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How to record an upright piano

Discussion in 'Piano' started by PianoGuitarBoy, Jul 23, 2013.

  1. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    I'm totally new to recording!
    Soon I'd like to set up a youtube channel doing covers of songs on piano, electric and acoustic guitar.
    A few months ago I bought a Shure Sm57 cheaply off Amazon, at first it didn't work so my dad unscrewed it and the wires weren't soldered. He soldered them, but when I used it to record my upright piano, even when I put it right next to the soundboard it was extremely low output.
    I had it plugged into my old dell laptop running audacity, and by the time I had amplified it enough there was an awful lot of hum.
    Was it likely that this was a fake?
    Now, I want to get another mic for recording my upright piano, I've done a bit of research and it seems that condensers seem to be best for this sort of thing, what model(s) do you suggest? £100 is my budget but I could maybe go slightly over if I'm going to get a much higher quality one.
    Also, do I need an audio interface? With my Sm57 I plugged straight into my computer's 3.5mm jack socket.
    Also, this might be a really stupid question, but obviously condenser mics need phantom power, can you get an audio interface with phantom power?
    Thanks very much in advance for all your help.
     
  2. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Definitely get an interface. The 3.5mm inputs on a computer aren't really designed for pro mics.

    Try your SM57 on the piano through the interface and if that doesn't work out consider a different mic. There are $100 condenser mics but they aren't all that great. They are different enough from your dynamic mic that it still might be useful, but if you spend 2 or 3 times that you can get into a pretty decent entry level condenser.

    [Edit] Of course a hundred of your pounds may go farther than a hundred of our dollars.
     
  3. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Thanks for your reply.
    What (cheap) audio interface would you reccomend? One with 1/4 inch inputs would be great.
    Is a Shure Sm57 better than a condenser for £100?
    Thanks
     
  4. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I'm not up on the latest small interfaces so I'll let someone else answer that.

    An SM57 is just different from a condenser. Having a variety of mics helps a lot. A 57 and a decent condenser can cover a pretty wide range of situations. Most likely you'll like the condenser better than the 57 on a piano.
     
  5. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Thanks.
    Also, do I need to record in stereo or is that a waste of time and money, obviously I want a good quality recording but I don't need it to be super professional.
    Could you reccomend the best condensers in my sort of price range?
    I really appreciate your help.
     
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Here's an article on recording upright pianos that may help. If you can, go for a pair of identical microphones (such as two SM57s) so you get a stereo recording. If the room where the piano is does not have great acoustics, I would stick with dynamic microphone(s) as they tend to give better results in poor acoustic environments than condensers.

    There's not a great deal to choose among interfaces at the sort of price level you mentioned. The E-MU 0204 is worth looking at. A little bit more would get you a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, which is in the next quality league.
     
  7. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Thanks for the article.
    My piano is in our living room with its right side up against a wall, then there is about 3 and a half metres of space surrounding it on the other sides. The room has a wood floor and wood beams up the side and on the ceiling. Would a dynamic or a condenser suit this best? I really don't want to spend too much money on this, the recording doesn't have to be super duper, can I get away with a mono recording?
    Thanks very much.
     
  8. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I don't think you could get a definitive answer to the question until you tried it.

    An alternative approach to this requirement is to use a portable digital recorder of the type that has a couple of built-in (condenser) microphones recording to a memory card. After recording, you plug the recorder into a USB port on a PC to transfer the recorded tracks. The usual recorder model that folks on this forum recommend is the Zoom H4N, but for your requirement, the Tascam DR07 Mk II would be fine and it's about half the price of the Zoom. You would need a camera tripod to mount it on. Fair Deal Music has the DR07 at around £100, but you may be able to find it cheaper. If you are happy with a second-hand unit, they come up on Ebay for well under the £100 mark.
     
  9. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Stereo or mono won't make a huge difference. If I'm recording a whole band I prefer mono. Stereo is nice if the instrumentation is more sparse, but panning and reverb can give much of that spacious feeling with a mono track.
     
  10. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Yes, one of those digital recorders looks good, I don't need an audio interface and it has stereo condensers.
    Just wondering, would it be possible to plug it into my computer and record it live into audacity without recording it, then plugging it in?
    Would the condensers on the Tascam be as good a quality as independent mics?
    Thanks for your help.
     
  11. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    The advertising material for these portable recorders usually suggests that you can use them to run directly into a computer as though they were USB microphones. However, what they don't tell you is that, if you do that, the audio goes through the standard real-time Windows drivers which are only 16-bit and not 24-bit, so you suffer a quality hit. If you transfer the 24-bit tracks after recording, you can adjust the amplitude of the data and perform other edits in the computer without suffering quality losses before then burning to CD at 16-bit. In addition, you can leave your computer switched off during recording so you don't pick up the whine of the fans.

    The mics on the Tascam are probably as good as any individual ones you would get in the sub-£100 range.
     
  12. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Ok. Thanks.
    Would the quality dip be that noticeable or wouold it just be a minute thing?
    Also, where would be the best place around my piano to place the tascam? Would the fact that the two condensers on it are fixed next to each other be a limitation?
    Thanks a lot.
     
  13. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    It depends. I would notice it, but then I'm trained to notice that sort of thing. Believe me, the computer fan whine could be intrusive as well. What you could do is experiment with microphone positioning using real-time transfer to the computer, then when you think you have the best position, do the real takes just using the recorder with the computer switched off.

    The positioning of the recorder is going to be the tricky bit, given what you have said about your room. The article I linked to earlier may give you some ides, but I would first try pointing the recorder down at the open top of the piano. Set the mics in X-Y position (at right angles) on the recorder. If you are trying positions several feet from the piano, it helps to have some large rugs or soft mats you can put down on the floor between the piano and the microphones to reduce the reflected floor echoes.
     
  14. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    having used both the h4n, and the tascam, i definately notice an improved quality in the zoom. there both good, the zoom just a bit more refined, i guess. but in your situation either one would get the job done, and you could always up grade your mics later, or try maybe the 57 close and the condenser(s) further away.

    i know in general 24 bit is the way to go, but given how degraded audio gets on you tube i would be curious to hear what better minds than me think about how integral 24bit rate is for this purpose. that said, i'd just use the recorder as a standalone thing. if anything you don't have to tote the laptop around, and if you decide to build on your tracks, you'll be using the more widely accepted bit rate of 24bit. Both of those recorders are no harder to use than turn them on and hit record, they might even have auto gain settings, but even that takes like 30 seconds at the most. my thought is why introduce another step, and something else that can possibly go wrong, like computer malfunctions, multiple gain stages, degradation. if you want an interface functionality get an interface, if you want a standalone solution, just use is for it's main purpose. less cables, connections. and it's as easy as a flash drive when it comes down to retrieving files, onto your computer.

    i hate to start opening a can of worms, but you might benefit from a decent pair of headphones, so you can make sure your edits are clean.
     
  15. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Ok guys thanks for your help.
    You've sold me the tascam, so I think I'll order that soon.
    It's not essential that I use the mics on it live through the computer, I was just wondering, so I'll record it seperately and retain the 24 bit.
    I think that case is pretty much closed now.
    As for the headphones, how important are they, because I don't particularly want to spend too much money on them.
    Thanks as always.
     
  16. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I don't know about better minds, but maybe a different set of knowledge. Using 24 bit makes recording and production more convenient by giving so much dynamic range that you can be less concerned about levels and more focused on getting a take. You can get just as good a recording in 16 bit but you have to allot more of your attention during recording and mixing to stay in bounds. And why dumb it down to YouTube? What if the track turns out so good it gets used commercially? What if YouTube improves its streaming quality (which it has over time)?
     
  17. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    I've just had a look about ordering the dr-07 mkII, and the tascam dr-05 is £35 cheaper.
    I've read through both descriptions and I can't see any difference apart from the fact that you can change the orientation of the mics.
    Should I get the cheaper one?
    Thanks very much.
     
  18. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    Hi guys I just wanted to say that my Tascam came, and I am really pleased with it. The quality is exellent and it was much cheaper than what I was originally going to buy: an audio interface and independent mic. Without your input (no pun intended) I would have gone for this.
    Thanks very much.
     
  19. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Did you get the DR-05 or the DR-07?
     
  20. PianoGuitarBoy

    PianoGuitarBoy Active Member

    The Dr-07 as I read somewhere that the mics were better.
    Also, you couldn't change the X-Y A-B configuarion ono the DR-05.
    Thanks.
     

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