The Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and Colorado Symphony Chorus (CSC) recently presented the centuries-old masterwork of the Christmas season: Handel’s Messiah.
The 90 minute-long oratorio, conducted by CSO resident conductor Scott O’Neil, took place at the Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church on December 11th and 12th and was recorded in its entirety using
Neumann digital microphones for a planned future album release.
The performance, which featured 40 musicians, 80 choral singers and four soloists, took place in the sanctuary of Montview before a congregation of roughly 600 people and was recorded by Mike Pappas, a Denver-based engineer and owner of Pappas Consulting LLC, assisted by engineer Devin Shorb.
Pappas, who says he records more than 100 events each year using digital microphones, chose Neumann digital microphones because of their ease of set-up, almost non-existent noise floor and sonic clarity.
“We have worked with digital mics for so long now, that we are actually more comfortable using digital in a situation like this,” says Pappas. “We have come to rely on the infallibility of digital microphone technology and as long as you have the mics set up in the right location, the mix becomes a walk in the park.”
Pappas, who deployed 12 channels of Neumann digital microphone technology on location over two nights, says that he no longer has to worry about distortion or overloading the signal when using Neumann’s digital mic technology.
“On top of that, the audio quality is immaculate,” he continues. “Better than analog through a mic preamplifier.”
Handel’s Messiah is a particularly challenging piece to record — not just because of its 90-plus minute duration, but also because of its vast dynamic range and diversity of instrumentation and arrangements.
“We go everywhere from a quiet harpsichord solo to the entire orchestra playing along with 80 voices and all four soloists singing at once,” Pappas says. “There is this enormous dynamic range, and the digital mics capture it perfectly and don’t even flinch.”
Pappas’ set up consisted of (6) Neumann KM 133 Ds, (4) KM 184 Ds, (2) KM 185Ds and a KM 120 D, all of which were plugged into a pair of Neumann DMI-8 digital microphone interfaces. These interfaces were then routed into an RME Fireface 800 24-bit, 192 kHz firewire interface, which subsequently ran into Pappas’ Apple MacBook Pro running Logic Pro 9.
Neumann KM 133 Ds, which use the legendary Neumann M50 titanium capsule and diaphragm, were used for the left, center and right arrays. Pappas says these are his ‘go-to’ microphones for symphony work, and he appreciates their flat low frequency response and omni-directional pattern.
A pair of Neumann KM 184 D cardioid microphones were used to mic the four opera soloists — one on the males, another on the females. These were both placed about 5 to 6 feet back to capture the full-bodied resonance and tone of the singers.
To capture every last detail of the massive, 80-person choir, Pappas chose to use a pair of Neumann KM 185 D hyper-cardioid microphones for their outstanding directivity and definition. To record the audience, they deployed a Mid-Side (M/S) microphone set-up consisting of a Neumann KM 184 D cardioid on top of a Neumann KM 120 D with a figure of eight pattern.
“The reason we chose an M/S configuration was because we can vary the width of the stereo field during post-production,” Pappas explains. “You can’t do this using the conventional XY configuration.”
On listening to the mix, Pappas realized he needed a mic for the bass section of the orchestra, and a highlight for the tympani. He therefore added (2) Neumann KM 133 D mics to accommodate this.
The entire performance was monitored on Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones.
“We had nowhere to set up monitors and were seated up front, near the orchestra. Therefore we required a headphone that could give us a very good representation of what was going on while having plenty of isolation.”
Following successful tracking of the performance, Pappas handed over the headphones to a few of the musicians, who were still present. “They were completely knocked out by the quality,” he recalls. “When the musicians listen to it and tell you it sounds amazing, you know you are doing the right thing.”
While many engineers have stayed true to analog microphone technology, Pappas says he has now made the permanent transition to digital. “Once you move into digital and realize what it brings to the table in terms of quality, resolution and detail, you can never go back,” he says. “What we get night after night is a completely accurate representation of how the performance actually sounded in the room.”