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Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

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Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Jez Corbett » Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:37 am

Currently on the look out for a new nice old inexpensive 'dark' upright piano whilst also having access to a decent grand piano for some vaguely neo-classical 'alternative' piano recordings, for want of a better term. And I'm also looking to what mics I should use to record it.

From some cursory research, it seems that popular for the genre are the Coles 4038, but that's an awful lot of money for a pair of mics that only go up to 15kHz and might not be terribly useful for much else, and also it seems odd to me to use fig8 mics to record a piano, but maybe there's something I'm missing?

I was also looking at a matched pair of AKG C414s as I've used them on upright piano in the past and been very happy with the result, but this was a LONG time ago.

Is there anything else I should consider for capturing the intimacy and quirkiness of a somewhat tatty old upright, and be useful for other tasks too?

Budget isn't too big an issue, but if I don't have to spend too big bucks then it would be nice not to have to ;)
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Oct 21, 2018 1:16 pm

Jez Corbett wrote:From some cursory research, it seems that popular for the genre are the Coles 4038, but that's an awful lot of money for a pair of mics that only go up to 15kHz and might not be terribly useful for much else, and also it seems odd to me to use fig8 mics to record a piano, but maybe there's something I'm missing?

Yep, I think it's fair to say there's something you're missing! :lol: I'd heard that the Beeb managed to make the occaisonal impressive recording with such a terribly dull and inflexible mic... :beamup:
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Oct 21, 2018 2:08 pm

Jez Corbett wrote:...From some cursory research, it seems that popular for the genre are the Coles 4038, but that's an awful lot of money for a pair of mics that only go up to 15kHz...

Unless yours is a tack piano I doubt it will produce anything at 15kHz .
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby John Willett » Sun Oct 21, 2018 2:12 pm

For recording piano (which is my speciality) I always use omnis as the low frequency extension on an omni is much better than a directional mic - and fig-8 mics seem to roll-off the bess end even earlier than a cardioid.

My personal choices are:-
Microtech Gefell M 221
Sennheiser MKH 20 or 8020
Neumann KM 131-A (or-D) (or the cheaper KM 183)
Microtech Gefell M 320

Also good are the DPA 4006 and Schoeps omnis.

The cheaper ones above are the Gefell M320 and the Neumann KM 183

On a very tight budget look at the Line Audio OM1 or the Røde NT 55 (or the NT 5 with optional omni capsule from the NT 55).

Personally I would not use the Coles 4038 on a piano, but it is an excellent mic. with a large number of applications - just keep it away from credit cards and train tickets and things that can be adfersly affected by a powerful magnet. ;)
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby ManFromGlass » Sun Oct 21, 2018 3:15 pm

John Willett wrote: - just keep it away from credit cards and train tickets and things that can be adfersly affected by a powerful magnet. ;)

The things I've learned from SOS. Never even considered this.
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby DC-Choppah » Sun Oct 21, 2018 5:26 pm

I use these over the strings on my grand piano: https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/m-audio-pulsar-ii

I tried a bunch of things and these sounded very good to me compared to everything I have been able to try.

I use some other mics to compliment these too, but these are great for capturing the close-in, intimate sound of being near the hammers.
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Oct 21, 2018 6:25 pm

John Willett wrote:For recording piano (which is my speciality) I always use omnis as the low frequency extension on an omni is much better than a directional mic

I'd certainly agree that spaced omnis work extremely well on a piano.

However, while its certainly true that omnis tend to have a greater bass extension than directional mics, I'm not convinced that's the reason my ears (and evidently yours, too) prefer them in this application.

Rather, I think it's the more accurate low-end phase response that is important. Time-delay-based directional mics, like most modern cardioids, tend to sound a bit 'phasey' and coloured on complex orchestral instruments.

I've noticed the same thing when miking solo violins, for example, and they definitively don't need a mic response down to 20Hz or lower -- but an omni definitely sounds better to my ears than a cardioid in that role (assuming the acoustics allow it)!
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Matt Houghton » Sun Oct 21, 2018 7:06 pm

There's an SOS article in the pipeline on this very subject. Spaced omnis are easy to set up and sound good. The DPA 4006s certainly sounded lovely at the session in question... but then, when the piano had been properly tuned and set up to the pianist's satisfaction, so did mics many times cheaper... including a strategically placed pair of PZMs! I'm afraid I shall have to keep some details back for the article, though!
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Jez Corbett » Sun Oct 21, 2018 9:02 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Yep, I think it's fair to say there's something you're missing! :lol: I'd heard that the Beeb managed to make the occaisonal impressive recording with such a terribly dull and inflexible mic... :beamup:

I suspect then that there's a lot more to these mics than what I know! Mind sharing your knowledge?

To go into a bit more detail based on what Ive been reading up on and examples I've been listening to, I am somewhat avoidant of the conventional methods for micing up pianos - the examples I've heard whilst sounding clear and accurate, don't give me the kind of 'intimate' sound I'm after, and sound too much like the sample based piano instruments I already have access to - I guess I'm after something a little more distinct, or at least gives the flexibility to be a bit more adventurous.

I've also noticed the AKG C414s are a lot cheaper than they used to be right now. Hmmm...
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Wonks » Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:24 pm

Probably because they aren't made in Austria any more.
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Mon Oct 22, 2018 10:28 am

My go to mics on grand piano are omnis for classical style, but I have used closer miked TLM193s for a more intimate sound. I’d imagine the ribbons would be good in this respect too. I’m talking a decent sized grand here (Steinway D). I pretty much avoid recording uprights as I much prefer the sound of a grand and find them easier to capture.

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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Oct 22, 2018 10:54 am

Jez Corbett wrote:I suspect then that there's a lot more to these mics than what I know! Mind sharing your knowledge?

The high-end response extension of a 4038 is similar to that of a large diaphragm capacitor mic, but without the nasty HF resonances that most LDCs suffer, so it tends to be perceived as a smoother and more natural high-end character, and certainly not 'dull' in the way your bald 15kHz limit might suggest. The absence of HF resonances also means that it takes EQ nicely should you want to boost the extreme highs.

As for the 'not being terribly useful for much else' comment, 4038s have been and are popular as drum overheads, for guitar amps, on string sections and a wide range of instrumentalists, on brass sections, hand percussion, for spoken word and occasionally for sung vocals as well. It is actually a remarkably versatile mic... albeit one with an unfashionably low output level by modern standards (which makes it a little more demanding of mic preamps than most) and which is a tad more delicate than more modern ribbons.

The fact that the mic is still being manufactured fifty plus years after its introduction must say something about it's usefulness and quality. :D

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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Ariosto » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:22 am

i would agree with Hugh and others that ribbons are excellent for recording piano. I also use DPA 2066C omni mics in an upright position in the curve of a grand piano and this works very well.

I've never used my (one) AKG C414 xls on piano - so I don't know how it would fare. I would warn though that these mic's, although they have a very low noise spec, get noisy after a few weeks of use (at about 6 weeks). I've already sent one back and the second is going the same way, and I've had to stop using it for voice narration as the noise is too noticeable. With music it may not matter so much, but be warned.
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:32 am

Ariosto wrote:I've never used my (one) AKG C414 xls on piano - so I don't know how it would fare. I would warn though that these mic's, although they have a very low noise spec, get noisy after a few weeks of use (at about 6 weeks). I've already sent one back and the second is going the same way, and I've had to stop using it for voice narration as the noise is too noticeable.

That's rather disappointing and disturbing! One of the reasons the older models of C414 were considered a studio workhorse was because of their total reliability.

I've got a pair of C414B-ULS mics -- the last generation with the mechanical slide switches -- and they are as quiet and noise free now as they have ever been. Are your XLS models relatively new ones? I wonder if Harman's switching production to China has caused problems...

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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Jez Corbett » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:44 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Jez Corbett wrote:I suspect then that there's a lot more to these mics than what I know! Mind sharing your knowledge?

The high-end response extension of a 4038 is similar to that of a large diaphragm capacitor mic, but without the nasty HF resonances that most LDCs suffer, so it tends to be perceived as a smoother and more natural high-end character, and certainly not 'dull' in the way your bald 15kHz limit might suggest. The absence of HF resonances also means that it takes EQ nicely should you want to boost the extreme highs.

As for the 'not being terribly useful for much else' comment, 4038s have been and are popular as drum overheads, for guitar amps, on string sections and a wide range of instrumentalists, on brass sections, hand percussion, for spoken word and occasionally for sung vocals as well. It is actually a remarkably versatile mic... albeit one with an unfashionably low output level by modern standards (which makes it a little more demanding of mic preamps than most) and which is a tad more delicate than more modern ribbons.

The fact that the mic is still being manufactured fifty plus years after its introduction must say something about it's usefulness and quality. :D

H

Looks like I'll have to see if there's somewhere that will let me try a pair.

I didn't mean to disparage the mics! By 'not that useful' I meant for my purposes - with a fixed omni pattern, limited range and low output, they seemed not as versatile as other mics I might want to consider, especially as most of my work isn't strictly 'musical', and these would be my most expensive mics by some margin.

Having said that they seem well suited to most of the kind of musical things I'd like to record (mostly classical instruments) so I should definitely give them a go. I also fear my RME preamps won't do them justice so it'll be even more cash on some nice pres ;)
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:50 am

Slip of the fingers there Jez -- the 4038 has a symmetrical figure-8 polar pattern.

Most of its desirable sonic characteristics are shared with more modern ribbons, almost all of which tend to have much greater sensitivity (ie higher output levels), and some have a more extended high-end too. There are also active-ribbons these days, making 'preamp matching' even easier! I'm a big fan of Royer's ribbon mics, but there are plenty of good budget models around these days too.

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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Ariosto » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:00 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Ariosto wrote:I've never used my (one) AKG C414 xls on piano - so I don't know how it would fare. I would warn though that these mic's, although they have a very low noise spec, get noisy after a few weeks of use (at about 6 weeks). I've already sent one back and the second is going the same way, and I've had to stop using it for voice narration as the noise is too noticeable.

That's rather disappointing and disturbing! One of the reasons the older models of C414 were considered a studio workhorse was because of their total reliability.

I've got a pair of C414B-ULS mics -- the last generation with the mechanical slide switches -- and they are as quiet and noise free now as they have ever been. Are your XLS models relatively new ones? I wonder if Harman's switching production to China has caused problems...

H
Yes, they are new - purchased in July 2018 and returned and replaced in September 2018. Second replacement has got a bit noisy and I will rest it for a bit and see.

As for ribbon mic's I also have a Sontronics active ribbon (the Sigma) and this is an extremely good mic for voice narration and although I haven't used it yet for classical music apart from a short violin test which was excellent, it will I'm sure be a good mic for these purposes as well. Of course, my two Royer R101's are also very fine on piano, and strings as well.
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby blinddrew » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:08 pm

I'll point you first to the disclaimer in my sig, but having done that, I wonder if perhaps the mic choice is a bit of a red-herring here?
John W has mentioned his approach to capturing the most natural sound of the piano but that's not quite what you're after here, the intimacy and quirks of an ageing upright are not what most listeners will hear. Bob's suggestion of close-miking with an LDC (or a fig-8?) feels like it might be more likely to give you that extra dimension you're looking for. But fundamentally, I'd be looking more at mic position rather than mic choice and having a good play around with what's already in the toy box.

Mind you, I would also like a pair of Coles but that probably goes without saying... ;)
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby jimjazzdad » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:37 pm

Jez Corbett wrote:Looks like I'll have to see if there's somewhere that will let me try a pair.

I didn't mean to disparage the mics! By 'not that useful' I meant for my purposes - with a fixed omni pattern, limited range and low output, they seemed not as versatile as other mics I might want to consider, especially as most of my work isn't strictly 'musical', and these would be my most expensive mics by some margin.

Having said that they seem well suited to most of the kind of musical things I'd like to record (mostly classical instruments) so I should definitely give them a go. I also fear my RME preamps won't do them justice so it'll be even more cash on some nice pres ;)
The 4038, like all ribbons, is most definitely NOT omni - it has a true Figure 8 pattern response. (Just one more reason to add it to your mic locker!)
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Re: Microphone Pair for Recording 'Intimate' Piano?

Postby Jez Corbett » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:42 pm

Sorry yes, misstated there - I meant fig8.
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