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Hi guys,
my question is about one of the most demanding acoustic instrument for the recording engineer: classical grand piano.
I'm a pianist and I wanted to record my live recitals, so I began with RODE NT4, then Neumann KM183s and finally Schoeps CMC5 with MK21 stereo matched (I choose MK21 over MK2 because of non stellar acoustic venues where I play).
I use a Traveler as preamp (I also have a Mackie 1202 VLZ Pro) and A/D converter, recording at 96 Khz/24 bit.
So far I must say I'm not completely satisfied with my MK21 configuration.
Probably it's my fault as I'm not an engineer, but while I can hear with Schoeps so much more detail in the sound, the recording result is very bi-dimensional and with poor dynamics. Very definite but sterile and with a sort of veiled sound on certain frequencies.
I know MK21s have very good reputation also as piano mics, bur how do you guys position them?
I tried ORTF, NOS and A/B 1.5/3m from the piano and 1.5/2m high.
Any experience or suggestion to improve my recordings?
Many thanks


johnthemiracle Sun, 05/18/2008 - 07:23

ortf with mk21's doesn't make sense since these are omnis afaik. ab does make sense. i would suggest you have someone play the piano while you put your head in all of the positions where you'd put the mics most likely. it doesn't mean that the mics will sound best where it sounds best in your ears but its certainly a good start. if you can't get a great piano sound with the schoeps mics it's certainly not the mic's fault. i would suggest you do not use the mackie, though. and for preamps i would suggest you get something better than the built in preamps of your traveler (like millennia or grace or something like that...earthworks also comes to mind), but even with the traveler's pre's the piano should sound pretty decent...

as for the lack of dynamics...i would never dare to seek the fault at the equipment, most likely it's the player...

David French Mon, 05/19/2008 - 01:11

The MK21 capsule is subcardiod, not omni, so a near coincident ORTF-like setup makes good sense, and is really the only way that makes sense. l'd avoid using them more than 1 meter apart as you're not likely to obtain a stable stereo image.

Dynamics may be lacking due to excess reverb, which compresses dynamic range. And John, it's not the player. You'd know that if you had checked his webpage.

Post a recording if you can. After hearing it, we'd be much better equipped to help you.

JoeH Mon, 05/19/2008 - 06:14

Gian, you're probably finding out that the more you learn and listen, the more you'll want to learn and listen. In other words, as your experience goes up, so does your appreciation of all the little things involved in getting a good recording, from the imaging to the sound of each note struck. As the artist as well as the pianist, you're also bringing another perspective that others don't have: You created the music, so you know what it sounds and FEELS like as it happens. (Be aware that you may never be happy! :wink: )

Have you gone to DPA's microphone university to check out their mic placements and techniques for a grand piano? There are several good tips and techniques there, including one that is more in line with hearing the recording the way the pianist hears it. (Worth reading about, for sure.) FWIW, I always try to stick with omni's on classical piano, whether it's in close, or flanks further out in the hall...

I've found that no matter what happens, the best results are with the best instrument, (alnost always the top names: Steinway, Yamaha, Bosendorfer, Balwdin, Fazoli, etc.) and there's simply no shortcut, no amount of mics or placement will fix this if the piano isn't regulated or tuned or just sounds bad. WIth over a thousand moving parts, the piano itself is going to be the single biggest reason your sound is smooth & blended, harsh or bright, etc. SURE, you can do a lot with mics and placement, but its' the instrument itself long before the mic choices and placement. (Of course you have to PLAY IT properly as well, but that's another story...)

Then there's the sound of the hall, assuming you're going to want to use that as part of your recorded sound or not. This will be the deciding factor on whether or not you go with two, four, or even five mics on the piano & the hall. (stereo pair in closer, omni flanks further out for the hall, and perhaps a bass mic down on the tail for the low end, if you really need that sort of thing, depending on the repertoire....)

I've been listening to a variety of pianos lately - not just for my recording gigs, but for a possible purchase of my own for my studio, and I can tell you (as you already know, I"m sure), that each piano is unique; there are no two pianos ever alike, and every time out is going to have its differences; you cannot tame or fix that with mics and placement, you can only hope to capture it - the sound - at its best, or sometimes, its worst.

Boswell Tue, 05/20/2008 - 03:10

FifthCircle wrote: If you're using MK21 capsules, I wouldn't go ORTF, rather I'd take the capsules wider- try 14" or so on a long stereo bar. Should be in pretty good shape.

Another option is to go A-B with them spaced about 3 feet wide or so and about 6-8 feet high.


Ben - I'm intrigued by your 14" suggestion. Are you saying the MK21s should be parallel aligned in this case, as for A-B, or angled, as for ORTF?

Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 05/20/2008 - 05:14

Following up on what JoeH and others are saying.

When I was recording for the local conservatory of music/college I was fortunate to have some of the best piano techs working with me. They could make the difference between a good recording and a great recording. They have a ways of making a piano sound better for recordings and or live concerts than most people could imagine.

The piano has to be in perfect tune both octaves and within octaves, the action has to be working well, the pedals have to work correctly and silently and there are a whole lot of things that they have to check before you can do your recording.

I just finished a recording project with a grad student. We used the college's new German Steinway and it was in perfect shape. The piano tech still spent over one hour before each recording session going over the piano and checking the tuning and the action. He was also "on call" for the session in case we ran into some problems. The grad student was a very forceful player and really gave the piano a workout but it stayed in tune and we had no problems. I used a couple of different setups the first day to see what the best setup was for this piano and the hall. The piano was on full stick and the best setup we came up with was two Rode NT-2A microphones back about 6 feet from the crook and spaced about 6 feet apart. The sound was excellent and the grad student went on to win a prize for his efforts. Do a seach for Yuri Shadrin to find out more about this amazing pianist.

Experimentation is the key to the best piano recordings and I have used a lot of different setups including spaced omnis back about 6 feet, 2nd and 4th sound hole with AKG Blue line cardioid microphones, taking the lid of the piano with two Neumann M-249s over the strings, Decca Tree with AT 4060s and Neumann SM-69 up and back about equal distance. All the recording turned out well but if it weren't for some really talented and detail oriented piano techs the recordings would not have turned out as well as they did.

JoeH Tue, 05/20/2008 - 06:57

I had a similar experience to yours, Tom. For three nights last December, we did a closed-door solo piano recording session in the Kimmel Center's Perelman theater, (which is normally used for all kinds of chamber music, etc., as it seats 650 people comfortably.)

Although there are several "new" Steinway model D pianos already in the facility (from the original opening of the facility back in 2001) the piano used was brought down specially for the artist from Steinway in NYC (about 75 miles from here) and allowed to acclimate for almost a week, being tuned and kept in the same temps and humidity as the stage area. We too had a technician/tuner on call for the duration of the three sessions, and he was frequently called in to address a few problems here and there.

One of them involved a real problem with high C, (the first octave above middle C - it was ok when used in chords and melodic passages, but it made a buzzy sound when struck all alone, or in paired octaves.) As much as everyone tried to work with it or fix it, the few places where the high C was struck all alone were not acceptable. Replacing the strings wasn't adviseable (it was probably a soundboard issue anyway, according to the tech), so in the end, we simply rolled the NYC piano out of the way, and rolled in the existing concert grand that's been in use there for the last seven years (and played by dozens, if not hundreds, of artists in that time span at shows there...) to record the problematic high Cs.

The difference in the two pianos - of the same model number, one made in Hamburg (the NYC piano) and one "in residence", probably made here stateside - was astounding. The NYC rental was warm, tight, uniform, sparkly (without being harsh) and the perfectly smooth action was a players dream. As close to perfect - for this kind of music - as I've ever heard.

The 7 yr old "in residence" piano (which I have recorded dozens and dozens of times already since it was new in 2001) was just incredibly different soncically and in so many other ways. In the end, we just used it for the lone, hi "C" that was needed in some of the exposed passages, but it was amazing to hear the difference when the artist played some of the passages we'd been hearing all week. Absolutely apples and oranges; and these were BOTH Steinway Model Ds. Although I wouldn't say the NYC piano was "Better" per se (it was certainly newer and in better shape overall), the house piano still had character and balls, albiet a bit knocked around. You could certainly hear all it's tired flaws, dings and dents when contrasted to the artist's model from NYC.

With the best mics, pre's, and software in the world, in the hands of the producer they'd hired from Belgium, (a real gentleman and a genius, Manuel Mohino), there was still be a world of difference between the two pianos, no matter what we did on the front end in terms of placement, room acoustics, etc. I don't doubt for a second we could have gotten the sound we did out of the house piano, sorry to say. (And I LIKE that piano a lot! :roll: Just goes to show you.... ;-) )

FifthCircle Tue, 05/20/2008 - 08:46

Boswell wrote: [quote=FifthCircle]If you're using MK21 capsules, I wouldn't go ORTF, rather I'd take the capsules wider- try 14" or so on a long stereo bar. Should be in pretty good shape.

Another option is to go A-B with them spaced about 3 feet wide or so and about 6-8 feet high.


Ben - I'm intrigued by your 14" suggestion. Are you saying the MK21s should be parallel aligned in this case, as for A-B, or angled, as for ORTF?

If you go A-B (as I mentioned in the 2nd half of my reply), go parallel. If you move the spacing in to about 14", you should have them angled out between 90 and 110 degrees.


Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 05/20/2008 - 11:00

Worst case piano recording

Artist picks out the best piano from the three that were on stage at the concert hall. The piano tech does wonders with the piano. It sounds really really great. We are getting ready to record. Big signs everywhere NO FOOD OR DRINK in concert hall. Page turner comes in sets her coffee down on the top of the piano and gets something out of her purse. Puts the purse down on the piano and knocks her coffee into the freshly tuned and freshly prepared piano. Coffee is loaded with sugar and creme. The coffee runs into the action and basically does a number on the hammers. So the piano is unplayable. We find another one from the two that are left but artist does not like the sound. We go to the third piano and find that it has a BIG buzz in the middle register. The piano tech checks everything and finds some thumb tacks and paper clips had gotten in UNDER the frame. He gets them all out, tunes the piano fixes all the problems and then the pianist decides that she is worn out and cancels the session.

After 2.5 hours of sitting around with all the equipment setup I was not too pleased. We tore down and the pianist later decided to scrap the whole project. We got paid for a complete day but it was going to be a three day project. Oh well.

Later that same year the page turner did the exact same thing to another piano she was playing for a recital. She dumped another cup of coffee into the piano and it warped the sound board. She was a walking disaster area and the piano techs still talk about her as the "coffee terrorist"

anonymous Sat, 05/31/2008 - 21:22


I think I know the Hamburg Steinway you spoke of-- an INCREDIBLE instrument. I forget the number of it assigned by NYC Artist division, but it is likely the one sent down here in February for the Hilton Head Piano Competition and thence to the Savannah Music Festival.

The piano tech flown in for the festival told me that 9 times out of 10 such problems are voicing issues-- and he demonstrated his point convincingly.

FWIW Hamburg Steinways are tonally different animals than NY Steinways-- brighter, and incredible sustain. NY pianos are mellower unless they haved been voiced to sound brighter. Hopefully not as bright as a Bosendorfer or Yamaha, but to each his own!


Cucco Sun, 06/01/2008 - 07:41

I think that particular instrument must be the office whore of Steinways. For a chamber music festival I record, the pianist (Michelle Levin) brought a Hamburg Steinway and piano tech - both I believe from NYC. It was a glorious instrument.

Sorry - that's all I have to contribute here on this one... :-(

anonymous Thu, 03/12/2015 - 10:58

JoeH, post: 253651, member: 19268 wrote: Gian, you're probably finding out that the more you learn and listen, the more you'll want to learn and listen. In other words, as your experience goes up, so does your appreciation of all the little things involved in getting a good recording, from the imaging to the sound of each note struck.

Well said Joe.

A good thread on piano's worth my daily bump. "Where are they now?"
gianlu5080 I'm wondering how the OP made out? What you've discovered after 7 years? Please share what you have improved, where you are now?


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