A three-way system designed to achieve highly accurate sound reproduction, the KH 310 A was created for music mixing and mastering, as well as for broadcasting and post, in stereo or surround configurations. Possible applications include use as a near-field monitor, as a front loudspeaker in mid-sized multi-channel systems, or as a rear loudspeaker in a larger multi-channel system.
The KH 310 A joins a growing line of Neumann near-field, midfield, and control monitors, as well as two different subwoofers.
Availability commences in early May, with an MSRP of $2,249.95 per speaker.
Here are the full details, direct from Neumann:
The cutting edge electro-acoustic performance of the KH 310 A is based on newly developed drivers housed in a sealed cabinet — this ensures extremely accurate reproduction over the entire frequency response at surprisingly high reproduction levels. The new KH 310 A, along with the KH 120 monitor Neumann launched in 2010, demonstrates that Neumann is not only identified with first-class microphones but also manufactures sound transducers of equally high quality for the end of the signal chain.
The KH 310 A is suited for use as a near-field monitor for mixing and mastering, or as a front loudspeaker in medium-sized surround systems, or as a rear loudspeaker for larger mult-channel systems. It is recommended for demanding applications in the fields of music production, broadcasting, post production and mastering. In combination with the Neumann studio subwoofers, KH 810 and KH 870, which feature a 7.1 High Definition Bass Manager, the KH 310 A monitor provides users with a perfect surround solution. The system is particularly relevant for use in the movie industry, which often requires monitoring solutions for multichannel recordings with 8 or more audio channels.
The KH 310 A’s treble, midrange and bass drivers have all been designed and tested by Neumann. Each driver is carefully optimized using acoustic simulations and undergoes an extensive series of measurements, ensuring an extremely linear reproduction across the entire frequency range. The bass driver provides an accurate response down to 34 Hz. This is achieved using a sealed cabinet design that provides extremely fast transient response. The mid-frequencies, essential for speech and vocals, are reproduced with exceptional precision by a dedicated soft dome midrange driver. Meanwhile, the high frequencies are handled by an alloy fabric dome in an elliptical Mathematically Modeled Dispersion waveguide. The result is an authentic sound, rich in detail, that provides a wide sweet spot while minimizing reflections in the vertical plane.
Three powerful class-AB amplifiers and a high-capacity SMPS power supply deliver very high headroom to the system with no audible distortion, and the acoustical controls for bass, low-mid and high frequencies make the KH 310 A a problem solver for acoustically challenging environments such as edit suites and OB vans. The KH 310 A is magnetically shielded and an exstensive range of accessories offers a diverse range of mounting options.
In October, on the eve of her latest album release, Feist debuted her new repertoire to a small audience in a clandestine location in NYC. Joined by an 18-piece orchestra, she and her band performed the dynamic songs off Metals in a reverberant crypt at Church of the Intercession in Harlem.
Only 150 guests got to see the spectacle live (and help pad the chamber), but that just scratches the surface of what the audience for this concert will be. The Brooklyn-based creative collective known as Mason Jar Music staged the entire production for video – part of its popular Mason Jar Music Presents series that captures artists performing in old buildings around NYC, late at night.
“We called in every favor for this one,” says Daniel Knobler, producer, engineer and Mason Jar co-founder. “We handled every aspect of the production – transcribed the arrangements from the record and put the orchestral ensemble together, recorded the audio, did the live sound and monitor mixes, filmed, art-directed and post-produced it.
“And it nearly killed us,” he adds, cracking up his Mason Jar co-founder Jon Seale. He’s exaggerating, but maybe still slightly amazed they managed to pull this one off.
The Feist concert was Mason Jar’s largest-scale, highest-profile production to date. And the multi-tasking – even though these guys seem like born multi-taskers – can be overwhelming. It’s only been a year since many in the Mason Jar collective graduated from NYU – Knobler and Seale from the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, others from Tisch, or the Jazz or Music Composition programs – and in that time, Mason Jar has become a full-fledged multimedia production company.
“This is just the way things are moving,” Seale says. “It’s really difficult to be in the game if all you do is audio.
“Dan and I went to school for record production. It’s what we do on a day-to-day basis, but in terms of getting the word out there about Mason Jar, about us as producers, the videos have done so much more than we could have ever done just on our own making records.”
We’re sitting in Mason Jar’s basement recording studio in Kensington. It’s a residential studio; the collective largely works and lives in house. Upstairs, you’d likely find a number of other creatives buzzing around on any given day – filmmakers and editors, post sound guys, arrangers, composers and musicians no doubt working on a flurry of projects.
But “Mason Jar Music Presents” is the collective’s calling card.
The flagship video concert series gets right to the Mason Jar ethos – it’s a spirit of keeping things real, of bringing accomplished musicians together in inspiring acoustic spaces and leveraging new technology to capture and share that with the world.
The company’s motto “Preserving Analog Principles in a Digital Age” comes to life through these videos, shot in old churches, schools, abandoned industrial spaces, crypts; the productions seem to draw inspiration from the spaces themselves, and create something new, transcendent, and easily distributed online.
In the midst of the ongoing series – for which they just shot an episode with My Brightest Diamond – Mason Jar Music has additionally been working on an even larger-scale project: a feature-length music documentary on the singer/songwriter Josh Garrels.
Through one of their most popular MJM Presents, featuring Garrels performing in a Manhattan church, the group connected with a patron that funded a trip out to Mayne Island (Vancouver) last summer. Knobler and Seale assembled an ensemble, audio/video crew, and battery-powered recording rig to capture Garrels and the group performing in remote locations all over the island.
Their experience turned out to be movie-sized – as you can gather from The Sea In Between trailer below:
It might seem overly earnest to some more business-minded, but the Mason Jar aim is true: they’re out to capture authentic performances, and they go to great lengths to do this and to do it in a hardly-done-before fashion.
“All the technological advancements in music production and creation have been really exciting,” notes Seale, “But unfortunately so much of it has been used almost abusively in a way…to create an unrealistic portrayal of what musicians actually do, what they sound like.
“For us, one of the things we’d like to do is to reclaim the technology and say: this is what we could be doing with it…we’re going to take these small high-definition cameras, and these field recorders that can now record 10 channels, and take them somewhere and do something amazing with them. Rather than programming all of our instruments and making our voices sound in tune, etc.”
INSIDE MASON JAR MUSIC STUDIOS
On the morning of our visit to Mason Jar HQ, Knobler and Seale – who are also bandmates in the funk-folk band Flearoy – had just finished producing a debut full-length album, Roots & Bells, for the sweet, folksy, indie-pop trio Town Hall. Later that afternoon, an 11-piece Afrobeat ensemble EMEFE would be in to track their upcoming album. And work with The Whiskey Collection – a new bluegrass/folk ensemble of Juilliard musicians – was about to begin.
Down a few steps from a side-door entrance, the homey Mason Jar studio provides a versatile tracking room for the collective’s projects, and a comfortable space for bands.
The live room is home to a colorful spread of vintage and well-worn instruments – Hammond organ and Wurlitzer, Silvertone banjo, full drum kit and percussion accoutrements; and the control room is a narrow sideline off the vocal/iso booth.
The Mason Jar Studio is a modest affair but anyone who works here has likely been DIYing it for long enough to see that their bases are more than covered – by the Pro Tools HD system + True Systems Precision 8 and Hamptone mic pres, Manley Vox Box, Neve 8816 summing mixer and LA2A and 1176s in the racks. Like in their mobile rigs, the studio equipment has been carefully selected, hard-earned, and in some cases… sponsored.
Starting out in 2010, Mason Jar self-funded their video projects, but a grant from NYU and a Kickstarter campaign helped them stay in the game long enough to establish a reputation.
Support from a number of gear sponsors, including Peluso and Sennheiser/Neumann, Gotham Sound and ARRI, helps keep equipment rental fees at a minimum. Even though clients are coming to them now, says Knobler, “the nature of these big video shoots requires so many people in so many disciplines that even the largest budgets get eaten up pretty quickly.”
Knobler and Seale cite Motown and Daptone Records, and The Band, as influences in what they do. And new technology is what has enabled them to take up and advance these great traditions with little budget.
“Some of our favorite records are live – like Aretha Franklin and Allman Brothers records – from back when some of the best records were live records,” says Seale, “And people really responded to them because they felt like they were there. That’s a feeling that we want to bring to all of our projects.
“I think people respond to our videos because it makes them feel a little bit closer to that time when something was conceived and created.”
From a business perspective, Knobler describes the videos as a “front” to the rest of the creative work he and the Mason Jar family produce. “From Feist, two of our arrangers ended up writing horn charts for Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear’s solo record,” Knobler cites.
“Our arrangers/composers do film scores and orchestrations, and we have filmmakers who do documentaries and narrative music videos and concert videos. And a lot of the work feeds each other – [i.e.] we did some music for the Food Network, and now our cinematographer is working with the Food Network.”
Finally, the videos present Knobler and Seale as producer/engineers with a lot of heart and soul, and a lot of savvy. And these days, that goes a long way when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.
Knobler puts it best: “The videos have been fun, and promotional for Mason Jar, and they’ve enabled us to work with some artists who – let’s be honest – would never have come to our basement to make a record.”
Visit www.masonjarmusic.com for more information on Knobler, Seale and the other Mason Jar members, and to get in touch.
DUMBO, BROOKLYN: I met microphone designer Dimitri Wolfwood and his [Ronin Applied Sciences] business partner Fenton Joseph at the Tape Op party during AES New York last fall. Joel Hamilton had arrived with them and introduced us, and Dimitri immediately took me into his world of ultimate microphone design. Before I knew it, I was swept up in his excitement about capsules and transformers, the virtues of film caps, and the sin of electrolytics.
In his introduction, Joel spoke with excitement about these guys having a new approach to tube microphone design, that – to his ears – had achieved a level of complexity and balance he’d only known from the Neumann classics.
I talked microphones with Dimitri for a while that night, and we kept in touch. After a couple more conversations, I asked him if I could demo his first microphone, the Pegasus. He and Fenton arrived at the studio just as I was setting up for a session, helped set up the mic, and then set me loose.
A Few Words For The Uninitiated…
Large diaphragm condenser (LDC) microphones, especially those powered and amplified by a tube, tend to be more subjective sound transducers. Much more than most small diaphragm mics, a tube LDC traditionally exhibits a strong personality, for which you pay to some degree in “accuracy.” However, when that personality is paired up with the right source, the recording takes on a hyper-reality that can be gripping and emotional.
Traditionally, the small diaphragm condenser, and the tradition of FET-based electronics, has been a quest for different types of accuracy. The tube LDC is the one that’s always strived for character and attitude. In so doing, they wind up being useful for a different type of application.
As an extreme example, measurement microphones have a flat EQ response from a couple Hertz to 20 kHz and beyond – but the results are often “unmusical”. A tube LDC, on the other hand, usually makes no pretense towards flat response, but rather boasts an ability to give a living, interactive response to the source, not unlike a guitar amp gives the guitar and guitarist. Accuracy really has little to do with it: the question is whether its distinct personality relates well to the instrument, like when two people meet each other.
Another side-note about tubes: Tubes have a reputation for being the choice when you want “warmth” or “good distortion.” This is a poor generalization, and one that doesn’t help us understand the Pegasus. While some tube circuits can sound very good when operating in their non-linear (distorted) regions, there are as many exceptions as there are examples. First, tube distortion is not always pleasant or warm, let alone the right choice for the application. Additionally, some tube circuits sound unusably terrible when they distort, sometimes even being a frigid opposite of what is commonly mis-described as “tube warmth.”
Second, some tube equipment, including the Pegasus, can be stunningly linear, and require as much effort to be pushed into the non-linear region as any solid-state circuit. So the choice of tubes over transistors is only in part about distortion: from the point of view of the microphone designer, it’s more about choosing a particular tradition of priorities in signal amplification.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
I tested the microphone at Vinegar Hill Sound, where I engineer and produce records along with studio owner and engineer Justin King. Our live room is about 400 square feet with 18-foot ceilings. Two walls are exposed, rough brick walls; one is drywall, and one is cloth-covered broad-band absorption. We have worked to achieve good spectral and temporal balance within the room’s natural medium-length reverb, and it is a pronounced feature of the room.
We work in Pro Tools HD 9 and use a Toft 32-channel ATB board for monitoring and mixing, but we track through outboard pre’s – API, Neve, Manley, Telefunken, Chandler – through outboard processing, and then feed directly into Lynx Aurora converters.
The Ronin Pegasus Test Sessions
To evaluate, I tested the Pegasus on various sources: voice, drum kit, kick drum, cello, trumpet, melodica, harmonica, piano, and pump organ (I will not discuss all of these). The microphones I compared it to were two tube LDC’s: the Telefunken Elektroakustik ELA-M 251E reissue and the Telefunken R-F-T AK-47; as well as mics of differing architectures: a Coles 4038 ribbon, a Telefunken ELA-M 260 SDC (reissue), a Neumann KM184 SDC, and a Shure SM7 dynamic.
The first source I tried was voice. I tracked vocals for Diamond Doves singer-band-members Nick Kinsey, Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and Brigham Brough. Each of the three trade off singing lead vocal for each song, so we had to do the “usual suspects” mic shoot-out for each of their three different voices. This was a stark demonstration of the characteristics of each microphone. We tried the Pegasus, the Telefunken ELA-M 251E, the Telefunken R-F-T AK47, and the Shure SM7 (a dynamic mic).
What the Pegasus brought to each voice was musicality and balance: a robust low-end with formidable, but not overwhelming proximity effect; substantial body and detail in the lower-mids; a clarity and depth to the upper-mids, and an extended but well-tempered high-end that faithfully celebrated the higher-order harmonics.
The Telefunken 251E was by far the most similar example, but it had its own character that felt like a different take on the same subject; a more exaggerated proximity effect which made it a little more unruly (and more hyper-realistic), a similar depth to the lower mids, an upper-mid focus that was about half-an-octave higher than the Pegasus, and a sparkly high-end that nevertheless remained on a tighter leash than with the Pegasus. Transients were also a little more “gooey” than the Pegasus.
Neither of these two mics ever sounded like they got pushed into that resonating acoustic-distortion that lesser mics revert to under pressure. They remained open and tolerant of high sound pressure levels as well as ultra-resonant sources.
The Telefunken AK47, on the other hand, was much easier to push into its own resonance. It is a generally brighter mic with less depth and subtlety than the Pegasus, or the 251 for that matter. It has a bit of high-mid hype that can get edgy, which can be useful for pulling out nice natural distortions in vocals. As it happened, that was just what the doctor ordered for Nick’s voice, which has a gritty texture in that territory that distorted nicely with the AK47′s own grit – the two jousted together for a well-formed acoustic-electric distortion that became very flattering. But on Brigham’s Barry White-type baritone, it peeled the highs away into their own separate texture, where they laid distracting and out-of-balance. Likewise, Wyndham’s Brian Wilson-esque falsetto and soaring highs were dragged from sparkly to screechy through the AK47.
This edgy high-end raspiness also seemed to mask low-level information, especially in that range. So instead of casting a three-dimensional image with foreground, midfield and background, as the Pegasus and the 251 did, it depicted a much flatter image with less subtlety.
The SM7 suffered from some of the same problems; but what it lacked in complexity and easily-conjured resonance, it made up for with its characteristic impact and strength. It is a different type of mic that does a different type of thing; but it does it very well. The SM7 gives the transients a rougher handling that nevertheless glues the sound together in a lovely way – an inexact explosive intensity that replaces clarity and depth as the feature presentation. It can get a tiny bit boxy when people start to howl. But I have always found that what the SM7 lacks in precision sonics, it nevertheless imparts by offering the ear a robust landscape to re-imagine those lost details.
The Pegasus sounded universally beautiful on all three singers. It captured the three voices’ low-end weight, mid-range details and high-end harmonics with authority; In spite of that, it was not always the best fit among the group. I chose the Pegasus for Wyndham’s higher voice, but the AK47 and SM7 were much more flattering to Nick’s alto, and the ELA-M 251E had just the right mid-high-end sheen to balance Brigham’s “Papa Bear” baritone.
Pegasus on Strings
The second source I tried the Pegasus on was cello. The night consisted of string section overdubs for singer/songwriter Erin McKeown. I have had success before miking cello with a vintage U47, which brings out the creamy mid-range lushness of the wood, and the depth and size of the instrument; other times, I have used an Electro-Voice RE20 to great effect, getting a tight low-end impact without the bloated, proximity-effect lows becoming overwhelming. But, here, the Pegasus was stunning in the extension and detail of the instrument’s high-end information, couched in a rich, comfortable, and understated low-end.
I have never heard the detail in the rosin and strings emerge with such elegance and complexity, and somehow, those airy, effortless highs were well-merged with the lows and lower-mids to form a very unified sound. The Coles 4038, in comparison, was slow to respond to the harmonics, and only seemed to bring out the velvety lows and mids without addressing the highs. I even tried a high-end shelf boost to bring them out, but the sound never had the wide-spectrum of the Pegasus. They appeared, but seemed to be an after-thought. However, on the violin and viola the 4038′s sounded absolutely regal (unfortunately, there was no time to try the Pegasus on them).
When it came to recording drums for the Diamond Doves, I set up the Pegasus and the ELA-M 251E to be coincident for an old-fashioned shoot-out. I flipped them into omni, and placed them to be mono kit mics. This was another very interesting experiment that demonstrated the capabilities of both mics to take in a lot of information.
The Pegasus had a tighter low-end response, while the 251 has a more sizeable bottom. The Pegasus gave a good deal of focus on the lower and “mid”-mids, from about 500 Hz right on up to a little over 3k, whereas this region was more taught and scooped with the 251. The Pegasus then backed off from there to 8kHz, leaving the cymbals smoother, and rendering the transient mid-highs more realistically. Then the Pegasus had an extended crispness to the high end, up beyond the frequencies this engineer can still hear. The 251 had a gentle rolloff to the high-highs, maintaining a focus on the lows and the mid-highs from 4-8k.
Finally, the transient response between the two was noticeably different – the Pegasus had substantially more stick and batter-attack than the 251, leaving me with a little more of the drummer in the picture. The 251 seemed to get the explosion of the skin without as much information on the thing used to set it off.
With singer/songwriter Keith Polasko, I turned the Pegasus to another usual LDC task: the Kick-Out microphone. I set it about three feet in front of the kick drum inside a makeshift tunnel of insulation panels and blankets. Again, I was struck by the complexity: I could hear the detailed skin of the batter head and the body of the resonating shell as a unified panorama, with neither element competing with the other. Various bands of information lay side-by-side in perfect harmony. I needed no EQ and mixed to taste with a Beta 91 as Kick-In.
On Overdubs (Horns, Melodica, Etc.)
I conducted my fourth round of experimentation during overdubs for Chris Harford‘s upcoming record, Lay the Passage. Ween bass-player Dave Dreiwitz came in to play trumpet, harmonica and melodica over a couple different tracks. The two serious contenders were the Pegasus and the Coles 4038.
With trumpet, the Pegasus’ focus was on the delicacy of the airflow, the higher-order harmonics emanating from the bell, and the resonance of the brass. It was a bright and airy sound that stood in stark relief against the dark and creamy Coles, which focused more on the girth of the low-mids and fundamentals of the brass. For this particular song, the upper-range space the Pegasus highlighted was already firmly owned by banjo and percussive close-miked acoustic guitar, so I chose the mic that held the harmonics in tight rein – the rich Coles 4038 ribbon. But I can imagine that for the right type of music, perhaps up-tempo Latin Jazz or Ska, the Pegasus would deliver the brightness and aggression of trumpets without getting harsh and spitty like many LDC’s.
Harmonica was too honky for the Pegasus to do much with – it was the one instrument where I simply did not like the Pegasus’ response.
The biggest surprise for me was using the Pegasus with Dave playing a cheap melodica – an instrument that seems to have very little complexity to its sound. But through the Pegasus, it became a far richer instrument than it sounded in the room, which was a real brain-teaser for me. Somehow we were getting more information out of the system than we were putting in, which violates many of the principles I take for granted. It became a very artful pad with several different and distinct layers of material in the sound, each with their own winding movement, twisting and turning – out of a $25 plastic children’s toy! It was exciting to see the mic at its finest.
Complexity of Character
Without going into too much detail that can be found elsewhere, I learned from talking with Dimitri that the levels of complexity and low-level sensitivity of this mic are due to an extraordinary and completely rethought approach to making ultra-simple and uncontaminated circuits that are only possible using custom and cost-no-object parts. A Stephen Paul one-micron diaphragm, expensive toroidal transformers, a never-before-used inductor-loaded circuit and a never-before-used tube, film and polypro caps that cost up to $50 a-piece: These are the elements that go into a mic that can capture multiple zones in its dynamic range with equal musicality.
The results shine in a mic that captures complexity of character, while maintaining a balance that makes it a beautiful choice for a wide range of applications. The strength and complexity of the sound make it a unique, 21st-century addition to any great mic closet.
One thing: At $4,200, this is not a microphone for project studios. The Pegasus is only a reasonable investment for full-time engineers and producers who already have a sizeable mic closet with all the usual suspects. An engineer who is still building his mic locker would be far better off acquiring an assortment of the standard, amazing mics that cost less than $1,000.
As the saying goes, the difference between a $200 mic and a $60 mic is much bigger than that of a $200 mic and a $1,000 mic – and some cheap mics are absolutely legendary (see the SM57). But if you have all those, and you’re still looking for something different to fill out your palette, then this just may be an alternative to adding a vintage U47 or C12.
Affordability is a variable like any other, but Dimitri’s creation calls for all top-of-the-line components paired with utmost concern for elegance and functionality of design. He set out to put together his best ideas about every element of the microphone system, and use only high-quality parts to achieve an “ultimate, non-upgradeable,” and completely original microphone. The Pegasus design philosophy falls into the category of never compromising functionality for cost, and never designing by concession to either tradition or to saving a dime.
That is not for everyone, and doesn’t have to be. But for those who are lucky enough to be able to afford this mic, I’m telling you, you will know where that money went.
The Pegasus is manufactured by Ronin Applied Sciences on Long Island. Visit www.roninappliedsciences.com for more information.
Reed Black is an engineer, producer, musician, and songwriter based in Brooklyn. Prior to focusing on studio work, Black recorded and toured the world as keyboardist for Saves The Day and played/recorded/engineered with his subsequent eponymous band of the same members. He joined Vinegar Hill Sound as house engineer in July of 2011, where he has had the pleasure of recording for artists such as Vampire Weekend, Chris Harford, Erin McKeown, and Jeannine Hebb, among many others. Get in touch via www.reedblack.com.
Last week, we covered some of the best large diaphragm condenser mics around at an entry-level price of $300. This time, we’ll move up a bracket to review some of the most useful condensers available from $500 to $1,500 new.
Keep in mind that this list is no way conclusive. It only promises to offer a proven handful of options that I’ve used time and again, and which have consistently performed as some of the best in their class.
Also remember that this list focuses only on new condenser mics, and does not include ribbons, dynamics, or a whole array of used and vintage microphones that can be equally good options.
With that out of the way, here’s the roundup:
The Workhorse LDCs
AT4050 ($700 street)
As we mentioned last week, Audio-Technica was among the first companies to make condenser mics ubiquitous with their AT4033. They would ultimately take what they learned from the success of that mic and apply it to the slightly more expensive, significantly more well-rounded AT4050.
This is a mic that repeatedly fails to sound bad. It may never have the shimmer of a C12, the body of a U47, or velvety response of a U67, but it was never intended to. The 4050 was designed as an affordable, transparent, swiss-army knife and at that, it succeeds without question.
It’s a workhorse of a microphone that’s become a staple at pragmatic studios, where it’s routinely used on percussion, voice and acoustic instruments. It now occupies a niche once monopolized by the AKG C-414, and although it’s a mic may not always dazzle, it will never disappoint.
AT4047 ($700 street)
Eventually, Audio-Technica decided to build a condenser mic that would offer a little more character and attitude than the decidedly neutral AT4050.
The resulting AT4047 is a design that’s loosely based around Neumann’s classic FET 47. This mic has a bit more midrange “push” than the 4050, and I like mine on kick drums, bass amps and guitar cabs. It also suits plenty of male vocals, especially when a little body and edge are called for.
C-414 ($800-$950 street)
There may be more distinct versions of the AKG C-414 than any other major microphone in history.
For those of you who are confused by all the models, I recommend the audio history of the C414 I wrote for Trust Me, I’m a Scientist. And for those of you who are in the market for a new mic, just know that there are currently two versions of the 414 available: the relatively flat XLS and the intentionally brighter XL-II.
I’m still a fan of my vintage versions of this mic, but the newest models are well-built, and address some issues I had with the original pattern switches. Their self noise has also been brought down significantly.
To my ear, these new versions sound a little leaner and tighter than some of the originals, but this might be well suited to modern tastes. It’s also worth remembering that the differences can sound slight to some ears.
However your tastes run, the 414 has been a studio staple since it was first introduced, and it’s still a natural choice on drum overheads, stringed acoustic instruments, horns, pianos, amps, and just about anything you can throw at it. I tend to like the brighter “II” versions on acoustic guitars and voice.
Sputnik ($700-800 street)
The Sputnik is a funny-looking, affordable tube microphone that’s much better than I expected. According to its product literature, it was designed to sound like a hybrid of two of the most classic mics in history, and aims to deliver the upper midrange bump of the U47 and the high-end lift of a C12.
This can be a recipe for disaster in most inexpensive mics, but somehow the Sputnik pulls it off. It has a sound that’s forward and clear with just a bit of attitude and tube grit. It may not a great choice on already bright-sounding instruments, but the Sputnik can add life to dull-sounding tracks without taking them into the realm of irritation.
The Sputnik is a good character condenser for a mic locker in need of some zest on the cheap. It sounds more balanced than many affordable, bright condenser mics and there a closeout deals on this now-discontinued model at several dealers.
C 451 B ($580 Street)
For some reason, people seem to have forgotten all about the AKG C 451 B. It’s a small-diaphragm design that hasn’t changed too much over the years. At one time it was one of the best bets in small diaphragm condenser mics. Today, it still delivers a sound that’s pretty, clean, and crisp, and still does well on acoustic stringed instruments and in all sorts of tight places. The price hasn’t risen too much over the years, either.
MK-012 ($380+ street)
The Oktava MK-012 has become one of the most popular small diaphragm condensers of the past ten years, thanks in part to rave reviews in Tape Op Magazine and online. These mics are affordable, versatile and a great deal when purchased in pairs.
To my ears, the sound of the MK012s is a bit more broad and “throaty” than some of the other popular SDCs on the market. I like them on hi-hats, toms, and on sensitive acoustic instruments that don’t agree with brighter-sounding condensers.
KM-184 ($850 street)
Neumann makes a few mics for under $1,500, but the one I think deserves serious consideration at most studios is the KM-184.
Detractors say that this mic isn’t as silky or smooth as the original KM84. That’s true, and by design, the KM-184 offers a bit more presence than the originals. This seems to be a general trend across microphone brands, and some engineers argue that using a slightly brighter mic saves them from applying the equalizers they’d reach for otherwise.
Despite the changes over the years, the KM-184 remains a well-balanced mic that can be great on acoustic guitars, string instruments, snare drums and others. If you can find an original at a good price – then yes – those are definitely nice too.
The “Blue Collar Boutiques”
195 ($1,000 street)
The Bock Audio 195 is a big, clean-sounding mic with a special “fat” switch designed to deliver extra heft. It’s a good deal on a good FET condenser from one of the best makers of high-end boutique microphones in the world.
MA-200 ($1000 street)
Want a bright, airy, affordable microphone that sounds really good? The MA-200 has one tube, one polar pattern and one sound that works especially well on voice. This mic has quite a bit of lift in the high band, but it never sounds sizzly, spitty or harsh.
The MA-200′s silky, enhanced top-end is what I often want a mic to sound like when I’m done EQing it. It’s not always the right mic, but when it is, it can be the perfect mic. Try it on voice, overheads and acoustic guitar.
22 251 and 2247 ($1,300 street)
Peluso makes excellent re-interpretations of the classic Neumann U47, AKG C12, and others for a fraction of the price. Models start at a list price of around $1,500 and go up from there. In a similar vein, Lawson and Telefunken are also worth a look, although both companies tend toward at a higher price-point.
That’s it from us from now. Stay tuned for future roundups featuring favorite dynamics and ribbons. And as the economy continues to improve, don’t be surprised to see us run features on some of the most coveted condensers around.
In the meantime, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below.
Both subs feature Neumann’s 7.1 High Definition Bass Manager technology, which is designed specifically to work well with high-definition video and accompanying 7.1 formats.
According to Neumann, the comprehensive 7.1 High Definition Bass Management system is an ideal complement to the Neumann KH 120 nearfield two-way monitor, introduced last fall. It can be used either as a subwoofer dedicated to reproducing the LFE channel, or as a means of providing low frequency extension with an increased maximum SPL.
The combination of KH 120 and KH 810 was created for music tracking, mixing and mastering, as well as broadcasting, project and post-production studios.
With the KH 810, facilities can assemble flexible monitoring systems for studios of different sizes, with a smooth, uniform response that ranges from below 20 Hz to above 20 kHz.
Additionally, the integrated 7.1 High Definition Bass Manager is compatible with all formats, from mono to 7.1 high definition systems such as Blu-ray. Eight electronically balanced analog XLR inputs are provided for flexible interconnectivity for modern studios.
Features of the KH 810 and KH 870 include:
• Four-mode LFE channel processing for maximum compatibility across all formats
• 4th order crossovers and flexible acoustic controls for seamless system integration
• Built-in volume control permits centralized system adjustment of replay levels, independent of the source
• Electronics can be located remotely to reduce cabling, and to allow the cabinet to be mounted flush to a wall
• State-of-the-art amplifier technologies and acoustic components have been used to ensure maximum accuracy of sound reproduction
• Robust 10-inch driver, solid cabinet, and carefully-designed ports guarantee tight, articulate, distortion-free low frequency reproduction down to 18 Hz; even at high playback levels
• By using sum output, Plane Wave Bass Array (PWBA) techniques can acoustically improve lateral consistency in the listening area and further increase low frequency linearity
• System flexibility is further enhanced by an extensive range of accessories
The KMS 104 D and KMS 105 D (MSRP: $1,398) are the digital counterparts to Neumann’s KMS 104 and KMS 105 dynamic vocal microphones.
Equipped with the core features of the existing models, the KMS 104 D (with its cardioid pattern) and the KMS 105 D (with its super-cardioid pattern) reportedly offer additional digital advantages such as an extended dynamic range, more robust operation and integrated peak limiters that prevent clipping.
When used alongside either the new DMI-2 or DMI-2 portable digital microphone interfaces and the Remote Control Software (RCS), pre-programmed settings can reportedly be stored inside the microphones, making it flexible and adaptable to different performance applications.
Neumann specs out the sound characteristics and features of the KMS 104 D and KMS 105 D as follows:
- Exceptionally clean sound transmission
- Very low self-generated noise (16 dB-A) and exceptionally high dynamic range (125 dB)
- Handles high sound pressure levels (141 dB SPL/159 dB SPL with 18 dB pre-attenuation/RCS)
- Optimized for speech and vocal miking at extremely close proximity
- Built-in high pass filter (-3 dB @ 80 Hz)
- Effective isolation from structure-borne sound
- Distinctive directivity of the capsule even in the bass range
- Integrated peak limiter/compressor/de-esser prevents overloads and/or clipping
Neumann’s new KMR 81 D digital shotgun microphone has been designed to deliver “stunning audio quality that complements the detailed visuals of HD and widescreen formats while, at $2,298 MSRP, being sensitive to broadcasters’ budgets.”
Suitable applications for the KMR 81 D include recordings for broadcasting/ENG, film and video productions, long-distance recordings requiring high directivity (such as nature recordings and sports games) and medium-length shotgun spot mic applications in noisy surroundings
According to Neumann: The KMR 81 D is equipped with the features of its non-digital counterpart — the successful KMR 81i — that have made it a favorite of sound engineers in movie and documentary productions. Its digital advantages include an extended dynamic range, more robust operation and integrated peak limiters that prevent clipping. The settings for all functions can be recalled, set and stored in the microphone by using one of Neumann’s digital microphone interfaces making it extremely adaptable and flexible.
Sound characteristics and features of the Neumann KMR 81 D:
- Exceptionally transparent and high detailed sound transmission
- Very low self-generated noise (9 dB-A) and high dynamic range (114 dB)
- Handling of high sound pressure level (123 dB SPL/141 dB SPL with 18 dB pre-attenuation (RCS)
- Integrated peak limiter/compressor/de-esser prevents overloads and/or clipping
- Extremely light weight of just 3.2 oz., ideal for handheld and boom/fishpole operations
- High lateral and back attenuation
- 90-degree recording angle (independent from frequency)
Finally, the DMI-2 portable is suitable for ENG and other field recording applications such as creating professional-quality sound recordings for sport, film and documentary. It is also an ideal tool for journalists, camera operators, directors and producers.
The unit supports two digital microphones and allows adjustment of gain, pre-attenuation and low cut filter settings at the device. The front panel display shows the selected gain, current signal level and any gain reduction; microphone presets can be stored inside the DMI-2 portable and recalled for use in the field, making it extremely adaptable for different applications.
Sound characteristics and features of the Neumann DMI-2 portable:
- Offers direct access to GAIN, PAD and low-cut microphone settings
- Stores up to 8 presets for all digital microphone parameters
- Power supplied via DC 10-18 V or AC/DC converter
- Integrated peak limiter prevents overloads and/or clipping
- Includes (2) AES 42 inputs, (1) AES EBU output, word clock
- Menu-driven control of the connected digital microphone via two push-switch rotary encoders with a data display (permitting the setting of microphone parameters like gain, pad and pre attenuation and the uploading of preset parameters)
MIDTOWN MANHATTAN: We bump into Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels in the elevator at Manhattan Center Studios. Though not exactly a shocking encounter, as we’re our way to visit his session in Studio 7, the meeting is no less thrilling: “You’re D.M.C.!” we gush. “Awesome!”
We’re about to flash back to 1986, the year of that famous Rick Rubin produced worlds-collide moment that is Run-D.M.C. doing Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.
Inside Studio 7, as Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas greets D.M.C., Public Enemy DJ Johnny Juice is already going on the turntables – that classic “Walk This Way” beat and iconic riff pumping through the studio monitors.
They’re all here to work on a “Walk This Way” remake to benefit The Felix Organization / Adoptees For Children, the charity D.M.C. co-founded with Sheila Jaffe. A new lyrical spin on the classic tune will help them promote the cause and raise the funds to send 200 foster kids to Camp Felix, the organization’s Putnam County summer camp.
Public Enemy bassist and producer Brian Hardgroove is co-producing the session with Douglas, the producer of the original Aerosmith track and the 1975 album, Toys in the Attic. Tommy Uzzo (L.L. Cool J, Method Man, Redman) is engineering. And we’ve got a front row seat on the action, as D.M.C. is freestyling with Johnny Juice on the decks.
“Man, the original sounds so incredible,” says D.M.C. “It’s funny, when we did this originally, we had never even heard the vocals – never heard it past the first guitar riff because the DJ would never let it play that far! Rick Rubin said ‘take the record, go sit in the basement, and learn the lyrics.’
“When we finally heard the lyrics, we got on the phone with Rick and said “Nah, you’re taking this rock-rap stuff too far. Africa Bambaata won’t understand one word he’s singing! But Jay knew what to do, he was like ‘Don’t do it like Steven and them, do it like it’s a rap written by Run-D.M.C.’ Me and Run, we weren’t getting it yet…”
And they weren’t necessarily sold on the idea. “We didn’t even know who Aerosmith was,” D.M.C. emphasizes. “I remember when we first met them in the studio, I was like “The Rolling Stones are here!” Because we knew who Mick Jagger was, but we didn’t know Steven Tyler.”
Listening back to the Aerosmith version in Studio 7, D.M.C. muses, “When you think about it, Steven is rapping on this song.”
Here, Douglas interjects, “Yeah, we didn’t know what else to do with it. We had the track and then we got the title from the movie Young Frankenstein. We’d all gone to see the movie one morning, and you know how the hunchback says [read in Igor voice] ‘Walk this way…’ Well, we came back to the studio and tried that line as the chorus! That’s how it all came together.”
Adaptation of a Classic: “Walk This Way” Anew
Referencing both the Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. versions of the track in Studio 7, Douglas, Hardgroove, D.M.C. and DJ Johnny Juice work out a slightly new arrangement for the Camp Felix-inspired take off. Then D.M.C. walks everyone through the Camp Felix lyrics before taking to the booth to lay down his verses, emphatic and strong.
Later, they track the musicians – including Andy Bassford on guitar, and singer Jean Beauvoir on the chorus – via the studio’s Neve VR console into Pro Tools. This is a highly capable room, with access to one of the largest tracking spaces in Manhattan (the Grand Ballroom) as well as microphones and gear of most every flavor.
Douglas notes, “I’ve worked out of Manhattan Center many times. I did the Supertramp record [Some Things Never Change] downstairs! We also mixed Aerosmith’s A Little South of Sanity here.”
With only one day to get the entire piece done in NYC, Hardgroove tracked the bass parts for “Walk This Way” ahead of time on his Pro Tools 9 system at home in Santa Fe. “I made the effort to get the bass as ‘classic’ sounding as possible,” he explains. “I used my Steinberger Synapse XS-1FPA-Custom with a little compression. When Jack and Tom Uzzo heard it, they dug it. No need to re-track it.”
When Hardgroove began producing sessions out of Manhattan Center’s Studio 4 (aka The Fuse Box) last year, he brought in manufacturer sponsors, including Sennheiser, to enhance the studio’s recording capabilities. So the mic cabinet here runs deep with Sennheiser and Neumann models – including Neumann U47s and 47 FET, U67s, U87s and TLM mics and Sennheiser 421, 441, MKH 8000 and 800 series and Evolution 900 series mics.
Tracking “Walk This Way,” Uzzo describes, “We used the Sennheiser MKH800 on D.M.C.’s rap, as a distance mic on the electric guitar, and to record the cowbell. We used a 421 as a close mic for the electric guitar. The singers (other than D) were recorded with a Neumann U-67, all through the Neve mic pre’s.
“The interesting thing about the session was the sound of the MKH800. I had never used one before. We compared to the U-67, and of course it sounded a little different, but the quality was very high, as you hear on D’s vocal. The pad also worked well, and didn’t destroy the sound, making it useful for the loud things like the cowbell.”
But gear aside, this session was about old friends coming together to revisit a classic track for a worthy cause.
Says Hardgroove: “This project is close to me for a few reasons: first, my parents adopted three girls when I was a young boy, second – back in the day, I could hear Run-DMC spinning “Walk This Way” in Jamaica Park (Hollis, Queens) from my bedroom and third, I got a chance to bring some of my best friends together to work for a terrific cause.”
Manhattan Center chief engineer Darren Moore was gladly on hand to assist. “This is putting me back in junior high school in Brooklyn,” he said. “I totally remember the first time I heard this track. The first time hip-hop went pop.”
For more information on The Felix Organization / Adoptees For Children, and to donate to this cause, visit www.adopteesforchildren.org.
Facility Name: EastSide Sound
Location: Lower East Side of New York, since 1972!
Neighborhood Advantages: The LES is the heart of live music; there are musicians everywhere, rehearsal spaces, venues etc so musicians are very familiar with the area and feel right at home… no uptown traffic hell and office scene…plus EastSide Sound is in on the ground floor and right in front of a park so you can avoid elevator gear load ins and you can go take a break surrounded by greenery, shoot some hoops, throw a football or kick a soccer ball in the nearby courts.
Date of Birth: We’ve been in business since 1972 when Lou Holtzman opened the original EastSide Sound on Allen St. In 2001 Lou Holtzman partnered up with Fran Cathcart and we moved to Forsyth St, just a few blocks away.
Facility Focus: We are primarily a tracking and mixing facility although we occasionally do mastering sessions and we do have a production suite often used as a writing room. We are also set up for audio post and to sync audio to video for film/TV work.
Mission Statement: EastSide Sound believes that your music and your vision come first and we are committed to working hard until you are satisfied with the results. Many Gold, Platinum and Grammy award winning records have come out of EastSide Sound which shows how many artists have made EastSide Sound their home.
Clients/Credits: Gold and Platinum records, 5 Grammy Awards; clients include Les Paul, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Santana, Sting, Joss Stone, Eric Clapton, Pat Metheny, Jeff Beck, Laurie Anderson, Luther Vandross, Sevendust, Mariah Carey, Cindy Lauper, John Leguizamo, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Goo Goo Dolls, Edgar Winter, Chico Freeman, Peter Frampton, Beyonce, Herbie Hancock, Toni Braxton, Hanson, MeShell Ndegeocello, Joe Claussel, Steve Torre, Robin Eubanks, Isaac Mizrahi, Randy Brecker, Frank London, Violent Femmes, Twisted Sister, Gravity Kills, System of a Down, Leela James, Lila Downs, Estelle, MTV, VH1, HBO, BBC, Comedy Central, Target, Grupo Latin Vibe and many, many more.
Key Personnel: Lou Holtzman (owner/engineer/the oracle), Grammy-winning Fran Cathcart (owner/producer/engineer), Grammy-winning Marc Urselli (producer/chief engineer/studio manager), Eric Elterman (producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist)
System Highlights: EastSide Sound is the perfect hybrid between analog and digital. We believe in and offer the best of both worlds. We have a fantastic Harrison Series Ten B board, a warm and punchy sounding 96 channel true analog board with total digital recall and full automation (no converters, the sound stays analog but you can automate anything and everything: faders, EQs, sends, inserts etc). The Harrison is complemented by a 64 output Pro Tools HD system and by a vast amount of analog outboard gear (LA2, LA3, LA4, 1176, Altec’s etc) and pre-amps (API, Neve, Trident, Ampex, Universal Audio, TF Pro, Summit, Altec’s etc).
Is this a trick question? Of course I will risk my life throwing water, milk, coffee and juices at the fire to save everything! …but if in the fire I were to spot a wild dragon running at me I guess I’ll grab the hard drives with all the sessions and get the hell out!
Rave Reviews: When people keep coming back, record after record, it must mean something, right? John Zorn has made hundreds of records and the last 30 or so were done at EastSide Sound. He also said that his records have never sounded so good, and others have said the same thing.
Everyone that comes by EastSide Sound always comments on what a cozy and relaxed vibe there is and everyone that records at EastSide comes back for more. They love the ability to choose between recording in the same space or being isolated in different booths so that they can later edit all the tracks without leakage. They love the ability to have total recall to instantly continue working on something unfinished a month later, with no downtime. They also love our professional, award-winning, cool and down to earth staff. And last but not least they LOVE the sound we get!
Most Memorable Session Ever: Too many… but one I recall is when Les Paul was over for some tracking and we were about to order in some pizza and he said something like “1947, Corona NY, First Pizza: I was there!”
Session You’d Like to Forget: The no-shows, the guys that think they own the world and arrive 4 hours late, the singers who can’t sing for the life of them but think that Autotune and capable audio engineers are an excuse for them to attempt a career in music anyway!
Dream Session (if you could host ANY session with any client, living or dead, what would it be?): Some of my personal favorite sessions are the ones with John Zorn, an incredible composer, genius and fantastic personality. Every session is always populated with incredible musicians.
Living or Dead? Would love to have worked with Hendrix, The Beatles and a… how about a Led Zeppelin reunion? But I guess we can’t complain considering many of the other giants have worked here (Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Sting, Lou Reed and many others). – Marc Urselli
Visit www.eastsidesound.com for more information and to get in touch!
NORTH BROOKLYN: Our neighborhood studio tour continues with four more decidedly uncommon studios in North Brooklyn. We talked to the owners of Strange Weather, Headgear, Metrosonic, and the Fort about sessions, toys, and building an active niche in this teeming slice of the city.
Room Rate: $450/day
Those familiar with the SonicScoop blog-roll may recognize the name of Marc Alan Goodman, who’s been recounting the saga of building Strange Weather’s new, full-service tracking studio on the Greenpoint/East Williamsburg border. In the meantime, it’s a small secret that his current location already hosts one of the most impressive collections of hand-picked ear candy in the city.
More than anything, this is a studio for artists and engineers with boutique tastes. No summary can do justice to the extensive selection of gear that includes names like Neve, API, Purple, Gates, Federal, ADL, Neumann, Coles, dbx, RCA, and Bricasti. Strange Weather is also home to a startling collection of guitars, drums, and keyboards at the ready for capturing any sound musicians can imagine.
Most surprising of all, according to Goodman, is the price, and the fact that all his vintage treasures are in prime working condition.
“I wanted to build a studio where people can walk in and use world-class gear at an affordable price in a functioning atmosphere,” Goodman says. “There’s nothing worse than booking a day at a studio where nothing works. I feel like that’s the rule rather than the exception in the commercial studios I’ve worked in.”
In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter has recently been in for some sessions at Strange Weather, and this kind of attention to detail has it fast-becoming one of my favorite places to work. Owning a studio has begun to turn Goodman into a capable tech in his own right: his racks are over-stuffed with impeccably maintained vintage gear, and handmade re-creations of studio classics like the LA2A, LA3A and 1176.
Built around a new 32-channel API 1608 console brimming with the choicest EQs, Strange Weather turns out to be an ideal room for overdubs, mixing, or any sessions that don’t require a cavernous live room.
When asked about his niche in the studio scene Goodman says: “Ideally everyone would complete their records from start to finish in a studio, but today it seems more common for musicians to combine studios with smaller at-home or portable rigs. We’re focused on making that process as seamless as possible; to give musicians and engineers used to working at home a place they can walk in and use great, often rare equipment in a functioning environment.”
Rates: Click for Room + Engineer Rates
Room Rate: $600/day; $550/day for blocks of 3 days or more.
If there’s any truth behind the idea that Williamsburg is a great place to make music, a lot of responsibility for that would have to fall on studios like Headgear Recording. Since opening in 1998, Headgear has been the birthplace of seminal records from TV On The Radio, Massive Attack, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Animal Collective, CocoRosie, Nada Surf, My Morning Jacket, Son Volt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Moby and Santigold.
Although the “Room For Rent” model of studio has waned as competent owner-operators create their own personal oases of sound in every corner of the city, Headgear remains one of the most accessible and freelance-engineer-friendly studios in New York.
In addition to house engineers Alex Lipsen, Scott Norton, and Dan Long, Headgear has been home to projects from a who’s who of hip and distinctive producers and engineers, including John Agnello, Peter Katis, Dave Sitek, John Hill, Chris Moore Gordon Raphael, TJ Doherty, and Chris Coady.
Headgear is also no stranger to Film and Television Post. Recent clients include “Grey’s Anatomy,” MTV’s “Skins,” “CSI: Miami” and the Columbia Pictures comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
According to studio manager Jackie Lin Werner, the studio’s appeal is personal as much as it is technical: “ We’re not stiff or pretentious. We’re down to earth and like to be helpful. Beyond the gear and the size of our rooms, I believe people trust Headgear as an established studio with a respectable client list. Headgear probably appeals most to indie bands and major label bands looking for an affordable, high quality studio in a space that has a creative vibe. “
Headgear’s A-room houses an automated Trident 80C console and offers a choice of Pro Tools HD and 24-track 2-inch tape. A well-equipped B room is also available for mixing and overdubs.
Contact for rates.
Neve Console. Pro Tools HD. Ampex 2”. Engineers who know what they’re doing. What more could you need to know?
According to Metrosonic’s Pete Mignola, it’s the people who make a studio: “The people who built it, the people who run it, the people who use it,” he tells us.
“Everyone who comes to Metrosonic talks about the vibe. Of course they like the great gear, the affordable rates, the windows & city views, but they always say that they love the vibe here. There’s human element to this that makes each studio unique and special in its own way.”
Metrosonic has always had a large, comfortable control room. More recently, the studio’s originally modest live room underwent significant renovations in 2008, and now, Pete and the crew are excited to bring a new 850 square-foot live room into the fold.
Rates: $40/hr, including Jim Bentley as Engineer.
Over the past decade, North Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood has filled up with enough small private studios to fill an area twice its size. In that time, Jim Bentley’s studio The Fort has stood as one of the neighborhood’s active mainstays.
Persevering in this competitive new territory since 2003, owner/operator Bentley has hosted noteworthy clients including Brit Daniel of Spoon, Doug Gillard and Kevin March of Guided by Voices, James McNew of Yo La Tengo, Jennifer O’Connor, John Agnello and Jemina Pearl.
This especially affordable studio is equipped for both analog and digital sessions, offering a Neotek Elan console, Tascam 1” 16-track, and a 24-channel MOTU/Apogee system. The studio bills at $30/hr on weekdays from noon to 6pm and at $40/hr 6pm-midnight or weekends, and includes Bentley’s services as engineer.
Bentley is most proud of his live room, a large, vibey space with vaulted, heavy-timber ceilings: “I love to track full bands in the room live for feel and then sauce it up and make it sound supernatural from there,” he says.
Bentley’s down-to-earth approach is made clear in his parting words to us. The Fort, he says, “appeals to the clients who realize making records is more about the man and the performance than the machine or the media buzz behind it.”
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.
Matt McCorkle of EqualSonics.com brings you a day in the life of a New York City recording engineer.
The Mission: A String Tracking Session At Tainted Blue Studio NYC
Producer Andrew Koss, owner of Tainted Blue Studio, requested my services tracking string overdubs for Maxine Linehan‘s version of the Leslie Gore hit “You Don’t Own Me” for her new album release, dropping near the end of this year. The session called for overdubbing a string trio on to pre-existing tracks.
Tainted Blue Studio is an amazing facility for tracking strings, with its all wood live room and tasty microphone collection. It’s a playground for engineers, producers and musicians alike.
String recording can be a tricky and challenging process. The goal is to capture the instruments in their purest form, highlighting each instrument’s sonic range while avoiding the masking of individual instruments. To ensure that the players sound good in the room together, you can “acoustically mix” just by moving a couple of chairs and players around in the physical room.
Patience and listening to various microphone placements are key to a good recording. If you’re unsure about how your microphone placement will sound, listen to it! Poor string recordings come from microphone phase cancellation at certain frequencies and ugly reflections from various surfaces. I enjoy the challenge string recordings bring, as the approach for this type of recording is much different than any other instrument.
Once at the studio, I began examining the tracks in Pro Tools listening for how to blend these string overdubs together. Then I approached the producer, Andrew Koss, inquiring into the type of sound he was looking to capture with today’s string tracking. “Intimate and warm,” was the answer.
My plan was to mike the instruments individually, to get the warmth. To get the intimacy, I planned to use an XY stereo configuration to capture the instruments playing together in their natural environment of the live room.
The Quest for Intimacy
First, I positioned three seats equally apart from one another, in a semi-circle facing the glass in the live room. Next, I picked two AKG 414′s to be used in my XY stereo configuration. Also, I wanted to make sure that the cellist will be in the center of my XY stereo configuration, as to not throw off either side of the stereo spectrum later on in the mix.
Then I proceeded to make the angle at which the microphone capsules will be positioned to form the XY configuration. My focus here was to make sure that both the violin and the viola would be in the pickup zone of their respective 414, which were both set in cardioid polar pattern. My goal with the XY setup is to have the violin to the left, the cello in the center, and the viola to the right in the stereo spectrum.
The Quest for Warmth
Warmth! The second half of the producer’s request. This called for getting up close and personal with each instrument. I began with the cello, and chose a Royer 122 for this task, a phantom-powered ribbon microphone.
It’s strange because when I was first learning audio the golden rule was “Never apply phantom power to ribbon microphones!” This is because applying 48 volts to a ribbon microphone will normally blow up the ribbon element. But, what am I doing today? Applying phantom power to ribbon microphones!
There are exceptions to rules and the Royer 122 is one of those exceptions. This ribbon microphone has an amazing tone and accepts phantom power to enable a much higher output gain.
I listened to the cellist play her instrument for a few minutes. After listening carefully to the way this particular cello acts and responds to her bowing, I grabbed my mic and went to work.
I positioned the Royer just above the bridge of the cello pointing near the body and the F Hole. This was to capture the bowing of the strings and body of the cello. However, I had a problem with this microphone placement – not enough low end was going to be captured. I remedied this with a large capsule dynamic Audix D6 microphone. (What a mouthful!) I directed this microphone towards the body of the cello pointed around the F Hole. These two microphones together will produce a full-bodied cello while capturing the players’ nuances.
Next up for treatment, the viola. This instrument sits between the cello and the violin in the sonic spectrum. Listening for a microphone placement, too close to the body will produce too much low end that will compete with the cello for sonic space. Too far away from the body will make the instrument sound thin. The viola can be a tricky placement as you want to make sure it doesn’t compete with either the cello or the violin.
I choose a Royer 122 for this instrument as well. I had the violist play some of the chorus for me as I leaned over the instrument to have a listen, and sure enough found my spot for the microphone placement! I positioned the microphone over the viola about 15 inches, encompassing the instrument in the microphones entire pickup pattern. The Royer 122 is a slim, elongated microphone so I was able to position it parallel with the viola to get a warm, natural sound. Along the way, I was primarily focused on picking up the strings and body of this instrument.
Finally… the violin. I took the same approach with the violin that I had with the viola. However, I opted for a switch in microphones, choosing to go with a Neumann U87. I like the voicing of this microphone as it tends to be nice and pleasant on the violin, bringing its high-mid frequency nuances to life. This microphone choice also helps out the stereo panorama later in the mix, as it will provide a different texture from the Royers when the close mics are mixed together with the 414′s in their XY stereo configuration.
Hear “You Don’t Own Me” and witness the behind the scenes video (complete with string session footage) right here:
Did You Double Check?
After wrapping up my microphone placements, I made sure that all my stands were tight, the cables were looking neat and secure, and the artists were comfortable. My assistant, Michael Thurber, was finished getting every artist their own cue mixer and cans – this was so each player could personalize their own cue mixes while tracking. With one quick glance around the live room to make sure all was well, we headed to the control room.
What do You Know of Signal Flow?
In the control room I went to the patchbay to start my signal flow. First up to get piped through some TT cables were the 414′s into an Avalon 2022, a stereo pre-amp. These two play very nice together, as they produce a nice smooth top end that is very appealing for strings. The 414′s as drum overheads coupled with the Avalon 2022 is simply amazing as well!
The two Royer 122s and the Neumann U87 were sent through a Grace 801 unit – I was very confident in my microphone placement and was not looking for much coloration on the pre-amp side of my signal flow.
Lastly, I patched up the Audix D6 through a vintage Neve 1073 pre-amp to pump it full of low-mid silkiness to give the cello a smooth and rich body. After my pre-amp patching I patched the line level signals straight into the studio’s Apogee converters, which are directly linked to Pro Tools HD. We were ready to set pre-amp gain levels!
How Healthy Are Your Levels?
I kindly asked each player to give me a range of expressions on their instrument, adjusting the close microphone pre-amp’s gain accordingly. After I was satisfied with my close microphones’ pre-amp levels, I had them play together as a trio. I then set the gain levels on the Avalon 2022 for the 414′s XY stereo configuration.
With the pre-amp gain levels set, I panned my channels corresponding to the string players’ placement in the live room and then made some quick monitoring level adjustments.
Time to begin tracking!
The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For!
The producer, who also created this amazing string arrangement, started speaking with the musicians prepping them for various parts in the song.
We took a pass from start to finish. After some kinks were worked out and the musicians felt comfortable, we started taking full passes at the song, layering. Layered a few passes of the string section on top of each other to get a nice, full sound. After the initial layering we went on to add accent tracks of various expressions throughout the track, with the trio still playing together.
The producer had some final parts for each instrument to add depth and nuance to the string section. To accomplish this we had each player take individual passes in various parts of the song. (This was the only time each instrument was playing solo.)
The Final Touches
My assistant went to begin breaking down the live room, waiting for the capacitors in the condenser microphones to dissipate their 48 volts. If one were to disconnect the microphone cable immediately after turning off phantom power, damage could occur to the condenser microphone. This is extremely important, and forgetting this is a sure way to get fired on your first assisting gig! Wait a few minutes, to be safe, if you are not sure of how long your particular condenser microphone takes to discharge its capacitors.
While the live room breakdown was being completed, I began to listen back to the recorded tracks in order to start making a quick, rough mix. Then printed the rough mix, labeled our session, backed up our file and gathered our notes.
The arrangement was beautiful and the string tracks came out wonderfully. For the main, accent and individual passes the mixer will have plenty of choices on which microphone tracks to use. They could use the XY stereo configuration, just the close microphones, or a mixture of both depending on what sound they are trying to achieve at that particular moment in the mix.
It was a successful tracking session at Tainted Blue Studio. It’s always a pleasure to track great musicians, in a great room, with great a big selection of audio toys.
As the owner and operator of his own mobile recording studio, Matt McCorkle of EqualSonics.com is capable of bringing professional audio to anyone, anywhere, anytime. His expertise involves acoustic instrumental recordings, vocal productions, live tracking sessions, electronic music production and mixing. Whether in the studio or out in the field, Matt’s goal is simple: To create new music and sounds with passionate artists. To contact Matt please visit EqualSonics.com.