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Good microphone for recording piano [On a budget]

Discussion in 'Piano' started by JamaicanPianist, Feb 26, 2013.

  1. Hey guys, first off thanks for reading this in advance! I'm looking to purchase a microphone to record my piano playing that I will be uploading to youtube. I will be playing pop songs (e.g. Trouble by taylor Swift, Marvin's Room by Drake etc.) so not your typical jazz/classical music. I want the recording to be good but it doesnt have to be super excellent, as I am hoping to get an affordable mike (sub 100, $150 max). I'm hoping that since its not classical etc. where the pitch and all has to be picked up almost perfectly, that I can get by with a reasonably cheaper mike. Anticipating your replies!
     
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    pitch isn't the issue. all mics will pick up the correct pitch. signal to noise and frequency response / sonic accuracy are what comes into play. you need to tell us 1) what kind of piano, 2) what the room you are recording in is like.

    you might think in terms of 2 mics for stereo recording.

    truth be told excluding types, there isn't much difference between any of the less expensive mics on the market. most small diaphragm condensers are about equal as are large diaphragm condensers and dynamics.

    your real choices come into as to what type; small diaphragm dynamic, large diaphragm dynamic, small diaphragm condenser, large diaphragm condenser, omni, cardioid or multi pattern.

    most pro studios will use a grand piano with the lid up (either half or full stick) and a pair of spaced large diaphragm multi pattern condensers set at omni in front of the piano aimed at the lid. but a lot of folks also record with a pair of small diaphragm cardioid condensers aimed at the hammers inside the lid. sometimes people will use a combination of the two or even a pair of small clip ons clipped to the harp of the piano inside the lid with the lid open or closed.

    then an upright, studio or spinet piano takes completely different approach. these are usually miced from the top with the lid open and often with a mic on the soundboard from the rear with small diaphragm condensers.

    you can also use something like a SM57's or 58's if you are on a budget. the sound will be acceptable but most likely not stellar although in many cases this may be just what sounds best.
     
  3. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Kurt has it pretty well. I use ribbon microphones for stereo mains as well as spots with a very occasional small diaphragm condenser spot. On upright pianos very often I use a Shure 57 on either end of the raised lid.

    Sent from my DROIDX using Tapatalk 2
     
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    20 years or so ago, it was popular to take a pair of Crown or even Radio Shaft, Pressure Zone Microphones, Tape them to the inside of the lid of the grand piano or, upright and close the lid. Great for rock 'n roll and jazz hands down. Ya get away with spending $700 on a pair of microphones from Crown or $60-$80 from Radio Shaft and get the exact sounding same results. Because they were using the same capsules as the Crown's in which they purchased the rights to offer this cheap consumer version that could be easily hot rodded with just a couple of higher voltage batteries and an XLR connector. So you might even want to try a pair of Radio Shaft omni-directional, battery operated, lav mics just taped down inside the lid? It'll run you a whopping $40 or so? Because it doesn't have to say professional on the box for you to deliver a professional product from it. Want to run your microphone cables longer than the included cable with the 1/4 inch connector on it? No problem. You just plug that into someone's passive or active guitar/bass/keyboard, DI (Direct Injection) box which will provide that balanced XLR output. Then ya can run that cable 1000 feet. Otherwise you will be limited to around 10 feet. Which is still doable for a lot of folks. And it really won't sound like death or crap even if the box says Radio Shaft. Because Radio Shaft is in fact using the same Taiwanese manufacturer and the identical capsules to what you find in the over $300 each Crown microphones. They just cannot be powered from phantom power. So ya have to use the batteries. And you always put fresh batteries in, for each and every session that's being paid for. And because you might forget since they'll last frequently for weeks. You don't want to use yesterday's batteries to be utilized on today's session. And there are higher voltage batteries that can be had through Eveready, where 2, 6 V batteries can be substituted for a single 1.5 V AA battery. And this really kicks the performance up of those otherwise nasty reputation microphones. And some of those already have XLR outputs on the microphones. And with those Eveready batteries, they become viable professional microphones... as long as you scrape off or paint over editing that says Radio Shaft, Realistic or, OPTimus, that stuff LOL. And I've known plenty you have LOL. I don't bother. If they don't like to see my $30 microphones sitting there next to the $3000 plus one, screw them. They're not the engineer. I am. And we all know you can't make professional recordings with Radio Shaft equipment. But I can. So can you.

    You might be in for a pleasant surprise?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  5. To answer a previous question, I will be recording on an upright piano. Also, is it really necessary to have two microphones on either side? Cant i just have one in the middle? The room i'm recording in is, well i dont know what specifics are needed in describing it. It's a typical college piano practice room, sound proofed to an extent.

    Here is a link to one of the videos i've already uploaded, maybe you could listen to how the piano sounds just with the camera recording it and suggest which affordable microphone would enhance it the best.

    Marvin's Room Piano Cover - YouTube

    Edit: I would like to reiterate that I am completely clueless with this microphone/recording thing, I have been looking at the shure57 as it seems to have good reviews and is apparently a good starting mike. Do i need any other cables/amps etc. to get the recording from the mic to my computer so i can sync it with the video (see youtube link). Again, thanks for the help!
     
  6. New Guy

    New Guy Guest

    I am brand new to this recording stuff too. With my very small knowledge to help answer your question. You can get a Shure SM57 microphone for usually $90, even cheaper if it's used (Craigslist). It is highly recommened, one of the most durable microphones out. Beware of fake ones though, many replicas out there that are not the same. Do a google search to compare a real to a fake before buying. Now to be able to use it, you need a audio interface to plug the mic into. Either USB (PC) or Firewire (Apple Mac). Get one with at least one XLR input. A audio interface with phantom power would be nice if you plan to use a condenser mic in the future.

    So you need a XLR male to XLR female cable to plug into the mic to the audio interface. The interface will come with a cable, firewire or USB to plug into your computer.
    A cheap audio interface you can find on ebay or craigslist aswell, from $50-120, depending on which you want.

    You could use a USB microphone which plugs directly into your computer, but they usually don't sound as good.
    Don't have any experience with any mics yet, so I can't really recommend one.
    But if you want some pointers on mics I have come across for a small budget, let me know and I can mention them, then you decide.

    One Love
     
  7. Wow, all these hidden items/costs are starting to make that recording I linked in my OP of just the camera recording sound much,much better haha. I had no idea there were all these necessary components. Could someone post a recording of their piano playing so I can hear the difference when a mic/etc. is used?

    Also, would this (SM57+Usb adapter)

    Amazon.com: Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone: Musical Instruments

    +this

    Amazon.com: GLS Audio 25 foot Mic Cable Patch Cords - XLR Male to XLR Female Black Microphone Cables - 25' Balanced Mic Snake Cord - Single: Musical Instruments

    Be all I need to get started?
     
  8. DemolitionX

    DemolitionX Member

    Hey, I am the OP. Wow, with all these additional costs that video recording of just my camera is starting to sounds much, much better lol. Would i need two microphones or could I make due with just 1 in the middle since i'm using an upright piano?

    Could I make do with this [mic+signal adapter]

    Amazon.com: Shure SM57-X2U Cardioid Dynamic Microphone with X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter: Musical Instruments


    and this?

    Amazon.com: GLS Audio 25 foot Mic Cable Patch Cords - XLR Male to XLR Female Black Microphone Cables - 25' Balanced Mic Snake Cord - Single: Musical Instruments

    Also, maybe someone could link me to a piano recording they did with a mike, so I can compare it to my camera recording in terms of clarity and quality etc.
     
  9. New Guy

    New Guy Guest

    Me again with no experience. Just trying to help where I can.
    For the XLR to XLR cable, you would use that to plug the mic into a audio interface.
    The USB adapter you can use, but you still need the XLR to XLR cable to plug into it, and it also looks like you need a USB 2.0 cable to go from the adapter to the computer. This would work and you wouldn't Have to get a audio interface. Although I am not sure of the sound quality by doing this, a lot of the audio interfaces have a microphone preamp built into them and helps with the quality of the recording. So it may be better if you plan not to get a audio interface, to just get a exlusive USB microphone. (There is the Audio Technica 2020 condenser mic, to me sounds good. Make sure to get the USB one if that is what you want.)
    I do not know what is the proper mic placement technique on pianos, but you could do a google search for professional advice to find out if you one mic is enough and where to place it, or if you should use 2 or if you should use a condenser mic.

    As far as sound quality, again I have no experience yet with recording with mics (so I have no idea if the mics would make it sound better, but I think you could hear more detail from each key, but also depends on headphones/speaker monitors), but to me the video sounded good. Very nice playing. How does the video sound to you? Does it sound close to real life?
    Also note, that youtube compesses their videos, so the sound from the video is also a bit downgraded to what you might get out of your computer saved audio.

    If you feel it is taking too long for a reply or just would like more answers/opinions, you can try the GearSlutz forum or the head-fi.org forum, they are very helpful.
     
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Well one of the reasons why the camcorder audio portion, sounded the way it did is because all of those camcorders have some type of AVC, a.k.a. Automatic Volume Control. Which is nothing more than a really bad dynamic range compressor. Regular microphones being recorded without such compression a.k.a. professional automatic volume control, will never yield a recording that sounds like the camcorder. So don't get all excited by that camcorder sound as it really isn't very good. It's usable, mind you. Just not what we would call a professional sound or a professional product by any stretch of the imagination.

    Since you are so new at this, here are some other things to consider:

    Your question about only one microphone such as a single 57 as opposed to a pair of 57's is just this side of, I hate to say this, stupid. That's monaural. We've been stereo for over 50 years now. Time to move into the 21st century. And stereo requires a pair of microphones. It doesn't matter whether the room acoustics are not so great. They're going to be not so great with a single microphone. Probably even worse that way?

    So when you're ready to record that piano, you'll pull it away from the wall into the middle of the room floor. You'll pull off the top and you might even want to pull off the front where the music goes? And then a couple of microphones aimed at the left side and right side of the harp. The tighter you place the microphones the more rock 'n roll it will sound. If you want the sound of the room, with the piano? You might utilize something like an XY configuration and place the microphones about 5 feet behind you aiming at the open piano.

    Sometimes folks try to mic these upright pianos from the back side of the soundboard. And I generally find that not terribly pleasing a sound. Quite woody, quite brittle and doesn't yield the right kind of attack. You want to hear those hammers hitting the strings. You don't hear that from the soundboard.

    This isn't really an upright piano either. It's a spinet. Which is something a little worse than an upright and worse than a baby grand. Not the most flattering piano to make recordings upon. Have you considered approaching one of the churches in your area? They frequently have a nice grand piano that is usually kept in tune or ya can pay to have it tuned. And the room has a nice acoustic signature. Certainly a lot better than that toy piano in a small room with lousy acoustics.

    So you actually need someone's computer audio interface, USB box. For your purposes, you could easily get by with a USB 1.1 box, such as the Pre-Sonus USB Audio Box for around $150 US. And it includes a fabulous software bundle that usually costs over $600 when purchased separately.

    The 57 as would be fine. But so would a pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones by companies such as Rode, which would sound particularly nice on a piano. But if you're going to record in that lousy little room with that lousy piano a pair of 57's might actually make more audible sense? Because they won't be as sensitive to the lousy room acoustics. And you'll have them close enough so that noise should be of no concern. And you could even use those in an XY configuration slightly further from the piano, that will include lots of the rooms acoustics, for natural sounding piano that doesn't scream rock 'n roll.

    I've made a number of jazz piano recordings over the years. Most of the time, they were upon full concert Steinway grand pianos that were over 8 feet long. They were also done in acoustically decent, relatively large, performance rooms. Frequently I utilized a pair of Neumann U-67's or, 87's and sometimes, AKG 414's and even the Radio Shaft Pressure Zone Microphones with the lid, closed.

    Most of the time in the past, these recordings were also made with API 3124 mixers. Most were live to 2 track analog and later 2 track digital. Frequently I had these microphones in an XY configuration somewhere around and over top of middle C, just above the hammers, which was about 1 foot over top of the strings. And on another occasion, I also utilized a pair of Omni directional Naumann KM-86's, to pick up the room. Which words mixed with those tight microphones right over top of the hammers.

    Very little equalization was used. Generally no dynamics processing at all. And if I did use some dynamics processing, it was usually just some light limiting.

    Large diaphragm condenser microphones can sound quite lovely on the piano. What a lousy room acoustics, the large diaphragm condenser microphones really don't cut the mustard because of their lousy off axis pickup and response. This is where the small diaphragm condenser microphones win, hands down. Because their off axis response, is quite good and nice sounding. Though it might pick up more of the lousy acoustics, by virtue of the fact that it is a condenser microphone and they are more sensitive and pick up things you really don't want. And that's where those 57's win, hands down.

    Proper preamplifier gain trimming is essential to obtain a good recording that has not been recorded too loudly or too softly. And where possible, I would recommend for you to record at 24-bit. Sample rate is your choice of 44.1 kHz for CD and general release purposes. 48 kHz if it's to be tied with digital television. 88.2/96 kHz if you want the higher resolution and extended frequency response for your archival purposes? So you should have some kind of idea how you are going to go about distributing your recording? So if it's to be a standard MP3 download, you would want your master to be at, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. Which can easily transcode down from 24-bit, 88.2 kHz.

    Sometimes we actually record at 24-bit, 48 kHz, even if it's going to be for a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CD release. And that's because some of us prefer mixing down in analog. So ya get a fairly nice sound from the multitrack 48 kHz recording. Yielding slightly better high-frequency response up to 22 kHz. And some of that still comes through, when you do it in analog mix down to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. Recording at 48 kHz and transcoding down, in the computer, to 44.1 kHz does not quite work out mathematically. And as a result, there can be audible artifacts from the math that doesn't work. Sometimes you won't hear any. Other times, you'll hear something nasty.

    So a lot of these recording decisions have to be made at the time of the recording. You wouldn't necessarily do the same thing across the board for everything and everywhere. You have to adjust according to the acoustics and the instruments involved. There is no one single right or wrong way to go about this.

    Unfortunately when recording a spinet piano, in a lousy room, it is what it is. You can't really turn lead into gold and you can't really turn a pig's ear into a silk purse. You can only polish a TURD, only so much LOL. And if you start adding dynamic range compression, everything bad with the room will be grossly over exaggerated. Ain't nothing pretty about that. In fact it can make it downright awful sounding.

    It's going to run you a minimum of $400 US complete with the additional necessary accoutrements and accessories.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     

  11. View: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okG6JGS4j9E&list=UUX3-gbZRdC_bWGxFGRZ0GqA


    Small clip of my Young Chang 6' Using a pair of AKG PErception 220's (about 150 a piece) about two feet from the strings mid way panned far L R.
     

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