Recording Hill Quartet with the Clarett 4Pre USB

When we were invited to record rising stars of classical music Hill Quartet at the Royal Academy of Music’s historic Duke’s Hall, we jumped at the opportunity to put the Clarett 4Pre USB through its paces with a world-class ensemble in an ideal space for the occasion.

The recording chain was incredibly simple: three AKG C414 microphones in omnidirectional mode connected to the Clarett 4Pre USB’s high-bandwidth, low-distortion preamps. The mics were arranged in the Decca tree formation, which has been a popular choice for classical recording engineers for decades, thanks to its ability to convey the stereo image of acoustic instruments and the surrounding acoustics very accurately. Usually, the Decca tree is set up in front of the instruments, but on this occasion, being a video shoot, the engineers decided to position the tree behind the players, to remove the stands from the sight lines of the cameras.

The goal in terms of mic positioning and mixing was to capture the optimal balance of direct signal from the musicians and the characterful natural ambience of the hall. Careful attention was given to ensuring that, despite the unconventional mic position, the sound coming into the Clarett 4Pre USB was the best it could be. Engineers took advantage of the zero-latency monitoring in Focusrite Control, to make a quick mix of the live inputs and send it to the engineer’s headphones output — all without changing settings in the DAW.

After adjusting the distance of the Decca tree from the quartet, the sweet spot was found, delivering a well-balanced sound with an expansive stereo image. With the Bakerloo line running underneath the venue, and one of the busiest streets in Britain just outside, some ingenuity was required to minimised rumble. The solution was found in the form of a pencil eraser under each foot of the microphone stand.

The piece selected for the session was Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz, an early work by the Austrian composer and student of Schoenberg that provides the ideal material for demonstrating the Clarett 4Pre USB’s pristine, low-noise mic preamps, ultra-flat frequency response and class-leading converters. “There’s so much dynamic range,” says Hill Quartet first violinist Bridget O’Donnell, “and what you hear in the recording is just exactly that. These perfectly created soft sounds, and then these really beautiful, large, full sounds at the other end.”

As you can hear in the video, the final recording speaks for itself. And Bridget couldn’t be happier with the results, the quality of which is down to the Clarett 4Pre USB’s superb preamps and converters. “It was a really wonderful experience, to hear it back for the first time,” she enthuses. “So heartening to just hear that the mix is so beautifully put together and the overall product is so polished in the way that we want it to be.”

You can see and hear the end result of our five-hour session with Hill Quartet in our exclusive live performance video: