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Having Quality Issues from Digital Piano Source

Discussion in 'Piano' started by d0nquix0te, Oct 28, 2006.

  1. d0nquix0te

    d0nquix0te Guest

    I am new to the DAW world but here is my problem. I have a Yamaha P120 and a 3ghz computer with 1.5Gigs of ram and an Emu 0404 soundcard.

    Now this may sound strange or naive but let me know what I can do.

    My P120 sounds incredible when I put my headphones (Sennheiser HD595) into the headphone jack. But through my computer the sound lacks everything -- sounds shallow and distant even through my headphones. I turn the volume up on my headphone amp and no matter how loud I can't reproduce the sound quality I get from my keyboard.

    Now I can play professional piano recordings and albeit they have some super high end gear and mine sucks frankly. But what am I doing wrong?

    I have messed with EQs, mono, stereo, compression, preamps, signal volume, etc.

    Am I out of luck? Do I need a better soundcard? External mixer, better preamp? Or do I just need more EQing.

    I heard the P120 is an awesome sounding keyboard for recording but I can't figure out how to make it sound good.

    Thanks for any help.
  2. Nirvalica

    Nirvalica Guest

    Maybe it's the soundcard... What output are you using from the keyboard to the computer's soundcard?
  3. d0nquix0te

    d0nquix0te Guest

    I have tried the line out in both stereo and mono, and also tried the headphone out.

    It goes through a twenty foot shielded guitar cable that seems like a decent, heavy duty cable (I only paid 30 for it, but it should be decent enough).

    My soundcard has two analog inputs. The emu 0404 is supposed to be a semi decent soundcard and for $99, it has decent specs and the signal to noise ratio is reasonably low.

    I may buy the emu 1616m if this will improve the sound of my recordings, but I only need the two analog inputs of the 0404.

    It really is mind boggling. I don't think I am being picky -- it is very noticeable that everything I record doesn't sound nearly as dynamic and full as when I play it live through the headphones.

    Perhaps this is common in recording -- I don't know because I am just an amature trying to record some songs and make them sound decent enough.

    Thanks for your reply.

    If you want the soundcard specs, I'll post them. Thanks again.

    Maybe I should get a dac, and input the sound digitally to my computer? I just don't want to spend 2 grand and find out that it was all unnecessary! Sigh.
  4. Nirvalica

    Nirvalica Guest

    well, a guitar cable is mono, so if you want to use stereo, you'd need two; one for right and left from the keyboard and into the soundcard. Does the soundcard have a software mixer where you can control the levels of the inputs and outputs? It might need adjusting there, too.
  5. UncleBob58

    UncleBob58 Active Member

    Apr 9, 2003
    Fairfield County, CT
    Home Page:
    A $99.00 sound card is going to sound like a, well, a $99.00 sound card.

    As Nirvalica stated you will need a stereo cable to input stereo sound from the P-120, which is not one of my favorite sounding keyboards. The sound is pre-EQed to sound good out of the P-120s speaker system and headphone output but noticably changes when hooked up to an external system; it is meant to be a stand-alone unit. If you have been recording only one channel be aware that the sound is basically centered and the effects are very hard left and right to give the sound more depth of field, so you have been recording mostly the effects and not the sound of the keyboard.

    You may want to turn off all of the effects when you record and add them in your DAW after you track them. You will probably have to do some extensive EQing as well.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    There is nothing wrong with your sound card, cables or keyboard. I believe you're talking about operator error? Again, gain staging may not be adjusted properly, from the output of your keyboard to the input of your sound card? The output of your keyboard should be turned up about two thirds of the way up. You will adjust the input sensitivity of your sound card accordingly. Don't use the headphone output of your keyboard.

    Your sound card may include some kind of built-in ambient effects that should all be switched off (check your manual). You may also be talking about an out of phase condition from an inappropriate software playback plug-in, incorrectly wired cable or Jack?

    Recording a keyboard into a sound card is one of the easiest things to do correctly but anybody can make mistakes with the stupid and confusing built in stereo monitoring effects that seem to be included/plague some of the even reasonably professional sound cards. What you are describing sounds like the result of some kind of onboard ambience effect that is obscuring the pure sound of the keyboard?

    Please deposit an additional $.25
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  7. d0nquix0te

    d0nquix0te Guest

    I turned up the volume like you suggested and it helped SIGNIFICANTLY. It still seems to lack some of the clarity/purity of sound but that is to be expected.

    I will try to add some fullness with some EQing and light compression and possibly limiting. I will have to experiment.

    Clipping happens when I overload the signal. Will this harm my soundcard? And also, how can you record a larger dynamic range in volume? I know that their are reasons why going to the symphony is different than buying the cd but ideally would like to record as naturally as possible.

    It just goes to show the variety of sound different equipment can give you even if it is meant to be "neutral."

    Thanks for your help and any further suggestions to improve my sound will be gratefully received.
  8. d0nquix0te

    d0nquix0te Guest

    Sorry to double post --

    Just did a test recording . . . and played the wav in winamp with a special software prog from iZotope. And I am much more impressed with the sound. The prog processes the sound with an EQ, adds some verb and room effects, bass compression, and tube limiting and saturation.

    So I guess UncleBob58 was correct about the sound from the headphone jack.

    I am impressed by this program (iZotope Ozone) that attaches onto winamp. I may just use that to give my recordings the fullness I want. As long as it works . . . although I'd be better off learning the techniques myself.

    What is the device that limits the sound as it goes into my soundcard? A limiter? I may need to get one of those so I can at least simulate the dynamic range my piano has outside of recording (intensity perhaps with less volume).

    I can't imagine the difficulty of recording a real piano because the decibel levels vary so much more. Yikes!

    Let me know your thoughts? Thanks again.
  9. Nirvalica

    Nirvalica Guest

    well, just turn it up loud enough where it doesn't clip at the very loudest you can play. Then, if you need more volume later, you can compress the sound and make it more constant and then raise the volume as needed.
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    d0nquix0te, the sound coming from playback on your computer from the sound card should be no less than what the output of the instrument is producing. What makes you think it should be less than that? After all you're talking about an electronic piano, not an acoustic piano, so they are either samples which were recorded or are pure synthesized elements that are built with the same electronics as your sound card.

    Nirvalica just explained the same thing as I would but I would also suggest you check your keyboards operating manual as the actual output dynamic range voicing may be variable from the instrument. It would then make it easier to record while still providing the expressive qualities of loud versus soft without overload. Again, operator error from not understanding your operator manual for your keyboard device. I have frequently had problems with keyboard players that let their keyboards fly with full dynamic range capabilities so that when a bang on a keyboard, you know it will be overloaded. Go figure? On those guys, I will take their output to a DI box into my microphone preamplifier, running it in negative gain so as to prevent overload and gain headroom. I then insert a peak or RMS compressor/limiter, set to at least 10: 1. Then no further problems with overload in the instrument and it still sounds good and will sit in the mix much easier than people who play from a whisper to an overload within the same phrase, that never sounds good in any mix.

    I would not use Win amp for anything since it is just a toy, not intended for production purposes. If you like the plug-in, you can get a professional version of it to run with a professional audio program otherwise, why bother posting anything here at all if all you are playing with are toys??

    I'm not one of Santa's little helpers
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  11. d0nquix0te

    d0nquix0te Guest

    You have all been very helpful.

    RemyRAD and Nirvalica -- your advice answers my last question very well. I will read up in these forums on compression some more because I always introduce noise or flatten the recording when I try to use my soundcards compressor. But I will figure that out -- whether I need to tweak the settings some more or simply upgrade to a better compressor. Cheap often sounds that way, I guess.

    Remy, your keyboard recording advice is priceless. I really have learned more from this post than I have in the last month trying to do things myself.

    Yes the program that I use in winamp is modeled or modified from a professional DirectX program that I do not own but I may consider looking at -- not quite as bad as a toy but . . .

    But my tangent about Winamp was merely meant to illustrate what UncleBob pointed out -- the headphone jack is heavily EQed. By running the rather sophisticated program (a toy perhaps, but an impressive one in my humble opinion) I was able to recreate some of the sound that I heard through the headphone out.

    The keyboard samples on the P120 are meant to be realistic -- and frankly realistic recordings might sound bare or sparse to an untrained ear like mine. Add some spatial processing, some sparkle in the high end and make the bass punchier and the sound is more impressive.

    RemyRAD -- without overstepping my knowledge, a signal is not a signal after running it through my whole setup. I am dealing with an analog signal. Correct me if I am wrong but the quality degrades after so many connections, running it through my soundcard, out of the soundcard into a headphone amp (cheap cmoy) and then through my headphones. We are dealing with almost 40 ft of cable alone! Many audiophiles would back me up with this (and possibly shiver with disgust), if not recording engineers.

    The cable length/quality and multiple budget devices introduce a small amount of noise and degradation in sound quality. I am listening through a decent pair of headphones (Sennheiser 595s), but everything else is consumer quality.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

    So why am I complaining about low so quality issues! Anyone want to donate some pro equipment to a grateful college student? How about a nice Casio keyboard from Walmart! That might help my recording : )

    Thanks everyone for all the help! I can't believe how prompt I got answers. This site is awesome. You are all so generous with your know how.
  12. TeddyG

    TeddyG Well-Known Member

    Jan 20, 2005
    I'm not here to question anyone's response, so far, as I can't - I just don't know.

    What I can say is that if you are not hearing the same sound AFTER running it through your computer, that you hear from the headphone jack on the keyboard that something is "wrong"(Using the same headphones to judge, of course.).

    For instance: Keyboards, for the most part, are rather "consumer-type" unbalanced, devices, often using 1/4" TS, as opposed to many soundcards using 1/4"(Or XLR) TRS. There can at least be a level difference. Not a huge problem, but something that must be recognized and dealt with. You might check the "pinouts" for your soundcard and keyboard and how the cables, themselves, are wired. Cables(Irrespective of price) are not neccessarily wired as you might expect(Usually, but..?). A check with the manuals and a simple DVM will tell what's where. I've avoided some of these problems by running my unbalanced keyboard cables to mixer unbalanced inputs then running the mixer balanced outs to the sound card - though putting a mixer "in the middle" can change the sound, too - everything can...

    Optimally, BOTH keyboard outputs and sound card inputs should be ALL THE WAY UP!(With the keyboard UP the priority, as Remy, says, though a soundcard, using digital level control can be problematic - even with pricey sound cards where excellent ears may hear a difference.). If this is too much level, try BOTH methods of level control - with the soundcard and then with the keyboard - leaving one or the other all the way up, to hear what works best. Again, running through the mixer allows both sc and kb to be all the way up, as I adjust level with the mixer(Also again, not necessarily the best way either - who's to say the mixer does that good a job? Not me! I don't know? I can only say there is no audible difference between kb hp out and sc hp out to my old ears.).

    You also mentioned your "cheap" headphone amp. An easy "possible" to check into, to see if it's giving you all you need. You may BE doing fine, otherwise? Try another headphone amp of some sort to at least hear if there's any "big" change?

    Number of connections is not nearly the problem as number of "bad" connections, where even one bad apple, etc(Took me a week to "find" the MIDI cable that was in the wrong jack - 'cause I just KNEW it wasn't. Ha!)... Length of reasonable quality cables is not often a problem, either(Despite the pricey cable ads to the contrary - again Ha!), but, if you can get away with 2 6 footers, sted 2 20 footers, I would, with any install of any kind of cable - just because(Less to trip over? Less for the cats to "find" and chew-up? Of course, less of an RF antenna - never a bad thing if rarely a worrisome thing...).

  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    d0nquix0te you are fixating on short lengths of cable that should have little if any effect on the sound. It's not a factor. It's just not enough cable to be concerned about. Now if you look inside a television station, recording studio, radio station and even my Neve equipped remote truck, my signal passes through thousands of feet of cable, skinny little cable, that's not to mention the 500 feet of microphone snake coming from the stage, going down the street and around the corner to my truck! No degradation, no interference and at most maybe 1/2 DB down at 15kHz, which is nothing to worry about. My recording sound fabulous and are a good representation of what was plugged in over 500 feet away. I don't use monster cable either but just a lot of stock Belden, Mogami, Canare cabling which are between 22 and 24 gauge, skinny tiny stuff.

    Now looping through crappy sound cards and/or crappy PA boards can degrade your sound. To keep the degradation lowest, make sure most equalization is either turned off or zeroed, keep your slide faders up high and your gain trim lower than normal. Noise will not be the problem and neither will overload. Too many plug-ins and equalizer's that are not set flat or a sure recipe for bad sound. You might think it's the sound you want but if you compare it to a good commercial recording, you will quickly discover it's anything but the sound you want.

    Always remember LESS IS MORE, KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID, lazy is best, drugs make everything sound good until the next day, mixing on headphones is unrealistic, mixing on large studio speakers is unrealistic, making millions of dollars with your studio is unrealistic.

    Realistically poor but good
    Ms. Remy Ann David

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