Perfect stereo image of a piano

December 22, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

11 comments on “Perfect stereo image of a piano”

  1. Having a grand piano in our living room my finding with piano recordings is that they all sound absolutely unnatural, even the famous Koeln Concert of Keith Jarrett. Thus I always switch to mono when listening to solo piano concerts. These piano recordings clearly show that there is something basically wrong concerning the standard techniques of stereo recording and reproduction.

  2. When I was a young kid, my older sister was becoming an accomplished classic pianist. My parents purchased a 1905 Chickering Quarter Grand piano.
    I loved crawling under that piano and absorbing the enveloping sound.
    I got the direct sound from the sound board as well as the reflections from above.

    This has been my reference for what a piano should sound like – live or recorded.

    Octave’s recording of Don Grusin does this for me as well as does Bob James’ The New Cool.

    1. As a piano technician, that is all fun and fine (listening UNDER the soundboard), however, it is NOT where one would want to be during a performance, let alone record it from that perspective, all that percussive action noise from the mechanicals, sus pedal etc. It is a common problem when engineers stick microphones INTO the piano which many do. (O;

  3. As I mentioned before on the youTube video pertaining to this subject. A single point stereo microphone pulled INTO the given space will be most revealing. If you want the sound of a piano with your listening chair pulled right up a couple feet away (not recommended unless you are the artist on the bench) have at it with the mikes at that distance, you get what you get.

    If you want an audience perspective, pull the mike AWAY from the instrument, let it breath and capture the room or venue for a true stereophonic image.

    I have recorded violin and piano in large rooms using just two channels, and that is pretty much what I take home with me back in my listening space.

    Two channels, no mixing or level ‘fiddling’ and direct to the recorder. Simple CAN be better in my experience even with a LIVE, 70 piece symphony orchestra and organ performance.

    One day, Octave Records will take a chance and give true stereophonic recording a try, until then, they are pretty much doing what most all studios do, which include turning a beautiful concert hall acoustic into a studio with multi miking along with it’s phasing issues and at close range to the instruments. I’ll keep hope.

    1. Indeed! You hit the old and basic problem! But sound engineers aren’t committed to the basic goal of stereo but to create an artificial sound which meets their individual and most subjective preferences using all kind of mixing tools. They then declare this sound as “great sound”, better than the recorded sound!

      1. You are also very correct. I keep reading that recordists want to make things sound bigger then they are in real life!! It’s just not realistic and it drives me crazy. I am going round and round with an English fellow / classical organist in the UK. He goes into these fine cathedrals and sets up an ARRAY of microphones to capture the fine pipeorgans and beautiful acoustics within those spaces. FOUR channels of omni mikes alone to catch the long reverb tails!

        NEEDLESS and ARTIFICIAL ! In some cases, the organs speak from 40 to 80′ feet above the congregation! That is what I want to hear in my listening room. I want very much to be ‘transported’ to that space and enjoy the instrument in it’s natural setting the way it was VOICED for the room by the builders.

        Needless to say, I did not want to offend him concerning his latest recording tour of organists and churches, I just let him enjoy what he is doing. I am simply sad that he can’t keep his microphone scheme down to just TWO discrete channels. Hardly ANY engineers can, and Octave Records is not any different I’m afraid.

  4. As someone who played classical piano for almost a decade growing up, I listen to the recorded piano first for evaluating the tonal quality of my system. The other part, imaging, tends to be all over the map, as Paul’s inquirer has found. Thinking out loud about it, it would seem that a basic issue is the disconnect in perspectives between listener and sound engineer. The listener is more apt to focus on the player and his fingers on the keyboard, seemingly calling for a precise imaging correspondence. However, the piano’s sound is coming from another part of the instrument entirely, from a foot to several feet away from the player, and all the while resonating and and radiating out. The engineer is typically focused on capturing the latter in some coherent way, but it’s hard to reconcile the two perspectives. Maybe that’s why I appreciate live recordings where the perspective is from a seat in the hall, piano on stage, and from that distance the listener is apt to be receiving a more focused image of the instrument as a whole.

    1. Good morning Highstream!
      If you ever heard the song They Longg To Be Close To You by The Carpenters, the piano is over in the right speaker.
      But that’s the only part of the sound stage that the piano is on.
      But when I really got serious about making recordings like the ones that are talked about here, I wanted the recordings to sound exactly the same way as I heard the music playing live in person.
      I learned the hard way, that you have to have the right microphones to capture all of it.
      And also, you have to have all of the microphones in the right persition in order to make live recordings sound like, you’re right there.
      Some studio mastering people, use things like noise gates and compressers.
      But if you want to make recordings like life like, don’t use those kind of tools.

    1. Good morninng highstream!
      In 1984, I worked right along side of a producer at Atlantic Records to help Luther Vandross put together his album The Night I Fell In Love.
      There was one song that he wanted a piano in.
      The song in question here, was Only For One Night.
      But the way the producer miked up the piano, it didn’t sound right to both me and Mr. Vandross.
      Both of us agreed that, that part of the track needed to be done over again.
      For one thing, the microphones were too close to the piano.
      He had six of them on it.
      But we only needed one mic.
      And so, I removed all of them except one.
      We kept the snake, but we moved it about six feet away from the piano to capture it the way we wanted it to sound on the recording.Mr. Vandross and I, took the recording to my room in the dormitory that I lived in, at the school that I was going to at the time.
      We played it back on my stereo system, that was mostly vintage components.
      Both Mr.Vandross and I, were shocked at the sounds we heard radiating from my speakers!
      Mr. Vandross said to me, “it sounds like, I’m setting right here in front of you playing the piano!”
      The compressers and noise gates, didn’t get useds on any part of that recording.
      That’s what I was getting at.

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