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Old Tuesday, September 6th, 2005, 01:25 PM
BryanG's Avatar
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Micing the Piano

I have recently done some searches on past piano mic discussions, but they didn't have the feedback that I am looking for.
So, here we are...

At my church, we have been using a Shure SM-81 for the high and either an SM-57 or a BG 4.1 for the low end. While this is a pretty decent setup, the piano gets locked and covered during the week, which means that we don't really have a permanent setup. As you can probably guess, the mic placement from Sunday to Sunday is generally ambiguous, and we don't really get that consistent sound that I would like to have. Also, the boom stands are in the way due to piano placement and a very close proximity to the choir steps.

This past weekend, we were able to try out a pair of Audix SCX-25's. For those of you not familiar, they look like a black and gold lollipops. They sound really good, and if you don't get them in the right place, some frequencies are hotter than others. We had the Audix mics on booms, but they do make mounts for the dividing bars inside the piano. I still feel like if we choose to go with this mic, we will still have 'hot spots' and coverage issues. Plus, with any kind of mic placement, it will take some experimentation to get the mics in the right place for the best possible reproduction. But, we would be able to mount the mics inside, and still be able to secure the piano without having to move anything.

My curiosity also extends to the Helpinstill piano pickups. I don't put much stock into testimonials, however, if they perform well and can keep the volume uniform, would it be worth giving them a shot for a couple of months since we can send it back if it isn't what we need? Plus, the Helpinstill pickups are about half the price of a pair of the Audix mics.

I am sure that there is at least one person out there in this great community who has used these pickups. Any opinions specific to the setup and operation of the Helpinstill pickups would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks

Bryan
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Old Tuesday, September 6th, 2005, 01:40 PM
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I think a piano micing question was one of the first I posted here. I got 12 different responses with 14 different opinions, or something like that.

Good luck in your quest.
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Old Tuesday, September 6th, 2005, 01:59 PM
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It's often said that the acoustic piano is the single most difficult instrument to mic. I've heard this from studio engineers, but they just grab a pair of Neumann u-87s and put them 1/3 of the way in from the sides, just about a foot over the hammers. In omni. The biggest problem with micing a piano live is the use of omni condensers and monitors. I've used a barcus berry pickup and eliminated the monitoring problem. (you just can't drive omni condensers through monitors without horrible feedback) The Barcus berry pickup was really mid-rangy... kinda like a honky tonk piano. I hated it and it is in a pile of junk now. I haven't used the pickups you mention, but basic physics tells me that if the pickup doesn't physically cover the entire soundboard, you're not going to get a balanced sound across the keyboard... This is why we have a Kurtzweil MK 5 in our sanctuary.
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Old Tuesday, September 6th, 2005, 03:50 PM
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Bryan,

It's interesting that you posted this because I have been doing extensive research on options and testing on our piano (Yamaha C3 6'1" Grand) over the last few months to find what sounds the best. Almost every review that I have found rates the Audix SCX-25 Piano system as the best option for quality in a live setting. Opinions, of course, vary because everybody has a different opinion on how it should be done and what "good" sound is.

Most opinions are similar and agree that, for sound quality, you need two very good mics. If gain before feedback is the highest concern, then try a contact pickup system, but realize that your quality is not going to be as good.

Another thing is that recording setups and live amplification are NOT going to be the same. A piano is meant to be heard at a fair distance away and, in a recording setup, it can be miked at a distance with very good results.

In a live setting, this just isn't possible. For live amplification it's all about balancing sound with gain before feedback. Since the piano is so large, two mics are generally used to cover the vast size of the instrument and to balance the sound due to the proximity requirement necessary to overcome the feedback issue.

Reading posts here may give you some insight, but no one here (including myself) can tell you what is going to sound the best on your piano, in your room, with your sound system, and your idea of what you want it to sound like.

That said, out of the two options you posted, I would go with the Audix mics. If our church could afford them, that's what we would be using right now. I put that in my budget request this past year but it wasn't seen as a priority.

Anthony Burger (the pianist for the Gaither Vocal Band) was in concert at our church a few months ago and was using two AKG small diaphragm condensers with one over the high octaves and one over the low octaves. It sounded good but wasn't the sound that I wanted to get out of our piano. This is what prompted my research and testing.

I went through numerous mics that we could afford and have finally settled on a pair of Audix CX-111 large diaphragm condensers. I have spent the last few weeks trying to find the sweet spots on our piano and finally found them this past week. I have had a lot of issue with phasing problems in the middle octaves between the two mics and have changed location, height, angle, rotation, and whatever other placement issues you can think of. What I finally found to work the best with our piano and these mics is to have the lower octaves microphone about 4 inches above the bass strings about halfway down the length of the strings with the diaphragm pointed straight down. This means the chassis of the microphone is parallel to the strings. The mic is positioned over the lowest "C" string (C1 I believe). The higher octaves mic is positioned in much the same way over the E6 or F6 String but rotated slightly towards the highest notes instead of aimed straight down. This setup seems to reduce the phasing between the two mics and provides a clear, even sound from all the notes. I have very little EQ on the mics themselves. Neither HPF is engaged as I want the mics to have as flat a response as possible - and because the HPF on thses mics doesn't have as steep a slope as I would want for the high octaves mic.

For reference, I used the "5 Browns" CD as a baseline for the sound that I wanted. I kept moving the mics around our piano until the sound I got from our piano was as close as possible to that CD. Granted they were playing Steinways and ours is but a lowly Yamaha, but I wanted a high level of quality to strive for and I think that I have acheived it - making our piano sound it's best through our system.

My next step is to find or build mounts that will clamp onto the piano's frame (as the SCX-25 piano kit does) to hold our mics. Now that I have found where the mics sound their best, I have an idea of how long a gooseneck I will need. It will be nice to get rid of the ugly, black tripod boom stands from standing next to our nice, polished white piano.

Jeff

Edited to add: If anyone is interested, you can see Anthony Burger playing our piano in the top two pictures on Anthony Burgers website here.... http://www.anthonyburger.com/pics/pages/atthepiano.htm Those pictures also show a little bit of his mic setup. I will try to take some pics of our current setup some time in the next week or so and will post them for anyone interested to see.
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Old Tuesday, September 6th, 2005, 07:28 PM
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We are using Helpinstill pickups on our 9-foot Yamaha grand. We used to use some AKG mics, but our primary piano player has a very soft touch, so we had to crank them and we picked up too much room noise. This was particularly noticeable for the band, who monitors on headphones.

We like the Helpinstills, but, like with a mic, placement is very important. You want to get them as close to the strings as you can (without touching, of course) to get the most realistic sound. If your strings are too far away from the pickups, you get pure tone, and your big piano sounds like a Fender Rhodes.

The band, especially the piano player, like the pickups better than anything else we've tried. They like that when they turn up piano on their monitor feed, it's just piano..no room leakage.

To me, the mid-range is still just a tiny bit too electric sounding, but we get much, much, more GBF out of the piano now, and can give the worship leader and praise team all the piano they want in the monitors.

Our music style ranges from straight contemporary to full orchestra and choir, depending on the service and the song, so I've heard the pickups in a variety of situations. Over all, I like them.

I would like big Neumanns better, I'm sure, but live sound is a compromise.

I've heard of some people that use Helpinstills in conjunction with mics. The mics are routed to the house, and the pickups are used for the monitors. Kind of the best of both worlds, I suppose.
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Old Tuesday, September 6th, 2005, 10:04 PM
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If you like the sound of a natural piano you will never like the sound of pickups no matter the make. If you want to mic the piano you will have to do a lot of compromising. The best settup is two mics preferably condensers split them hi and low. eq the heck out of 800hz to kick back the sounding board. The mics can be used in conjunction with mic clamps and clamped directly to the frame of the piano their for eliminating the need to remic over and over again. You will have to play with the positioning a little and do some crazy eqing but it will give you the neuances you desire. A pair of 5 band parametrics will definatly come in handy. Hope this helps

crt

BTW 800hz works well for most Grands but some punch a little higher especially baby grands.
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Old Wednesday, September 7th, 2005, 08:52 AM
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We have used quite a few mic/pickup/piano combinations. Currently we have 2 of the audix CSX 25s in a 6' Yamaha with the lid closed. You are right in that it takes some experimenting with placement and a bit of EQing to get the sound that you desire. We also have a Helpinstill. We are thinking of putting that in and taking the lid of the piano. We had the lid off for 1 day and the FOH sound was great, but the monitors (all in ears) were washy when it was just piano and Vox. Our thought is to use the helpinstill for low end augmentation for FOH and for the times when there is just piano and vox for Monitors. The helpinstill's High Mids are very "toy piano" or electric sounding. I will try to get a pic of the mic placement and mounting so that you can see what we have used.
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Old Wednesday, September 7th, 2005, 09:44 AM
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Thanks for all of the great responses. It is good that I haven't had any GBF issues...just logistical walkway issues. Since we have been close micing hi/lo, we don't have to run the gain very high, but it is enough to cut through the house and monitor feeds without too much bleed from the orchestra/choir, etc. Like I said, I was really impressed with how clear and transparent the Audix mics were, and I think there is some money to make that happen. I would guess though that we will also give the Helpinstill pickups a try and see what happens.

The 5 Browns CD/DVD is amazing! (if you like the piano). Those kids have some type of telepathic lock on each other when they are all playing at the same time. I may try and use that as a reference once we decide on the mic and start working on the placement.

Drew- would love to see a pic or two if you can get them, thanks!

Bryan
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Old Thursday, September 8th, 2005, 12:19 AM
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using omni condensers in a church situation or any live situation is not a good idea, especially with a mic like that. (U87) You can put that mic in a world class studio, that should have excellent isolation almost perfect, and crank the gain and get feedback.

For some affordable mics on a piano the KM 184 is a great mic @ about 700 bucks one will do. 2 if you want to get even better coverage.

Even better on cost a pair of AT 4040's or 4050's will do anice job as well.
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Old Thursday, September 8th, 2005, 07:13 AM
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I have to dissagree with Wire on the Omni thing. We regularly use omnis on Horns, flutes, brass quartets and other instruments as we see the need, all with excelent results. Our Young adults service will add an AKG 414 in omni to the piano for thier service and they have good results. The key is experimenting and IEMs.
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Old Thursday, September 8th, 2005, 07:40 AM
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Right with IEM it's ok, that pretty obvious, but most churches are still using wedges or a combo

but even with out it may be cool with the Omni's you use, but the sensitivity of U87 is much more than any condenser you are probably using.
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Old Thursday, September 8th, 2005, 11:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wire
but the sensitivity of U87 is much more than any condenser you are probably using.
We have some DPA 4060s in the high sensitivity model that are very close or as sensitive depending on the polar pater selected on the U87.
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