Recording Tips for The Theremin

Posted: 10/7/2014 4:31:22 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

I'd like to start a thread for people to chime on techniques they use to record the theremin.

1. How to mic?

2. Best things to do to record direct to mixer?

3. Use of EQ?

4. Mixing tips

5. Use of processors (not for experimental so much) like suggested delay/reverb settings.

6. Mastering issues

Any other issues people have, solutions they have found. issues recording with just a piano say vs. electronics or a fuller orchestration.

Be nice to have a thread that kind of accumulates information and experiences.

Playing well is only half the battle. If you can't record properly - it's all lost. I need more experience in this area an am open to anyone who wants to share their experiences and ideas.



Posted: 10/8/2014 11:14:16 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

One thing at a time.




How you want your theremin to sound is a very individual thing. There is no "right" or "wrong". The first question you must ask yourself is: 


Is the sound I want from my theremin in any way dependent upon my speaker and amp setup?


If the answer is YES, then you must mike your speaker acoustically the way many professional electric guitar players and pedal steel players do. Do not try to plug your instrument directly into a recording device or console because you will get a much harsher sound. 


If you are making a video and you want to get anything resembling professional studio quality sound, do not record your instrument using the built-in microphone in your camera. You must record a separate audio track as you perform and, after it has been properly mixed, sync it to the video image either digitally or manually. Yeah.....I's a hassle....I can hear the groans already...but GET OVER IT! We are electronic musicians and we will pay dearly for refusing to take on the challenge.


Many thereminists just want to PLUG IN AND PLAY, and resist thinking about all the ins & outs of recording engineering. That's fine as long as you have someone else in your corner who IS thinking about these things. Clara Rockmore's recordings were engineered by Bob Moog! I have heard many fine thereminists come off as rank amateurs because they have been poorly recorded, and their performances go unrecognized because, as skilled as they may be, they sound terrible. 


As the late Bob Moog said in ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY, "The theremin is an electronic instrument, and it is entirely at home in the electronic environment." Do not hesitate to use whatever electronic peripheral you want in order to get your instrument to sound as close as possible to your ideal theremin sound - whatever that may be. The quality of the equipment you use is going to depend upon what you are prepared to spend. High end (i.e. EXPENSIVE) audio equipment will give you far better results than cheap FX pedals designed for use with guitars. 


The microphone you use should also be of high quality if you want to capture the clarity and transparency of your sound. Don't even THINK about using that crappy little thing you bought at Radio Shack for your computer. If you are using a reasonably decent mike, you will need a power source for it. 


My own mike setup consists of an Audio Technica AT4033 (about $400.00 new) which I plug into a MILLENNIA STT-1 preamp (about $3000.00 new). The preamp is then plugged into the recording device which is a whole 'nuthah topic. 


O.K., O.K.....I understand that not everyone is going to be able to justify spending that kind of money on a mike and preamp, so don't get all huffy!  TL Audio makes some great preamp equipment you can pick up for a few hundred bucks. Their Ivory Series 5051 is great. 


A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that goes for your recording setup as well.

Posted: 10/8/2014 12:27:50 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Thank you so much for sharing this!

If you are recording using a mike on a separate track, how are you monitoring when you are playing to an orchestration you've already laid down? Your speaker is in the recording room and we're seeing basically the monitor as you play?


Posted: 10/8/2014 1:39:35 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

To add a bit to what Peter said...


You will get the best results from a clean pre-amp and an accurate microphone.  Bear in mind that such a setup will pick up everything: any equipment noise, room acoustics, perhaps the neighbors' dog barks, too.  Don't even think about using built-in camcorder mic tracks for your final mix!

For most of us mere mortals (who lack a dedicated recording studio) direct-to-console solves many problems that arise from the use of microphones in less-than-ideal conditions.   Unless your "sound" is dependent upon your theremin's amp/speaker then direct will work ok.

You should go ahead and get a D.I. box or an Ebtech Hum Eliminator for your theremin.  (Never travel without it!)  Use a USB or Firewire mixer with your computer.  Do NOT use your computer's built-in mic or microphone input.  Even if you attenuate your input to mic level, it will sound crummy.  Also, if you plan to play "out" make sure you have  D.I. box and invest in both XLR and 1/4" cables.  (I participate in music get-togethers and I am amazed when people show up with nothing other than 3' cables with RCA plugs!)

You can go to Ebay and search on USB Recording interface and you will find everything from < $100 up to $3000.  I use an RME Firewire interface which is kind of high-dollar and it works well.   I have also used Presonus equipment and it worked well for the money.  If you plan to do any live-looping with your computer, you will need a low or no-latency interface and those are more expensive.  The Presonus is fine if you don't plan to do live looping  (for normal recording, latency is not an issue -- it is only an issue for live (real-time) looping.

If you already have an analog mixer you can record from it to your computer via a Behringer U-Control USB interface.  I actually use one for occasions when I stream to the internet.  (And yes, to use it you will need RCA plugs.  RCA plugs are like mopeds -- ok to to use 'em but you really don't want your friends to see you).

Bear in mind that fine recording equipment will capture all the details of your performance -- both good and bad.

My approach to EQ and compression is "less is more".  I try to get all the balances the way I want them and use EQ and compression sparingly.

Note that the Moog Theremins have little to no harmonic content above 7000 hz and they can be noisy.  If hiss is a problem, you can roll off the theremin track above 7000 hz without making a difference.

Moog theremins get a little thick in the tenor range, too, and to roll off 2 or 3 db in the 125 to 256 hz range may help with that.  Ultimately, it is about the sound that you want.


Posted: 10/8/2014 2:42:18 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

I know its cheating..

But I always record electronic instruments directly (DI).. Have a 16/12 firewire interface to my PC, record everything directly to its own channel.. (the only time I would not do this is if the instrument was 'electro-acoustic' and I would regard early theremins with dedicated amplifier and speaker in this group)

Then I will play back each channel I want through whichever amp / speaker I think best for the job, and mic this and record it.. (and one can do some lovely coloring of the sound by placing resonant objects near the speaker - I have a large wooden glockenspiel I often used - sometimes placing the microphone inside this and pointing the speaker at it)

May do several takes with different settings or even different amplifier / speaker and various resonators, and then mix these to taste..

For me, having clean DI recordings is essential - one can always go back to these if a crowd of police cars ambulances and fire brigade drive past your "studio" during a "once-in-a-lifetime" take ;-)

Its been MANY years since I did any recording - but its the one thing I really like about electronic instruments.. Get them raw, with no effects - as little processing as possible apart perhaps some EQ (one of the things I dislike about modern synths - the on-board effects. Often I recorded the MIDI [well, actually, I always record the MIDI] and replay the synth both with and without the on-board and record these to separate tracks) .. If you do use effects, record these to a separate track, and do all the 'crafting' at or before final mixdown - but NEVER delete or modify the DI tracks IMO.


ps.. I have not done ANY of the above with theremins - mostly synth's of various kinds. Also, with MIDI synths, often one does not actually need to record the audio- but I almost always do.

One question -

Balanced outputs.. I have been thinking that theremins should have these.. Don't know any that do.  Is this something that folks would want? (IMO, the output stage of theremins I have seen are often quite appalling, with inadequate RF filtering and quite unprofessional drive circuitry - but I dont know how higher end [EWP etc] fare on this).

Not cheap - but I have been thinking in terms of a transformer coupled balanced output, isolating the theremin ground from equipment ground as well as providing balanced outs - this should eliminate RF coupling and pickup on the lead, but again, not sure if these issues are only issues in my mind, or whether the extra say £10 would be worth it.


Posted: 10/8/2014 3:22:22 PM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

I record Direct in and then mostly EQ (I feel that compression distort the sound somehow) and use a variety of post production reverbs, echos etc...


Posted: 10/8/2014 8:26:10 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Can I just re-emphasise Fred's suggestion of recording direct and then playing it back through an amp and re-recording that with a mic. 

This is not cheating. This is smart practice because...

1. Where you record is very significant.

Maybe your bathroom sounds great - all those hard shiny tiles make for quite a reverb, and a small room reverb gives a very intimate feel, or soft-soap your local vicar if he has a big stone built church for a magnificent, spacious feel.

2. It allows you to use multiple mikes without actually owning several mikes and a multitrack recording system. e.g. one close up to catch the sound of the amp, one further away to catch the sound of the room. Later you can combine your recordings to get just the sound you want.

IMO, always use stereo reverb. Mono reverb is an effect, stereo reverb puts the sound in a specific place - this make it real - played back on a decent system, the listener can feel the presence of the performer.


Don't be afraid to experiment with your system. Learn it by playing with it. Always make a copy of the original recording and experiment with that so you have something to go back to when you screw up, which you will, but that's OK. And remember that every movie made in the last couple of decades is an effects movie, every photo you see is photoshopped. Every piece of music recorded recently has been massaged on a computer. Even the ones that don't look or sound like it. They're just done a bit more subtly, that's all.

Posted: 10/8/2014 8:28:16 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

rkram53 asked: " are you monitoring when you are playing to an orchestration you've already laid down?"


I record the theremin the way I would record a vocal. I monitor the accompaniment tracks with headphones and I hear the theremin both live AND mixed with the tracks. Like many vocalists in the studio, I wear my headphones half-on, half-off my ears. Singers do this so they can hear themselves more intimately. The theremin is an extension of my voice, so I do the same thing. 






Posted: 10/8/2014 9:05:17 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

One question - Balanced outputs.. I have been thinking that theremins should have these.. Don't know any that do.  Is this something that folks would want?  - FredM

I'm kind of against balanced outs in the form of XLR as they are kinda clunky and you need two for stereo.  Then again, for stage and studio I suppose they make sense over 1/4" jacks. 

Something like TOSLINK would be the best for recording work as it gets one DA / AD middleman out of the critical path and isolates like nobody's business.

Posted: 10/8/2014 9:26:13 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

"1. Where you record is very significant." - GordonC

Yeah, loved the video! ;-)

And whats in the room is really important as well.. Having a portable DAW allows one to move your playback / recording to wherever you can.. I have played back and recorded in a room with a grand piano for example - Take a recording of a digital piano, play it back loud with the speaker near an acoustic grand, record with mic near the piano, and the whole sound changes... One can also actively play the damper pedal and add a whole other dimension to the original.

I need to upgrade my Hercules 16/12 because damn Guilimott wont support any 64 bit OS (Be warned! Guillimot / Hercules do this kind of thing -  my first interface from them was redundant when Win98 became obsolete, and now the 16/12 isnt supporting the latest OS or 64 bit - They are superb products, but service / upgrades are abysmal)

Have been looking at this Behringer mixer/recorder/interface if I can sell my Hercules and a synth to pay for it.. Anyone here ever played with the Behringer Xenyx UFX1204 ?


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