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Topic: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

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  1. #1

    Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    Ran into a sound engineer who swears the warmth of sounds in the late 50\'s came from ribbon mics. From what I understand, reading about them on the internet, ribbon mics register bass and midrange notes better than other mic types. Any samples of piano notes out there that compare how notes sound using the various mic types?

  2. #2

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    The most basic, oversimplified, way to describe it is: ribbons sound half-way between a condenser and a dynamic. I have used the RCA 44 ribbon on lot\'s of Quantum Leap stuff, particularly the brass, and basically that mic won\'t over-emphasize top end like a condenser will, especially in close proximity. I luvs it. I am using it in a really high end tube signal path. To really get the old sound, you may need to use some funkier old gear. Haven\'t tried it on a piano.

  3. #3

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    I\'ve recorded - not sampled - piano with ribbon mics (Royer SF1s), and they worked exceptionally well. But not all ribbon mics sound the same, any more than all dynamics or condensers sound the same.

  4. #4

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    I love my Royer SF1.
    It is amazing on brass and
    violins. It sounds very natural,
    and most of the time more real than
    condensors.
    I tried the Royer R-121 and found that
    I liked the sound of the SF-1 better!

    Dave

  5. #5

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    Hm...The Russian company Oktava has a line of ribbon mics that Guitar Center sells. Anyone have any experience with this company\'s mics?

    Obviously, my thought it that the midrange of the piano might be warmed up sampling with a ribbon mic.

    Nick B.: could you post a brief mp3 of a piano part recorded with a ribbon?

  6. #6
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    Originally posted by Jake Johnson:
    Hm...The Russian company Oktava has a line of ribbon mics that Guitar Center sells. Anyone have any experience with this company\'s mics?

    Obviously, my thought it that the midrange of the piano might be warmed up sampling with a ribbon mic.

    Nick B.: could you post a brief mp3 of a piano part recorded with a ribbon?
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Oktava mics are not really all that great, best case, and their quality varies wildly. Royer is the way to go for a modern ribbon. Be prepared to baby it if you buy one. The Royers hold up pretty well, but ribbon technology in general is quite fragile. If you buy a matched pair, that means getting a matched set of repleacements even if you ruin only one, so know what you\'re getting into with ribbons. That said, you have to abuse them a bit to hurt them (but it\'s a mic that you\'ll want to put in abusive situations). Ribbons are classically used on vocal or sustaining instruments more than percussive envelope instruments like piano.

    But the room and piano itself are going to affect the sound infinitely more than the mic...and the placement of any mic will determine a lot more about the sound than the mic itself unless you\'re really using an extreme example. I don\'t put too much weight behind the \"warm sound of the 50s\" being attributable solely to ribbon mics. Ribbons where just the best technology available at the time, and god knows, there are 1000s more screechy, brittle 50s recordings than warm ones. Generally, condenser mics are better technology today, and getting warmth from them just involves making the right placement and mic choices in a given situation. If great condensers had been widely available in the 1950s, people would have used them. For instance, it\'s hard to come up with a better mic than a 414 for mic\'ing a Yamaha piano. TrueAudio preamps and 414s are a known \"magic\" combo on that instrument. Larry Seyer tried to improve on that formula with 4033s and a Soundfield, but it failed pretty badly (in his defense, that piano was mapped with a paltry 31 zones, so the overtone shift is as much a killer as the 4033s\' \"honk\").

    That Carole King \"Tapestry\" sound that you like is definitely a condenser sound, at least to my ears. What you may be reacting negatively to, in terms of the available sampled pianos, is that most of the producers are using B & Ks or Sennheisers (small diaphragm). These are generally the classical mic of choice for live piano in a hall. In the pop studio, most people gravitate towards large diaphragm mics, which make the sound punch harder with less \"gloss\" in the fortissimo. If there\'s any undiscovered mic\'ing secret to be had in today\'s sampled pianos, it\'s that you don\'t have many hardcore pop-studio rats giving input on the sound design of the libraries. I\'ve wondered often why someone doesn\'t pay Roger Nichols\' day rate, and get a set of pop-ears in the room (or at least emulate some of the more commonly successful studio piano techniques). Most people are mic\'ing as if they\'re doing it for sound reinforcement, or as if they\'re recording a piano recital--which WILL give a certain familiar sound on playback, but which won\'t really get you there in a pop mix. One technique that no one uses is a 414 in cardioid looking down on the (lidless) nether regions, and another in figure-eight centered over the hammers, aimed treble/bass. That is a tried and true classic studio setup, which gives a well centered, very \"stereo\" sound without that listener-perspective panning sweep (which totally horks any attempt to \"place\" the instrument somewhere in a mix).

    Anyhooo....that\'s my overinflated two cents. It would be nice to believe that ribbon mics would suddenly produce a warm perfect piano sample, but in reality, pianos are like drums in people\'s minds. No two people want the same sound, no single mic design will give you any more than one single perspective, so 99% of any given group of people will always dislike the sound of each and every sampled piano available. When someone comes out with a sampled piano that people can generally agree is good, then it\'s a rare occasion indeed, and that indicates that someone is doing something right!!!

  7. #7

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    Thanks Bruce. I do like the Tapestry sound, but I remember Mitchell\'s Blue better for it piano sound.

    My interest in the warmth actually came from recently listening again to Julie London\'s first album, Her Name is Julie --there\'s no piano, but I wanted the same warm sound for a piano.

    (I\'m not absolutely sure that it was recorded with a ribbon mic--but having been told that ribbon mics were the way the late 50\'s engineers got a warm sound, I leapt to the conclusion that a ribbon mic was the contributing factor.)

    Anyone know this album? It\'s mostly a trio or quartet. Any ideas why it sounds so warm? It could be tube mics. Barney Kessel would have been using a tube amp on the album (1957, I think it is), and several of the cuts have seem to swim in the same warm sea. (How did they get that warm sound?)

    And I can\'t restrain myself from again posting this link--this site is a great tribute:

    http://www.autobahn.mb.ca/~agard/indexx.htm

  8. #8
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    At some point, it\'s EQ and ambience. You can match almost any sound. The only difference in 50s recordings and 21st century recordings is the amount of entropy that leaks into the process between performance and playback. The tube circuitry knocked off a few corners. The mixer technology knocked off a few corners. Analog tape knocked off a few corners. Vinyl and pre/de emphasis knocked off a few corners. The pickup stylus and finally the speakers (still cave-man technology today, when you get right down to it) knock off a few more corners.

    So given todays far more direct and entropy free path, getting to yesterday\'s sound is a matter of EQ and to a degree some signal-smearing. But I think if you were to take a time-machine ride back to the 50s, grab a few engineers, and bring them with you to today--they would be leaping for joy at the sounds we can get today, very happy to be rid of their \"warmth\" in favor of being able to capture and manipulate sound to their liking.

    Much of what these engineers did, they did because there was simply no other choice. You didn\'t compress things and roll off bass at 80 hz because you liked it, you did it because X amount of music had to fit on a side of vinyl, and it wouldn\'t fit otherwise--the grooves would be too wide. One of the first Telarc/Soundstream recordings released commercially was Frederick Fennell conducting the Cleveland Winds on the Holst Suites for Band. At the end of the first movement of the first suite, there is a huge bass drum hit, which they left essentially uncompressed. Only, unless you had a VERY expensive cartridge (and even then unless you cranked up the weight to 3-4 grams), the tone arm would literally fly up into the air on that strike.

    You just couldn\'t do what you can do now.

    And part of our search, if you will, as engineer/artists in this period of almost unlimited potential, is knowing what SOUNDS musical in a recording vs. what we can actually capture and present. People went gaga over the sound of Donald Fagen\'s Nightfly album when it was released--it was declared the most amazing sounding CD of all times (perhaps two years into the existance of CDs, if that). I put it on the other day, and yes, it\'s still a recording of absolutely stunning clarity and imaging, but boy does it sound thin and anemic. At the time (circa 1983-4) we were just simply awed and amazed at clarity--we had never experienced clarity in recordings. They were always accompanied by vinyl noise, tape hiss, and electrical hum from the brutally extreme manipulations and amplifications required to get a squiggly vinyl trench to yield a stereo soundfield.

    But at this time, it\'s a matter of taste, not technology that determines the sound quality of an album. Compare Nightfly to Cheryl Crow\'s eponymous (black and white) disc--it sounds completely anemic. Or to Norah Jones\'s debut CD...which is as warm as anything you\'ll ever hear. That idea of old gear = warmth is just not a real thing--it\'s a delusion that some engineers who should know better cling to, perhaps as an excuse for not being able to make the EQ and placement calls that were once taken for granted in the \"smear and fuzz\" world of lesser technology. It\'s almost always that way...better technology doesn\'t necessarily make better art. It tends to make better art stand out even more, and likewise with lesser art.

    If you want to apply it to microphones themselves, I think the real reason that the U87 remains a go-to mic is not because it\'s the \"best\" microphone made. It\'s because the U87 happens to \"forgive\" exactly the set of frequencies at exactly the dynamic range which many singers (and instruments) need to sound \"better than they actually are.\" It\'s a comfy old shoe...a nice one, but not any longer a leading technology. Yet it retains its price, and its mythological status primarily because it is easier to get an acceptable result with it than with some newer, more precise microphone technologies that expose ANY problems in technique or performance. If you ask me, the Rode NT2000 and K2 (just released) are the most brutally truthful and bold microphones I have heard in my life. They may be the best microphones ever made. Whether they will become go-to microphones and household words in the audio community will be determined by how successful people are at making musical results with them, though, not on the basis of their quite amazing technology.

  9. #9

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    Very surpried to hear that most everyone is using small diaphram mics. So will anyone out there volunteer to take on the piano Bruce accurately says I want--what I would call a rock or pop piano, although those terms seem to be understood now as meaning bright and hard. I\'m instead much more interested in the Carol King (Tapestry), Joni Mitchell (Blue) sound, still: warm, woody, near miced (but not too close to the strings.)

    And I was serious about the first Julie London album. Great warmth.

  10. #10

    Re: Has anyone used ribbon mics to sample a piano?

    Jake, it was one of my mom\'s piano students and I made the recording alongside some other mics when I was reviewing the Royers a few years ago. She wasn\'t very good; this was for a college entry package (and she wasn\'t a music major).

    I\'ll try and find it, and then if I do I\'ll try and figure out which tracks were the Royers - and then which tracks were the SF1s and which were the R-121s!

    No promises, but I\'ll take a look...

    Meanwhile, I think they have a demo CD available. Check their website.

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