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Recording Organs

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Recording Organs

Postby wireman » Sat Aug 25, 2012 3:49 pm

I'm new to the forums and have a question about recording Organs (electronic and Pipe).
I have a little experience in home recording: both electronic and acoustic instruments and have a range of microphones and recording devices.

At the moment I'm interested in having three recording setups to record Organ on location (mainly just to record practice and personal performance but at the best quality). I think I should stick to a stereo pair at the moment.

I see three scenarios:

  • very portable - pocketable
  • portable, assume microphone stands available
  • anything goes, mains power


By portable I mean that I can carry everything in a holdall.

For the first option I have an M-Audio Microtrack II (I had to solder in a new battery a few months ago to keep it running). This is OK to record practice with but I get a very strange effect with loud registrations and the T-mic -- see here. I don't know if this is some strange overloading and would welcome comments.

For option 2 I have a Sound Devices 702 and intend to use Rode NT5 (omni capsules) with a Jecklin disk. I have tried this to record an electronic organ using a table stand on a stout table and the results are very promising. (I also have normal capsules and Sennheiser e664 pair but I don't think those are so appropriate). I will continue experimenting with this.

If I wanted to go beyond a microphone pair (say to add choir) then I have a Yamaha AW2816 but the inputs are noisy and I would prefer to keep using the 702- I don't know which 4-5 input mixer would match the 702. Again battery power is a bonus.

Anyway I would welcome comments from those with real experience in this area. (I don't see me getting into tall microphone stands, and in any case to hear the sound in the "wrong" place seems strange to me.)
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby tacitus » Sat Aug 25, 2012 9:05 pm

I've been through this process, though not with the aim of battery portability in mind. Started with 2 mikes and a preamp into a DAT recorder, went to multiple mics into a Motu 896HD then went back (more or less to two mikes). Why? Simply because all my best recordings seem to be with just two mics - a spaced omni pair as often as not as I still haven't sorted out a Jecklin rig. I can see how you might want more mics for choir and organ, especially if the siting of the organ demands peculiar miking arrangements, but I don't often get to record organ and choir.

I do think you should invest in a reasonably tall stand. Over on the Gearslutz forum they talk a lot about recording organs and often with extremely tall stands, but while I have a K&M 'big bugger' (can't remember the model but I'll post it if I find it later) I often use the K&M boom stand that's meant for drum overheads, which goes a fair bit higher than a normal boom mike stand and I have a couple of extra mini-boom extensions to give another metre or so on top of that. It's a bit rickety, so I wouldn't put it where it might get knocked over and I wouldn't put huge mikes on it (NT55s in omni or Oktava MK012s, probably). Height is like good tailoring - once you've had it you don't want to be without it. How much height you actually need to record an organ I'm not certain. I think the super tall mike stands would be a waste of time in a typical British Church, but I wouldn't want to be putting mikes on a table stand.

If you set up your Jecklin disk with the NT55s into the Sound Devices 702 then that setup ought to be OK for pretty much any organ recording. You can always use the NT55s as an AB pair without the disk or even in ORTF or similar mode with the cardioid capsules on. I can't imagine you wanting to do that instead of omni for organ recordings but there are probably situations where it would work better for some reason.

I hardly process this sort of recording at all, but I do use a little noise reduction if blower noise sounds more intrusive on the recording than I recall live. Emphasis on little.

Finally, there are plenty of small recorders with XLR inputs for two mikes and reasonable preamps if not up to the very highest quality. SOS has reviewed quite a lot of them and you can get get a serviceable recording with the built in mikes on some of them (probably need that stand you don't want to get, though). You might want to check out the phantom power demands of your various mikes if running on batteries.

With the rather rose-coloured view of hindsight, I'd pick the period I was using a pair of Oktava MK012s with omni caps into a dbx 386 and on to my Sony DAT as a 'golden age'. It probably wasn't but it felt like it.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Jeraldo » Sun Aug 26, 2012 3:41 pm

Wireman-a huge subject so we can only provide some snapshots.

A. Recorders: Use what you have. The SD will be fine for mic's. Use what you have or buy another recorder for using something with on board mic's. Often time, the the down market recorders with the best mic's are those with the best pre's on board, and vice versa. If you want something small, the DR-100 gives a faultless sound with external mic's, but its on board mic's leave something to be desired-it just depends on what you can live with.

B Mic's: I'm a little less enthusiastic about the Rode mic's than others are. Those should be fine. A pair of Oktava's would be great, but as a long term owner, I would say just get them modded at the beginning to have dependable mic's. With the mod's, they sound like very, very expensive mic's. If you don't want to go through the mod's, I'd say forget them. You will get bitten. There are many very fine omni's that are more upmarket, and since you have the SD perhaps you'd like a more expensive option. Those options are too many to list here-but a few are MKH20, KM183, KSM141, any of the Schoeps, 4006, etc.

C. Stands: Very tall stands are not needed for organ recording. When organs are voiced, they are voiced for the position of the listener. True, that doesn't mean that's the best position for recording, but assuming you are not getting reflections from a too near floor, you're good to go. When there is not an audience, very good recordings can be made with the mic's *on* the floor.

With more historically oriented intruments with a ruckpositive, often you are better off at a real distance, otherwise the RP is over emphasized. The further away you are, the smaller the relative distances are between divisions. Also-a big one here-often the RP is too loud and the rest of the organ too distant because the RP is shadowing the rest of the instrument! So moving further away often helps the rest of the instrument give you a more direct sound. Sometimes a tall stand, as opposed to a very, very, very, very, tall stand can actually make a problem worse. (The RP should sound a little more present.)

D. Jecklin Disk: This isn't necessarily the best option for organ recording. It's pretty much mono over a great deal of the mid to lower frequencies. One could say the same thing-though considerably less-about AB arrangements. Depending on specific microphones, a MS pair can work really well (omni or other mid), as can a Blumlein pair with full range mic's.

E. Multi channel: Rather than a mixer or a bad multitrack, consider the DR680. Everything about this box, especially the sound and the pre's are ridiculously good, and the price is silly (low) for what it is.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Jeraldo » Sun Aug 26, 2012 5:09 pm

Oops

Jeraldo wrote:Often time, the the down market recorders with the best mic's are those with the best pre's on board, and vice versa.

should read:

Often time, the down market recorders with the best on board mic's are not those with the best pre's, and vice versa.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby wireman » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:31 am

Thanks for the comments. I do have normal height microphone stands in addition to a sturdy table stand and clamps. I was hoping that the Jecklin disk would give a slightly better image than a spaced omni pair and at the moment I only have a 20cm stereo bar so have not tried it because I assumed that you would get no phase difference unless the spacing was large.

I would still welcome comments on the audio link, if you load into an editor you will see the strange effect on the left channel in the waveform.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby John Willett » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:46 am

The SD 702 and the pair of NT5 with omni heads and a Jecklin disk is a good idea and what I would probably do in your shoes.

Personally I would have gone for better mics (EG: Sennheiser MKH 20/8020, Gefell M221,Neumann KM 183-A or Schoeps) but the Røde omnis are pretty special for the price.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby wireman » Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:36 am

John Willett wrote:
Personally I would have gone for better mics (EG: Sennheiser MKH 20/8020, Gefell M221,Neumann KM 183-A or Schoeps) but the Røde omnis are pretty special for the price.

This is purely down to price. I knew there were better options and thought about the MKH20 (did not know about the newer 8020) and the DPA4006 but to add the NT45-omni capsules to my NT-5s was 139 pounds last year. New microphones in the league people have suggested are very expensive.

I think I will now experiment more with spaced A/B and the Jecklin disk and see how I get on.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby John Willett » Mon Aug 27, 2012 1:36 pm

wireman wrote:
I think I will now experiment more with spaced A/B and the Jecklin disk and see how I get on.

This is good and the right way to go.

My thoughts on recording organ is to think about where it is and where it is designed to be listened to.

So, for a church organ I would start by using omnis in a Jecklin Disk at around head height in the area of the church where the congregation would normally sit, as the organ should have been voiced to give the best sound at this point.

I know many people like to use tall stands and get the mics high - but the organ was not designed to be listened to at that height, which is why I like lower.

But have a good experiment and see what *you* like best.

But, remember, the best position will be different in every church.

Good luck.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Aug 27, 2012 2:31 pm

John Willett wrote:I know many people like to use tall stands and get the mics high - but the organ was not designed to be listened to at that height, which is why I like lower.


The potential problem is that churches ususally have hard refective floors, and a mic at head height (or lower) will tend to capture very strong floor reflections as well as the direct sound. Because of the relatively shoirt path length difference this will cause comb-filtering.

Our ears are very good at ignoring such things, but mics aren't that clever!

Positioning the mic significantly higher reduces the likelihood of suffering comb filtering dramatically, and provides a stronger direct sound.

The potential downside is that the balance of pipes may be slightly different... but that's why we listen and move the mics about!

The biggest problems in churches is actually finding the optimal place as far as the bass end is concerned. It's very easy to plonk the mics down on the node of a standing wave and discover that some pedal notes are absent from the recording!

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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Trevor Johnson » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:20 pm

I am interested in your post as I also play the organ and last weekend put a new battery into my Microtrack II, although I tend to use my Olympus LS-5 more now. I use these small recorders in a similar way to you, as an audio note-taker, but to be fair, given the right conditions (placement, recording levels, performance, etc.) the results can be first class. I first started making my personal recordings with a Revox A77 and two AKG D202E1 microphones on a high stand: good, but definitely not portable. Also, I had someone else to twiddle the knobs, watch the meters,listen and report back. I still have the Revox and AKGs, but they stay at home now.

I play a variety of instruments, from two manual trackers to very large instruments, often in very public places, with many visitors and guided parties looking around. That forms part of the next question: for me, setting up microphone stands and recording equipment is not feasible when these buidlings are open to the public, but opening them up especially to record requires a certain amount of organisation and co-operation. I would not be happy leaving any recording equipment unattended in a church, cathedral or other building and I think you need someone not only to look after the equipment but to do the actual recording. There is also the issue of people talking, traffic, aircraft, and if in London, tube noise, which your ears may filter out, but the recording will not.

Incidentally, where I am this lunchtime makes it difficult to listen to your audio clip. However I quickly listened late last night and wondered whether you had the Microtrack's limiter engaged but had not linked the left and right recording gains; so if you had a 'hotter' recording level set on the left, the left channel may have engaged the limiter, but the right not.

Anyway, good luck with recording the organ, it is rather tricky to get right and probably more so to reproduce. If there is a Radio 3 Choral Evensong being recorded near you, go along and see how they do it, as the BBC produce consistently good organ and choral recordings. In the old days they used to let me into the truck to have a look at what they did, which was rather kind of them.

So I hope my first SOS post has not been too long....

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Re: Recording Organs

Postby wireman » Tue Aug 28, 2012 9:55 pm

Trevor Johnson wrote:I am interested in your post as I also play the organ and last weekend put a new battery into my Microtrack II...

I will check on your limiter idea. I know the recording level was high but that is what you get when you are player and recordist at the same time and I could not resist a blast of fairly full organ just before I left. Because there was no clipping in the waveform I thought I had got away with it.

I am quite happy that we have these little recorders like the microtrack which means that you can get some idea of what a performance sounds like half way down a building, both clarity and divisional balance, and you can do this yourself with no help and little effort. If the Microtrack displayed the gain life would be easier but then it was really good value for money.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby mjfe2 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 10:08 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
John Willett wrote:I know many people like to use tall stands and get the mics high - but the organ was not designed to be listened to at that height, which is why I like lower.

The potential problem is that churches ususally have hard refective floors, and a mic at head height (or lower) will tend to capture very strong floor reflections as well as the direct sound. Because of the relatively shoirt path length difference this will cause comb-filtering.

Our ears are very good at ignoring such things, but mics aren't that clever!

Positioning the mic significantly higher reduces the likelihood of suffering comb filtering dramatically, and provides a stronger direct sound.

The potential downside is that the balance of pipes may be slightly different... but that's why we listen and move the mics about!

The biggest problems in churches is actually finding the optimal place as far as the bass end is concerned. It's very easy to plonk the mics down on the node of a standing wave and discover that some pedal notes are absent from the recording!

hugh

Was searching the forum for old posts and came across this discussion. Hugh raises some very useful considerations for recording organ. I'd also say to John Willett that if the organ wasn't designed to be heard up high, then equally you could argue that most organ music was designed up in the organ loft i.e. where the composer would have been sitting, which couldn't be further from the nave!
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Sep 08, 2013 10:39 am

John Willett wrote:So, for a church organ I would start by using omnis in a Jecklin Disk at around head height in the area of the church where the congregation would normally sit, as the organ should have been voiced to give the best sound at this point.

How would you "voice" an organ to sound best WAY out in the reverberent field? Churches aren't designed as concert halls. If the sound is good out in the nave, put a mic there. But I bet it isn't :-)

You'll have noticed how orchestral recordings in proper concert halls are typically made by finding "the best seat in the house" and putting a stereo pair there. Not.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby John Willett » Sun Sep 08, 2013 6:13 pm

mjfe2 wrote:
Hugh Robjohns wrote:
John Willett wrote:I know many people like to use tall stands and get the mics high - but the organ was not designed to be listened to at that height, which is why I like lower.

The potential problem is that churches ususally have hard refective floors, and a mic at head height (or lower) will tend to capture very strong floor reflections as well as the direct sound. Because of the relatively shoirt path length difference this will cause comb-filtering.

Our ears are very good at ignoring such things, but mics aren't that clever!

Positioning the mic significantly higher reduces the likelihood of suffering comb filtering dramatically, and provides a stronger direct sound.

The potential downside is that the balance of pipes may be slightly different... but that's why we listen and move the mics about!

The biggest problems in churches is actually finding the optimal place as far as the bass end is concerned. It's very easy to plonk the mics down on the node of a standing wave and discover that some pedal notes are absent from the recording!

hugh

Was searching the forum for old posts and came across this discussion. Hugh raises some very useful considerations for recording organ. I'd also say to John Willett that if the organ wasn't designed to be heard up high, then equally you could argue that most organ music was designed up in the organ loft i.e. where the composer would have been sitting, which couldn't be further from the nave!

But you neglected to mention that I also said to experiment and put the mics where it sounds best.

If you are going to criticize what I said - at least do me the courtesy of quoting all I said instead of quoting out of context.

And how do you know the composer would have only listened in the organ loft? he may have composed on a piano?
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby John Willett » Sun Sep 08, 2013 6:17 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:
John Willett wrote:So, for a church organ I would start by using omnis in a Jecklin Disk at around head height in the area of the church where the congregation would normally sit, as the organ should have been voiced to give the best sound at this point.


How would you "voice" an organ to sound best WAY out in the reverberent field? Churches aren't designed as concert halls. If the sound is good out in the nave, put a mic there. But I bet it isn't :-)

You'll have noticed how orchestral recordings in proper concert halls are typically made by finding "the best seat in the house" and putting a stereo pair there. Not.


Yes - wait a year and then quote out of context - why not?

And, actually, concerts are often recorded with the microphones just above the "best seat in the house" - being just behind the conductor.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby mjfe2 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 9:22 pm

John Willett wrote:But you neglected to mention that I also said to experiment and put the mics where it sounds best.

If you are going to criticize what I said - at least do me the courtesy of quoting all I said instead of quoting out of context.

And how do you know the composer would have only listened in the organ loft? he may have composed on a piano?

Sorry, I shouldn't have quoted you out of context -- I was just trying to add to what Hugh said. I agree about placing the mics where they sound best but that's kind of a sine qua non for recording. My point was specific to organs, and I was imagining old masters like Bach whose intricate compositions we know came out of improvisations at the keyboard. Whether the instrument in question was an organ or harpsichord (or piano for later composers), the composer would certainly have been hearing more detail than the congregation/audience so maybe closer mic placement is a better starting point.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby tacitus » Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:54 am

Kind of weird when old threads get resuscitated - I was half through reading my first post here when I realised I wrote it! However, the space of a year does give time for reflection and while I would agree that organs are generally voiced to sound right to the congregation, some are shoved in places where it's not easy to get them sounding good at all. And that's before you start on some of the dodgy rebuilds there are. I've sometimes had to mike up a particular rank of pipes which are all but inaudible throughout the church. And one or two are placed so that sound appears to come out for a few feet than drops gracelessly onto the floor and dies.

Given time to do it properly, it's good to be able to play some takes back to the organist and discuss the options between you. Just to prove how different the sound is between what the organist and the congregation hear, organists playing in a new venue for them always like to do this and are mightily relieved to hear a decent take when they've been struggling away at the coal face of an unfamiliar instrument.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon Sep 09, 2013 11:44 am

Not to mention the setups where the organist has to play then shut his ears to the sound coming back a second later! Some church organs were the original high-latency instruments.
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Re: Recording Organs

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon Sep 09, 2013 12:00 pm

John Willett wrote:
Exalted Wombat wrote:
John Willett wrote:So, for a church organ I would start by using omnis in a Jecklin Disk at around head height in the area of the church where the congregation would normally sit, as the organ should have been voiced to give the best sound at this point.

How would you "voice" an organ to sound best WAY out in the reverberent field? Churches aren't designed as concert halls. If the sound is good out in the nave, put a mic there. But I bet it isn't :-)

You'll have noticed how orchestral recordings in proper concert halls are typically made by finding "the best seat in the house" and putting a stereo pair there. Not.

Yes - wait a year and then quote out of context - why not?

And, actually, concerts are often recorded with the microphones just above the "best seat in the house" - being just behind the conductor.

We have full context - the entire thread is still available.

"Just above"? Quite a long way above as a rule!

Anyone who has ever played in an orchestra knows that the "best seat in the house" is within that music-making machine! But it isn't where you'd put a microphone for broadcast or recording. The "concert experience" is very different to listening at home.
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