Confession time… I bought this mic without having ever heard it. I was in the market for a no-holds-barred professional vocal mic, and this one certainly fit the bill. I couldn’t quite afford a Neumann U87, as it just barely exceeded what the university would allow to be placed on a credit card. At the time, the LT-386 was being sold for (gasp) $2499. Sweetwater has it listed at $2999 today. I would have gone with the U87 in the moment, but fate had other plans. I’m really glad it did; sometimes having a more unique mic is more fun.
One of the great joys of owning any piece of musical equipment is learning how to use it. However, music gear tends to require a LOT of work to learn. Unlike our other senses, our hearing acclimates to sound very quickly and becomes about as objective as… well… as our sense of morality. Making decisions about what “sounds good” or constitutes an improvement is far more complicated that it may at first appear.
When my LT-386 first arrived, it was even more visually stunning than I had imagined. I knew that, if nothing else, it would impress any vocalist who stepped in front of it. A good-looking mic gets the artist hyped and makes for a fun beginning to the session, but to get down to business and really learn the sound, I needed to reference it against a known aural quantity. On that first day I tested it against my previous go-to tube large diaphragm condenser (M-Audio Sputnik) as well as an AKG 414. It certainly reminded me of the flavor of other ultra-high-dollar tube mics I had borrowed and used in the past (i.e. Bock Audio). Smooth, deep, detailed… I almost thought “better than the Sputnik and 414!” …but this wasn’t my first rodeo. Just because I liked my voice better on day one didn’t mean the LT-386 was a better mic. Still, I was pleased enough for unboxing day.
That was a long time ago. After years of using this mic, the thing I like best about it is that it definitely avoids the brittle and/or harsh sound that many mics, even thousand-dollar condensers, tend to impart. When I have chosen other, more expensive mics (after a soloed vocal shootout for example), I have gone back and compared the $5K-plus mic to the LT-386 on the same vocalist. The $5K mic may have won in a soloed pre-tracking shootout, but in the mix I always seem to be surprised how little difference I hear. Quite often I prefer the Lauten and wish I had not been seduced by the solo test (though you have to try new things).
Oddly enough, one of my favorite uses for this mic is drum overheads. I have become a big fan of the mid-side technique for drums, and the LT-386 is my secret sauce. The Eden is always the “mid” mic, and I pair it with either a 414 XLS or a ribbon mic as the figure-8 “side” mic. For the sort of groovy, rootsy, americana music I tend to do, this provides a great vibe. If a punk band comes in and I need less detail, I trade out the Eden for a Sennheiser MD441. In fact, that’s a great way to think of the LT-386… it’s sort of like a 441 with more tube-y, condenser-y goodness.
This mic has a big bottom. Not all tube mics do, but there is definitely an obvious low-end color to the Eden. You can minimize it, of course, if you want to. There are options for two stages of high-pass filtering. Once in a while I’ll use the Eden for voice-over, and, unless you want fat, radio DJ bass for your audio book, rolling off the low end is a good idea. The smooth top end will still keep things sounding comfortable and easy on the ears. However, the big bottom is a color than you can’t easily replicate. If you apply it to sources that truly benefit from it, that warm, syrupy tone really does become the secret sauce I was talking about.
In the years that have passed, I have had the chance to compare the LT-386 to a U87 and other well-known studio standards. It definitely holds its own. But the wise engineer knows it’s not about which mic is “best.” It’s about having a diversity of colors and learning to paint with them in an aesthetically pleasing way. The Eden has a very unique color, and I like the fact that it can flatter so many sources in a manner than helps me to create sonic recipies I’m proud to send off to the mixer.
Yes, this is the singularly most expensive mic (by far) in the recording studio collection. Recording studios do, in my opinion, have a bit of a fantasy element to them. Clients often come to studios with the expectation of having access to gear that they themselves cannot afford. Is the price of the LT-386 worth it? I think that depends entirely upon how (and how often) it may be used. As a teacher, and from an educational standpoint alone, I’d say yes. Dozens of students get a chance to listen to this bad boy and develop an ear for how it sounds versus other options. I think they’d be disappointed if they took four semesters of recording classes and couldn’t hear what a top-shelf vocal mic sounds like. I also think this mic is a great choice for the serious recordist or content creator. If an artist knows they will be working for years and years and making recordings like crazy, this mic could easily be a centerpiece for a project studio. However, if someone simply wants to record their first three-song demo… I’d not recommend buying a microphone of this magnitude in order to do accomplish that goal.
One of the great revelations of working with microphones, instruments, and vocalists is that even cheap or ostensibly “low-quality” gear can be not only useful, but absolutely fantastic when applied in the right way. Likewise, super-expensive gear (how many times have I heard someone say, “now this is a REAL microphone!”) can and will fall flat when used haphazardly. Every piece of gear, just like every person, has strengths and weaknesses. I’m sold on the idea that every collection of musical equipment is unique (just like every community of creators), and therefore can be used to create something that no other collection is capable of creating. I’m fortunate enough to work in a studio where there are justifiable reasons for spending a bit more than the average garage band’s budget on music gear. But you will never know what your own collection is truly capable of unless you sink the time necessary into creating and tasting your own recipes. It’s better get to work with what you have, and in time you’ll develop a better idea of what pieces you may be lacking.
Feel free to check out how this mic sounds on Haleigh Martin’s vocal track for “Like A Lady” on Spotify and Apple Music. We recorded and mixed that track entirely in-house as part of the recording techniques minor at Murray State.
Walk into any room, anywhere, and start singing. It always sounds a little different, right? Your voice is fairly consistent, but different rooms have different characteristics. Some spaces have resonances that can enhance lower frequencies, giving the effect of more robust bass. Others do the opposite, thinning out the bottom. As makers and consumers of music, we accept a wide range of tonalities as “true enough,” even though complete tonal purity is unattainable.
If the real world imposes different flavors on sound, how much more must the elctronic processes of audio reproduction? Like a subtle Instagram filter, every microphone affects frequency and ambient balances in a unique way. More alterations are introduced at the microphone preamplifier and analog-to-digital converters. In order to listen back, this data must be decoded and fed into a speaker system that again alters the sound, in a new physical space that adds color to the signature sound of the speakers. This is all to say, if neutrality and “truth” are what we’re after, we had better understand how every component of our recording chain is functioning to create the sound at the end of the process.
Consider this video of a baritone that my friend Corey follows. He knows that opera singers and their adoring public usually have quite a bit of physical distance between each other during a performance. High frequencies tend to weaken in the diffuse field, but microphones usually need to be closer to a sound source than our ears for proper ambient balance. Therefore, a good choice of microphone for this baritone’s voice might possess a frequency response (i.e. color) that imitates the attenuated higher frequencies several meters of distance imposes naturally. The microphone may be close to the singer by operatic standards (1 meter away), but it sounds similar to what the audience is accustomed to hearing 10-20 meters away.
Alternatively, a microphone designed to be used in the diffuse field might have the opposite tendency to compensate for the reduction of upper frequencies.
Prior to the development of digital recording consumers were accustomed to the sound that early ribbon microphones, vacuum tubes, transformers, magnetic tape and vinyl albums imparted to audio recordings. When digital audio replaced the analog systems, the flattering and/or forgiving sound of all that circuitry (and the imperfect storage mediums) gave way to a less flattereing, less forgiving tonality. Digital was “perfect” – but we weren’t ready for perfection. Was it that digital was harsh, or were we just used to warm and fuzzy tube tone?
In either case, getting as close to the truth as possible has always involved understanding what the filters of technology are doing to our tone and using them wisely.
Over the years certain microphones have become known for doing some particular thing very well. There’s the SM57 (snare drums and guitar amps), MD 421 (toms and kick drum), U87 (vocals and anything else) and so on. In the world of classical recording we have similar iconic tools. The DPA 4006, Schoeps CMC 6, and Sennheiser MKH 20 are all something of a standard for orchestral and chamber music. Paired with a good preamp like a Forsell, Buzz Audio, or GML, and you’re talking classical recording heaven.
So if it ain’t broke, then…
Hold up. As you might expect, all those fancy names come at a VERY fancy price. In fact, if you’re trying to recreate the sound of the standard Decca Tree (a famous 3-mic orchestral technique) you’d need the unique polar pattern/frequency response of not one but three Neumann M50s – which would set you back a total of about $15,000. There aren’t many universities, regional symphonies or community theaters that can justify that. If you’re a little guy (like a state university) trying to sound like Abbey Road, you have to do it some other way. No, cheaping out is not the answer. Quality still costs, but it doesn’t have to cost $2-5K per microphone.
Enter the sE Electronics RN17 small diaphragm condenser, one of 3 flagship products in the sE lineup co-designed by Rupert Neve. The RN17s are the most flexible of the group thanks to swappable cardioid/omni capsules (omnis sold separately). Here are some of the cool things about the RN17 the company points out on their webpage: it has the world’s smallest production (15mm) gold-sputtered diaphragm, a monstrous Rupert Neve designed transformer, and a wide and even frequency response (down deep into the lowest lows) that’s never before been achieved in small diaphragm condenser design.
That sounds fantastic. But at about $999 per mic (only a couple hundred shy of the Sennheiser MKH 50) does it offer any real threat to the well-known class of iconic classical music tools? You bet. The most obvious advantage is the swappable capsule. It is a few hundred bucks more, but with it you essentially have two mics: omni or cardioid (for about $1350). That’s $750 cheaper than buying both patterns in the MKH line. Keep in mind most serious classical recordings involve more than a stereo pair, so this isn’t just a “times two” factor in savings. It’s x3 for a decca tree; x5 for a decca tree with outriggers. More with spot mics.
But is it worth it? These mics would have to seriously outperform the dozens of options at the $500 pricepoint. Heck, they’d have to outperform the Neumann KM series, which is not exactly a budget option. In fact, the RN17s would need to give the MKHs, DPAs and Schoeps ALL a serious run for their money. And they do. Tonally, financially… they really do.
If you compare the RN17 to a KM-184, the obvious difference is extended low end and a smoother top. As drum overheads, the RN17s are gorgeous. Cymbals sound three-dimensional and just …pretty. Cymbals. Pretty. Yeah, I said it. In front of a string section it’s the same thing. Perhaps if you wanted an in-your-face bluegrass fiddle scorcher sound, you’d go for the KM-184. But for a classical string section? Mr. Neve, please. Even the AKG C414 XLS large diaphragm (in omni) doesn’t extend down as well the RN17s. And though it goes against all expectations, the RN17s are more silky on top than the LDC 414, too.
It’s the transformer. You can get the different capsules/patterns, which is awesome, but really it’s the transformer. Even without a great preamp there is some Neve mojo coming right out of the mic itself. But let’s say you DO have a great preamp. That’s when your game is really elevated. I’ve used the RN17s with a Millennia HV-3D and a Buzz Audio SSA 1.1. The sound is impressive with stock interface preamps, but it is strikingly impressive with a nice stand-alone pre. Neve gear is not known for its transparency, so maybe the biggest critique of the RN17s (in the classical genre) is just that: “they’re not as transparent as the DPA 4006.” That’s probably right. But in my opinion, the subtle flattery of that Neve “color” is far more likely to help a collegiate choir or orchestra than hurt it. Unless John Williams has been beating down the door to record in the performance space available at the local university, it probably isn’t that fantastic of a recording space. Mics known for having a certain character exist for this purpose: you deploy them because they hide a problem, or because they fix a problem. They make something sound better than it did in the room. The Neumann U87 does this, and it is arguably the most popular microphone ever. The RN17s do it, too, but oh so subtlely. Unlike the U87, it’s not a little goosing of the high mids that sells it. It’s the Neve transformer and the attractive round sound it imparts.
Of course, the RN17s are great for a million things. I already mentioned drum overheads. Acoustic guitar, piano, solo instruments… for the studio that already has a pair of KM-184s, the RN17s would provide an entirely different character for the same sorts of sources. Options are always nice! Honestly, if I had to give up one or the other, I’d give up my KM-184s. They do not get as much use as they once did. I’m also on the fence about getting a second AKG C414 or a third (or fourth) RN17. I can see using the RN17s in more situations. I just like to have an even number of like microphones! Anywhere you would use Earthworks or DPA or Neumann SDCs (or even some LDCs) the sE’s will shine. I bet in the right acoustic space you could cut some killer vocals with the omni caps!
So are these things DPA killers? It depends. If you already have 8 DPA 4006s, probably not. If you will most likely never be able to drop over $2000 per single-pattern microphone, then yes. The RN17s are top-shelf small diaphragm condensers. They are not cheap, but they have much more in common sonically with the most iconic “classical music” SDCs than they do the budget options flooding the market for home and project studios. If I can get 90% of the way to DPA sound for 50% of the cost, count me in …especially if the last 10% difference is Rupert Neve character!
Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn. I really don’t like the idea that I can’t get a decent drum sound out of a real kit, so I just keep trying. It’s like playing the same level of a video game over and over and over and refusing to move on until you feel like you’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency. Except drums are way cooler than video games.
Maybe it’s because I think music, like life, is better when people are connected. I like having a living, breathing percussionist walk into the studio with a lifetime of experiences and knowledge and then just letting them do their thing. You’re getting a little bit of what makes that musician unique grafted right into your project. Pretty cool.
Maybe it’s because using a bunch of microphones seems like it is becoming a lost art, and I hate to think future music-makers might rob themselves of the fun. Trying to solve the aural puzzles that arise from having a bass drum, snare drum, two toms, cymbals and hi-hat all played at the same time in the same room while being recorded by 8-12 microphones is a challenge, and solving the puzzle is pretty gratifying.
For whatever reason, I really like trying to record the studio drums in our crummy little room with 7 foot drop ceilings. Here’s my latest attempt, and some ideas you might want to try on your next drum sesssion.
1) Line up a stellar drummer. This is far and away the most important thing in terms of getting a good recording. My pal Brian has good time. He has good taste. He has tons of experience. He is a true student of the drum kit. Everything else could be perfect, but if the drummer is not groovin’ then it really doesn’t matter.
2) Put your time in ahead of time. There’s no substitute for experimenting with mics, placements, and tuning. If you have a kit, then really get to know that kit. It wants to spend time with you.
3) If you have the tracks and the mics, give yourself options. I put a large diaphragm tube mic out in front of the kick drum, a dynamic mic way inside, and even a little clip-on horn condenser dangling over the pedal beater. I actually did end up using a blend of all three, although the “beater” mic ended up functioning more like an under-snare mic.
4) Even in a tiny room, try a room mic. I used the AEA R88 stereo ribbon mic in a mid-side configuration about 5 feet in front of the kit. I really didn’t think I’d end up using it, but after rolling a little low end out I decided it really helped add a sense of space to the dead room. I’ve often found that combinations of mics at different distances can help add sonic dimensions to a recording.
5) Try different flavors of preamps. For the inside kick mic I ran into a Focusrite ISA 430 preamp. It’s a little juiced on the top and bottom and I thought it would be a nice compliment to that snappy attack on a bottom-heavy source. The outside kick mic and snare ran through a Millennia preamp for crispy transients. The overheads ran through a Buzz Audio preamp for a subtle touch of softening on the cymbals.
Here are the specifics:
Kick In: Miktek PM11 into Focusrite ISA 430
Kick Out: Lauten LT-386 tube (gentle, figure-8) into Millennia
Kick Beater: Audio Technica ATM350 horn condenser into Audient
Snare: Beyerdynamic M 201 TG into Millennia
Rack Tom: Sennheiser MD421 into Audient
Floor Tom: Sennheiser MD421 into Audient
Hi Hats: Neumann KM-184 into Audient
Overheads: sE RN17s cardioid caps into Buzz Audio SSA 1.1
Room: AEA R88 Stereo Ribbon into Millennia
I had previously used an AKG 414 as the Kick Out mic, but it seemed to catch a lot of hi-hat bleed. I knew the Lauten LT-386 would provide plenty of thump, but I also figured that if I set the character to the “gentle” mode I would minimize hi-hat and other high frequency bleed. Mission accomplished! It sounded a lot better than the 414 in this application.
There is no compression on this mix and minimal linear phase EQ for high-pass filtering on the room and overhead mics, and some low-mid reduction in the overheads and kick drum mics. I’m looking forward to overdubbing the rest of the parts so I can dive into mixing!
Here’s a look at some things starting to come together. Still a lot to do, but rough edges are slowly getting smoothed. Looking forward to finishing it up!
(Sample audio from the session – a quick balance with no percussion or synths added)
It’s been a couple of years since I chronicled a Fannin Musical Productions recording session. John has a thriving business selling marching band arrangements to high-schools nationwide, and the live performances of show options he provides to potential clients is something of a distinction in the marching band biz. For me, FMP recording sessions have become almost routine. But with plenty of down days to set up for latest session (a luxury not always available) I decided to try a few new tricks.
We’ve always used Lovett Auditorium on Murray State’s campus for recording high-priority sessions. It’s a big, wonderful hall built in 1926 with a basketball court-sized stage, several rows of heavy theater curtains, and 2000 seats for the audience. One of the very first recordings I made at Murray State was on this stage: a violin and piano concert. It didn’t take me long to realize that this hall was probably the best location for recording a wide variety of projects. There are several other recital halls, theaters, and auditoriums, but Lovett is by far the largest. I have enjoyed the soundstage environment for everything from Americana sessions to classical performances. No changes in venue!
The thirteen wind players were also a consistent element. We had eight brass players: tuba, euphonium, trombone 1 & 2, trumpet 1, 2, & 3, and mellophone. These folks travelled from Memphis, Texas, and beyond to be with us. There were also five woodwinds: flute, clarinet 1 & 2, and sax 1 & 2. Excellent musicians all around. We planned to get two good takes of everything and stack them so our 13 players would sound like 26. No changes there either; so far so good.
The analog time keeper.
The first significant change was pretty simple: a brand new audio interface. This was my second session ever using the Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt (which replaced our well-loved and utterly spent Ensemble Firewire after many years of service). The technology between the two Ensemble designs represents about a decade of innovation. I really like this updated interface! The Control software is eons ahead of the old Maestro software, and the hardware unit provides a lot more control right from the face plate, not to mention offering a total of 30 inputs compared to the old model’s 18. Plus it’s jet black, which is really nice after staring at brushed aluminum for so many years! Using the new Ensemble is very intuitive. I found myself thinking, “I want to change THIS…,” and simply clicking on the name of any channel, source or destination and making it happen without trying to think like a software engineer. And of course working in Logic means the integration with the Ensemble is tight. I could tweak parameters on the hardware interface (like soft limit or 48v) from inside my Logic project file! It’s always a little risky to try to work a new piece of relatively unfamiliar gear into a session, but it turned out to be easy to keep the Apogee playing nicely with the monitoring system and two extra banks of digital inputs. And yes, I do think this new Ensemble sounds superb.
The second deviation was the most obvious visually and seemed potentially risky (from a morale perspective). It involved splitting up the winds into two lines: brass up front and woodwinds in the back, with 30 feet and two thick theater curtains hanging between the groups. Previously everyone had been in one long line stretching across the stage, but I hoped this new setup would reduce brass bleed in the woodwind mics and help everyone sound better. It definitely made a difference by creating enough isolation to actually use a distant woodwind section mic, whereas before there was no point given the spill. Aside from potentially making the woodwinds feel like second class citizens tucked away in the back of the hall, the video feed over which they watched the conductor had just a tiny bit of latency as well. However, given that they had a click track keeping time in their headphones this seemed to not cause any serious issues. Who watches the conductor anyway? They were good sports, and I think we’ll continue this practice in the future.
Looking down the brass line.
The 8 brass players were aimed out into the cavernous auditorium, which helped to minimize the acoustic energy bouncing back into the mics (and back through the curtains to the woodwinds). My AEA R88 stereo ribbon mic was in front of the first row of seats with a makeshift reflection filter behind it in an attempt to reduce the ambience of the hall. The R88 is a huge part of the sound for this project. It may be only one mic, but it is probably 50% of the sound for the whole thing. I regularly use the R88 as a room mic for almost any project (the list of things that don’t greatly benefit from some R88 blended in is very, very short). But there is something really special about the way it works on brass in a big room. Once you hear it blended in with the close mics, it just sounds like you want it to. I love all the mics used in this session for different reasons, but the AEA is the one mic that has to be out in front NO MATTER WHAT.
LDC on Bone 1; dynamic on Bone 2.
With several of the 2 or 3 member small instrument groups I tried to use different types of microphones. For example, I used a condenser mic on trombone 1 and a dynamic mic on trombone 2. I have found that using the same mic all over the place can sometimes lead to a build up of that one sonic signature. And no matter how great that signature may be, having it on every source usually isn’t so great. Think of it as a way to help differentiate similar sources (not to mention avoiding that condenser sensitivity at every station).
Ribbon mic on trumpet 1, SM7b on #2, and Miktek PM9 on #3.
The last big change was a major focus on phase relationships. I acquired Voxengo’s PHA-979 phase plugin this Christmas, and per my MUS 338 textbook, Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior (chapter 8), I set out to examine how small timing and phase rotation changes might preserve more of the tone with all these different mics bleeding into each other, not to mention their relationship with the stereo room mic. There just wasn’t time to listen and move the R88 around during the very abbreviated sound check. Back in the day that’s how it would have been done. But with 13 people waiting on me, I had to settle on a distance for the room mic that has worked before and plan on fixing individual phase issues in post production.
The PHA-979 definitely made a big difference in correcting thin, nasal, phase-cancelled tone. Even the 3:1 spacing rule can’t prevent phase cancellation. And while I made sure there was 6 feet of space between players and no more than 2 feet from mic to intended source, the PHA-979 helped mop up the problems. It’s not an enticing plugin like vintage gear simulations, but it sure solves some core issues. For example, among the three trumpets I found that trumpet 1 was really bleeding into trumpet 2’s mic (trumpet 1 is LOUD). So upon combining those two mics, trumpet 1’s tone began to suffer due to his own bleed spilling into trumpet 2’s mic and being out of phase. I adjusted the phase of trumpet 2 (and therefore the phase of the bleed from trumpet 1) and got trumpet 1 sounding great again! Powerful stuff; thanks Mike!
Avenson STO-2 SDC on the ever-important mellophone.
The mellophone was the only brass instrument – aside from the tuba and trombone 1 – to get a condenser microphone. Actually, if you look closely, you’ll see there is also a Shure SM57 up as well. I auditioned both and decided the Avenson STO-2 small diaphragm condenser had a deeper, rounder sound. Mellophone (or horn, depending on who’s available) is a super important element to the brass line. It provides the middle ground, or the glue, that holds everything together. It has to be prominent, and given it’s easy-to-pick-out range, it needs to sound nice. Next time I’ll try the Avenson and some other mic to see if I can find a mic that can beat out the STO-2, but so far the little Texan omni is in the lead.
I also used several MikTek PM9 vocal microphones (on euphonium, trumpet 3, and bone 2). These are bright-ish, somewhat less midrange-y dynamic mics that sound a little different than the standard SM57 or SM58. I have also used MikTek’s drum kit pack (the PM10 and PM11) in these sessions before. They are great for splitting the difference between a dynamic and condenser type of sound.
I’ve had good results running low brass through the Millennia HV-3D preamp for a long time. If it’s good enough for Skywalker Ranch and the LA Phil, then I think it’ll probably take care of me. I like to keep things on the low end fairly clean, and clean is the HV-3D’s bread and butter. The 4 channels were spent on euphonium, trombone 1 & 2, and horn. The Buzz Audio SSA 1.1 two-channel preamp is another clean machine, but it has a great extended low end and lots of gain. Just a touch less detail than the Millennia, but that’s actually what I want from my room mic. Perfect for the AEA R88. I used one Audient ASP880 as an ADC for theses two preamps, bypassing it’s internal preamps altogether and just piping things into the Apogee digitally. The second ASP880 was in full swing, though, routing some sources out and back from my 500 series rack of EQs and compressors, and handling preamp duties for the trumpets and some distant section mics. Lastly, the on-board Apogee Ensemble preamps handled the woodwinds.
Sputnik tube condenser – NOT looking directly down the bore, but rather at the bell’s edge.
I tried running the tuba through the Focusrite ISA 430’s opto compressor for a thicker, more syrupy low end. If I was really on my game I would have alternated between VCA and opto compression between every double take for maximum variation. Sometimes the tuba can poke out, so I used a very gentle setting just to take a few dB off the peaks. The ISA 430 is just a little bit juiced-sounding. It seems to have just a touch more bottom and top than a more neutral preamp. This is usually the sort of sound I want for tuba in a marching band. I also engaged Focusrite’s “air” button, because I wanted as much brightness as I could get without resorting to EQ on the front end (and the opto compressor took a little edge off, too).
The woodwinds watching John conduct on TV, thirty feet behind the brass line.
Fathead Ribbon on sax 1.
AKG C414 XLS large diaphragm condenser on flute.
The flute and trumpet 1 ran through a Radial Engineering EQ set flat, just for the nice little punch that 500 series unit gives. They don’t seem to get enough love, but Radial makes great-sounding hardware. Then said high-end sources went through a couple of dbx 560A compressors to roll a few dBs off the peaks. I was conservative with the compression, but next time I’m clamping down harder on both these two! I really like the AKG 414 mic on just about anything, and the flute is a great fit. As for trumpet 1… you’d think that a dark ribbon mic (off axis from the bell) going through a compressor might be in danger of sounding too dark. Yet there were times when he really punched it and I thought I should have used that Radial EQ more aggressively.
The woodwind line with diffusor/gobos covered in John’s old drapes.
I tried a little experiment with the clarinets. They were both on sE Electronics RN17 Rupert Neve designed small diaphragm condensers (with the omni caps). These are mics I usually use as a stereo pair in front of the choir or as outriggers for the Wind Ensemble. They sound wonderful. I knew there would be bleed from other sources with the omni caps, but I decided that on one of the two double-takes I would pan each clarinet hard left and right. The idea was to increase the stereo spread with two ambient-heavy tracks. I could’t do this with both takes, as there were places where the extreme panning didn’t work, but it seemed to work well when the two takes were combined to make 13 players sound like 26.
I sang the praises of the PHA-979 already, but there is another plugin that saw action on even more channels. The Brainworx bx_console N is an emulation of a Neve VSX analog recording console. All 72 channels of it. That is to say, each channel is slightly different-sounding (just like the real console). No, I didn’t wade through 72 options and find the “perfect” sound for each source. But I did click through 5 or 6 channels at random and chose my favorite from that small sampling. Unlike the PHA-979, the console N IS the enticing sort of plugin that makes people drool. The N was used on all the tracks for the second take (the stacked parts) for the whole ensemble. Think wide, warm, smooth… a nice analog juicing which, when compared to the uneffected signal, was clearly preferable. Because I was stacking two takes, it was easy to make the choice to only treat one of the two. I was trying to get the best of both worlds and not over do it, and this also helped further differentiate the takes from each other. Another cool aspect to this plug is that the Neve EQ and compression emulations are built-in, so if I decided later in the process that I needed a little of one or the other, it was already loaded up. No need to drag another plugin over. Besides that, having a virtual channel strip for any track you choose is pretty cool!
Mix bus plugins included the Virtual Tape Machine, FG-Grey bus compressor, Brit 4k E console bus emulator, and FG-X limiter – all from Slate Digital. EastWest’s QL Spaces also found a place for its nice soundstage ambience.
I’ll have to wait until I arrive at the finished product to feel certain, but so far I think the sound of this session is a significant improvement. The biggest contributors to this being the extra separation between the woodwinds and brass and Voxengo’s PHA-979 phase correction plug. The PHA-979 seems purpose-built to help correct the excessive bleed from a session such as this. Looking forward to using it on drum kit! Cheers!