? Is it for the mics or the line feed?

Richard, it was just my frustration talking. You are correct. My problem is not so much the recorders, but my inability to monitor and set levels. The Zoom H4n records mic inputs well, and the onboard mics are awesome. However, it H4n does not accept line level input - only mics. So I can forget the house mix. The Microtrack II from M-Audio clips with just about anything I plug into it. I have tried rigging with attenuators and adapters and ground lifters, but with no good results. With both units, the headphone amps are not powerful enough to cut through loud environments like clubs. Even if I could set levels correctly, I wouldn't know it.

The R-44 looks user-friendly enough with those beautiful knobs. I could probably reach down and adjust those without taking my eye off the camera.

I am learning that sound recording isn't something you just set up and walk away from, as much as I would like it to be. Especially since I am also working a camcoder or two. The little handhelds are just not practical for me. I can't stand the tiny buttons and menus, especially when something goes wrong.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 06:11 PM   #5
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As far as attenuators go, it depends. That's why they are good to have on hand. You can turn the trim down on the R-44, so you may be good, but it will ruin your whole night if you need them and don't have them.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 06:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex DeJesus View Post
...The Zoom H4n records mic inputs well, and the onboard mics are awesome. However, H4n does not accept line level input - only mics. So I can forget the house mix...
Alex,

I already answered your question, see my post here:
Zoom and Line Level Inputs

Zoom-H4n has line level inputs - you just need to use 1/4" connectors with XLR to 1/4" adapters, I do this on every job I shoot... You also can use XLR input of the H4n but with a -50db in-line attenuator right before you plug it into XLR mic level input of your H4n...
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Old August 11th, 2010, 06:30 PM   #7
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Ilya, the H4 has line inputs on the quarter inch jacks, but that feature was removed on the H4N. It's a topic that has been discussed a lot. Unless Zoom changed their H4N design I think respectfully that you are mistaken. Essentially the 1/4 inputs are Hi-Z inputs. That's what Zoom says.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 06:41 PM   #8
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Ilya, I did see your post the other day, but are you plugging into an H4n or an H4?

Yeah, Chad, I have a collection of adapters now, including an attenuator. It's a 20-30-40 switchable.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 10:49 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex DeJesus View Post
Ilya, I did see your post the other day, but are you plugging into an H4n or an H4?
I have exactly H4n, not H4... What firmware version do you have? Mine is 1.40, which allows to set recording levels below 1, like 0.2, if you need... And, as I mentioned before, you can use this one from Shure:
Shure - A15LA 50 dB Attenuator
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Old August 13th, 2010, 02:08 PM   #10
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I own both the H4 and the H4n and have been using them since January 2007 (H4) and September 2009 (H4n). Looking at the instruction manuals for both devices, except for the external sensitivity switch on the H4 and the different scales for setting the recording levels, the line-level inputs of both devices are essentially the same: unbalanced TS at 480 kOhms impedence.
The H4 lists an input range of -10dbm down to -40dbm for the unbalanced 1/4-inch input.
The H4n lists +2dbm down to -32dbm for the unbalanced 1/4-inch input..

I've recorded many, many dozens of projects with the two devices, 99% of the time connected to some type of line output of a mixer or compressor.
I've never had a problem with clipping the line-level input, but then again I'm always the one controlling the mixer and setting up the gain structure correctly throughout the recording chain.
I haven't been "holding back" the level though in order to compensate, just simply keeping things in control. I think many times the program audio coming from some sound operators may end up being much hotter than what they sent out during testing and setup. Thus resulting in overloading the sensitive line-level input of the Zoom recorders.

Any time I receive a line-level output from a house mixer that's out of my control, I use my own mixer between that line-level feed and my own recorders or cameras.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 02:28 AM   #11
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Yeah, I guess a mixer would work in some situations. The problem is I need to record the line feed and the mics separately for editing later (matrix recording). The only field mixer with 4 output channels costs $3,000, and then I still need a 4-channel recorder. I am hoping the R-44 will do the job without a mixer.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 03:38 AM   #12
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Are you certain the clipping is what you are doing, or could the sound source itself be distorted? If you've looked at the waveform and it's flat topped, then better control's needed, but it has been my experience that even with really high quality PA systems recording it's output is never, ever high quality.

The title even confuses me. Recording Ambient Live Music. If amplification is involved, then it's not, certainly from the UK use of the word 'ambient', ambient.

Stereo microphone techniques work badly on already amplified sound. Pan and depth are set by the sound op, and rarely do they pan sound sources as we really hear them. Mainly because the audience on the left need to hear a performer on the right, so, with the exception maybe of panning on the drums - much is mono, or close to mono.

Using microphones in the conventional way gives a nice stereo recording of the audience, and a very narrow image of the performers. The feed from the desk, and the live mics are also spaced in time, and produce a rather hollow, almost phasey sound.

Recording the type of material you are interested in with these techniques is never going to produce reliable quality material. If you could, everyone would be doing it - and they are not. Recording an unamplified Salsa band is perfectly possible, if they have an in-built sense of instrumental balance. If there is no balance between each musician by playing techniques, it cannot work.

Through necessity, I've had to do many video recordings like this, and the sound always makes me cringe. When we do audio only recordings, then we do it properly, or not at all. String quartets - yes, choirs - yes, Peruvian pipe players - yes. Add a single electric guitar and it goes horribly wrong. Add a PA system and it turns into mud! What sounds good to an audience sounds very poor to a microphone!


I may have mentioned this before, but for many years I was the Principal Examiner for an Exam board, here in the UK where students were studying Music Technology. One of the tasks was a conventional studio multitrack, the other a direct recording to stereo of an ambient source. In all the time I was examining this work, I never heard one example of a recording of amplified sources that sounded good. Many students did what is being talked about here, and the results ranged from OK to dire. Recording a PA system never worked in quality terms, ever! Distortion was an ever present problem. Played loud, in the venue, it sounded fine - but recorded with decent mics and decent recording equipment, every little distorted peak, or buzz and rattle was revealed.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 04:25 AM   #13
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Finally...

A definitive voice of experience. And one I heartily agree with. Well done, Mr. Johnson!

In the modern era "great recoded sound" has been defined by the studio process where individual instruments are recorded perfectly, then mixed down in a multi-track environment with idea post processing. This results in recordings where each individual instrument is carefully placed in sonic space and in optimized for reproduction.

Against this standard of clarity - there simply isn't any SINGLE DEVICE standard that can compete.

Especially since the very act of recording something via single point microphones removes all the psycho-acoustic cues that human ears and brain use to position and separate sounds in a live performance field.

Some very limited binaural recordings can kinda sorta re-build the live sound field - but these also can't reproduce the true effect of standing in a crowd of people with the pressure waves of the bass cabinets or the phased arrays hitting you in the chest.

If there was a "point this gizmo at the band and get a studio recording sound" device. That's all ANYONE would use and every multitrack recording truck in the world would be headed for the scrap heap.

Thankfully, they are not.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 11:00 AM   #14
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Paul, sorry for the ambiguous title "Recording ambient live music." What I am actually doing is recording the house sound system as played through the speakers. In the process capturing some crowd noise. The line feed is mainly to reinforce vocals in the mix.

I realize I will probably never get studio quality results because there is too much out of my control, but I would like to get as close as possible to the live sound experience. When you are standing in a club listening to live music, amplified or not, you are hearing some distortion.

My first goal is to not introduce any more distortion than is already there. To capture everything at the proper levels, and without the use of attenuators and other altering devices.

As for mic placement, angles, the types of mics to use, etc. I have no idea what i am doing. Purely trial and error, aside from what I get in the forums.

I did a gig for a band once where a separate sound crew came in to record the band apart from the house mix. I had never seen so many mics and wires in one place. We still needed an ambient crowd track to make it realistic, though. Even then it wasn't perfect.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 01:17 PM   #15
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taperssection.com is a whole site dedicated to capturing live bands with either a couple of nice mics, or board feeds, or both together. When one can't rig up a full on multitrack recording, one is left with the board feed and what the band generates off the stage. I would check that site out for techniques that work using these methods. No it's not a perfect situation, as there are limitations. But you work within the limitations and get the best recording you can.
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