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HELP! Mastering a grand piano

Discussion in 'Piano' started by gotlerTech, Apr 13, 2006.

  1. gotlerTech

    gotlerTech Guest

    Are there any general guidelines for mastering a grand piano recording?

    I've got a stereo-matched pair of Rhode NT5's in a coincident pattern going into a Presonus Firebox then into my laptop at 24bit/96kHz. I thought I had found a good mic placement (about 12 inches above the strings, and about 12 inches back from the action, where the bass and treble string cross).

    Of course, it all sounds great through headphones, but when I play it through speakers, the piano sounds horrible. The worst part is that the bass booms like crazy. The mono mix doesn't seem to sound much better or worse, so I don't think the problem is phase cancellation.

    I've tried EQ'ing out the bass, but it's either there or gone. Now I'm experimenting with multiband compression (to compress the bass down relative to the rest of the frequencies) and then doing EQ and compression on the whole mix. But I still don't like the sound.

    It seems like there is too much midrange. Maybe both mics are picking up the mid and it's overpowering the stereo mix. Maybe there's a better mic placement? Should I add a room mic (I have a spare NT1 that I could use). The final app is a video project, so I am very concerned about dynamic and frequency ranges.

  2. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    There is hope, Basically you have to find out why it sounds good on the headphones and figure out how to replicate that on speakers. It's going to sound different but you should be able to get somewhat close depending on the tools you have and how good you are at deciphering what you are hearing. Maybe the headphones are right and your speakers aren't. I don't know. There are about 500 variables that you have to sift through.
  3. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    You stole my words there. Maybe the room + speakers etc... (which is part of the 500 variables) How does it sound somewhere else?
  4. gotlerTech

    gotlerTech Guest

    What a great forum this is. Thanks for the comments so far.

    I typically burn to a CD and play that on various systems. The speakers on my PC are a sub + satellites (I know, bad idea, but it's all I've got right now), so my mastering system is a little boomy. At least I'm using a worst-case scenario. Also, since this is for a video project, that is similar to a typical end-user's.

    I tried something that might be helpful to others. I think part of the problem was too much mid due to the coincident mics hovering over middle C (thus both mics picking it up). I've read about that being an issue. Some people use hypercardiod mics on a grand for that reason.

    So, I split the stereo track into two mono tracks, panned them far left and right, and applied the same processing to each, except that I EQ'd out about 6dB from mid to high on the left and from low to mid on the right. That seems to have gotten rid of the overpowering midrange and improved the stereo separation.
  5. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member


    You really can't have a good and objective opinion with satelites and sub from a PC. Risk of BOOMYNESS and absence of mids all the way... but
    but if you have found the culprit and a cure...thats all it counts.


  6. gotlerTech

    gotlerTech Guest

    Results and Tips

    Thanks for all of the input. I've upgraded some hardware, tuned my PC and played with mic placement and mixing techniques.

    You can hear a short clip of the result here:


    Not exactly a "dry' mix. Any thoughts?

    - Piano: 1929 Heinzman, Model D.
    - Mics: A stereo matched pair of Rode NT-5's (over the strings), One Rode NT-1 (room mic)
    - A/D: Tascam FW-1804 (24 bit, 96kHz)
    - PC: 1.7GHz XP Pro
    - Software: Vegas, Cubase LE

    Mic Placement:
    After much trial and error, and pestering everyone, I found the main problem with the boominess, which in hindsight was obvious. I was suspending the conincident mics above middle C, which was too close to the bass bridge. I now have them suspended over the C ABOVE middle C.

    Room Mic: A drummer friend suggested placing the room mic BEHIND me about 7 feet high and recording it real hot. What a difference.

    Tascam FW-1804: You have to learn how to use this beast. Once you do, I think it sounds great, and it has more features for the money than anything else I saw. Not as crystal clear as the Presonus, but i think it sounds warmer.

    In order to remove the boominess without losing any of the deep bass that my piano has, I use multiband compression instead of EQ'ing out the bass. I compress between 3:1 and 6:1 on the bass band, depending on the music and the desired results.

    The rest is some EQ, BBE and Reverb to liven up the mix, with a little compression/limiting in between each FX to keep it tame.

    I also replaced my cheap-o sub-satellite system with some mid-level monitors.
  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Re: Results and Tips

    Um.....I'll add my two cents here and ask a few questons as well....

    where will this type of sound end up? As part of another track? (This is not a recording intended for solo piano, is it?)

    Although good recording is good recording; there are times when a sound like this might be something you're going after for a specific sound. Otherwise, it's not a "good piano" sound per se. Judging by the short clip, it sounds overly compressed and hyped; the compression is obvious and there's no appreciable bass. (if you're hearing a lot of bass with this track, you may have some issues with your monitoring environment.)

    Basically, this sounds like an upright piano. (Or a short, "apartment" grand?) The thin, weird bass sound is partially due to a trick used by piano manufacturers to create bass frequencies without the proper length. They make them thicker, NOT longer, sort've cheating the laws of physics. This results in a "twonky", unrealistic bass sound, with no real fundamental frequency. This is also why good grand pianos are a minimum of 7 feet, with 9 feet being ideal. The bass strings' length mandates this.

    From reading your posts, I gather you're new at this, and that's cool. You're certainly on the right track. However, I would suggest a little less focus on the "Gear" (you can get great sounds with even mediocre gear, remember) and more focuse on the sound of the instrument and the talent level of the person playing it. That's 90% of the game, trust me.

    This piano just doesn't sound good to start with, esp the bass strings.

    Also, the compression is too obvious, and shouldn't be used on a piano track per se, unless you're trying to get it above other instruments in a complex mix. On it's own, it sounds, well, not good.

    As for the BBE: sell that thing on Ebay as fast as you can. It's a good tool for punching up bad analog tapes (Cassette transfers, etc.) and restoration work, but it's got no place in professional recording, ESPECIALLY not a serious piano track.

    if you've got monitors telling you that it sounds better with the BBE engaged, you might consider better monitors.

    When going for the best piano sound possible, you want purity of tone and cleanliness of signal path mroe than anything else. Good condenser mics, a minimum of processing, and most of all: a good instrument, performer and performance space.

    I would strongly suggest you stop over to the acoustic music forum and do some reading on piano recording techniques, there's some good stuff over there. Good luck!
  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Re: Results and Tips

    Duplicate - removed
  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Re: Results and Tips

    Duplicate - Removed
  10. gotlerTech

    gotlerTech Guest


    Ouch! That was difficult to read. Thanks for taking the time. I do agree that it sounds a little too processed. I was intentionally trying to do something with that (which is why I posted in this forum, rather than the acoustic one). I'm going to continue working on it.

    BTW, the piano is a 1929 Heintzmann (5'8" grand). It's got a fairly deep bass for a piano its size that tends to overpower mics placed near the bass bridge. It's not the piano (or the room) that will be recorded for the project.

  11. gotlerTech

    gotlerTech Guest

    New clip

    Here is the latest attempt based on the same raw recordings. Much less processing here:

    For comparison, here is what the previous one sounded like:

    I think I need to back the mics off the strings a bit. There is too much action noise and string attack. The slight pumping near the end is not due to compression. I'm not sure what that is, other than maybe my bad playing.

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