Goodwin's High End

 

Recording Systems

The stereo system or surround system is really only one half of a complete music reproduction system; the other half is the recording system. Understanding how recordings are made will deepen your understanding of how they are played back on your audio system. To that end we suggest that you make some recordings yourself. To get started, simply record a single musician playing an acoustic instrument in a very quiet room with good acoustics.

For simple acoustical recording, you'll need:

  • two microphones
  • a two channel microphone preamp
  • a recording device
  • a monitoring system—either headphones or amplifier/speakers

Microphones come in a variety of types such as dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. There are also a number of possible polar patterns including omni, cardioid, hypercardioid, and figure-of-eight. In addition they can be arrayed in various ways including spaced (often used with omnis), X-Y, and ORTF. Without going into a lengthy discussion here of microphones and array selection, you could start with a pair of cardiod condensor microphones arrayed in an X-Y configuration or a pair of spaced omnis. Place the microphones where you think they will pick up the best balance of direct vs. indirect sound, relative to the musician playing the acoustic instrument. Choose a room or hall with good acoustics; otherwise you will probably not be fully satisfied with the results that you hear. Set your recording levels so that the loudest sound does not overload any part of the recording system.

To accurately assess your progress, setup your playback system in another room so that you can monitor the live microphone feed. If you have really neutral acoustics in the monitoring room with low background noise and a well setup and warmed up monitoring system, you'll be better prepared to make decisions about how to adjust the microphone placement.

So you're now setup and properly adjusted; hit the record button and capture the musical event. When the event is complete, take the recording back to your reference system and play it. How well did you do? What could you have done better? Now go back and repeat the experience again and again and again, learning a bit more each time. You will ultimately learn that in order to make the very best recordings of acoustic music that the following are quite important:

 

Attributes necessary to ensure a superior recording

Recording Space

  • A very quiet room or hall with excellent isolation from external noise (i.e. trucks, planes, subways, etc.) or internal building noise (i.e. plumbing noise, people walking or talking, etc.)
  • A very quiet HVAC system
  • Excellent acoustics—ideally with adjustable acoustics
  • Very clean electrical feeds
  • A very low impedance electrical ground
  • The room should be shielded from both RFI & EMI

Recording System

  • Excellent microphones—appropriate for the particular repertoire, instruments, and acoustics
  • Excellent microphone cables and connectors—with good, clean connections
  • The best possible microphone preamplifier—with remote control in order to keep mic lines short
  • Excellent line level cable and connectors—microphone preamp to A-D (analog to digital) converter
  • For digital recording—the absolute best possible A-D conversion and word clocking, etc.
  • Excellent digital cables and connectors
  • The best possible digital storage in terms of accuracy, long life, backup, etc.

Monitoring Room

  • A very quiet room or hall with excellent isolation from external noise (for instance trucks, planes, subways, etc.) or internal building noise (for instance plumbing, people walking or talking, etc.)
  • Superb acoustics
  • Very clean electrical feeds
  • Avery low impedance electrical ground
  • The room should be shielded from both RFI & EMI

Monitoring System

  • Remote control of the recording storage device.
  • A very high quality analog playback monitoring system with digital input capability that is properly setup and warmed up. The entire system should be very tonally neutral, very phase & time domain accurate, and with excellent transient response. Technical aspects include such things as: very low distortion—both in terms of relevant static and dynamic measurements, rise time, lack of overshoot, settling time, etc. This is extremely important as at the very core of the art of recording is choosing, placing, and adjusting microphones. In order to make the best possible miking decisions the recording engineer needs to be able to really hear accurately what the microphone array is actually delivering. And in order to hear that accurately the monitoring system needs to be highly linear. Essentially a monitoring system for analog and digital playback consists of:
    • Live analog microphone feeds (essential for making good miking decisions)
    • Control of digital storage (hard disk, tape, etc.) and remote control of mic preamps
    • D-A (digital to analog) conversion
    • Control of monitoring levels, mixing, etc.
    • Power amplification
    • Speakers
    • Headphones
    • Digital cables
    • Analog line level cables
    • Analog speaker cables
    • Word clock cables
    • Control cables

Reliability

  • Power should be supplied with a very high quality audio-grade UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)
  • For the highest reliability built-in redundancy should be in place for both the recording system and the monitoring system

Musicians & Conductors

  • Ideally musicians who have learned how to play for a recording—and are capable of a truly breathtaking performance
  • Conductors who can bring out a truly transcendent performance

Recording Personnel

  • An experienced recording engineer who can think and discriminate like a mastering engineer.
  • An experienced producer who can communicate at the appropriate musical level with the musicians and conductor

Overall Environment

  • A musically conducive environment—one which allows the musician to relax and play up to his or her highest potential.
  • And finally no distractions for the recording personnel so that they can focus on doing the best possible job without time constraints or any interruptions.

 

Of course the preceding is merely a synopsis—but still this gives a fairly comprehensive overview of essentially what is required for truly excellent recordings to be made consistently. There is obviously much more that can be said on this subject. And if you would like to know more you're invited to give us a call.

 


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