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Microphone vs. piano
#3027109 02/01/20 04:41 PM
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Micing and recording piano is one of the things I really enjoy playing with. I've tried all sorts of different mic/preamp combinations, close micing, stereo and mono micing, several different room micing combos...and mixed and matched several of these together when mixing. Don't even get me started talking about the compressor aspect... freak

It's intriguing to me how many different approaches and variables there are. No matter what I do, I can almost always come up with a useable sound...and even occasionally manage to capture a fairly decent tone.

Currently, I'm digging two different AEA ribbon mics - a Ku5A (top address) up near the hammers, and an N8 across the back. See attached.

Most of the time, I leave the lid at full stick...but I'm also trying to find a really good way to mic the piano with the lid only partially raised.

I'd love to hear more about what other folks do when they're looking to track piano - I'm always open to new ideas.

dB

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Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027117 02/01/20 05:27 PM
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I'll share the one thing I've done recently.
We have a monthly open mic night in Fairhaven at the Firehouse Cafe and Performing Arts Center. It is a Fire Dept. Station that was converted to a performance space for dance, theater and music. The room used to be where they parked the fire trucks. The convoluted ceiling, heavy black drapes that cover the back wall and most of the sides and the crank down stadium seating combine to make a lovely sounding room with a sense of "space" but not too much ambience and no nasty reflections.

They have a Steinway baby grand, well maintained and tuned. It sounds beautiful in that room. A good friend of ours comes sometimes to play the Steinway, she is a talented player.

A couple of times I've put a Tascam DR-40 with the mics in A-B position on a small (12") tripod in front of the seating and in the center of the shorter axis of the room, guessing it's 30' x 60' with a 20' wall and vaulted, indescribable ceiling.
The piano would be well off to the right of the Tascam, I put it there to record the entire open mic and I don't move it.

It sounds much better than I would expect. Defined, full and a great sense of space. I can get a deal on renting that room and may do it sometime, everything sounds good in there.

My take-away is that rooms can be as or more important than gear or placement. That's sort of annoying in context of the small and now very dead sounding room that my humble studio resides in.


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Re: Microphone vs. piano
KuruPrionz #3027123 02/01/20 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
My take-away is that rooms can be as or more important than gear or placement.
Absolutely agreed! Not just in micing, but in monitor selection and placement as well...but that's a whole other subject: duck

I think of it like this: a piano (in a dead space, and/or close mic'd) is basically a mono source - sound radiating from (essentially) a single point. When I want to try and focus more on capturing a piano and the space where it resides, I tend to approach it as more of a stereo source - I'm not only after the piano itself, but the reflections in the space where it's being tracked.

dB

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027130 02/01/20 06:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Bryce
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
My take-away is that rooms can be as or more important than gear or placement.
Absolutely agreed! Not just in micing, but in monitor selection and placement as well...but that's a whole other subject: duck

I think of it like this: a piano (in a dead space, and/or close mic'd) is basically a mono source - sound radiating from (essentially) a single point. When I want to try and focus more on capturing a piano and the space where it resides, I tend to approach it as more of a stereo source - I'm not only after the piano itself, but the reflections in the space where it's being tracked.

dB


Yes, with the mics in A-B one was aimed in the general direction of the piano and the other one was aimed out into a random area of the room. It didn't sound as good without the "room" mic. I've left it as-is, too many things to do and not enough time. It would be fun to seperate the stereo track, run the piano mic in the center, duplicate the room mic track, panned to both sides. Maybe shift the pitch of one side about 17 cents or so, just enough to change it and add a sense of space.

It's a great room for drums too, and vocals.


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Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027153 02/01/20 08:15 PM
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When I did a live album for Chucho Valdesn y Groupo Irakere I put surface mount mics taped to the inside of the lid and kept the lid closed all the way (only real option because of the insane levels of their monitors). The results where actually really good. I am actually not sure if I used Crown PZMs or C-Ducers.

https://open.spotify.com/track/2odCc5V9aTmS7HPjXkD1Xu?si=mRSQAY20SZO1VsL-N12YLg

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Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027157 02/01/20 09:10 PM
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I've always wanted to try PZMs.

I've been playing with the N8 inside the piano with the lid short-sticked. I've got it a place above the center of the harp where the level is good and feeedback is under control...now I just need to figure out how to aim it...

dB

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027166 02/01/20 09:38 PM
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PZMs were pretty popular for stage miking back in the 1980s. I had a couple of Radio Shack PZMs souped up with two A544 6v photoflash batteries (I just googled it and doggone - they're still available) to replace the standard 1.5v AA cell, and cut the 1/4" phone plug off and replaced it with an XLR since it was fed from a transformer on the circuit board and all the wires were brought out on the cable. Less noise, more headroom. Running on 1.5v, the amplifier in the PZM power supply box would clip when right above the strings of a piano. We don't get to modify much gear these days.

I never cared much for the sound of the PZM on a grand piano with the lid closed. Too boxy, which isn't surprising since everything was in a box. But they sounded pretty good taped inside of the lid of an upright piano.

I used to take a C-Ducer along with me to folk festivals and use it on the harp in the norteño bands, and Irish or other small folk harps. That worked out well. The Irish harpers sat still, but the conjuntos wandered all over the stage with their instruments. By that time their fiddles and guitaroids had pickups, so with the C-ducer, the harp could stay on mic no matter where he went (we gave him a long mic cable).

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027169 02/01/20 10:27 PM
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Micing grand pianos is a wonderful challenge, and very rewarding when it comes together. I've done many things with my Kawai RX-7. The thing about a piano is that it is a "big" instrument, and as Dave B indicates one has a variety of perspectives to consider when choosing an approach.

My current favorite is a pair of AEA N8's configured as a Blumelein pair centered on the keyboard with the bottom of the array about 2' above the keys. Music desk off. I run this into my Sonosax SX-R4+ recorder. This is battery powered (no mains contamination),and offers some of the cleanest preamps in the world directly into dual gain range AD converters that spec out at 135dB dynamic range. It's the best sound recording device I've experienced. This is a M/S capture, and therefore fully phase coherent. I find that even slight movements toward or away from the piano tailor the bass response. By adjusting the width in the DAW, I can get a spacious piano that either "moves left to right" or is stationary and centered, but with great spaciousness. I get a very detailed capture with all the "micro-contrast" of frequency beating and such fully preserved. This is very much what I hear when playing the piano. The N8's "hear" about like human ears and don't have the extended treble of my small diaphragm condensers. But this is a great natural piano sound. Because the SX-R4+ is so quiet, the only noise in the recordings is the microphone's self noise. This is easy to make disappear with modest settings in Isotope's RX-7 software. The noise reduction does slightly impact the "micro-contrast", but leaves me with a perfect "digital black" background. The resulting recordings can be turned WAY up and still have zero grain or noise.

If I want a more "bright pop/rock" sound, I have a 1m AEA stereo bar positioned inside the piano, tilted diagonal from high to low strings. I put my two Josephson C617SET omni's as the main "pair" and use my Josephson C550 measurement mic as a "center mic". I find that the piano is big enough that when I get the bass and treble where I want them, the midrange is slightly recessed. So I fill that in with the third omni. The Josephson C617's are the most revealing microphones I own. As drum overheads they are superlative - it's like "8k hi-def TV" for the ears - you feel like you can hear individual atoms vibrating. This is a "close" capture, but captures the piano in extraordinary detail. This method requires a heavy duty Latch Lake boom stand to suspend the array inside the piano.

For room micing, there are choices about capturing the bright sound reflected from the lid or taking the more balanced sound that is just off the lid. If I stand parallel to the piano, but just to the keyboard side of the lid, outside it's acoustic "throw", about 10-15' back, the sound is gloriously balanced when someone else is playing the piano. If I move a few feet to the right, or into the "throw" of the lid, then the sound is louder, and brighter, but not as balanced to my ears. I have Schoeps MK22 wide cardioids that I will run on a Jecklin disk, or as a spaced pair on an AEA stereo bar. These microphones can also be explored as an "ORTF pair", and placed to capture the full "width" of the piano from across the room using the Williams curves to set the angle between microphones.

I have also used the Josephson's on Jecklin disc and as a spaced pair near the curve of the piano about 3-4' away and further back at 6-8' away. I also have the DPA 4099 piano mic stereo kit. This is a very clever system involving tiny electret omni capsules on a flexible wand. With a magnetic mount that attaches to the piano, these just clamp to the frame magnetically. I generally run a roughly ORTF looking spacing, with one mic pointing to the center of the bass strings, and the other pointed towards the treble. This is also a "close" capture, and one has to mind the bass/treble balance and where "center" is acoustically. But once situated, the lid can be closed. The resulting capture does not sound boxy or closed in and is quite useful in any modern "band" context. This works with other things going on the room in a way that none of my other descriptions do.

I also have an optical scan rail - QRS PNOscan III - installed in my piano, so I can capture the MIDI at the same time as the audio. If I am capturing direct into the DAW, and wanting click, etc, then I run whichever of these microphones through the Rupert Neve preamps that front end my DAW.

The microphone I wish to obtain for recording piano is the Josephson C700S. I have an audiophile solo piano recording made with that microphone,and it is exceptional. This microphone has three capsules, and can capture a phase coherent surround sound capture in the horizontal plane. It is a sophisticated and highly revealing microphone. I know that paired with my Sonosax, the resulting files would be "as good as it gets".

One piano can generate a near infinite variety of piano tones. It lends itself to detailed testing and study, careful listening, and AB testing with commercial releases. A recorded piano sound is a "decision" of sorts, and one really does have to start with the end in mind. What makes a solo piano sound great for complex literature won't be the right sound for a rock ballad, even on the same instrument. Like a drum set, micing pianos is a part of the craft that takes time and effort to get repeatably excellent results.

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027170 02/01/20 10:39 PM
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A piano recording scenario I would like to explore in a proper studio live room with high ceilings would involve taking the lid off the piano. It would then be possible to mic the piano from above using any of a number of techniques from 8-12' up. Without the goofy things the lid does to the sound, I suspect that some fantastic captures can be done in that way.

With the lid on, one can't get high enough to give microphones a proper view of the strings and soundboard. But lids are removable with two people and the desire. The rest is tall mic stands...

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027173 02/01/20 10:58 PM
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Nathanael_I, these are fantastic posts!!!
Thanks for sharing, Kuru


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Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3027174 02/01/20 11:01 PM
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Another take on "recording a piano" is to use a top-shelf, state-of-the-art sample like the new VSL Synchron Steinway. I believe it to be the pinnacle of piano sampling for a variety of reasons. But that sample played on my Nord Grand or Yamaha P515 is nothing short of exceptional. All the mic locations are posted on VSL's site. Each pair is on its own fader, and can be output individually from the plugin, so a wide range of sounds can be obtained. It's just like having a multi-miced piano recording to mix. That Steinway is the best recorded Steinway that I've heard, its prep is simply superlative. Whoever did the tech work is an artist, and that particular Steinway is unreal for its excellence. The room sounds great, the signal chains are "as good as it gets" - simply a compromise free recording environment.

The truth is that it is a better piano, in a better room than my Kawai. And the extra length and soundboard from a 7'6" piano to a 9' concert grand are easily heard. I can capture a "better piano recording" this way than I can make in my room. (especially if a "classical" sound is wanted). It is truly superb. Playing that sample at acoustic volume with the surround speakers on and the sub going is a very satisfying experience.

What I do notice, having the ability to make audiophile level recordings of my Kawai, is the noise-reduction. Pianos have a LOT of harmonics (and inharmonicity). This creates all kinds of beating, shimmering, and other interactive effects when the pedal is down. With a phase coherent capture like M/S, that is all preserved in glorious detail when I record my piano. As I increase the noise reduction, some of that magic goes away and the "shimmery liveness" is lost. It is subtle. But once you know how to hear it, it is noticeable. Most classical work is noise reduced, so this is not uncommon. But having access to the raw files, one knows the difference.

Noise reduction is mandatory for piano samples. Because holding down the sustain and playing several notes is actually playing several recordings at once, any noise in the samples is additive. So the samples have to be noise reduced to "digital black" in order for the piano samples to be usable.

What this means is that I can make a harmonically richer recording of my piano than the Synchron Steinway just by eliminating or minimizing noise reduction.

But it still remains that it is a better piano, in a better room. And the resulting "finished" piano sound is beyond reproach. There would be few in the world who could beat that sound given half-a-dozen mics, and an exceptional piano and tech.

But it is "fixed", and I can record in dozens of mic configurations on my piano, so its not like I'm planning to stop recording just because there's an amazing piano sample in the world. But would I like to have an instrument of that quality to record? You bet!
'

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Nathanael_I #3028655 02/12/20 07:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Nathanael_I
Another take on "recording a piano" is to use a top-shelf, state-of-the-art sample like the new VSL Synchron Steinway.

Another vote for this (although I also have some miking suggestions for another post). While there are a whole lot of great sampled pianos out there today, my personal favorite software is Pianoteq by Modartt. It's not sample-based at all (aside from a couple of things like pedal thumps and squeaks), and works around physical modeling.

Modeling is exceptionally good for piano, because it has a clear physical mechanism: the key is struck, the action operates, the hammer hits, the string vibrates, the damper does the rest. The body and soundboard use well-understood physics, and one can model resonance, mic placement, room size, etc. Modeling is also useful because it allows you to create pianos that obey the model but can't exist (easily, or at all) in the real world. For example, you can build a piano with a 12-foot soundboard, if you want to hear more fundamental with respect to the harmonics.

Pianoteq comes in three levels with three degrees of control. Pianoteq Stage (€129), the simplest one, allows basic tweaking of some very good model presets, and is very easy to use. It will be sufficient for many users. The middle version, Pianoteq Standard (€249), adds a bunch of model tweaks and customizations, for a full studio experience; this will cover 99% of the people who aren't satisfied with Stage. Pianoteq Pro (€369) is for academic musicians and over-the-top perfectionists and tweakers, with up to 192 kHz conversion rate and the ability to edit each key on the piano for slightly different response and adjust hundreds and hundreds of harmonics. Personally I don't need to pay that much to create a skunk note. tired

The way I like to describe modeling vs. sampling is of a really beautiful and detailed painting vs. a photograph. Modern sampling instruments use all kinds of interpolation, enormous freaking libraries of samples, multiple velocity levels, etc etc etc, and most players like them because that's what they're used to. In comparison, I find modeling more elegant and beautiful sounding and expressive. And by the way, a lot of the major piano builders agree, at least enough to allow Modartt to sell officially authorized models with their names on them. You can get two Steinways, a Blüthner, a Bechstein, an incredible Grotrian, a Petrof, and a Steingraeber & Sohne as models, as well as packs of historically relevant pianos from the Kremsegg collection.

Beyond those, there are a lot of models that are not authorized or named but still sound great. You can pick some with your initial purchase (2, 3, or 4, depending on what version you get) and add others later for very affordable prices (€49 per pack, many of which include multiple instrument models). This includes grands, uprights, electric pianos that are freaking gorgeous (notably better than the AAS Lounge Lizard models to my ears), and a pack of four Hohner-authorized electromechanical keyboards. Other instrument models include harp, xylophone, vibes, celeste, and even steel drums and Hang drums.

There's also a large pack of freebies Modartt offers, including some fabulous historical keyboards that have been recreated as part of an ongoing archival system explained at the website. A lot of folks would be absolutely fine with Stage and all the freebies, but I consider Standard the best value. It takes up practically no hard disk space, and on modern processors it causes barely any processor load at all... in the old days, Pianoteq 1 and 2 would crush CPUs that could easily play back Gigapiano from hard disk, but these days Pianoteq 6 cruises along and actually uses less grunt than the interpolation algorithms of some of the huge sample-based pianos out there.

I get a fair bit of crap for this personal choice because a lot of players think samples are better than models by definition and aren't interested in even trying out the free demos with open minds... but as they said in the Soviet Marines, toughi shitski grin

mike


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Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dr Mike Metlay #3028660 02/12/20 07:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay


I get a fair bit of crap for this personal choice




if it works for you, then it works for you. smile


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: Microphone vs. piano
KuruPrionz #3028663 02/12/20 07:34 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
A couple of times I've put a Tascam DR-40 with the mics in A-B position on a small (12") tripod in front of the seating and in the center of the shorter axis of the room, guessing it's 30' x 60' with a 20' wall and vaulted, indescribable ceiling.
The piano would be well off to the right of the Tascam, I put it there to record the entire open mic and I don't move it.

It sounds much better than I would expect. Defined, full and a great sense of space.

Field recorders are a better and better option every year, and I am not at all surprised that the TASCAM yielded great results when placed properly. Another great option is the Zoom H5 or H6 with their swappable mic capsules (XY, MS, etc). That gives you a lot of room to mess around and get good results on all kinds of sources, from piano to football referee calls (they make a pretty good shotgun module) and multiple high-end mics in various arrays (you can replace the mic module with one that adds two more preamps to the two onboard).

When the room is good, you can get amazing results from even a simple mic. I once recorded a grand piano on stage with a single Roswell Audio Mini K47, placed about three feet in front of the piano aimed into the open lid and facing the player. Mono, but really nice sounding.

If you want to mess with stereo, mid/side, etc., and don't have a lot of money, try the LEWITT LCT 640 TS, which has two blendable diaphragm signals that you can record separately and mix after the fact to create any polar pattern response you wish. Not an original idea, but way cheaper than a Pearl Labs ELM-A.

mike


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Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3029292 02/16/20 04:06 PM
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Not my personal experience, but at this end it sounds pretty good.

At Peter Martin's openstudiojazz.com, they use two Avantone small-diaphragm condensers in an X-Y pattern right behind the dampers/hammers. You can see them in this video and others.



The great thing about music is that there's always something to learn. The frustrating thing about music is that there's always something to learn!
Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3029310 02/16/20 05:41 PM
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I tried a similar thing with Roswell Mini k47s when I first got them. I was more impressed than I expected - not just in the mics, but in how full and wide the image was from the placement.

dB

Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3029422 02/17/20 02:59 PM
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I'd love to get my hands on those, but do I need another large diaphragm condenser mic? I keep asking myself.


The great thing about music is that there's always something to learn. The frustrating thing about music is that there's always something to learn!
Re: Microphone vs. piano
Joe Muscara #3029538 02/18/20 03:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave Bryce
I tried a similar thing with Roswell Mini k47s when I first got them. I was more impressed than I expected - not just in the mics, but in how full and wide the image was from the placement.

dB

Originally Posted by Joe Muscara
I'd love to get my hands on those, but do I need another large diaphragm condenser mic? I keep asking myself.


Yes, yes you do. cool


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: Microphone vs. piano
Dave Bryce #3029984 02/20/20 09:02 PM
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I just swapped out the AEA N8 for a Soundelux U195. Way different...but, man - the Soundelux is an excellent mic. Running it in Normal mode with the low end rolled off. Need to play with the positioning a bit more, but I really like the way it sounds so far.

dB


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