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Beginner Home setup for soprano and piano


I'm interested in playing around with recording my wife's audition CD's. we have already hired a professional to record her current CD and will be hiring another pro to record a full cd later in the summer.

I would like to get a few pieces of gear (minimal) and start to play around with recording.

She will be singing a range of arias...with high highs and low lows...varying dynamics from the softest pianissimos to the loudest fortes.
It will be her with a piano accompaniment.

What gear do I need? One person told me that a TASCAM handheld recorder with a Rode NT$ would do the trick...but I'm hearing a lot about these ribbon mics for sopranos. What do I need and what can I get by with?

Thanks in advance for any help offered.




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Member for
15 years 2 months

Boswell Fri, 05/08/2009 - 02:41

It's a bit difficult to make specific recommendations without knowing things like your budget, what experience you already have, and type of room where you will be recording.

I'm having to make several assumptions here. Firstly, that it's a grand piano you will be using, but you will NOT be attempting to achieve acoustic isolation of the piano and singer during the recording, either by each having their own soundproof space or by tracking - recording the piano first and then replaying the piano while recording the singer on a separate track. I'm also assuming that you are not the pianist, so can be the recording engineer for the sessions. Let us know if any of these assumptions are incorrect.

Mics for sopranos are a touchy subject, and quite a subjective one. A great deal depends on the natural voice quality and what aspects of it you want to bring out in the recording. This is tightly coupled to the acoustic space you have available to record in.

Starting off with expensive ribbon mics without knowing where to place them or whether they are suitable for the particular voice is just going to be a frustrating waste of money. My suggestion is that you go initially for a reasonably low-cost but good quality system that is easy to use, knowing that you may need to replace some or all of it once you have gained enough experience to know what to replace it with.

Picking up on your mention of a Tascam recorder and Rode NT$ (expensive?) microphones, I would instead suggest a Zoom H4N 4-track recorder with built-in stereo condenser mics, augmented by a pair of Rode NT55 condenser mics for the piano. You would need appropriate stands and leads, so this lot would set you back about $1300. Even if you upgraded to a another type of recording system in the future, the NT55s would still be excellent mics for piano or ambient (room) recording.

Another assumption is that you already have a computer and multi-track DAW software. However, it's important to have good monitoring facilities when mixing the recordings. Although the H4N doubles as an adequate audio interface for a computer, you will need to spend money on a pair of powered (active) monitors. Again, a very personal choice, but a suitable pair of Adam, KRK or Genelec monitors could well be another $1300+.

Good luck in your venture!

Member for
51 years 5 months

jceversole Fri, 05/08/2009 - 09:08

Thanks Boswell.

Let's start with your assumptions. You are correct, the recording would be using a grand piano in a small hall. The hall has excellent natural reverb, and was engineered specially for recording classical music. there will be no acoustic isolation.

I currently have a sony mini disc recorder and one of those T-mics that plugs directly into the minidisc. It's a stereo condensor...but a shoddy one I think.

You mention using the Zoom and a pair of Rode NT 55's on the piano. So the setup would be placing the zoom with its built in mics on a stand in front of the singer, then having two mics on the piano?

thanks for your reply!!


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Member for
17 years 3 months

Cucco Fri, 05/08/2009 - 10:28

Hey Jason -
Boz gives some pretty sound advice...(argh...bad pun!)
The R4 would be quite usable. I would probably orient it so that one of the two mics is aimed directly at your wife while the other is 90 degrees off axis. Then, during mixing, you could simply kill the side axis track (or if it adds a little extra dimension, keep it in at a lower level (probably not though)).

Then, maybe try the NT55s in a spaced AB above and in front the piano and vocalist. This will give the piano a slightly distant feel, but it won't be bad. The trick will be to make sure the accompanist and the vocalist work out the balance issues prior to attempting to record.

More info to come...but I have to run.


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15 years 2 months

Boswell Mon, 05/11/2009 - 04:24

Yes, that's the sort of microphone configuration I had in mind. I should have spelt it out in my earlier post. At least it sounds as though you have a decent piano and hall to record in.

In this sort of recital work you have to take care to avoid the piano sounding too close - you would probably mic it differently if you were recording a piano sonata. Particularly in the case of a singer's demo CD, the voice has to be forward but natural, not too dry (include some of the room ambiance), and needs to be positioned correctly in the sound field relative to the accompanying piano.

You almost certainly will need to do a lot of experimenting to get it acceptable. Make notes about where you placed the mics for each take, then mix and burn all the takes to CD for a trial listen. Try the CD on as many different players or hi-fi systems as you can, again making notes on what you liked and what you didn't like. Check that it still sounds OK when switched to mono. After a few rounds of this, you should be able to go back into the recording hall, know where to set up the mics and then lay down a good set of tracks.

One word of warning - a CD that you mix will probably not sound as loud as a commercial CD that has been professionally mastered. Don't worry about this. If you have money as well as CDs to burn, you could pay a mastering house to bring it up to level and put a professional touch to it, but anyone who is seriously interested in auditing the demo CD will listen to the voice and not the engineering.

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JoeH Mon, 05/11/2009 - 06:57

A word about "Loudness" in classical music; it's dynamic range you want, not loudness per se.

There might be some rogue peaks (esp with a soprano) that you may be able to tame on your own with software, gentle limiting, or level adjustment to bring the overall levels up, but you really don't want to overdo your stuff with a compressor or hard limting.

If you do go with some kind of professional mastering, be careful whom you choose. Find someone with experience and chops with acoustic/classical music that knows what to do. I shudder to think of what could happen with your music in the wrong hands; trying to make it sound "LOUD" or radio-ready. :roll: Your mandate should be to keep the dynamic range at all costs, while making it listenable on normal/everyday sound systems.

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51 years 5 months

jceversole Tue, 05/19/2009 - 14:12

Thanks for everyone's help with this. I really appreciate it. I'm about to order some gear to do this...Zoom h4n....I'm still really hung up on the mics to get. Since the piano is not the focus here, wouldn't it make sense to mice the piano with the built in condensor mics on the zoom, and then to get one nice mic that is strictly for the one of the ribbon mics? Or do i need a pair of the ribbons? Or do you think the ribbons are not the right thing? I guess more importantly 1 or 2 mics on the singer?

Thanks again!

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Boswell Wed, 05/20/2009 - 03:47

Most ribbon mics will not work well with the H4N - it doesn't have enough gain. You could indeed use the H4N built-in X-Y electret pair for the piano, but doing that imposes restrictions on where you place them, given that you could not use A-B configuration and also that you need access to operate the recording functions of the H4N unit itself.

I still think you have to do this in stages, and gunning for random mics at the outset amounts to a recipe for frustration and how to waste money.

If you want to be a little more flexible in your choice of microphone configurations, you could consider a pair of multi-pattern condenser microphones that could be used on the piano or on the voice. In the medium price range, the Rode NT2-A is excellent value for money. You could take advantage of the M-S ability of the H4N and use a pair of NT2-As in M-S configuration for the vocal (M as cardioid and S as fig-8). This would give you on-axis recording of the voice, plus enough spatial information in the S channel to set the voice off in context against the piano. You would have the problem stated earlier of operating the H4N while it was positioned to capture the piano using its built-in mics, but it would be an interesting experiment.

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51 years 5 months

jceversole Wed, 05/20/2009 - 13:05

Thanks Boswell...I really apprecaite your comments. The h4n does have an available remote...maybe I'll add that to the list so I can try the configuration you suggest.