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MMD > Archives > January 1998 > 1998.01.13 > 06Prev  Next

Making Audio Recordings of a Piano

Found on the <> newsgroup:


 From: (Proto-Cow)

 [ Actually <> ; he has '.nospam' too ! ]

 Date:    Sun 21:17
 Subject: Re: acoustic piano recording

> recording a piano.  What sort of microphones and other equipment
> should I be looking at, and where?   All suggestions appreciated.

Jim,  I speak both as a piano technician and as a recording studio
engineer.  First of all, it can extremely hard for even experienced
recordists to get great piano recordings.  So many things must be
"exceptional" in terms of the instrument, acoustics, recording
equipment, and of course the knowledge and experience of the recording

That being said, if you can accept that it is unlikely you will get
fabulous results, this is an approach I would suggest: Get a "PZM"
(Pressure Zone) type microphone.  A common widely available model is
made by Crown.  It is likely available at the type of music store that
has a variety of pro musician's equipment available.  Such as a "Guitar
Center" type store.  Choose the Omnidirectional type pickup pattern
(they may also call it hemispherical) .

Radio Shack had a cheap version of this mic available for about $50.
I don't know if they still carry it.  It does not have the dynamic
abilities of the Crown, but is pretty good for the price.  However,
dynamics are pretty important when recording piano.  That's the
compromise for the cheap price.

Experiment with positioning.  Try taping it to the underside of the
grand lid propped in an open position.  Make a trial recording.  Mark
the position, then try another place under the lid.  Repeat trial
recordings several times, then go back to the position that sounded the

You can also tape a PZM mic to a wall, a floor, ceiling, window, or on
a table surface.  But unless you have a great sounding room, you will
probably get a better sound taped under the lid.

As far as a recorder goes, I would suggest staying away from cassette,
for a number of reasons I won't go into here.  Believe me, it is near
impossible to get a good piano sound back when you play live into a
cassette.  Even a pro reel-to-reel machine presents many technical
challenges to the recordist when it comes to piano -- and in practical
use are much more expensive to use re tape and maintenance costs.

Probably the minimum quality recording device nowadays for someone who
doesn't want to get too "tech" would be a Mini Disc recorder.  Better
is DAT, though not everyone will hear a difference.

Pay attention to whether you will have the type of input you need on
the recorder.  Since it normally uses a condenser (capacitor) type
capsule, the PZM is a "powered" microphone.  It may come with battery
power or it may require a thing called Phantom Power.  That means that
the mic cable needs to be plugged into something that provides phantom
power, which *may* be present on the recorder, or you *may* need to buy
an outboard Phantom Power supply separately.  Be aware.

Alternatively, you can get a cheap mixer with Phantom Power mic inputs,
such as a little Mackie that you can plug the mic into, then take the
output of that to the recorder.

A general word of caution: The kinds of levels meters you will find on
audio equipment is notorious for being "fooled" by piano transients.
If you are finding bad distortions at high (but not "too high")
recording levels, it might just be the nature of the meter.  Just back
down on the input levels somewhat.

 [ It is devilishly difficult to record percussion instruments, and
 [ this includes music boxes, too, since the transient "twangs" are
 [ very strong.  What experiences do our readers have?  -- Robbie

(Message sent Tue 13 Jan 1998, 14:52:21 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Audio, Making, Piano, Recordings

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