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Piano Recording- please comment on the recorded sound

Discussion in 'Piano' started by mikej, Mar 25, 2013.

  1. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    I was experimenting with mic placement trying to get the best recorded sound on my piano. I am relatively new to recording, am on a limited budget and I am not a piano player. I am simply noodling around to record the sound.

    Setup: In my living room, Baldwin Hamilton Series upright piano ~1997. It was tuned in the last 30 days. Top lid open. Spaced pair of mics about 1/4 of the way from either side pointed directly into the lid opening but about 12" above the opening. Mics routed into a Behringer Xenyx 802 mixer with each mic panned hard left and right respectively. Mixer output into a Roland TriCapture interface and into my laptop running Sonar X1 LE. It went to a single stereo track. I put no effects on the recording to keep it as raw as possible for comments but I slightly adjusted EQ at 115 Hz (+2dB), 800 Hz (-3 dB) and 10 kHz (-6 db). The lower end of the piano where you typically play in the bass range definitely has a midrangey sound which I think can be typical of uprights. The -3 dB at 800 hZ was an attempt to tame that a bit.

    Things I already know: 1. You can hear my kids briefly early on in the recording, sorry. 2. I get some clipping in places and I am aware of that and can fix that the next time I record. I think the issue was gain staging between the mixer and the interface. I am saving up for a decent pair of monitor speakers. My small computer cubes + subwoofer aren't helping in the critical listening department.

    Your input on improving the recorded sound of my piano would be greatly appreciated. My typical mix scenario is a combination of electric bass, saxophones, piano and hand percussion. I play all the instruments. Piano will never be soloed and will always be part of the ensemble. For effects I only really use a small bit of reverb and EQ to taste.
  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i'm only listening on irrelavent generinc laptop speakers, but i hear some distortion of some of the really hard hits. maybe just a limiter to catch peaks only? ya might want to get rid of the 115 boost. sounds slighlty muddy than the well mixed songs i've heard thru these terrible speakers. maybe try a -1 or 2db @ 400, and it's harmonic 800, to get a more broad mud cut, and try -3 instead of 6 at 10k. 10k is a 'brilliance' frequency. you may just be hearing too much of it from a very reflective room.

    less is more w/ eq. i suggest that you listen to your favorite songs thru your system, and set up your mics, while jumping back and forth between the two sounds. it'll help ya hear what ya love, from what ya got.

    the perfromance is pretty darn good. sound quality is easier to fix than performance.
  3. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    Thanks kmetal. I will try your suggestions. I didn't have the gains set right to avoid distortion on the harder hits. Everything looked right on the meters and never showed as clipping......
  4. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Random thoughts as I'm listening in no particular order:

    Are you using two 603's or pairing the single 603 and the MXL LDC? Is this a spinet or console piano? Don't ride the pedal so much. It sounds like an attempt to provide reverb. Basic tuning is adequate but the unisons are very bad-either that or you have significant phasing on the microphones. Bass strings are too short and hence don't sound great due to high inharmonicity. You aren't going to be able to do anything about their sound so you need to minimize that aspect. Because of that you might consider using placing the 4000 in omni on the back of the soundboard and have the SDC pointing about F5 into the open lid for the definition.

    I did hear a tiny amount of sizzle but it is difficult to say where your gain staging is off. A pair of 603's can work well enough on a grand piano and will take the SPL's but you also need to keep the gain down as they are quite a hot output mic. Even if the red clip light does not show on the 802 a fast high transient could still be getting by. It is hard to adjust by yourself for sure but normally you would bring the preamp up until it starts hitting red at the LOUDEST part. Then you would dial it back about an 1/8th of a turn or even a bit more for insurance. The output of the individual "stick" as well as the Xenyx should be at Unity gain or 0dB whichever is marked and possibly with a detent on the rotary. Do NOT attempt to make up gain with the 802. Ever. That only leaves your Roland unit for possible overload. It is marked with -10dBu maximum line input from the Xenyx. That's normal for consumer end gear but it also means you will likely have to reduce the output of the Xenyx. Dial back the main output by 3-6 dB and see if you get a recording without distortion. You can always normalize the final digitized product in Sonar. In fact, your Sonar visualization is fine even if it shows just a tiny little waveform as long as you have peaks between -20dB and -12dB which is the digital sweet spot.

    Again just some random thoughts since I had a minute to listen.
  5. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    I used the pair of 603's. Console piano. The piano went for a long time without being tuned. It got a major pitch adjustment in January, then a follow-up adjustment at the end of February. Another adjustment due in June. I'm not surprised it may have drifted a bit. Sorry about the pedaling, I like the sustain.......On the Xenyx I kept the channel levels at unity and the master output at unity and only adjusted the preamp gain knobs. I was targeting something between 0 and +6 dB on the lights on the Xenyx. The Xenyx only has four bars of lights: -20 dB, 0 dB, +6 dB, and clip. It was hitting the +6 a few times. I think if I kept the gain adjustment to avoid lighting up at +6 then I would have been alright. On the DAW input I was adjusting the Roland input gain to get in the -12 dB range but it definitely went higher than that on the meter. Are you saying I should get my peaks no higher than -12 dB on Sonar? I was targeting my average input to be at -12 dB. Your alternative micing scenario sounds intriguing. I'll have to wait for my wife to be out of town to try that, she was already freaking out with me messing up half the living room with my gear, wait till I tell her I need to move the piano out from the wall........:)Thanks for your time and input, I appreciate it.
  6. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    One thing just occurred to me- I actually did normalize the final version but I didn't expect it to eliminate the distortion. If I have distortion in my original recorded waveform how is normalizing going to eliminate it?
  7. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    First in the old analog days we regularly slapped the red light a little. That was desirable. In the digital world of today, RED IS BAD! On the Xenyx you should keep the it below 0dB at all times (digital recording purposes). This would be true even without the brittle preamp circuitry of the Behringer board. This alone will probably eliminate your digital overs. The goal is for the peaks to be between -20dB and -12dB and not the RMS values. Trust me, in the digital world that will be very easy to normalize to -1dB and have decent sound. You could try the pair of 603's in similar location pointing at C3 and F5 respectively and the omni LDC on the back low tenor end of the soundboard. You would then minimize the "low end" 603 as the bulk of that sound would come from the omni at the back.

    Normalizing does not add distortion or eliminate it. Normalizing simply brings all levels up to a maximum designated point for the loudest peak prior to 0dB-or lower a selection to match the rest of a tune or section or album by a designated amount. If there is already a peak past 0dB then normalizing will either not do a thing or pull the entire selection down in volume depending on the algorithm.

    EQ-for most recordings equalizing is more of a subtractive modification than an additive. It is true that certain frequencies might benefit from a boost but it is counter productive to just generally push up something.

    As an aside, this is even more true in multi track mixing live or studio. I have seen more fledgling engineers adjust a "mix" by pushing faders up rather than balancing the whole into logical subgroups and then balancing those subgroups for best overall sound. The main fader (or 2-bus) is how the entire good sounding mix is brought up to appropriate levels.
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Oh. Normalizing could in theory eliminate distortion if it simply a matter of the waveform being too loud. In modern digital 32 bit float recording it is virtually impossible to clip the track unless there was distortion going into the AD converter in the first place. So digitally we can work with a signal much too strong for the output of the DA converter whether it is a proper professional interface or a headphone jack on a computer. By normalizing downwards to something the DA converter can grapple with we eliminate output distortion. Basically it is knowing your gear. Each input has a maximum dBV (or dBmV) and each output has a maximum dBV. Even with paper specs, the way we used to all tune our rigs was going through with a 1khz tone generator at each device and manually adjusting the clip indicators for the whole system based upon the lowest rated device.
  9. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    OK, then that was definitely the problem- I was > 0 dB coming out of the Xenyx. I will keep my peaks below -12 on my DAW. Thanks again for the info. Very helpful. Edit to previous info: I looked at my paperwork and the Hamilton is listed as a Studio Piano which is a bit larger sound board area and longer strings than a console piano.
  10. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    Let's assume for a minute that the tuning is spot on. How do you best combat the potential for phasing to eliminate that from the equation?
  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    what is this? "Theme From Exodus"? i know the melody i just can't remember what it is.

    one way to record uprights is to place a mic(s) at the rear of the piano pointed at the soundboard. you can also try lifting the front andpointing the mic directly at the area where the hammers hit the strings. or a pair of clip ons ...or a pair of PZMs taped to the front or the lid.

    i love piano ... when i was a kid i asked my parents for a piano so my Dad bought a guitar for me.

    the 3 to 1 rule of miking.





    one exception to the 3 t1 rule is with the x-y technique.

    as far as the clipping, i think that's converter overload ... be sure you keep your peaks down to -12 at most ... if you still hear clipping then it's time to look at gain staging.

    a respectable effort. keep it up.
  12. mikej

    mikej Active Member

    I have read that you can get a really good sound by micing the back of the piano. One of my experiments was lifting the top lid and removing the top front panel (so I was staring at the hammers and top part of the strings. That gave me too much hammer noise in the recording. The sound was a bit cleaner though. I will pay more attention to the 3:1 rule. Both mics were 12" from the top of the soundboard but were less than 36" apart. The melody line I keep playing is actually a Taize piece called "Bless The Lord". Kind of hypnotic and easy for a non-piano player to play.
  13. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Yeah, the difference between the console and studio is about 8". The old school 60-80" verticals were where decent length bass strings started. It is the same principal in grand pianos. Baby grands sound bad because the bass strings are too short. A Steinway D (9') or Yamaha C7 or Baldwin SF or Bosendorfer Imperial or Mason Hamlin CC or Bechstein 282 sound the best because of the long bass strings. I mean the rim and hammer felt and soundboard and stringing scale do have something to do with it too but to the listener, it really boils down to how long are the bass strings.
  14. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    that said sometimes a shorter piano will fit the mix better. many top studios had / have a studio, a console a baby grand (anything shorter than 7 ' is a baby) and a full grand, to suit different situations.

    there's nothing wrong with a studio piano. most of the hits recorded in Nashville in the 50's and 60's had console pianos on them .. "Crazy", and "Last Date" to mention a couple.

    "Lady Madonna" was a studio piano .. "Anytime at All" "Hey Jude" too.


    THIS piano has short strings! :biggrin:
  15. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    That might be true of the notes from F3 on up, but the sound of the bass strings is really awful. I am aware that many large studios have a console piano shoved in a corner somewhere, too. My experience as a recording musician has been that the majority of studios don't give two thoughts to a piano as part of their equipment to maintain. And in fairness, most engineers and studio owners don't understand what it takes to maintain a piano. It isn't as bad as owning a horse but it does take up valuable realstate and often nonexistent storage space.

    I have seen even Steinway D's that languish in disrepair and sometimes tragically so because of how they were stored (lack of climate/humidity control was the biggest factor) as well as a lovely Yamaha C7 that was stored under an unbelievable amount of stage monitors in a closet. I was a young musician when I saw that last one and managed to keep my mouth shut and get paid for the jingle but it obviously set me on edge.
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    well that's not what i did. i had 7 foot a K. Kawai and i had a piano technician in every month (at least) to tune it and to keep the action / dampers / sustain pedals in the best condition possible. i loved that thing even though i don't play well ... but my opinion is a good piano in a room helps the sound.
    i like to set an acoustic guitar / vocal and set them up next to a piano then take a weight of some type and mash down the sustain pedal, mic the piano up and record it to a track or two. it gets a kind of reverb ish thing going and the harmonic overtones that come through s are incredible. i cannot imagine a pro room without at least one good piano.

    kfrs piano and organ.jpg
  17. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I use sympathetic vibration when I teach french horn tone production. I tell the kids if they can make the piano sing then their tone and pitch must be getting better. My wife's 3/4 carved bass stands in the other corner and provides similar feedback. It helps that it is real hardwood flooring too.

    Kudos to you for maintaining your piano so well! That C7 I found buried under monitors was in one of the formerly well known studios in Chicago. I have found studios that focus on jazz have better maintained pianos but that still isn't universal. It's all about priorities I'm sure.
  18. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    well i was doing a lot of blues and soul music there ... you know 25 miles south of Oakland .. big blues scene down there in the 90's. i had a lot of money invested in that piano and i wanted to keep it in good condition. i got a lot of sessions because i had a decent piano. i also had a Kurzwiel Grande Ensemble and a protus 2 for symphonic sounds .. i'm an old 60 rock dude and i gots to have my bells ...

    i forgot ... i was going to say. out of all the things i had to part with when i closed the room it was the piano that hurt the most ... the huge c/r and live rooms with 16 ft ceilings? a little bit. 2" tape nahhhh. MCI 636 with parametrics on the first 6 channels ... nope .. AKG C12a and C24, Neumann U87? i can live .. but that piano just broke my heart to sell it. i have always loved pianos.
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Ooooh! You shared a big secret that I will never forget! This is exactly what I do it the mixing stage as well . You just fit the puzzle. Same concept but with tuning and reverb. Nice one Kurt! Another reason why analog is so special, if you get my drift. Why a symphony and acoustic instruments in a room is such a beautiful thing.

    Nice one!
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I have the 5'10 version of that Kawai, Kurt. But it needs work now. I love having in tune acoustic instruments in a room. Its magic.

    Nice one John! I like "sympathetic vibration". Is that the actual term?

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