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classical piano recording - mic choices

Discussion in 'Piano' started by belito, Jul 10, 2011.

  1. belito

    belito Active Member

    I'm planning to record my demo cd at school's practice room with baby grand Steinway. The repertoire is just classical piano, such as mozart, beethoven, schumann, brahms, and rachmaninoff. I'll record it with a field recorder H4n. Now i still need to get a good mic (or a pair?) From my research, it seems that some good choices include: Oktava MK-012, Shure SM57, and NT55... they are a little expensive for me though. Do you have any other recommendations? What's the best among these three? Do i really need to get a pair, instead of one? Thank you!
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    If the mics you mention are "a little expensive" for you, it may be worth your trying out the stereo pair on the recorder itself. The cardioid SDCs on the H4N are in the same league sonically as the others you are considering. However, doing it this way would create two difficulties: you would be stuck with X-Y mode as a mic pattern, and you would have the problem of controlling the H4N recorder if it's up on a camera tripod somewhere. I read that you can get a remote control for the H4N, but I've never used or even seen one.

    I would try to enlist the help of someone who is familiar with operating the H4N and carry out a trial by having him/her up on a stepladder poking the buttons on the H4N and moving it from position to position while you played. He/she should annouce the new position after each change. Some pre-positioned marker tapes help this.

    If you can make the time to do the recordings with the H4N mics, they may tell you that you need better gear, in which case, buying the level of mic you were considering is not going to get you very far, especially if you only get one of them and not a pair.

    The thing that you will miss out on with this approach is the spaced-omni (A-B) mic pattern. I have done some very convincing piano recordings with a pair of Rode NT55s using the omni capsules, but for this technique to work properly, you need a good acoustic environment, e.g. a recital room and ideally not a practice room.

    Another point worth mentioning is that it is important to use a lower than expected recording level on the H4N, as, although this will raise the noise floor in the recording, it will give you more accurate capture of the piano transients. Along with room acoustics and mic positioning, transient capture is one of the things that can make the difference between an adequate recording of a piano and a good one, given the quality of the gear involved, and maybe also the artist.
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I'll second what Boswell said. Using just the H4N and positioning it carefully you should be able to give the people evaluating your demo a good, clear, picture of your performance. The most important thing in determining the quality is finding the best position for the microphones - in this can the H4N itself. Get a camera tripod, a step ladder, a tape measure, and an assistant and expect to spend a full session experimenting with different positions to get the best sound. Take measurements and careful notes. Cell phone pictures will help. Don't try to do this in the same session as your performance. You'll feel rushed and pressured.
  4. belito

    belito Active Member

    It's good to know that H4n built-in mics are as good as others! Why do i only need NT55 in a recital hall? Is it because H4n mics has a narrow stereo? Also, is it because i don't need a wide stereo image, so i can use only one external mic instead of a pair?

    A lower recording level - do you mean lower the volume? I thought it is to avoid clipping sounds, didn't know that it can give me a more accurate sounds of the piano! Thank you so much!! BTW, I saw H4n remote control on ebay.
  5. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    It may have been my phrasing that led to the confusion, but I was using the NT55s fitted with their omni capsules as an example of microphones that had a different type of polar pattern and a corresponding frequency response that may go down an octave lower than the equivalent cardioid capsules. It's probably less important with a baby grand in a practice room, but on a full-size grand piano in a recital hall, cardioid mics in this range can struggle to capture the fundamental of the lowest octave strings. Omnis don't have this problem as a rule, and so a standard omni pattern such as A-B is often used. Here's a good article on piano miking that I draw peoples' attention to from time to time.

    The usual terminology is to talk about "recording level", as "volume" is an acoustic perception that does not come into play until the sounds are reproduced on monitor speakers or in headphones. The warning about level is that low/mid range recording equipment often has difficulty capturing accurate transients from essentially percussive instruments like drums (but including pianos), even if the level meters do not show overload. One way to reduce the problem is to back off the recording level by several dB, and this gives more of what is called "headroom". With 24-bit recordings there is usually plenty of dynamic range available, but the underlying noise floor does rise when you have to compensate for the level reduction at playback time.
  6. belito

    belito Active Member

    Wow...so many terminologies that i don't know. Now I start to wonder if it is ever possible to record my own playing. Your article is so informative, but I guess I need to study more! For now, maybe i can just get a pair of NT55s and play around? Or is there any other suggestions of mics? Thank you!!
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I would earnestly suggest you keep your money in the bank and use the H4N with its own microphones until you have a clearer vision of what next you should purchase. However, it may well be worth spending $25 on the RC4 remote for the H4N, as this will make the stepladder episodes less adventurous.

    Don't get side-tracked by a microphone quest now - do the experiments on finding the best placement for the H4N relative to the instrument and the room, then concentrate on nailling a good performance for your demo CD.
  8. belito

    belito Active Member

    Sounds good! It's just that yesterday i saw a good deal on Amazon, one NT55 is $219, so i was so tempted...hehe
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Bos, your posts are always so informative and a delight to read. Great tip.

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