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Piano mics? Which ones are best for $300-$500
Old 19th October 2013
  #1
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Piano mics? Which ones are best for $300-$500

I am looking to purchase a pair of pencil condenser mics to record grand and upright piano mainly in a Jazz style. My budget is around $300-$500 per mic. I am interested in the Shure SM81 and KSM137 which I hear are good for piano. Also I am interested in the AKG C451B which is a little more money, but is it worth the extra cost? Let me know your thoughts. Many Thanks
Old 19th October 2013
  #2
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MIKEHARRIS's Avatar
Must they be pencil mics ? Look at DPA SMK4061. If you're in NY for the AES stop by the DPA booth...real Steinway with talented player, mic'd with various mics..you can hear these yourself.
Old 19th October 2013
  #3
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sigale View Post
I am looking to purchase a pair of pencil condenser mics to record grand and upright piano mainly in a Jazz style. My budget is around $300-$500 per mic. I am interested in the Shure SM81 and KSM137 which I hear are good for piano. Also I am interested in the AKG C451B which is a little more money, but is it worth the extra cost? Let me know your thoughts. Many Thanks
Is the piano an upright or a grand?

For recording piano I always use SDC omnis as the piano can go very low and an omni has a full octave in the bottom end that is missing from a directional mic.

My preferences are the Gefell M221, Sennheiser MKH 20 & 8020 and the Neumann KM131-D/A.

These are above your budget, though.

Keeping the price down, look at the Røde NT55, or the NT5 + optional omni heads. The Sontronics STC-1 + optional omni head is also worth considering at a budget price.
Old 19th October 2013
  #4
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On the cheap... But their omnis check out Stapes and Lil Blondies!

STO-2
Little Blondie Mics
Old 19th October 2013
  #5
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Oh - the Line Audio OM1 is pretty highly thought f by those who have tried them.

I think they are a little over $300 a pair (999 Swedish Kroner each)
Old 19th October 2013
  #6
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edva's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by sigale View Post
I am looking to purchase a pair of pencil condenser mics to record grand and upright piano mainly in a Jazz style. My budget is around $300-$500 per mic. I am interested in the Shure SM81 and KSM137 which I hear are good for piano. Also I am interested in the AKG C451B which is a little more money, but is it worth the extra cost? Let me know your thoughts. Many Thanks
I like the Shures, both 81 and 137 are very nice mics, however, in that budget I've gotten great results with a pair of Oktava MK-012's. Very "musical" sounding.
The 012's sound very good in stock form, and even better with simple modifications, in my case for example I had them modded by Bill Sitler.
Total cost of the mics and the mods was within your budget for one mic. Prices have risen a bit, but still excellent sound for the money. These are very good mics on piano.
All these mics are rather common, so best would be for you to audition them yourself if possible.
If you are set on your original choices, my preference there would be the 137's. Good luck to you.
Old 19th October 2013
  #7
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Line Audio CM3. I use them regularly on my Steinway D and always get great comments from the players about the sound. I have a pretty deep mic locker, including vintage Neumann, etc., and the CM3s hold their own against them on this piano.

Cheers,
--
Don
Old 19th October 2013
  #8
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Oktava mk012 with omni caps. Very good mics on a lot of things, piano definitely included.
Old 19th October 2013
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edva View Post
I like the Shures, both 81 and 137 are very nice mics, however, in that budget I've gotten great results with a pair of Oktava MK-012's. Very "musical" sounding.
The 012's sound very good in stock form, and even better with simple modifications, in my case for example I had them modded by Bill Sitler.
Total cost of the mics and the mods was within your budget for one mic. Prices have risen a bit, but still excellent sound for the money. These are very good mics on piano.
All these mics are rather common, so best would be for you to audition them yourself if possible.
If you are set on your original choices, my preference there would be the 137's. Good luck to you.
Old 19th October 2013
  #10
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Thank you for your advice.I have heard some samples from the Octava's and they sound very nice and natural. Do you know where I could look for more piano recordings of these?Are they considered a slightly darker sounding mic? I really want to avoid anything sounding too bright and tinny.

My plan is to hook them up to the Zoom H6 because of it portability and 4 expandable to 6 channel xlr inputs so I can expand my recording capabilities to ensembles.
Old 19th October 2013
  #11
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My thoughts would be a ribbon. Check out the thread below, listen to the clips, check out the mic technique. Leave your thoughts on the thread if it intrigues you.

Unless I'm after a very percussive piano that needs to cut through a dense rhythm section, I've pretty much given up using condensers on piano after using this technique.

My perspective of how a piano should sound (no corny L to R panning) involves a cool figure 8 modified blumlein approach in the below thread. You can start with unmodded mics for less than half your budget, and then have them modded and be world class for barely over your budget. A much better approach than cheap SDC's IMO.

Ribbon Madness....Some Comparisons
Old 19th October 2013
  #12
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edva's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by sigale View Post
Thank you for your advice.I have heard some samples from the Octava's and they sound very nice and natural. Do you know where I could look for more piano recordings of these?Are they considered a slightly darker sounding mic? I really want to avoid anything sounding too bright and tinny.

My plan is to hook them up to the Zoom H6 because of it portability and 4 expandable to 6 channel xlr inputs so I can expand my recording capabilities to ensembles.
You are welcome.
I would not say any of the mics mentioned so far are dark sounding. I would say the 81 sounds subjectively the brightest, then the 012's, then the 137. But all have a good bit of detail on top.
The 81 has an "accurate" tone, with a bit of "rounding" to the sound, possibly because of the transformer, and older-design components.
The 137 has a "dry", "natural" sound, with fast transient response, but not overly "toppy" or bright sounding. Rather low self noise also.
The 012's as mentioned have subjectively a very "musical" tone, I like the way these mics are voiced for acoustic instruments, and as posted above the omni caps are especially sweet. The highs are present but not overbearing.
None of these mics sound "tinny". But, if you want a "dark" sound, a pair of good ribbons might be the way to go. I'd recommend a "long ribbon" design with extended hi freq. response, unless you want it really dark. But there are several good models in various price ranges of long-ribbon mics available.
Have not mentioned the 451, but it is by far the brightest in your original post, far brighter than the other three.
Old 19th October 2013
  #13
I am going to ditto the line audio cm3. You will not find a better pair for piano anywhere near its price range. If you search you can find some example of on piano.
Old 19th October 2013
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tribedescribe View Post
I am going to ditto the line audio cm3. You will not find a better pair for piano anywhere near its price range. If you search you can find some example of on piano.
The CM3 is a cardioid mic. I always use an omni for piano due to the better bottom end - that's why I suggested the OM1.
Old 19th October 2013
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
The CM3 is a cardioid mic. I always use an omni for piano due to the better bottom end - that's why I suggested the OM1.
I always make that decision after I hear the piano in the room. The OM1s are also fantastic mics, and I won't even qualify that with "for the money." Depending on the recording conditions, you can' lose picking either of them.

Cheers,
--
Don
Old 19th October 2013
  #16
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The Shure KSM 141 is also very similar to the 137, with the addition of an omni pattern. I got a pair of those that were within your budget, although at the top of it, in a nice stereo set with adjustable mount. But, I still use my 012's on piano.
Old 19th October 2013
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
A much better approach than cheap SDC's IMO.
The Line Audio mics might be inexpensive, but they aren't "cheap" sounding by anyone's stretch of imagination. If you haven't already, give them a shot sometime, Bill, as I'd love to hear your impressions.

Ribbons are also great, and Bill's links demonstrate just how wonderful and full they can sound on piano, especially using Bill's technique!

Cheers,
--
Don
Old 19th October 2013
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
My thoughts would be a ribbon. Check out the thread below, listen to the clips, check out the mic technique. Leave your thoughts on the thread if it intrigues you.

Unless I'm after a very percussive piano that needs to cut through a dense rhythm section, I've pretty much given up using condensers on piano after using this technique.

My perspective of how a piano should sound (no corny L to R panning) involves a cool figure 8 modified blumlein approach in the below thread. You can start with unmodded mics for less than half your budget, and then have them modded and be world class for barely over your budget. A much better approach than cheap SDC's IMO.

Ribbon Madness....Some Comparisons
I like ribbons on piano too. My favorite is a pair of 414b-ULS. Mellow condensers are great on piano.
Old 19th October 2013
  #19
The brauner phantgere is a good choice, more expensive!
Old 19th October 2013
  #20
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by idylldon View Post
The Line Audio mics might be inexpensive, but they aren't "cheap" sounding by anyone's stretch of imagination. If you haven't already, give them a shot sometime, Bill, as I'd love to hear your impressions.

Ribbons are also great, and Bill's links demonstrate just how wonderful and full they can sound on piano, especially using Bill's technique!

Cheers,
--
Don
Hey Don!!! I have no doubts those are good (I've heard some great things), and by "cheap" I wasn't really referring to those mics specifically, but more towards an overall chinese sounding SDC vibe that doesn't sit well with me. I used condensers on pianos for a couple decades. And at this point in time, I just like ribbons better. But I would love to hear those in action. The fun thing about engineering, is that after awhile, you get burned out on what you normally do, and then get to reinvent yourself all over again, and get the excitement back all over by changing things up.

So....let me have it! I'm willing to change my mind at any point. Have you got any clips you can share? I'd love to hear them.

Hope you are well and busy, bp
Old 20th October 2013
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
Hey Don!!! I have no doubts those are good (I've heard some great things), and by "cheap" I wasn't really referring to those mics specifically, but more towards an overall chinese sounding SDC vibe that doesn't sit well with me.
Absolutely agreed about the "overall Chinese sounding SDC vibe." I've never gotten along with the hyped high end I've heard on the ones I've tried.

Quote:
I used condensers on pianos for a couple decades. And at this point in time, I just like ribbons better. But I would love to hear those in action. The fun thing about engineering, is that after awhile, you get burned out on what you normally do, and then get to reinvent yourself all over again, and get the excitement back all over by changing things up.
Yeah, I hear ya! That's one of the things I love about doing this; that is, things seem to keep going in circles with my process while still kind of refining it!

Quote:
So....let me have it! I'm willing to change my mind at any point. Have you got any clips you can share? I'd love to hear them.
I'm just heading into my busy season with student auditions so I'll put some samples together once I've worked with them a bit more. They're kind of the new kid on the block in my studio and I've been impressed so far, but using them for the complex classical solo piano pieces will reveal more than the pop tunes I've been using them on lately.

Quote:
Hope you are well and busy, bp
With the full-time job, the studio, and the piano tuning, I'm managing to keep everything afloat! I feel fortunate to be able to say that in this economy. Though I see hints of things picking up all over, it sure has been a slow process.

You seem to be pretty busy these days, eh?

Cheers,
--
Don
Old 20th October 2013
  #22
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by idylldon View Post
You seem to be pretty busy these days, eh?

Cheers,
--
Don
Always busy Don. Sent ya a PM.
Old 20th October 2013
  #23
Quote:
The CM3 is a cardioid mic. I always use an omni for piano due to the better bottom end - that's why I suggested the OM1.
You are right about omni sounding better for the bottom end. Although to be technical the CM3 is actually a sub(wide)-cardioid. At line audio's prices I would want to have both a pair of cm3's and om1's.
Old 20th October 2013
  #24
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The AKG C414B-ULS are great piano and all around mics, they can be found for 500-600$ each depending on the condition.
Old 20th October 2013
  #25
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What I've done is get a pair of MK-012s and a single MK-219. The 219 is low profile, so easy to get into a piano, picks up lows and highs nicely. Pair that with one or two of the omni capsule SDCs and it's a very complete sound for grand. For upright I agree with 1 or two SDCs, usually behind aiming at the soundboard.
Old 21st October 2013
  #26
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Here's the "classic" CM3 thread: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/remot...ally-good.html
Old 30th October 2013
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sigale View Post
I am looking to purchase a pair of pencil condenser mics to record grand and upright piano mainly in a Jazz style. I am interested in the Shure SM81 and KSM137 which I hear are good for piano. Also I am interested in the AKG C451B which is a little more money, but is it worth the extra cost? Let me know your thoughts. Many Thanks
You have first to decide which directivity you want, cardioid or omni. You might also choose wide cardioid, which is between omni and cardioid. This choice depends on your taste, on the instrument, on the mic placement and on the room. For a well focused sound as generally encountered in Jazz style, I think that cardioid microphones, like the three ones that you are envisaging, are quite suitable. Then the bottom octave shall be OK provided you are close enough to the piano because of the proximity effect.
Plush reported on this forum having recorded Keith Jarrett for ECM with a pair of Schoeps MK4 (cardioid, much above your budget) in ORTF above the strings if I remember well.
Although I did not test any of the three mics that you are proposing, my preference a priori is for the KSM 137. The Line Audio CM3 is most certainly a valuable alternative.
Old 4th January 2014
  #28
Just got a grand piano 3 weeks ago and using the mics I already have, to wit, a 414 XLS and an AEA R84, seems relatively clear that the room and the mic placement is at least as important if not more important then the microphones themselves. It makes no sense to purchase expensive omnidirectional microphones if the room does not sound good.

Still, I have heard some Shoeps microphones that sounded great and when budget permits, they are at the top of my list.
Old 4th January 2014
  #29
Check out the sound file for my Rode NT1A mic review. Despite the piano being at the 4 o'clock position, the stereo mics captured the timbre accurately:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/attac...me-welcome.mp3

I tested stereo OM1s recording my Clavinova at home. Sounds very neutral too. Haven't tried it on acoustic piano yet.
Old 4th January 2014
  #30
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Not sure that they are the "best" but, I recently got a pair of AKG 460b thats I have really been loving on piano. Definitely well within your budget in fact with your budget you might be able to pick up a pair and get some omni capsules as well. I've only used the cardioid capsules been dying to try them with the omnis.
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