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Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

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Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby bragimike » Fri May 10, 2019 10:08 am

I am part of a wind orchestra and we decided to make as professional a recording as we could in house. I hired the following equipment:

Mics: DPA 4011 TL Cardioid Stereo Kit
Pre- Amp: Millennia HV3D 8 Channel Mic Pre
Interface: MOTU 828 Mk3 Hybrid Firewire/USB Int

As we only had the gear for the weekend of the recording I played it safe and simply used the equipment as supplied. We were very happy with the end result , so it was a successful recording session.

However, I do wonder how vital the pre-amp is. My understanding is that the pre-amp boosts the signal from the mics and is used add colour to the signal before recording. In the case of the orchestra I kept the EQ flat, so there was not real tonal shaping being done by the pre-amp. So my question is: if we do another recording is the pre-amp a necessity, assuming that the signal is hot enough through the MOTU? The MOTU supplies phantom power so that wouldn't be an issue.

Any advice would be appreciated.
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 10, 2019 10:35 am

If you want a accurate recording of an acoustic ensemble then, as you surmise, the preamp is unnecessary. With good mics (which you had) the interface's onboard preamps will do the job very well.

The biggest gains come from recording in a good sounding room, domestic rooms don't usually sound great but some improvised acoustic treatment can help. A couple of duvets hung behind the mics and/or behind the ensemble, added to plenty of soft furnishings in a typical living room and you can get decent results.

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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 10, 2019 11:35 am

bragimike wrote:My understanding is that the pre-amp boosts the signal from the mics and is used add colour to the signal before recording.

The preamp does indeed boost the signal from the mic to line level so it can be recorded. And some preamps are intended to add some 'colour' to the signal for effect -- but usually only when deliberately driven hard. However, the Millennia is actually a pretty clean and neutral preamp.

So my question is: if we do another recording is the pre-amp a necessity, assuming that the signal is hot enough through the MOTU? [/quote]

The MOTU has a couple of preamps of its own, so would allow you make a recording with a simple stereo pair directly... It could be argued that the quality of the Millennia preamp is higher, but whether you would really notice the difference depends on so many factors that it could be argued about over several pints... ;-)

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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby bragimike » Fri May 10, 2019 12:59 pm

Thank you for the replies. It's good to find that all these years of reading SOS have not been entirely in vain and that my understanding is not too far from the mark!

As the orchestra is considering undertaking a similar recording session next year, I have a few semi-related questions to ask:

I set up the mics in an XY configuration a few feet behind the conductor and as high up as we could get them. The result was a little biased toward the players at the front. Would making the mics a bit higher and aimed further toward the back of the orchestra even things out or would it be better to move the mics further back knowing that this would reduce the stereo width and introduce more room ambience?

The room we used for the recording is a school lecture theatre which is relatively dead acoustically. I used Cubase for the comping and editing and added a hall reverb to liven things up, some EQ to balance things and a little compression for levelling. Is this a sensible approach and is there anything more I could do improve things?

Are there any other tips that would help me?

The orchestra is made up of about 60 people and a standard wind band set up with woodwind at the front, brass, one double bass and percussion right at the back.

If these questions should go on a separate post, I'm happy to do that.
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby ef37a » Fri May 10, 2019 1:24 pm

Hi bragimike and welcome.
Can I ask, do you intend to purchase a recording rig at some point? If so it seems to me that your best bet would be one of those delicious Sound Devices portable recorders?

You say you got good results with an XY pair but there were "issues", this can be corrected by more microphones (I am not qualified to tell you how but many here certainly are!) and the SD recorders can be had with multiple mic channels and from Hugh's reports on the machines you would be hard pressed to find better pre amps if you want clean and accurate.

The facilities on many conventional interfaces seem a bit redundant.

Not cheap of course but if 60 guys and gals chip in?
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 10, 2019 1:58 pm

bragimike wrote:I set up the mics in an XY configuration a few feet behind the conductor and as high up as we could get them. The result was a little biased toward the players at the front.

That's the inherent nature of XY cardioids.

Personally, I'm not a fan of this technique and hardly ever employ it. If you're keen to use the DPA 4011s again, then an ORTF* array placed further back would be a better bet. (*Other near-spaced arrays are available -- NOS, DIN, etc)

The ORTF array has a stereo recording angle of about 90 degrees, so needs to be placed a reasonable distance behind the conductor to 'see' the entire orchestra. That will give you a much better balance and sense of perspective front-back of the orchestra, but it will also give you more room sound... which may be a good or bad thing depending on the room! ;-)

Would making the mics a bit higher and aimed further toward the back of the orchestra even things out

Yes, to a degree... but if you think about the geometry of the situation it would need to go a very long way up!

...or would it be better to move the mics further back knowing that this would reduce the stereo width and introduce more room ambience?

If you're going to move them back anyway, I'd go for something like an ORTF array instead -- and that would at least cure the stereo width problem.

I used Cubase for the comping and editing and added a hall reverb to liven things up, some EQ to balance things and a little compression for levelling. Is this a sensible approach

Yes... although I'd prefer to find a more appropriate sounding room instead of having to fudge things after the event.

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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby John Willett » Fri May 10, 2019 2:02 pm

If the orchestra sound good in the room, then a recording with the mics in the right place should also sound good. :thumbup:

Personally I think I would use an ORTF set-up, rather than XY, but that's up to you.

Positioning behind the conductor is normally the best, as you say, but it's worth while to stand in the place where you want to place the microphones and listen with your ears first as that will help you find the best position.

As has been said, although the Millenia is excellent, if you are recording withoiut EQ (as I always do) you don't need it and can use the pre-amps in the USB interface.
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby bragimike » Fri May 10, 2019 3:52 pm

In answer to various points raised:

I am very much in favour of purchasing our own semi-pro recording set up. I currently record concerts with a H2N with a view to uploading to youtube if we play the piece well enough! But with better gear available I would have more opportunity to experiment with mic placement and the signal path prior to recording which would optimize recording time when everyone is there. The sticking point is persuading the orchestra committee to part with hard cash!

I would have liked to have tried an ORFT set up. But, as we only had the gear for a short time, I erred on the side of caution and stuck to XY. If we use the same gear next time I would try ORFT first and, if the balance is better, not use XY.

The room we recorded in is the one we use for rehearsals. As I say, it's pretty lifeless but it allow everything to be heard and was deemed better for practice. The obvious advantage of using this for the recording is familiarity. So setting up the recording is easier. A more lively room may well be more appropriate, but I'd have to spend more time proir to the recording determining mic placement etc.

On a personal note the whole process is quite intense for me as not only am I recording and then producing the final product, but I'm playing in the orchestra too. So I have the gear next to me and I monitor it while playing. Not an ideal situation as you can imagine!
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby blinddrew » Fri May 10, 2019 4:05 pm

bragimike wrote:On a personal note the whole process is quite intense for me as not only am I recording and then producing the final product, but I'm playing in the orchestra too. So I have the gear next to me and I monitor it while playing. Not an ideal situation as you can imagine!
I'm sure you have the sympathy of a lot of folks on here. A lot of us are wearing multiple hats when we're doing stuff like this, whether that's recording or live sound, and if you've got any kind of standards you do apply a fair bit of pressure to yourself! :)
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 10, 2019 5:43 pm

The H2N is a decent bit of kit for the money but upgrading to something better needn't cost Sound Devices money. Do you have a reasonably modern laptop (say, less than 10 years old)? then a couple of decent mics and a modest audio interface. If it was my money I'd consider a pair of Line Audio CM3s (by reputation on here) and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, which would cost around £400. If more money is available the 18i8 has 4 mic inputs which would give you more options if you get more ambitious later on, or a Zoom F4 if you absolutely must have a standalone recorder (and I do see the attraction of that).

Having ;looked at a UK hire firm, the three items you hired in cost £160 a day from them (so maybe £250 for a weekend?) it wouldn't take many recording sessions to recoup the cost of a small recording rig.
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Fri May 10, 2019 10:07 pm

Coming late to this thread, but you’ve had some good responses. I would support using an ORTF approach over XY which I often find too clinical, but has been said it is room and positioning dependent. I also often use a couple of Omni mics as outriggers (at around 600mm spacing on the same bar) which gives me further options in terms of adding spaciousness - again room dependent.

If you’re looking at buying gear, it’s important to ‘future proof’ your purchase as much as possible. With this in mind, and bearing in mind you are playing as well as engineering, I’d be thinking of a portable recording solution with at least four preamps. This would allow the above configuration to be used. If you think you may want to spot mic soloists you’ll need more preamps. The Sound Devices MixPre units are as good as you’ll probably ever need (I use them for broadcast and professional release projects) and are very good value. The Zoom F4/F8 are a very good second best.

With microphone selection the sky is the limit but you could start with Line Audio CM3 (wide cardioid) and OM1 (Omni).

And regarding monitoring and playing, once setup, there’s little to do except take notes during a performance, something your conductor could do, or indeed you can do retrospectively. Likewise if you’re recording rehearsals, running takes, technically you don’t need to change anything - have the conductor mark up a score and have him/her or a producer make the calls.

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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby John Willett » Sat May 11, 2019 12:16 pm

Bob Bickerton wrote:Coming late to this thread, but you’ve had some good responses. I would support using an ORTF approach over XY which I often find too clinical, but has been said it is room and positioning dependent. I also often use a couple of Omni mics as outriggers (at around 600mm spacing on the same bar) which gives me further options in terms of adding spaciousness - again room dependent.

Yes, this works well and I have used it several times. :thumbup:

Be careful with relative levels.
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby bragimike » Mon May 13, 2019 12:53 pm

Thans to everyone who's beed kind enough to reply. In considering purchasing the equipment. Does anyone have any recommendations for a USB interface that can also record to an internal memory card? Or would such a device compromise the quality of the recording?
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Mon May 13, 2019 1:19 pm

bragimike wrote:Thans to everyone who's beed kind enough to reply. In considering purchasing the equipment. Does anyone have any recommendations for a USB interface that can also record to an internal memory card? Or would such a device compromise the quality of the recording?

There’s lots including the SD MixPres and Zoom F range. No compromise of recording.

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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon May 13, 2019 1:21 pm

Thing of it as a portable recorder that also works as a USB interface (as most do these days), the ones that get most recommended on here are the Sound Devices MixPre range and the Zoom F4/F8.

must learn to type faster :D
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Re: Is a Pre-Amp necessary?

Postby ef37a » Mon May 13, 2019 2:51 pm

"must learn to type faster"

And better Sam. "Thing"? Gahh! Comes to us all mate.

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