Question for @elk and @badbeef

I’ve noticed that if there’s audible distortion in a recording, it’s most likely noticeable in the acoustic piano. If what I’m hearing makes sense, then why piano?

Piano is very complex and difficult to replicate. It is easy to hear issues with piano.


I’d love to learn the details behind this.

Drumkits can be real offenders in the distortion department as well for those recordings that include them. Especially drummers who output a wide range of dynamics and engineers who don’t anticipate that or haven’t had the time to become very familiar with the “swings.”


I’ll ask a couple NYC recording engineers when I can and let you know what they tell me. I’m very curious.

Look forward to you sharing their thoughts. Solo piano is one of my go to instruments for evaluating new equipment. Good point regarding drum kits as well.

Most notes on a piano are three strings, struck simultaneously. It is the complex interplay between these identically tuned strings which defines the sound of a piano. Also, keep in mind piano is fundamentally a percussion instrument.

Then there is the many, many ways one can record the instrument - mics attached to the harp, close miking, miking at a distance, lid closed/open, etc.


It’s a devilishly complex instrument - and big - and capable of astounding dynamics. Especially concert grands. In addition to the sound board, the entire instrument resonates / interacts with the acoustics of its environment.

So where’s the best place to position the mics? And which ones? :slight_smile:


I love piano. It is how I test for detail. What is interesting to me must relate to the above on how the Mic’s are set up. The piano is of course a mechanical instrument as well and many recordings I hear are full into recording that aspect. You hear the pedals and the “wood” if you will moving as the artist plays. Most recordings this is not noticeable but some, it’s almost forefront.
I guess somewhat like some acoustic guitar where sliding from one note to the other becomes part of the piece vs something done in the background.


It must have to do with the recording engineer; mic placement, etc.
As only one example, I have an album with piano and vibes, both percussion instruments. On it, everything is crystal clear except some of Wynton Kelley’s piano notes and chords. Milt Jackson’s vibes are perfectly clean. It’s very strange.
And how could the recording and mastering engineers have left it that way?

In my experience, piano music is the first thing that distorts when phono stage loading / gain is excessive or when tracking force is incorrect. Also, I noticed that piano music reveals loudspeaker shortcomings.

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Agree 100%. On the digital side if my system combination exudes any bite at all, that’s the first place I’ll find it. I.e. Norah Jones, Michelle Mclaughlin etc.

You know Ron I’ve been beginning to think that in the 'fifties and 'sixties–especially in pop and jazz and rock etc. recordings–the equipment that some recording engineers used to record and monitor the recordings just didn’t show them all that was on the tapes and how what was on the tapes sounded completely. And a lot of home stereos too would not show as much detail as we have been accustomed to most of our lives and especially in the portion of our lives when we have had great stereo systems. So things like Kelly’s piano playback being iffy when Jackson’s vibes weren’t etc. happen.

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As a vintage Infinity owner, piano music is one of the surest methods to determine if the midrange driver (EMIM) is starting to deteriorate. I first noticed a problem with my EMIM by playing one of the Octave recordings.

And I thought I was losing my mind when a piece I was listening to recently had the upper octaves playing from the left and lower from the right.
Back on track, it’s helpful to understand, or at least appreciate, the complexities of the instrument and difficulties in capturing it.

In the early 80’s, I worked in a studio in which the engineers would sometimes use PZM microphones attached to the piano’s open lid. They would also utilize them with drum kits, although I have forgotten how and where exactly. It was the first time I had ever seen that type of microphone placement and have no recollection of how well they performed. I do recall them using them in combination with other microphones when working to achieve a desired tonal effect.

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Another example is putting the mics inside with the strings, close the lid, and cover the piano with moving blankets - a very different sound.

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For as long as I’ve been interested in audio (ca 1970), people in-the-know have talked about how hard it is to reproduce piano well, and that included a lot of performance parameters: frequency range, tonal balance, dynamic range and even (back in the days of tape machines and turntables) smooth and accurate decay. I remember the very first stereo test record I ever bought talked about how badly piano is affected by turntable flutter, and it had three tracks of piano music, identical except for an increasing amount of artificially-induced flutter. The point of the exercise was to listen to how similar the tracks sounded on your system. The more alike they were, the worse flutter your own turntable had. Only really good 'tables would make the differences in tracks obvious. Needless to say, the turntable in my JVC compact stereo, purchased through the Record Club of America, didn’t. :rofl:

But I’m not as curious about why piano is so difficult as I am about why this question was directed at @elk and @badbeef in particular? :wink:

Probably could have gotten better sound if they could stop the blankets from moving.

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