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The space: Church sanctuary, roughly ballpark-shaped, about 40 to 50 feet on a side. Stone walls and floor with cloth hangings and carpeted aisle runners, wood pews with cushions, high vaulted plank and beam roof. Chancel area has two deep steps that form the "stage" for the performance.

The ensemble: A choir of about 25 members center-stage, plus piano (Yamaha C3 6' grand, high dynamic range, mellow tone, typically placed front and center), cello (typically house-right of the choir toward the front), violin (ditto), and misc percussion (handbells, snare, usually far house right).

The problem: The installed hanging omnis that normally capture events like this performance are being removed to "clean up" the look for the front of the church, as part of a general audio overhaul. There are good reasons for this decision (they're only needed for these special performances, not for weekly services, they're not positioned well, and half of them are dead anyway); however, nobody in charge of the audio overhaul has thought of how sound will get to the mixing board once they're gone.

The goal: to buy a microphone setup to be used to record (not reinforce) these special performances, that will capture a full, balanced sound of the ensemble as heard by the live audience. Stereo recording is preferable, but the primary goal is to buy the best stuff we can afford to do the job we need.

The budget: US$500. That has to include mounts and cabling. Stands I think we can scrounge.

The contenders: I've done a little homework and found a few mikes that are generally well-reviewed by audio pros and home amateurs alike:

  • AKG C2000b - S-A LDC; generally well liked as a "bang-for-your-buck" mike with good sound at a very reasonable price ($200 retail, so a pair would be $400).
  • AT 4040 - S-A LDC; industry workhorse, every pro has used one at least once. Getting a pair for the stated budget will depend on what my wholesaler can do for me ($300 retail).
  • Rode NT5 - F-A SDC; well-reviewed as drum overheads, also gets good reviews for guitar and ensemble vocals. $425 a pair.
  • Oktava MK012 - F-A SDC; I have yet to find a reviewer (pro, amateur, home or studio) that didn't like these on anything you'd point an SDC at in the first place. Right at $500 for a matched pair with cardioid capsules only.
  • Other suggestions welcome. As stated, the key is quality and value; I don't mind spending money on good equipment, but if there's a mic I don't know about that really sounds as good as more expensive competitors for hundreds less, let's hear it.

The question: If you were in my position, with my budget and no microphones on-hand that you'd use, what would you go out and buy, and how would you set it up? I have a basic primer of the common stereo miking techniques, and pretty much any of these can be set up in any configuration so I can play around with what I get, but I just don't have a lot of experience to tell me what the best equipment to start with would be, and I don't have money to experiment.

The EDIT: I missed a key piece of information which I had thought would be inferred; there is a mixer (and not a bad one either) for the existing sound system which is not going anywhere, no matter what happens to the overheads or any other mike in the space. Also available is a recording unit; a Zoom H4 that normally records weekly services by being plugged into the mixing board's matrix. It has a built-in coincident pair and so is capable of being a free-standing recorder, but as I told AJ, having done it both ways with the same system, I have a clear preference for mikes through the mixer to the recorder if it can be done. So basically I really do need just the microphones if we can swing it; everything from there in the signal chain already exists.

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I wouldn't have given up the overhead lavs. Is remounting in a better position an option? –  AJ Henderson Jan 30 '13 at 14:09
    
It may be. The consultant who last came in and recommended that has since bailed on actually performing the work as agreed (no money has changed hands) so we can revisit his suggestions. I think that most of them, including removing the overheads, were very good suggestions, but with us in this position and money a definite object I may push to keep them. –  KeithS Jan 30 '13 at 15:39
    
yeah, that's always the trick with non-profit/audio on a budget. That's where I started doing A/V and still do a lot of my A/V work. It's hard to replace a fairly significant investment in LAVs with similar quality results without spending more money than they cost in the first place. Sad reality. –  AJ Henderson Jan 30 '13 at 19:55
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1 Answer

On that kind of a budget, have you considered any purpose built recorders? There are a number of portable recorders that include stereo mics built in that you can simply place and hit record. The best choice tends to change pretty quickly as new models come out, but reading online reviews for current selections would likely yield a sufficient quality result in your price range if the main thing you want is just a recording of the audio as it is heard in the room.

With budgeting concerns removed, certainly the best sound would be to put two direct mics (or even piano mics) on the grand, direct mic the cello, violin and whatever fixed percussion you can and then area mic the bells and the choir. The best micing for the choir's gonna depend on how they are positioned, but probably a mic in front and off to the left and right (probably could even use the existing LAVs from a tall boom stand would be sufficient. It would require a mix down instead of just being a simple recording, but it makes it so it isn't a permanent setup and is going to get a far superior sound to just doing a room recording unless you have really great acoustics.

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There is a Zoom H4 available. It has been used both as a free-standing recorder for these events, and also to plug into the mixing board's matrix when recording from sources input into that. It gets the job done as a standalone, but having heard both approaches I vastly prefer the results from a mic-mixer-recorder setup if we can swing it. –  KeithS Jan 30 '13 at 15:41
    
@KeithS - yeah, the built in mics on the H4 are kinda blah. They didn't really upgrade it that much on the H4n either (I've got an H4n but I use it with my own mics that I use for video.) My church actually has a different brand that is really well reviewed for the built in mics, but I can't for the life of me remember the brand at the moment. –  AJ Henderson Jan 30 '13 at 19:53
    
So if we're in agreement that, given enough money for good mikes, good mikes are the way to go, would you care to edit your answer with a suggestion on good mikes and how you'd arrange them? –  KeithS Jan 30 '13 at 22:41
    
@KeithS - Sorry that the answer probably still isn't that super helpful to what you are looking for. Unfortunatly I don't really do much as far as room micing goes because I've always either done it the way I describe in my update for live audio or been more focused on shotgun mics for video where I want a much more focused pickup. I don't really know much about the mics that would do general room pickup, at-least not enough to make a good recommendation. –  AJ Henderson Jan 31 '13 at 14:10
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