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Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

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Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Wed May 08, 2019 3:51 pm

I'm in a duo, me on piano, and a Marimba player, we recorded some pieces recently in my living room, which is 18ft by 12ft. The Marimba is big, and quite loud, I'm using a pair of Senhiesser MKH40's in ORTF mode, about 6ft in front of the two instruments, Marimba on the left, grand piano on the tight.
The trouble is no matter what I do, I can't seem to get the piano to be loud enough, also, the stereo image is very wide, too wide, I can narrow things in my DAW, but it's annoying I can't fix this by moving the mic's. The sound is also very "in your face" I can't seem to get far enough away from the instruments to let things blend a bit.
I'm thinking of putting a couple of Beyer M201's under the Marimba, and the MKH40's on the piano, which sound great normally. I dismissed Omni's as I didn't want too much room sound.
We added a bit of medium hall reverb afterwards, but I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and I like to get the sound right at the microphone first. Any tips with is would be much appreciated.
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed May 08, 2019 4:03 pm

Arpangel wrote:The trouble is no matter what I do, I can't seem to get the piano to be loud enough, also, the stereo image is very wide, too wide...

You're fighting against the physics, instead of working with it!

As you say, Marimbas are loud instruments. So either your friend plays it more quietly (which is almost impossible), or you play the piano louder (which may well also be practically impossible)... or you re-position the instruments to achieve a better acoustic balance (which is going to be almost impossible in a small room)...

...or you admit the physics can't be overturned and stop trying to record an ensemble balance with a simple stereo array. Instead, mic each instrument separately and create the right balance in the DAW.

...I can narrow things in my DAW, but it's annoying I can't fix this by moving the mic's.

The ORTF array has a stereo pickup angle of around 90 degrees -- quite narrow -- so in an application like yours you're simply not going to be able to get the mic far enough away to achieve a narrower stereo width. Physics again, and it's just the wrong type of array for that kind of application....

The sound is also very "in your face" I can't seem to get far enough away from the instruments to let things blend a bit.

Physics again. Critical Distance and all that. It sounds close because it is close and the room is small (in acoustic terms).

I'm thinking of putting a couple of Beyer M201's under the Marimba, and the MKH40's on the piano, which sound great normally.

Yep, that would be far more workable... and then dial in a nice artificial reverb to give the mix a believable sense of space and perspective.

I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and I like to get the sound right at the microphone first.

And normally I'd applaud your aims... but in the situation you describe you're never going to get the sound you want at source because it doesn't actually exist in the room. The source instruments are acoustically unbalanced and the room is too small to lend anything acoustically useful. Our ears/brain can do lots of clever processing to allow us to ignore such defects and imbalances in real life, but not when the same sound is recorded and replayed to us later.

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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Wed May 08, 2019 4:16 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Arpangel wrote:The trouble is no matter what I do, I can't seem to get the piano to be loud enough, also, the stereo image is very wide, too wide...

You're fighting against the physics, instead of working with it!

As you say, Marimbas are loud instruments. So either your friend plays it more quietly (which is almost impossible), or you play the piano louder (which may well also be practically impossible)... or you re-position the instruments to achieve a better acoustic balance (which is going to be almost impossible in a small room)...

...or you admit the physics can't be overturned and stop trying to record an ensemble balance with a simple stereo array. Instead, mic each instrument separately and create the right balance in the DAW.

...I can narrow things in my DAW, but it's annoying I can't fix this by moving the mic's.

The ORTF array has a stereo pickup angle of around 90 degrees -- quite narrow -- so in an application like yours you're simply not going to be able to get the mic far enough away to achieve a narrower stereo width. Physics again, and it's just the wrong type of array for that kind of application....

The sound is also very "in your face" I can't seem to get far enough away from the instruments to let things blend a bit.

Physics again. Critical Distance and all that. It sounds close because it is close and the room is small (in acoustic terms).

I'm thinking of putting a couple of Beyer M201's under the Marimba, and the MKH40's on the piano, which sound great normally.

Yep, that would be far more workable... and then dial in a nice artificial reverb to give the mix a believable sense of space and perspective.

I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and I like to get the sound right at the microphone first.

And normally I'd applaud your aims... but in the situation you describe you're never going to get the sound you want at source because it doesn't actually exist in the room. The source instruments are acoustically unbalanced and the room is too small to lend anything acoustically useful. Our ears/brain can do lots of clever processing to allow us to ignore such defects and imbalances in real life, but not when the same sound is recorded and replayed to us later.

H

Thanks Hugh, yes, time for plan B! Using just a couple of mic's was too tempting, but it's obviously not workable in this situation as you say.
We just didn't have time to drag out more mic's on that session, but I'll rig up seperate pairs and add some reverb etc in the mix.
There is also an accordion in some of our pieces, my god that thing is loud! Definitely a case of giving it its own mic, yet again.
My new found interest in all things acoustic, and mic's, is making me realise how easy synths are to record!
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Thu May 09, 2019 7:50 am

Just wondering what sort of array would be good on the Marimba, I was thinking of a spaced pair of cardioids?
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu May 09, 2019 9:44 am

I'd probably go with a near-spaced pair too. And given the spill in the room, either cardioids or -- possibly better -- fig-8s.

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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Thu May 09, 2019 10:36 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:I'd probably go with a near-spaced pair too. And given the spill in the room, either cardioids or -- possibly better -- fig-8s.

H

Damn, I've only got one fig 8, so I'll go for the spaced cardioids, it's always the same, you can never have enough microphones!
Also, just watched a video about Marimba miking, they mention the 3-1 spacing rule, to avoid phase cancellation, I'm going to be using four mic's including the piano, so would phase cancellation be a major issue here? that's why I'm a fan of using one stereo pair, but I guess you have to compromise and try and minimalise phase problems, with correct spacing?
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby The Red Bladder » Thu May 09, 2019 1:51 pm

This whole gig sounds like a recording I did some time ago of a whole operetta with a scratch orchestra and I had absolutely no chance of recording rehearsals or, well, anything. But thank the gods for multitrack recording! You should try it sometime!

I put up every possible combination of mics you can think of. Crossed eights behind the conductor. Pencil mics at the side. Ribbons on the bass fiddle. Dynamics on the various sections. LDCs right across the foot of the stage. PZMs above the up-stage area. Audience mics, the lot! Add some more that I have since forgotten!

The yodelling was from the Viennese State Opera, so it was all loud and in tune. The provincial British scratch orchestra lived up to that title and was abysmal! These were proper professionals who were almost good enough to be amateurs!

The piece was some operetta from Carl Millöcker, of whom it was said that he only ever wrote one good piece 'Der Bettelstudent', though he wrote lots of other operettas. This was one of the 'lots of others' and as far as I could tell, was somewhere close to the bottom of the list.

This was to be an historical recording of a piece that had never been recorded before, so we had to get it right the first time. I was informed that it had only ever been performed once over a hundred years ago and had since been forgotten - I was soon to find out why!

The desk was a borrowed Audient, overrated and noisier than some but it did the job. The audience shuffled in and the orchestra tuned up so I could at least get a vague sound-level. The referee blew the whistle, the ball was thrown into play and the leading Alto gave it full-wellie, declaring her love for a Tennor who was a head smaller than her.

The audience, of course, cheered loudly once the conductor indicated that the game was over and declared a draw. You could have been excused for thinking that they had just witnessed the World-premier of Madam Butterfly!

I can't remember how many tracks we were using, but it was a 48-track system and we were using most of them. All those crossed pairs and fancy attempts at stereo imaging got binned - that much I do remember! I think we just used the pencil mics at the side of the hall, the spot mics as those sections came up and all the stage mics.

Everybody praised the final product. Go figure!
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Fri May 10, 2019 8:42 am

The Red Bladder wrote:This whole gig sounds like a recording I did some time ago of a whole operetta with a scratch orchestra and I had absolutely no chance of recording rehearsals or, well, anything. But thank the gods for multitrack recording! You should try it sometime!

I put up every possible combination of mics you can think of. Crossed eights behind the conductor. Pencil mics at the side. Ribbons on the bass fiddle. Dynamics on the various sections. LDCs right across the foot of the stage. PZMs above the up-stage area. Audience mics, the lot! Add some more that I have since forgotten!

The yodelling was from the Viennese State Opera, so it was all loud and in tune. The provincial British scratch orchestra lived up to that title and was abysmal! These were proper professionals who were almost good enough to be amateurs!

The piece was some operetta from Carl Millöcker, of whom it was said that he only ever wrote one good piece 'Der Bettelstudent', though he wrote lots of other operettas. This was one of the 'lots of others' and as far as I could tell, was somewhere close to the bottom of the list.

This was to be an historical recording of a piece that had never been recorded before, so we had to get it right the first time. I was informed that it had only ever been performed once over a hundred years ago and had since been forgotten - I was soon to find out why!

The desk was a borrowed Audient, overrated and noisier than some but it did the job. The audience shuffled in and the orchestra tuned up so I could at least get a vague sound-level. The referee blew the whistle, the ball was thrown into play and the leading Alto gave it full-wellie, declaring her love for a Tennor who was a head smaller than her.

The audience, of course, cheered loudly once the conductor indicated that the game was over and declared a draw. You could have been excused for thinking that they had just witnessed the World-premier of Madam Butterfly!

I can't remember how many tracks we were using, but it was a 48-track system and we were using most of them. All those crossed pairs and fancy attempts at stereo imaging got binned - that much I do remember! I think we just used the pencil mics at the side of the hall, the spot mics as those sections came up and all the stage mics.

Everybody praised the final product. Go figure!

Yes, you have to keep a real world perspective and just use your ears, I thought that our efforts last weekend weren't very good "at the time"....but on playback, now, they sound absolutely fine, technically, also better musically than I can remember. It is strange how I can never put a quallity judgement on anything at the time of conception, I always wait a few days before listening or mixing.
And yes, you cannot go into a recording session with any fixed ideas in mind, and with improvised music in the equation, it's just impossible to predict anything. You have to be prepared to react to the moment, not only musically, but with your approach to recording it, microphones etc.
This is all new territory for me and I'm learning, I'll be better prepared on our next session.
I listened to a Marimba recording using a pair of SM58's, it was very good indeed, it's like you did, I'll just have to experiment with various rigs and choose the ones we like, in these days of computers and unlimited tracks we can have that luxury.
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby The Red Bladder » Fri May 10, 2019 10:54 am

I'm sure I shall induce the wrath of the gods here, but most of these fancy mic configurations just don't work. Crossed eights, M-S, Soundfield, Kunstkopf, etc., etc., etc. - all pants (IMO).

However you record has to work in a lousy living room and on two Chinese loudspeakers that cost $10 to make for the pair! And if you are recording large classical pieces, the chances of your octogenarian audience being able to hear anything properly are remote indeed!

I went to the house of one neighbour when I was in Germany who was a big classical fan and had bought himself a large hi-fi - the system had been set up for a couple of years and only one of the two speakers was actually plugged in! When I set it up properly, he looked mystified and then I realised that he couldn't tell the difference!

Quite apart from the problems that M-S, crossed-eights, etc. can bring, the subtleties of positioning using esoteric microphone configurations are lost on your audience.

That said - the one thing people really do notice today is surround sound and they expect to get it. With the advent of more sophisticated sound-bars and punters putting in 5.1 sound into their living rooms, they expect their movies and their concert DVDs and Blu-Rays and downloads to have properly mixed 5.1, DTS-X or Atmos sound. The film guys are fully up to speed on this and have been for decades.

But there seems to be a hard-core of UK engineers and producers who just refuse to dump old attitudes and seem to think that music should be in stereo only! I have actually found a whole range of recordings that are supposed to be 5.1 (or some other surround format) and are just a stereo mix with bits added to the centre and sides!

That is consumer fraud!
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby The Korff » Fri May 10, 2019 12:03 pm

Alan Blumlein's RPM just went through the roof!

All your 'pants' examples of mic arrays are coincident or near-coincident... Any reason? I'd have thought spaced arrays would suffer even more on your German hi-fi man's 'mono' system. And Soundfield is a perfect way of future-proofing recordings for current and future surround playback formats, surely?
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 10, 2019 2:21 pm

Although coincident techniques do have exceptionally precise imaging properties, I think Mr Bladder is right in that such qualities are not noticed or relevant to the vast majority of any commercial audience. Added to which coincident arrays all tend to sound flat and boring in comparison to spaced arrays. So for partly that reason, the vast majority of commercial classical music is recorded using spaced arrays.

As for surround sound... I remain very unconvinced that the market is really anything like as strong or keen as implied. Very few people have or want multiple speakers in the classic ITU layout (which doesn't really work anyway).

It's true that there is a growing market in 'soundbars' which attempt to beam and bounce different sound channels off side walls to create a kind of surround effect -- and some of them are quite effective, but imaging accuracy is anyone's guess. As a result, you're mixing for a vague enveloping surround effect rather than for precision sound placements.

But, to be fair, that was always the case from the earliest days of Dolby Stereo (Pro Logic) anyway and continues with all the current 5.1 formats. (Atmos can be more accurate about placements, but is still not universally available in cinemas and domestic atmos systems have much more limited capabilities).

The relatively ambient surround effects are actually a very good solution for sound with pictures -- film and TV -- because it doesn't draw attention away from the visuals but does give a satisfying envelopment of sound which places the viewer fairly convincingly in the right kind of acoustic environment.

However, it's not so effective in a sound-only context unless you want the 'stereo music at the front and hall acoustics around you' format -- which actually a lot of people really like!

For the wacky 'let's have different instruments coming out of different places and whizzing around' type of mix, none of the existing domestic replay formats works reliably, and other than for amusement purposes, I am yet to find anyone who actually enjoys it anyway, let alone anyone with a decent surround rig at home to benefit from it!

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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby ConcertinaChap » Fri May 10, 2019 2:24 pm

The Korff wrote:And Soundfield is a perfect way of future-proofing recordings for current and future surround playback formats, surely?

I concur, quite strongly. Although I'm using my ambisonic recordings to produce stereo mixes at present I take quite a lot of comfort from the knowledge that should I want or need to produce surround sound versions, why, it's all there ready for me.

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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby The Red Bladder » Fri May 10, 2019 3:19 pm

Coincident pairs are wrong!

I don't have coincident ears! My ears are spaced apart, with one of the left and one on the right. I strongly suspect that most people here are similarly configured!

Because sound travels roughly 1,000 feet per second, I know that something is coming from the left or the right by the time delay between L and R. If it were not so, the Haas effect would not happen!

By using coincident pairs, you are denying the listener that feeling of space and room that comes from hearing that time delay.

I don't care how clever or esoteric any coincident mic positioning is, it is just another way of panning mono from left to right. Stereo it am not! It only can become true stereo when there is that tiny time delay between the two sides that comes from spaced pairs.

As for 5.1 etc., Hugh is dead right in his comments about A for V and that is what I was talking about. Stereo is more or less OK for A only, though (IMO) it's missing a centre speaker - it's live music recordings on Blu-Ray and DVD that are advertised as 5.1 when they are anything but!

Some of the pseudo-surround mixes are truly terrible and they seem to predominantly come from the UK. A typical example would be Roxy Music at the Apollo. The stereo option works, but switch to 5.1 and you get the same mix, but bizarrely, with just bass and kick added to the centre channel. Others do not even bother with that - the centre channel is blank and the side channels get a bit of reverb.

If you are a jobbing sound engineer and you think that is good enough - I've got news for you!
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 10, 2019 3:49 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:Coincident pairs are wrong!

I don't have coincident ears! My ears are spaced apart, with one of the left and one on the right. I strongly suspect that most people here are similarly configured!

Amusing, but -- with the greatest respect -- I'd argue that they aren't 'wrong'. I think there is possibly a misunderstanding of how coincident mic arrays work in concert with stereo loudspeakers... Mr A. Blumlein and Mr M Gerzon probably knew what they were doing... Although to be fair, Blumlein wanted to use a shuffling process to sort out the LF accuracy that few actually implement.

By using coincident pairs, you are denying the listener that feeling of space and room that comes from hearing that time delay.

No, you're really not... But, as I said earlier, coincident arrays don't give that vague lush spacious sound associated with spaced arrays that some think is what stereophonic should be. ;-)

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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Sat May 11, 2019 8:46 am

I'm not into surround sound, and don't want to get involved in it. As has been said, also, most people don't want loads of speakers and wires anyway, and even some stereo systems are dreadfully set up. I know someone with a surround system that's actually a joke, one speaker is stuffed behind a sofa, the rear ones may as well be in the kitchen, and the centre speaker is on the left at the back of a bookcase! Surround AFAIC is only relevant to film, it's too much trouble and not really necessary for music production. And I don't want to hear the sax coming over my right shoulder, or the cymbals panning left and right behind me, they certainly don't do that in the concert hall! I can understand trying to recreate ambience, but playback systems are just too unpredictable and variable to make it viable.
As for sound bars, dreadful things, I've listened to a few after my partner wanted one, even she thought they sounded awful, and she's not that that critical of audio, even the expensive ones sound like car stereos with the loudness control on maximum.
Flat screen TV sound is awful, my answer to that was a pair of Creative speakers plugged into the headphone jack. That's about as far as I'm going, as most TV sound is terrible anyway.
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Sun Jun 02, 2019 8:25 am

Had another session last week, the Marimba sound was vastly improved using mic's underneath, and seperate mic's on other instruments, better separation, and control, plus a much better tonal balance overall. I also put my synth through an amp and miked that up, the sound was like listening to a live performance, on stage, very character full.
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Sam Inglis » Sun Jun 02, 2019 10:31 am

To return to the original question -- if you have access to a half decent pair of omnis or figure-8s, or a coincident stereo mic, you could try setting up the two instruments so that they face one another, with a bi-directional mic array in between -- Blumlein or spaced omnis would work. Then you can adjust the relative balance by moving the mics towards the piano.
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Arpangel » Mon Jun 03, 2019 11:33 am

Sam Inglis wrote:To return to the original question -- if you have access to a half decent pair of omnis or figure-8s, or a coincident stereo mic, you could try setting up the two instruments so that they face one another, with a bi-directional mic array in between -- Blumlein or spaced omnis would work. Then you can adjust the relative balance by moving the mics towards the piano.

Hi Sam thanks, a problem has sprung up, being a musician, and an engineer at the same time, it's really becoming sressful. I can't play and sort out technical stuff at the same time, plus deal with a computer. It was total chaos last week, I was litteraly running on auto pilot, with fingers and toes crossed, plus trying to play and be creative.
My collaborator wants to go into a studio, but what's the point when we have decent gear here? Seems like a waste of money, but who knows, it could be less stressful.
I'm fine recording just me, and before, in my last place I had a seperate control room, I find recording and monitoring in the same room a total pain.
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby The Red Bladder » Mon Jun 03, 2019 12:14 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Amusing, but -- with the greatest respect -- I'd argue that they aren't 'wrong'.
I use coincident pairs all the time - it's a great way to get a 'safe' recording that will play anywhere.

But tell these chaps Blumlein and Gerzon the next time you see them that it ain't real stereo!

Hugh Robjohns wrote:But, as I said earlier, coincident arrays don't give that vague lush spacious sound associated with spaced arrays that some think is what stereophonic should be. ;-)

You see! It's not Lush and Vague (lovely duo, they used to do Working Men's Clubs back in the 60s. I saw them in Doncaster - brought tears to my eyes!) It's stereo!

As for Arpangel and his marimba player - tell him or her to keep the noise down. Failing that, tell them to put the marimba on the back of a bicycle and bring it up here. Our piano is definitely loud enough to go into battle with any passing marimbas. It's on me!

I promise to just use coincident pairs - after all, we don't want Blumlein and Gerzon banging on the studio door, complaining about the inappropriate use of stereo! And I won't use Lush and Vague either, as they must be in their eighties by now!

P.S. Why's the grand piano in your tights? Could that be the problem?
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Re: Recording Marimba and piano in a small room.

Postby Sam Inglis » Mon Jun 03, 2019 12:39 pm

Whereabouts are you based? If you're not a million miles away I'll come along and see if I can be any help!
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