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help for grand piano recording in a small room
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yukiest
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#1
25th July 2013
Old 25th July 2013
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help for grand piano recording in a small room

Hello, I’m a classical pianist, looking for a way to improve the audio quality of my recording. I often record for teaching purposes, and for releasing my own compositions on bandcamp, etc. My piano room is small, carpeted and my piano is Yahama grand C5A.

At the moment, I’m using a pair of AKG P420 feeding into Zoom H4n and add a bit of convolution reverb using SIR2 via Cubase LE4.

As you can you see, it’s a very primitive set-up at the moment. I understand my room is not best for recording either but I’d like to try getting more out of my AKG mics. And also I’m aware that investing in super high quality machines won’t change what the room acoustic can provide, so I try to be realistic not to look for something over the top.

I’m thinking of investing in mic preamp and a better recording medium.

Recently I came across with FMR Audio RNP 8380, which seem to be what I’m looking for; clean and transparent without colouration. I also came across a few times with DAV Electronics BG1. Have anyone used these for classical piano recording successfully?

What would be the best way to be able to use these type of mic preams?

1. via a quality audio interface (such as RME Firewire 400 & Steinberg MR816X) connected to PC? (I don’t use MAC) Any recommendation as to which maker and model?
2. connected to a reasonable quality digital recorder (such as Tascam R-680)?
3. Or will it worth going for something like Lavry Engineering AD11 for my AKG P420?

I don’t use PC for recording at the moment. If I were to use PC, what sort of spec it needs to have? I’m still very novice in the art of audio recording but I’m determined to learn to do better with improvement I can manage. So, I’d appreciate any comment, advice and insight. Thanks!

-----my recent recording sample-----------------------
My recent recording experiment was with my 6-year-old pupil to play a piano duet. I haven’t done any recording of my own composition with AKG P420 just yet; my piano needs tuning! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWUDcg67FQM
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25th July 2013
Old 25th July 2013
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I was in a similar situation - small carpeted room, Yamaha C5. Started with Zoom, then went with 2 Line Audio C3 mics into Sound Devices USBPRE. Noticable improvement - quieter, better resolution, no nasty distorted transients like with Zoom. However, it still sounds like small carpeted room. Tried reverbs, the best was lexicon pcm 70, still sounded quite fake, but passable at times. Solution - started recording in a professional studio. Instant results. Still use my setup for "demos" and practising recording.
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25th July 2013
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It does not matter, the sound will not change in that room. It will always have the "small room sound."

The equipment does not matter, only the room matters.

Sorry to write in with this report.
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25th July 2013
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Hi mixmixmix,

Thanks for your quick response. I appreciate your advice, and you're quite right too about going to the recording studio to get a professional recording. Something I've never done just yet, although I know I'll have to one day!

I had a look at SD USBPRE and it looks pretty impressive as an audio interface. Do I have to have a good PC to connect to a quality audio interface? Sorry for a silly question but I'm not really a computer person... I wonder something like Netbook would work as well?
yukiest
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25th July 2013
Old 25th July 2013
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Hi Plush,

Thanks for the reality check. I think you're absolutely right about that. It's always pleasure to play in a big concert hall, and I can't possibly re-create that in my piano room ever!

Having said that, I still think there's a little room to be able to improve what I've got at the moment, it's part of my crave for experiment, if you like. I'm just not happy with Zoom H4n mic preamp and I'd like to see if I can find the way to bypass it with a better one to get more out of my AKG p420s. Some frequencies are missing definitely to my ear...
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26th July 2013
Old 26th July 2013
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yuk - you will be much better served by upgrading your mics than spending money on different preamps. though I agree the pres in the zoom are nothing to write home about.

if you want a single unit solution, the DR680 is a fine stand-alone unit, as is the edirol R44, and they do not really need external preamps.

room treatment may be more worthwhile than many other purchases. invest in some acoustic panels to control the room, even if you have to make it deader than you might want.

SIR2 is a pretty good plug, but you are wholly dependent on the quality of the IRs available - I spent a long time searching for high quality IRs for SIR, and while I did manage to find a few useable ones, I finally broke down and purchased a good reverb. altiverb is a good choice if you like convo. IRCAM flux verb session is an excellent affordable choice. good reverb can go a long way toward making your recordings sound more realistic.

if you have a computer available for recording work, consider investing in a decent interface which has quieter more transparent preamps than the zoom unit, and get the zoom completely out of your signal chain. I recommend sticking with a USB2 interface rather than firewire (which is becoming obsolete quickly). SD USB Pre is a good choice. the focusrite scarlett units also are quite good for the money and the preamps are fine.

for mics, consider the many decent SDC mics discussed at length on this forum - do a search for piano in the remote forum. even the very affordable line audio CM3s or OM1s will give you very nice results. AT4051s, AKG C391b's, DPA 4061s and 4090/4091s are all very good mid-price mics. a bit higher, the Neumann km184, km183, km131, schoeps cmc62 and cmc64, sennheiser mkh 8020 and 8040, DPA 2006, 4006, 4011, are all excellent on piano. U87s and TLM170s and TLM 50s, gefell U70s, AKG C414B-ULS, are good LDC choices. I personally use Neumann km184s and km183s on the baby grand in my smallish studio, and I generally prefer spaced omnis.

go to the gear shootouts forum here on GS, and listen to the many sample clips posted by Didier.brest, who records piano in a similar small room:
Three omni SDC paqirs on grand piano
and
Six cardio SDC pairs on grand piano
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26th July 2013
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I would just record a Kawai or Roland or Yamaha digital in that case.
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26th July 2013
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How large (width/length/height) is the piano room?
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26th July 2013
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Hi jnorman,

Thanks for your valuable information, you generously gave me a lot of answers for the questions I always had. For non-technical musician like me, it truly was an eye-opening, literally!

Good point about upgrading microphones; P420s are like entry level, I guess. I wasn't sure spending much on mics knowing my room size and its limitation in acoustics. Hope to upgrade in the near future… Speaking of which, I have an old pair of Sony's Electret Condenser mic ECM-260F. One of them is still working but the other needs fixing. I inherited these from my family, they didn't know much about how to store them, so they left the batteries inside for over 20 years and went rusty... I'm sure it was the cause of it and they were kept in humid condition as well. It might be worth having it fixed so that I can use in my recording? I used to like the nature sound it can capture. I have a recording, with one of my dogs singing along to my piano playing!

I have a PC (Acer Veriton X270) running on Intel Pentium Dual CPU E2220 @2.4Ghz, 4GB RAM, 32bit Windows 7 Service Pack1. But the fan is a bit noisy so it may not be ideal for recording? Do I understand if I get an audio interface, the quality of PC doesn’t matter and it will bypass the sound card on-board?

Hopefully, I’ll get my piano tuned soon, and start recording again. And I’ll post the results when I manage to upgrade my recording chain. Thank you again for your input! Much appreciated. I'll research more following to your advice.
yukiest
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26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by polytope View Post
I would just record a Kawai or Roland or Yamaha digital in that case.
Hi polytope,

Funny you mentioned that My husband is buying me a digital piano soon for various reasons; silent practice for one obvious reason (I practise a lot when I have concerts!), others for experimenting with my other creative works I do and also for using in my piano teaching practice. My eye is on Kawai MP10 or Roland FP-7F. V-Piano also looks superb, but then it’s a bit over the top for my use. No matter how closer I may get closer to real pianos as they say, my fingers and ear always prefer subtle responses that real pianos give me, in which I mean grand pianos not upright. Having said that, I’m looking forward to finding out what a new digital piano can offer me. I’m sure it’ll open more doors to new projects!
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26th July 2013
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26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jnorman View Post
yuk - you will be much better served by upgrading your mics than spending money on different preamps.
+1.

1) Put the microphones close to the piano. Most often I put the stand about 30 cm off the rim in the curve. )
2) Put a baffle (Reflexion Filter, MicThing ... or a cushion from the couch) behind and another one above the microphones.
3) Apply corrective EQ, especially in the lows that are often too loud with respect to what you would get from mics at larger distance in a concert hall.
4) Add digital reverb if you want a larger room sound.

Example of result got with this method here.
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26th July 2013
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Not much to add beyond what others have already covered.

Perhaps you might want to put most of your efforts towards recording yourself in concert halls when those opportunities arise and viewing recording at home as primarily for practice?
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26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yukiest View Post
Hi 2manyrocks,

Please don't get shocked, my piano room looks like this:

http://i1274.photobucket.com/albums/...pse7493623.jpg

Any advice will be much appreciated. Thanks!
That's one small room for a grand piano. But it's not the smallest room I have seen a grand piano in.

One way I would do this (if you really can't get yourself to record a digital) is to kill all the reflections in the room by blanketing the wall with acoustic absorption panels. (But don't turn it into an anechoic chamber or you'll go crazy!) Then mic the piano close with a main pair. Put a pair at the tail and another pair under the sound board. Then mix to taste through some impulse response reverb.

No doubt this will sound truly fake. But if done right, it will sound much better than a small room sound.
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26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by polytope View Post
That's one small room for a grand piano. But it's not the smallest room I have seen a grand piano in.

One way I would do this (if you really can't get yourself to record a digital) is to kill all the reflections in the room by blanketing the wall with acoustic absorption panels. (But don't turn it into an anechoic chamber or you'll go crazy!) Then mic the piano close with a main pair. Put a pair at the tail and another pair under the sound board. Then mix to taste through some impulse response reverb.

No doubt this will sound truly fake. But if done right, it will sound much better than a small room sound.
I shall definitely try, thanks for your detailed advice!!!
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26th July 2013
Old 26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2manyrocks View Post
Not much to add beyond what others have already covered.

Perhaps you might want to put most of your efforts towards recording yourself in concert halls when those opportunities arise and viewing recording at home as primarily for practice?
I enjoy playing more in a chamber setting, so I can understand what Schubert or Chopin felt about public performances, really!
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26th July 2013
Old 26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by didier.brest View Post
+1.

1) Put the microphones close to the piano. Most often I put the stand about 30 cm off the rim in the curve. )
2) Put a baffle (Reflexion Filter, MicThing ... or a cushion from the couch) behind and another one above the microphones.
3) Apply corrective EQ, especially in the lows that are often too loud with respect to what you would get from mics at larger distance in a concert hall.
4) Add digital reverb if you want a larger room sound.

Example of result got with this method here.

Hi didier.brest,

Thank you for your advice. And I enjoyed your recording comparison! It's always useful to be able to 'listen' than 'imagining' the sound from the description. And I shall try making improvements from various angles!
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26th July 2013
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Though I’m a classical pianist, what I tend to record for my own pleasure is not classical music, although I’m very much influenced by it. Other than I write music often for my piano pupils, I occasionally write for my own enjoyment to share with people, not necessarily for commercial release. Something like this.

https://soundcloud.com/yukiest/absense-by-yukie-smith

So, if I can reflect the sound from my piano onto the recording a bit more truthfully, I’ll be happier. My piano tone went through a bit of change since I had it fully regulated.

I think I’ve got already a good amount of advice here from you all to try out and to see if I can improve the audio quality. And I’ll post the results here, hopefully sometimes in the near future!

Thanks everyone!!!
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26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yukiest View Post
Hi 2manyrocks,

Please don't get shocked, my piano room looks like this:

http://i1274.photobucket.com/albums/...pse7493623.jpg

Any advice will be much appreciated. Thanks!
Ignore normal practice.

Get someone else to play the piano - you move around the room and *listen* - then put theirs where it sounds best to your ears.

I have recorded piano in a small room before and the best mic. position ended up being totally different from what I originally would have thought.

John
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26th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
Ignore normal practice.

Get someone else to play the piano - you move around the room and *listen* - then put theirs where it sounds best to your ears.

I have recorded piano in a small room before and the best mic. position ended up being totally different from what I originally would have thought.

John
This is pretty good advice. One other hint that might help...or not:

Place some drapes over the window. You can also use some "Japanese" folding screens here and there to diffuse the sound reflections.
Anything to break up the sound without really absorbing it.
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27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yukiest View Post
Though I’m a classical pianist, what I tend to record for my own pleasure is not classical music, although I’m very much influenced by it. Other than I write music often for my piano pupils, I occasionally write for my own enjoyment to share with people, not necessarily for commercial release. Something like this.

https://soundcloud.com/yukiest/absense-by-yukie-smith

So, if I can reflect the sound from my piano onto the recording a bit more truthfully, I’ll be happier. My piano tone went through a bit of change since I had it fully regulated.

I think I’ve got already a good amount of advice here from you all to try out and to see if I can improve the audio quality. And I’ll post the results here, hopefully sometimes in the near future!

Thanks everyone!!!
Digital pianos and piano samples can work quite well for this type of music. By the time you have bought enough diffusers/absorbers, you could have well bought an AvantGrand.
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27th July 2013
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The OP may not want diffusers/absorbers taking over the OP's space, either. Looking at absorbers in one of my rooms today, I found myself asking, "what happened to my room?"
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27th July 2013
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You might want to read Lorenz Rychner's interview in RECORDING (Aug 2013, pp. 42-43) with pianist Jerome Gilmer. (no link since this issue is not on line yet).

Gilmer recorded his Yamaha C7 in an untreated, tiny room in his home for his latest CD release "Remember Well". Gilmer used the Earthworks PM40 PianoMic.

A few clips from the CD are on Gilmer's website.

Whether or not you like the music or the piano sound he captures, it is an interesting interview and presents a different possible solution to the "small room" problem. With Eight Emmys, he may be on to something.
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27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lotus 7 View Post
Gilmer recorded his Yamaha C7 in an untreated, tiny room in his home for his latest CD release "Remember Well". Gilmer used the Earthworks PM40 PianoMic.

A few clips from the CD are on Gilmer's website.
Sounds terrible to my fussy ears. :(
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27th July 2013
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I recorded a Steinway in a tiny room once
Full of flutter and boxiness
We treated the room with every drape,pillow and mattress we could find and recorded in the crook of the piano with a MKH 40/30
We had two MKH 50 on the players ,who both sang.
The result was excellent,very clean,the piano large and full.
A splash of 'scoring stage' IR and it passed muster for a real thing
It wasn't of course.
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27th July 2013
Old 27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
Ignore normal practice.

Get someone else to play the piano - you move around the room and *listen* - then put theirs where it sounds best to your ears.

I have recorded piano in a small room before and the best mic. position ended up being totally different from what I originally would have thought.

John
What a great rule of thumb! I shall put that into practice as soon as I find another pianist who helps me with this experiment! Thank you for your advice, John!
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27th July 2013
Old 27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2manyrocks View Post
The OP may not want diffusers/absorbers taking over the OP's space, either. Looking at absorbers in one of my rooms today, I found myself asking, "what happened to my room?"
I just pictured your room in my head and I think you're right, especially my piano room is where I teach as well!
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27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lotus 7 View Post
You might want to read Lorenz Rychner's interview in RECORDING (Aug 2013, pp. 42-43) with pianist Jerome Gilmer. (no link since this issue is not on line yet).

Gilmer recorded his Yamaha C7 in an untreated, tiny room in his home for his latest CD release "Remember Well". Gilmer used the Earthworks PM40 PianoMic.

A few clips from the CD are on Gilmer's website.

Whether or not you like the music or the piano sound he captures, it is an interesting interview and presents a different possible solution to the "small room" problem. With Eight Emmys, he may be on to something.
Thanks for this! I'll definitely read it when it comes online!
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27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wyllys View Post
This is pretty good advice. One other hint that might help...or not:

Place some drapes over the window. You can also use some "Japanese" folding screens here and there to diffuse the sound reflections.
Anything to break up the sound without really absorbing it.
Thanks for your advice. I'll certainly keep that in mind and experiment!
yukiest
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27th July 2013
Old 27th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Spearritt View Post
Sounds terrible to my fussy ears. :(
I think I'd prefer a bit more transparent sound... I had a look at this Earthworks piano mic. Looks very hassle-free. The only thing I noticed is that it's set closer to the piano hammers; my piano hammers are noisy! I wonder how my noisy hammers are captured with it...
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