Editor's Choice: Stereophile's Sampler & Test CD Track 10

[10] Trad., arr. Erick Lichte: "Danny Boy" (from Let Your Voice Be Heard, Cantus CTS-1201)

Performers: Cantus (Brian Arreola, Michael Hanawalt, Curt Hopmann, Albert Jordan, Lawrence Wiliford, Peter Zvanovec, tenors; Adam Reinwald, Paul Wilson, baritones; Kelvin Chan, Erick Lichte, bass-baritones; Alan Dunbar, Timothy Takach, second basses)
Recording Venue: The Concert Hall at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota
Recording Dates: March 19-22, 2001
Producers: Cantus
Microphones: two Neumann M147 cardioids (ORTF pair), two DPA 4006 omnis (spaced pair)
Mike Preamps: two Millennia Media HV3Bs
A/D Converters: dCS 904 (24-bit, cardioids), Nagra-D (20-bit, omnis) at 44.1kHz
Recorder: Nagra-D
Equalization & 24-16-bit Noiseshaping: Z-Systems rdp-1 with POW-R algorithm
Mixer: Sonic Solutions Digital Audio Workstation (4 channels)

The sound of the singers was clear and bright, focused by an acoustic "cloud" hanging over the stage of this modern hall. I placed two omnis just over 6' apart on the front of the stage, with the capsules 9' high and 13' from the singers. This is too wide a spacing in absolute terms to give anything but a rough semblance of a recorded soundstage, but for the mixdown, I blended their outputs with a coincident ORTF pair of tubed Neumanns at the same height as the omnis but set 10' farther back. This was quite a bit farther back than the theoretically appropriate position on an arc based on the center of the soundstage, but what I was listening for was a similar balance between the direct and reflected sounds picked up by the two pairs of mikes. I adjusted for the difference in arrival times in post-production.

However, when I had aligned all four tracks on my digital audio workstation to be exactly coincident in time for a sound source in the precise center of the stage, and had mixed them all at the same level, the sound was vividly real. But the bright, clear, well-focused hall sound was too real. Yes, you were in that hall, listening to those singers, but it was glaringly obvious that you were the only audience member present!

I had realized at the sessions that some equalization was going to be necessary, in order to reproduce the singers' correct tonal quality. The fairly close omnis were picking up too much high-frequency information, while the distant cardioids were bass-shy. And I had to do something about acoustic hum coming from the building to the right of the stage.

The cardioids were mixed at -6dB with respect to the omnis, and I processed only the omnis with a deep notch at 120Hz, just a couple of hertz wide, to eliminate the LF noise. After some experimentation, I applied some mild EQ to correct for the microphones' departures from a truly flat response: the omnis' high frequencies were shelved down by 3dB, and a broad, shallow boost was applied to the cardioids' lower midrange. The optimal amount of EQ was quite critical. At the correct amount of lower-midrange boost, for example, you could hear into the arrangements and enjoy the interplay between the inner voices, just as you could in real life. Just 0.5dB less boost and those inner voices became obscured; 0.5dB too much boost and the basses began to sound artificial, too "fruity."

What you should hear: The singers are arranged in an arc halfway between the front of the stage and the rear. That all the artifice I have just described did not get in the way of art is, I believe, shown by the new life breathed into "Danny Boy" by Erick Lichte's arrangement.