1. Register NOW and become part of this fantastic knowledge base forum! This message will go away once you have registered.

AKG 451 vs Beyer 160 OR Schoeps vs Coles 4038 for classical piano????

Discussion in 'Piano' started by johnlewisgrant, Feb 20, 2012.

  1. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    I prefer the 160s to the 451, but I don't like either that much for solo piano. I can post examples of my test recordings.

    I wonder about my judgement here, because everywhere else I've asked, folks have said the AKG c 451bs "any day", over the Beyerdynamic 160s. I'm guessing that they're not accustomed to the standard solo classical piano CD sound? That it can't or shouldn't be at all coloured or tonally inaccurate?

    I will rent the Coles tomorrow. I'm guessing they'll be an obvious improvement over the 160s, which seem odd somehow in the very high end, yet very flat and uncoloured, admittedly. (Unlike the AKG 451 SMCs, which are quite coloured, but which have a beefy midrange by comparison!)

    Beyer demo (Bach with background noise!)


    AKG demo (same Bach piece, but recorded at different time)


    Beyer 160 (Chopin Nocturne Opus 9, no. 1, with family talking in background and buzz from potlights, etc., etc... but you get the idea)


    Once I rent the Coles I'll post the Bach played on them.

    I'm assuming they'll sound better than the 160s in the mids. But there figure 8 mics, and I'm not sure about the recording venue (my little piano room). We shall see.

    Update...played around with the Beyer 160s a little more.... they are DEFINITELY more capable than I thought. By moving them still further from the piano than in the recording above, the bass response goes up, and as well, what little colour (perhaps a tinge of prox effect) pretty much vanishes. Now, with an appropriate pre-amp? My question can be framed a little more narrowly. Forget the small cond. mics; I can't imagine less harmonic distortion than what I'm getting through these relatively inexpensive German unidirectional ribbons.

    So then only issue now is whether I can get unidirectional ribbons (which aren't that common) that will be unequivocally better, objectively better without question, than these little Beyers?

    Or is it simply a matter of taste at this point?

    Or can I get away with, say, Royer 121s or Coles or AEA which, although not uni, will still sound better (the room acoustics will not be good. I'm pretty sure of that.)

    cheers, and thanks for witnessing this personal journey... any suggestions are welcome....



  2. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I haven't listened to your tracks as I'm not anywhere to make value judgements. I do however record classical music more or less exclusively. I would choose the Beyers over the 451's for a piano. The 451 is a quite bright mic that isn't ideal for classical piano at all unless that's all you've got. That said, I have used them on all sorts of classical recordings so obviously it can be done. If it were a rock n roll piano then you might as well go ahead but even then I usually use ribbons on pianos-in my case Royer R101's or an SF12. The Coles definitely have more "color" than the 451 but the 451 is not colorless by any means. It is just a different color based on a high end bump. And "color" is not evil unless it gets in the way of the performance and sound quality.
  3. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Ribbons are more obviously finicky about position than condensers of any type. Mic position is ALWAYS the most important part of the chain but a condenser seems easier to fudge. Perhaps it is rather that a condenser that isn't in an ideal spot isn't as obviously not correct.
  4. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    I've had good results coupling a Beyer 160 and 130 together in M/S configuration, positioned about 6" above the strings, above and parallel to the stay that divides the bass strings from others, and about 1' or so from the hammers. M/S is a great choice for classical piano because the stereo image is not as radical or contrived as other stereo techniques and yet adds a depth of field that is lacking in mono recording.

  5. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    Demoed a pair of AEA 840s (trans IN the mic). They didn't work for me AT ALL. Although I could see how they might work for jazz. Huge bass. Won't even bother posting my experiments with different mic positioning. Tomorrow: Apex 205 (really cheap); and possibly Nuemann KM 184.
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    If an A840 didn't work at all then it wasn't positioned correctly. Read my above statement. I prefer Royer to AEA but a good ribbon is very hard to beat on a piano. Condensers can have problems really representing the whole spectrum of sound. Don't mistake a hyped high end for quality of the recording.

    Piano is one of the harder instruments to mic well. Experimentation is the key as well as a fine instrument and preferably a good room.
  7. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Of course, reading your gear profile, your preamps are not very spectacular which can often not bring out the best qualities of a mic. Especially if you don't have a lot of experience with the gear. Not a criticism but an observation.
  8. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    Sorry, "Didn't work for me AT ALL," just means that I didn't like the character of the mic.

    Re condensors vs ribbons for piano, agreed on all points. I tried to say why above. I found that I preferred the Beyer 160s to the AKG 451 (b), after demoing them for 2 weeks in various configurations. The AKGs seemed slightly coloured, albeit with a very full sound; but the 160s sound very clean, even if not "fat" and "full", like the AKGs.
  9. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    The AEA 840 recorded sound without any difficulty at all. Plenty of gain. It was also surprisingly easy to use in various positions, inside and outside the piano (which I keep at full stick). Tons of good bass; but the high end seemed muted in comparison to the Beyer 160s. I want more high end. There was more high end when the mics were used close to the treb strings, but still not enough for me. It's a sober mic.

    Its figure 8 config was, contrary to what I thought might be the case, not a problem sonically. No unpleasant room resonance. None whatsoever.

    On to the Coles. To give SDM a "last chance", I'm trying to find both DPA and Schoeps. But for demo purposes that hasn't been easy.
  10. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    A pair of DPA 4006 or 4011 works well on piano or classical music generally.

    Unless you are looking for a hyped top end, when a ribbon is placed correctly there will be plenty. The fact that you were "getting sound" doesn't mean the mic was positioned optimally. For classical piano you normally do NOT have the mic inside the piano. An exception-and isn't there always-is when you use a stereo pair outside and perhaps a pair of spot mic's inside the piano. The spot mic's in the piano are at VERY low levels meaning if you can actively hear them then they are too hot. This is normally how a classical piano recording would be made. Main mic's inside the piano is much more a pop music technique. If you do use a stereo main with inside spots you will need to time delay the inside mic's to line up with the stereo main.

    Check out this thread. Mic position is the key.
  11. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    Agreed. "In the piano" is NOT where I'll ever be on doing a classical piano recording, but it's always fun to see how different equipment performs under different conditions! When I demo stuff, I'll try out at least 20 different positions, and I'm a/b ing everything against pro recordings that I like, mainly so that my ears don't get too used to/fall in love with a particular type of "sound." Some mics, which I know aren't top tier piano recording mics (AKG c 451 b, for example) are nonetheless very, very good; and I can, and could, imagine myself getting pretty sucked into the type of sound they pretty effortlessly produce. So, in this journey for the "perfect" (doesn't exist) mic for my piano, I know I will be negotiating tricky territory.
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Most of the piano recordings I've done has been with LDC Neumann U-67's/87's or, AKG 414's of multiple varieties. So why not a LDC?

    I love my M-160's/130 which are short geometry ribbons. Brighter sounding than long geometry ribbons. I already knew you were not going to like the longer geometry ribbons on piano. They are darker yet. And I don't think the DPA's are always appropriate either. They can become rather metallic sounding, too clear, too clean. A grand piano is supposed to sound... well..., grand. You're not talking rock 'n roll here are you? No. So then my most obvious suggestion would be the active Royer's. You still get that ribbon precision, warmth and a bit of that condenser like presence and that's what you want. And you'll only get that with an active ribbon. If not the Royer, AT & SHURE are making some nice active ribbons also. There are others.

    Try an active ribbon please, eh.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  13. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    Stop it, you are reading my mind!!! The problem with ribbons is that up here in the Great White North (eh), even in a city of 5 million plus, there is an absolute paucity of (very few) mic rental outfits!

    At this point I have had to resort to buying stuff and returning it; and not that much can be had for ready money (Wilde).

    Only in Canada, you say? (That's an old Tetley Tea ad.)

  14. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    It's really difficult to rent ribbon microphones to begin with. They are the most fragile and most easily damaged by stupid people who grow up to them and say " testing 1-2-3 " and then blow into them. Once you've done that to a ribbon microphone it's trashed, destroyed. Dynamic and condenser microphones don't care if they get a blow by job. I was surprised when you indicated you were going to rent a Coles? Wow, very trusting people there. But I have found Canadians to be a lot more trusting than us south of the border freaks. The Kiwis in New Zealand are even more trusting. When I got there, one of my API mixers were damaged by the airline. I needed to go and purchase a cheap soldering pencil/iron. All I could find was a Weller industrial soldering station costing upwards of $135 at this electronics store. Sheesh! I told the guy I could not afford that. So he just handed it to me and told me to bring it back the following morning. !!!???!!! Wow! It would have been great if they were not a green country and the solder would have worked better. There was no lead in the solder there all the way back in 1989! Aluminum and tin just didn't cut it. I got my mixer fixed but the solder joint looks as cold as my dead cat. Thankfully we don't give a damn about the world ecology here in the United States. Get your 60/40 lead/tin rosin core flux solder while you still can!

    The sky is falling, the sky is falling.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  15. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    Ahhh.... the good ol' days when real solder was lead-based, and plumbers knew what it meant to "sweat" pipe....

    Anywho, I did succeed in renting some Coles 4038, along with some AKG 451 E. One the the AKG's is humming badly... so much for that rental. But the Coles seem to be working as expected:

    Sample 1, a little bit of Chopin (that's pronounced "Choppin") recording in my down and dirty, tiny, ugly-sounding piano room:

    coles4038chopintest.mp3 - File Shared from Box - Free Online File Storage

    Sample 2, a little Bach from WTC 2, again; and obviously denser and more challanging for any mic:

    coles4038BachWTC2P1.mp3 - File Shared from Box - Free Online File Storage

    Sample 3, simple Bach prelude, all between c3 and c5, but played with an excrutiating amount of pedal, which is challenging for the mic:

    coles4038bachpreludetestfile.mp3 - File Shared from Box - Free Online File Storage

    Here's the AKG C 451 B again...


    I like these mics, at least for this piano, in this room, with this type of music. While the top end is attenuated, there is very little obvious harmonic distortion, typical I think even in the mid-high end category of AKG c 451 b, which is a great all around mic, but sounds (at least in this room, this piano, this equipment etc.,) just a little less like the actual instrument.

    I a/bd the C major prelude against a recording of it by Koroliov (1st tier Bach pianist) under the "Tacet" label, and it sounded remarkably similar, considering that EVERYTHING... piano, sonic environment, etc. etc. would have been entirely different. Interestingly, the mics used on the Koroliov were Nuemann M49. Through my Grado SR325s that recording also seemed a little attenuated in the top end.

    Cutting to the chase: it's been 3 weeks of demoing mics, and finally I've come across a set that from my stand point I could work with (ie given all the variables I'm working with).

    But I'm now very suspicious that the Royer 122 I rented was damaged. The Coles as well as the Beyer 160s were instantly clear (albiet totally different sounds); that Royer could not have been working properly. I now realize that I should not have paid the rental fee.

    I won't purchase any Coles YET, however. I need to hear more ribbons, including a WORKING pair of Royers.

    Also, I wonder whether (or not) the Coles 4040 or 4050 are an improvement on the 4038, at least for piano miking at a distance (which is the only approach I'm interested in).

  16. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    Quick question: which Royer? 121/22 or the SF line?

  17. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    All Royers are lush. 122 are more versatile, able to perform well with more preamps. They can also be used on extremely long cable runs with minimal signal loss. I have a few of them and love them. If I was using them more for loud guitars I would choose the 121 over the 122.

    Like John, I have an SF series too and love it!

    The next step up from these is the V series. I'm told they are to die for.
  18. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant Active Member

    OK.... I did buy some "trial" mics .... one set of ribbons, the make of which I will not reveal immediately... but here is a closed miked version of Bach's Prelude in C from the WTC 2:

    Mea culpa.. I did three BAD thangs. Added some verb (but not as much as most solo classical recordings). Normalized... And equalized out some boom at about 100 hz.

    POPS and CLICKS everyway... which I guess is the weee and ancient Macbook that I use to record with....

    As they say... bare with me:

    misterymiconrimofpiano(Bach test piece).mp3 - File Shared from Box - Free Online File Storage

  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    First, you can legally add reverb to classical recordings. Just not much ;-) Typically how reverb is realized in classical music is through a pair of room mic's. So in your case you would have a mic or stereo pair within six feet of the piano and then you would grab the room via another omni or stereo mic out in the middle of the hall. Add the hall in to taste after you have time aligned them (sometimes not needed).

    Two, normalizing a track is normal. No other way around it other than duplicating tracks which is not as good as normalizing.

    Three, EQ is done on all recordings period whether they are classical or pop or bluegrass or didgeridoo. This often includes band pass filtering on both the high and low ends.

    I will likely get more of a chance to listen after this weekend. I'm involved in some personal things currently that involve squeezing into Dress Blues again that preclude attention to your issue. Also, ribbons are fragile. Not as bad as the old days but still a good reason why you shouldn't rely on Joe Rental for a ribbon. If the ribbon gets out of alignment with the magnets whether through sagging or jarring or a gust of wind or some MO-ron blowing and tapping "is this thing on?" then your are true and royally F'd. Again, ribbons are exceptionally clear and elegant when position optimally regardless of brand and the short motored Royers even more so. All my ribbons are passive ribbons but great arguments can be made for the active variants as well.
  20. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I hear a lot of 'lid' in that one. You did sorta say it was positioned at the rim of the piano......Its a nice sound. Not thrilling but fairly clear and I didnt hear the 'pops' at all.

Share This Page