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This week I get to do a piano recording for an artist I have worked with before. She is a very gifted pianist and the sessions go rather well. I am planning to use a Decca Tree with three Audio-Technica 4050's in bidirectional mode. I have used this setup with this performer before and had excellent results. The recording is being done in a 600 seat auditorium with variable acoustics provided by dropping down large curtains to damp the hall. The last time we did the recording my notes show we used 50% coverage. The piano is a German Steinway that has been a joy to record in the past. Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance.

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ghellquist Mon, 09/19/2005 - 09:51

Well, once I tried it i switched to a pair of omnis on piano. Unless you have been down that route already, then try it, I tend to think of that as the standard solution for piano.

It takes small diameter good quality "true" omnis though, generally not the switchable large diameter mics to get the full effect. Say, DPA 4003, Schoeps CMC6+MK2H, Sennheiser MKH20 to name a few (taste does vary).


FifthCircle Mon, 09/19/2005 - 11:49

Really depends on the instrument and the room, but my favorite techniques...

First is spaced omnis. 2 omnis (usually B&K 4006) about 8 feet high and about 4-6 feet out. Usually spaced about 3-4 feet.

Second is a blumlein pair. I either use my AKG 426 or a Royer SF-24 when doing this. I usually start about 6 feet high and 4 feet out for this.

Last is mid-side... Probably my favorite mic for this is an AKG C-34. I start with a cardiod in the center, but some rooms sound good with a slightly wider pattern in the center. This will usually be positioned relatively low (perhaps 5 feet high) and close (about 4 feet)...

All will give completely different sounds and it really depends on what you like and are looking for...


DavidSpearritt Mon, 09/19/2005 - 11:50

While, I have never tried this technique it seems an "interesting choice" to me, for the following reasons.

1. Normally spaced techniques use omnis to exploit the low frequency extension, and this is nice on a piano. There are not too many reasons for using spaced techniques with directional mics as the compromise in LF is normally traded against the advantages of image stability by using directional mics coindidentally arranged.

2. Decca tree also usually used for large sound sources, ie much larger than a piano, ie orchestra or choir.

3. While a fig 8 mic has the most direction independent frequency response of all mics, its mainly exploited when two are used for Blumlein, to get the image accuracy that such directional frequency independence gives.

4. I have only ever heard of Fig 8's pointing forward to be used to tame a really bad acoustic, where rejection of side wall echoes or reflections and floor/ceiling reflections is essential to rescue the recording.

5. As a decca tree normally goes "above" the sound source to try to reach into a large source and also to pick up room sound and mix it in a nice swimmy way, Fig 8's will need to be pointed down to get full amplitude response from them or are you positioning your tree only 4ft above the ground.

I am most interested in your decisions and experiences with this technique, its certainly worth a try. What is your impression of the result, what does it sound like and why do you use it?

ptr Mon, 09/19/2005 - 12:27

I'm also a "usualy" spaced omnis on a Grand Piano kind of guy. Either KM 130 or TLM 50, most ofte the latter. Most often like 3-5 meters away (10'-17') and 2 - 3 meters up (7' - 10'), spaced about one meter apart (4').

What make of omni one chooses is a matter of taste, but I belive it should be eq'd for diffuse field recording. That said, one of my teachers used a spaced pair of U87 for hundreds of piano recordings in over 35 years, in their Omni setting, but U87'ns none the less.. And nobody (that I know of) ever complained about his sound quality..

And ever since I lerned that quite many of Decca's piano recordings where made with a spaced pair of KM 83's I dont see any way back :D

I've tried crossed 8's (Blumlein), most recently with a pair of Pearl ELAM-B Lince-Source mikes ( whilst they had a quite a nice sonic caracter, I did not like their imaging (Niether did I when I used a pair of KM 120) - I belive Mr Alexander of Water Lily Acoustics use a pair of ELM-B, or perhaps the M/S versieon with one ELM-B and one cardioid ELM-C. (I'm hoping to test a Royer SF-24 at my next piano session, not lest, because I like to prove myself wrong :wink: )


DavidSpearritt Mon, 09/19/2005 - 14:54

We favour a Blumlein main pair (AKG 426, SF24, KM120pr) with omni outriggers (4003, KM130). When positioned correctly, this gives the best combination of both assets of these methods, although there is usually only a little of the omnis in depending on the room acoustic quality. With a great room the omnis are almost discarded.

Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 09/20/2005 - 19:21

Thanks for all the great suggestions. Tomorrow is the first day of the recording session(s) and I will try and post some MP3s of the first day takes (where is a good place on the WWW to do that?) Then you can comment and help me do a better job. The recording starts at 4:30 pm EDT and will go until the pianst is tired (I figure about 5 hours) Wish me luck!

anonymous Wed, 09/21/2005 - 09:45

Count me as another spaced 4006 fan. I've done several solo piano albums for pianist Bruce Brubaker with a pair of 4006's spaced at 27", 12-14' out (don't have the session notes handy right now). I've always used the silver grids.

I've tried 4003's, and I like them, but the artist doesn't. He seems to like a slower attack. He's also made some recordings with "Dr. Fred" Bashour, who has reportedly gotten fine results using some sort of SF-24 varient. Again, I think the attraction of these is how they handle the piano attack.

As usual, your taste may vary and so may your client's. :wink:

David L. Rick
Seventh String Recording

Thomas W. Bethel Wed, 09/21/2005 - 21:11

Well the piano recording sessions started this afternoon.

We got all setup in record time but had some problems with the piano which meant we got started late. The piano was also not the German Steinway we were promised but a run of the stage model that had not been tuned and was played heavily by some students getting ready for their competitions. The German Steinway was moved out of the building for a recital. We finally located a piano tech and he came in and tuned the piano fixed some pivots in 6 of the hammers and got rid of an annoying squeak in the pedals.

Finally started recording not at 4:30 when we were suppose to start but at 7 pm. I used the Decca tree and we got a really good recording depite all the problems. We did have some problems with air noise from the HVAC and we had to get someone to redo the hall acoustical banners before we could start,

Most of this music is South Amercian Folk songs that have be adapted for the piano. The artist is a well known recording artist in South America who is also a teacher at the local conservatory.

We go back at it on Saturday evening.

The pianist said we got all the hard stuff done tonight but she is under rehearsed for the stuff on Saturday so it may take longer than we think to get is all done.

Recording Chain is:

AT 4050 microphones in Decca Tree Array Cardioid Pattern

Mackie Onyx 1640 Firewire interface

Sony Vaio Laptop with Mackie Trackation software V2

Tascam CD recorder for the CDs for the artist

Genelec 1030 speakers for the artist to listen on but never used.

Beyer DT 770 Headphones for the producer and I.

Topaz ultra isolator power transformer for isolation from the power lines due to some dimmer noise on the AC lines.

Thomas W. Bethel Sat, 09/24/2005 - 04:36

Day two of the piano recording was today. Because of where we are setup to do the recording (in a hall outside the concert hall) we decided to leave our speakers (Genelec 1030s) at home tonight and use only headphones since we did not use the speakers at all during the recording on Wednesday night. We were going to use them for the artist to be able to listen to the overall balance but she decided not to audition the material. Today was not as hectic as it was on Wednesday. The piano tech was there tuning the piano just before the session and was on call for the whole session. We left strike marks on the floor with gaffer's tape so we were able to reset everything exactly as it was when we left Wednesday night.

The session went very smoothly and we ended about 9:30 pm. The artist was in good form and the recording went as scheduled. We did have some additional problems with the piano including some strange vibrations in the bass and some notes that failed to stay in tune (did I mention that the artist plays very well but has a very heavy hand on the piano) Since the tech was on call he was not too far away and was able to fix all the problems in record time.

After the session ended the artist informed me that she may want to do the whole session over again on the Hamburg Steinway later in the month but will put off her decision until after she has listened to the material. She is willing to pay for the additional sessions so it is fine with me.

Got home and headed for bed as I have a live on the air radio show to do on Sunday and I have to get up at 5:30 am to be at the client's museum by 8:30 am.

If I can find a good place on the web I will post some of the takes we did and maybe someone would like to comment.