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I was inspired to try recording videos on my iPad using my Zoom H4n Pro recorder as the mic input after reading about this option. Unfortunately that didn't work out, but I liked the idea of "one step" video with good sound quality, so I went down a rabbit hole of researching single mic options that could hook up to my iPad. It ended up being more complicated and needed a lot more equipment than I'd expected, but I think the result is pretty good. Curious to hear what others think!

I'm documenting my process here in hopes of helping others who want to do a similar setup. It turns out my iPad is recording in stereo mode but only one track, so my headphones only have sound in the left ear. I can get around it by setting my iPad in mono mode but I think the video is still filmed as stereo with a silent second track. On Windows playback it automatically plays in both ears. I'll report back later if setting my iPad in mono mode during recording works but I already put everything away.

--------------------------------------------------
Microphone Research:

My first choice mic would have been a Shure KSM141 (reasons here) but they are hard to find used. I ended up finding an open-box Rode NT55 for significantly less, so I went that route. I was looking for these two models over the Shure KSM137 and Rode NT5 ($100 less, identical to the more expensive models except they are cardioid pattern only) was because I wanted a mic with an omni pattern option to capture the room sound. I'm glad I splurged after hearing the comparison videos! I also liked that both mics have a variable pad so that you can lower the recording volume by 10dB or 20dB on the mic itself. I read that this can be useful for loud acoustic piano but turns out I didn't need this and actually had to increase the gain on the audio interface to get an acceptable volume.

I spent about $380 on equipment (the mic, audio interface, and Apple adapter were purchased used). The cost doesn't include the iPad and mic stand that I already owned. See the photos below for how all this is connected together.

Equipment was connected in the following order:
- iPad (1st gen 12.9" iPad Pro)
- Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter (with lightning power plugged in)
- Powered USB hub
- Audio interface (Focusrite Scarlett Solo 2nd gen -- I got the 2nd gen because I needed a USB output, but the 3rd gen has a USB-C output that I think might be able to plug directly into newer iPads)
- 6 foot XLR cable (if I were to do it again I would purchase a longer one)
- Microphone (Rode NT55)

Issues Encountered:
- The Rode NT55 comes with a microphone clip but it had a "Euro adapter" inside with a smaller screw than my mic stand. I had to look online to figure out to use a coin as a screwdriver to get it out.
- You MUST have a powered USB hub connected to the audio interface. You also need to have the iPad lightning adapter plugged into power.
- The Scarlett Solo has a 48V button for the XLR input. You have to press the button to turn on phantom power for the mic. According to the internet, you should always connect the XLR cable and have everything set up before pressing the button.
- In the close-up photo showing the iPad I was using the back camera, but ended up turning the iPad around and using the front camera in "selfie mode". It's much, much easier! I kept that photo because it's easier to see how everything is connected.

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And then it was just a matter of testing the mic position and gain level on the audio interface (you want it loud enough, but when you play fortissimo it shouldn't crackle). The mic sounded good about 6 feet away from the piano, pointed toward the front center. I tried both the omni and cardioid heads and definitely prefer the omni, it sounds much warmer and rounder to me. The cardioid test video sounds to me like when people put the mic right above the strings.

When I listened with headphones on the iPad, I realized it was recorded with one track but in stereo mode, so there's only sound in the left ear! You can get around this by setting your listening device into mono mode. Also when I listened on headphones it's obvious the gain is set too high, so I'll have to adjust it next time.

Please excuse the mistakes (and sloppy pedaling at that one nasty chord where I'm trying to use the sostenuto pedal and coming in too late in both the recordings). I'm tired and also not completely comfortable playing this Nocturne yet. It's half of the A part of Chopin Opus 48 No 2, and the ending of the B part where it gets the loudest.





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Now I'm second-guessing myself on which setup I like more. With the omni pattern it sounds more like my piano, but there is so much room sound (and ugh, I just couldn't play the right notes in the recording). The cardioid is much clearer but I think it's a little dry and doesn't sound as much like my piano does in life.

It doesn't help that with the same "pretty good" headphones both videos sound very different on my iPad vs laptop, so I have no idea which one is more accurate. Maybe neither? :P


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You can only get so much with one mic (mono or one channel in stereo). I would spring for another NT55. I have a matched pair of these and mine sound the best about 3 ft from the piano, though I haven't experimented with putting them inside the piano (ORTF or X\Y). With the omni capsule I get more room reflections though I have the cardioid installed at the moment.

You should try running the line outs of your Scarlett Interface to a hand held recorder (Tascam\Zoom) that accepts a line in input and compare it with your IPhone. My Tascam DR-05-X sounds better than recording on my laptop, though that may be due to a cheap soundcard on my laptop. I shoot for the bulk of the recording to be hovering around -12db on the input level.

Nice video and recording.

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I've been playing with mics myself, though it's easy to spend too much time, so I tabled it last weekend. But, I thought 3 ft was too much room, 1 ft angled down was pretty good. This was with 2 mics, x/y, cardioid. I didn't like X/Y inside the piano, but I did try A/B inside the piano last weekend and really liked it, but got tired of trying to capture a good rendition so don't have anything to post.

I'm going to try the 1 and 3 ft positions again with the A/B setup this weekend, as I think I have the Chopin Funeral March about ready.

Anyway, I think you can play with the angle of the mic, it's kind of pointing straight at your lid, so I bet in cardioid it's getting mostly reflections which is why it sounds a bit compressed or something in the treble. But might need to get closer to get angled at the strings. I liked 1-2 ft away from the curve the best, I thought ~3ft away let it breathe a bit and was probably more accurate, but like you, thought it had a bit too much room, even with my cardioids. I think there's a bit of a trade-off between having it sound super clean (close) vs accurate like it would sound to a listener in the room (further away).

Sounds pretty good for one solo mic though.

*not a professional
**know basically nothing about this
***am also trying to get nice quality audio on some recordings

Last edited by BlakeOR; 04/08/21 11:59 PM.
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Originally Posted by TBell
You can only get so much with one mic (mono or one channel in stereo). I would spring for another NT55. I have a matched pair of these and mine sound the best about 3 ft from the piano, though I haven't experimented with putting them inside the piano (ORTF or X\Y). With the omni capsule I get more room reflections though I have the cardioid installed at the moment.

You should try running the line outs of your Scarlett Interface to a hand held recorder (Tascam\Zoom) that accepts a line in input and compare it with your IPhone. My Tascam DR-05-X sounds better than recording on my laptop, though that may be due to a cheap soundcard on my laptop. I shoot for the bulk of the recording to be hovering around -12db on the input level.

Thank you! Do you have recordings of your setup that I could listen to? I'm reluctant to invest more into this at this point since I rarely record anything and wanted to keep it simple. If I added another mic, I'd also have to get a new audio interface that supports two inputs. I no longer have the Zoom so I'm not able to check levels.

Do you think my omni recording is too roomy? I had tried moving the mic around 3 ft away at one point but I didn't think it sounded as good. But it seems that I may not like the sound coming from the iPad, even through headphones. I'll have to do a bunch of videos at different positions and compare on my laptop. Also, maybe next time my violinist friend comes over I'll have him identify the best-sounding spot in person. I don't think my husband has the ear for it.

Originally Posted by BlakeOR
I've been playing with mics myself, though it's easy to spend too much time

Haha, that's the truth!

I've recorded just two other times and both times it was so frustrating and took all day (the second time was very stressful, I was trying to record for my dad's last birthday). I recorded those on a Zoom and then had to make them into a video with a picture or a slideshow. This time around I want to figure out an easy video setup that requires no post-processing but I'm still trying to get the most out of the equipment I bought.


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First of all, your playing is lovely.

I personally like the sound from the cardioid better, with the caveat that I don't have amazing headphones, so I'm certainly missing some nuances. The piano seems... further away? in the omni recording.

Have you tried pointing the microphone at the soundboard, rather than at the lid? (I have zero experience or expertise in recording; this just seems to be what all of the youtube "pros" do.)

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Your playing and your piano definitely deserves a stereo recording with two Rode NT 55 mics.

I would be delighted to hear this piece in its refined version recorded in stereo.

Personally I prefer to record with Omni capsules installed on my two Rode NT5 mics in distant A-B setup.

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Originally Posted by aidans
First of all, your playing is lovely.

I personally like the sound from the cardioid better, with the caveat that I don't have amazing headphones, so I'm certainly missing some nuances. The piano seems... further away? in the omni recording.

Have you tried pointing the microphone at the soundboard, rather than at the lid? (I have zero experience or expertise in recording; this just seems to be what all of the youtube "pros" do.)

Awwww, thank you smile

Yes, the piano does seem farther away (and is more quiet) in the omni recording. I think I need to try moving the mic closer, but I would like to retain the warmth of the omni sound. I'm going to have to make a bunch of recordings and compare. Not looking forward to doing that (plus exact mic placement is a little hard to reproduce-- though I could probably measure the offset from the corner of the rug... that's actually a good idea).

I think people point mics down at the soundboard for "close mic" sound, which is not as suited for classical. Also, it might matter more for cardioid mics, which are directional.

I found this article with tons of recording samples showing different placements, distance, height-- tons and tons of sound comparisons! It's different with each piano and each room but definitely interesting to check out. I'll have to try different distances between 3 ft and 6 ft. Once I figure out which one I like best, then maybe I'll also experiment with mic height.


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Originally Posted by Hakki
Your playing and your piano definitely deserves a stereo recording with two Rode NT 55 mics.

I would be delighted to hear this piece in its refined version recorded in stereo.

Personally I prefer to record with Omni capsules installed on my two Rode NT5 mics in distant A-B setup.

Thank you! But oh no, another vote for more investment! I already have a very large bill due to my tech next month (and the piano is hopefully going to sound a lot better, currently it's got a harsh treble which is not super obvious from this piece) eek

How important is it to get a matched pair? I could always keep an eye out and upgrade if the right ones comes along.


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https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/matched-pairs-of-microphones-2/

According to this 1999 article it might not be too important to have a matched pair.

IMO for a home recording you might just be fine with another Rode NT55 and a Focusrite 2i2.

Though I haven’t tried this because my Rode NT5 mics are a matched pair.

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A stereo setup is definitely the way to go for a piano of that quality.

I have a pair of similar microphones, i.e. Røde NT5 with additional omni capsules. The mics are different from yours only that they don't have switchable attenuation and bandpass filters. The omni capsules are identical to yours. Interface is a Steinberg UR22 with excellent Yamaha preamplifiers. A matched pair isn't that relevant, usually the variations are tiny anyway and concern the dynamic pattern which you can adjust through the audio interface.

Here are two examples, one in a recording in my home, one in a concert hall, both with no post-processing at all:




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Originally Posted by OE1FEU
A stereo setup is definitely the way to go for a piano of that quality.

I have a pair of similar microphones, i.e. Røde NT5 with additional omni capsules. The mics are different from yours only that they don't have switchable attenuation and bandpass filters. The omni capsules are identical to yours. Interface is a Steinberg UR22 with excellent Yamaha preamplifiers. A matched pair isn't that relevant, usually the variations are tiny anyway and concern the dynamic pattern which you can adjust through the audio interface.

Here are two examples, one in a recording in my home, one in a concert hall, both with no post-processing at all:

Those are very nice recordings! You guys have convinced me to do stereo. I figured out I don't need switchable attenuation and bandpass filters. I had read that grand pianos can be too loud and you might want to adjust it on the mic, but mine isn't. I'll have to look into getting another mic stand, too...

What was your mic placement?

I looked into the Steinberg UR22 but there were a bunch of reviews that said there are known driver issues. I don't know if it would work with my iPad, so I'm hesitant to try it.


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You can even add some reverb to give it an impression as if it was recorded in a large hall.

This was recorded with Rode NT5 mics in A-B setup (omni capsules)
Please listen through headphones.


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And here is a recording with cardioid capsules in XY setup close to the strings. Sorry the piano was a bit out of tune.


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And finally this is Rode NT5 mics with omni capsules in distant (8 ft from piano and 16" apart, 5 ft high) AB setup without any effects. The position in above Chopin Polonaise recording was a closer AB setup (4 ft) with mics 24" apart. Sorry for the multiple posts.


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Hi Hakki, thank you for sharing your videos! I am flattered that you would like to listen to a recording of me playing the Nocturne in the future. I think I have a similar reaction to your microphone setups as my samples-- I like the clarity of the cardioid recording but the omni definitely has more warmth to the sound.

I found this article that recommends spacing the mics farther apart. I'm not sure if it would have more impact on the stereo image?

Also, thanks for what you posted earlier about matched pairs. I found an open box NT55 on eBay but will probably wait until they have one of their coupon days. My piano will be out of commission for a little while anyway (getting a new action and hammers) and I have to get a replacement audio interface as well. For anyone interested, the mic stand that I'm getting to match my existing one is on sale this month! It's solidly made and I like it.

Hakki, congrats on your 5000th post! shocked

Last edited by twocats; 04/09/21 06:39 PM.

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Thank you. I wasn’t aware of my post count.

Here is a link for recording piano using spaced pair Omni mics with sound examples:

http://modelling-audio-expert.com/recording-piano-with-ab-stereo-microphone-technique/

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Lots of lovely recording!!

Twocat: I personally like cardioid sound better.

But I seem to be not able to tell stereo or mono for piano pieces...strange frown

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Hakki, thanks for the link, I will check it out!

fibbi, in a lot of ways I like the cardioid better, but it doesn't sound like my piano! Wondering if closer omni will get me the best of both worlds. I'm also not able to tell stereo or mono unless the sound is missing from my right ear wink


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Another article with recording samples on different mics and placements! My favorite BY FAR is the Blumlein Pair, but that's a $5K+ setup. It sounds so sweet but also crystal clear.

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/how-to-record-a-piano/

I can't decide whether I should buy another mic stand or get a stereo bar for my existing mic stand. If I got another mic stand there's more flexiblity and I could go wider if I wanted to. But a stereo bar would make things easier and take up less storage room if I wanted that fixed width. Thoughts?


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