Piano World Home Page

Recording the piano - redux

Posted By: Dan M

Recording the piano - redux - 05/18/05 12:55 PM

Josh (Bosieman) asked me privately about recording, since the subject is one that a lot of people are interested in I'll put it here.

Recording a piano is exceedingly hard, so much so that I have mostly given up the practice except for my own education purposes. If you want a decent quality recording to share with friends then I recommend the following at budget prices

Computer & Sound card
The problem with computers is the damn things are noisy. I have a Shuttle Zen, which isn't totally silent, but is pretty good. It has a quiet hard drive too. I have the audiophile 192 card, with the "GoldWave" recording software, which is very nice. Don't get too excited here.

Behringer UB802 Eurorack 8 Input Mixer

I used to recommmend the audiobuddy preamp, but I found the unit to have extreme cross channel bleed which clearly messes up the sound. The Behringer has two channel mic input with phantom power, and some twiddly knobs which you should leave alone. I'm on my second one as the first went kaput - they aren't as reliable as they could be it seems, but for the price are hard to beat.

2 MXL 990 Cardiod mics

On the noisy side, but they run hot (output a large signal) and sound pretty good, very good considering the price.

2 On Stage MC7201B Round Base Microphone Stand Black

Work nice and are cheap

2 cheap 25 ft microphone (XLR-XLR) cables
Don't spend any money here for pete's sake.

Take the two mics, put them about a heads distance apart (ear to ear - about 17 cm/6.5 inches)) facing away from each other. Put near the crook of the piano a few feet away, higher up and pointing down towards the soundboard.

Done. You can futz with placement, but don't spend much time with it as it's a sinkhole.

If you want anything fancier I suggest not, as to do this properly takes more money, effort and time than you are likely to want to put into it. The amazing thing is that for this money, you get maybe 80% or 90% of the way. The last bit is what costs.

Posted By: jperiod

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/05/05 05:46 PM

I have a question concerning recording a piano that I haven't seen an answer to in the various threads on recording, mics, etc. I am interested in the best solution for recording ultimately to a computer (Macintosh ImacG5 or G4 733, I have both). I am considering the following equipment:

Mics: Studio Projects B-1
Pre-Amp- Nehringer UB802
Computer interface - Tascom 122

What I am wondering is if going directly to the computer with the Tascom (or other interface)the best way to go, or would it make more sense to get a Fostex MR-8 instead of the Tascom and record on the flashcard and download later to the computer and burn a CD.
This is for at home use only to record myself to listen and self-critique, and perhaps ocassionally to record the accomp. for my Wife.
I am looking for any suggestions, especially those who have use the Fostex or Tascam.

Posted By: Axtremus

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/05/05 06:35 PM

My formula (inspired by DanM):

Piano recording seems to be a topic that comes up every once in a while. smile

This post describes my recording setup. It lists all the equipment, shows how they are connected, and it provides a recording sample to show what kind of result you can reasonably expect using this setup. My solution is a 300 USD solution in the sense that I believe all the necessary equipment can be had for a total of under 300 USD (excluding the computer). I am certain there are better solutions, I am certain there are cheaper solutions, and there are cheaper AND better solutions. But what I describe is what I know works for me, and one I feel can be easily duplicated by others.

Here goes...

1. The Big Picture:
[Linked Image]

2. Microphones: I use a pair of MXL-990. Most recent "sales" prices I've seen peg them at 60 USD a piece. Conventional wisdom seems to favor condensor microphones when it comes to recording piano. See links below to additional microphone discussion and recommendations. The mic stands may seem unnecessary, but I think they make positioning microphones so much easier. Get the kind with boom stick if you can. The mic stands are usually inexpensive. (IIRC, I got mine for under 20 USD each.) I usually place my microphones 2~3 feet from the curvy side of my grand piano with the lid fully open, the mics are usually about 1~2 feet higher than the soundboard. Feel free to experiment with different placements to find the mic positions that work best for your piano and your room acoustics.

3. Pre-Amp: I use M-Audio's AudioBuddy. It got it for about 80 USD. There are other options discussed in other threads linked below, but this one works well enough for me. If you use condensor microphones, you will need something to supply it "phantom power." The AudioBuddy does just that.

4. Microphone Cables: These connect the microphones to the pre-amp. Not much to talk about here... cables are cables. The connector types you need obviously depend on the microphones and the pre-amp you choose. If you use the MXL-990 and AudioBuddy like I do, then you want XLR connectors on both ends of the cables. Get cables that are long enough so you can place your computer (assuming you plan to record with your computer) far enough away from the mics so the mics won't pick up the computer's noise. (I use cables that are 25 feet long, they seem to work fine.)

5. A/D Converter: I use Griffin Technologies' "iMic" USB interface, can probably be had for under 40 USD these days. The A/D Converter converts analog signal from the pre-amp to digital signal that your computer records. Your sound card may already have this function (in which case you can connect the outputs of the pre-amp directly to your computer's audio input jack(s), or you can buy pre-amps that also double as an A/D Converter that provides a USB or FireWire interface to your computer.

6. "Y-Cable": I use a Y-cable because the AudioBuddy pre-amp gives me two 1/4" phono output jacks while my "iMic" USB audio interface gives me only a 1/8" stereo audio input jack. The "Y-cable" is used to connect these two -- it has two male 1/4" phono connector and one male 1/8" small stereo connector. (IIRC, I got this for under 7 USD.) You won't need it if you get one of those combined "pre-amp with A/D with USB/FireWire interface" unit.

7. Computer and Software: Lots of choices. I happen to use an Apple PowerBook G4 ("Titanium") running Felt Tip Software's "Sound Studio" shareware. It's shareware licensing fee is pretty inexpensive (IIRC, sub-40 USD) and has a 14 day free trial period. If you use a Mac, GarageBand should work just fine. If you use Windows, the software called "Audacity" is available for free. It seems to work fine on Windows, but I wouldn't recommend it for the Mac because it's just SLOW on the Mac the last I tried it. Basic editing functionalities like cutting, pasting, fade-in, fade-out are all there... and there are other more advanced functionalities that, frankly, I have never needed to use. On the Mac, I just use iTunes to convert myh stuff to MP3. On the Windows, Audacity can do it for you (and it seems to me there are tons of Windows freeware that deals with MP3).

8. Recording Parameters: Your recording software would likely offer many different sampling rates and bit depths at which to record your performance. For reference, CD-quality recording has a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz (samples per second) at 16 bit. Professional studios record at 96 kHz and 24 bits or higher. As an amateur hobbyist, I'm generally happy with what I got using 44.1 kHz, 16-bit setup. There may be no point in recording at higher sampling frequency and higher bit depth for two reasons: (1) your other equipment may not be good enough to warrant the extra resolution anyway, (2) you will always have to throttle it back down to 44.1 kHz and 16 bit if you burn your music into an Audio CD, and you'll compruess away a lot of stuff if you post your recording in MP3 format anyway.

9. MP3 Conversion Parameters: It's basically a balance between sound quality and file size. Higher bit rate means higher audio quality and bigger file size (if the lenght of music stays constant). Lower bit rate means lower audio quality and smaller file size. If you believe the guys who brought you iTunes, you can theoretically get audio quality as good as iTunes' if you compress your music to 160 kbps using MP3. My opinion is that if you start with a good, clear recording, you can get good-sounding MP3 even with low bit rates. Otherwise, garbage in, garbage out. So don't get hung up over MP3 bit rates. Lower bit rates often means you get smaller files, and people are more likely to download if your files aren't too big as to look intimidating.

10. <font color="#880000">The Result</font>: PianoRecording_Sample_1.mp3 (2.5 minutes, 1.2 MB, right-click, "Save As...").
It's recorded using the equipment and parameters described above with me at the piano, and encoded in MP3 format at 64 kbps. It's a "raw" recording in the sense that it has not been mastered, there's no EQ tweaking applied and no artificial reverb added... it's bascially what the microphones picked up (except the little bit of fading at the beginning and the end so they don't sound abrupt). The audio is by no means professional-sounding, but there is sufficient dynamic range, you can hear phrasing, you can hear pedaling, you can hear where the articulation is good and where it is sloppy, etc. So I think it's good enough for Internet posting on a Forum like this for your peers to critique your playing. As mentioned before, there are better recording solutions, and there are cheaper recording solutions... but this is the kind of result you can reasonably expect if you record using the "recipe" presented above. (Just in case anyone is curious, the piano is a 6'6" Kawai model RX-A grand piano.)

11. Additional Resources:

It may be fun to read lots of discussion and do lots of research, but the most effective way to learn is to just hit the record button and start recording.

Go forth and record, have fun, good luck, and come back and share your recordings! smile
Posted By: SteveY

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/05/05 09:40 PM

Hey Dan. Didn't you used to have Lavry converters? Still using them? I've got a home for them if you don't...
Posted By: jperiod

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/06/05 07:33 AM

Ax, thanks your last post was extremely helpful to me in figuring out how to record my piano without spending a lot of money.

Posted By: Les Koltvedt

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/06/05 07:58 AM

thumb Well done Ax...thanks so much, from all the novices'!!! thumb

I'll be hitting up my getar buddies for some equipment
Posted By: George K

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/06/05 08:36 AM

Thanks for the great tips, Ax.

However, I have a question. Having played around with Garageband, it seems to me that you can't record direct audio, but only the midi interface, which is then converted to whatever sound you want.

That's what I've done when I connect my (cheapo) keyboard to the Mac.

Using the iMic interface may make what I'm saying moot, but please correct me. I'm curious.

Posted By: hgiles

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/06/05 09:54 AM

Recording? I try to make sure no one's home when I play. I sure don't want to save my music for posterity!

Not yet anyway...
Posted By: Dan M

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/06/05 10:12 AM

Hi Steve,
I sold all my recording stuff, including the Lavry. It was too much work (i.e., taking too much time away from the piano, and money) to get it all to work and sound good. I gave up when trying to find a preamp that sounded good. I ended up doing beta testing for Lavry's new pre.

I still have the cheapo setup for personal educational reasons, but I've still been too busy making music to break it out.

Posted By: SteveY

Re: Recording the piano - redux - 07/06/05 12:53 PM

I'm heartbroken! I'll have you know that I was very jealous of your Lavry!!!
© 2018 Piano World Piano & Digital Piano Forums