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Best soundcard for recording an acoustic grand piano

Member for

1 year
Hi everyone:
First, thanks for welcoming me to your forum.
I am a pro musician who has produced 14 albums but who now has to take on the additional role of engineer due to health / c***d issues. My computer is a 2013 iMac, my DAW is Logic, I will be recording with a Røde NT1-A and 2 Behringer C-2s to start, my Steinway is in a separate room about 7 metres (22 feet) away from my work station, and I will do overdubs on my digital keyboards and through my Leslie speaker next to my work station. I was thinking about the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 which meets my needs regarding 2 headphones out (for the post-C***d world), ADAT expansion, midi in, and enough XLRs in ... but I am a little concerned that its USB2 connection (max 5 metres) will keep me running from the piano room to the control room, and that there might not be enough headroom on the pre-amps for an acoustic concert grand. I would sure appreciate your input and suggestions if you have any alternative to the Scarlett 18i20. Thanks so much, please stay safe and have a great day!

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Member for

8 years 9 months

pcrecord Thu, 11/12/2020 - 11:07
Hey Welcome to RO !

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is not a bad interface, but the preamps aren't that clean if you need to push them high for softer instruments.
Their dynamic range is a bit limited. If you are doing classical music with ppp sections, it might not be the best choice.
If you go with audient, rme, antelope or other similar quality interfaces, their preamps would be cleaner.
Of course there's always the possibility of adding external preamps (more high end), ISA, millennia, Neve etc..
The problem with the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 with external preamps is that the xlr inputs aren't direct path to the converter, the signal will go through a part of the circuitry and may alter the goodness of expensive preamps.
For exemple a RME UFX have line in inputs that are direct path to converters.. way cleaner.
Unless you use the 18i20 Adat inputs or spdif, in that case you bypass the converters all together..

5 meters is the extreem maximum USB will work ok. Some units can work further but it is not recommanded. You have the option to use a remote control.
Either a midi controler with a long midi cable or some software will support remote wifi apps on your phone.
You also could place the equipment near your working place if the computer isn't too noisy. . .
On last resort, you could do an RDP connection on your phone or tablet to control the computer in the other room.. (there's always a way) ;)

Member for

7 years 9 months

paulears Fri, 11/13/2020 - 00:35
I moved my kit to a separate machine room to get rid of the noise and bought a couple of usb powered 5m on Amazon cables that have given me extra length. I plug a normal usb 4 way into these and it works fine here. I have never had any issues recording classical music on my old Tascam, current Presonus or even the small Lexicon Omega stereo interface. My MacBook and that stereo unit were for a long time how I recorded pianos on location. Then I did one project on the band’s rack mount behringer X32, not expecting much, but it’s become my portable recording solution now. I just wheel in the flight case and use that, as the flight case also has the front of house mixer’sMidas 32 channel preamp is also in the rack. To be honest, using those preamps or the behringer ones seems to make no difference I can hear.

Member for

15 years 7 months

Boswell Fri, 11/13/2020 - 05:12
orionedwin, post: 465949, member: 52117 wrote: I am a pro musician who has produced 14 albums but who now has to take on the additional role of engineer due to health / covid issues. My computer is a 2013 iMac, my DAW is Logic, I will be recording with a Røde NT1-A and 2 Behringer C-2s to start, my Steinway is in a separate room about 7 metres (22 feet) away from my work station, and I will do overdubs on my digital keyboards and through my Leslie speaker next to my work station. I was thinking about the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 which meets my needs regarding 2 headphones out (for the post-Covid world), ADAT expansion, midi in, and enough XLRs in ... but I am a little concerned that its USB2 connection (max 5 metres) will keep me running from the piano room to the control room, and that there might not be enough headroom on the pre-amps for an acoustic concert grand. I would sure appreciate your input and suggestions if you have any alternative to the Scarlett 18i20.

I think you should be looking at an audio input method that would not only work with the microphones you have, but also support you when you upgrade them to ones that deal well with the demanding dynamics of a grand piano. Given the microphones you mention, you may have to go this route sooner than you might think. The microphone upgrade would best be handled as a separate topic, but it must be said at this stage that the acoustics of the room are almost as important as the sound from the piano itself, and have a big impact on the choice of microphone.

I fairly quickly came to the conclusion that the all-in-one approach of a box with preamps-converter-interface does not easily get you the quality of pre-amp and converters you need for serious piano recording. It could be that the better option for you is a relatively low-cost interface box that has one or more ADAT input ports into which you can feed the digitised output of a quality pre-amp/converter. The sort of thing you could look at is the Audient ASP880/ID22 combination. '">This rather basic YT video shows the pair of them, with the ASP880 info starting at about 02:10.

It's not clear why you would be wanting to extend the length of the interface USB cable in order to move the interface into the performance room. If you did need to do that, then the box I use that can do this is the AllDAQ USB isolator. This not only isolates the noise generated by laptop power supplies (which is why I got it), but it acts as a USB extender to get up to 10m distance. Here is a link to the newest (USB3.0) version; I have the older USB 2.0 Hi-Speed model.

For manual control of the record process, duplicating the Mac screen on an iPad (or similar) that you can place on a music stand next to the piano seems to me to be the best way to go. Another alternative is to see whether the control functions you need could be handled by a MIDI controller acting as a control surface for Logic. There are many iPhone/iPad apps that act as a control surface for DAWs such as Logic.

Member for

1 year

orionedwin Fri, 11/13/2020 - 07:39
pcrecord, post: 465950, member: 46460 wrote: Hey Welcome to RO !

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is not a bad interface, but the preamps aren't that clean if you need to push them high for softer instruments.
Their dynamic range is a bit limited. If you are doing classical music with ppp sections, it might not be the best choice.
If you go with audient, rme, antelope or other similar quality interfaces, their preamps would be cleaner.
Of course there's always the possibility of adding external preamps (more high end), ISA, millennia, Neve etc..
The problem with the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 with external preamps is that the xlr inputs aren't direct path to the converter, the signal will go through a part of the circuitry and may alter the goodness of expensive preamps.
For exemple a RME UFX have line in inputs that are direct path to converters.. way cleaner.
Unless you use the 18i20 Adat inputs or spdif, in that case you bypass the converters all together..

5 meters is the extreem maximum USB will work ok. Some units can work further but it is not recommanded. You have the option to use a remote control.
Either a midi controler with a long midi cable or some software will support remote wifi apps on your phone.
You also could place the equipment near your working place if the computer isn't too noisy. . .
On last resort, you could do an RDP connection on your phone or tablet to control the computer in the other room.. (there's always a way) ;)

Thank you so much!!! I will take your advice on the Scarlett though the others seem to be above my price grade. Now I am considering the PreSonus Studio 1810c for it's better preamps as it seems to be in my price range ... May I ask if you think there is anything I should be worried about in this machine that I have not read in reviews? Thanks so much for taking time with me!!!

Member for

1 year

orionedwin Fri, 11/13/2020 - 07:40
paulears, post: 465956, member: 47782 wrote: I moved my kit to a separate machine room to get rid of the noise and bought a couple of usb powered 5m on Amazon cables that have given me extra length. I plug a normal usb 4 way into these and it works fine here. I have never had any issues recording classical music on my old Tascam, current Presonus or even the small Lexicon Omega stereo interface. My MacBook and that stereo unit were for a long time how I recorded pianos on location. Then I did one project on the band’s rack mount behringer X32, not expecting much, but it’s become my portable recording solution now. I just wheel in the flight case and use that, as the flight case also has the front of house mixer’sMidas 32 channel preamp is also in the rack. To be honest, using those preamps or the behringer ones seems to make no difference I can hear.

Hi there and thank you so much for your reply. I am now leaning towards the PreSonus Studio 1810c. Is that what you have and are there any downsides to your PreSonus experience? Thank you again!!!

Member for

8 years 9 months

pcrecord Fri, 11/13/2020 - 08:48
I checked the Presonus 1810c, it's seems like a good unit.
Again like Boswell and I said, preamps included in interfaces aren't as clean as high-end dedicated preamps. (which are very expensives.. )
It's not that cheap preamps won't allow you to record, it's just that most of the time, you'll need to work way more in the mix to make it sound good.
Usually if you push those interface preamps higher than 75% of gain, they will give you a lot of noise.
It all depends on the level of the instrument and the mic choice... If I want to record a mandoline with a ribbon mic, this 1810c won't cut it with
On your end, if you are playing at good level in a nice sounding room and use nice condenser mics, you should not have any noise problems with those 65db preamps.

Also, the Presonus have 4 line-ins on the back . Hopefully, they offer a direct path to the converter and would be more suited for external preamps than those of the Focusrite 18i20.

Member for

15 years 7 months

Boswell Fri, 11/13/2020 - 09:04
orionedwin, post: 465964, member: 52117 wrote: Hi there and thank you so much for your reply. I am now leaning towards the PreSonus Studio 1810c. Is that what you have and are there any downsides to your PreSonus experience? Thank you again!!!
One of my recording acquaintances called me earlier this year to ask about a problem with his new Presonus 1810c running on a modern Windows PC. It became progressively more distorted as he added input channels. I had heard of this trouble and told him to check that he was using a USB 3.0 port. Within the hour he rang back and said moving it from a USB 2.0 port to a USB 3.0 cured all his distortion problems. Now all he has to find a way round is that he hadn't realised that it had only 4 microphone pre-amps....

I was a bit worried when you said you had a 2013 iMac, but the distortion problem with Windows and USB 2.0 may not show up on Macs.

@pcrecord: I don't know the insides of the new Presonus "c" range, but my guess is that the rear-panel line in jacks (5-8) on the 1810c have to go directly to their converters, as there are no pre-amps left for them to use (unlike the Focusrite 18i20).

Member for

7 years 9 months

paulears Fri, 11/13/2020 - 09:42
Mines the old version, but pretty much the same thing and I rather like it.

I'm a little worried that we're going a little over the top - Some nice, but not mega expensive mics, and suddenly we're suggesting it's essential to have separate preamps? The cost of these units, plus something equivalent to do the A/D is not something to buy before you really need, and I have to say that while I totally agree that the usual popular interfaces do get a bit noisy when you crank the gain up, this is not actually that common unless you want to record snails farting at 10m distance? I can use my Shure SM7B, well known for it's low output quite well close in - certainly OK for singing and not a problem for typical close speech. I'm not sure hanging an 800 pound preamp on a thirty quid mic makes any sense. Are we being a bit unrealistic?

Member for

15 years 7 months

Boswell Fri, 11/13/2020 - 10:21
paulears, post: 465968, member: 47782 wrote: Mines the old version, but pretty much the same thing and I rather like it.

I'm a little worried that we're going a little over the top - Some nice, but not mega expensive mics, and suddenly we're suggesting it's essential to have separate preamps? The cost of these units, plus something equivalent to do the A/D is not something to buy before you really need, and I have to say that while I totally agree that the usual popular interfaces do get a bit noisy when you crank the gain up, this is not actually that common unless you want to record snails farting at 10m distance? I can use my Shure SM7B, well known for it's low output quite well close in - certainly OK for singing and not a problem for typical close speech. I'm not sure hanging an 800 pound preamp on a thirty quid mic makes any sense. Are we being a bit unrealistic?
Boswell, post: 465961, member: 29034 wrote: I think you should be looking at an audio input method that would not only work with the microphones you have, but also support you when you upgrade them to ones that deal well with the demanding dynamics of a grand piano. Given the microphones you mention, you may have to go this route sooner than you might think.
It's not really about noise, it's more how the different quality levels of pre-amps cope with the large crest factors present in piano transients, particularly from a top quality grand. If the OP wants an interface now, then the Presonus 1810c is quite capable of doing justice to the microphones he has.

Get better microphones, or need more than 4 of them, and suddenly the weak link is the audio interface. However, the 1810c does have an ADAT input, so the step after could be the ADAT-output pre-amp that I gave an example of.

At least giving consideration to a higher quality level of pre-amp now might save an upgrade step later.

Member for

8 years 9 months

pcrecord Fri, 11/13/2020 - 11:54
Boswell, post: 465970, member: 29034 wrote: It's not really about noise, it's more how the different quality levels of pre-amps cope with the large crest factors present in piano transients, particularly from a top quality grand.
I get you Boswell. I often talk about noise because my brain can't pass this aspect. It seems that when it's noisy I don't hear anything else ;)

Member for

1 year

orionedwin Fri, 11/13/2020 - 12:02
Boswell, post: 465961, member: 29034 wrote: I think you should be looking at an audio input method that would not only work with the microphones you have, but also support you when you upgrade them to ones that deal well with the demanding dynamics of a grand piano. Given the microphones you mention, you may have to go this route sooner than you might think. The microphone upgrade would best be handled as a separate topic, but it must be said at this stage that the acoustics of the room are almost as important as the sound from the piano itself, and have a big impact on the choice of microphone.

I fairly quickly came to the conclusion that the all-in-one approach of a box with preamps-converter-interface does not easily get you the quality of pre-amp and converters you need for serious piano recording. It could be that the better option for you is a relatively low-cost interface box that has one or more ADAT input ports into which you can feed the digitised output of a quality pre-amp/converter. The sort of thing you could look at is the Audient ASP880/ID22 combination. '">This rather basic YT video shows the pair of them, with the ASP880 info starting at about 02:10.

It's not clear why you would be wanting to extend the length of the interface USB cable in order to move the interface into the performance room. If you did need to do that, then the box I use that can do this is the AllDAQ USB isolator. This not only isolates the noise generated by laptop power supplies (which is why I got it), but it acts as a USB extender to get up to 10m distance. Here is a link to the newest (USB3.0) version; I have the older USB 2.0 Hi-Speed model.

For manual control of the record process, duplicating the Mac screen on an iPad (or similar) that you can place on a music stand next to the piano seems to me to be the best way to go. Another alternative is to see whether the control functions you need could be handled by a MIDI controller acting as a control surface for Logic. There are many iPhone/iPad apps that act as a control surface for DAWs such as Logic.

Hi Boswell: I hope you are well!!! Thanks for your input; it is greatly appreciated. I absolutely agree with you with the miss. I will replace the Beringers soon for sure. Unfortunately your recommendation of the Audient ASP880/ID22 combination seems to be out of my budget. I am now looking at the Roland Octa capture or the Studio capture which seem to have the headroom I need at a price I can manage. Any red flags come up when I say Roland and recording a Steinway Concert Grand? CHEERS!!!

Member for

1 year

orionedwin Fri, 11/13/2020 - 18:40
Hi everyone and thanks so so much for all the advice. I decided to go for the Roland OctaCapture which I got in a damaged box for a little over $500 Canadian. I will up my Behringers to Røde M5s or NT5s as soon as possible. Wishing you all a wonderful day and will keep you advised on my audio results

Member for

7 years 9 months

paulears Sat, 11/14/2020 - 00:15
For those who do piano recordings, even occasionally I’d urge you to investigate pianoteq, who use modelling not sampling, and the differences in their pianos create all kinds of very subtle differences, and perhaps these are the kinds of things that maybe are what different preamps can pass through?

I’ve changed my views on preamps quite a bit after trying quite a few, but what does worry me now is that there seems to be measurable, objective technical differences to consider, alongside differences that are completely subjective, because they’re adding colour effectively processing the sound. I’m not certain that’s even enhancement?

I’ve tried to find any differences between my behringer X32-Mixer preamps and the Midas ones. The advertising makes a number of claims. As everything is digital, you can measure noise at different gain settings and it’s a little better, but it’s approaching the limits of my measuring ability, and subjectively seems a little brighter when you play audio through it, not noise.

Going back to Pianoteq, my classical pianist and I cannot tell on some of our recordings if the piano is real or fake. At the recording date we were really busy and didn’t keep records. He’s just seen a picture of him in a Facebook memory that makes him think he was on holiday on the recording date so it must have been me finishing editing the MIDI recordings? Frankly it doesn’t matter any more.

Has anyone bought an expensive item that hasn’t been an improvement? Mics, preamps, speakers? However, my tally for returning borrowed equipment from friends without buying one for myself is much higher.

I have two contradictory views. Preamps should do one thing - amplify as noiselessly as possible. Or, add their personality to the process to ‘improve’ it?

Member for

19 years 5 months

Kurt Foster Sat, 11/14/2020 - 08:46
all the hub bub about noise is way over my head. to be honest, i have never had an issue with mic pre noise. but i come from a background where the caveat was signal masks noise. as long as signal is present you don't hear noise. god made faders so we could turn them down when things get quiet. it's called engineering. any moron can set and forget levels. the art is in performing a capture or a mix.

i am of the opinion that all amplifiers impart a sonic signature. this is where it is good to understand what does what to a signal. transformers add a little hair and are better at passing low end. electronically balanced circuits offer a bit less distortion but can attenuate lower frequencies. tubes add a sonic coloration and distortions that can actually make a signal sound cleaner to the ear (actually just a bit crisper). some circuits can sound silky while others impart a certain aggression to the sound. i have yet to hear any mic pre / electronic circuit mic combination that sounds exactly like what i hear in the room. all processing be it analog or digital is destructive. the one constant is that high volt operation is best. any pre with a low volt wall wart power supply isn't worth the materials it's made with.

to the OP, imo just stay with what you already have. unless you are willing to make a serious investment (first in a different room and then in the equipment used) to capture your Steinway, the point will be moot. personally, i don't think a presonus is any better than the Scarlet. any improvements will be minimal and for certain subjective. are you willing to dump 20 grand?

Member for

8 years 9 months

pcrecord Sat, 11/14/2020 - 13:06
I don't want to hijack this thread but I just spent 3.3K (CAD) on 2 x UK Sound 1173, which are neve clones and after the first tests, I wouldn't record a classic piano with them.. it turns out, they capture less sub frequencies then most of my other preamps and the harmonic distortions would color the sound too much for classical music.

But I agree, you should start with what you have... Most people won't hear the difference between mics and certainly not between preamps.
Here's how I'd seperate what affects the sounds or at least what makes the biggest difference.
20% Room
50% Instrument and performance
20% mic choice
10% Preamp and converters

Many won't agree and I might change my mind tomorrow.. but for now you see that I put the room and mic choice at equal importance and preamps comes last..
It's not that preamps do not make a difference. It's just that everything else should be address and mastered before going crasy with them ;)

Member for

15 years 7 months

Boswell Sat, 11/14/2020 - 15:11
At this level, you make a decision to buy pre-amps for a specific purpose. I don't own any Neve pre-amps, but I have hired them when I need a certain sound. This is despite having cupboards full of different types of pre-amps, including several of my own design. It's a similar story with microphones, and, as I've said before, you have to consider the partnership of microphone and pre-amp when choosing what to use for each occasion.

I would never reach for my API pre-amps as a first choice to record a classical piano recital - I use them for close-miked vocals. It's one of the reasons why I was suggesting the OP look at clean pre-amps with the ability to handle high crest factors for his piano recordings.

Member for

19 years 5 months

Kurt Foster Sat, 11/14/2020 - 16:44
pcrecord, post: 466005, member: 46460 wrote: I just spent 3.3K (CAD) on 2 x UK Sound 1173, which are neve clones and after the first tests, I wouldn't record a classic piano with them.. it turns out, they capture less sub frequencies then most of my other preamps and the harmonic distortions would color the sound too much for classical music.

that's surprising. i would expect a Neve type to have exceptional low end extension. if you don't drive them too hard NEVE'S can be pretty distortion free. i am wondering just how good a "clone" those UK things are. the transformers used can make a huge difference.

i would look to something transformer-less, like Millennia or Grace for concert grand piano. the pres in my old MCI 600 handled my K KAWAI 7' grand really well but i only recorded rock, pop and blues with it. never had the chance to do any classical work at KFRS.

Member for

8 years 9 months

pcrecord Mon, 11/16/2020 - 05:17
Kurt Foster, post: 466008, member: 7836 wrote: i am wondering just how good a "clone" those UK things are. the transformers used can make a huge difference.
I was turned to the 1173 here on another thread. Some had great words to say about them..
We should discuss it further there : https://recording.org/threads/focusrite-isa-vs-warm-audio-wa273-eq.65116/
I'm going to put out my video tonight if I get time ;)
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