Capturing the natural sound of your choir can be challenging. You and your students work hard to achieve a balance across the sections, but ultimately rely on the microphones to capture this balance and faithfully reproduce. So selecting the proper microphones, positioning those microphones at the proper height and providing the output to your speakers or recording device are the keys to a successful amplified choral sound. Oh, and by the way, the process needs to be easy enough that your students can help or even manage the setup on their own!
The Audio-Technica U853 series of microphones is considered by many choral directors the standard in capturing the natural sound of choirs and ensembles of all sizes. Available in a few different variations, the 853A is both affordable and unobtrusive. Not to mention flexible when it comes to the application. If your needs are for a fixed location - the 853A package includes an angled clip allowing the microphone to hang naturally from the ceiling or stage location. This is perfect for churches, or a simple in-classroom recording setup. Or if your needs are to have a more portable setup the U853 comes with an adaptor for a microphone stand that will allow it to be positioned in the proper location for your ensemble. In addition to being available in both black and white (which is perfect for churches), the U853 is available in configurations for phantom power or battery operation.
Positioning the microphones properly is also extremely important, and having the flexibility to adapt to any situation is the hallmark of a quality microphone stand. A boom stand is necessary for this type of application due to the ability to extend higher vs. a traditional straight microphone stand. The ProLine MS220 stand is the perfect choice for this application. It's adjustable to a height up to 67" and with a reach of another 30" with the boom arm. The tripod leg design allows for a stable footprint and easy storage and is available in both traditional black and silver/chrome finishes to blend in with any type of setting.
Connecting your microphones to a mixer or computer interface will require quality microphone cables. The LiveWire brand is synonymous with strength and durability needed for a school application. Specifically the Advantage Series EXM cables come in lengths up to 100-ft. which should be plenty of options for your unique setup. One word of warning - find your length of cable that is likely more than you'll need, but not so much more that you have excess cable lying all over the stage. Keeping the cables neat and tidy as they run across the stage is a key both visually and for safety. Depending on the placement of your mixers, and the amount of cables running from your stage (like digital pianos, handheld microphones etc) it might be worth investing in a simple 8-channel or 16-channel snake to keep both your stage and pathways clear of multiple cables.
The final piece in our signal chain is the mixing board. For the sake of this overview, we're going to stick with an unpowered mixer that can be used for either in-classroom recording or simple sound reinforcement via powered speakers. The discussion of speakers is filled with a lot of options depending on every individuals needs/budget. So sticking with the idea of a general application let's stick with an unpowered mixer with up to 16-channels.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to something for basic school use. An analog mixer with all the knobs and faders, maybe some build in options for effects, and a few options for sound output to either a computer, other recording device or speakers. The Harbinger Series of analog mixers represents a fantastic price point - and the 12-channel version would be a fantastic choice for a small to medium sized application without much output flexibility. Yamaha also makes a wide range of analog mixers with options ranging from relatively small to pretty large.
Ultimately the flexibility and wide range of options in a digital mixer might be the better choice. Along with simple one-touch recording capability to your computer and built in studio-quality effects, many digital mixers (even the smaller ones) can be controlled with an iPad. This now opens up the opportunity to mix your choir's sound not just just the sound board position but from anywhere in the room you wish. Mackie makes a nice line of affordable digital mixers - assuming that you're comfortable with the idea of not having very many faders to move and knobs to turn! With an affordable price point the 16-channel PreSonus mixers are also a great choice that combine the digital flexibility with traditional faders. One note about the digital mixers - you have the ability to set up 'presets' or scenes so you can recall your perfect settings for each room or hall at the touch of a button. A final benefit of a digital mixer is the easy connection to record and play back from your computer. Imagine recording your choir with the press of a single button direct from the mixer, and then playing back that recording as a way to test your speakers and check the sound of the room. If the digital mixer is within your comfort zone and budget - it's a worthwhile choice.
Getting a natural, warm and well-blended choral sound from your ensemble takes dedication and hours of rehearsals. Make sure you're capturing this sound appropriately and giving your audience the best possible performance with the right choral microphones, durable cables and stands along with a flexible digital mixer. Good luck!