Problems with recording choirs
by Gary Sherman
My experiences of such recording is frustrating to say the least. I only use a stereo mic’ing setup but have yet to find a sound that I think is acceptable. The main problems tend to be a lack of bass/warmth and too much sibilance. I understand the latter is largely a product of the acoustics of the environment but all too often this very unpleasant effect seems exaggerated. I dislike doing too much in post production but have tried running the recorded signal through a de-esser however, this has been to no avail.
The other problem (lack of bass/warmth), makes each recording a real disappoint to me as I can take off my headphones in the session and hear that the depth of sound is there, but when monitoring or listening back to the recording afterwards I find it’s being lost.
I have tried various mic settings/configurations and heights, from about 4 feet to 12 feet, yet nothing seems to improve the situation. I find not surprisingly, that the further I move from the choir the less warmth I capture so favor a setup roughly level with the edge of the singers. Having only recorded groups of around 50 singers, this hasn’t produced an unbalanced effect which I imagined might feature a prominence of the “edge” performers.
I have the same problem of lack of warmth with organ recitals, although it is much less pronounced and can generally be considered a reasonable recording.
Locations I have worked in include various chapels within Oxford university; the church where Gustav Holst was choir master and others in my area of the UK.
With orchestras I get a very good recording indeed with mics generally placed about 20 feet behind of the conductor.
Microphones I have tried are AKG 391, which I have now sold, Neumann KM184 which I still use and a Pearl MS8, which I know isn’t designed for this type of application but sounds remarkably close to the Neumanns. The advantage is that being a MS microphone it gives me the opportunity to play with the stereo width after the event.
Examples are posted as follows (Pearl MS8 and Nagra LB):