Stereo Recording Mic Placement

OK, now you've picked the perfect stereo recording mic technique, but where should you put the setup? Where the stereo mic setup is placed can make a huge difference in the resulting sound.

Don't believe me? Try it yourself - listen to something up close, and then move away. Move around to the sides and up & down too. Can you hear a difference? As you get further away, the sound becomes more unified, together and cohesive. It sounds more like a group. Up and down also has an impact. Higher up tends to get more back-of-the-group sounds, while lower will pick up the front row the best. Somewhere in between is usually a good point. After a point the further back you go, the less difference it makes.

Side note: get used to listening to how any room sounds. This way, you can be more intuitive in placing any microphone for recording. End note. :)

As you move to the sides, the stereo image gets skewed -- you are not in the middle anymore. If it sounds unbalanced at the spot you want to record, it will be an unbalanced recording.

The closer you get to the sound source with your mics, the louder it gets. This seems fairly obvious, but there is another factor in this equation. Every space has a reverb unique to it, and your stereo microphones will record it. But there is a way to control how much gets recorded.

The room sound gets picked up more as you move the microphones away from the sound source. After a point, it will become loud enough to muddy the recording and lessen the clarity (if you have a big room, like a church). In the same respect, the closer the mics are to the source, the less reverb will be heard on the recording.

As you experiment with mic placement and technique, keep in mind that there is no rule that says you can only use one stereo pair. If you have (or can get!) extra mics and recording tracks, try experimenting with two stereo pairs, maybe different stereo techniques (ORTF, AB, Jecklin disk), and in different placements. This will give you more options while recording, and a fuller sound, depending on how the two stereo pairs are mixed.

When you are finding a mic position, keep in mind this good rule of thumb about placement -- the best microphone placement cannot be seen, it must be found. While you might go to a stereo recording and record with the same position you first set up the mics in, make sure that is the best one. You want to make sure you have a good sound before you start recording.

Take your time when you're doing this; it is a critical part of the recording process, stereo recording or not. It can take a long time to get the best recording position, but you want to make sure you get the best sound. Once you find a good place, you've got a lot of work done! Each recording situation is different, so you can use last time's placement to start, but see where the best one is for the current project.

Make sure you like what you are getting. If you don't, you probably won't end up with what you like either. You can do a lot with EQ and processing, but it just isn't the same as getting it right the first time around. Make sure you like the sound of the ensemble or group, the way they blend together, the way they sound as a whole, the timbre, and the mix of the sound source and the room reverb. Get it right the first time, so you won't have to work with junk you wish wasn't there.

Check out some excellent mics for stereo recording over at aZounds.com: the Neumann KM-184 is an excellent mic for working with stereo recording. I have two pairs of them, and love the way they do choirs.

Return from stereo recording mic placement to the main stereo recording page.

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