Best Mics For Upright Piano: Editor’s Best Picks

Our Best Pick
AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument Condenser Microphone, Multipattern
Best For Indoor
Rode NT5-MP Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
Best Value for Money
Neumann U 87 Ai Stereo | Factory Matched Multi Pattern Condenser U 87 Ai Stereo Set Nickel
AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument Condenser Microphone, Multipattern
Rode NT5-MP Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
Neumann U 87 Ai Stereo | Factory Matched Multi Pattern Condenser U 87 Ai Stereo Set Nickel
Our Best Pick
AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument Condenser Microphone, Multipattern
AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument Condenser Microphone, Multipattern
Best For Indoor
Rode NT5-MP Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
Rode NT5-MP Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
Best Value for Money
Neumann U 87 Ai Stereo | Factory Matched Multi Pattern Condenser U 87 Ai Stereo Set Nickel
Neumann U 87 Ai Stereo | Factory Matched Multi Pattern Condenser U 87 Ai Stereo Set Nickel

Last update on 2020-06-04 / Affiliate links / Updated prices and images from Amazon Product Advertising API

#ProductFrequency responseSelf-noiseProduct page
1AKG C414 XLS20Hz – 20kHz6dBACheck price
2Rode NT1-A20Hz – 20kHz 5dBA Check price
3Rode NT520Hz – 20kHz16dBACheck price
4Audio Technica AT202020Hz – 20kHz20 dB SPLCheck price
5Neumann U87 Ai20 Hz -20 kHz15dB-A (Omni/cardioid/8)Check price

What are the best mics for recording an Upright piano?

The first part of the recording chain is the microphone. Every instrument has a set of microphones that work best with it. That’s why we have a set of best violin mics and flute mics.

The Upright piano is no different. There are some mics that do the job better than others. This article brings you five of the best mics that fit the bill.

Factors to consider while choosing the best upright piano mic

Flat frequency response

You need a mic with a flat response for transparency and accuracy. If your Upright piano sounds right, you may not need any coloring of the sound.

Having said that, you may choose a mic with subtle cuts or boosts. This will work where the piano is one of many elements in the whole performance. This also works when selecting mics for pianos.

Low Self-noise

Self-noise is the sound that a mic makes when switched on. Every mic has it, although it’s louder in some than others. Mics with low self-noise can record quieter notes accurately since the mic’s self-noise won’t be in the way.

Sensitivity

High sensitivity mics are better for Upright pianos. They capture the low volume notes better. Just make sure the mic also has a high SPL. This is important so that the louder notes won’t sound distorted.

How to mic an upright piano

There are three major ways you can mic an Upright piano.

  1. Open up the top panel and insert your mic through. This method is best when you only have cardioid mics. It gives you the freedom to direct your mics at the strings. For this method, you will need up to two mics.
  2. Place the mic close to your ears and point it in the direction of the piano. The idea here is to make the mic record the piano sound just like you’re hearing it. For this method, binaural mics are best because they capture sound just like human ears.
  3. You can also use an omnidirectional mic as well.

Here are the top 5 mics to record an upright piano

AKG C414 XLS

Specifications:

  • Engineered for highest linearity and neutral sound
  • Nine selectable polar patterns for the perfect setting
  • Three attenuation levels (-6/-12/-18dB) for close-up recording 
  • Overload warning with audio peak hold LED to detect shortest audio peaks

Sound quality and performance

AKG C414 has a characteristic clarity that makes it cut through the mix. Of course, with the upright piano, this means that you will have brighter notes production. You’ll feel this effect much more if you use the cardioid polar pattern.

AKG C414 XLS sound quality
AKG C414 XLS sound quality

The emphasis on clarity does not make the piano sounds too harsh, but you’ll notice that slight shimmer especially during a piano solo, where you play a lot of high-pitched notes.

You will feel this high-end presence more with the cardioid polar pattern than with an omnidirectional pattern.

Features

AKG C414 XLS features

It has a solid build when we consider the frame. It’s strong and can take a few drops. The mesh grille is another story, however. It’s not as solid as the rest of the frame. A few drops may not affect the frame but will dent the mesh grille.

The C414 has some good qualities, but what makes it really good for Upright pianos is its sensitivity and self-noise.

A sensitivity rating of 23mV/Pa means that the softer piano notes will be picked alongside the louder ones. Also, quieter passages will be well captured and recorded.

Also, the C414 has a self-noise of 6db-A. That’s quite impressive. It means while you’re capturing the quieter piano notes, the mic itself will not introduce noise to disturb the recording.

Pros

  • Low self-noise
  • High sensitivity
  • Multiple polar patterns

Cons

  • Works best only in treated acoustic spaces.

Rode NT1-A

Specifications:

  • Delivers a warmth, extended dynamic range, and high SPL capability
  • An Incredible self-noise level of only 5dBA
  • The low noise makes it an ideal vocal microphone as well as perfect for recording
  • A studio-grade pop Shield and shock mount is included

Sound quality and performance

Rode NT1-A sound quality

The overall sound of the NT1-A is balanced, but there are still some slight bumps here and there. The mic has a light lift around 120Hz and 12kHz. There’s a slight emphasis on low octave notes and high octave harmonics.

This sound profile leaves the midrange without enhancements. This can prove useful if the upright piano is played as a supporting instrument to the vocals in the recording. The slight scoop in the midrange gives vocals some room.

The NT1-A is also really quiet in terms of self-noise, even quieter than AKG C414. You won’t just get the quiet notes with this mic, the harmonics and transients will be well captured too.

Despite the low self-noise of Rode nt1-a, it still has high sensitivity and high SPL. This means that even when you slam the piano keys, those louder notes will be well captured without distortion.

Features

Rode NT1-A features

Rode NT1-A is a cardioid condenser microphone. So, to mic an upright piano with it, you may need to take off the top panel and place it close to the strings. For more effectiveness, you may need to use two at a time.

The frequency response is 20Hz to 20Hz, which is wide enough for both fundamentals and harmonics of the piano notes.

Rode NT1-A will mostly capture the piano sound directly and less of the room. To capture room sound you may look to the AKG C414 with an omnidirectional polar pattern setting.

Pros

  • Captures quieter notes effectively.
  • Records loud notes without distortion.

Cons

  • It will not capture room sound effectively.
  • It needs to be used in pairs for maximum effectiveness.

Rode NT5

Specifications:

  • Tight cardioid pickup pattern makes it ideal for use as an indoor dialogue microphone
  • This compact externally polarized mic employs a 1/2″ capsule
  • An active J-FET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer

Sound quality and performance

Rode NT5’s sound characteristic will be perfect if you prefer a lighter feel or your upright piano recording.

It gives the low end a slight drop that reduces the heaviness of the notes quite a bit. This low-frequency roll-off can also be good prevention against bass buildup due to proximity effect.

In contrast, The fundamentals in the higher octaves have some extra push. This makes the overall sound brighter rather than dull or dark.

If the upright piano is part of a larger band of instruments, this brightness makes it sound unique, without competing with the bass or other instruments.

Features

For the best results, use Rode NT5 to mic your upright piano as a stereo pair. This is because it’s a cardioid microphone, so it’s just going to capture what’s right in front of it. The upright piano is pretty wide, so a cardioid mic may have a hard time catching it all.

The NT5 has a combination of features that make it ideal for recording the upright piano. It’s a condenser mic with a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz.

If you record the Upright piano with the NT5, it captures everything from the lowest notes to the highest pitches. It also records the harmonics accurately.

It’s also high sensitivity and low noise mic. It’s not as quiet as NT1-A, but it’s enough to take a clean recording. The advantage that the NT5 has is its end-address design. It’s easier to direct it towards the sweet spot of the Upright piano.

Pros

  • The end-address design makes positioning easier.
  • The slim design makes it possible to place the mic in tight spots.

Cons

  • To capture room sound, it must be used in pairs.
  • It can make the piano sound light, especially during a solo performance.

Audio Technica AT2020

Specifications:

  • Ideal for project/home studio applications
  • The noise level is 20 db spl
  • High spl handling and wide dynamic range provide unmatched versatility
  • Custom engineered low mass diaphragm provides extended frequency response and superior transient response

Sound quality and performance

Audio Technica AT2020 sound quality

The AT2020 has that “warm” sound that every audio engineer loves. It’s quite surprising considering the price. However, to get the best from this mic when recording an upright piano, you need to be extra cautious with placement.

This is because the mic the AT2020 is a cardioid condenser mic. It will only capture what’s right in front of it. If your placement is off, you won’t have the best sound.

Features

Additionally, AT2020 has a considerable amount of self-noise. To get an accurate recording during quieter passages, you must place the mic close to the strings. To achieve this, you may have to open up the top panel of the piano.

This placement also helps you to reduce the effect caused by low sensitivity. Overall, the AT2020 is really effective once you get the placement right. It’s a small price to pay for getting an affordable mic of this quality.

Audio Technica AT 2020 is also durable. It has an all-metal housing with a metal grille. It’s certainly built to last.

Pros

  • Solid build; built to last.
  • Good choice for producers and artists on a tight budget.

Cons

  • High self-noise and low sensitivity can make mic placement a bit difficult.

Neumann U87 Ai

Specifications:

  • Balanced frequency response in three polar patterns
  • Very low self-noise
  • Classic sound
  • Switchable low cut and pad
  • Very low self-noise

Sound quality and performance

Hyperfocal: 0

Everyone loves the U87. It’s a legendary sweetheart of most audio engineers, producers, and performers.

The number one sound characteristic that makes it perfect for miking an upright piano is its flat response.

The U87 Ai does not color the sound in any way. Any quality you wish to hear from this mic must be produced by the piano or added during mixing. Because this Neumann mic has three different polar patterns, you can use it to mic the Upright piano in different ways.

If you have just oneU87 for your piano, you should set it to the omnidirectional pattern.

Features

There’s a precaution to this mic though: If you’re going to use the U87 Ai, make sure your room is well treated.

If your room has bad reflections, the U87 will capture it all, and it will affect the recording. This mic is super sensitive and also very quiet. With high sensitivity and low self-noise, the mic picks just about anything it comes in contact with.

The two other available polar patterns are cardioid and figure-8. This mic may set you back a few bucks, but it’s definitely worth the buy.

Pros

  • Accurate frequency response
  • Multiple polar patterns give more options for mic placement.

Cons

  • Will take a big chunk of your budget
  • Needs to be used in a well-treated room.

Conclusion

Because of the peculiarities of the Upright piano, there’s really no perfect mic for the job.

However, of these five good options, my best three picks are AKG C414, Rode NT5, and Neumann U87 Ai.

AKG C414 works for me because it has different polar patterns. So, if I’m recording an upright piano for a song, I can have two takes; one with the omnidirectional pattern and another with cardioid, placed up close to the strings.

The same goes for the U87 Ai. It’s an upgrade on the C414, but with better accuracy.

Jennifer Max

Jws

Hi, I’m Jennifer I’m a passionate singer and an audiophile from Detroit, MI. 

I’m on a mission to help music creators to create fine music that help them position uniquely in the saturated music space.

Follow my blog for regular content :-)

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