Our friend and taper extraordinaire Justin Marinoff has joined the Hidden Track Team to write a column about taping. His first few columns will focus on the basics involved in recording live music. If you have any questions about what you read, be sure to leave a comment after the post with ‘em.
Have you ever wanted to jump into the taping community but felt deterred by expenses, work and time involved in the hobby? When I began taping concerts in 1998, I had no equipment. I find the simplest way to get into the scene is start befriending people in this hobby, “tapers.” I became friends with a taper who sold me my first pair of microphones, a microphone stand and cables for $300. At that point, I just needed a recorder and I was ready to start taping live music.
If a fan approached me at a show and asked how to start this hobby, I would simply tell them, “Start by buying a pair of microphones and a small hand-held recorder that are within the means of your budget.” To choose the microphone and recorder that is right for you, you’ll need to test them. There are many different avenues for testing the equipment. You can go onto www.archive.org and listen to recordings from tapers who own different types of microphones and recorders to compare the sound. Another option is to rent equipment from a local rental house. Both options I have practiced and are very helpful.
There are two different types of microphones that I would suggest for a first time taper. If the taper wants to use only one microphone, I would suggest the American based microphone called the Audio Technica (AT8022). The AT8022 features two condenser microphones in one small housing unit. It consists of a capacitor with one plate fixed and the other forming the diaphragm moved by sound waves mounted in an X/Y configuration that produces an accurate stereo image. This microphone is powered with external power or a 1.5v AA battery and lists at $319. However, I would recommend the Russian based Oktava MK-012 for use of two microphones. The MK-012 is a compact high quality condenser microphone that is constructed of a cardioid or “heart shaped” pattern. These microphones use the type of sound pickup patterns described by the Cardioid. Sound is picked up from the front of the microphones and, to a lesser extent, the sides as well. The wide, flat response ensures that all sounds are captured in the condenser with a high degree of accuracy. A single MK-012 will usually cost $295. To achieve true stereo effect for this style of microphone, you would want to use two microphones on one stand.
Once you choose the microphone style, you will need to select a solid state recorder that has XLR (external, line and return) inputs. An XLR is a plug and socket used in professional audio equipment, lighting controls and other applications. It uses a balanced connection and locks into the socket. The XLR input supplies 48 volts of power to the condenser microphones. In terms of value, the Marantz PMD661 is the best recorder on the market, priced at $649. The Marantz PMD661 is a professional quality stereo field audio recorder. It uses high quality internal pre-amplifiers that provide gain without causing distortion to the microphone signal. Once the music begins, the audio files are recorded as WAV or MP3 on SD or SDHC flash cards at rates up to 24 bit/96kHz. Keep in mind; all recorders are capable of recording at the highest quality, rate and resolution of the data. The amount of data that is sampled in one second is referred to as bit rate. The PMD661 is capable these high quality recording functions you want as a beginning taper.
These microphones and recorders are for the basic start up taper. Look for my next column that covers pre-amplifiers as well as analog to digital converters. Until then happy taping!