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Old June 7th, 2016, 08:54 PM   #1
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Piano audio - raising the bar

There is a piano recital that I’ll be recording this Saturday, June 11, and I’m beginning to get a little nervous about it because I really need to raise the audio bar. The shoot will be a multicam with two cams but that’s not the problem.

The problem is how to handle the audio. In the past I’ve done a balanced mono recording with a Sennheiser ME-66 / K6 on a boom angled toward the board and run through a JuicedLink pre. The best performer who happens to have a really good ear has really liked the audio quality so far. However, the last recording was a year ago and everyone has really matured in their playing ability. They’ve matured but my audio kit and miking technique has not. It’s time to try and raise the bar.

While I’ve been thinking about what to do and, more lately doing some research, there are more questions than answers and time is running out. The recital will be in a modern church with a high ceiling, no fans, and, say, about 60 people. There will be only one piano and no other instruments or vocalists. The pianists will only be playing classical music.

The available mic kit includes the Sennheiser ME64, ME66, (but only one K6) and a RōDE Stereo Videomic, not exactly the choicest kit but it is what it is, at least for this year. In the past I’ve set the mic stand along side (but not touching) near the middle of the piano with the boom directed toward the middle and the mic slanted down toward the strings, slightly favoring the treble side.

With speaker tweeters, high frequencies are less directional than for woofers. Since a mike is sort of like a speaker in reverse so this is why I chose to favor the high end.

Here are my thoughts:
The ME-64 is more omni than the ME-66, therefore it might be better suited than the ME-66
The ME-66 can be placed further away therefore the difference between the highest and the lowest note strings won’t be as much.
The SVM is stereo so should provide more ambiance to the listener.

The SVM uses a mini cord to the JuicedLink pre while the Sennheisers would use XLR cable.

Attached “Mic Comparison” pdf file is what I have for technical info on the mics.

I’m open for comments with this kit but please realize that any use of a different mic is fine but will have to wait until after this performance (June 11).
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File Type: pdf 2016 Mic Comparison.pdf (133.3 KB, 41 views)

Last edited by John Nantz; June 7th, 2016 at 11:08 PM. Reason: added “Mic Comparison” pdf file in text
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Old June 7th, 2016, 09:26 PM   #2
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

In the Shure line
Search results for | Shure Americas

The recommendations above mainly cardioid, so the ME64 might be the pattern you want of the mics you listed. However, large diaphragm condenser cardioids appear to be favored. The shotguns will more lobes and frequency notches in their pattern.

http://www.shure.com/publications/mi...ng_english.pdf
Pages 10 and 11 speak to piano recording mice locations.

If you have a "golden ear" critic available, try different locations and mics during a rehearsal and see what the ear prefers.
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Old June 7th, 2016, 11:42 PM   #3
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Don - thanks for the links. I see that Shure dressed up their site since my last visit - looks good. And helpful. This fall we want to do more video work with music including vocal so I’ll be looking for more gear to help out in that area.

The second reference is a nice summary of the various mic positions and position #1 was the one I was using except my distances were more. I’m thinking about 12 to 16” off the strings and maybe 18 to 20” from the hammers, just guessing. I think you’re right about the ME64 over the ME66. When the ME66 was chosen the thinking was it’d be further away from the hammers so as to better pick up the strings on the far sides and not favor the mid strings so much. I hadn’t consulted the polar diagrams at the time but now I see what you’re talking about. Also, the ME64 has a higher SPL of 130 vs the ME66 of 126 dB.

I’m a little intrigued by the RÝde mike, though, because of the max SPL of 134 dB and the fact that it’d be stereo and should pick up the high and low (R & L) strings better.

Ed: And speaking of the Golden Ear: I’ve got two people available but we won’t be able to do anything before Saturday. Afterward, yes, but also not on this particular piano, and of course every piano will sound different but perhaps we can get it in the ballpark for next time, and also plan to have access to the piano next time. Our plan is to put something together in time for Christmas but using a different piano and even some other instruments and vocals. Unfortunately for me, time has taken it’s toll so my hearing is well below silver now and I’ll have to rely on others.

Last edited by John Nantz; June 7th, 2016 at 11:56 PM. Reason: Ed: re Golden ear
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Old June 8th, 2016, 02:45 AM   #4
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Not quite the first time recording piano has been discussed here; some starters for previous threads:

Recording grand piano
Microphone setup for recording piano
Mic for grand piano
recoding a pianist

No disrepect to any advice given so far, just to save on repetition. There are people on dvinfo with a geat deal of experience of this on a professional level, and there are specialist sites (as linked here) which will help.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 06:23 AM   #5
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Also make sure of the position of the Bass Rolloff Switch on the K6. It has a relatively high knee point and would likely make the audio sound too thin if engaged (in my opinion).

I would also choose the ME64 over the ME66 in this situation.

But you would have to make those decisions by ear depending on the exact placement of the mic and the overall character of the venue and the instrument.

The Sennheisers you have are high output, so make sure they don't overload the input of the preamp.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 06:34 AM   #6
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

I would peruse the articles in the Remote Possibilities forum on Gearslutz. Even those who record music on location professionally have varying opinions on mic choice and placement, and they also take the room's acoustics into account.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 09:17 AM   #7
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

I did a concert for TV a few years ago at the Cadogan hall in London and they put two sanken lav mics inside the grand piano and closed the lid, it sounded fantastic.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 10:53 AM   #8
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin McDonald View Post
Not quite the first time recording piano has been discussed here; some starters for previous threads:
Piano audio has been one of the more common instruments posted here and Iíve read a lot of them but my problem is the discussions are normally at a much higher level equipment-wise that what Iíve got. Secondly, Iím running out of time! Iím not trying to make a silk purse out of a sowís ear recording as I recognize the limitations, just something that is better than what Iíve been doing. Once past this gig Iíll be looking for some better gear.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin McDonald View Post
No disrepect to any advice given so far, just to save on repetition. There are people on dvinfo with a geat deal of experience of this on a professional level, and there are specialist sites (as linked here) which will help.
Thanks, Colin. Yes, there are some really great audio people here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Massengill View Post
Also make sure of the position of the Bass Rolloff Switch on the K6. It has a relatively high knee point and would likely make the audio sound too thin if engaged (in my opinion).
Good point. Also, I plan to put some tape over it to prevent sound coming in from behind.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Massengill View Post
I would also choose the ME64 over the ME66 in this situation.

But you would have to make those decisions by ear depending on the exact placement of the mic and the overall character of the venue and the instrument.

The Sennheisers you have are high output, so make sure they don't overload the input of the preamp.
Also, the polar curves the 64 does look like a better choice than the 66.
As for placement and the ear part, I afraid I wonít be able to field test things out beforehand.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 12:33 PM   #9
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Just to add that the last type of mic I would be putting on a piano is a phase cancellation shotgun, the different sound waves a piano makes are hugely complex and you may be better with just the rode stereo videomic.

If it was me I would be getting a couple of low cost cardioid mic's to use and personally I recommend the Takstar CM60 as it sounds very good for such a low cost mic.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 01:19 PM   #10
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

John,

How many inputs/outputs on your Jucedlink? I am curious about why it is one mic or the other? I like to record audio from more than one source and go to independent tracks. If you are concerned about mic placement down to inches why not feed a track from each mic? I suspect the Jucedlink will not put out two separate tracks? One input panned left, the other right? I am not familiar with those units.

If thats the case can you come up with a cheap XLR interface for the second mic to go to the B cam? Or a cheap audio recorder? I know cheap and good don't usually work. But cheap preamps rear their ugly head the most at high levels. This is a piano, your not going to have to drive them hard. I understand money matters. It just seems like a shame that you have two good mics (I love my ME66) and two cameras and one mic is going to stay in a bag.

We have talked a lot, I am sure you have thought about this. How much would it cost to get that second mic out of the bag? It does not have to be another $400.00 Jucedlink preamp. The quality of portable recorders has gone up and the prices have come down like crazy. Look for a low cost (used maybe) solution and then ask yourself if it is worth it to get a second track to work with in post.

Kind Regards,

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Old June 8th, 2016, 03:19 PM   #11
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Nattrass View Post
I did a concert for TV a few years ago at the Cadogan hall in London and they put two sanken lav mics inside the grand piano and closed the lid, it sounded fantastic.
Probably of no concern to the OP because his piano is at full stick, but I've used this method, too, on closed lid grand pianos to very excellent effect. Really, I was shocked at just how good it sounds. The method is particularly useful to prevent bleed from other instruments, such as percussion in a jazz combo. In my case, I suspended two RODE NT5s with omni capsules between struts atop the piano frame using gaff tape.
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Old June 8th, 2016, 06:03 PM   #12
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Hi Steven,
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Digges View Post
How many inputs/outputs on your Jucedlink?
Inputs:
XLR x 2 inputs
3.5mm stereo x 1
Line level signal input attenuator x 2

Outputs:
3.5mm stereo x 1 output
L/C/R pan switches for each output channel
adjustable gain settings x 2

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Digges View Post
I am curious about why it is one mic or the other? I like to record audio from more than one source and go to independent tracks. If you are concerned about mic placement down to inches why not feed a track from each mic?
Mainly because there is only one K6 module. Probably should consider getting another, though.
Not concerned about inches; am concerned about mic choice and placement.
With only one K6 there can be only one track, except … if one of the tracks was with the RÝde SVM. The ‘long' 3.5mm stereo extension cable I have is not high quality nor is it that long, maybe 10 or 12 feet? I’ve got lots of XLR cables though.

For info, slight change in plans,I talked to one of the parents this morning and we’re thinking of scaling down “the production” a bit so as not to impinge on the experience of others. We have another really nice grand piano available and we’ll use it for those who want a better staged video but on another date. In this case I can use my lighting kit and maybe it’ll buy some time to acquire other gear.

For this gig, though, the plan is to have the AX100 wide on a tripod, controlled with a 3 ft/1m long remote cable. Unfortunately, the IR remote sensor on the cam is on the lens side. The piano is on a shallow stage about 2 ft high as I recall, (I hope there is not a tripod height issue) and the AX53 will be for B-cam. If the audience feels too, shall we say, ‘stiff’, the B-cam won’t be used. At recital performances it seems like everybody tends to be a tad uptight until it’s over. It is somewhat stressful for the players and even parents.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Digges View Post
If thats the case can you come up with a cheap XLR interface for the second mic to go to the B cam? Or a cheap audio recorder?
I’d really like to get a recorder, but which one? That’s a whole ‘nuther post. I’ve read lots of other peoples posts and just can’t decide.
Edit: If the second mic is the Sennheiser, say, ME-66 (the ME-64 being the other one), it would need the K6 module and that would have to be ordered and there’s no time. The Rode mic, on the other hand, all I might need is a 3.5mm female to female connector.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Digges View Post
How much would it cost to get that second mic out of the bag?
The other Sennheiser needs a second K6 so it’d have to be ordered and there’s no time.
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Last edited by John Nantz; June 8th, 2016 at 06:44 PM. Reason: change adjustable gain settings from 3 to 2, re 2nd mic
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Old June 8th, 2016, 08:05 PM   #13
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

In addition to the $250.00 K6 power module it it seems they could make a cheap adapter without the transformer and battery circuits so you could just run it phantom power only. I wish they would, but there is probably a reason over my head. Or they want the $250.00.....

In regards to performers being nervous about the cameras....I am not polite enough to ask first. I would set up both cameras and only take one down if they asked me to. No one will regret two cameras after they see your video. But I get it, It sounds like you have a vested interest in the whole experience of the performance, not just the video. But even if you are doing this as a favor it should be a two camera shoot so they can see hands....isn't it? A keyboard shot could come from an unobtrusive place.

I'm not sure what your comments about your light kit meant? Video lighting bothers people far more than cameras in most situations. Those are nice little new camcorders, can't they handle the ambient room light?

Kind Regards,

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Old June 8th, 2016, 09:39 PM   #14
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Steve - I don’t know what is in the K6 but it must be something like a miniature pre, taking the small voltage from the mic head and boosting it.

There is a saying: An amateur musician plays a piece until they get it right. The professional plays the piece until they don’t get it wrong. (or something like that) All these recital pianists are amateurs and the pieces for their individual level are tough.

Hey, you’ve played this piece a lot and just recently got it down pat a number of times, but now you got all these people watching you play … and it can make one very nervous. Certainly, it depends on the individual. Some just play on, others get all sweaty hands and the fingers shake, so it all depends. There is one gal that is really good, a freshman in high school, and last semester played for the girls choir because the school couldn’t find a player, and she has a cool head. They had an adjudication in Seattle last month and she did really well in it. At age 10 and after a few days she pretty much had “Bumble Boogie” down pat, by memory, no notes! Her younger sister, on the other hand, has a gorgeous playing style, really has feeling in what she plays, but doesn’t have near the confidence. Some might call it stage freight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Digges View Post
... it should be a two camera shoot so they can see hands....isn't it? A keyboard shot could come from an unobtrusive place.
I agree but it’s a very wide and open stage and no place to hide. I really, really wanted a B-cam shot but the chances are looking remote now. I’ll have it ready to go depending on the conditions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Digges View Post
I'm not sure what your comments about your light kit meant? Video lighting bothers people far more than cameras in most situations. Those are nice little new camcorders, can't they handle the ambient room light?
The lighting where the other grand piano is isn’t all that good. One light I like is a hair and shoulders light - have a Dedo LEDzilla for that, nice little light. Have a Comer 1800LED which could be used - adjustable output (really nice light), and three light panels, also adjustable output. The right kind of lighting can add a little pizzaz to a bland shoot. With the hair light from behind I don’t think it would be too bothersome.

Although the church lighting isnt the worlds greatest and rain is forecast for Saturday so not counting on any spill to help, the AX100 and the AX53 should still handle the situation okay. Looking forward to the z150 as the next cam, so far no serious ‘gotchas'. The Comer light uses the same batteries as the z150.

Edit: Depending on the lighting, another thought is to have the AX53 wide and the AX100 for the B-cam because the AX100 would work better light-wise in tele. We’ll see.

Last edited by John Nantz; June 8th, 2016 at 11:20 PM. Reason: Another thought…; changed x150 > z150
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Old June 8th, 2016, 10:16 PM   #15
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Re: Piano audio - raising the bar

Maybe it's just me but...

I personally don't like to get too close to the piano with the mics because I always hear too much hammer/action sound which I find distracting, as well as too much percussive sound and separation of treble and bass. I'd want to be about 6 to 8 feet away and aimed at the center of the raised lid if it's on full stick although I might change my mind depending on the specific pieces being performed. I feel that the piano sound is so complex that it requires some distance to let the sounds "blend" for most classical pieces, but in the case of Bach (who actually wrote for Harpsichord) the percussive sound works well as it does for more modern pieces so I'd be more open to close mic-ing and aiming at the strings..

I have recorded with a pair of small DPA "lav" mics inside the piano and a couple are permanently under the cover of my wife's grand in case she wants to record something, but the sound is never, to our ears at least, as smooth and rich as what we get when recording a bit further away. Unless smooth rich sound isn't what you're after.

Of course the space in which the piano sits is a big piece of the equation. As are some small details such as whether the piano is on full or half or short stick.
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