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Newbie needs advice on Rode NT2-A for grand piano recording

Discussion in 'Piano' started by Digitus, Feb 28, 2008.

  1. Digitus

    Digitus Guest


    I am assembling gear for recording my grand piano in my living room. The room acoustic is pretty good, fairly well damped but I think sufficiently live for a pleasing sound. I don't really want to spend too much, certainly no more than $1500. I will be using the Focusrite Sapphire with my MacBook Pro.

    [Edit: I forgot to say that for near-field monitoring I am using the Blue Sky EXO.]

    The problem I have is with mic selection. After doing a lot of reading on the web I've sort of narrowed down my choice to a pair of Rode NT2-A's. I would like opinions about them, and suggestions of alternatives in the same price range ($400 street price).

    I would like to capture some of the intimacy of the space and the the tonal subtleties of the instrument. Suggestions for mic placements to experiment with would be appreciated. I was particularly intrigued by Paul Cantrell's recording technique (http://innig.net/music/recordings/method/), but thought that the tonal balance was a little weak in the lower bass. (But that could be a characteristic of the Mason & Hamlin BB that he plays.)

    Thanks in advance!
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I have a pair of NT2-As that I have used on piano with good results, especially when it's to sit in a mix with other instruments.

    If it's solo classical, however, I prefer SDCs or ribbons on piano. To get the extended bass response that you mention, you may want to consider SDC omnis in A-B, but positioning becomes really tricky, especially if your room is small and not particularly acoustically sympathetic.

    Don't forget the possibility of supplementing the normal sound with a separate mic under the piano if you are careful with the phase and time alignment when blending. There were topics about this in RO some time ago - try the search.

    I'm sorry to say I'm not enamoured of the pre-amps in the Focusrite Sapphire for recording piano.

    Post some clips when you've got some!
  3. Digitus

    Digitus Guest


    Thanks very much for your useful reply. Could I trouble you please to say why you don't like the NT2-A's for solo classical piano? Also, why do you think the pre-amps in the Focusrite Sapphire are unsuitable for piano?

    I'm not questioning your comments, but want to learn, and hearing opinions from experienced hands is one way of doing it!
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Personal preference, I suppose. I find the NT2-As work better when positioned closer to the instrument, as though for jazz rather than the further placements one would use for classical.

    I'm sorry that I have had bad experiences of the Focusrite Sapphire, mainly to do with headroom. A piano generates a complex sound with a large transient at the start of each note as the hammers hit the strings, and it needs a pre-amp with good headroom and dynamic range to make this sound natural.

    There are probably others on this board who will jump in and defend the Sapphire, but again, it comes down to usage and preferences.
  5. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Most (all?) preamps in the price range of the Saphire lack the headroom of higher priced pres. It is important to deal with it in the right way. If you lower the gain, you get a lower signal to noise ratio, but more linear transient response. (You aren't pushing the transients into the last few dB before clipping where the cheap preamps give themselves away.) To my ears, it's better to live with a little more noise in exchange for a more accurate signal.
  6. Digitus

    Digitus Guest

    I've been doing more research on the web, and I found some information about why SDCs might be preferable to LDCs on piano. So, I am now looking at a matched pair of Rode NT55, or a pair of Groove Tubes GT-44. The latter seem to be a good compromise between LDC and SDC, and the frequency response seems to be pretty linear.

    I think I understand your point about headroom for the preamps. But if the gain is wound down wouldn't that take care of the headroom issue? Or is it really an issue with transient response? Or are they one and the same? I guess lowering gain will decrease S/N ratio, which might be a problem given that wide dynamic range of some of the music that I play, and of the piano itself.

    Given the fact that I am recording at home, and don't want to spend a whole lot of money for the gear, do you have any suggestions at what mic pre's might be suitable for piano at a moderate price? Ah, and I realise that I might need more than the 2 mic inputs that the Sapphire provides.

    Sorry for my dumb questions.
  7. Digitus

    Digitus Guest

    Ah, thanks Bob. So when looking at the specs of a pre, what gives an indication of dynamic range?
  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I don't know of a standard spec that captures this. What we are talking about is the distortion (particularly of fast transients) at close to maximum gain.

    To see the phenomenon for yourself, record a passage with your preamp turned up so that you think you are getting the maximum possible clean signal. Just the point where there are no red lights a-flashin'. Then record the passage a couple more times - backing off the gain a bit (2-3 dB) each time. Then normalize the tracks so that their peaks are all at the same level. (Note: you may have to adjust the fader slightly even after normalization to put them at the same apparent volume.) This will, of course, amplify the noise floor with each successive track. But I think you'll also find that the transients are cleaner with the tracks that are recorded at lower gain. At some point, you are just raising the noise, not cleaning up the good signal. Almost every preamp has a range where it is pretty linear, and you might as well use as much of it as possible - you just have to know where it is. If you do, you'll be able to get the most out of the Sapphire.

    Digitus - The pros in classical music (and other music as well) worry a lot about S/N ratio because they can and (from a professional point of view) it is cheap. A few thousand dollars per channel for preamps may be a lot to you and me, but if this is your livelihood you pay the price. But how many CDs in your collection are transfers from tape made back in the 50's and 60's. They all have a worse S/N ratio than you are likely to get. It's the sad old story: if you play well enough, no one will care about the audio quality - if you play badly....no one will care about the audio quality.
  9. Digitus

    Digitus Guest

    Bob: Thanks for your thoughtful dose of reality. Perhaps too many of us obsess about things which really aren't meaningful in the end. And frankly, I know for a fact that I don't play well enough to be able to justify spending a bundle on kit that will just make my playing sound gloriously bad! :D

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