I’m only beginning to understand how difficult it is to capture the full range of tones from my own grand piano in my small piano room. Of course, it’s probably sensible to go to a recording studio to have myself recorded but I always have this strong crave for Do-It-Yourself and experiment! Recording my own piano in my own piano room is certainly one of them. I started out with using Zoom H4n. As I gradually understand what’s lacking in the Zoom H4n-captured audios, I’ve decided to invest in a few improvements within the budget. Let’s face it; it’s a small and carpeted boxy room with a Yamaha grand C5A, so it’s never going to be a proper recording studio quality. All I’m trying to do is to properly understand the relationship between my room and piano, so that I can apply much needed improvements to get the best out of what I can do with my limited resources.

The best thing I did before I started making any changes was to join one of the reputable sound engineer’s forums, gearslutz.com. To be honest, I’ve never thought I’d do such thing, joining a forum to ask for advice. For someone who has no grip with sound engineering like myself, it took me a bit of courage to join this forum and ask for help; what if my questions are perceived as so ridiculous… But there’re members who are genuinely interested in helping others. I got some very useful tips from the very experienced sound engineers across the world to get started with my improvement project. What I found out first was that my room need some sort of acoustic treatment. I’ve already got some acoustic foam and made a few panels to hand on the wall.

In applying improvements gradually to my piano room to capture my Yahama grand piano tone better, I thought I’d keep a record of progress by making test recordings each time and compare between what was before and what’s now. The first improvement I made was to move from using Zoom H4n to Tascam DR680 for a better mic preamp and more mic inputs. In my first test recordings:

1. No room treatment is yet applied for this recording, except the two 30cm x 30cm acoustic foams behind the two mics (about 65cm away from the mics).

2. A pair of AKG Percetpion 420s are positioned in a sort of modified version of ORTF setting or maybe NOS? – about 30cm spaced between the mics with about 60 degree angle apart, using cardioid pattern, 60cm (for treble side) & 73cm (for bass side) away from the piano rim, the mics height is 140cm.

mics positioning2-SMALL

3. Two different styles of music were recorded; one non-classical music with quiet dynamics using limited range of keyboard with lots of sustaining pedal for overlapping harmony effect, and the other classical music with much louder dynamics covering the wide range of the keyboard.

4. The recorded audios here are raw wav file (recorded at 24bits, 48kHz but converted to 16bit, 44.1kHz), with no EQ or reverb is added.

This is what my current room sounds like, or my piano sounds like in my piano/teaching room.

Kathryn Tickell’s The Return – Tascam DR680:

Kathryn Tickell’s The Return – Zoom H4n:

Chopin op10-1 – Tascam DR680:

Chopin op10-1 – Zoom H4n:

Even to my non-sound-engineer ear, the difference is very evident. Some high frequencies in particular.

Hopefully, my next test recordings will be done in an acoustically treated room, well… to some extent.

Warning: My apologies, my piano is slightly out of tune at the moment. There’re some harsh metallic sounding notes in the treble area as you can hear.