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What am I doing wrong?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by MontyKeys88, May 18, 2009.

  1. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    Hello everyone,

    I just joined this forum about five minutes ago. I'm looking for some help figuring out why my recordings sound so dead awful. It seems like no matter what I do, I have a very tight, constrained, compressed sound, while I want something very open and balanced and free. I'm recording a grand piano btw, Kawai RX-1.

    My setup:
    MXL 990 low end
    Behringer B-5 high end
    Monster cables
    into a Behringer Xenyx 1832 FX Pro (channels one and two, of course)
    EQs, etc, then out through the USB adapter that came with the mixer into a laptop running Audacity.

    Before I go any further, YES, I KNOW I HAVE AWFUL EQUIPMENT. I bought it in high school and now I'm in college, no money to buy nice stuff with. I just think I should be able to get a better sound.

    I'm guessing it has something to do with the EQs and gain and levels. Here is a picture of the current EQ settings, and a snip of a recording I did using these settings.


    Here is a snip of the recording (small, about 30 seconds) but hopefully you can hear what I am talking about or tell me other things I need to fix.


    Thanks internet! I look forward to your responses.
  2. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    It would seem your low-end mic is distorting. Gain structure!
    Also try pushing the low-end mic fader down a hair.

    To me it sounds like there's an excess of sound in the low mids. How big is your room?
  3. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Without hearing anything- post a note on your college bulletin board -

    Sell the MXL and the Behringer mic and don't use the EQ - if its the same quality sell it too! There's lots of stupid college kids with money and dreams.

    Get at least $200 and buy 2 SM57s.

    The mixer could be better, but you can probably survive with it. Micing a piano is one of the most difficult tasks you can undertake. Start with one mic and get your best possible sound in mono. Somewhere over the strings or near the sound holes is a good starting point. When that is in place, monitor in mono and place the second mic as you listen. If you want to go for as close to silence and then flip the phase (not sure if your mixer can accomodate).
    Only after that should you add eq or effects. Your room is also an important part of this process.

    Good luck
  4. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I'm with Phil. Without even hearing this I can tell you that you have a lot more piano than those mics can handle.

    You'd be better off with one really good mic than two really bad ones.
  5. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    Wouldn't an SM57 not be very good for a piano? I mean, it IS a grand, and from what I understand a condenser is better.

    Yea, I'm gonna sell this stuff ASAP, just want to make sure I can afford to replace it as soon as it is gone. Looking at an Allen and Heath ZED (used an A&H for a school musical and can't even look at another brand x.x)

    The room is your average family living room, complete with drumset and keyboards and guitar rig. It opens to the rest of the house (I'll draw an MSpaint map if you like) so I should think there wouldn't be TOO much a problem with it being a small room.

    I'm also thinking of getting an external reverb unit.

    Yea, I'm one of those stupid college kids, except I'm actually halfway decent at piano and sound recording (or so I'm told) I'm just a bit of an idiot sometimes =)

    Thanks for the advice so far!
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Those microphones won't get a good sound on a grand piano.

    If you are going to insist on that particular bad judgment then point the B-5 at the right side of the treble strut (f#5 or g5 I forget). Get it right in there. Pad the channel. Back the MXL away from the piano about five or six feet as an overhead. Your main sound should be from the MXL with a little of B-5 added for definition.

    And it's still going to suck big oestrich eggs. You're going to get nasty reflections off the wall by the picture just for starters.

    Your other problem is the RX1. It is too short to really sound good. Recording that particular instrument will only highlight the weakness of a short piano especially in a small room.

    Why are you EQ'ing anything? You can't make an RX1 into a Mason & Hamlin AA or a Baldwin SD or a Steinway D. Your EQ scheme is AFU. Less tweak and better input. Crap in crap out. Your best bet is to walk the room while someone is playing the piano and find the one location the piano sounds best. Now, put one of the mic's right there and forget the other one.

    I'm not even going to listen just based on your EQ settings and mic positions.

    Now that you are frustrated, go borrow or buy some decent mic's and find a good hall with at least a 7' piano.

    Maybe I'm just cranky today. I'm certainly rambling.
  7. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    This is your mistake (brought on by countless advertisements or misunderstood articles or just plain youth)
    Granted a good condenser or 2 in a great room is a frequent professional recording chain - you've got neither.
    There are decent low price condensers that work on certain instruments (I happen to like the Studio Projects B1 for tenor saxophone- or even a pair over a sax section for sound reinforcement - don't knock it til you try it!) :D - the side address aspect helps minimize brass bleed as well.
    BUT - I have never found a cheap condenser that can make any piano (I have a Yamaha C5 - 6'7") sound good.
    I'll stand by my advice and what seemed to be echoed/reinforced/ embellished by others.

    If you're playing music in college someone, somewhere must have a 57/58 or 2 lying around that you could borrow for a day. Try it out if you don't trust us. It's not going to be great, but it will certainly be better.

    Please understand with stereo micing you are dealing with phase issues, room modes that create more phase issues, EQ creating more phase issues and cheap reverb which can muddy the whole thing. Garbage In= Garbage Out.
  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I listened to your clip. And i looked at those eq settings. Of course LOOKING at an EQ setting has nothing to do with how it sounds. I ALWAYs listen to an EQ setting without looking at the knobs. Theres nothing natural or compelling about the sound you're getting. Understand that some of us here have spent a number of years learning about getting pure sounds out of things and grandpiano is one of the hardest to accomplish even with an expensive recording chain. A lot has to do with the piano and its reactions to the player. Since I believe your mics are complete garbage (I have heard them in action) I'm not sure what your piano really sounds like.

    Like Phil said, dont believe everything you read on the net about what style of mic to use on a given situation. The BEST mic to use in any situation is the one that sounds the best and you cant get there by reading about it on a forum. Like here for example!

    Rent a highend setup for a day. Leave the EQ out. Get a couple a good mics and a good preamp. Move the mics to the spot where the piano is in full bloom. Record that sound. Then strive to own your own good setup.

    The one you have for what you're trying to accomplish is inadequate.
  9. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    Haha, alright alright. Yea, I've never really liked the sound of this piano that much, just seems that all the features I don't like are magnified by recording.

    I DO have an SM57 actually, using it on my guitar amp atm. I'll move it up to the piano. Yes, these mics really are complete garbage, what the :-? was I thinking? I used to have a bad habit of just buying crap just to fill in the hole, but I have learned my lesson! I'll put them up on craigslist later this week, I wasn't going to for a while but you guys motivated me =D

    Hey, don't worry about yelling, I'm an idiot here and I'm used to being yelled at. As long as there is constructive advice somewhere inside your rambling.

    So let me see if I understand all the advice so far:
    -Sell MXR and Behringer (well, that one is obvious)
    -Get single condenser or use SM57s
    -EQ little or not at all
    -Remove picture from wall (it is a living room, LOTS of other stuff around)
    -Find good spot in the room for where the piano sounds best
    -find nice hall with nice piano to borrow now and then

    Am I doing it right?
  10. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Only move the picture if it stares at you no matter where you are in the room. And if it talks back. Otherwise you have to dust.
  11. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Don't be in a hurry to jump on the condenser bandwagon. However, If you're going to purchase something that may suit your needs, and you're stuck on a condenser you may want to consider the RODE NT4(?) stereo mic. That would probably suit you if you find the sweet spot in your room.

    BTW - a helpful trick in finding the "sweet spot" is to close one ear while walking around as someone plays. This is a more realistic way that your mic "hears" a source.

  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I agree completely with Phil about closing one ear off to find the sweet spot. Choose the ear that hears ALL the nuances of the piano best and not just a particular frequency you like.

    We human beans don't hear identically out of each ear. Though this becomes greater through hearing degradation it is still true in young folks.
  13. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    I'm definitely one of those young folks, and I know my ears are a bit different.

    I don't insist on a condenser, I'll try the SM57 route, it just seems like a good idea to get a condenser for when I DO have appropriate space and piano to work with.

    Dusting should probably happen x)

    Would it help to move the piano around the room? You mention reflections a lot, and I can easily move the piano to the center of the room if I need to.
  14. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Don't know who said it first, but...

    If it sounds good, it is good! Experiment grasshopper (you probably don't get the 70's reference but...) you have much to learn. Your attitude in how you are handling the feedback you are getting is a good sign.

    Keep your ears, eyes and mind open.

    Good luck

  15. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    There will be a sweet spot in the room. Whats really good about the sweet spot is it doesnt take rocket surgery to identify it.

    As for the type of mic to use, this will depend entirely on your budget. All of the Rode mics are great bang for the buck. As are ADK, Studio Projects, and some of the lower end AKG mics.

    Now about my thoughts on the piano.

    Because it is a short piano, it doesnt take that much space to develop its sound. It sounds like the room you're in is going to have anomolies due to its regular use ie:living room. It'll help if theres large stylish curtains, overstuffed chairs and couch and a direct pathway to the fridge. You can look for the sweet spot in the room and this will help you a LOT in micing techniques. Like has been said, its not always where you think it should go or where you've seen pictures of the mics being placed, its where it sounds like it should go.

    Dynamic mics in this case will help you also. The problem with uncontrolled rooms and pianos is the reflections in the room. The problem is intensified by using mics, condensers, that will effectively pickup these reflections and amplify them onto the recording AS WELL AS the initial sound of the instrument.

    Now hear this. These reflections are coming back to the capsule of your condenser mic at a different time than the initial signal and are causing a 'smearing' of the sound.

    Dynamics arent as sensitive to sounds coming from the back and sides of their patterns and therefore they do not exhibit as much of the anomolies of an untreated room as a sensitive mic like a condenser. Your condensers are not only sensitive but they are harsh in some of the frequencies and add quite another aspect to the sound which causes most of your problems in getting a decent mix out of them. This is also true of the mixer and its little added problems and the outboard.

    All of these things have been pointed out, I simply want to clarify the where and whyfore of the reasons.

    Each one of these things adds something that the only way to control is to simply not use them. Use something that works better for you.

    Its not always the case, but here, the gear is doing it to you.

    One of the finest piano sounds out of a short babygrand I have ever heard was with two dynamic mics in a live room through a Mackie board.

    The mics were Beyer 201 and an Electrovoice RE20. I know these are out of range for you.....well I guess I dont REALLY know this.... but if you secured mics like these, not only will your recordings immediately improve but you will have aquired tools that will last you a lifetime and will sound superb on many many different sources. You can make a very good drum sound with these and two 57's.
  16. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    I actually am familiar with the Grasshopper reference, pmolsonmus.

    The room is missing curtains right now, but I can see about putting those back up. It has a large fluffy couch and chairs, and it isn't too hard to get to the... wait, these don't have much to do with the sound, now do they? XD

    Huh, when you explain the reflections and the phase cancellation, it makes a lot more sense. I took a recording class at school, but the instructor was a worn-out jazz musician who knew nothing about being on the other side of the recording glass. Even then, we only worked with a worn-out 4-track, a half-broken mixer, and some mics that were WAY past their time.

    So I'm getting that I should try two things here: a pair of 57s or other quality dynamic mics right inside the piano, and the other method is to place a condenser in the "sweet spot" of the room. Got it. Listing the crap mics on Craigslist right now!

    As for the dynamics, we went to a real studio as a field trip for the recording class. In the upper corner of the odd-shaped room was a lone SM57, just chilling out. Plugged straight through a preamp into the studio Mac, the mix sounded just about perfect.
  17. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    Well, I don't know if any of you fine gentlemen are going to see this, but I thought I'd update anyways:

    I have sold my microphones and mixer. The mics went through eBay to some guy in Arizona, and the mixer went to a nice guy from Maryland who needs something to monitor his jam sessions. All that is left is the Monster cables and my SM57.

    Just purchased and shipping here are an Allen and Heath ZED 14 and Shure KSM 27. Very excited for that Sonar LE that comes with the mixer (so long Audacity!) and being able to really edit my tracks.

    I have two questions now:

    1 - I'm going to get a reverb unit for reasons that shouldn't need much explaining. Would the Lexicon MX300 be good? I've heard excellent things about it, and it is within my price range.

    2 - Would I do well to invest in a "pencil" condenser to go with the KSM 27? Should I consider a second KSM (well, I already am considering one for my guitar amp) to pair them together?
  18. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    I'd save my money on the reverb. Sonar 7 should have plenty of good reverb plugs. You don't want to use reverb in the recording process, it's more of an editing/sweetening thing. BTW congrats on your upgrades.

    "and the mixer went to a nice guy from Maryland who needs something to monitor his jam sessions."

    LOL, I love it when people misinterpret the purpose of a mixer.

    As for the pencil condensers, go for it buddy. Why not go for two and set them up on the other side of the room in a stereo pattern to pick up some room tone?
  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I tend to always buy my mic's in pairs. Look at the NT55's for inexpensive but decent SDC.

    I haven't used the Zed boards so can't really comment except the R16 is a firewire board and can return audio to the individual channels per the User Guide. The Zed 14 is USB so will be more limited. There is a quite large difference in price though.
  20. MontyKeys88

    MontyKeys88 Guest

    Ha, well, my monetary gain is his physical gain as far as I'm concerned =D

    Alright, I'll stay away from outboard gear for recording (for now, at least). We learned about how to do loops (channel one direct out to FX to channel two) in my recording class, and I'm eager to try it. Then again, in the studio visit they just recorded dry and peppered it later, soooo... I'll still get it for my live work, unless its crap.

    Alright, I'll start saving up for a pencil or two. Even if it doesn't work out well, I can still use the pencil to help me out with my guitar recordings.

    Well, I'm not quite ready for Firewire or spending thousands of (nonexistent in my bank account) dollars. I'll stick with the USB for now.

    I SHOULD buy my mics in pairs anyways.

    Thank you gentlemen *waits for my packages from Guitar Center to arrive.*

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