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Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

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Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby ainsleyharriott666 » Sat Jan 05, 2019 10:29 am

Hi Everyone,

First post on this forum, so go easy!

I have no experience in sound production or sound recording AT ALL, but have been playing classical piano (mainly baroque, classical and romantic repertioire) and would like to start recording performances for my YouTube channel. My current setup is simply an iPhone with the built-in mic recorded using the stock voice memos app, so yes, definitely some room for improvement!

If it is of any relevance, the piano I primarily use is a 1980s Yamaha U1 with a naturally moderate to bright tone (although I do have access to a Yamaha C5 grand that I use very occasionally).

The challenge for you kind souls is to give me some advice as to what gear to buy to fit in with my meagre budget and point me to any articles I might find useful with regard to setup etc (remembering that I am a complete beginner!).

I already have a MacBook Pro (so guess some sort of DAW would be useful - however for my purposes something simple would likely sufficie). Any advice on Mics, input cards, ancillary equipment are the topics I’m looking for input on.

Oh, and I’ve saved the most important thing until last! My budget! It’s £300 (UK sterling) - so yes, not a lot to play with...I did tell you this was a challenge!

Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Ainsley
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Jan 05, 2019 12:51 pm

Welcome!

With that budget it's going to be a struggle! :)

The 'standard' way of recording classical piano is to use spaced omnidirectional microphones, spaced about 20-30 cms apart at head height and about 1-1.5 metres back from the curve in the instrument. Lid up. Of course a good room/hall is essential.

The usual budget recommended mic for piano is the Line Audio OM1, but at £260 for a pair that's probably outside your budget.

I guess you could try a pair of Behringer B5s which come complete with an omnidirectional capsule. You'll get a pair of those for about £90. I have no experience of these mics but I've heard reports that they are good value for money.

Bearing in mind the tightness of the budget then one of the Behringer audio interfaces might suit. They've received good reports from some here, Have a look at https://www.thomann.de/gb/behringer_u_phoria_umc202hd.htm You could use the supplied software to record I think.

And you'll also need some mic cables, one or two mic stands, a stereo-bar if you only buy one stand - the Rode bar is good value.

And now to monitoring if/when you edit and/or post-process the recordings. Probably headphones will be the best tight-budget option. Bearing in mind the budget, these 'B' stock should be OK https://www.scan.co.uk/products/akg-k240-mkii-headphones-(b-stock) I used to use a pair of these quite happily and I've bough refurbished headphones from Scan m'self.

I hope all of that is some use... I've pared things to the bone to try and keep to your budget., but the weakest link is probably the Behringer mics.

Others will be along with suggested alternatives, but some will be budget-busting! :D
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby ConcertinaChap » Sat Jan 05, 2019 1:39 pm

Welcome indeed! As an alternative to the Berries can I suggest a pair of Rode M5 mics. These sound as if they punch well above their weight according to this review and can be had for about £120 a pair. I suspect they'd be a real improvement on the Berries for not much more.

If you're on a Mac then Garageband will meet your needs and is possibly on your machine already. If not then Audacity is simple and free. Reaper is free at first and very cheap later and represents a full-fat DAW. May be good to investigate once you get going.

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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Wonks » Sat Jan 05, 2019 1:51 pm

However the M5s are cardioid only, so not really compatible with the spaced omnis mike mentioned. They can of course be used, but maybe best not in the way Mike talked about when referring to the omnis.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Jan 05, 2019 2:07 pm

Yup!

I have a pair of M5s and they are also good value... but I wouldn't use them for classical piano unless the room was bad and there was no alternative.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Wonks » Sat Jan 05, 2019 2:12 pm

Some SoS articles on recording piano on this search list.

https://www.soundonsound.com/search/articles/recording%2Bpiano?f%5B0%5D=im_field_section%3A6971

You'll just have to ignore the (generally) expensive mics in them and just consider the actual techniques used.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Jan 05, 2019 2:34 pm

Worth adding that the OP is recording for his YouTube channel so (unless he plans to use high quality recordings elsewhere) there is a built in quality limit imposed by YT.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby James Perrett » Sat Jan 05, 2019 2:40 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Of course a good room/hall is essential.

I'd say this is the most important factor. I'm no expert in recording classical piano but recently I had to record one in less than ideal circumstances and ended up using a couple of PZM mics close to a wall behind the piano. They picked up rather too many clunks from the piano mechanism in that position but the tone was good.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby John Willett » Sat Jan 05, 2019 3:06 pm

ainsleyharriott666 wrote:Hi Everyone,

First post on this forum, so go easy!

I have no experience in sound production or sound recording AT ALL, but have been playing classical piano (mainly baroque, classical and romantic repertioire) and would like to start recording performances for my YouTube channel. My current setup is simply an iPhone with the built-in mic recorded using the stock voice memos app, so yes, definitely some room for improvement!

If it is of any relevance, the piano I primarily use is a 1980s Yamaha U1 with a naturally moderate to bright tone (although I do have access to a Yamaha C5 grand that I use very occasionally).

The challenge for you kind souls is to give me some advice as to what gear to buy to fit in with my meagre budget and point me to any articles I might find useful with regard to setup etc (remembering that I am a complete beginner!).

I already have a MacBook Pro (so guess some sort of DAW would be useful - however for my purposes something simple would likely sufficie). Any advice on Mics, input cards, ancillary equipment are the topics I’m looking for input on.

Oh, and I’ve saved the most important thing until last! My budget! It’s £300 (UK sterling) - so yes, not a lot to play with...I did tell you this was a challenge!

Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Ainsley

Piano recording is my speciality...

OK - so your budget is virtually zero ...

Get a pair of Line Audio OM1 onmi mics.

Pink Noise have them for £130 each inc. VAT

These are excellent little omnis and punch well above their weight.

Get a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface - I think these are around £120 or so.

You can get cheaper, but the Focusrite gives very good quality for the price.

I know this is a little over your £300 budget, but will give you a quality way above the price you pay.

To put it all in context - when I record piano I use microphones that are almost £2,000 each one (just under £4,000 a pair) and a recorder that costs around £8k and £2.5k edining software - HOWEVER - If I had to record using a pair of Line Audio OM1 plus a Scarlett and a free DAW like Audacity (Garage Band bundled with a Mac may also be fine, but I have not used this) - I would not be embarrased to do so as this very inexpensive combination punches well above it's weight.

OK, I would recommend adding a pair of Rycote in-vision mounts (I think Pink Noise bundle them with the OM1), a K&M stereo bar and an inexpensive mic. stand (you will only need a single stand) it would add a little more - but you will have a very inexpensive system capable of very good recording quality.

Any questions please feel free to send me a PM.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Jan 05, 2019 5:06 pm

ainsleyharriott666 wrote:If it is of any relevance, the piano I primarily use is a 1980s Yamaha U1 with a naturally moderate to bright tone

If memory serves, the U1 is an upright piano rather than a grand (or baby grand). If so, the placement advice given below for working with grand pianos obviously goes out of the window!

However, if the budget is flexible I'd happily second the advice about buying a pair of OM1 omni mics. They are extremely good quality and excellent value for money, and they will remain useful even if you upgrade everything else over time. Partner those with a basic USB interface for your macbook and you'll have a pretty decent recording setup. But you are going to be stretching the £300 budget I'm afraid, especially once you've added in the necessary mic stands, cables, headphones etc etc....

If you do go down that route, I'd suggest opening the lid of the piano, and placing the mics at either end poking just inside. Experiment a bit with position and angle to get the best tonal balance you can. It will sound rather close and intimate though... Some digital reverb will help to place the piano in a nice acoustic space if desired... but that's a whole other topic of conversation. If you can move the piano away from the wall, you might find a nicer sound by placing the mics across the rear of the soundboard.

There are also options for front-miking, but they involve removing panels above and below the keyboard which may not be your cup of tea!

A much cheaper and less invasive approach -- and one which will be well within your budget -- would be to purchase one of the many hand-held digital recorders with built-in mics. Zoom do several, as do Tascam, Olympus, and Sony for example -- but make sure you're looking at recorders specifically intended for music recording, not voice dictaphones! If this approach appeals, check out the options, then come back with a shortlist that appeals and we'll advise further.

You could place such a device on a convenient table or mic stand either over the piano, or elsewhere in the room to get a more natural perspective -- although the quality will depend to a large extent on the acoustics of your room. What we happily tolerate in a practice space often sounds terrible in a recording!

Hope that helps

H
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Jan 05, 2019 5:12 pm

Mr R: you are correct about the U1 being an upright... :oops:

So, as you say, forget everything wot I wrote about mic positioning and spacing...

... and good suggestion about just getting a decent all-in-1 recorder... makes the budget much more doable.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Wonks » Sat Jan 05, 2019 5:15 pm

Though some decent open or semi-open backed headphones (if not already owned) are still really going to be a required purchase.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Jan 05, 2019 5:46 pm

The OP does say he also has access to a Yamaha C5 grand, occasionally at least.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sat Jan 05, 2019 8:36 pm

Good advice here and I would agree the OM1 basic USB interface would be the minimum requirement for a decent recording.

However, if funds are truly tight, you could upgrade your current method considerably by using one of the Shure MV88 iPhone microphones https://www.thomann.de/gb/shure_motiv_mv88.htm at £129. This would turn your Phone into something similar to the portable recorders Hugh mentioned, it as good as any of the mics I’ve found on the Zoom, Tascam and Olympus recorders - and the free recording app is a step up from most other recording apps.

You’ll then need a method of mounting the iPhone on some sort of stand so that you can experiment with positioning.

Could be a simple and portable solution.

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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Trevor Johnson » Sat Jan 05, 2019 8:45 pm

A much cheaper and less invasive approach -- and one which will be well within your budget -- would be to purchase one of the many hand-held digital recorders with built-in mics. Zoom do several, as do Tascam, Olympus, and Sony for example -- but make sure you're looking at recorders specifically intended for music recording, not voice dictaphones! If this approach appeals, check out the options, then come back with a shortlist that appeals and we'll advise further.

You could place such a device on a convenient table or mic stand either over the piano, or elsewhere in the room to get a more natural perspective -- although the quality will depend to a large extent on the acoustics of your room. What we happily tolerate in a practice space often sounds terrible in a recording!

That is what I would do, and have done, on many occasions.

As I mainly play classical organ, I use hand-held recorders a lot when I am playing at different locations. Why? Because the console, often 20 to 30 feet up in the air, is usually remote from the pipework, so I place the recorder on top of the console: the results are almost always excellent.

Many of the portable recorders have 'camera type' tripod sockets, so make it easy to attach to a small stand or something like a GorillaPod.

If you place the recorder in the right place, (try different positions and compare), and get the levels right, you would be surprised how good the recorded sound can be.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Humble Bee » Sat Jan 05, 2019 10:22 pm

This!

Within your budget I would get a Zoom H4n Pro and a good boom stand so that you can work on finding a good position.

It's got two additional xlr mic inputs with phantom power so you could supplement it with a pair of SDC omnis in the future. These inputs also work in parallel with the built-in mics so you could track 2 stereo arrays simultaneously.

Comes with Cubase Lt so your DAW need will be covered.

In the band we use it to record gigs and sometimes rehearsals which is different but I have found the remote controller practical (as you don't necessarily end up sitting within reach of the recorder itself). And the power adapter if you eventually get a pair of omni mics as the batteries die young when you solicitate the phantom power.

All well within your budget. Even with some kind of case to protect it while prowling around...

As a USB audio interface it is also great with good stable performance.

:thumbup:
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby ConcertinaChap » Sat Jan 05, 2019 11:47 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Mr R: you are correct about the U1 being an upright... :oops:

You're certainly not alone in making an embarrassing slip in this thread. I didn't really recommend M5's, did I? :oops:

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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Trevor Johnson » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:51 pm

Mr R: you are correct about the U1 being an upright..

Give me a nice overstrung upright piano anyday. I passionately hate 'baby-grand' pianos: I normally feign illness or incapacity when asked to play them. They are like playing tracker organs with all the couplers out. Equally horrible action and sound.

But, I rehearsed (two weeks before), with, and played a Yamaha CFX, (their flagship concert grand), in 2010 in a great venue, (acoustically), with about 1000 in the audience. That is the best piano I have ever played. OK I was the first to ever play this instrument, but I grew up with Model Ds, Becksteins and Bosendorfers etc, so have some idea. When I went to check out the acoustics and look at the instrument I was dismayed to see it was a Yammy. But anyway I played a few notes, then took the cover off and put the lid up. Two hours later they had to drag me away and close up shop: by whichtime I was in the second book of Rachmaninoff preludes. A magnificent instrument and very underrated!!

So, if I were you, concentrate on getting a good sound from the U1.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby John Willett » Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:07 pm

I still say that the OM1 are the best to go for - even with an upright as they capture the bottom end better.

If money is really tight, then economise on the interface. A mic. stand and stereo bar can be had pretty cheaply - these tend to be a bit on the fragile side for lomg term stage use, but atre fine for recording if you treat them with care.

But I would not compromise on the OM1.
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Re: Recording Classical Piano on a budget!

Postby Mike Stranks » Mon Jan 07, 2019 2:52 pm

John Willett wrote:I still say that the OM1 are the best to go for - even with an upright as they capture the bottom end better.

If money is really tight, then economise on the interface. A mic. stand and stereo bar can be had pretty cheaply - these tend to be a bit on the fragile side for lomg term stage use, but atre fine for recording if you treat them with care.

But I would not compromise on the OM1.

Of course you wouldn't John. You're a man who only uses the very best and is working at the very top of the classical recording market.

Yes; we all seem to recommend the OM1 but the OP doesn't have the budget - and has clearly said so. If he spends £260 on his mics what sensibly can he do with the remaining £40?

Using a decent handheld recorder and buying some decent cans and a mic stand with the balance is probably the best than he can achieve at the moment. If he buys a recorder with XLR mic inputs and semi-decent preamps than he can maybe upgrade to external mics in the future should he wish to do so. But he may be perfectly happy with what he gets from a carefully placed all-in-1 recorder. :)
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