You are here

Studio quality piano recording

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby John Willett » Mon Jan 21, 2019 4:00 pm

I will say, that I once recorded a double CD of Chopin Nocturnes on a Steinway D that was in a room in a domestic setting.

If you want to hear it, it is still available on Amazon HERE.

Image

Image

I have posted this, not for self-promotion, but what you can acheive in a not optimal recording environment.

The microphones were quality omnis and about 2-metres from the piano - but were in a completely different position from what I would normally use because this was the best place in the acoustic.
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7065
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 1:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
Sound-Link are UK Distributors for: Microtech Gefell, ME-Geithain, AETA, HUM, Håkan, Meyer Turtle

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Paul Isaacs » Mon Jan 21, 2019 6:04 pm

I just ordered the last one in stock John!
I'm looking forward and very curious to hear this Chopin Nocturnes recording to see what can be achieved in non-ideal acoustic space. I'm in the market for a couple of spaced omni's myself for recording classical piano (Yamaha C7) which is in my living room with all sorts of problems for standing waves and resonances. Acoustic treatment is out of the question without being on receiving end of divorce papers:) For now (and far from ideal), I have piano positioned where the best balanced sound is from where I sit at the piano stool because this allows me to control my playing and the nuances better in my performance. I have a couple of cardioid DPAs' just outside the lid. It's clean, but little acoustic space or ambience for the piano to breath, so I artificially add a nice reverb using my MixPre. Results are actually not bad but obviously its never gonna be like the Carnegie Hall!
Paul Isaacs
Poster
Posts: 25
Joined: Fri May 05, 2017 4:30 pm
Paul Isaacs
Sound Devices LLC

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby John19523 » Mon Jan 21, 2019 10:16 pm

Hi everyone,

I'm certainly not as experienced as many on this forum, but I wanted to add two thoughts to this discussion.

First the room... we all hear slightly differently, based on anatomy, but also based on positioning in a room. I understand the idea of room treatments, but part of the uniqueness and originality of a performance is the room in which the performance takes place. Now obviously if you're getting muddied sound from reflective surfaces, it'd help to work on the room, but a studio piano will never sound like a piano in a symphony hall and vice versa. The room, in short, has character that adds to the music being played. Consider also that when much of this classical music was composed and played initially, they didn't have a lot of the fancy room treatments that we have today. While I'm certainly not condemning forward audio progress and better sound, there is something to be said about the natural sound in a room. Now, I understand acoustically bad rooms and venues- heck, I've run sound for a rock band playing inside a mall, as one example. But, I think there is some room to differentiate between a clean room and the character that a space can add to an instrument. I hope this makes sense... basically, I wouldn't want to completely remove a piano from its environment by making the room too perfect. Additionally and unfortunately, sound is often very subjective and what may sound great to one engineer may have slight (or major) problems to another. (I think it'd be interesting to get a massive chunk of acoustic foam and just hack out enough space for a piano and bench and play in there...)

Second, the mics: you could certainly run two matched mics on two channels, as is fairly standard practice. I submit, however, that those two mics may catch most -but not all- of a performance. I'd recommend placement of additional microphones with different acoustic properties. Why? For one, these additional mics won't negatively affect your primary mic pair, but in post, they can be used to fine tune the sound as each of the additional mics will hear slightly different sound than your primaries. Second, you can mic specific components of the performance as needed- mic the dampers to mix in that subtle damper sound, or place mics to specifically highlight bright highs or rumbling lows based on the music being played, or even catch the fingertips striking the keys. Additionally, you can expand the 3D nature of sound in a space to create a more "live" or real sound. (I realize there is a point of diminishing returns and placing mics ad absurdum wouldn't gain much, but I'm just talking about an additional 1-3 mics.)

Is there a reason not to add more mics? ("It's just not done," is certainly a reasonable answer!) Maybe it'd just be redundant. I know it'd cost more (it's just money, right?) but good mics can be rented for projects as well, so it's an option.

Just a few thoughts, but if these ideas are inane, I certainly submit to more experienced minds.
John19523
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2019 9:09 pm

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby John Willett » Mon Jan 21, 2019 10:36 pm

Paul Isaacs wrote:I just ordered the last one in stock John!
I'm looking forward and very curious to hear this Chopin Nocturnes recording to see what can be achieved in non-ideal acoustic space. I'm in the market for a couple of spaced omni's myself for recording classical piano (Yamaha C7) which is in my living room with all sorts of problems for standing waves and resonances. Acoustic treatment is out of the question without being on receiving end of divorce papers:) For now (and far from ideal), I have piano positioned where the best balanced sound is from where I sit at the piano stool because this allows me to control my playing and the nuances better in my performance. I have a couple of cardioid DPAs' just outside the lid. It's clean, but little acoustic space or ambience for the piano to breath, so I artificially add a nice reverb using my MixPre. Results are actually not bad but obviously its never gonna be like the Carnegie Hall!

Cheers Paul, I hope you like it.

It was recorded quite a few years ago now on an extremely low budget from the record company.

It was recorded over a couple of days in the "music room" of a large house (obviously, since they could afford a Steinway D) - it was a modern house, not an old one, so the ceiling heights were lower than an old house.

I tried several positions in the room with both MS and spaced (20cm) omnis. The omnis definitely sounded best and the final position was behiond the pianist - behind his right shoulder and a little to the right.

Oh - the room was totally untreated and just a room in a house with a piano in it; though we did move the piano from it's normal position to get a better sound in the room.

The pianist was very happy with the result, as were also the record company.
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7065
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 1:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
Sound-Link are UK Distributors for: Microtech Gefell, ME-Geithain, AETA, HUM, Håkan, Meyer Turtle

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Tim Gillett » Mon Jan 21, 2019 11:10 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:There's no point in an 'in the room' recording if the room sounds bad. And, although you MAY be able to tame what's bad about the room, adding 'good' room sound is quite another matter.

Practically, you may have to close-mike and fake the 'room'. Purist techniques are only applicable when the source is faultless.

Well said, EW.
Tim Gillett
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2048
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:00 am
Location: Perth, Western Australia

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby John Willett » Tue Jan 22, 2019 6:00 pm

If you *have* to record a grand piano in a domestic room - first move the piano to the room position where it sounds best in the room (which is likely to be different from where it would normally sit).

When you are happy with the piano position, get someone else to play the piano and you move around the room to find the place where the piano sounds best to your ears. Mark this point as it is likely to be the best place to put the microphones.

Although recording in a domestic room is hardly ever ideal, this will minimise any nasties and get the best possible recording in the room.

This is what I did when I recorded the Chopin Nocturne CD with Richard Meyrick for Cirrus Digital Classics.
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7065
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 1:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
Sound-Link are UK Distributors for: Microtech Gefell, ME-Geithain, AETA, HUM, Håkan, Meyer Turtle

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby mikrokozmos » Wed Jan 23, 2019 10:14 pm

Thank you all for very insightfull thoughts!

I will try to add some reflections of mine:

1) Room acoustics: the rectangular room is 4m X 12m, the piano stands 1m apart from one short side of the room (parallel to it), projecting the sound to the big remaining rectangle. The ceiling is standard 2,6m. The long sides are partly covered with bookshelves, there is wooden floor.

So, being just a musician, I cannot tell what the acoustics of the room is (actually I even don't know how good acoustics is defined at all), but I presume it is not up to any studio standard.

As one of the commenters put it vividly, I won't be able to treat the room in any way (for similar reasons as his), that's why I wanted to downplay the probable shortcomings of reverb/reflections/ambience by placing the mics under the lid or close to the piano.

2) Can the instrument (it is a Hamburg model) overwhelm the room? I actually did play both pieces mentioned by one of the commenters - Chopin fis-moll Polonaise and Bach Partita Nr1 - and the Polonaise was better with semi-closed lid as it is a very aggressive piece.

I also experimented with a friend playing Schubert's last B-Dur Sonate and Beethoven's Arietta from op 111, and, surprisingly, using 2 budget condensers AKG C3000 placed 30cm before the rim and 60cm apart (and 30cm above the rim), it sounded amazingly close to studio sound heard on CDs (and I've heard hundreds of those so here I can trust my ears). However, placing the mics just 1 meter away from the piano (and a bit higher), the sound was muddied/inarticulate and there was a lot of reverb, so the positioning is absolutely critical!

3) Omni vs cardioid: obviously, based on most comments, omnis are the preferred option, since the soundboard of the piano is so vast. However, since I fear that the ambient sound will probably be imperfect, I decided to go with Schoeps MK21 open cardioid (any counter-arguments?). (Unfortunately, in Europe (Slovenia) it is difficult to get Gefell/Josephson and I feel Schoeps is superior to Sennheiser).

I also found a comment on using more mics a very appealing proposal - maybe to place an additional different character mic (eg ribbon or tube LDC) at the tail of the instrument or somewhere in the room and to try to mix it with Schoeps pair to add some flair.

4) Chopin Nocturnes: I will try to get this CD to see what a professional could extract from ordinary conditions (private home). I think that Nocturnes are perfect for exploring the sound as they contain a universum of dynamics/articulation/tonal variations.

Regards!
mikrokozmos
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Jan 19, 2019 8:58 pm

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Jan 24, 2019 12:03 am

It is a decently large domestic room and, I guess is in your house so that marital (other relationships are available) disharmony is at the root of your inability to install room treatment? However there are approaches that may help, and be aesthetically acceptable in some domestic environments, in the form of heavy drapes hung a short distance from one or both of the end walls (or a temporary solution of a couple of duvets) which combined with moving the piano further from the end of the room may well give better results allowing more distant miking?
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12124
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby John Willett » Thu Jan 24, 2019 4:19 pm

mikrokozmos wrote: I decided to go with Schoeps MK21 open cardioid (any counter-arguments?). (Unfortunately, in Europe (Slovenia) it is difficult to get Gefell/Josephson and I feel Schoeps is superior to Sennheiser).

Schoeps is good and it comes down to personal choice.

Personally I would not say that Schoeps is superior to Sennheiser and I have used Sennheiser in the past.

If you take: DPA, Gefell, Neumann, Schoeps,and Sennheiser I would say that they arte all pretty equal in quality.

But they are all different in design and concept.

DPA - quality electret based on a B&K measurement capsule (original series).

Gefell - AF condenser based on a nickel diaphragm measurement capsule where the diaphragm is actually "grown in place" on the housing. (M 221 and new M 102)

Neumann - AF condenser with a Mylar diaphragm.

Schoeps - AF condenser with a Mylar diaphragm

Sennheiser - RF condenser with a Mylar diaphragm - completely different technique from an AF condenser with far lower levels of distortion and lower self-noise. (MKH symmetrical series).
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7065
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 1:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
Sound-Link are UK Distributors for: Microtech Gefell, ME-Geithain, AETA, HUM, Håkan, Meyer Turtle

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Ariosto » Sat Jan 26, 2019 2:42 pm

mikrokozmos wrote:I also experimented with a friend playing Schubert's last B-Dur Sonate and Beethoven's Arietta from op 111, and, surprisingly, using 2 budget condensers AKG C3000 placed 30cm before the rim and 60cm apart (and 30cm above the rim), it sounded amazingly close to studio sound heard on CDs (and I've heard hundreds of those so here I can trust my ears). However, placing the mics just 1 meter away from the piano (and a bit higher), the sound was muddied/inarticulate and there was a lot of reverb, so the positioning is absolutely critical!

3) Omni vs cardioid: obviously, based on most comments, omnis are the preferred option, since the soundboard of the piano is so vast. However, since I fear that the ambient sound will probably be imperfect, I decided to go with Schoeps MK21 open cardioid (any counter-arguments?). (Unfortunately, in Europe (Slovenia) it is difficult to get Gefell/Josephson and I feel Schoeps is superior to Sennheiser).

I have been experimenting with mic positions and alternative setups in an untreated room approx 18 feet by 12 feet with a ceiling height of about 12+ feet, recording a model "O" Steinway grand which has just recently been re-built by Steinway.

I have good results from having the mic's at the rim curve of the piano (with lid up of course) and I had one take in mono using the AKG C414 XLS set to omni, and another good take using DPA 2006C (Omni) mic's in stereo.

I then moved the mic's out to approx 2.5 feet into the room with mic's looking at the piano (before the DPA were pointing at the ceiling). OK sound but not nearly as good.

I then moved the DPA mic's back to about 6 feet and pointing more at the piano's bridge area. Really bad sound. Early reflections and possibly some comb filtering and/or phase problems. The mics were on separate stands and 40cm (16 inches) apart.

I will further experiment (when I can get the pianist back) and try close miking under the lid over the strings and particularly nearer the piano bridge on the bass side.

But what I have found helpful with this instrument is some EQ - raising the lower frequencies by about 8 dB and slight 2dB increase around the mid/top frequencies.

So you might have to also use some tweaking of the frequencies using EQ, but then maybe not with a Model D.
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 870
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby forumuser840717 » Sun Jan 27, 2019 4:22 am

Ariosto wrote:
mikrokozmos wrote:...
But what I have found helpful with this instrument is some EQ - raising the lower frequencies by about 8 dB and slight 2dB increase around the mid/top frequencies.

So you might have to also use some tweaking of the frequencies using EQ, but then maybe not with a Model D.

Isn't the model O one of the miniature/malnourished ones? About 6ft rather than the full fat 9ft of the D. If so that's probably where you're finding the LF EQ boost helpful - the O simply doesn't have the weight in the lower octaves, no matter how hard one hits it. Not necessarily a bad piano; just without the LF power of the D. I've also found them a bit soft in the HF unless you get really close and then the damper/hammer/pedal noise can be an issue. More suited to smaller spaces.

Either way, close up, in a small room, a D can be pretty uncomfortable to listen to/record (they can be tricky enough in a concert hall!), especially if played hard, and the more restrained sound of the O can actually come off better, particularly with a touch of EQ.
forumuser840717
Regular
Posts: 118
Joined: Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:20 pm

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Ariosto » Sun Jan 27, 2019 8:04 am

Yes, the "O" is a little light in the bass but is in fact quite brilliant in the highs and some EQ on the low end is useful, at least to my ear. The new strings in the upper register have made it much more brilliant even to the point where I have to tame it a little. The instrument is only just about played in after the re-build about 16 months ago.

I agree that the model "D" can be difficult unless in a really good acoustic and it is probably a bit too hard to record in a small room.

One of the problems with a large model "D" (or any grand piano) in small rooms is also the low ceilings in most houses, which are usually between 10 feet and 15 feet. You really need 20 feet and even more to be able to get the results we hear on studio recordings.

I notice in the excellent videos on piano recording in New York recorded for SOS that the studio has a fairly low ceiling, (or it appears that way) but as he close mic's the main mic's he manages to tame any early reflections. He certainly used a lot of mics - ten in all - and recorded onto ten tracks. Three tracks is my limit!
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 870
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Jan 27, 2019 12:29 pm

Ariosto wrote:I notice in the excellent videos on piano recording in New York recorded for SOS that the studio has a fairly low ceiling, (or it appears that way) but as he close mic's the main mic's he manages to tame any early reflections. He certainly used a lot of mics - ten in all - and recorded onto ten tracks. Three tracks is my limit!

Yes I'm going through that SOS video myself at present. I was thinking for the OP that a pared down version of that multi miced, three tiered approach could be a good middle path. That is, capture the piano with a close stereo mic pair, but also capture to separate tracks perhaps another two more distant mics with the aim of capturing the room reverb. Perhaps a total of four separate recorded tracks. This would allow a much wider range of balance possibilities in post.
Tim Gillett
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2048
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:00 am
Location: Perth, Western Australia

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby Ariosto » Fri Feb 08, 2019 12:06 pm

Here is a photo of how I record piano - three tracks (stereo and mono - the AKGC414 set to cardioid - and stereo with DPA 2006C omni mics).

Image
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 870
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: Studio quality piano recording

Postby John Willett » Fri Feb 08, 2019 1:28 pm

Ariosto wrote:Here is a photo of how I record piano - three tracks (stereo and mono - the AKGC414 set to cardioid - and stereo with DPA 2006C omni mics).

Image

Interesting, though, personally, I would not let the cables touch the piano as vibrations can carry up the cables into the mics.

I always use the short Rycote XLR flexible cables to help decouple the mic. from the main (and often inflexible) cable.

Image

Mic positioning depends on the room, especially in the home and you choose what works best for you with the repatoir you play. :thumbup:
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7065
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 1:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
Sound-Link are UK Distributors for: Microtech Gefell, ME-Geithain, AETA, HUM, Håkan, Meyer Turtle

PreviousNext