I’ve been sitting down at the piano quite a bit lately trying to find good mic configurations for recording my piano in my living room (actually, we call it "The Piano Room.” I have a Zoom H4n recorder that I have used successfully to record our live house concerts. It is a wonderful device that I can listen to in “real time” with headphones, adjusting the recording volume as I play. It is a whole different ballgame, however, trying to use it for a studio piano recording. To round out the sound, I am borrowing a condenser mic from friends that is super sensitive. I have tried a few different placements. It seems the condenser does best inside the raised lid, about halfway between the lid and the strings. I can duplicate the condenser’s mono signal and reverse it in my editing software to get a stereo sound. I am hoping that between the condenser and the Zoom I can accurately capture the shimmery goodness of my beautiful Vogel grand piano.
A few things I’ve learned about placement – putting the mic close to the lid gives a warm reflective sound, but can be a little too bright. Putting it close to the strings gives more hammer noise and pedal noise. For balance, the mics need to be about halfway between the lid and the strings. Also, the condenser and Zoom seem to need to be within 36 inches of each other.
For a while I attached my Zoom to a camera tripod and balanced the tripod on top of a speaker to get it high enough to “see” into the case of the piano.
Placing it in the crook of the piano and getting it as close to the piano as I could gave me almost what I wanted in terms of sound. However, I wanted to experiment with getting the Zoom over the mid-range or bass of the piano, not just the treble strings. So I purchased a GoPro music kit that contains a clip that can attach either to the lid of my piano or to the music stand. It comes with two extension attachments, one about 2 inches long, and the other about 5 inches long. To connect my Zoom to the clip I use a camera-converter made by GoPro. What a fun device! I can position the Zoom anywhere now and angle it using the hinged extensions. It gives me so many more options over my original setup.
Testing the Zoom out with the GoPro kit today, I tried both attaching it to the lid and to the music stand, alternately. Although I got great sound attaching it to the lid, I continually got a buzz, either due to the vibration of the kit against the lid, or the close reflection of the device to the lid. Warm, but too bright and buzzy. I then tried attaching the Zoom to the music stand, toward the bass strings, with the condenser pointing towards the treble. This happily cut out the buzz and I think I’m getting closer to the sound I want. You can hear a sample of this in this excerpt of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-sharp Minor.
Here's another clip, this time with the Zoom attached to the side of the piano. Can you hear a difference?