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Topic: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

  1. #1

    Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    I'm in the process of setting up a larger room in my house as a dedicated studio space. Its a decent sized room (about 22' x 16'), but only has 7' ceilings. I'll be acoustically treating the room to try and get the best recording / mixing environment that I can.

    I've also been thinking about buying a baby grand piano. I grew up with a piano in the house and my wife and I had an upright until a few years ago. I really miss the feel and sound of an acoustic piano and the instant gratification of just being able to sit down and play.

    Now I'm starting to think about recording my piano in my studio. My budget for a piano will probably be under $5K to $6K, so I'm not going to be able to get a top tier piano, but I've been looking for a little while and will probably be able to get a smaller Yamaha, Kawaii, Knabe, etc, second hand in that range.

    I don't have a big mic or pre locker so I'll have to budget some $$ for that also.

    So I'm wondering.. has anyone mic'd up a smaller piano in an acoustically treated - but not perfect - room? How will the sound compare to the best sample libraries, which are recording some of the worlds best pianos in some of the worlds best recording spaces with some of the worlds best recording equipment? There's no contest when it comes to actually playing a real piano vs a library, even on the best 88 key weighted controller.. but what about the sound once recorded?

    In the end I'll probably buy the piano and mic it up and find out for myself.. but if anyone has experience or comments about this I'd love to hear them.


  2. #2

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    I'm also in the process of building a home studio, and we're going to run 2 AES/EBU cables inside the wall from my Equipment Room Digidesign 192 into the living room where my Steinway is. When I want to record piano, I'll simply detach my Metric Halo ULN-2 from my Equipment Room, move it into the living room, and attach it to the AES cables. That way I can control the mic pre amp volumes from the ULN-2 front panel, I can hear playback (or click) through the Monitor out on the ULN-2, and I won't have any cable noise from running mic cables that long.

    For micing I usually use my AMT M40 piano mic and a Blue Baby Bottle over the bass strings. The AMT by itself is possible but has absolutely no stereo image, with the Blue it fills out nicely. I would like to get a higher quality large diaphram than the Blue, but that's pretty low on my list of things to buy. AMT just came out with a stereo mic called the B811 which might also be good; it's more of an overhead style micing.

    Comparied to Ivory, which is the sample piano I use, the real piano gives you much more resonance as well as more pedal noise. The Italian Ivory is especially nice and clean, but for anything that has to be emotional or that is very full I'll use my real piano.

  3. #3

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    I agree you can't beat a real piano for the overtones and subtleties it will provide, especially for solo work. You have to keep in mind that the piano will have to be tuned for critical recording, preferably right before the recording and that could present a inconvenience if you want to lay down a track quickly and the piano hasn't been tuned for a while. Depending on how well the piano is built it could stay well in tune anywhere from a few hours to a week, but rarely more. And as good as the piano might sound when you are playing, the slightest intonation problem will come out big time on playback.

    I have a friend who just completed an album for a major label who recorded a beautiful grand in a well known, high end studio. After a 12 hour tracking session, the piano drifted out of tune slightly in spots. He ended up replacing about half of the piano tracks with Ivory. It sounds great and the average ears could never tell the difference.

  4. #4

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    Rich speaks the truth here,
    I fully agree that a real piano is the way to go...

    UNLESS.... it is not a prestine sounding piano to begin with, and it has been tuned immaculately just before the session.

    In most cases, I would prefer the final mix to have the piano that sounds the best and is tuned phenominally.

    I realize part of this topic could turn into a debate about how a pianist has to compensate and massage each and every piano differently. That's understood, a great pianist's most common complaint is that the piano "feels bad" and is foreign to them. A great pianist is almost NEVER happy with any piano, real or sampled.

    I will put myself on the line here and beg you to NOT buy a cheezy "baby" grand piano and some "good enough mics from Guitar Center". Hold on to a tiny portion of that money, and buy Garritan's Steinway that is coming out soon, it is awesome!!! The number one tech who trains all the other Steinway techs was the one to pick out the piano that would be sampled,... and tuned it himself. I am about as picky as they come when it comes to out of tune notes/chords in a piano. This piano that was sampled by Garritan is the best tuned sampled piano I have ever laid ears on, at least compared to all the sampled pianos on the market today. It is a Steinway Model D Concert grand 9 foot piano.

    The resonances, all three pedals, tuning, choice of multiple microphone perspectives, is all fantastic.

    I would always prefer a decent sampled piano as opposed to a real piano that sounds like it belongs in a sunday school room.
    Oh one more thing, even on a Mac, the Garritan Steinway takes less than twenty seconds to load. Awesome!


  5. #5

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    Actually I will agree that a sampled piano will almost always sound better...

    I was in a Greek studio, paying quite a lot of money to record a live piano (since the piece was contempoary, and I had various techniques unavailable at any piano (harmonics, inside the piano, etc)). Well I have to say that the recording did not convince me AT ALL! Ok it wasn't a super duber piano, it was a Yamaha, but still I would expect that a professional studio (probably one of the best in Greece) would have a decent sound... but nia... it didn't.

    I largely prefer the sound of Ivory. Or a combination of Ivory and pianoteq

    Additioally, there are 2 new piano libraries right on the corner. The one is the Garritan Steinway, which Dan already mentioned, and the other is a beast of 240 (compressed?) GB from EW and 4 pianos,with the new engine, blah blah. It appears that both will be amazing!

    In the end, unless talking about detailer solo work, no matter how much we complain sampled pianos will do the work! There are tons of details in sampling a piano nowadays, and think about the size, which tops most orchestral libraries! Imagine the details!

  6. #6

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    For convenience sake and superb sound flexiblity and quality, I would actually prefer using Ivory for many different reasons. A real piano is nice, though most of the real pianos I have sat down at, I never really loved the sound, unless of course it was a very expensive one and tuned well. For solo piano work, sure, I would probally give the real deal a try first, though keep in mind you will need two great mics and recording chain to get the most out of it.

    Working with Midi and something as real as Ivory, I just love that I can control velocity, and a whole other things AFTER the performance was captured, sculpt it even more.

    Of course there is always something nice about playing the real thing, but its so much more work to get good results, but it very well may be worth it.

  7. #7

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    I would like to quote something from a thread in the piano forum:


    "...submitted my latest CD to David for Whisperings. He liked my material, but thought the quality of my recording was not quite up to professional standards. I recorded my own Yamaha baby grand with some good large-diaphram mics direct to a digital recorder, but obviously it's not as good as a pro recording studio. He mentioned to me that he had received some CDs recorded with Ivory, that he really couldn't tell from the real thing, and he recommended that I check into that. "

  8. #8

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    Thanks for all of the comments and advice! Its not suprising to me that the general consensus is that I'm going to end up with a better sound from sample libraries. I'm still going to buy a piano for my own enjoyment, but its definitely going to be in the low end 'cheesy' baby grand range. That's what started giving me second thoughts in the first place.. how will a cheap baby grand compare to the sound of a world class grand, not to mention the recording equipment and space.

    The comments about tuning hit home too.. I don't plan on having the piano tuned every week, let alone every day. And I live in South Florida, where the high humidity can change a piano's tune slightly from day to day. I can imagine myself going NUTS trying to mix music where the piano was out of tune with itself!

    I'm really looking forward to both the Garritan and QL piano libraries. One upside to EW going to a dongle is that when I get the PLAY version of Platinum I'll be able to test drive the new libraries before buying. That's a BIG step forward.

  9. #9

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    Quote Originally Posted by JMDNYC
    I'm also in the process of building a home studio, and we're going to run 2 AES/EBU cables inside the wall from my Equipment Room Digidesign 192 into the living room where my Steinway is. When I want to record piano, I'll simply detach my Metric Halo ULN-2 from my Equipment Room, move it into the living room, and attach it to the AES cables.
    My thinking would be a lot different if I had a Steinway to mic up.. its on my list!

    By the way, big props to the ULN-2... great piece of gear!

  10. #10

    Re: Piano libraries vs mic'ing up a real piano

    Two more pieces of advice: instead of buying a cheap piano, you could get a used Boston. That's what I did from the Steinway dealer in New York. They'll apply the price to a full Steinway if and when you want to buy one. My Boston had a very nice sound (though it got a bit muddy in the bass), and it cost me $17k -- more than your average car, but cheaper than a Steinway. They also now offer the Essex line, which is made by Young Chang and is even cheaper than Boston. Bostons are made by Kwai, by the way.

    Second, if you live in Florida, you might want to consider installing a humidity control system to help keep it in tune. Check out www.dampp-chaser.com.

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