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How to best record cello and piano with my mics?
Old 2 weeks ago
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How to best record cello and piano with my mics?

Happy new year, everyone!

On Jan 8, 2020 I will be recording a cello accompanied by piano. It will be a classical piece with multiple movements. We’ll be recording in the Summerhays Music Orem, UT recital hall. There will be no audience. We’ll also be filming, so I expect to setup 2-3 diffused lights, and up to 5 video cameras.

I currently have 6 mics:
2 x AKG C414 XLII (matched pair)
2 x AKG C414 XLS (matched pair)
2 x Neumann KM 184 cardioid (matched pair)

For a preamp I have a Grace Design M108.

I was planning on at least one XLS mic on the cello, the Neumanns on piano, and the XLII pair as room mics... Not sure if that’s what I should do or not.

The piano is a Kawaii grand, likely a GL-50. As it’s a recital hall, the performers will likely be on stage in order to look good on camera. The back of the stage is basically a shell. I’ll attach some pictures I have found online of the space.

Do I need to mic the cello with a stereo pair? I have it, so I might as well...? I was planning on positioning the XLS about 18” away from the F hole, cardioid, and aim toward the F hole first, listen, and if I need more low end I’ll aim toward the bridge.

Alternatively, I’ve heard that aiming “at a 30 to 60 degree angle to the F hole” is ideal. Anyone got some experience miking cellos with AKG C414’s? Should I do stereo, and if so, Blumlein? ORTF? Mid-Side? AB? XY?

As for the piano... Perhaps ORTF above the soundboard? Or maybe AB positioned 16-24” apart, positioned outside the curve maybe 6” above the casing, aiming just above the lid’s hinge? Or maybe AB above the soundboard: 8” or more above the soundboard, one mic about 1/4 of the way in, the other about 3/4 of the way in, each at a matching angle of about 45 degrees, or maybe XY just further back of the soundboard, about 10” or more above the center strings. Thoughts?

And then room mics I’ll setup during warmups. I’ll try omni, then cardioid if needed, and I’ll walk around with a step ladder until I hear a good spot. Should I go ORTF or AB?

Attached Thumbnails
How to best record cello and piano with my mics?-e325aa10-9242-49e9-8527-3243279de3de.jpeg   How to best record cello and piano with my mics?-1b047e93-c480-4354-959c-484c903e893b.jpeg   How to best record cello and piano with my mics?-8713959f-39a6-4190-95e4-ed1875f6caa7.jpg  
Old 2 weeks ago
You could have trouble with room sound, so close miking would be best, unless the room sound is OK.

Normally I would mic the cello (preferably with a ribbon mic) at about 3 feet from the centre of the instrument, but closer if it gets a better sound.

The AKG C414 are not particularly good on the cello so I would use the Neumann mics and if you can't get any other mics then the C414's on the piano about 1 foot out at the side (curve of the piano). They can sound OK on piano but not my first choice, and set on omni if possible.

You have to position and judge by ear, and make sure the cellist likes the sound, and pianist too.
Old 2 weeks ago
Lives for gear
I agree with L_l, it's a pretty ugly room, at least according to how it's arranged with the pianos in the photos. I expect you'll be getting a soundshell effect with relatively close boundaries giving an unnecessary volume gain with no pleasant room ambience...bathroomy early slap-type reflections with few redeeming qualities.

For this reason if you're going to use an AB main pair it would be helpful to pull the piano forward until the wheels/feet are dangerously close to the very front edge of the stage. Even better would be to move the piano down onto the carpet, just in front of the audience seating...this will get the piano well away from those unhelpful soundshell boundary walls.

Then you'd place your main stereo pair arounf 5-6 feet out from the centre of the piano, around 9-10 feet tall. If this generates a useful room ambience and a warm piano sound...great However if it just exaggerates a poor room sound, swap your main pair to ORTF and point them down at the floor (maybe go even higher with the stand ?). You should now have a warm, full piano sound...not overly detailed or percussive

Only now bring the cello into the equation. Instead of the cellist facing out to an imaginary audience, face it directly at the open piano lid ( and main pair mic stand) Move the cellist and instrument forward and back experimentally until you get a nice rich cello sound. Begin with the cello around 5-6 feet away from the main mic pair, and go to and fro as necessary for a rich warm cello...

The aim is to get both instruments optimally balanced in that single main pair of mics (ideally 60-90cm spaced Omni pair)...and the 2 instruments will be around 8-12 feet apart

To give enough detail to each instrument you could add a stereo spot pair to each...perhaps in in the locations you've listed above (or L_l's variation)

Room mics. ? Well, this isn't a rock or jazz band, so the concept is unnecessary, at least for this're not aiming to sneak in some nice distant ambience (as there probably won't be any anyhow ) A benefit of this method is that the cellist will hear some useful and pleasing reflection of his instrument from the piano lid...and the 2 musicians will have excellent eye contact, compared with typical concert mode.

Now this is being video-ed...well I'm going to guarantee the video team will be initially gob smacked by this audacious departure from typical concert appearance. However, if they're open minded and adaptive, they'll see the benefits inherent in capturing the eye contact and connection between the 2 players. Unlike mic placement, they'll have much more flexibility in their camera leave that aspect up to them. With their 5 cameras, they'll have plenty of interesting perspectives using this configuration

Keep the players as far away as you can from that soundshell......and no room mics !
Old 2 weeks ago
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jimjazzdad's Avatar
I'm thinking of a different approach with regard to mic-ing and the sound of this recital hall. The OP does not indicate that there is a problem with the sound of the room and in the photos I am seeing an acoustically-designed room with probably, at worst, a neutral sound. So I would put up the 414XLII pair as the room mics- maybe in ORTF - as the XLII have a slight HF lift that might work better at a distance. I agree with Lurcher that the KM184 would be best on the cello and that leaves the 414XLS for the piano, perhaps at waist or at the tail and experiment with the patterns to see which works best. As always, YMMV.
Old 2 weeks ago
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It’s a case of deciding which mics are going to be the anchor pair(s) for the sound, and which the supporters. You can go for two spot pairs, 1 on each instrument, as the anchors, and then wrap them in an ambience derived from your ‘room mics’ (or even artificial reverb, if the room fails to deliver as hoped for)

My suggested approach makes the main pair in the middle the anchor, with the individual spot pairs as the supports, with an added assumption of a subpar (dry) room ...based on the diffuser ceiling above the stage, that you’ll need to tame/neutralise in the 1st instance.

Whichever approach you take, you kinda need to commit to it very early in the session, to maximise your capture opportunities, so just be ready for that decision
Old 2 weeks ago
This is the exact kind of scenario where I like to use 2 separate stereo pairs on each instrument, with the performers looking at each other, in lieu of a “main pair” approach. Mic’ing each instrument relatively close in stereo should help avoid some of the negative effects of the small room and reflective stage.

I’d set it up with the piano on like a 45 degree angle, and start with with the piano mic’d from the tail (transformered 414s in omni or wide card, spaced 1’ and parallel, 4’ back from the piano and 6’ high, looking straight down the spine).

Cellist would be straight out from the logo about 7-8’, mics same height and spacing as the piano pair (using the km184s), 2’ out from the logo and pointing down at the cello body.

Then I’d add the other 414 pair in a 2-3’ spaced pair, about 15’ back from the stage, pointed at the stage. This pair might not sound great, but hopefully will add just a bit of room blend at -10 to-15db to glue the closer pairs together a bit. If this pair really isn’t working, just sending the two spot pairs to a nice reverb like Seventh Heaven should give a pretty good blended sound. Maybe try blending the real and artificial rooms and see what you come up with.

Last edited by king2070lplaya; 2 weeks ago at 09:29 PM..
Old 2 weeks ago
Lives for gear
I forgot to mention that whichever approach the room dictates that you adopt, make sure that the images of each instrument are both realistic and other words neither excessively wide nor narrow (and probably not equal either) so before your session reference some well regarded commercially released recordings and pay attention to that aspect, to guide your mic placements (don’t expect to adjust this at mix time, plan ahead with this final balance in mind). Mic spacing and angling at source vs panning later...
Old 2 weeks ago
Standard practice for a cello sonata

Originally Posted by Lurcher_lover View Post
You could have trouble with room sound, so close miking would be best, unless the room sound is OK.
This is chamber music. The room is part of the performance.

Normally I would mic the cello (preferably with a ribbon mic) at about 3 feet from the centre of the instrument, but closer if it gets a better sound.
I've used this technique in studio overdub sessions where a drier sound was desired, but this is a concert setting and the OP has no ribbon mics.

The AKG C414 are not particularly good on the cello so I would use the Neumann mics
AKG 414's can be wonderful on cello if used correctly. Use a coincident or tightly-space near-coincident pair in hypercardioid pattern, 3-6 feet out, aimed perpendicular to the instrument's front face.

An alternative strategy can be employed if more bottom is needed from the cello. It blends two spots, close and far. The far mic is placed as above, and the close mic is aimed at the lower bout on the C string side.

if you can't get any other mics then the C414's on the piano about 1 foot out at the side (curve of the piano). They can sound OK on piano but not my first choice, and set on omni if possible.
This can work as a spot pair, but if it's to be the main piano sound, then it is too close a balance for a chamber music session. The OP should review the recent thread on violin + piano recording for possible mic placement strategies.

The first order of business is to decide how the cellist will be placed relative to the piano. This requires advance discussion and agreement between the artists, video director, and recording engineer. The next task is to choose the piano's position on stage. This choice influences how it couples to the shell and the hall and must be done by experiment. Once the piano is anchored, then the cellist is placed in relation to it as agreed.

These decisions will influence where the main pair and spots go. The proper distance to the main pair depends on the liveness of the hall. Once placed, the main pair is fine-tuned proper sound stage width. Finally the spots are placed according to what kind of support the main pair requires.

Given the mics available, there is really only one sensible allocation.

414 XLII's are deployed in omni (or possibly sub-cardioid) as a spaced main pair. Spacing will be 40-70 cm. The XLII version is too bright for anything but the main pair.

414 XLS's are used for cello as described above.

KM184's are employed as piano spots. These are not ideal, so most of the piano sound must come from the mains. Their purpose is simply to improve focus and articulation.

David L. Rick
Seventh String Recording
Old 2 weeks ago
Gear Addict

Another vote for close micing to reduce room sound and using the Neumanns for the cello and AKGs on the piano.

I just wanted to add a couple things about recording the cello as I have spent hours by myself in various halls just messing around with mic placement so see what effects I get. Overall, I find the cello a fairly straightforward instrument to record in comparison to the piano.

Often I find you can get a very warm and resonant sound even from thin sounding cellos the lower the mics are (below the height of the bridge) and a clearer and brighter sound the higher the mics are. And obviously, if you place the mics more on the C string side (the lowest string) you will have a warmer sound than on the A string side.

Where you place the mics will depend on the instrument, the player, and the piece You are looking for the best compliment to all of the above.

Is the cello clear but a little thin sounding? Go for a lower mic placement for resonance and warmth. Is the cello warm but a bit covered sounding, like a blanket is over it? Go for higher mics for clarity. Is the A string kind of bright or a tad tinny/metallic?Place the mics on the C string side and perhaps a bit lower.

Is it Brahms? Maybe more resonant and warm placement. Is it a virtuosic show pie e? Perhaps a higher placement for clarity. Of course, this depends on the tone the cellist gets out of the instrument.

Is the cellist a bit scratchy sounding? Lower mic placement so the resonance can mask the scratch. Does the cellist lack depth of tone? Go for a resonant placement.
Is the cellist a very warm player with resonance to spare? Perhaps a little higher placement would be good for clarity.

One more thing..a lot of high frequencies fly off the bow. Keep that in mind if you need more or less high frequency information.

You get the idea. A good recording engineer can cover a multitude of cello sins!
Old 2 weeks ago
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jnorman's Avatar
5 video cameras tells me that the focus of this recording is to achieve a professional looking video - which means the mic choices and placements need to reflect that.
Old 2 weeks ago
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Originally Posted by jnorman View Post
5 video cameras tells me that the focus of this recording is to achieve a professional looking video - which means the mic choices and placements need to reflect that.
This is perhaps the real forum for debate, and compromise by some or all parties is going to be called for. Ideally the video people should be as open to the "many ways to cook a goose" as the audio recording person...but in my experience the person with the most inflexibility, bullying skills or alpha male qualities is going to prevail, and everyone else falls into line behind their whims...sad but true

Hence my advice to gauge the qualities of the room as early as possible, so you can state your preferences as strongly as the video team. I'm advocating assertion rather than dogmatism, and ideally the ultimate agreed-upon strategy should be foremost in service of the music, but that's not always how it pans out
Old 2 weeks ago
It is sometimes a challenge to explain to video people why the mics need to be where they need to be. You can say something like "Imagine doing video with only one focal length. That's basically what we're dealing with on the audio side."
Old 2 weeks ago
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One day, I'll hear the following words of gold spoken to me: ' Just do whatever you need with those mics and stands of yours to get the perfect, pristine 3 dimensional audio recording....we'll work around and with you because, that sort of soundtrack makes the world of difference to our product...lifts it from the routine and functional to the top-drawer, sublime level (and every viewer knows it !)'

One day....
Old 2 weeks ago
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hbphotoav's Avatar

... from your mouth, to God's ear...

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