Recording Piano

Here’s Harvey.

Here’s a pic of me and Harvey playing at a local club a few months back.

Every 4 years we get the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. Last time I paid attention to the micing. The lid was open in the normal 45 degree performance position, with two mics used. One was on the harp and the other was aimed to catch the reflection off the lid about 5 or 6 feet away.

Tom, if you’re renting gear to try, I’d be looking at the following:

UA 2108
UA 2-610
Fearn VT-2
John Hardy M1
API 3 or 5 series

Yeah all these are pricey to uber expensive. I’ve used most of 'em on piano with great success. There’s some tube and some op-amp designs there. At the level of the above gear, you’re gonna get some nice transformers. Personally, I like the Fearn for piano…never liked it on much else (maybe acoustic guitar), but for piano it always won me over. I don’t know that Langevin, but it looks like about the same money as a UA 2108, which is a super nice piece of gear. That UA kicks it on drum tracks too, so if you’re in a buying mood, you should seriously consider it. If you want to build your own stuff, the Seventh Circle Audio equipment is very easy to deal with, and cost effective for what it is. I have the A12 version in my rack right now. They’re not quite as nice as my '72 API 312 cards, but very close…

I sort of missed the 2108 - thanks for that tip! the 2610 is just a bit mroe than I can do. Hadn’t really thoguht of Fearn or Hardy, or API, gonna have to check those others out. Those are great ideas, clava. As these will be come my main preamps when the project is done I think I will stay away from the Fearn, actually, if you think it doesn’t work very well for other things.

Thanks - that definitly food for thought. :)

Where did you get your output for the pm1000? Mine are now DEAD quiet since I recapped and dropped those great transistors in I got from Dan K…I think if you came out of the original outs (not c37) you navigate a bit more electronics which would raise the noise level a bit…I have to say no to the UA 2108 for piano…great pre for rock, drums etc…but definately not classical…
People seem to like the Grace pre too…the main complaint is that it is too clean, but that would be good for piano…I still don’t think you will be disapointed in the Langevin (now made by Manley)…Manley gives AWESOME customer service…and it would definately be a life investment…I am always on the lookout for an old langevin module to rack up…
Bribery eh…hmmm…
If this is an ongoing project I may have to wing on up to Michigan for a peek :)


ANytime you want to come visit, Ray, just give us a few days notice! We’ll hit all the sights in Flint! :)

Hey TomS:
You know I have to say it… :p :D I am unable to help, myself… hehe…

I heard about all them Hockey Barns, over there… And there are some good ones… too… lol. Sorry…

How are you all doin over there without the NHL? It’s pretty tough around here, without any games on the tube…

What’s Flint like this time of year? Are the Black Flies out yet? None here yet… it’s too cold out… But, when they do, I got names for the ones I can’t catch… :p


Well, Bill, we have the Flint Generals to get us through the NHL-less season. No bugs yet, although yesterday we got more than a foot of snow - latest large snowfall here since 1980. That’ll take care of all of the mosquitos for a few weeks! It also took care of a bunch of trees, including about 1/2 of the apple tree in our front yard. :(

The good thing about having no NHL is that I get lots of time to read/write/record. :)
And play with my new mics. The rode nt5 pair. Oh my goodness are they good.

OK, I held off on getting anything too expensive right away, although I am still intending to get something like the Langvin in the next month or two. But I got a symetrix SX202 off ebay, and wanted to hear it before I did anything else. This is sort of your standard transformerless opamp based pre amp, but I have to say for 150 bucks for two channels this really sounds good. Not good like the PM1000 Ray referred to, but clean and very quiet good. I’m going to try to do the piano recording with this plus the 2 rodes nt5 mics, before laying out 1500 bucks right now.

Two things the Symetrix taught me today (today was the first day I really had to try it out) - first, the preamps on my Aardvark Q10 are sort of honky in a way that I hadn’t really understood before - but it is now apparent that it has been a source of unhappiness when mixing. The Symetrix is much flatter, really noticably. This was a good thing to learn.

The other is that the Rode nt3 that I have used very little since I got it 2 or 3 years ago really sounds good through the symetrix as a kick drum mic. Big and warm and organic and real. Lots of presence, and a warm, articulate thump. I am totally sold on Rode mics.

Anyway, when we get to actually record the piano (sometime in the next 2 or 3 weeks, I think), I will report back. And when I get the fancy expensive preamp I will also let you all know, just in case anyone is interested. OK…mainly because ya just gotta brag about new gear, right? :D

edit: I’d be interested to hear what you electronics -savvy folks have to say about the design of the unit - here is a link to a pdf of the schematic:…mp’

TIA! :)

Tom, have you used a Studio Projects vtb1, and if so, how would you compare it to the symetrix? If you were adding your first preamp (other than mixers), which of the two would you go for, and are they different enough that they’d make good companions in a small studio where the expensive preamps are out of range?

Seems to me if it’s good, it might be better than the VTB1 just because of two channels. (VTB1 is $130, single channel.)

Hey LearJeff - sorry, haven’t used the vtb1 - the symetrix is an op amp based thingie, this one was made about 10 years ago, Mac once said that the design of the EQ unit that goes with it (which I also have) was nothing special, but I dunno, both the preamp and the eq sound pretty good to me. The pre is two channels with phantom and phase reverse, and that’s pretty much it, the eq is a separate box with shelving high and lo and parametric in the middle, and the two plus a dbx 163 compressor make a clean quiet and usable channel strip. Nothing unusual about any of it, just clean. the vtb1 got so-so reviews except Gerst really liked it for ribbons.

Don’t know if that helps much! :)

I’ve seen very good reviews of the VTB-1, when comparing it to other preamps in its price class or even twice the price – which basically means, cheapies. It seems ya gotta spend $500 or more to get much better. Or do you know something I don’t?

Quote (TomS @ April 25 2005,08:57)
The rode nt5 pair. Oh my goodness are they good. :D

Just a little side note that has nothing to do with pianos or pres:
I discovered one thing that these mics don’t do well a few nights back. I cranked my trusty old Marshall and used the NT-5s for close micing a dirty lead sound with the Gretsch going just on the verge of chaos-feedback.
They clipped. Big time

Heh. No surprise there. Probably would clip my hair as well at the same time, would that set up. :)

Well, we finally got around to recording the piano today, and I learned a very good lesson.

The piano sounds great, was in great tune, the players (two did 3 shortish classical pieces total) were good, they were prepared…and I thought I was too.

I used the Rode nt5 pair, with symmetrix preamps, into an Echo INdigo card on my laptop, n-Track ver 4, etc. etc. etc.

I have read quite a bit about micing a piano, and had planned on a conservative x/y setup about 8 feet back from the piano with the lid open. But the room was filled with fan noise - from two sources. The over head lights needed a power supply that was in a closet backstage, and it had a really big fan on it. We turned those lights off, and used a light ont he music stand for the performers to read the music. But there was still a big rumbling hum from the air conditioning, and there is no way we were going to get the school to turn that off. So the school’s music tech, who had pulled the piano out for us, suggested close micing the piano, specifically over two of the sound holes, one toward the keyboard for the higher notes, one towards the other end, for the lower notes. When I sutck my head in there, it sounded good to me. When I listened on the headphones it sounded pretty good, but what do headphones show anyway?

So we went ahead and recorded for about three hours, multiple takes at 24/96.

They suck. Not the performances, they were good, but the recording sounds like the mics were in a wooden box, with all sorts of weird resonances and “holes” and peaks and dips and…well, too much stuff to “fix” with EQ. Plus it is so darn dry that it required reverb of the artificial sort, but even with the best impulses in SIR and radical EQing is just doesn’t make it.

Lesson: I should have listened to that part of my brain that said that I should stick with the mics out to get the room sound, even if it meant a lot more low end hum.


Hi Tom. Coincidence i have been recording myself at piano this last days, only for testing&enjoy purposes (well, to de-midify some ideas too). I spent some time with the mic placement, and im not totally sure about that, but i believe that this is my best shot : 1.83mb mp3
It has no editing ,a upright piano, not mine, that i found very sweet. But im not totally conviced, i will test a little more. Since you are in the same way, your opinion is valuable for me. Thanks!

How did you end up micing it, marce? the mp3 sounds quite good to me.


I have not much experience micing instruments, i was reading at internet the diffrent micing techniques, and decide to use the one called “A-B Stereo”. I put the two condenser mics something like 50 cm between them, one meter away of the piano, and 20 cm above the height of the piano. The mics was inclined something like 45° pointing to the upper cover of the piano, that was open.
I tried also the “ORTF” one and the same “ABStereo” settings the Mics to OMNI. This last one was nice, it catch the natural reverb of the living-room (a 4x7meters one, with few furniture) but the sound become in some parts of the music too much “blur”.
I dont have time to try the other setting i read (MidSide) and to record without the front cover.
The bad thing to record “non-stage” pianos is that always appear un-expected noises. Neighbor with music stereos, dogs barking, etc. That become really annoying.
I can record up to 4 mics. But im not sure if record with 4 mics can make the recording sound better, since i have not much knowledge about the topic, i guess i will make some trouble with the phase issues. But trying is nothing losted (only time) isnt?
Well, continue telling us how is going your project, it really interest to me.

What you did sounds quite good to me. I was going to use the ORTF method, back a meter or two, but there was so much fan noise in the room that we had to stick the mics inside the piano. Big mistake. I had read that this would work, the music tech encouraged it, and I suppose for pop recording it would be good enough, but for solo classical piano pieces it just won’t work.

I also brought my RCA 77dx to use as the S part of a mid-side setup, but we didn’t have time. I think I will try that next time.

Concerning 4 mics - I’ve often read of the use of two closer mics (like 1-2 meters in the ORTF setup) and two further back (10 meters, say) in the hall that get mixed in just a little for ambience. I don’t think you’d find that useful in a living room, but I could be wrong.

I dont anger to put the condenser mics inside the piano because i was afraid they clip easily, and because the manual of them talk about a problem called “proximity effect”. Also, the piano has a noisy pedal and mechanism i wanted avoid a little. Since pop is more percussive than classical music (well, not always, but as a general rule) i guess it can work how you describe.
I believe than in case you would choose the take with the fan noise, it would be more easy de-noise, since that things offenly are constant noises that sound editors can filter better. You will go to record again or will work with the takes you have?
Another thing im curious to try is how it sound recording behind the piano, but i guess it will be too much muddy, and this particular piano is per se too much that way.
About 4 mics, the living-room is big, maybe i can put very away the other two mics, only i dont have more condenser mics, only dinamics one, i dont know if they will do the job.

Yep, we’re going to re-record everything, the takes we have are not usable. :( I don’t think I can remove the fan noise, it is very broad, all low end up to about 200 hz. I can roll off the low a bit, and that will help, but I’d rather not take out too much! I think what we need to do is find a better place to record this stuff. Unfortunately, free access to big Steinway grand pianos is sort of hard to come by. :)

When you say “recording behind the piano,” do you mean the back of an upright piano? Isn’t that the best place to record an upright? That’s where the soundboard is, and when I have recorded upright piano that’s where it sounded best.

Thanks for your input, BTW! I am so unhappy about the recording we made, it kept me up last night. :angry: