Complete Classical Music workflow

While we are having a great discussion about reverb here, I thought it might be useful to start one on a complete workflow for classical music. I realize there is a similar conversation but it didn’t seem to go into details of plugins, dither, exporting etc.

I’ll outline my own workflow and I encourage others to jump and suggest alternatives!

  1. Capture of audio via SoundDevices MixPre 6 ii or USB interface such as Focusrite Clarett or Behringer UMC 1820 – Before the arrival of the 32-bit float recording in the latest MixPre series, I was setting levels so that the loudest performance peaked at c. -12dB. In most cases, audience applause was always removed so it didn’t matter if whole-room clapping/whooping clipped the recording. With the 32-bit float, obviously I can now capture everything with no worries. I’m contemplating using the MixPre as a USB interface too as the preamps are excellent though how they compare to Clarett is difficult to say.

  2. Microphones – Just to be complete about this from a capture perspective, for microphones I currently use Audio Technica AT4021s (cards) and AT4022s (omnis) as well as sE4400a pairs and most recently a pair of sE8s. I’ve yet to break into the “top tier” of classical microphones (the Schoeps, Gefells, DPA, Sennheiser etc) but I’m really happy with what I have. I do have my eye on either a pair of Gefell M300s or the Telefunken M60 stereo master set but alternatively I also feel a pair of AT4050s might nicely round out my collection. As backups I have two Behringer B2 Pros and four B5s (with the interchangeable caps). While I probably wouldn’t show up to many classical gigs with these as the main pairs (purely out of people thinking I wasn’t serious!), I do know that fine recordings can be had with these microphones. As many have said, if you made recordings with these and said they were KM84s, Schoeps ORTF etc., people would purr over the quality. I see it all the time in blind mic shootouts with guesses all over the shop until the results are revealed and suddenly everyone develops an ability to detect the cheaper microphone. Anyhow, I digress!

  3. Import into Ardour/Mixbus – With the MixPre and the Zoom F8 before it, I would run the files through Sound Devices Wave Agent so that the individual channels were turned into proper interleaved stereo files. This might not be necessary given Ardour seems to split them into L and R behind the scenes but it feels easier for me to keep track of the source files and not have to worry about panning in the DAW.

  4. Restoration work – This is why I still need a Windows partition. RX or Acon Digital Acoustica are priceless! Spectral edits are key to my location work as there are always coughs, chair squeaks and the like just at the wrong moment. I can also catch many early clappers this way although there always is an instance or two of needing to bring in room tone and artificial tails.

  5. Editing – I have grown to love editing in Ardour. The transparent waveforms when dragging are super helpful as well as the default short crossfade which reminds me so much of Samplitude/Sequoia. I can’t stand DAWs where the default is to allow the crossfade to keep extending over the amount of overlap. Unless there are hundreds of edits to do, editing in Ardour is a breeze.

  6. Plugins

Loudness: To get loudness in the right ballpark, on Windows I have Bute Analyzer and Multimeter to set a momentary max or integrated. I was most at home with the K-meters (K-20 and K-14) so still working through LUFS for classical. There seem to be various methods. Similar to K-metering, I could set a momentary max equivalent to fortissimo and then decide whether it needs limiting and/or compression based on loudness range (between 10 and 15 is good?). Alternatively I could locate the loudest track and set that to something like -18 or -20 LUFS integrated (based on research by Tidal). I know some folks using -16 LUFS integrated for classical but certainly this feels too much for solo instruments (I find -6dB peaks about right for quieter instruments which equates to -20 LUFS in many instances). For full-scale orchestral/choral, I can set the momentary max as high as -10 LUFS (something resembling K-14 metering?) and it ends up at or below -18 LUFS integrated. This is the area where I can’t help researching common/recommended practices and I’ve not settled on one method as yet.

Reverb: As discussed, a lot of the time I use Bricasti IRs in Fog Convolver in Windows and x42 in Linux. For algo reverbs, I love PhoenixVerb and in Linux GVerb+ gets a lot of use. It’s hard to give specifics but I end up with concert hall or church/cathedral for most of my work set 33% or less depending on how much real space was captured.

EQ: It’s rare these days that I use any EQ especially if it going to be an archival recording. But, when I do, I will use Flux Epure or Tokyo Dawn SlickEQ Mastering in Windows or in Linux , x42 or Harrison’s XT-EQ (now free on their website!).

Compression: Flux Solera or Pure Compressor on Windows (gentle ratio 1:1.1 to 1:1.25, low threshold c. -30dB) and on Linux, x42, LSP and more. I enjoy transparent parallel compression (as per Bob Katz in his mastering book) but these days I try to avoid compression entirely or use regular as it seems to “glue” things together better and gives some more presence. I understand that for many pro classical releases, an external box such as a Jünger is used to create transparent dynamics control (far better than any digital plugin could). I have tried using automation curves but find it to be time-consuming and my ears, at least, seem more bothered by block changes in background ambience than a simple really low ratio compressor. It goes without saying that I’m much more comfortable transparently lopping of short transients with limiters than bothering to draw in volume curves…Life seems too short :wink:

Limiting: Purely to catch stray peaks from percussion etc, I set a brickwall limiter to -1dB. On Windows I use Flux Elixir, Bute Limiter or Loudmax and on Linux, it is Loudmax or now x42 while using Ardour export to calculate true peak to -1dB. I’ve only done limited tests on this so far so hard to tell if the desired LUFS integrated would be lowered too much for true peaks not caught on the master buss.

Album ordering: Ardour/Mixbus has the wonderful CD track markers that will always snap to CD frames. It would be amazing to have the Pyramix/Sequoia method of being able to easily rearrange tracks (rare but real time-saver when necessary!). Also useful would be the Pyramix method of being able to change pause length between tracks just by typing in a new value in the CD tab. Other than that, Ardour is as good as any DAW out there.

  1. Dither and export formats: Living by Bob Katz’s recommendations, if I export to 24- or 16-bit I will dither. I now use simple triangular dither having experimented with airwindows NJAD. Something didn’t sound quite right for classical (edginess and ear fatigue) and with triangular my files suddenly sound much smoother. Most often in Windows, I have taken to exporting at 32-bit float at whatever sample rate I was mastering in (regularly 96k but increasingly often 44.1k) and run it through Fre:ac or EZ CD Audio Converter which both helpfully allow import of a cue file to create the separate files. I will create 44.1/16 FLAC, 320kbps MP3 (overkill?) and then a 44.1/16 single wav so that I can create a DDP using Andreas Ruge’s cue2ddp. I’ve been convinced by various people (including excellent Xiph videos) that final formats don’t need to be higher than CD quality. I reached out to the Fre:ac developer because I don’t know what DSP is used for bit depth change but never heard back. EZ CD Audio Converter uses SoX so super-happy with the quality. On Linux, I use the built-in tools in Ardour/Mixbus. This means Secret Rabbit Code for resampling (excellent!) and then triangular dither. I have yet to really sit down and analyze noise-shaped dither, POW-R etc but I’m sure that there might be some subtle improvements if one listened hard enough.

As a side note, I love the Ardour export analysis graphics that you can view and save as well as the loudness/peak normalizing stuff. Ardour’s ability to export multiple formats at once is a real time-saver and is something that Sequoia 15 only just received (and Magix very awkwardly tacked it on as a separate button from regular export dialog so it feels like an afterthought).

Tagging: I finish up any necessary tagging in Kid3 on both OSes. This is great for dragging in album artwork as well as auto track numbering etc.

Graphics: I do everything in Scribus (1.5 branch) on Linux using GIMP or Pinta as necessary for any image manipulation. I try to use as many open source fonts as I can as well as creative commons images from I’m tempted by the latest Serif Publisher but I think the stable Scribus 1.6 will be plenty for my needs.

As you can tell, I’m in somewhat of a transition between Windows/Linux and closed/open-source for professional classical audio. When there are serious edits needed for, say, a proper recording session with multiple takes, I will gravitate towards Pyramix 12 for source-destination editing and the crossfade window. Pyramix apparently also has some of the best resampling (Hepta Apodizing) in the business as well as the album publishing which is probably on a par with Ardour’s export features. That said, for most other jobs, I will boot into AntiX Linux and happily do the entire job in Ardour or Mixbus. For a half-way house, I spent a good while using Ardour/Mixbus in Windows enabling me to make use of things like Flux plugins.

I’d love to hear what other people use and how they go from start to finish in Ardour (Linux in particular). I’m convinced that Ardour and Linux are fully ready for most classical music tasks. It’s just that when time is of the essence, I’m just really quick at source-destination and I have a weird love of crossfade windows in both Pyramix and Sequoia that make editing so fun and satisfying. Seemingly impossible edits are quick in these programs but I’m not for one minute suggesting that it couldn’t also be achieved in Ardour with a little more time and effort. And then there’s the spectral editing…


I really appreciate the depth and detail you provided here. As I noted in the reverb thread, Reaper is a good alternative to RX for spectral editing, and Reaper now has a native Linux version. Reaper even offers source-destination editing via a third-party script and the SWS extensions, but apparently it’s not working reliably anymore after recent SWS updates. A classical guitarist named Uros Baric posted some details on source-destination editing in Reaper on his blog some years ago.

I much prefer Ardour/Mixbus’s interface and especially the editing features, but I do use Reaper for spectral editing (it’s excellent) and a few other things. Reaper’s UI is a mess and it can be difficult to discover and remember how to use many of its features, but it’s also deeply customizeable and you can use it for just the tasks you need and then go back to working in Ardour or Mixbus. It’s not open-source but its features are strongly community-driven and has an unusual business model, so in some ways it resembles an open-source project. And it’s very affordable.

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You mean these? Those are mine! I can’t claim to have come up with the first source-destination script but it seems my additions to the workflow with coloring, grouping etc made a few people happy in the classical realm. I adapted source-destination stuff to happen in the same window versus a new tab as is possible with Sequoia as it’s how I like to operate. Shuttling between two tabs seems like a workflow killer. In Sequoia you can do source-destination without any setup and with both Sequoia and Pyramix you can at least set up two sections (with indepedent timelines/zoom) on the screen so you can see both source and destination at the same time.

I also came up with a DDP script (also posted on this forum) that used ddpinfo by Andreas Ruge and SoX to play DDP files from the command line. You could add a track number to start at etc. Basic but useful for my particular situation.

I have a love/hate relationship with Reaper. I used it extensively as a rock-solid bit bucket on a MBP for years when recording my chapel choir every week and adapted/developed the classical helper scripts as part of a music technology class I was running. However, I will say myself that it is a far cry from real source-destination editing and without a real crossfade editing window it is extremely tricky to get precise edits. When I watch the videos by Uros Baric I’m struck by how time-consuming it all feels. It is the opposite of how I feel with a program like Sequoia or Pyramix. They are so efficient that editing becomes one of my favorite parts of audio engineering. Indeed, since I started using Ardour and Mixbus I’ve almost completely given up using Reaper for anything.

I agree that Reaper UI is a mess. Aside from capturing bits, I don’t trust it entirely for much else. I tried the Linux version recently and it was a disaster – not ready for prime time! DDP is probably the worst implementation I have ever seen. It says a lot when Ruge’s ddptools on the command line is FAR easier to use with an exported wav+cue.

To be fair, I’d have to give the spectral edits in Reaper a go again. I wasn’t impressed the first time and it felt like a bit of a hack compared to RX.

Yes, love-hate is how I describe Reaper as well. I’ve used spectral editing in RX as well as Reaper and I’m pretty happy using it in Reaper, especially if I’m already doing other things in Reaper.

It’s encouraging that you’ve settled on Ardour and Mixbus for most of your work. My interests are in traditional music (mainly traditional Irish, but the real traditional kind, unaccompanied, mostly solo players or duos, all live, no studio recording) and I find that classical recording workflows and techniques are the most appropriate for what I’m after. I don’t do this professionally so can’t justify the cost of Sequoia.

The only reason I got into Sequoia was because it was recommended by, and is used by, Phil Hobbs of Linn Records when we used to make music at the cathedral together in Glasgow. I started with Magix Music Studio and Samplitude. When I was in a full-time school chapel music role, it was worth the academic price for the source-destination editing happening on a weekly basis going between rehearsal and service. Pyramix came later when I rejected the incredibly high upgrade costs of Sequoia and seeming lack of feature updates. I now prefer Pyramix for the classical editing stuff and for the academic purchase price and the $200 annual maintenance fee entitling me to free upgrades (including major versions) it seems like a great deal. I have the Native Standard pack but my guess is that you would be quite happy with the Essentials pack too. Here is the pack information with spreadsheet of features. You should note that source-destination and crossfade editor come with even the most basic software pack!

And, just to be crystal clear, for most projects these days I can quite happily do everything in Ardour or Mixbus. 10 or 20 edits are just fine and quite easy to do. 100s of edits makes me reach for Pyramix :slight_smile:. For your situation of live recording with limited need for any serious editing I imagine you would be very happy in Ardour/Mixbus especially with the excellent free plugins out there of professional standard.

I’ve found that I am most productive when I limit my plugin collection to one or two of each kind and it is exactly how I am set up on my antiX partition. x42 plugins take center stage for most things as well as the built-in plugins/features of the DAW. The default settings of Mixbus (or with the saturation knobs turned up just a little more) are fantastic for every classical project I throw in there. I can’t wait for the delay compensation everywhere thing in Ardour as right now I not confident about using parallel bus processing with potential for phase issues. Hopefully this will be of zero concern with release of version 6 and I’m probably worrying about nothing even now.

One other thing worth mentioning for your situation of live recording. As I said in my original post, I use a Mixpre mark II for live capture but for session recording I have, on occasion, used Waves Tracks Live which uses a stripped down version of Ardour. It’s in a similar vein to Nuendo Live or the Record Panel of Metric Halo. Obviously easy to bring into the full Ardour or Mixbus later while keeping non-essential functions out of the way during capture. It seems rock-solid in my experience.

Thanks for all these details. Very useful.

I like recording into a dedicated recorder (I use a first-generation MixPre…there’s relatively little dynamic range in “pure drop” traditional Irish music except among some of the fiddlers from East Clare, so I don’t really need the extra protection of 32-bit floating point. I may upgrade to a Sonosax r4+ or just the Sonosax preamps at some point but am happy enough with my current setup. Since I am usually sitting in the same room as the performance, a silent dedicated recorder suits me better than a laptop with fans (although I know silent laptops are available).

This is the first time I’ve come across this product! It’s a lot of cash for a portable recorder but I bet it is stellar. Whether it is +$5k stellar over the Mixpre 6 or, say, the Zoom F8 is another question! In my case, I’d say not. Neither the Zoom F8 or Mixpre preamps leave me wanting more. Far better for me to invest in the top tier of microphones, I think…

I, too, sit in the same room as the performance as I’m often both engineer and musical ears or both engineer and performer. For session recording, the best I’ve found is a Macbook Air as under normal loads of multi-track recording it is pretty silent and has super battery life. I like the idea of a Mac Mini too but then it becomes a little less portable with need for monitor, keyboard, mouse etc. Ideally, I would purchase an ethernet-based interface so I can run a single cable as far away as I’d like to any old noisy laptop/desktop but until I start getting regular gigs for ensembles that expect separate control room stuff, again I’m better off using the money for other things.

@bachstudies, this thread is a great idea!

I am a professional flutist, from Seville, and I have recorded some cd’s of classical music. Now I am trying to record my own cd… :wink:

I am not new in Linux, almost everything I do it’s made in MXLinux, Antix or PCLinusOS.
However I am new about recording, I have been always only a performer.

For the moment (I will buy two Line Audio CM4 mics soon) I use an Audio Technica AT2020 and an old Senhneiser M80. The interface is An Audient iD14 and a Dell laptop Latitude E6430, Core i7-3540M, 4Gb RAM.

I have a question now. Which could be the LUFS levels for a piece for flute alone like Syrinx by C. Debussy? :slight_smile:

Well my first instinct is to say don’t peak to full scale for solo flute. For my harpsichord recordings I have been aiming for -6dB peaks. In terms of LUFS level, my recommendation is for between -18 and -20 LUFS integrated or between -14 and -16 LUFS momentary max. This somewhat equates to the previous Bob Katz k-meter of k-20. The other way, of course, is to rip a number of your favorite recordings and level match by ear or via comparison of LUFS levels.

This is my ball park but interested to see what other classical engineers do. As I mentioned previously, this is the part of classical mastering that I currently find the most interesting. There’s a general streaming standard of around -16 LUFS integrated but I’m not sure how well classical fits into this without compression. I know harpsichords are notorious for overtones so in my case a true peak of -6dB equates to -16 LUFS momentary max.

I just caught this after posting. CM4s would be good but if my understanding is correct they are not designed for standard ORTF, for example, due to being slightly wide cardioids. They are great microphones by all standards but from experience I’ve had good luck with my new sE8 pair (KM184 like) or a pair of Behringer B5s with the interchangeable caps. There’s a story about a young engineer using them to record the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with great results :wink: I really like my AT4022 pair (omni) and AT4021 pair (cardioid) and I challenge anyone to find better microphones at that price point! There are the Lauten Audio LA120 pair with interchangeable caps that I haven’t used myself but am intrigued by. Also worth nothing are the new Lewitt Match pairs.

I am doing this, to rip my favorite recordings and level match by ear, I will compare the LUFs also…

I question: Why add you the Loudmax plugin at -1db at the end if you know that your recording are not peaking?

Well, then I’m going to have to consider buying the microphones. I don’t think I use the standard ORTF, I simply place the two mics one meter apart in the direction of the flute, something higher than the flute and about a meter and a half away.

So do you think sE8s, or the Behringer B5s would be a better option than the Line Audio CM4? Or better wait and buy the AT4021 pair?

I’m attaching several files of what I’m recording.

I used the Bricasti Vienna Hall quad reverb for Syrinx at -20db and the Clear Hall reverb for the others.

I also lowered very very little the equalization of the microphones around 2.700Hz.

What do you think? You can be honest… :slight_smile:

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Haven’t listened to the recordings yet, but that is definitely not ORTF.

ORTF involves two cardioid mics, with tthe capsules 17cm apart at a 110 degree angle from each other.

How you are using your mics is generally referred to as a space pair. It can work well if done right, but is very susceptible in phasing issues if down mixed to mono, so just be aware of that.

As I said haven’t heard the recordings yet and it could be it sounds fine, so don’t take this to mean you have to change anything, just be aware of limitations is all.

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Your recordings sound great to me; are you satisfied with them yourself? If not, what do you think is missing.

Regarding microphones for recording flute, I’m also a flute player (traditional Irish, not classical) and I’ve experimented with a number of mics and configurations over the years. I’m not convinced there’s a strong benefit to recording solo flute with a stereo pair, especially if you move while you play, as the resulting stereo image can be distracting to the listener. But a stereo pair may come closest to reproducing what a listener in the room would hear, if that’s what you’re after.

I have cardioid mics from Earthworks, Sennheiser, and Line Audio, and omni mics from Earthworks and Line Audio; I also have a large-diaphragm cardioid mic from Michael Joly. Out of all of them, the most satisfactory (to me) stereo recordings have come from a pair of Earthworks QTC-40 omnis in AB or from a pair of Line Audio CM-3 in ORTF (recognizing that they’re not quite suited to ORTF being even more wide cardioid than the newer CM-4). For mono recordings I’ve been happiest with my Sennheiser MKH 8050 and the Line Audio CM-3.

There are several variables at play: the mics, the stereo array, and the distance and height of the mics from the flute, so it’s worth experimenting with a variety of configurations until you find one that captures what you want to hear. Unless you do tightly controlled tests keeping all distances precisely the same it’ll be hard to pinpoint the cause of differences, and ultimately I’m not sure it matters. If you start with good mics, you can experiment with different configurations (stereo, mono, different stereo techniques, etc.) and distances until you find something that captures the sound you want, write down all the distances and other specs, and stick with it.

I have got a pair of Line Audio CM3 and I have recorded (baroque) flutes and recorders with them with great results. While CM3 is indeed a wide cardioid, newly designed CM4 is said to be straight cardioid, but again with flat frequency response, which may not be to everyone’s liking. I’ll try to upload some samples of the concert so you can have some idea of what CM3s sound like.

The CM-4 is still slightly wide of cardioid but is closer (to true cardioid) than the CM-3.

Here we go: A pair of CM3s, spaced around 20 cm at 90°, old, small, overly reverberant church, audience participating… ensemble spread across the stage, flutes full left, singer full right.

Recorded on E-mu 0404-usb to Raspberry Pi Zero. Edited in Ardour on Dell laptop.

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Yes, I’m satisfied at first. The recordings have been made at home. Maybe the original sound isn’t the most adequate, there’s a little bounce on the bass but the final result I think is acceptable.

I don’t usually move much playing, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem… :slight_smile:

Here in Seville there is a lot of record industry, flamenco, mainly, some of the technicians tell me that the microphones are not the most important thing, it is usually more important for the client than for the technician… The important thing is the placement :slight_smile:

I don’t add limiters to things like this. I’ll only add one if I know to achieve a certain LUFS level there might be a need for some transparent limiting of percussion hits or something similar.

Yes, very beautiful sound. Thank you!! The CM4 was my idea for a next purchase. I’m gonna study the subject a little bit.