This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

This article first appeared in the April 2010 issue of the Turkish online magazine Stereomecmuasi. You can read the Turkish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Hakan Cezayirli. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of Stereomecmuasi or the writer - Ed.

Contributor: Mike Valentine

In creating a hifi system, we can chose the individual components - preamp, CD player, turntable, arm, cartridge, power amp, speakers, cables etc. to most suit our personal tastes. Balancing their individual sounds against each other can be a frustrating as well as very expensive exercise. We are all on the path to reach the Holy Grail of perfect sound forever. Perhaps!

One of the things however that we have little control over is the quality of our recorded software. Yes we can buy different performances and chose different record labels but we are largely stuck with the compromise associated with the mass distribution of the material. The recorded quality of most our records and CDs can be a very long way from the original masters. There are companies such as HD Tracks making some of their recordings available as downloads and at much higher resolution than the original CDs. But that does not help us with the large music collections most of us already own.

Wouldn’t it be great to have been present at some of those original recording sessions and been able to take away our own master tapes? I decided that it would be an interesting challenge to try and create an original recording using a simple microphone technique in an attempt to get as close as possible to the sound that you would have heard had you actually sat front row during the concert itself. Access to a high-quality live recording could also prove to be a powerful tool when reviewing various pieces of equipment. It would be a great advantage to know the original venue acoustics and microphone placement.

My first choice of venue was the San Vidal Church in Venice. Every year Françoise my wife and I spend New Year in Venice where we go to as many concerts as possible. For many years we had admired not only this church but the orchestra that performs there almost daily. Interpreti Veneziani performs amongst other pieces Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It would be a dream come true if I could record a live performance with that orchestra.

After listening to another wonderful concert, I plucked up my courage this January and approached the manager of the orchestra about an opportunity to come and record them. It just goes to show that if you don't ask you don't get. Once we explained that this would not be a commercial venture—the orchestra has its own fine set of CDs—he fully understood our intention and was happy to let us record one of their evening performances. With permission in place, the search was on for the best recorder, microphones and mic technique.

I am sure that most people are familiar with the Swiss company Nagra. When I worked for BBC television, I used countless times the Nagra 4S reel-to-reel portable stereo recorder. Now I discovered that Nagra had several digital models and chose their new LB model. Recording onto flash cards at up to 24-bit/192kHzz, this machine has many great facilities including mic preamps with Phantom powering and a multitude of input and output options - all for about £2000.

My choice of mics was the next hurdle. There are many world-renowned companies from whom to pick. Sennheiser, Neumann, AKG, B&K, DPA and Schoeps are just a few. It was also very interesting to chat with some of my old BBC colleagues. Their preferences and biases are as wide and varied as audiophiles. Another great source of opinions was the recording forum Anyone interested in home recording should look up this site. I found it to be a great source of information.

In the end, I decided on microphones from the German company Schoeps. If you have the time, visit their website to download and listen to demonstrations of their mics and different techniques. It really is an ear-opening experience.

And now to the actual recording technique. There are many. You can use a Decca Tree, Blumlein, AB, XY, NOS, ORTF, Jecklin OSS, Sound Field and even a Dummy Head , all with their pros and cons. Let’s go over some of them.

Using two mics as a crossed pair or XY is a common technique. The mics are placed so that the capsules are above each other at an angle of between 90° to 120°. Their response pattern is cardioid (heart-shaped). The problem with this technique is that the stereo image can be a little narrow and you do not pick up a lot of ambience. Also center images appear a little louder than they are in real life.

AB can use two omni-directional mics spaced at up to several meters apart. This system is outstanding for recording the ambience of a venue but does not reproduce a precise stereo image. This is what Decca originally used but they added a third mic in the center to improve stereo localization.

ORTF was invented by French radio many years ago. Here two cardioid mics are placed at 110° and 17 centimeters apart, more or less the distance between a pair of human ears. This system usually guarantees very good results and many people use this especially where there is very little time to experiment with microphone positions.

One of the most famous techniques yet not often used these days was invented in the early 1930s by Alan Blumlein. His system uses two figure-of-eight mics placed one above the other. It probably provides the finest stereo images and has very good mono compatibility. However, just like a pair of Quad Electrostatic speakers, which radiate as much sound to the back as the front, this system picks up as much sound from behind as in front. You need a very good acoustic and also that very rare item, a non-coughing audience!

You can use a Dummy Head with mics placed in the position of the ears. This is known as binaural but usually only successful when listening over headphones. It does not work very well over loudspeakers.