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A little Debussy piano music... and more

Discussion in 'Piano' started by David French, Jul 22, 2005.

  1. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    I just finished recording the best pianist I have had the pleasure of working with. He's a doctoral candidate and this recording should seal the deal. I really went all out on this one and I think i've discovered the secret to this piano's sound. Apparently, all of the midrange nastiness comes out of the center of the piano; the farther apart I moved the mics, the more the tone improved in both channels. I guess this is a '"Duh!" to the rest of you, but to me, it's a discovery. Go figure. Anyway, here's the recording.

    Claude Debusy - XII: Minstrels, from Twelve Preludes, Book One

    For this recording, I did something a little different. After finding my favorite positions for the mics (omnis), which ended up being 5' out, 5'5" high, and 4' apart, I put up two more pair, as close together as possible, and recorded them all to their own tracks. You will hear only one now, the one I selected as my favorite. I would like to post the three clips in WAV format, but I don't have enough server space. If someone would care to host them on their website, I would be much obliged. In case this ever does happen, I will not be revealing the models I used until people state their favorite. This should be fun. 8)

    Please critique me to the ground on this one. Be extra picky. I think you guys are too easy on me. I know there's something wrong with this one; I just need help understanding what it is.

    Thanks yet again for the incredible resource all of you provide. :D
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    David, I really enjoyed this one. (Haven't commented on any of the others because I've always come along too late to make any useful comments! ;-)

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you used the closer pair, spaced in together for this clip. One reason is that the sound seems a tad bunched-together in the middle of the soundfield. Not bad of course, just different. The piano sounds very full and solid (but not overloaded), yet the Room/hall ambience sounds a bit far off and to the rear....almost a bit whispy, it seems.

    I am listening with fairly bad heaphones on the mp3 streamed on my laptop, so all bets are off, but this doesn't seem to sound like the two mics pictured. (Yes, it is indeed a hall to DIE FOR, though...visually as well as sonically!)

    It could be an MP3 anomaloy, but there's one little bit of sound going on that I tend to really like with some pianos (because it's quirky and imperfect and "different" with certain pianos)

    Somewhere around :45, :46 and again at :48, there's this little idiosyncratic "jingly" sound that many Steinway's make when some notes (and clusters) are struck hard enough. It's rarely something you can reproduce on your own with single key strikes, (and the piano tech can rarely track 'em down!) it's more of a cumulative build up of sounds, resulting in some kind of sympathetic vibration, almost like a little "jingle" sound along with the notes that are struck really loud at those times in the clip. (I think I hear it again during one or two of the very last chords in the clip, as well.) It might be strings that need to be replaced, or it might be something else in the piano case or mechanism vibrating along, but I like it when you can hear it just around the edges of the struck notes.

    Call me odd, but I like tracking down and locating these sorts of things, sometimes, just to "keep it real". A pianist can selectively tune these out day to day when playing, but doing a good recording such as this tends to put a magnifying glass on ALL parts of the sound, good and bad. Very often, we've had to live with these things and move along anyway.

    I have to compliment you on these clips. You're doing some wonderful stuff, and exposing your neck to the rest of us here. That's really gutsy, indeed! :cool:
  3. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Hi Joe, or is it, "Hey Joe"? ;)

    Where you goin' with that mic in your hand?



    I already elucidated the exact setut used, anbd believe it or not, I did use a spaced pair 4' apart as per the picture. The recording you hear wasn't necessarily done with the mics pictured.

    To me, it sounds very spacious, which is indicative of the far spacing.

    The jungly bits aren't mp3 artifacts. The mp3 is of very high quality, hard to tell from the original. The only thing that gives it away to my ears is a slight collapse of spaciousness and a disappearance of some of the ambience. BTW, I love them too!

    NOOOOOO! I suck! Seriously, thanks for the compliment, you're too kind, but I am only hear to learn. There simply must be something wrong! I come here seeking the advice of you older, wiser engineers whose work I so admire ( you know who you are ). If any of you would have recorded the same thing, yours would have come out better, andi'm trying to learn why. You guys are on a whole other level, many levels above me. I would like to get there. You guys are such an incredible help to me because you can show me problems that I didn't even know existed.
  4. mdemeyer

    mdemeyer Active Member

    Hi David,

    First, I enjoyed this music. Don't have it in my library and will have to get one.

    On the recording, I like the sound of the lower/mid registers on this, but can't help wishing for a more open (extended) sounding top. Also, it feels a little close for me. A lot of piano and very little room. But that's artistic decison, and this mic'ing might suit the music better than something that, while it might give a more 'acoustic event' feel, might interfere with the jaunty rythmic character of the music (at least this brief selection).

    So, just a little more extension on top...


    PS. I'm doing a test recording Monday night for a Barbershop Chorus. I'll post some samples for feedback. Anyone like barbershop? :wink:
  5. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the input Michael. I had similar thoughts about the top. I tried brighter mics than the one I ended up using, but I loved the buttery low end that I got with these, so I kept it that way. I thought about EQ in post, but decided against it. Should I reconsider guys?

    The ratio of direct to reverberant sound is precisely how I intended. ;)
  6. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I thought I'd create some more food for thought and discussion re stereo piano recording technique. This is one of my favourite music types to record and to listen to.

    As I now have permission from the artist, I would like to post an example of a recording in a similar acoustic to David's Debusy example above, but with Blumlein main pair instead of spaced omnis.


    In this example, I hope you can see why I think spaced omnis are inferior for piano over Blumlein. I find David's example has a slight hole in the middle effect typical of spaced omnis whereas this one doesn't. It has a very solid, coherant centre image, and a very stable linear stereo spread which to my ears sounds much better and much less confusing in the thicker textures. I find spaced omnis gets quite confused in loud sections due to the well known shortcomings.

    This recording was made with a AKG C426 main pair with a very small amount of spaced DPA 4003. Interested in your thoughts and discussion.
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I don't know Dave S. ... I think it's definitely a matter of preference.

    In listening to both (bear in mind, I'm not on my reference system, but good enough mini-monitors on this one...) I find them both to be excellent. The differences to me are:

    DF - Open and wide - not too wide, just wide. As though I were in a recital hall with the pianist.

    DS - Tight and intimate. Like I were in a piano bar two tables away from the pianist.

    In both cases, I can hear the ambience and the direct sound and both are quite pleasing. My preference still leans towards the sound that DF got - it, to me, is more evocative of a performance situation rather than a recording session.

    I don't hear the hole in the middle to which you're referring, but I will do the courtesy of listening to both on my reference system.

    J. :D
  8. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Beautiful tone on both recordings.
    The only negative I'll bring up is on the DF recording. I close my eyes and try as I might I can't "see" a piano out there.

    I probably would have gone for a little more room as well - but thats not a biggie.

    Care to elaborate on the setup? Mics, preamp, etc?
  9. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Interesting. I find the Debusy is actually closer than the Blumlein recording, but the width of the image is too wide, it does not sound quite correct to me, ie not how I would hear it with the naked ear standing near the piano. Listen to both on headphones as well and compare.

    The omnis recording is superb though, if you like that technique. To me, a rock solid stereo image with no dips is almost more important than tonal accuracy, but you need both.

    AKG C426 direct into Nagra V, pure Blumlein (no matrixing), DPA4003, 48V converters, into AMEK 9098, then line in to Nagra V, mixed and recorded direct to stereo.
  10. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Same for me. Frenchy's sounds great, but the image is whacked.
  11. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    I definitely concede to Spearritt's recording... nice! You guys are right, it is a tad too wide, bordering on unrealistic. The porblem with thsi damn piano is that it sounds terrible from the center which almost forces your hand into spaced omnis... at least that's the way I see it.

    Thanks for the critique, guys!

    p.s. - I still have those mic comparisons mentioned in the first post, second paragraph if anyone is interested.
  12. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Yes, please!
  13. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    If you read the post I referred to, you will find that it says that I do not have the necessary server space to post them. Would you like to host them for me?
  14. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I'll host them for ya.

    Give me a bit and I'll set you up with some more space.

  15. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jeremy, I just accepted an offer by Karl to host the files. Thank you though.
  16. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    I don't think that the lesson here is that spaced omnis produce unrealistic images. Rather, that your omni technique needs improving. For example, from what I can make of the picture you posted I would be inclined to say your mics are spaced to wide. This easily explains the hole-in-the-middle issue.
    I disagree. I find that very few music listeners and recording musicians are even aware of stereo imaging. But they will react very quickly to unnatural or unpleasant timbre. A piano needs to sound like a piano, in mono or stereo. Of course, having both is ideal.
  17. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I agree 100% with your statement Scott. I meant purely from my own personal perspective when recording. Some pro musicians I have experienced cannot tell the difference between stereo and mono.
  18. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    OK, thanks to Karl, we've got ourselves a mic comparison on!

    Here's the 16 bit WAV files:

    Mic 'A'

    Mic 'B'

    Mic 'C'

    These were all recorded at the same time with three different omni mic pairs positioned as close together as possible. All three files are the exact same length and are cut from the exact same moment in time. You can even phase invert and cancel and make new pairs out of them if you want.

    So, let's hear what you're favorites are. I'll reveal the models after we get some opinions.
  19. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Did you mean to make the C URL link to the B file again?
  20. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Dunno if its the MP3 encoding or what, but here is my initial choice.

    I like B best, but not by much over A, C is too brassy and uncouth, A is more subdued, I like is as well. B has a slight noise floor though, but I think I like it best. The image on C is skewed as well, were the gains matched like the others? C is louder than the others, maybe this is affecting the results.

    Anyway that's my initial vote. I am prepared for the worst? Have I chosen a Rode over a Schoeps? :)

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