CAS & BAS at The First Baptist Church in America

All photographs: Thomas R. Horrall

Hosted by Stereophile's John Marks, on Saturday February 4, the Connecticut Audio Society and the Boston Audio Society held a joint meeting in Providence, Rhode Island at The First Baptist Church in America. The Third Meeting House of the Church (1774–1775) is a US National Historical Landmark. The Auditorium retains almost all of its original 1775-vintage horsehair plaster, which contributes to its excellent acoustics.

The event was a Workshop on "Making Good Recordings in a Church." Those so interested were invited to bring their own recording gear to the Church; the 48 attendees brought everything from shirt-pocket recorders to imposing surround-sound arrays. Before the formal start of the workshop, those in attendance were invited to participate in a Mid-Side Microphone Technique "Petting Zoo." Minister of Music Stephen T. Martorella, featured in the opening photo, played a Scriabin Prelude on a Steinway grand piano as a sound source.

A Coles 4050 stereo mike array consisting of two figure-of-eight ribbon microphones was set up in the Mid-Side configuration, which uses a sum-and-difference matrix to derive two "virtual microphones." By varying the balance of the Mid and Side channels in the matrix, the width of the virtual microphone array (and therefore the amount of ambience it captures) varies.

The photograph above shows the microphone array; John Marks is in the orange polo shirt; the figure to the right with his back to the camera is loudspeaker designer Winslow Burhoe.

Grace Design's m201 combination microphone preamplifier and analog-to-digital converter (pictured below) provided the M-S matrix function; a Sound Devices 702 was the high-resolution digital recorder. Attendees could listen to the live piano over Audio-Technica M50 headphones and use the Grace m201's M-S Width control to experiment with the Mid-Side technique. (John Marks thanks Independent Audio for the loan of the Coles stereo mike kit and Grace Design for the loan of the m201, as well as thanking the Church for its hospitality.)

The formal part of the program started with a talk by John Marks on the history of the Church and its Third Meeting House, the physics of pure-pressure versus velocity microphones and what that means for microphone placement and techniques, and some guidelines about recording organs and choirs in a church.

John prepared two handouts; the first consisting of a "cheat sheet" of references and resources, which also included a copy of John Atkinson's 1986 article Stereo & the Soundstage; the second handout was John Marks's article for Early Music America magazine's audience of academics and musicians, Gear for Your Gig.

At the conclusion of John's talk, Steve Martorella had the Church's 1834 Hook/2000 Foley-Baker pipe organ play back via Peterson MIDI (a system similar to Yamaha's Disklavier player pianos) several previously-performed demonstration tracks including Otto Olsson's Jul (of Cantate Domino LP and CD fame); Duruflé's Toccata on "Veni Creator Spiritus"; and Ralph Vaughan Williams's Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes Bryn Calfaria and Hyfrydol. To supply that missing element of audience participation, John handed out Blake's lyrics to Parry's Jerusalem and suggested, no, ordered everyone to sing along with the organ the second time around.

For a live encore Steve played what John Marks introduced as "an ancient English melody" but what was in reality Steve's version of Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale.

John Marks has uploaded to his Public Dropbox the following items, which readers may download:

A large MP3 file of his talk (which lasts about 40 minutes).

Handout #1, the "cheat sheet" and JA's Stereo & the Soundstage article.

Handout #2, JM's Early Music America article.

An MP3 compilation of excerpts of the organ pieces (of approximately one minute's duration each, in order to stay within the "Fair Use" safe harbor for copyrighted compositions).

John Atkinson's picture

Nice sounding recordings, John, with excellent LF extension. Did you keep the M and S signals equal in level? I like to have the Side a little higher in level, in order to get more of the hall without detracting from the imagng specificity. - JA

John Marks's picture

Dear John,

Thanks for the kind words.

I agree with you on Mid to Side ratios. On the Grace m201's M-S Width control, I went two clicks to the right of center (50/50) in the direction of more Side. My guess is that that is 42% Mid and 58% Side.

For solo piano later that week, I went one more click, to about 38/62. BTW, the outer limits of the Grace's matrix are 70/30 and 30/70; it does not allow you to zero out one input.

I also have to credit the Grace m201 for a good part of the LF extension. As nice and as cost-effective as the Sound Devices 201 is, the Grace m201 really hot-rodded it in the bass and in dynamics and to a lesser degree clarity.




John Atkinson's picture

Given that you used figure-8 mikes, mathematically speaking, M-S matrixing with a 1:1 ratio will give you the same imgaing as if you had used the mikes as conventional L and R mikes crossed at 90 degrees ie, with both 45 degrees off-axis to a central source. I haven't listened to your lecture yet, but did you choose the M-S technique because of the flexibiity it gives you in adjusting the direct:reverberant ratio?

One thing you might try in future is applying a slight bass boost to just the Side signal before matrixing. Not only does this compensate for the mikes' LF rolloff but also adds more of a sense of "bloom." - JA


John Marks's picture

I had already been talking about Mid-Side for more than half an hour during the "Petting Zoo", so I did not repeat those comments in my lecture.

About which: because some audio society members arguably know as much about mic techniques as I do, and, out of respect for the venue, the first third at least of my lecture covered the history of the church and its third meeting house.

So there's a certain amount about the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War... .


deckeda's picture

I dig recording and have ways felt it should be a bigger part of our hobby ... I look forward to listening and reading what you've provided, JM.

I'm well aware of Grace's reputation, but it's inclusion seems to have doubled the cost of the rig used. What I'm wondering is, would there be other dedicated recorders besides the Sound Devices that would have also sufficed? I'd hate to "throw money" at the mic pres and ADC it has I wasn't going to use. Or perhaps they're considered convenience items there, as they are in inexpensive USB audio interfaces.

John Atkinson's picture

What I'm wondering is, would there be other dedicated recorders besides the Sound Devices that would have also sufficed?

I have a Zoom H4n, which has 48V phantom-powered inputs for two external mikes, and records on SD cards at up to 24/96. Costs less than $300 and I have some nice-sounding recordings made on it. It's worth getting the wired remote control, with its long lead and overload indicator.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

deckeda's picture

I could probably pick your brain at another time about location recording; I know it's a broad topic out of scope here. At any rate these kinds of devices seem like a better idea than lugging a laptop around.

Recording (and later, mixing perhaps) is a field (no pun intended) I'd like to get into. Anything either of you two ever care to share, either as a published piece or offline, with regard to hardware, types of places to approach (schools/churches/coffeehouses?) I could offer recording services are welcome. I've got some the desire, books I've just started reading, some time and a tiny amount of money to get started.

John Marks's picture


I intended the handouts that are available for downloading to provide both the basics (the article I wrote for Early Music America) and also for the advanced student, leads to some resources for deeper study (such as Streicher and Everest's New Stereo Soundbook, 3rd Ed.). I think that there is a small amount of interest among Stereophile's readers in learning more about location stereo recording, and so I think that making these materials available for downloading was the optimal way to get the information out there.

As far as the Grace m201's duplicating the Sound Devices 702's mic pres and A to D converter, (a) that is pretty much unavoidable, and (b) the Grace is not part of the Church's permanent music-recording system. The SD 702 does well on its own, but both for this Workshop and also for a recording we are doing for commercial release in the Fall, I wanted to take it up a notch, even if that notch was not exactly what you might call dirt cheap, in that the Grace lists for about $3500 and the SD 702 about $2100, IIRC. That's just what it costs to take the SD 702 up a notch.

Is anyone else a bit puzzled that Sound Devices sells what is in effect an entire recording studio except microphones and headphones for what other companies charge for a pair of interconnect cables? End of sermon.

There are specific recorder recommendations in the Early Music America article.

I hope you enjoy the music download.



deckeda's picture

I will download and read, thanks. Mine were initial off-the-cuff questions designed to maybe spark a little interest or discussion; sorry if I came off as unattentive to your available files shared here. 

Allen Fant's picture

Beautiful photos guys! Thanks for sharing.

John Marks's picture

These are the best audio-event photos I have ever seen. Thank you, Tom H.!