Taking bell recordings - part two

fartwell2000 fartwell2000 at y...
Wed Feb 27 21:55:54 GMT 2002

--- In bellhistorians at y..., "oakcroft13" <bill at h...> wrote:
> Here are some further ideas (born in the main of bitter experience) 
> concerning the recording of bells. The issues I'll address here 
> include:
> * frequency stability of recorders
> * automatic level control
> * frequency response of microphones and speakers
> * the loudness of bells
> * ambient noise and recording location.
> 1) Frequency stability of recorders
> If you are recording bells for analysis purposes, or just want the 
> pitch to be accurate, frequency stability (i.e. variations in 
> and playback speed) can be a real problem. Some guidelines are:
> * domestic cassette recorders are usually terrible in this respect
> * where possible, play back recordings on the recorder they were 
> taken on (though this is often not enough to fix the problem)
> * speed variations can be compensated for by recording tuning 
> handbells etc. but this is a real fag to do
> * machines I have used that display good stability include video-
> cameras and recording direct to PCs. Steve Ivin and George Dawson 
> speak highly of mini-cassette recorders, I have no personal 
> experience.
> 2) Automatic level control
> This is an unfortunate feature of domestic cassette recorders and 
> other such beasts. Because bells are so loud compared with ambient 
> noise, recordings with auto level control usually consist of a loud 
> hissing noise interrupted by the fainter sound of the bell or 
> If the level control cannot be over-ridden you will not get good 
> results. Video cameras (based on the small sample of those I have 
> owned) appear not to have auto level control and are OK.
> 3) Frequency response of microphones and speakers
> Speaking subjectively (because I have not done detailed response 
> tests, yet), even quite small, cheap microphones give good 
> response and dynamic range. Video camera microphones have proved 
> good, and the microphone I use with my laptop came (ahem!) free 
> a PC I bought a few years ago. On the other hand, cheap and small 
> loudpeakers are usually very poor, with bad bass response and fake 
> resonances. You need to play recordings back through hi-fi 
> (or at least PC speakers that cost more than £15!) to judge their 
> quality.
> 4) Loudness of bells
> Bells are very loud indeed, as we all know. I have found that a 
> single clapper blow recorded close by the bell will easily overload 
> the various recorders I use. There are two ways to get around this. 
> First, distance always helps - recording from another floor, 
> from the tower etc. Learn the characteristics of your recorder and 
> how close you can get without overload. Just because the recording 
> not audibly distorted does not mean that you are free of overload - 
> looking at the file with a sound-file editor will tell you if 
> clipping is occurring. Aim for no more than 80 or 90% of full scale 
> to be sure. The second cure is to always do a level check before 
> taking a final recording, and either move further away or turn down 
> the record level to get satisfactory results. Aim low - within 
> reason, loudness can be boosted with a sound file editor but there 
> no way to remove overload.
> 5) Ambient noise and recording location
> The ability of recorders to pick up blackbirds, traffic, wind and 
> bellropes is remarkable. Wind can to some extent be cured with a 
> on the microphone (I believe, I have not tried this). The 
> noise needs to be minimal for a good recording. In achieving this, 
> watch for multiple sound paths from the bells to the microphone. 
> Examples include: echoes off surrounding buildings, closeness to a 
> bell-opening, or to a hole in a floor giving undue prominence to 
> certain bells, etc. Locations inside the tower are often 
> satisfactory, especially if it is possible to go above the bells 
> an intervening floor or two to cut the volume down. On floors below 
> the bells, rope or mechanical noise often spoils the recording. If 
> is sheltered from the wind, the roof of the tower may be a good 
> location. The church roof is often too close to the bell openings 
> one side of the tower. Some of the very best recordings I have 
> were taken in the bell chamber, but needed professional equipment 
> capable of handling the sound intensity.
> Hope the above thoughts are useful. They are not definitive, I'm 
> others have views.
> Bill H

Thanks Bill-Much appreciated.
I have experianced some of the problems that you have 
detailed above.
I have made recordings with cassettes recorders,two speed dictaphone 
machines(mini cassette) and on an old Marconiphone reel to reel tape 
recorder(of reasonable spec.)and would have to say that I would 
appear to have got my best results using reel to reel and a cheap 
Tandy omni-directional microphone(£2.99 about sixteen years ago).
I dont really know if a minidisc recorder would really be a 
better option for me or a better mp3 system as I cant really see much 
point in a minidisc recorder as I have a cd writer at home.
I look forward to downloading the trial version of the software you 
reccomended. By the way,the full version is $69-You dont happen to 
know if it is available in the U.K do you?

More information about the Bell-historians mailing list