Denver, CO, March 17, 2014: Last month, Julliard scholar and organist extraordinaire Michael Hey took the seat at the Platt Rogers pipe organ located in the narthex of Denver's St. John's Cathedral. The formidable instrument, a one of a kind W.W. Kimball that was built to specification almost a century ago, recently completed a painstaking 3-1/2 year, $2.5 million renovation to bring it as close as possible to its original splendor. The landmark performance on February 14th was recorded in high-resolution surround using a variety of well-placed Neumann digital microphones positioned throughout the venue.
To capture the complete sonic depth of such an instrument, St. John Cathedral's Music Administrator, Alberto Gutierrez, turned to veteran recording engineer Mike Pappas, owner of Denver-based Pappas Consulting LLC. Pappas, who has worked extensively with The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, The Aspen Music Festival and others in the past, recorded the recital in 88.2kHz resolution/24-bit digital audio.
"I've worked with Alberto for several years with the Colorado Symphony, and he told me about the gargantuan restoration of this magnificent organ and Mr. Hey's upcoming recital," said Pappas. "I'd been eager to capture such an organ for a number of years and this was the perfect chance to make an audiophile grade recording using my collection of Neumann digital mics."
An Instrument Suited for Digital:
The Platt Rogers organ is the largest intact American cathedral organ currently in use that was built before World War II. It has 96 ranks, 5,961 pipes and is powered by an enormous 25 horsepower motor. With such a large organ, which was being played in a very large cathedral with 60' cielings and a 3-1/2 second reverb time, one of the primary goals was to capture the entirety of the instrument's massive dynamic range: "An organ of this size can generate frequencies as low as 11 Hz, so I had to choose the right microphones to accommodate this," explains Pappas.
Pappas deployed left, center and right microphone arrays, positioned equal distances apart by about 9', placed 21' high, and 20' away from the organ. He chose the Neumann KM 133 D digital microphones, which he says are are his 'go-to' microphones for symphony work and which use the legendary Neumann M50 titanium capsule and diaphragm. Pappas appreciates this microphone's flat low frequency response and omni-directional pattern.
"Back in 1938 when they built the organ, they weren't too concerned with being able to record at 138 dB of dynamic range," says Pappas. "This organ is capable of generating 11 Hz notes. Using the Neumann KM 133 Ds, we were able to get a very smooth response while accurately capturing every nuance in these lower frequenicies." For the two rear channels, Pappas opted for a mid-side pair arrangement, using the Neumann KM 184 D for the mid and the KM 120 D — which has a figure-of-eight capsule pattern — for the side. The entire recording was monitored on location using several Sennheiser headphones including an HD 600 and HD 800 open aire models.
Trailblazing with Neumann Digital Microphones:
The signal flow for the digital microphones was simple: each microphone was connected to the Neumann Digital Microphone interface — which also served as the clocking device for the entire recording system — and then was output via AES/EBU to a RME ADI 6432 converter. This outputs a MADI signal, which was then sent into Pappas' Apple MacBook Pro running Logic X.
Simplicity is a key reason why Pappas was initially drawn to Neumann digital microphone technology: "For remote recording, using digital microphones means I have a lot less gear." he explains. "At one point, we had 40 channels of preamps running into A to D converters, but now I am down to just 8 channels of digital — this greatly simplifies my set up." He also realizes several advantages in audio quality. "Nothing else can give me comparable resolution, dynamic range or signal to noise ratio. Conventional signal chains include mic preamplifiers and A to D converters, and these can impart subtle colorations onto what you are trying to record. For us doing symphony work, all we want to hear is the microphone capsule."
Neumann KH 120: Revealing the Essence of a Unique Instrument:
Following the recording, which took place on a Thursday evening, the recording stems were transported to the Colorado Symphony Hall, where Pappas has a 5.1 mix set up featuring Neumann KH 120 monitors and a Neumann KH 810 subwoofer. "The first thing we listened for was the left-right-center stereo channels to confirm all our mic placements," recalls Pappas. "Once we knew we had that right, we added the rear channels to the mix to provide ambience."
Pappas favors the KH 120s because of their revealing quality and dynamic response. "They are just spectacular," he says. "What you hear is what you actually get on the mix, and it all translates. There are never any nasty surprises." "The integration of the KH 810 subwoofer has been spectacular," he adds. "It doesn't call attention to itself, yet fills in exactly what you want. We never worry about how much low end is going into the mix."
The exquisite recording of the Platt Rogers Pipe Organ is being prepared for a summer release on Chesky Records. To learn more about Neumann digital microphones, please visit http://www.neumann.com.
Georg Neumann GmbH, with its headquarters in Berlin, Germany, is well-known as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of microphones. The company, which was established in 1928, has a long track record of world-leading product designs and has been recognized with a string of international awards for its technology innovations. From 2010, Neumann offers this expertise in electro-acoustic transducer technologies to the studio monitoring market, and will provide optimum solutions to its customers in the areas of TV and radio broadcasting, recording, and audio productions. Neumann is now the perfect partner for both the input and the output of the audio signal path. Neumann has manufacturing facilities in Germany (microphones) and Ireland (loudspeakers), and is represented in over 50 countries worldwide by Sennheiser subsidiaries, as well as by long-term trading partners. Georg Neumann GmbH is a Sennheiser Group company.
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1) Michael Hey sits at the Platt Rogers pipe organ at Denver's St. John's Cathedral.
2) Neumann KM 133Ds capture the Platt Rogers pipe organ at Denver's St. John's Cathedral.
Photographs provided by Mike Pappas