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Mic choices for piano, harpsichord

Discussion in 'Acoustic Keyboards' started by hummel, Aug 29, 2007.

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  1. hummel

    hummel Guest

    I'm putting together a simple, entry-level system - not intended to make production quality CD's but to learn the basics, etc. I 'll be using the Alesis IO26 as the audio interface and pre-amp. My interests lie with classical music (piano, harpsichord, small groups). I'm looking for a suitable pair of mics (in the $250 per mic range). Currently, my plan is the Rode NT1-A. While this mic gets excellent reviews, concerns have been raised about its suitability for strong transients (e.g. loud drum hits) and it is reported as a bit 'hot' in the upper mid-range. I wonder if this might be a problem with some of my interests (e.g. harpsichords).

    So, I'd be interested in comments and any other suggestions about mics to consider in this range. Thanks in advance.
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Yikes...Harpsichord on budget mics...not a place I'd want to be... ;-)

    Seriously though, harpsichord is a difficult instrument to record well. A mic with the traditional HF rise found in most "budget" mics is going to seriously make the instrument virtually unlistenable. I can't say I know of any mics in that range that won't exaggerate some portion of the spectrum. That's probably not the answer you're looking for...sorry.

    This might just be a job for some of those cheap ribbons. Although, I don't like ribbons on all pianos, so this might not be a good "all-in-one" solution.

    Good luck!

  3. hummel

    hummel Guest

    So, the NT1A would be OK for piano?

    Leaving aside cost, do you have a mic which would you recommend for harpsichord recording?
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    On the cheap...I would say a Beyer M130 pair in Blumlein (given a good acoustic space).

    Cost no object...Royer SF12 or AEA R88 or perhaps a pair of R121s.

    I would say that the NT1a would be just fine on many pianos.
  5. hummel

    hummel Guest

    Interesting. While I'm not rushing out to buy one tomorrow :), the price isn't quite as high as I expected.
  6. tifftunes

    tifftunes Active Member

    Jan 13, 2003
    A single mic suggestion would be the Shure KSM44 in omni, but the room has to be good too. This mic will support many other endeavors as well.

    Though I think a SDC would be a better choice than a LDC. Oktava MK012s should be great.

    I have used a pair of Neumann TLM193s on a "tac" piano (very metallic sounding upright piano) with good results. No hype on this mic.

    I have also used the Rode NT4 on piano with good results. That means the NT5s would also work. But not sure about the harpsicord... Also not familiar with the NT1A...

    Have to agree with Cucco about ribbons. I can't think of any reason not to use a ribbon on the harpsicord.
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    I just thought I would throw this one in as well?

    A very close friend of our family was the principal harpsichordist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Her husband was the principal bassist. She needed to make a Recording in early 1971. So she went to this fairly new recording studio where this young guy had just designed and built his own console and studio. It was a very nice console but it was a very dead studio with lots of pink exposed fiberglass on the walls. Just awful sounding or lack thereof. Now this engineer was a very good engineer. A very good rock-and-roll engineer. Well, Shirley hated the recording that he made for her. I was only 14 at the time but had already been making recordings since I was nine. I asked her what she didn't like about it. She said it was horribly metallic and he put the microphones right over the top of a harpsichord soundboard! What I heard was a wonderful rock-and-roll recording of her harpsichord. And who was this "Wannabe" rock-and-roll engineer that made this horrible recording of her harpsichord? None other than a young George Massenburg! Obviously, he wasn't into the subtleties of Baroque music. But he could make those Earth Wind & Fire horns, Little Feat, the Emotions and Linda Ronstadt sound good.

    And I knew at that age that ribbon microphones, further away, was what he should have used/done. 3 years later, at 17, I ended up working for the studio that originally hired him. I see him at the AES and talk to him from time to time. One of my rock-and-roll hero engineers. But he doesn't have a Grammy nomination like I do for my orchestral and operatic recordings. He just has enough gold and platinum records to line the interior of his house. I have enough to line the toilet, i.e. none.

    Hugging the toilet. Love your toilet. It might be the only 1 you have?
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  8. bap

    bap Active Member

    Nov 22, 2003
    You can definitely find ribbon microphones in your price range.

    If you would like to try affordable omnis, you might look at Avenson Sto-2s. They aren't hyped and sound very good on piano. I imagine they would be good on harpsichord if the room and instrument are good.
  9. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    To do a good job recording a harpsichord you need a couple of things.

    1. A good well tuned harpsichord

    2. A good room with the right "sound" for harpsichord

    3. A very good microphone preamp that handles transients well.

    4. A very good microphone that has a very warm sound and handles transients well.

    Combine all of them and you can get a very good recording. Leaving out one of them or not having the best can make a harpsichord sound like a pile of glass shards in a wooden box.

    Some interesting things from the web




    I had the Stereo Review editors choice award for three months running for my recordings of the Oberlin Baroque Ensemble and most of those recordings were done with DPA 4006s or an AKG C-24 in to a Neotek Model 1E console and recorded onto an Otari MTR-10 at 15 ips using Ampex 456 tape. These were done on the Gasparo Label and the harpsichord used was built by John Leek who also maintained the instrument during the recording sessions.
  10. hummel

    hummel Guest

    Excellent advice. I much appreciate the guidance and the links. They are very interesting.

    Clearly, harpsichord recording is an 'advanced' skill. I think I'll stick with piano and similar instruments for now until my skill level improves and then re-visit harpsichords.
  11. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Not that recording piano is all that easy! :D
  12. bap

    bap Active Member

    Nov 22, 2003
    You might start by purchasing a pair of Sonedores!
  13. hummel

    hummel Guest

    Is recording anything 'easy' :D

    I may be missing an 'in joke' or something, but what are Sonedores? I checked on-line and can find no reference to them.
  14. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Jan 9, 2005
    Brisbane, Australia
    Home Page:
  15. hummel

    hummel Guest

    Thank you. I did a google search for 'sonEdore' (which found nothing). SonOdore works much better! These are out of my price range but, from an educational perspective, would the boundary mics by the type suggested?
  16. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    Actually, I'm not sure what all the fuss about...

    Yes, harpsichord is a challenging instrument to record well, but it's not *that* hard to make an acceptable recording. Certainly, I do not think it is something you should be avoiding until your skill level improves. The only way to get good at recording something is to keep trying to record it! In my experience, an acceptable harpsichord sound can be found quite quickly. A great sound takes a lot longer, however...

    Unlike just about every other acoustic instrument, the harpsichord has little or no dynamic range, making it easy to get a healthy level. It also seems immune to the low frequency resonances and 'wolf notes' that can plague other string instruments.

    The harpsichord is quite rich in harmonics, which places certain requirements on the microphone choice, but you can go three ways with that. One way is to take the aesthetically pleasing ribbon route as suggested repeatedly in this thread, which tends to mellow out the 'wiry' sound while maintaining detail and adding warmth. Another is to take the accurate route by using small diaphragm condensers, which will resolve all the fine detail but perhaps sound a bit etched if using cheaper condensers. Both approaches are capable of producing good recordings, with the preference being in the ear of the beholder.

    The third approach is to use dynamic microphones. Think of them as poor man's ribbons in this application. They won't get the harsh etched sound of lower cost condensers, but they won't have the mellowed detail of the ribbons. I have made very acceptable harpsichord recordings with Sennheiser 421s in XY, and I suspect a pair of large diaphragm dynamics using neodymium magnets (e.g. EV N-Dym series) could also do a nice job of it. May need a bit of EQ and reverb, but you'll get an acceptable result and, with linear phase EQ and convolution reverb, who's complaining?

    If you've got a good harpsichord in a good position in a good room, the problem is 40% solved. Getting your microphones (whatever you choose to use) in the right position adds another 40% to that. The next 10% will come down to the microphones themselves: ribbons, dynamics or condensers. Cheap condensers are simply not going to sound good: the harpsichord's rich character and harmonic detail is *precisely* the kind of sound that brings out the worst of cheap condensers.

    The remaining 15% is the surprise that few people think about or realise: after getting the best sound you can, record a couple of minutes and ask the musician to listen to the playback. Assuming the musician thinks the sound is acceptable, you will find that, after hearing playback, the musician will alter his/her playing style (louder, softer, brighter, duller, more or less sustained, etc.) to steer the sound in his/her desired direction. I have seen and heard this happen many times in my experience of making direct-to-stereo recordings in less than ideal situations, and it never ceases to amaze me. Whenever possible these days, I try to give the musicians a listen before making any serious takes.

    [Yeah, I know that 40% + 40% + 10% + 15% = 105%... That extra 5% is what you get when the musician consciously contributes to the recorded sound!]
  17. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    Very cool. My first reaction was that if I wanted to record harpsichord with inexpensive mics and I wanted to make sure the recording wasn't annoyingly harsh I'd just start with a pair of SM57s. I love the "dynamics are the poor man's ribbon" idea.
  18. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    Some people will probably disagree with my assertion that dynamics are poor man's ribbons, which is fair enough. But when condensers are the wrong microphones for the job and you don't have any ribbons, good dynamics are worth considering.

    By "good dynamics" I'm referring to something like Sennheiser's MD421, which has a very flat response and can deliver an acceptable result on just about anything. I wouldn't be using a pair of Shure SM57s to record harpsichord unless I was prepared to use a *lot* of EQ! It will sound very 'rock', due to the 57 being the mic of choice for rock and pop guitar and snare drums for decades - we learn to associate its strong characteristic sound with rock and pop music. Also, the result would probably be much harsher than you wanted due to the 57's upper midrange boost. Eeeek! You may as well use a cheap condenser. :wink:

    The thing I like about the 421 is that it has very little character of its own...

    Another dynamic that might be worth considering is EV's RE50. It's a dynamic omni designed for ENG applications. Pioneering field recordist David Lewiston uses a pair of them when he can't use condensers, and gets acceptable results. I haven't used it myself, however. It seems like a contradiction in some ways - being an omni, it has no proximity effect and extended LF response. However, EV build a LF roll-off into it because it is primarily designed for recording interviews/reporters on the street.

    Food for thought, nonetheless.
  19. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Any good neutral mic will do for hchord.
    For an inexpensive solution, I recommend 2 Shure KSM 137 cardioids.
    These through a DAV Electronics Broadhurst Gardens No. 1 mic amp will sound very good indeed. Don't get too close because mechanism noise is undesirable.

    No need to use Sonodore or the like. I have used Sonodore starting in 1988 and abandoned them some time after.
  20. lell010

    lell010 Guest

    Is this specifically for Harpsichord - or generally?


    Larry Elliott
  • AT5047

    The New AT5047 Premier Studio Microphone Purity Transformed

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