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Sennheiser MKH 800 Mics Key Top-Shelf Recording Project Featuring Stile Antico At London Church

Recording Engineer Brad Michel's approach to capturing the essence of a lauded, award-winning classical vocal ensemble performing in a unique setting

By PSW Staff July 17, 2009

Stile Antico performing the music of John Sheppard in All Hallows Church, in London, recorded with Sennheiser MKH 800 microphones

The awards and accolades earned by the work of Stile Antico would be an accomplishment for even a seasoned vocal ensemble, but their meteoric rise to fame in the classical music world makes their successes all the more impressive.

Comprised of twelve young British singers, Stile Antico first attracted the attention of harmonia mundi usa’s artistic director, Robina Young, at the 2005 Early Music Network International Young Artists’ Competition.

From there, the group’s debut disc on the harmonia mundi label earned a Grammy nomination, an appearance at number two on the Billboard Classical chart, and they’ve also won the Diapason d’Or and the Diapason D’Or de l’Année, the Choc du Monde de la Musique, and the Preis der Deustchen Schallplattenkritik. The group even toured the world with Sting in support of his “Songs from the Labyrinth” project.

harmonia mundi recently assigned Recording Engineer Brad Michel the task of recording the group’s fourth disc, featuring music penned four-and-a-half centuries ago by Renaissance composer John Sheppard, with the sound stage at All Hallows Church in the Gospel Oak neighborhood of London. Sheppard is arguably the most renowned English church composer of the Tudor era, and the acoustics of All Hallows approach perfection.

Thus, the performers, the material, and the space were all of the highest caliber. And Michel has recorded hundreds of albums for harmonia mundi and earned copious praise and numerous awards for his audiophile recordings (including a 2007 Grammy).

On the project, Michel started with a pair of Sennheiser MKH 800 condenser microphones for the primary stereo pickup. Set far back from the vocalists and high up in the air as an omni pair, the MKH 800s were targeted to capture not just the performers, but also their interaction with the acoustic space.

“The MKH 800s are simply clear, precise and true,” said Michel. “I wasn’t trying to give the recording any kind of ‘sound.’ To simply capture the magic in the room would give us the best recording we could hope for. In my experience, the MKH 800s are pretty rare because they don’t have a color of their own. They’re clean, but not boring clean. Far from sterile, they capture the rich texture of the music and the room. They were the ideal front-end for a project like this.”

The remainder of the minimalist signal chain was also of the highest quality. Another pair of microphones located six feet behind the Sennheiser mics and slightly farther apart provided surround pickup.

All four microphones had short cable runs to an eight-channel, remote-controlled Millennia Media HV-3R preamp.

The output of the preamp fed an EMM Labs Meitner DSD converter for capture in a Pyramix Pure DSD Recording Workstation. It was truly a “less is more” approach.

harmonia mundi will release the stunning results of the quick three-day session as an SACD later this year.

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