View Full Version : The Harbeth Listening Room becomes .... a recording studio

10-12-2010, 06:05 PM
Next week my professional singer friend the highly regarded Heather Cairncross (links here (http://www.altovoice.com/) and here current schedule here (http://www.altovoice.com/concertsmore.htm)) and one of her guitarist friends will come over to the Harbeth R&D facility, deep in the countryside, and I will attempt to record them in the highest possible fidelity.

It's a little too cold to book a village hall, so I thought we'd reverse the use of The Cottage. In the same space that would normally be occupied by the Monitor 40.1 (or P3ESR, both designed and optimised there) I'd place the musicians and then capture their sounds with a stereo microphone about where I'd normally sit.

On Monday next we will do a test run to see how it sounds, and on Thursday the proper recording if all goes well. We'll capture the event on video and I may try and do a live streamed transmission so you can see for yourself how time-inefficient the recording process is, adjusting this and that. If we can capture something of good audio technical quality on either date then it will be the first release under the Harbeth label. We have plans for future recordings.

Heather has a wide range of styles and an incredibly sweet and clear voice with great range and depth. Example here (http://www.youtube.com/heathercairncross#p/a/f/1/ECo1JvlUlSw) and here (http://www.youtube.com/heathercairncross#p/a/3D0F9E30C1597763/2/NdMh34uqWAc).

10-12-2010, 06:32 PM
... If we can capture something of good audio technical quality on either date then it will be the first release under the Harbeth label. We have plans for future recordings...

Wow! Nice project. I'll be glad to follow this.


10-12-2010, 06:41 PM
Alan, this is exciting to hear! I'll be first in line to buy the first release under the Harbeth label. I'd be very interested in hearing a recording made on Harbeths, with my Harbeths! Funny, I was just listening to the two NAIM label CDs that I have - still going through my cd collection with my new P3ESRs - very simple recordings (some recordings work, some don't), interesting tests for speakers...

10-12-2010, 09:23 PM
Looking forward to this.

On CD and vinyl I hope !!!

12-12-2010, 01:35 PM
Preparing for the recording session:

We've checked-out various video streaming options. We don't want to throw a lot of money at this experiment with long-term contracts etc. so the best option seems to be Livestream.

Here is a test link to a live stream (http://livestre.am/w1ep)

We'd like to know if ....

1. You can see the picture
2. You can hear the sound (a radio playing in the background etc.)
3. You can interact by typing comment

We are not sure if the link above remains day after day or is anew link needed? With a competitive video streaming system, the link seems to change several times a day which is useless. We will stop transmitting and restart frequently and we hope the link remains live.

Thanks for your feedback

Harbeth PR

12-12-2010, 02:01 PM
I hope Alan can produce a audio CD version for this recording.

Gan CK
12-12-2010, 02:47 PM
A Harbeth recording is definitely worth anticipating.

Don Leman
12-12-2010, 05:38 PM
I registered for LiveStream and was able to post comments.


12-12-2010, 10:01 PM
We are streaming The X Factor Final live. It really is transmitted from London live. This is the UK's biggest TV show. What you are hearing was mixed and balanced on Monitor 40.1 and M30 in the studio and then directly from them to whatever speaker you are listening to the programme on.

Link here (http://www.livestream.com/harbeth?utm_source=lsplayer&utm_medium=ui-content&utm_campaign=harbeth&utm_content=harbeth). Yes you will hear not-perfect pitch because this is live TV. Alternative player test page is here (http://home.btconnect.com/soundbox/live.html). This one does not have advertising etc.

There is now a library recording of the show.

13-12-2010, 12:41 PM
2010gbhar: So what you hear is just one step along the chain from what Robert Edawrds, the sound engineer hear over his M40.1/M30 rig in the control room, and he adjusted the sounds to what we hear ...

I couldn't watch the live yesterday coz it's past midnight in Malaysia. Anyway, I did comparison with the live recording in Yourtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUxzio-3j-4&feature=channel) and from Harbeth live streaming and I have to say the sound it pretty close. Compare the Harbeth track time 15.23' to the Youtube's.

I'll use a proper sound card and speakers later to do the comparison but so far with my cheap speakers and sound card the sound is almost identical (except for slight hiss). Did you place the mic in the studio and broadcast them live?

This is a very important recording because for the first time we get an insight of what a recording engineer intended. Thanks Harbeth. Now if you can find the time I would like to have a high quality MP3 of Harbeth live stream and the TV sound recorded from the web. We cannot watch UK channel from here.


13-12-2010, 03:08 PM
OK, we are now streaming live from the Harbeth R&D facility.

Please watch and report .... link here (http://home.btconnect.com/soundbox/live.html) or alternative here (http://www.livestream.com/harbeth?utm_source=lsplayer&utm_medium=ui-content&utm_campaign=harbeth&utm_content=harbeth)

Don Leman
13-12-2010, 06:17 PM
9:14am PST here so likely missed the live event. I was able to view the recorded session though. If you would let us know the next date and time I could attempt to be available to provide feedback.

13-12-2010, 07:20 PM
Hello Don,

We'll be recording all day on Thursday from about 11am UK time onwards.

Deciding on what level to feed the internet stream is rather tricky. It seems that the overload indicators overreact somewhat. So the first video is louder than the others because I turned the internet feed volume down. Seems I shouldn't have.

Anyway, this was very much a rough-and-ready test. We are still learning.

14-12-2010, 08:49 PM
Here is Heather playing her guitar (she taught herself only recently). She's a member of the choir that Gramophone Magazine have just voted 'the best in the world'.

This is a fairly up-close, intimate recording - necessary in such a small, relatively undamped room; I wonder what you make of the recording? She sings in French, then English.

HQ MP3 is here ....


It was very surprising indeed how moving the microphone and/or some slabs of Rockwool in the listening room (being used as a recording studio) just half a metre this way or that made an immediate adjustment in the sound quality, not in the direct sound but in the reverberant 'tail' that lingers after and between the words. The more damping I introduced and the closer to Heather, the dryer the sound of her voice and the less room 'twang'. There was no detectable change in the sound quality of the nylon-stringed guitar, probably because it has less acoustic power than the voice (so less energy to bounce around the room) and also because it has less HF energy than the voice.

You can see the streamed video here (http://home.btconnect.com/soundbox/live.html). If you fast-forward to about 16 mins. on the Heather Pt1 video, you'll see the actual set-up for the MP3 clip above.

15-12-2010, 03:39 AM
It sounds wonderful. Warm and inviting. Beautiful singing voice. I'm looking forward to buying this recording.

15-12-2010, 06:31 AM
I wonder what you make of the recording?
Allen and Heather,
Thank you for offering us this initial sample. It played without any difficulty, will be looking forward to developing changes in presentation.

15-12-2010, 07:40 AM
Good recording. No hissing or background noise. It is very pleasant to listen to. Autumn leaves is an ideal choice as I have at least two different recording of it to do comparisons.

BTW, I can't help noticing the proximity of the guitar, the music stand and the mic. Wouldn't the stand angled at 45 degrees reflect the guitar sound directly to the mic, so mic would be capturing the direct sound from the guitar and the secondary one reflected from the notes?


15-12-2010, 09:30 AM
BTW, I can't help noticing the proximity of the guitar, the music stand and the mic. Wouldn't the stand angled at 45 degrees reflect the guitar sound directly to the mic, so mic would be capturing the direct sound from the guitar and the secondary one reflected from the notes?Ah well, now we have to balance the fine theory with the practicalities.

Heather has to be able to actually read the music as she is (obviously) not playing from memory; professional musicians always prefer to have a score in front of them just for comfort. So that means that the score has to be at about 45 degrees to the ground so that it is easy to read without shifting her head much and by implication it has to be well within arms reach - say about 0.5m away i.e. within her and the microphone's near field. Since she has to sing on-axis to the mic then that also fixes another vector. What can you do? Answer: compromise.

In fact, by far the dominant problem was not the mic boom, the score or the proximity of the guitar but the room itself. If the microphone was pulled back even 5cms or so, the ratio between the direct sound and the 'room signature' changed in favour of the room, and as the room is only a normal living room with minimal treatment, what the microphone picked-up began to sound like what it really was: a girl and a guitar in a real, untreated living room rather than a studio.

Perhaps a more pertinent question would been 'what type of microphone pick-up pattern did you use and why?'. The answer to that is that the microphone was stereo (two capsules in one long body), the lower capsule fixed and the upper one rotatable. The polar pick-up patterns of both capsules can be remotely controlled. Listening carefully to the audio I varied the pick-up and concluded that somewhere between cardioid and figure-of-8 (closer to cardioid) suppressed the room echo sufficiently. Today I'll experiment with an M-S technique which gives more post-production flexibility.

15-12-2010, 12:38 PM
In response to (now user's deleted post), Heather said "Right!". The microphone was an AKG 426.

16-12-2010, 01:37 PM
We're recording for the CD now - check the livestream feed

21-12-2010, 12:08 AM
A really interesting project! The AKG426 is obviously an excellent microphone but I'm interested in asking about the other pieces of equipment you used in the recording chain, all of which can affect the overall quality of a sound.

Presumably you recorded straight to a PC hard drive, if so what DAW software did you use? Or otherwise, what was your main recording device? What interface was used to connect the mics to the computer (if indeed that was the recording method!)? Was this connected via USB, or Firewire? Was the +48volt phantom power derived from this unit or another external device and do you know what voltage was actually applied to the mic? Did you use a mixer, or was the signal a direct input into the computer interface/recorder? My experience has shown that despite using high quality microphones (such as Neumann U87's) a poor interface often manufactured with suspect and mass produced AD Converters can quite noticeably affect and colour the recorded sound as to make the microphone choice almost secondary, especially if the DAC in the replay equipment are of a much higher quality. Although this is not often picked up when listening to the recording as an MP3 but it certainly does become noticeable on 44.khz 16bit .wavs and above.

Apologies for all of these questions but I'm really interested in how you plan to create the excellent and truly transparent recordings which will surely show off your loudspeakers at their best and the processes you're exploring in order to do this. Many thanks and once again apologies for so many questions, also the confession that I do know and have mixed Heathers work in the past! Best wishes...

21-12-2010, 10:19 AM
The recording was very much a test session. We are not by any means sure that recording in a conventional domestic room with minimal treatment will yield marketable results (for obvious reasons to do with the relatively live acoustics) - but it was worth a try. My two AKG426s were used.

The mic interface was Firewire audio interface box (MOTU (http://www.motu.com/products/motuaudio)) and yes, it provided the 48V. No I didn't measure the voltage as the mic spec said anything between 12-48V was acceptable i.e. the mics generates their own high voltage internally. The DAW was Adobe Audition 2.0 running under Vista 32 bit. We paid for a professional guitarist - our contributions were voluntary.

In all honesty, I'd say that the quality difference potential between a good and a great interface would be swamped by the real-world acoustics plus the non-linearities of the mic capsules. I do not have your wide expertise in recording and don't pretend to - but I am reasonably aware of what good recorded music should sound like and believe that from an equipment perspective it was as good as it needed to be in the given acoustics. The biggest issue is going to be avoiding coloration from the room and you'll see a thread currently running on that very subject here (http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?318-Adjusting-Room-sound-using-material-damping-methods-%28not-DSP%29).

I would of course have preferred using omnidirectional mics for their natural sound - or ribbon figure-of-8s - but a test with the fig8s revealed an unmanageable pick-up of the acoustic space (as you would expect in an ordinary room) so that was that. I have a stock of several B&K reference microphones (all omnis) but they will have to wait for another event, in a much larger acoustic. Given the significant limitations of the acoustic space, I made sure that there was negligible acoustic breakthrough between the guitar and Helen so that in post production there is maximum flexibility.

21-12-2010, 12:26 PM
Thanks for the answers. I realise that this is still an experiment and it's really great that you're able to share the adventure of doing this with us. Finding the perfect room to record in is more than half the battle. For me there is nothing worse than fighting a poor room in post, its mostly a no win situation and the room you used wasn't at all that bad. The proliferation of sound cards designed for home studios and mp3 production has lowered what your average person in the street (not Harbeth customers!) deem as acceptable audio quality significantly and a simple non-scientific listening test between various cards can provide really surprising results. On a slightly different note you may find this site both useful and interesting http://www.pleasurizemusic.com/

21-12-2010, 07:02 PM
... Finding the perfect room to record in is more than half the battle....Yes, I'm very much aware of this. As mentioned in the room treatment thread, the problem is not (just) the overall reverberation decay - which may not be unpleasant, may even be desirable - but those 'hot' frequency bands which you can't suppress at the recording and as you say, no amount of post production can completely conceal.

Due to the snow I can't actually get over to the recording room to collect the recording but hopefully over the break I'll be able to see if it is usable. I am very glad that I didn't make it as an X-Y recording.