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The piano can be a difficult instrument to record properly due to its sheer size. Without the proper microphone(s) and placement, getting professional quality in terms of capturing the entire piano’s sound leaves much to be desired.
Investing in a good microphone (or two) can make a world of difference when recording the piano. All of the following microphones are favorites among the recording community, with offerings for every budget and some specialized use cases.
Audix SCX25A-PS – Best Overall
While it’s true, you could probably get by using a standard condenser microphone, you’re better off purchasing something made for the piano. The Audix SCA25A-PS (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is hands-down one of the best options you could choose.
Don’t be put off by the price tag, the SCA25A-PS actually comes with 2x SCA25A microphones that are matched pairs. This allows you to capture the entire piano in 2 different sections for true stereo sound.
The SCA25A is a condenser microphone with a cardioid pattern and a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. Its maximum sound pressure level is rated at 135dB, ensuring you can use these microphones for drums and amplifiers.
Plus, with only 14dB of self noise, the SCA25A maintains a very low sound floor. You won’t have to worry about that annoying static white noise with these.
What’s unique about the SCA25A is that it has a large diaphragm despite being relatively small in size. Because it is a sideways-facing microphone, you can place it directly over top of the piano without having to worry about the bulkiness that comes with other condenser microphones.
In terms of sound quality, the SCA25A captures its audio without much coloration, allowing the piano’s natural tone to shine. It has the ability to isolate, which can come in handy when recording live piano in the context of a full-band setting.
While you could just buy 1 SCA25A, buying the SCA25A-PS pair gives you some added bonuses. Along with the pair of microphones, you’ll get a pair of 20’ XLR cables, D-flex mounts, and an aluminum case for storage and safe portability.
If you don’t have multiple thousands of dollars to spend for professional recording quality, the SCA25A-PS is one of the best values on the market. It isn’t the most expensive microphone on the market, but it does have one of the best reputations to be found.
For those of you who need celebrity endorsement, you should know that Paul McCartney regularly employs these microphones while on tour. Being able to acquire this kind of professional performance at this price point is not only budget-conscious but one of the best values to be found.
Earthworks PM40 – Best Premium
Are you only concerned about getting the best audio quality possible, no matter the cost? The Earthworks PM40 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is considered one of the best piano microphone systems that money can buy.
When it was released just a few short years ago, the PM40 gained quite a bit of hype. It is a one-of-a-kind microphone solution built and designed specifically for recording pianos.
To best describe the PM40’s design, you could think of it as being a pair of omnidirectional microphones attached to a telescopic bar. The bar itself spans between 46” and 64”, and is built to be able to sit across the width of the piano, allowing the microphones to drape down above the piano strings.
The PM40’s microphones have an impressive frequency response ranging from 9Hz to 40kHz. Its self noise is rated at 20dB while its maximum sound pressure level is 148dB, which should be more than enough for even the most intense piano performances.
If you’re like me, you might be wondering if you could concoct your own version of the PM40 by sourcing inexpensive omnidirectional microphones and attaching them to a rod. While this could work, the results would be nowhere near the wide, full-spectrum sound that the PM40 is able to capture.
Part of the PM40’s secret sauce is in the fact that the microphones sit just a few inches above the piano’s strings. This helps to eliminate bleed from other instruments and environmental sounds while also helping to provide ample gain headroom before levels of feedback are experienced.
The PM40 is the system you should consider, especially if you have an exquisite grand piano that deserves the best recording quality possible. It’s a system that was designed for convenience and efficiency, and even comes with a hardshell carrying case to keep it all safe!
Shure SM57 – Best Budget
The Shure SM57 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is widely considered to be one of the best general-purpose microphones on the market. This microphone has had a reputation spanning multiple decades for being the microphone of choice for pianos, acoustic guitars, and snare drums.
The SM57 is a sleek dynamic microphone with a cardioid polar pattern, and a frequency response ranging from 40Hz to 15kHz. One of the SM57’s signature aspects is its inward-curving grille, which helps to isolate outside noises while also boosting its subject’s presence.
While the SM57 won’t be for everybody, this is definitely a viable option for those on a tighter budget. Purchasing a pair of these to cover the entire piano’s range of tones can still cost you less than many of the other options to be found in this article.
Despite being a budget microphone, it tends to be the microphone of choice for recording upright pianos. Many studios employ these at the back of the piano to bring out the glassy mid and treble ranges without being too warm in the bass.
However, with the proper clip holders, you could easily attach a pair of these inside of a piano’s body. No matter how you wish to use the SM57, you’ll be able to capture some amazing quality that you can be satisfied with.
If you’re somebody who regularly tours, having some SM57s in your rig can be the best choice you’ve ever made. These microphones are ridiculously sturdy and can handle even the most rigorous conditions, ensuring you can enjoy a lifetime of use with this affordable microphone.
Overall, the SM57 is a fantastic budget option for those who are looking to record piano along with a number of other instruments. It really is the industry standard by which all other microphones of its class are measured.
Ribbon microphones are generally considered to be the cream of the crop as far as recording microphones are concerned. The Shure KSM353/ED (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a great choice for anyone who has an accommodating budget.
This ribbon microphone has a bidirectional figure-8 polar pattern with a frequency response ranging from 30Hz to 15kHz. One thing you can be certain of is that the KSM353/ED does not add much coloration to its subject, providing a sound that is very close to what you naturally hear with your own ears.
What’s even better is that the microphone’s bass levels can be tailored to taste without compromising the rest of the microphone’s overall mix. This will provide a full, rich sound that has that classic smoothness that ribbon microphones are known for.
Ribbon microphones are known to be fairly fragile in nature, but the KSM353/ED has a couple of safeguards to help provide longevity. Its combination of a Roswellite ribbon and a sound pressure level capacity of 146dB means that it can withstand very loud sounds without damaging the ribbon.
The KSM353/ED is definitely an investment that is only really suitable for serious professionals. While just 1 will set you back a pretty penny, you must also consider whether you want a pair for true stereo recording, which will indeed cost quite a heap of coins.
With that being said, the KSM353/ED does come with a shock mount and a padded aluminum case. These are definitely necessary accessories to help prevent damage, and anyone can appreciate their inclusion (especially at this price).
The AKG C214 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a pair of microphones that very nearly made the distinction as being the best microphones for piano overall. Alongside the aforementioned Audix SCA25A, the C214 has a long history of being one of the microphones of choice for anyone looking for a professional audio response at a reasonable price.
Individually, the C214 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid pattern and a frequency response ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz. In terms of sound pressure levels, the C214 can handle up to 136dB, or up to 156dB with the microphone’s -20dB pad engaged.
Ultimately, this means that the C214 is a fantastic option as a multi-use, all-purpose set of microphones. Outside of the piano, you could easily use these with drums and guitar amplifiers to great success.
What’s nice about being able to buy a matched set of microphones is that both microphones will sound essentially the same. These are matched in the factory to ensure that there is very little to no variance in the way they respond.
While the C214 isn’t the most affordable option for those on tighter budgets, they are appropriate for anyone who is serious about their career. These make excellent microphones for someone’s first professional-level set of microphones, primarily because they can be used in so many different ways.
Plus, part of the C214s is the fact that they are not bulky or cumbersome to deal with when placing them where they are needed. AKG has gone the extra mile to sweeten the pot by including:
- 2 windscreens
- 2 shock mounts
- 2 microphone stand clips
- Aluminum storage/carrying case
Neumann TLM 102
Neumann is a brand that is synonymous with some of the highest-quality possible when it comes to microphones. The Neumann TLM 102 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is no exception, offering professional studio-grade quality in a compact size.
This large diaphragm condenser has a cardioid polar pattern and a frequency response range of 20Hz to 20kHz. With a maximum sound pressure level of 144dB, the TLM 102 should be able to handle just about anything you could wish to use it for if you do record with other instruments.
One of the standout features of the TLM 102 is the way it smoothes out harsh treble pitches. You’ll love this microphone for those musical moments when the piano’s higher keys are pressed with excessive force.
That’s not to say that the TLM 102 lacks brightness, however. Rather, the microphone is quite crisp and clear, while still retaining the bass frequencies for an accurate, full-spectrum audio response.
Another interesting feature of the TLM 102 is that its housing does not have a transformer. Instead, Neumann has opted to use electronic circuitry, which drastically reduces self noise.
The TLM 102 is also equipped with an internal pop filter, which can come in handy in vocal applications. But, for the sake of using it with the piano, the TLM 102 is a fantastic choice, especially when used with an open grand piano.
One thing you will need to consider when purchasing the TLM 102 is whether you want stereo recording. You would need to purchase an additional microphone, as this microphone unfortunately does not come offered in factory-matched pairs.
With that being said, Neumann seems to do an excellent job with its quality control as this doesn’t seem to be an issue. Many have used a pair of TLM 102s without any frequency imbalances caused by not being matched in the factory.
Shure Beta 181/C
The Beta 181/C is perhaps one of the more interesting microphone designs to be featured in this article. This microphone is modular, allowing you to swap out the capsule for other 181-series capsules.
Ultimately, what this means is that, once you have a Beta 181/C, you can purchase other professional-grade microphones at somewhat of a discount. The capsules alone are more money some other microphones in this article but can be acquired for about half of the price of this microphone.
The Beta 181/C features the cardioid condenser capsule and has been proven time and again to be highly effective at recording piano. It has a frequency response range of 20Hz to 20kHz, with a maximum sound pressure level capacity of 151dB.
Aside from its modular design, the Beta 181/C’s biggest selling point is the fact that it is a side-address design. This cuts down on the bulk found with other condenser microphones, allowing the Beta 181/C to get into smaller spaces that would otherwise be impossible.
The Beta 181/C is also quite fantastic at isolating its subject and preventing outside noises from entering the signal. When used with a piano, you’ll find that its sound has a lively level of presence with a full-spectrum sound that is slightly warm and quite balanced.
Again, while this is a relatively affordable microphone compared to others on this list, you do need to be mindful of whether you want stereo tracking. This will require an additional microphone purchase, which could push the limits of your budget.
With the purchase of the Beta 181/C, you’ll also receive a windscreen and a microphone stand adapter. A carrying case also comes included, which has spaces available for up to 4 different 181-series capsules.
Looking for a matched pair of condenser microphones that won’t break the bank, but aren’t cheap in quality either? Look no further than the Rode NT5 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon), which is an incredible value for the price.
The NT5 is a condenser with a cardioid polar pattern and a frequency response ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz. Its maximum sound pressure level is rated at 143dB while maintaining quiet operation with only 16dB of self noise.
For the price, the NT5 packs in quite of versatility, which should have no problems recording the piano’s complex sound picture. Historically, the NT5 has proved quite exceptional for everything ranging from piano, acoustic guitar, drums, as well as full choirs.
In terms of sound, the NT5 does maintain somewhat of a brighter tone but does remain quite balanced and natural. It’s been said before that the NT5 performs at the top of its class without having to spend exponential sums of money for improved performance.
One of the biggest benefits of the NT5 is the fact that its pair has been matched at the factory. This means that both microphones will perform as if they are clones of one another, helping to reduce slight frequency imbalances.
Along with the NT5 comes a pair of RM5 stand mounts, a pair of windscreens, and a microphone stand adapter. A carrying case comes included so you can keep everything safely in 1 place.
Overall, the NT5 is an ideal choice for anyone looking for an affordable pair of pencil-style condenser microphones. For the price, there really isn’t much to complain about as it seems to perform beyond what would be expected in this range.
Blue Microphones Yeti
Up until now, every microphone that has been featured in this article utilizes a standard XLR connection. What if you didn’t necessarily have an audio interface and still wanted to be able to use a microphone to record your piano?
While it won’t be for everyone, the Blue Microphones Yeti (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a USB microphone worth considering. This microphone has had mixed reviews in the world of voice broadcasting, but it can be a great tool to have at your disposal if you’re teaching online piano lessons.
The Yeti is a condenser microphone that allows you to switch its mode between 4 different polar patterns, including:
This microphone has a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, with a maximum sound pressure level of up to 120dB. In terms of its audio, the Yeti records up to 16-bit, 48kHz resolution, which is in line with professional standards.
Before you purchase this, you should know that the Yeti likely won’t give you studio-grade quality. However, for what it does, the Yeti can be an invaluable tool for anyone who either takes or gives lessons online.
Using the cardioid setting is especially ideal for video chat clients that require a mono audio source. But one of the best things about the Yeti is that you can switch its polar pattern and record your piano in stereo if you ever feel the desire to.
Because it plugs directly into a computer with a USB connection, you can record your piano with minimal overhead with regard to additional purchases. It even comes with a 1/8” headphone jack so that you can monitor the microphone’s levels in real-time.
The Yeti comes with a desktop stand that will allow you to tilt the microphone toward the inside of the piano. This stand doesn’t completely reduce vibrational noise, but it can help to significantly reduce them.
Overall, the Yeti is a great choice for somebody who has very little experience using a microphone. It’s affordable, has surprising audio quality, and is very easy and straightforward to set up and use.
What To Look For When Buying A Microphone For Piano
Choosing to make an investment in piano microphones can be one of the best things you do for yourself as a musician. However, it also is a double-edged sword because the time leading up to the purchase can be a bit emotionally tumultuous.
Nobody wants to spend their money, only to find that the microphone(s) they bought fell short of their expectations. Research is obviously necessary, but to make the most of your research efforts, it’s imperative to know your own needs ahead of time.
Consider each of the following points as a guiding path that will allow you to figure out what you need from a microphone. Otherwise, you’re essentially gambling in hopes that what you purchase does what you want it to.
It sucks to say, but your budget is one of the most important aspects to consider when you have decided to buy a microphone. The budget acts as the natural boundaries of what is realistically available to you for purchase.
Microphones can be ungodly expensive, there’s no denying that fact. And generally speaking, you do often get what you pay for when it comes to buying a microphone.
With that being said, you do not necessarily have to spend a fortune to get good audio quality. In fact, it’s best that you don’t unless you are a professional or aspiring semi-professional.
For those who are professionals, $1000 is usually considered the entry level for the kinds of microphones that are available to you. Those with absolutely no experience with microphones may be better off not spending about $100 but not more than $200 if possible.
If you want to save a little extra money on costs, consider looking around to see what people are selling on the used market. Used microphones will usually cost much less, but obviously, some discretion is required to ascertain optimum quality and expected performance.
One popular way that musicians purchase gear these days is through different financing programs. Many retailers will offer the ability to purchase microphones with a loan, often with a few percentage points of interest (sometimes zero), which is paid back monthly over a set duration of time.
While it’s generally considered a poor idea to go into debt to finance the purchase of musical gear, this can be suitable for some people. However, this is probably best left for professionals who are making income and can cover the costs through their musical endeavors.
In other words, if you’re playing paid gigs every month, financing could be a reasonable option. You could use some of that income and put it toward the microphone’s purchase.
Or, you can just do it the old-fashioned way and save the money that you make each week or month. This provides less stress and instills discipline, though you may be tempted to spend the money elsewhere in the meantime.
One thing you’ll need to consider is the type of microphone that you are looking for. In the case of use with pianos, there are generally 3 different types that you will commonly encounter, including:
Dynamic microphones tend to be the least sensitive to sound overall. However, they do make for excellent general-purpose microphones that can be used in other recording applications such as guitar and voice.
Condensers are usually the most common type that people seek out when purchasing microphones for the piano, along with guitar, drums, and more. These have more sensitivity than dynamic microphones, and, in turn, pick up a wider spectrum of sound.
Ribbon microphones are even more sensitive than condenser microphones. However, these are usually far more expensive and can be damaged when placed in front of loud audio sources.
Along with the microphone type, you’ll need to be aware of the microphone’s polar pattern. This refers to the spatial range that microphones can pick up.
Polar patterns vary with different microphone types, but for most condensers and dynamic microphones, you’ll encounter a cardioid pattern. These microphones will generally only pick up audio from what it is pointed at, and can help eliminate unwanted environmental noises.
Bidirectional and omnidirectional microphones are similar in nature, and you can probably guess their function just by their name. Omnidirectional picks up audio from every direction while bidirectional picks up audio from 2 directions.
The stereo polar pattern is similar to bidirectional, but the audio is essentially projected into a natural stereo image. This pattern is usually found with USB microphones made for content creation.
Some microphones do offer the capability of switching the polar pattern. Many will have a switch for this purpose while other microphones are modular to support the swapping of different polar pattern capsules.
Size can be an important factor to consider when looking for piano microphones. If the microphone is big and bulky, it can be a bit cumbersome to place it in the ideal location within a piano.
Microphones do come in a variety of sizes, ranging from a thin, cylindrical pencil-style to those that are slim and sideways oriented. While there is no right or wrong answer here, much of this will depend on how you plan to position the microphones.
Some microphones are better placed at a bit of a distance while some are better close to the piano strings.
Stereo Is Your Friend
Because the piano is such a large instrument, it can be difficult to capture the entire sound without compromising its natural characteristics. Most people who do record piano opt to have a pair of the same microphone but placed in different locations.
A good number of microphones are offered as matching pairs, which are matched at the factory to be as identical as possible. This helps to cut down on frequency imbalances that may exist from factory specification tolerances.
With that being said, not every microphone is offered in a matching pair. Ultimately, this means you’ll need to budget for an additional microphone if you have your heart set on something that only comes as a single.
Something else to consider is whether you plan to incorporate other microphones into the mix of the piano. Many studio engineers will place multiple microphones of different manufacture to capture a wider and more accurate sound.
Because all microphones are different, this technique can be used to enhance different tonal regions of the instrument. However, if you don’t have the budget for this, it’s often best to opt for an all-encompassing microphone.
Consider How The Piano Is Being Used
If you’re giving lessons online, you could easily get by using a more inexpensive microphone. Some podcast-friendly microphones could easily get the job done in these cases.
Otherwise, consider your scenarios and whether the piano functions as a background or a main instrument. For example, a piano accompanying a choir doesn’t necessarily need to have a microphone that is wide and extremely full-sounding, as it’ll be slightly buried in the mix under the choir.
Best Brands For Piano Microphones
If you’ve never purchased a microphone before, there’s a good possibility that you could experience a sort of decision paralysis when you realize how many brands there are on the market. Because most microphones aren’t exactly cheap, you want to make sure that what you are purchasing will be of optimum quality and durability.
While you don’t necessarily need to buy the microphones made by the big brands, it does tend to produce the best results. The following brands are some of the most noteworthy, particularly in the world of piano microphones.
Shure has a longstanding reputation as one of the most popular brands on the market. Founded in 1925, it wasn’t until 1932 that Shure finally started production on its own line of microphones, which quickly grew to prominence in the world of broadcast media.
Today, there are several Shure microphones that are considered the industry’s gold standard in terms of performance and value provided for cost. The company has a few condenser microphones that are especially ideal for recording piano.
While a few names have seemingly always dominated the microphone market, there has been no shortage of competitors who have risen the ranks to become iconic in their own right. Audix is one of these companies and was officially established in 1984.
Since then, Audix has become known for providing microphones of value that directly compete with those widely considered to be the standard go-to choices. The company has continually innovated the space while still respecting traditional methodology.
The audio world has much to thank David Blackmer for, as he made serious innovations with regard to noise reduction in 1971. Previously the founder of the legendary company, dbx, Blackmer went on to start Earthworks in 1995.
Earthworks continues on with Blackmer’s innovative visions, specializing in microphones used for different purposes. The company is one of the few in the market that has created a microphone system that is designed specifically for use with the piano.
Top Mics For Piano, Final Thoughts
One thing is for certain: once you invest in a microphone (or two) for the piano, you will immediately notice the difference. Plus, the best thing about shopping for a microphone in today’s market is that there are specialized offerings for different applications.
No matter how you wish to utilize the piano, the proper microphone will ensure that the entire instrument’s range of tones will be audible. Gone will be the days when the faintest embellishments are lost in a sea of overbearing resonance.