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#967025 - 10/12/08 01:20 PM Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
88man Offline
Full Member
88man  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
Boston
Professional Quality Home Recordings

There are a lot of pianists trying to make high quality recordings on their own, including myself. In the spirit of music, I thought I’d share some thoughts from an equipment perspective on producing high quality recordings whether at home or in a large hall. In a short thread, I can’t delve into great detail about theory and various miking techniques - I've included useful links below for that purpose. However, I’ll share ideas that have given me professional sounding master recordings in my own home. It has become a great archival tool, a great convenience, and has produced stunning results.

Keep in mind that you can’t get something for nothing, even with best electronic effects. The quality of the piano and space are equally important factors in any good recording. The equipment can't record what's not there. The room is an extension of the instrument in the far field. Basically, if you have a decent sounding piano, in a room that has a minimum of 2,500 sq. ft., you should be able to get a good recording. Higher the ceiling, the better. The recording space should have enough “acoustic treatment” to minimize standing waves and flutter echo that’s typical in home settings. Most untreated music rooms are bright sounding, which yield harsh sounding recordings. To help counteract brightness, you can add rugs, furniture, curtains, and certain fabrics to absorb high frequency content and help neutralize the harshness. There are links to sound absorbing materials that I have provided below.

Before you buy any recording equipment, you must decide on what palate of “sound” appeals to you – Transparent, Colored, Bright, or Dark? It’s a matter of taste, so it’s a very subjective question with varying degrees of opinions. For example, a particular recording may sound “clear” to one person, but may sound “harsh” to another. Any equipment you add to the electronic chain, will affect the tonality, timbre, and response time of your sound to some degree. I am a purist when it comes to recording equipment – I use only the minimum number of equipment to yield the highest quality of sound obtainable. My taste leans toward an accurate, realistic, and neutral sound with the least amount of change in tonality. To predictably make an accurate classical piano recording, the chain of recording gear has to be transparent, have a fast transient response, and sound neutral relative to the source. In other words, the electronics shouldn’t add any coloration that would alter the timbral and tonal characteristics of the sound.

Depending on the musical content, interpretation, dynamics, room acoustics, piano, and recording gear, certain type of gear may “color” a sound that could be desirable or undesirable. For example, I once auditioned a pair of Rode K2 vacuum tube microphones, thinking that it may produce a lush, euphonic sound normally associated with tubes. The bass improved, and highs were smooth, but at the expense of an altered tonality from the instrument producing a nasal sounding midrange. It sounded like the piano had the flu! I replaced the stock tubes with a NOS Siemens-Halske E88CC A-phi code (1964) tubes and it sounded a little better, but still had that nasal quality to the sound. In this case the result was undesirable or the wrong "color." However, certain kinds of mics and preamps may retain the timbral and tonal characteristics, but provide a wider soundstage and a feeling of “larger than life” quality to a recording. The Brauner Valvet tube microphone is a good example of this characteristic sound. I think to be safe, go with a microphone that has neutral and transparent characteristics. Ask reputable dealers for these characteristics since most are studio engineers anyway.

Remember, nothing is for free. For example, a particular microphone or preamp may add spaciousness, but at the expense of focus. Keep in mind that even the best recording can only sound as good, but not better than the source. The room plays a dominant role in the overall sound, there are sites online which will help you get started and companies which specialize in custom designing a good recording space. I given some links on this vital area of acoustic treatment.

Individual tastes will vary. My personal taste in sound is to capture the Steinway B’s double-reed sweetness in the midrange. This piano has it all – strongly defined bass, euphonic mids, and bell like highs. The sound is refined, sophisticated, and lush with rich harmonic content. I built my system to capture a particular sound characterized by "sweeteness", "euphonic", "3D space", and bass definition - all WITHOUT CHANGING THE TONALITY of the instrument or adding any harshness.

You have to experiment with mic placement for a particular room. Record identical tracks by varying mic placement, polar patterns, phase, etc. Ideally, omnidirectional mic pattern gives the most natural sound in a decent sized hall, but in a smaller home environment the standing waves can lead to harsh sound due to the room’s standing waves. A trade off is setting the mic to a wide cardiod pattern, that way the sound remains relatively natural, but helps to eliminate the harshness of a small or acoustically untreated room. There's probably at least 80 different stereo combinations by varying micing technique, polar pattern, distance, and position. Compound that with 5 test tracks... That's 400 tracks to analyze at some point not including varying phase or mixing polar patterns within the stereo pair. So, take your time to get it right, and it will reward you at the end. Take notes on everything so that you can make reference.

I've tried close and distant miking, and for classical recording, my philosophy is to capture more of the tone and air, rather than the strident percussiveness of close miking inside the piano. Obviously, if the mic is too far away, you’ll lose focus and the piano's timbral characteristics. Psychoacoustically, the sphere of sound from the piano doesn't coalesce until about 3-4ft from the instrument. To my ears, miking closer than that sounds unnatural for classical music.

I’ve experimented with several setups, for my taste the following has given me the most accurate results…..

EQUIPMENT: (2) AKG C414B-XLS microphones
Avalon Design AD2022 Preamplifier
Yamaha CDR1000 CD Recorder with Apogee UV-22 dithering

POST-PRODUCTION: 8-core MacPro, LogicPro 8, Apogee Ensemble interface, Adam
S3A Monitor speakers, and Beyerdynamic DT880 (2005) headphones.

I am using the AKG C414B-XLS mics in “Wide Cardiod” mode through an Avalon Design AD2022 preamp which is fed directly into a Yamaha CDR1000 CD recorder. This combination yields a modern sound – transparent, clear, smooth, airy, and uncolored. The piano is a 7ft Steinway in a 35x14x8.5ft living room in an open floor plan connecting with the dining room, foyer, etc. So there is decent amount of natural reverberation of 6,000+ sq. ft. I have very little acoustic treatment - so it's bright. I can’t use the natural sounding omnidirectional mic pattern because of too much standing waves. The most balanced sound I heard with this instrument in my room was 3ft from the curve of the piano at a height of 5ft pointing down toward the strings in Wide Cardiod mode. The mics were spaced 10-15in apart at an angle of 75-degrees, with one mic pointing toward 1/3 the length of the copper wound bass strings and the other mic 2 octaves above middle C. The resulting sound was lush, harmonically rich, natural, and it captured that double-reed sweetness in the mids. The only thing it was missing was the deeper bass. A quick fix solution was EQ +3dB @ 55Hz, and -2dB @1.8KHz, and a 6% wet reverb in audio editing software.

It seems that getting the best of ALL worlds is an impossible from an electronic standpoint. To gain a specific quality of sound, you compromise something else. The "Color vs Accuracy" discussion will continue in audio electronics as well as in acoustical instruments. Subjectively, the choice of electronics is analogous to the Steinway vs Bosendorfer debate for some pianists, i.e. two different pianos emphasizing different harmonic and tonal characteristics. The hardest (and most expensive) part of accumulating equipment is to find that balance between the desired sound and what sounds natural and accurate. At the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Good Luck!... I've compiled a list of the equipment used by 95% of classical piano recording studios.

Here's what you need:
MICROPHONES (pair) ---- PREAMP ---- DIGITAL RECORDER
These can all be housed in a neat rack with wheels, or in a portable briefcase.


EQUIPMENT LIST FOR HIGH QUALITY PIANO RECORDINGS

MICROPHONES: Ask for transparent sound, flat frequency response.
-DPA 4006 or DPA 4011 – industry standard
-Schoeps MK21
-Schoeps CMC6/Mk2
-Sennheiser MKH8020, MKH8040
-AKG C414B-XLS
-Neumann KM183 or KM184
-Neumann TLM 170R, TLM 193
-Earthworks QTC 40, QTC 50, QTC1
-Neumann M149 - full sound, smooth highs
-Brauner Valvet - "larger than life"

PREAMP: Ask for transparent sound, fast transient response.
-Millenia HV-3C – industry standard
-GML 8302
-Grace m201
-DAV BG1
-Earthworks 1024
-Avalon Design AD2022
-Great River MP-2NV

A/D CONVERTER: Optional, only for maximum fidelity. Can also use built in A/D in recorder
-DCS902D
-Apogee Rosetta 200 or 800
-Apogee AD-16X

RECORDER: Any 16-24bit recorder - CDR, DVD-A, DSD, Hard Disk, Compact Flash, computer based, rack unit, portable, etc.
-Tascam DV-RA1000 HD - DSD (SACD)
-Alesis MasterLink
-HHB 882
-M-Audio Microtrack II - best professional compact
-Tascam HD-P2 - portable
-Korg MR-1000 - DSD (SACD)
-Sound Devices 702, 722 - portable

EDITING/MASTERING SOFTWARE:
-PC: WaveLab, Soundforge, etc.
-MAC: LogicPro, Digital Performer, etc.
-Pro Tools


NOTICE: The equipment I am describing is expensive, it's what the pros use whether it's at Decca, DG, Philips, etc. I apologize in advance if it's not in everybody's budget. Like most serious hobbies, things can get expensive. However, if the goal is to record the best sound possible, then it might be worth saving up as an investment.


Acoustic Treatment Links:
http://arts.ucsc.edu/ems/music/tech_background/TE-14/teces_14.html
http://www.ethanwiner.com/acoustics.html
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul98/articles/acoustics1.html

Equipment Review Links:
http://reviews.harmony-central.com/reviews/Microphone
http://www.thelisteningsessions.com/home.htm

Microphone Technique Links:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan08/articles/pianorecording_0108.htm
www.dpamicrophones.com/Images/DM03808.pdf
http://www.sweetwater.com/feature/microphones/miking101.php

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#967026 - 10/13/08 12:42 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Sep 2008
Posts: 8,453
Horowitzian Offline
8000 Post Club Member
Horowitzian  Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Joined: Sep 2008
Posts: 8,453
Cool. I have purchased from Sweetwater before (a guitar). Are they as good with recording equipment as with guitars?

I have a superb S&S B as well that I would like to be able to record at some time. Thanks for your informative post. BTW, those Neumann mics are EXPENSIVE, but I bet they are excellent. [Linked Image] I'm glad great results can be had from the AKG's. BTW, my rather open living room has a nice, not too bright sound, but it has rattles/sympathetic vibrations. Did you have trouble with rattles and such when you built your set up? If so, how did you tame them?

Thanks for your great post!


Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear weapons.
#967027 - 10/14/08 12:59 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,242
hv Offline
1000 Post Club Member
hv  Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Joined: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,242
Cape Cod
Hi, 88man. You've made some interesting choices. Love to hear some of your recordings.

I tend to disfavor spaced directional mic recording myself. Known as ortf, it has phase issues and lacks mono compatibility and can cause problems in radio broadcast and playback on stereo speakers and home theater surround systems.

In concert piano situations, I tend to go with x-y directional mics. My preferred mics are dpa's, but not the ones listed above. For on-stage piano recording I prefer the dpa 4021 (part of the 3521 kit) which is essentially an almost naked 4011 capsule. A pair of them in an x-y holder is almost invisible onstage. I usually feed them directly into a Sound Devices 744T flash/hd recorder stashed behind a piano leg. Positioning for a grand is 14 to 20 inches directly over the strings, lid permitting. I go with a 744 instead of a 722 or 702 so I can do either 2-piano or 1 piano + vocal... but I'm eying a 788 for 2-pianos both mic'd for vocals. I did some recording tests with this setup compared to a Zoom H4 which did surprisingly well with external mics:

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/1/20074.html

A good lesser expensive alternative to the dpa mics I use is the Rode NT4 stereo mic... I find they have a bit more coloration, a little on the dark side. An even lesser expensive and more natural sounding alternative (though slightly noisier) is the Audio Technica 825. I have 2 of those and tend to use them for 2-piano recording since I only have one dpa pair.

X-Y is great for concert recording, because it minimizes room AC and stage light noise. But directional mics by their nature have varied off-axis response and only a single optimal recording distance that doesn't experience proximity effect. Which is around 12-14 inches for most directional mics. Wide-Cardioids might push that out a couple more inches.

So in non-concert situations, I tend to go with a more perfect solution. My favorite setup so far is a Neumann U-87 figure-8 plus an Earthworks QTC40 (aka QTC1) omni in mid-side configuration. Which I consider the almost perfect recording array as it experiences perfectly flat response across the entire keyboard, no proximity effect at any distance, no phase issues, and full mono compatibility. And you can manipulate the stereo image after you record. I also surround the piano with Aurelex MaxWalls which makes room size and acoustics a non-issue... but it does yield a bone-dry recording requiring a little ambiance add-back, which I usually do with a TC rev4000 or a Bricasti M7.

All in all I find, besides the piano itself and the player, the mics make a bigger impact on the recorded piano sound than anything else in the chain. I generally favor smaller capsules over large because they have better impulse response, with Earthworks being about the best on the planet in that department. But it pays to team them with an ultra-clean preamp with a fast slewing rate, like the Millenia Media or Earthworks; I often use a True Systems P2 which not only is ultra-clean with a high slewing rate but also has built in mid-side decoding. For a warmer and relatively clean sound, I use a Universal Audio 610. But LaChapelle seems to be the favored super-clean tube-pre these days among those in the know since they came out with the somewhat affordable 500-series.

For studio recording, I feed through an older Apogee PSX100SE converter. Tried a Rosetta once but it just didn't sound as good... understand it does better when teamed with a Big Ben. Allot of folks I know switched to Benchmark. I've been toying with going with Lavry myself.

Howard

#967028 - 10/14/08 09:14 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
88man Offline
Full Member
88man  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
Boston
Thanks for the great feedback.

Horowitzian, I haven't had issues with rattles, but you would be surprised at what rattles - furniture, glassware, windows, statues, and especially light bulbs. Make sure everything is tight and place felt feet under objects. Have someone play each note loudly and go around the room to pinpoint the source. This gear is so sensitive that I can pick up the ticking of my grandfather clock from 30ft away.

Yes, Neumann mics are a great investment. Of course, it depends on the sound you're looking for, but for piano I like the TLM 170R for versatility of different polar patterns. If you're set on a cardiod pattern the TLM 193 is an excellent neutral and tranparent mic, with that sweet Neumann midrange. The best thing to do is rent the equipment before you buy it. The last thing anyone needs is cognitive dissonance or remorse after a big purchase.

Howard, those DPAs are the most transparent mics on the planet! You can do some amazing recordings on the Soundesign 744T with 4-channels. In a large hall, mike a pair of cardiods in X-Y close up and place rear omnis for a spaced pair for ambiance. I like how you have treated your room.

I have to do more to mine to get just right. That's why I am recording in Wide Cardiod mode instead of omni for now. I am holding off until I get a new rug and then I'll do an RTA test of the room and evaluate where the nodes occur.

At some point, I'll post some tracks.

#967029 - 10/15/08 11:01 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
88man Offline
Full Member
88man  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
Boston
BTW - how do you post recordings on the site? I am trying to post a sound clip of my set up. Thanks

#967030 - 10/15/08 11:07 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Aug 2005
Posts: 18,160
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012
Monica K.  Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Joined: Aug 2005
Posts: 18,160
Lexington, Kentucky
You have to upload them to some file sharing service first. Your internet provider will (probably) have a limited amount of free space you could use, but many of us use box.net, which is free and easy and doesn't have the annoying advertisements a lot of other hosting services do.

Thank you for a wonderfully detailed and informative thread. I use a Zoom H4 myself, which is not professional quality, but then again, neither is my playing. :p If and when I get better, I'll be looking into something more like you describe.


Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica
[Linked Image][Linked Image][Linked Image]
#967031 - 10/16/08 12:25 AM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 7,439
turandot Offline
7000 Post Club Member
turandot  Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 7,439
torrance, CA
Quote
-M-Audio Microtrack II - best professional compact
88,

I bought a Microtrack in 2005 when I read Mark Nelson's report on O'Reilly. All the time I used it I thought it was the best, but I found the battery annoying. Over time the toggle switch on the right has become a hit-or-miss proposition too. (I gave the thing very heavy use.)

Recently the battery died and I don't want to pay $75 plus shipping to send it in for a battery swap. I'd much rather have a unit with a battery compartment I can access and not get shut down in the middle of recording.

I'm curious what makes you say the Microtrack II is the best available now.I have no reason to doubt it. It's just there is lot more competition than three years ago. I was thinking about ordering a Fostex FR2LE, but since it costs quite a bit more, I'd be happy to be convinced to stay with M Audio.


Will Johnny Come Marching Home?
The fate of the modern wartime soldier
#967032 - 10/16/08 10:29 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
88man Offline
Full Member
88man  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 21
Boston
Turandot, For the money the Microtrack II packs quite a punch over the competition - full 48V phantom power, TRS input, SPDIF Out, decent 16/24bit 44.1/96kHz A/D converters, and reliable CF media. The built in preamps sound better than the H4 recorder. Like you, the fixed Lithium battery is the only issue I have with this unit.

The ability to use full phantom power allows you to use any mic for tremendous versatility. Besides the Soundesign 7xx series, it's what the pros use.

#967033 - 12/09/08 06:31 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 3
DAD101 Offline
Junior Member
DAD101  Offline
Junior Member

Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 3
ct
Quote
Originally posted by 88man:
Professional Quality Home Recordings

There are a lot of pianists trying to make high quality recordings on their own, including myself. In the spirit of music, I thought I’d share some thoughts from an equipment perspective on producing high quality recordings whether at home or in a large hall. In a short thread, I can’t delve into great detail about theory and various miking techniques - I've included useful links below for that purpose. However, I’ll share ideas that have given me professional sounding master recordings in my own home. It has become a great archival tool, a great convenience, and has produced stunning results.

Keep in mind that you can’t get something for nothing, even with best electronic effects. The quality of the piano and space are equally important factors in any good recording. The equipment can't record what's not there. The room is an extension of the instrument in the far field. Basically, if you have a decent sounding piano, in a room that has a minimum of 2,500 sq. ft., you should be able to get a good recording. Higher the ceiling, the better. The recording space should have enough “acoustic treatment” to minimize standing waves and flutter echo that’s typical in home settings. Most untreated music rooms are bright sounding, which yield harsh sounding recordings. To help counteract brightness, you can add rugs, furniture, curtains, and certain fabrics to absorb high frequency content and help neutralize the harshness. There are links to sound absorbing materials that I have provided below.

Before you buy any recording equipment, you must decide on what palate of “sound” appeals to you – Transparent, Colored, Bright, or Dark? It’s a matter of taste, so it’s a very subjective question with varying degrees of opinions. For example, a particular recording may sound “clear” to one person, but may sound “harsh” to another. Any equipment you add to the electronic chain, will affect the tonality, timbre, and response time of your sound to some degree. I am a purist when it comes to recording equipment – I use only the minimum number of equipment to yield the highest quality of sound obtainable. My taste leans toward an accurate, realistic, and neutral sound with the least amount of change in tonality. To predictably make an accurate classical piano recording, the chain of recording gear has to be transparent, have a fast transient response, and sound neutral relative to the source. In other words, the electronics shouldn’t add any coloration that would alter the timbral and tonal characteristics of the sound.

Depending on the musical content, interpretation, dynamics, room acoustics, piano, and recording gear, certain type of gear may “color” a sound that could be desirable or undesirable. For example, I once auditioned a pair of Rode K2 vacuum tube microphones, thinking that it may produce a lush, euphonic sound normally associated with tubes. The bass improved, and highs were smooth, but at the expense of an altered tonality from the instrument producing a nasal sounding midrange. It sounded like the piano had the flu! I replaced the stock tubes with a NOS Siemens-Halske E88CC A-phi code (1964) tubes and it sounded a little better, but still had that nasal quality to the sound. In this case the result was undesirable or the wrong "color." However, certain kinds of mics and preamps may retain the timbral and tonal characteristics, but provide a wider soundstage and a feeling of “larger than life” quality to a recording. The Brauner Valvet tube microphone is a good example of this characteristic sound. I think to be safe, go with a microphone that has neutral and transparent characteristics. Ask reputable dealers for these characteristics since most are studio engineers anyway.

Remember, nothing is for free. For example, a particular microphone or preamp may add spaciousness, but at the expense of focus. Keep in mind that even the best recording can only sound as good, but not better than the source. The room plays a dominant role in the overall sound, there are sites online which will help you get started and companies which specialize in custom designing a good recording space. I given some links on this vital area of acoustic treatment.

Individual tastes will vary. My personal taste in sound is to capture the Steinway B’s double-reed sweetness in the midrange. This piano has it all – strongly defined bass, euphonic mids, and bell like highs. The sound is refined, sophisticated, and lush with rich harmonic content. I built my system to capture a particular sound characterized by "sweeteness", "euphonic", "3D space", and bass definition - all WITHOUT CHANGING THE TONALITY of the instrument or adding any harshness.

You have to experiment with mic placement for a particular room. Record identical tracks by varying mic placement, polar patterns, phase, etc. Ideally, omnidirectional mic pattern gives the most natural sound in a decent sized hall, but in a smaller home environment the standing waves can lead to harsh sound due to the room’s standing waves. A trade off is setting the mic to a wide cardiod pattern, that way the sound remains relatively natural, but helps to eliminate the harshness of a small or acoustically untreated room. There's probably at least 80 different stereo combinations by varying micing technique, polar pattern, distance, and position. Compound that with 5 test tracks... That's 400 tracks to analyze at some point not including varying phase or mixing polar patterns within the stereo pair. So, take your time to get it right, and it will reward you at the end. Take notes on everything so that you can make reference.

I've tried close and distant miking, and for classical recording, my philosophy is to capture more of the tone and air, rather than the strident percussiveness of close miking inside the piano. Obviously, if the mic is too far away, you’ll lose focus and the piano's timbral characteristics. Psychoacoustically, the sphere of sound from the piano doesn't coalesce until about 3-4ft from the instrument. To my ears, miking closer than that sounds unnatural for classical music.

I’ve experimented with several setups, for my taste the following has given me the most accurate results…..

EQUIPMENT: (2) AKG C414B-XLS microphones
Avalon Design AD2022 Preamplifier
Yamaha CDR1000 CD Recorder with Apogee UV-22 dithering

POST-PRODUCTION: 8-core MacPro, LogicPro 8, Apogee Ensemble interface, Adam
S3A Monitor speakers, and Beyerdynamic DT880 (2005) headphones.

I am using the AKG C414B-XLS mics in “Wide Cardiod” mode through an Avalon Design AD2022 preamp which is fed directly into a Yamaha CDR1000 CD recorder. This combination yields a modern sound – transparent, clear, smooth, airy, and uncolored. The piano is a 7ft Steinway in a 35x14x8.5ft living room in an open floor plan connecting with the dining room, foyer, etc. So there is decent amount of natural reverberation of 6,000+ sq. ft. I have very little acoustic treatment - so it's bright. I can’t use the natural sounding omnidirectional mic pattern because of too much standing waves. The most balanced sound I heard with this instrument in my room was 3ft from the curve of the piano at a height of 5ft pointing down toward the strings in Wide Cardiod mode. The mics were spaced 10-15in apart at an angle of 75-degrees, with one mic pointing toward 1/3 the length of the copper wound bass strings and the other mic 2 octaves above middle C. The resulting sound was lush, harmonically rich, natural, and it captured that double-reed sweetness in the mids. The only thing it was missing was the deeper bass. A quick fix solution was EQ +3dB @ 55Hz, and -2dB @1.8KHz, and a 6% wet reverb in audio editing software.

It seems that getting the best of ALL worlds is an impossible from an electronic standpoint. To gain a specific quality of sound, you compromise something else. The "Color vs Accuracy" discussion will continue in audio electronics as well as in acoustical instruments. Subjectively, the choice of electronics is analogous to the Steinway vs Bosendorfer debate for some pianists, i.e. two different pianos emphasizing different harmonic and tonal characteristics. The hardest (and most expensive) part of accumulating equipment is to find that balance between the desired sound and what sounds natural and accurate. At the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Good Luck!... I've compiled a list of the equipment used by 95% of classical piano recording studios.

Here's what you need:
MICROPHONES (pair) ---- PREAMP ---- DIGITAL RECORDER
These can all be housed in a neat rack with wheels, or in a portable briefcase.


EQUIPMENT LIST FOR HIGH QUALITY PIANO RECORDINGS

MICROPHONES: Ask for transparent sound, flat frequency response.
-DPA 4006 or DPA 4011 – industry standard
-Schoeps MK21
-Schoeps CMC6/Mk2
-Sennheiser MKH8020, MKH8040
-AKG C414B-XLS
-Neumann KM183 or KM184
-Neumann TLM 170R, TLM 193
-Earthworks QTC 40, QTC 50, QTC1
-Neumann M149 - full sound, smooth highs
-Brauner Valvet - "larger than life"

PREAMP: Ask for transparent sound, fast transient response.
-Millenia HV-3C – industry standard
-GML 8302
-Grace m201
-DAV BG1
-Earthworks 1024
-Avalon Design AD2022
-Great River MP-2NV

A/D CONVERTER: Optional, only for maximum fidelity. Can also use built in A/D in recorder
-DCS902D
-Apogee Rosetta 200 or 800
-Apogee AD-16X

RECORDER: Any 16-24bit recorder - CDR, DVD-A, DSD, Hard Disk, Compact Flash, computer based, rack unit, portable, etc.
-Tascam DV-RA1000 HD - DSD (SACD)
-Alesis MasterLink
-HHB 882
-M-Audio Microtrack II - best professional compact
-Tascam HD-P2 - portable
-Korg MR-1000 - DSD (SACD)
-Sound Devices 702, 722 - portable

EDITING/MASTERING SOFTWARE:
-PC: WaveLab, Soundforge, etc.
-MAC: LogicPro, Digital Performer, etc.
-Pro Tools


NOTICE: The equipment I am describing is expensive, it's what the pros use whether it's at Decca, DG, Philips, etc. I apologize in advance if it's not in everybody's budget. Like most serious hobbies, things can get expensive. However, if the goal is to record the best sound possible, then it might be worth saving up as an investment.


Acoustic Treatment Links:
http://arts.ucsc.edu/ems/music/tech_background/TE-14/teces_14.html
http://www.ethanwiner.com/acoustics.html
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul98/articles/acoustics1.html

Equipment Review Links:
http://reviews.harmony-central.com/reviews/Microphone
http://www.thelisteningsessions.com/home.htm

Microphone Technique Links:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan08/articles/pianorecording_0108.htm
www.dpamicrophones.com/Images/DM03808.pdf
http://www.sweetwater.com/feature/microphones/miking101.php

#967034 - 12/09/08 06:33 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 3
DAD101 Offline
Junior Member
DAD101  Offline
Junior Member

Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 3
ct
Quote
Originally posted by 88man:
Professional Quality Home Recordings

There are a lot of pianists trying to make high quality recordings on their own, including myself. In the spirit of music, I thought I’d share some thoughts from an equipment perspective on producing high quality recordings whether at home or in a large hall. In a short thread, I can’t delve into great detail about theory and various miking techniques - I've included useful links below for that purpose. However, I’ll share ideas that have given me professional sounding master recordings in my own home. It has become a great archival tool, a great convenience, and has produced stunning results.

Keep in mind that you can’t get something for nothing, even with best electronic effects. The quality of the piano and space are equally important factors in any good recording. The equipment can't record what's not there. The room is an extension of the instrument in the far field. Basically, if you have a decent sounding piano, in a room that has a minimum of 2,500 sq. ft., you should be able to get a good recording. Higher the ceiling, the better. The recording space should have enough “acoustic treatment” to minimize standing waves and flutter echo that’s typical in home settings. Most untreated music rooms are bright sounding, which yield harsh sounding recordings. To help counteract brightness, you can add rugs, furniture, curtains, and certain fabrics to absorb high frequency content and help neutralize the harshness. There are links to sound absorbing materials that I have provided below.

Before you buy any recording equipment, you must decide on what palate of “sound” appeals to you – Transparent, Colored, Bright, or Dark? It’s a matter of taste, so it’s a very subjective question with varying degrees of opinions. For example, a particular recording may sound “clear” to one person, but may sound “harsh” to another. Any equipment you add to the electronic chain, will affect the tonality, timbre, and response time of your sound to some degree. I am a purist when it comes to recording equipment – I use only the minimum number of equipment to yield the highest quality of sound obtainable. My taste leans toward an accurate, realistic, and neutral sound with the least amount of change in tonality. To predictably make an accurate classical piano recording, the chain of recording gear has to be transparent, have a fast transient response, and sound neutral relative to the source. In other words, the electronics shouldn’t add any coloration that would alter the timbral and tonal characteristics of the sound.

Depending on the musical content, interpretation, dynamics, room acoustics, piano, and recording gear, certain type of gear may “color” a sound that could be desirable or undesirable. For example, I once auditioned a pair of Rode K2 vacuum tube microphones, thinking that it may produce a lush, euphonic sound normally associated with tubes. The bass improved, and highs were smooth, but at the expense of an altered tonality from the instrument producing a nasal sounding midrange. It sounded like the piano had the flu! I replaced the stock tubes with a NOS Siemens-Halske E88CC A-phi code (1964) tubes and it sounded a little better, but still had that nasal quality to the sound. In this case the result was undesirable or the wrong "color." However, certain kinds of mics and preamps may retain the timbral and tonal characteristics, but provide a wider soundstage and a feeling of “larger than life” quality to a recording. The Brauner Valvet tube microphone is a good example of this characteristic sound. I think to be safe, go with a microphone that has neutral and transparent characteristics. Ask reputable dealers for these characteristics since most are studio engineers anyway.

Remember, nothing is for free. For example, a particular microphone or preamp may add spaciousness, but at the expense of focus. Keep in mind that even the best recording can only sound as good, but not better than the source. The room plays a dominant role in the overall sound, there are sites online which will help you get started and companies which specialize in custom designing a good recording space. I given some links on this vital area of acoustic treatment.

Individual tastes will vary. My personal taste in sound is to capture the Steinway B’s double-reed sweetness in the midrange. This piano has it all – strongly defined bass, euphonic mids, and bell like highs. The sound is refined, sophisticated, and lush with rich harmonic content. I built my system to capture a particular sound characterized by "sweeteness", "euphonic", "3D space", and bass definition - all WITHOUT CHANGING THE TONALITY of the instrument or adding any harshness.

You have to experiment with mic placement for a particular room. Record identical tracks by varying mic placement, polar patterns, phase, etc. Ideally, omnidirectional mic pattern gives the most natural sound in a decent sized hall, but in a smaller home environment the standing waves can lead to harsh sound due to the room’s standing waves. A trade off is setting the mic to a wide cardiod pattern, that way the sound remains relatively natural, but helps to eliminate the harshness of a small or acoustically untreated room. There's probably at least 80 different stereo combinations by varying micing technique, polar pattern, distance, and position. Compound that with 5 test tracks... That's 400 tracks to analyze at some point not including varying phase or mixing polar patterns within the stereo pair. So, take your time to get it right, and it will reward you at the end. Take notes on everything so that you can make reference.

I've tried close and distant miking, and for classical recording, my philosophy is to capture more of the tone and air, rather than the strident percussiveness of close miking inside the piano. Obviously, if the mic is too far away, you’ll lose focus and the piano's timbral characteristics. Psychoacoustically, the sphere of sound from the piano doesn't coalesce until about 3-4ft from the instrument. To my ears, miking closer than that sounds unnatural for classical music.

I’ve experimented with several setups, for my taste the following has given me the most accurate results…..

EQUIPMENT: (2) AKG C414B-XLS microphones
Avalon Design AD2022 Preamplifier
Yamaha CDR1000 CD Recorder with Apogee UV-22 dithering

POST-PRODUCTION: 8-core MacPro, LogicPro 8, Apogee Ensemble interface, Adam
S3A Monitor speakers, and Beyerdynamic DT880 (2005) headphones.

I am using the AKG C414B-XLS mics in “Wide Cardiod” mode through an Avalon Design AD2022 preamp which is fed directly into a Yamaha CDR1000 CD recorder. This combination yields a modern sound – transparent, clear, smooth, airy, and uncolored. The piano is a 7ft Steinway in a 35x14x8.5ft living room in an open floor plan connecting with the dining room, foyer, etc. So there is decent amount of natural reverberation of 6,000+ sq. ft. I have very little acoustic treatment - so it's bright. I can’t use the natural sounding omnidirectional mic pattern because of too much standing waves. The most balanced sound I heard with this instrument in my room was 3ft from the curve of the piano at a height of 5ft pointing down toward the strings in Wide Cardiod mode. The mics were spaced 10-15in apart at an angle of 75-degrees, with one mic pointing toward 1/3 the length of the copper wound bass strings and the other mic 2 octaves above middle C. The resulting sound was lush, harmonically rich, natural, and it captured that double-reed sweetness in the mids. The only thing it was missing was the deeper bass. A quick fix solution was EQ +3dB @ 55Hz, and -2dB @1.8KHz, and a 6% wet reverb in audio editing software.

It seems that getting the best of ALL worlds is an impossible from an electronic standpoint. To gain a specific quality of sound, you compromise something else. The "Color vs Accuracy" discussion will continue in audio electronics as well as in acoustical instruments. Subjectively, the choice of electronics is analogous to the Steinway vs Bosendorfer debate for some pianists, i.e. two different pianos emphasizing different harmonic and tonal characteristics. The hardest (and most expensive) part of accumulating equipment is to find that balance between the desired sound and what sounds natural and accurate. At the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Good Luck!... I've compiled a list of the equipment used by 95% of classical piano recording studios.

Here's what you need:
MICROPHONES (pair) ---- PREAMP ---- DIGITAL RECORDER
These can all be housed in a neat rack with wheels, or in a portable briefcase.


EQUIPMENT LIST FOR HIGH QUALITY PIANO RECORDINGS

MICROPHONES: Ask for transparent sound, flat frequency response.
-DPA 4006 or DPA 4011 – industry standard
-Schoeps MK21
-Schoeps CMC6/Mk2
-Sennheiser MKH8020, MKH8040
-AKG C414B-XLS
-Neumann KM183 or KM184
-Neumann TLM 170R, TLM 193
-Earthworks QTC 40, QTC 50, QTC1
-Neumann M149 - full sound, smooth highs
-Brauner Valvet - "larger than life"

PREAMP: Ask for transparent sound, fast transient response.
-Millenia HV-3C – industry standard
-GML 8302
-Grace m201
-DAV BG1
-Earthworks 1024
-Avalon Design AD2022
-Great River MP-2NV

A/D CONVERTER: Optional, only for maximum fidelity. Can also use built in A/D in recorder
-DCS902D
-Apogee Rosetta 200 or 800
-Apogee AD-16X

RECORDER: Any 16-24bit recorder - CDR, DVD-A, DSD, Hard Disk, Compact Flash, computer based, rack unit, portable, etc.
-Tascam DV-RA1000 HD - DSD (SACD)
-Alesis MasterLink
-HHB 882
-M-Audio Microtrack II - best professional compact
-Tascam HD-P2 - portable
-Korg MR-1000 - DSD (SACD)
-Sound Devices 702, 722 - portable

EDITING/MASTERING SOFTWARE:
-PC: WaveLab, Soundforge, etc.
-MAC: LogicPro, Digital Performer, etc.
-Pro Tools


NOTICE: The equipment I am describing is expensive, it's what the pros use whether it's at Decca, DG, Philips, etc. I apologize in advance if it's not in everybody's budget. Like most serious hobbies, things can get expensive. However, if the goal is to record the best sound possible, then it might be worth saving up as an investment.


Acoustic Treatment Links:
http://arts.ucsc.edu/ems/music/tech_background/TE-14/teces_14.html
http://www.ethanwiner.com/acoustics.html
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul98/articles/acoustics1.html

Equipment Review Links:
http://reviews.harmony-central.com/reviews/Microphone
http://www.thelisteningsessions.com/home.htm

Microphone Technique Links:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan08/articles/pianorecording_0108.htm
www.dpamicrophones.com/Images/DM03808.pdf
http://www.sweetwater.com/feature/microphones/miking101.php

#967035 - 12/09/08 07:02 PM Re: Making "Professional" Home Recordings  
Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 3
DAD101 Offline
Junior Member
DAD101  Offline
Junior Member

Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 3
ct
ok hopefully I have this right now. My daughter plays piano (mostly her own composition and vocals). I would like to get her some recording equipment so she can record her live work and then put on a CD. She is going to college next year and is serious about music and recording. This equipment will be used at different locations so something portable would be best. At home we have a bluthner piano 7'8".

I was considering the sound device 722. This has built in pre amps. If I get this and some mic's do I need anything else? Does the 722 have playback capability or do we need to move it to her Mac (protools)? Other posts sounded like if I want to record vocals as well I would need the 744 or 788. Those are considerably more expensive and I would rather put the money into the mic's if possible. For mics one company recommended two Schopes compact mic (ccm 4 lg cardiod)for instruments, 1 supercardioid handheld mic (KMS) for vocals and two DPA 4017 hyper-cardioid/shot gun micro phone.

I am looking for high quality components as building blocks for her home recording studio that she can grow into the next four years.

Any help you can provide is appreciated. These are expensive purchases and I am trying to educate myself before proceeding.

Thanks


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