piano sounds great going in, lousy in Audacity

The piano sounds great when I’m recording it, but lousy when i play it back in Audacity. (muted, not much ‘presence’ or vibrancy). I’m recording my Roland KF-90 piano using an Alesis USB 4-channel mixer. I’ve tried tweaking the EQ on the mixer, and using the Equalization effect in Audacity. Not much help.
Any ideas?

Like what Steve says below :

if you are not comparing like-with-like, say comparing the keyboard performance via headphones with playback via computer speakers,
then the lack of vibrancy on playback may not be an Audacity problem but due to the characteristics of the different amplifiers and transducers involved.

Exactly how are you recording it? What’s your method and what equipment are you using? Are you DI’ing the piano or recording with a microphone? How are you listening when it sounds good? How are you listening when it sounds bad?

Thanks, Trebor. I recorded it at 96,000 HZ. It’s odd, because the rhythm track and the synth/strings track came out fine. It’s just the piano that sounds dull. Here’s the link to the recording: http://www.snapdrive.net/files/372235/Score-Threshhold-podcast%20score.mp3

Hey Steve – I’m recording the piano straight into the Alesis USB 4-channel mixer (right and left channels going into two channels on the Alesis). When I record and listen, I’m using Grado 225 headphones – killer phones. The Alesis mixer is hooked up to my laptop by USB. Any thoughts?

The piano sounds distorted at 1min 20 seconds …

I think this is a mixer level problem and not due to Audacity.

Thanks, Trebor – I noticed the distortion, too. (sounded like a pop). However, why does the overall piano come across dull? I tried tweaking the high-end EQ on the mixer and on the piano and it didn’t help much. Not much presence and vibrancy.

Do you thinking adjusting down the mixer levels will make a difference in the quality/vibrancy of the piano sound?

Try using only the “L/Mono” output into one channel on the Alesis, and see does that make a difference.

You should also record at a lower level, to avoid the distortion that you’ve got at the moment. You can amplify it later in Audacity if you want.


Thanks, Irish. I’ll give that a shot.

The entire track has a cut-off not much over 15kHz, which seems a little strange, even for an MP3. 48000Hz/224kbps should give frequencies to over 18kHz.
Where/when is the frequency being limited, or is that just the band-width of the drum machine?

Have you got a recording of the piano, on it’s own, completely dry (no effects and flat Eq)? Perhaps you could post a few seconds in WAV format (48kHz will be fine)

Good idea, Steve. I’ll see if I can sample the piano sound by itself. I’ll post it when it’s done.

Here’s a sample piano. http://www.snapdrive.net/files/372235/sample%20solo%20piano.mp3 No added EQ. I even tried just going from the L/mono by itself, out from the keyboard. That sounded even weaker.

The 1/4 inch cables are going out from the keyboard into the line-in on the mixer. One of the line-in’s is a guitar/high-imped. channel. I’ve even tried that high and low. No difference. It’s a mystery.

That sounds pretty good to me, though I don’t know what sound you are expecting. It may be that the difference/lack of quality is simply that when you are listening to the piano “direct” you are listening in stereo, but when you record, you are recording in mono.

There’s a few things that I do notice, but I don’t know if they are due to the piano, the recording, or the MP3 encoding:

  1. there appears to be some sort of gating of high frequencies (above 13.8kHz) while the notes are initially sounding. When the note has decayed sufficiently, frequencies above 13.8kHz are “switched” back on.
  2. There is a whistle at 4.5 kHz whenever notes are being played. (there are other harmonics present, but this sound the most prominent to me).
  3. There are prominent whistles at 8800Hz and 16300Hz during the “silence” before and after the piano is playing.
  4. This is not a “dry” piano sound - there is quite noticeable room ambiance - I’d guess this is due to the piano sound that you are using.
    These are all pretty subtle and I find the overall tonal quality very pleasant.

In this sample I’ve notched out the whistle from 1.5 seconds to 3 seconds. I’ve exported it as a single channel mono WAV file.

In this second sample, the first few seconds is the original and the second half has had the 4.5kHz whistle removed, the treble pushed up a little, and has been “spacialised” with a bit of reverb to make it stereo. You should notice that the stereo section sounds a lot more lively.

To recap, it sounds perfect, punchy and clear when you’re listening to the headphones, but anything downstream sounds flat and lifeless.

Is it in stereo at the mixer and mono in Audacity – I mean there may be two channels, but they’re identical?

You can get into serious trouble if you plug a mono performance in a stereo plug into a connection expecting full tilt boogie stereo. The production echo and flavor of the performance may go flat. Really odd things happen, but not if you hear the performance at the mixer and it’s OK. This can still get you into trouble if the show in Audacity is mono. Depending on how it got mixed to mono, you get get odd distortions.

Until this gets resolved, I would avoid oddball sample rates and bit depths. 44100,16-bit, Stereo is good enough for billions of Music CD listeners and 48000, 16-bit, Stereo is holding up digital television sound all over the world. Obvious problems like what you have are far worse than the difference between 48000 and 96000.

Are you on a PC? Do you like to record internet audio, YouTube, etc. Do you have Mix-Out or What-U-Hear selected in your Windows Control Panels. That can create a very slight echo and seriously change the character of stereo instruments.

Audacity applies no effects or damage on recording. It doesn’t do anything in real time except straight recording and play back. It’s a complete slave to the computer running it.

Set Audacity Preferences for Hardware or Software Playthrough, whichever is supported. Click inside one of the red recording meters and they will wake up and monitor the show without going into record. It will also send the show out the headphones for you to listen while you troubleshoot and experiment.


<<<There’s a few things that I do notice>>>

And all that could be subtle feedback problems from having Mix-Out on by accident. Or leaving the microphone and speakers running together. The computer, I think by now it’s clear, is Doing Something Wrong.


The original piano solo has very little high frequency content and sounds dull (muffled).

I added extra high frequencies using Steve’s vocal exciter

Audacity frequency analyses - Before (blue) After (purple).png
BTW Jim expect a writ from Bruce Hornsby for breach of copyright :slight_smile:

I suspect that is exactly what is happening - now waiting for Jim to confirm.

I’d go for 32bit 44100 (the Audacity default), or perhaps 32bit 48000 if that suited my sound card better. There’s no point going above 48kHz as the keyboard cuts off before 20kHz. 32 bit has advantages with processing and Audacity 1.3 will automatically do a nice job downsampling on Export.

It’s nice to know that someone is using it, but I don’t know that I would really recommend it - to my ear it’s a bit rough - written more as a “proof of concept” than a high quality effect.

Personally I doubt that is the problem on this occasion (though no harm in checking) - I think you were right the first time koz re. the sound becoming dull/lifeless as a result of going mono.

Hey Steve – that second sample with the contrasts really helps. Did you add that spacialization/verb in Audacity? Also, is there a tool in Audacity that you used to identify the noise and the way the sound spectrum should sound? Thanks. I’ve been a musician for decades, but have very little experience in audio engineering.

Thanks, Koz. The sound out from the keyboard is stereo, but is only showing up mono in Audacity. Here’s a top image of the Alesis mixer I’m using. I’m running the outs from the keys into channels 1 and 2 on the mixer. P.S. I turned off all other programs but Audacity when I recorded. I’ve also got it set at 32bit 44100HZ.