Ben Eames – Piano Recording

This week I got together with pianist Ben Eames. He is in 3rd year of the BMus (Hons) Music course at Napier and is a keen performer. For ages, I’ve been very interested in recording the concert grand Bosendorfer piano up at our campus. Coincidently, Ben was looking to get some solo recordings done.

We met on a night out to discuss what he’d be looking for, so that I had some idea on what to research before our session. I found out he is very much a classical pianist and he would prepare whatever he was semi-comfortable playing. I booked the Recital Room, borrowed some nice mics and had to bring down the uni’s Digidesign 003 to enable me with a recording platform and four mic inputs.

Although I only had Ben for a couple hours, I was keen to experiment with as many mic setups as possible. It was a nightmare setting up as my Pro Tools 10 threw a strop earlier in the day after installing the 003 drivers. So I went into uni anyway and spent nearly an hour setting up, not knowing if I was able to record because I was reinstalling the software…

Microphones Used

2 x Neumann TLM103

1 x AKG Perception 400

First setup

[TLM103s: spaced 1′ from soundboard, 3′ apart, Perception 400 (omni): to make ‘happy phase’ triangle 3′ from TLM103s]

The Neumanns were positioned at about G two octaves either side of middle C, and the AKG completed a triangle, pointing inward to the middle of the piano.

I believe this is a popular tri-micing technique, as it works well to cancel out any phase issues providing you create an equal triangular shape.

Second setup

[TLM103s: spaced 4″ from soundboard, 3′ apart, Perception 400 (cardioid): underside of piano 3′ from TLM103s]

Same position with the Neumanns only they were closely miced this time. The AKG was directed to the underside of the soundboard.
A slightly more unorthodox approach to a classical recording. It’s understood that close micing is more of a rock thing, as room ambience holds less importance in busier mixes.

Third setup

[TLM103s: spaced 1′ from soundboard, 3′ apart, Perception 400 (omni): 5′ from TLM103s and 8′ from ground]

Similar to the first setup however this time the AKG was used more for ambience as the mic is high up and further away from the source.

I think this particular setup was quite effective as it felt the Neumanns were doing a good enough job providing a stereo image. The AKG worked the acoustics to provide a good room sound, filling the space with a natural reverb.

When it got to mixing the recordings, I didn’t have the first damn clue how to go about it. Mixing a solo piano? Surely it naturally feels just… unnatural to do anything to such a beautiful sounding instrument. I realised that with this type of recording, most of the work and concentration takes place whilst recording, and I guess this is where I wish I had more time.

What I did do though, was by instinct delay the ‘third’ mics by about 3ms, 3ms and 8ms respectively – basically until they sounded in line with the other mics. The dampers were posing my biggest challenge (again, probably my poor placement), so I notched out very intricate frequencies at 2.19kHz, 2.23kHz and 6.62kHz which took out the worst of the damper sound. EQ-wise, I brought up about 2dB wide berth of c. 210Hz, lowered about 1dB of mid at c. 700Hz and raised the air a bit with 2.2dB at c. 7.5kHz. I used a very light compressor on each, which wouldn’t have done much and I brought up the loudness overall by a gentle limiter.

Overall, I felt the outcome was good and anyone who had listened to it had positive things to say. Because the talent was in the playing, I’m not going to take any credit for it as I really didn’t know how to make it sound any better!


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