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Microphone for Grand Piano Recording

Discussion in 'Acoustic Keyboards' started by bf2008, Apr 12, 2009.

  1. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    Vienna
    After some months of experimenting I believe that results have decently improved. Now I am using the Rødes Omnis in a 30 cm ORTF spacing and varying the distance to the piano between 1,5 and 3 meters.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ozX388jxik8QGqM6w0Xz_6_o_PW8YdFG

    is one of the latest recordings. It's also the first recording with a piano that I tuned myself from scratch, helped by a beautiful Android app called PianoMeter. I am quite happy with the results.
     
  2. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    I think it's a win! The reason? You could really hear the piano, and instead of thinking about the recording, I started to hear the little oddities of pianos - and I discounted a couple of makes, and started to concentrate on what the piano is. in the end, I came down on a Bechstein, but could be the other B? Please put me put of my misery. I think that NOT commenting on a recording is evidence that the recording is faithful. I'd be very happy with that result, and keen to use that technique again. I wonder if it will work so well on a different instrument, or if it's instrument non-specific. I've found Yamaha pianos very difficult to match with Steinway, for example - what works for one isn't so good on the other and vice-versa.
     
  3. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    It's a Steinway B, serial number 60103, manufactured in Hamburg in 1887. By now it has gone through three major repairs and it has retained some of its oddities. I believe what you are looking for - and what's not there, is the typical ringing in the mid treble section and richer harmonics/overtones in the higher treble section.

    There are two reasons for that. One is that the soundboard is still original. While it has been repaired in the 70s, i.e. cracks filled and screwed on to the ribs, it has lost a lot of its original tension and this is very much audible in the treble. The other reason is that the strings are 40 years old and some of them cannot be tuned properly anymore. Even a single string tone in the trebles can actually been heard with "wrong" overtones, making it impossible to give it richness and clarity by tuning.

    I am still of two mind about having those strings replaced. On the one hand it certainly would have clearly audible results, but on the other hand, once you have removed the strings you simply must replace the 130 year old agraffes as well. And then you must give the capo bar a new, clean filing. And when you have already removed the strings, it would be rather stupid not to give it new dampers as well, because the work of aligning and regulating them after restringing is about the same.

    And once you have the strings down it would certainly make sense to fix some of the tiny cracks in the bridge.

    Taking all this together is work that needs to be done in a proper workshop by a real expert. Taking into account that I live on top floor without an elevator, we are looking at 6-8000 EUR easily - and TBQH I don't think the instrument is worth it. I can't imagine ever recovering that investment, because very few people will understand the value of an old piano like that.

    So, I'll probably leave it at that, especially since I have com to really love the piano as it is. Also, on days with higher humidity, i.e. above 50%, the piano sounds even better and more beautiful. It's one of those days today, so I'll try to make another recording later.
     
  4. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    I'm so dim! Is it the one in you avatar? I discounted Steinway for the reasons you mention, and I'm not ashamed to say that slightly 'jangly' characteristic is virtually absent. You've created a new kind of blended sound with your work. I'm a total un-expert in the piano renovation/repair and tweaking area. I didn't realise that the overtones are impacted so much by age - or maybe is that why I hear older and often unloved pianos as being a bit 'dull'. I find this really interesting. Have you thought about youtube videos of your next repair/reworking of a decent piano. I'd watch 100%. I usually hate being wrong when I've made my mind up, but this time I can see how I followed the usual clues and messed up. One to remember. Steinways CAN sound like this one.

    if you ever need on stage amplification of a Yamaha C3, you can go under the soundboard, and where the left to right strut runs you can drop a mic cable down, then tape it to itself with a condenser pointing vertically up and you get a very natural sound that can with a bit of eq really work for live sound. It doesn't work on any other Yamaha model, or any of the other makes I tried it on. A Yamaha rep pointed this one out to me ten years ago, and he had no idea why it worked either. Its sounds horrible and dull on any other model of piano - but it works amazingly well on C3's.
     
  5. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    First of all: I do not do restoration or reworking of pianos. My background is piano playing itself and I taught myself tuning a grand over the past two months. I work as project manager for Bechstein, so I am quite familiar with what working on a piano actually means, specifically in preparing a concert grand, but I leave that work to the real experts and only tune my own piano for the fun of it.

    As to sound: Steel oxidizes over time and that changes the material quality of a string substantially, especially if it's a piano in heavy use (which this one was) and is tuned on a regular basis. I believe it's really the strings that make all the difference in this piano, not the soundboard. While it may be flat, it still has amazing power and sustain. I have "piano ears" and I believe that I can abstract from what I hear to what is actually the substance of the instrument. Still, I dearly love that piano and sometimes you get a glimpse into what it can sound like. I've just recorded the 2nd movement of the Prokofiev 8th sonata:

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1-Jmhj-MddufwLyVpfQgWQAY8jsvZt-04

    I like the truly mellow sound of, especially in the very soft passages and I believe that now you can hear that it's a Steinway, albeit a very old one.
     
  6. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    Has the tuning slipped a little? There's a D, the octave above middle C, that from 1:06 becomes little disonnant in some combinations? Could just be me, but I think the first recording in this topic sounds cleaner. What do you think?
     
  7. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    The D is a tiny bit off indeed. First of all: One is never done tuning ;.). Second: the piano is in a place with permanent changes to temperature and humidity and third: I am not a piano tuner, I have only bought the tuning lever two months ago and since then I don't think I spent more than 30 hours with tuning: And fourth: This is the first time I tuned a full piano, every single note. I am happy about the result and also a little proud.

    But thanks for pointing it out; it has been corrected. It strikes me as odd, however, that all 3 strings of the unison were out of tune in the same way. The unison was clean, the interval was not. Weird.
     
  8. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    I'd not worry - I do know that piano tuning is not for me in any sense. I just don't have the feel for it - too hamfisted I'm afraid. I suppose pianos are just living things!

    With my ignorant head on, is this one of those tuning things where perfect tuning is actually wrong/ I'm thinking about temperament - is this one of those tuning issues that are key related, that equal temperament is supposed to cure? I'm thinking that if certain notes are not quite at the equal temperament then they'd support a piece in one key and fight with another. I know some basics, but the notion of doing the maths, then adjusting it to technically wrong but musically right is a bit much for me.
     
  9. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    It's a little more complicated than that, which is why I haven't even tried tuning intervals and laying a temperament. The complication also comes from inharmonicity, where speaking lengths of a string differ because of diameter, dimensioning and other factors. This is most notable in the bass section where the difference between a baby and a concert grand is most painfully audible.

    I strictly stick to PianoMeter's reading which has served me well. I've become a little obsessed with unisons, crunching my ear and brain to listen to as many overtones as possible and aligning them.

    But as I said before: The piano itself is a severely limiting factor: its age of strings, agraffes and its location in regard to temperature and humidity. I'll have to live with that.
     
  10. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing - I'm fascinated by the interactions. The explanation earlier about filing the capo bar - I'd never even thought about this level of complexity. Thanks.
     
  11. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    Vienna
    Here is a little update on the piano and my playing around with microphone placement.

    This was done after an 8 hour session with my piano technician (who really has a love relationship with this piano - and it loves him back). He spent a whole day voicing the piano, i.e. fluffing up the felt of the hammers and re-shaping them by filing them into shape again. A vast improvement and by now I consider this piano as finished as can be and I am really happy with it:

     
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  12. Bald English

    Bald English Active Member

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    great stuff!
     
  13. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    I think it sounds really clean in the quieter passages, not blurry and dull like some old pianos do - nice job. I'd expected it to become a bit more jangly after being riffled about with, but he's done a nice job. I'm also not familiar with that piece, so thanks for sharing it.
     
  14. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    It's a unique opportunity and I have started to make use of it. For the next couple of weeks/months due to the Corona shutdown, I have full access to a brand new Bechstein D 282 concert grand. Here is a first impression of what it sounds like. This is with Røde NT5 and omni capsules into the Steinberg interface with Yamaha preamps. Slight XY about 1,5m away from the piano center.

     
  15. John Willett

    John Willett Active Member

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    Nice opportunity.

    The Røde NT5 with omni heads are a good choice for "mics on a budget".

    If I was recording this I would have the mics about head height (or slightly higher), about 2m back and about 20cm apart (IE: one each end of a standard stereo bar) and pointing slightly out.

    I have done lots of piano recordings this way and all have been very well received.

    But the room will dictate the position - feel free to move them.

    I would not use omnis in XY as the result is very "mono".
     
  16. OE1FEU

    OE1FEU Active Member

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    My mistake. I actually did pretty much what you recommend, i.e. I made the wrong choice of words by saying that I use XY.

    It's kind of a modified ORTF with omnis and a shallower angle of about 100°, so it's only the distance that's different. I'll play with that over the next couple of days. It's an actual concert hall, albeit a small one, so more distance of the mics will probably add more 'space' to the recording. It's a bit tricky to find the right balance with a nice stereo effect where bass comes from the left and treble from the right.

    But I have enough time on my hands with this, so I'll keep playing and keep you updated, also with different pieces that have a higher level of dynamic range.
     
  17. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    That's a rather nice sounding instrument. The piece jogged a memory and I found an old midi file of it. I have no idea who produced it, but for some reason I saved it.

    Often, VSTi piano synth/samples can sound nice than real instruments, but in this example, I think the real one has recorded very well. People often ask - so I picked 4 of my favourite in the computer pianos. You can compare these with your real one and be pleased with your recording. I took the midi file - signed an instrument to it and did nothing else - not even level compensation up or down as it has very wide dynamics doesn't it. A real test for a computer version.
    https://www.limelight.org.uk/ravel-le-gibet-kontakt-grandeur.mp3
    https://www.limelight.org.uk/ravel-le-gibet-piantoteq6-steinway.mp3
    https://www.limelight.org.uk/ravel-le-gibet-kontakt-maverick.mp3
    https://www.limelight.org.uk/ravel-le-gibet-kontakt-factory-grand.mp3
     
  18. John Willett

    John Willett Active Member

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    This is the back you learn.

    Getting the right balance between the piano and the room.

    Don't try and get the sound to how the player hears it, but how the audience hears it.

    When I record I have the mics to the front in the direction where the audience would be.
     
  19. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    The thing that constantly amazes me is the standard of pianos, once wonderful instruments, that are in British Churches. A good example was the rehearsal for a Covid cancelled event - a live recording - first section choir and organ, second section choir and piano. The organist had identified some tuning issues and how to avoid them, and the rehearsal for this went fine - then we started on the piano. Tuned in the morning, badly out by the afternoon - I wonder if it has a cracked frame? It also made the most horrible noises when pedalled - I thing the felts were hard and useless and pressing down squeaked badly. This seems very common in these churches - lovely buildings with money spent taking out pews and putting in soft seats and making 'areas' for big or small congregations - yet the pianos are terrible. Funniest one was where the piano in the rehearsal was on full stick and sounded quite nice, but then everything got moved to make a safety aisle - and it got rotated, so the pianist couldn't see the conductor. My solution, take the lid off. It's a very expensive piano - we can't do that - so down went the lid and that wrecked everything.

    Finding a nice piano is always such a boost.
     
  20. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    Angling omnis doesn't do anything. What you had was a spaced pair or AB pair. All the separation between left and right comes from level and timing differences due to relative distances.

    You might want to try a baffled omni setup.
     
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