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#966875 - 01/29/09 10:11 AM Learning to record the piano
ab-ster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/08
Posts: 154
Loc: Seattle
I just got a matched pair of M-Audio Pulsar II and started to experiment with different mic positions. I had one mic in upper treble area close to the last upper dampers and another one right in the middle of the piano belly. I haven't done the homework to research best piano micing practices so if you do have URLs of good sites that have this information, please send them over. I'd like to know the best way to position mic, especially for small condenser cardioid. The mics were also picking up room ambience, I'm going to try again tonight with the supplied windscreens to see if the ambience noise is reduced. They were picking up my laptop noise and my daughter's voice =).

Here's a short of not so good improv I recorded last night:

http://binokino.com/download/st_test.mp3

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#966876 - 01/30/09 07:11 AM Re: Learning to record the piano
Rodger Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/14/08
Posts: 12
Loc: Ohio
Hi ab-ster,

I'm no expert in mic placement or playing the piano, but I think your recording is awesome. The playing is great and the recording sounds really good to me. Keep up the great work.

Rodger

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#966877 - 01/30/09 04:45 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
ab-ster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/08
Posts: 154
Loc: Seattle
Thanks Rodger for your kind words. I was able to reduce room noise by putting on windscreen. Now I need to record some real music...

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#966878 - 01/30/09 07:22 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2606
Loc: Manchester, UK
Slightly related question; what pre-amps/mixer/soundcard are you using with the microphones. What is your full recording setup if you will?
Thanks.

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#966879 - 01/30/09 09:42 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
ab-ster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/08
Posts: 154
Loc: Seattle
bruce-san, I'm using TASCAM US-122 USB soundcard with its builtin microphone preamp & phantom power. I used Audacity for the recording software. The test recording was done with 24/44.1 setting.

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#966880 - 01/31/09 04:03 AM Re: Learning to record the piano
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2606
Loc: Manchester, UK
Thanks ab-ster, this is exactly the kind of device I need. A midi interface so I can use my keyboard with sibelius on my laptop and a portable usb 2 channel mixer. Just need to replace my crap microphones now. :p
I also think your recording sounds pretty damn good for such a cheap setup. Id love to hear some rehearsed stuff.

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#966881 - 01/31/09 04:24 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
Nigel Keay Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/04/08
Posts: 132
Loc: Paris
I used a US 122 for a while, the last recording I did with it was to record my work Diffractions . The mics were small condensor cardioids (e914 Sennheiser). I've been recording quite a bit of piano recently, same mics but with a MOTU interface, which is broader in sound; that could be attributed to better preamplifiers- of course there's a difference in price.

As for your recording, the mics sound interesting, although for me the higher registers sounded a bit over overemphasised and a bit disconnected. I picked the mp3 was 128Kb - a bit thin an grainy. I'd try a simple x-y configuration, the two mics mounted on a single bar, pointing at where you had them. For the MOTU interface I've been positioning the couple quite to the left, out from the widest part of the lid that reflects the greatest amount of highs, whereas for the US 122, that could be more to the right to pick up better the lows.
_________________________
www.nigelkeay.com

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#966882 - 01/31/09 09:31 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
ab-ster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/08
Posts: 154
Loc: Seattle
Thanks Nigel for the tips and analysis. Yes, the mp3 is grainy compared to the wav file. I'm going to experiment with the X/Y configuration. Would that give you more 'connected' left and right?

My brother has Ultralight. I'll see if I can borrow that to test the difference to US122.

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#966883 - 02/04/09 02:25 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
Hakki Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 2684
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan08/articles/pianorecording_0108.htm

An in depth article about piano recording, including various sample recordings of different micing positions and techniques.
_________________________
Put in one of IMO, I think, to me, for me... or similar to all sentences I post

http://www.youtube.com/user/hakkithepianist

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#966884 - 02/04/09 07:06 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
RachFan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/02/03
Posts: 1341
Loc: Maine, U.S.
Hi ab-ster,

You neglected to mention the kind of piano music you usually play, which is everything in determining mic positioning. From listening to your recording, it sounds like you're into mood music or improvisation. "Close-in" recording technique using cardioid capsules (compulsory just by virtue of being close-in) on small condenser mics very near or even inside a grand piano works well for that music, also for jazz and pops. The most popular mic configuration for this kind of music is XY, where the mic capsules meet one another, virtually touching, at a 90 to a 120 degree angle. One mic can also be a hair above (on top) of the other forming an X, such that one is pointed toward the front of the strings, while the other points toward the bass strings in the tail of the piano. With XY, the condenser mics are declined downward, pointing at the strings. Pianists playing these genres want to hear music in the making before it gets to far from the rim of the piano. Jazz pianists like the percussive sound of the hammers on the strings.

For classical music, close-in recording is inappropriate and far from optimal. The reason is that what is needed for classical genre is a finished, refined, and blended sound, not raw sound in the making. For classical, what works best is A-B stereo configuration using two matched small diaphragm condenser mics with omni-directional capsules (for ambiance too) in parallel, separated by 12 inches (measure it every time), and at a distance of between 5 to 8 feet from the curve of the piano rim. (Takes much experimentation to determine the optimal distance given the piano and room acoustics.) The mics are then inclined, angled upward and pointing at the top of the fully opened piano lid.

Positioning stereo mics outside the piano is 100% easier with mic stands. Also the person recording should be using digital solid state, not analog, equipment. Quality mic cables, probably a 20 foot length for flexibility make a huge difference in the sound. Monster brand cables are excellent.

Having said all this about mics, stands, recorders, cables, configurations, positioning, etc., the most crucial and critical ingredient by far is... the pianist!

If you do a Google search for microphone configurations, you'll find enough articles to keep you extremely busy. I hope this helps.

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#966885 - 02/08/09 04:50 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
Nigel Keay Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/04/08
Posts: 132
Loc: Paris
RachFan, what would you recommend for jazz-influenced contemporary classical? Perhaps a mixture of the two systems ie. two couples of mics into a four channel interface? I'm interested to know why 12 inches is the prescribed distance between mics. Doing some reading today, it seems that for a definite stereo effect using A-B stereo, a greater distance is needed, but I appreciate from a recent recording experience that too much stereo effect may not be ideal for recording a piano. I recorded a contemporary piece recently using x-y that had a run from top of keyboard to bottom, where on the recording the sound passed from left speaker to right - certainly the audience wouldn't hear it as extreme as that. Although x-y has worked for other repertoire without problems.

What are thoughts on using cardioids in A_B stereo? According to Sennheiser's catalogue, their MKH cardioids can be used in this configuration.
_________________________
www.nigelkeay.com

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#966886 - 02/08/09 08:57 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
RachFan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/02/03
Posts: 1341
Loc: Maine, U.S.
Hi Nigel,

I think for jazz-influenced classical, say Kapustin's music, I might try both A-B and XY and compare the two results aurally. Interestingly, Kapustin claims he is NOT a jazz composer/pianist. He says he does not improvise, for example, which is essential to jazz artists, and he always produces written, published manuscripts, which many jazz artists are loathe to do. So if he were forced to choose between labels, I think he'd fall on the classical side. I believe I'd go with two stereo mics only, two channels. That's really all that's needed for excellent recordings anyway. Beyond that there is risk of phase problems with three or more mics.

I got the 12" A-B separation from a concert artist (who also works in the sound/electroncis end of music too. He's done extensive testing of mic positions in various venues and situations, and has found that to be optimal. In my own recordings (you can check the three Catoire pieces below), I too find that separation to produce excellent results. Distance from the piano though will vary by performer, room acoustics, and the voice and power of the piano. So no firm rule there, other than ample experimentation.

The reason you don't want a sharply delineated stereo effect for piano (and you can get it by putting two close-in mics about a foot away from the grand's rim, for example), is that once you attain it, the sound is clearly divided rather than being more blended. So for piano, you're deviating from conventional norm. Recording an orchestra is entirely different, where the A-B mics are more angled away from one another to better pan the stage. There, you do want to hear a good deal of stereo separation--the first violins on the left side, the second fiddles on the right, the bass violins way over to the extreme right, the tympani way over to the left, the pianist playing the concerto in the center, etc. Not so with the piano, however, as one instrument playing solo repertoire. Rather, its sound needs to be blended into a whole, unified sound source and impact for the listener.

XY by its very nature is designed to be close-in, with one mic aimed toward the tail and the other toward the front upper portion of the strings, while panned downward. Physically, the farther you move the mics back from the piano (and depending on the length of the grand), it does not very long to lose the desired X angle of the mics (there is a closing and narrowing of the 90 degrees to compensate for the distance and to keep them focused on the piano), such that one is shooting over and past the keyboard and the other past the rim of the tail. In other words, the further out you get, the more XY looks starts to look like A-B! So there's a very practical, spacial limitation there. XY is great for jazz and pops. But the refined, blended sound for a classical rendition XY is not nearly as good.

For XY, best results are attained with cardioids, although sometimes a lo-cut setting is needed to block close-in overpowering sound, but not always. Depends on the equipment and capabilities. Although you can use cardioids for A-B in recording classical, the directional sound will be rather dry and, well, uninspiring. You won't notice it until you take off the capsules, put on omnidirectionals and record the same piece. That latter sound, including room ambiance, is rich,lush and more beautiful. You'll notice the difference instantly. I've tried both--no comparison.

I hope this helps.

David

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#966887 - 02/10/09 06:45 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
ab-ster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/08
Posts: 154
Loc: Seattle
Thanks all for the comments and suggestions. I've experimented a few mic positions and I'm leaning towards the in-your-face sound. My playing style is jazz / pop.

I'll be recording some pieces this weekend and hopefully I'll get a good enough recording to be posted here next week.

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#966888 - 02/11/09 03:41 PM Re: Learning to record the piano
Hakki Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 2684
Excellent info Rachfan, thanks.
Now I have to buy those NT45-O omni capsules to try on my Rode NT5 mics.

Hakki
_________________________
Put in one of IMO, I think, to me, for me... or similar to all sentences I post

http://www.youtube.com/user/hakkithepianist

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#966889 - 02/12/09 10:20 AM Re: Learning to record the piano
RachFan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/02/03
Posts: 1341
Loc: Maine, U.S.
Hi Hakki,

I'm glad that discussion was helpful. Once you have the omnis on the mics set away from the piano in A-B configuration, you'll notice the difference immediately. The sound takes on more of a bloom.

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#966890 - 02/26/09 09:18 AM Re: Learning to record the piano
Larry B Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/03/09
Posts: 377
Loc: Boston
This is a great discussion. As a former sound engineer (both live sound and recoding), I've spent lots of time doing this over the years.

Often, for the jazz/pop stuff I specialized in, some sort of stereo pair on top, combined with a large-diaphragm dynamic (like an EV RE20) either underneath the soundboard or on top but aimed directly into one of the round holes in the plate, became my usual configuration.

With a stereo pair on top, one does have to be careful that you don't produce a stereo image of a ten-foot-wide piano! The over-wide separation appeals at first, but is unnatural and fatiguing to listen to over time.

I've also worked on concerts where another engineer was mixing and preferred various other techniques - a C-Tape, PZMs, etc, but those were never my favorite.

Anyway, I've been out of that business for about ten years, and am looking for some simple home recording for my Steinway B. I need to buy some inexpensive condenser mics, small diaphragm, I think. I'm familiar, from my work, with all the good stuff: the SM81s, the AKG 451s and 414s, etc. I don't want to spend that kind of money on my home setup.

Does anyone have any advice as to which, among the lower-priced stuff out there, is actually of high sound quality? I know that inexpensive mics
can be very good, but most often are not. ;-)

Larry

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#1154100 - 02/27/09 05:29 PM Re: Learning to record the piano [Re: Larry B]
Nigel Keay Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/04/08
Posts: 132
Loc: Paris
I've had a couple of SM81s for about 20 years, and they've only had relatively light use and have been well looked after. I'm curious to know whether such a mic would degrade in performance over that period, and secondly if the performance is essentially the same as more recently made SM81s. In any case these days I use the Sennheiser e914 which is a considerably better mic to the SM81s I have. To respond to Larry, there is the Sennheiser e614 that I've only read good things about and is less than half the price of the e914. I don't have any personal experience with the e614 but by all accounts seems that it would be well worth checking out.
_________________________
www.nigelkeay.com

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