Which microphone for recording Grand Piano and Piano Organ

FAQ #1298 Updated October 23, 2008


Hi! I'm interested in recording an in-home concert grand piano and a church pipe organ. While both of these are fine instruments, they are not housed in a studio setting and ambient noises would probably be detectable on a very sensitive microphone. I've been drawn particularly to the SM81 because of its flat frequency response and have had the opportunity to more or less audition it at a Shure dealer, in addition to a KSM32 and KSM44. My application is probably similar to that posed in question #010326-000013. In your response to that question, it was stated that the KSM32 would be overkill and that the SM81 would be an excellent choice. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? I know that the KSM32 can handle a higher SPL and has a better noise spec, but would there be any noticeable difference in sound quality between the 81 and 32? I really couldn't tell much difference in the store. All of the dealers I have visited have steered me away from a 81, saying that I need a larger diaphragm to capture the low notes of an organ. I don't quite buy that premise and it seems that a smaller capsule would provide a better transient response. They have also stated that the larger diaphragm will "wear" better over time, because it was designed to handle the SPL's generated by the organ (The average SPL of the organ at 20ft is about 108 db). I even looked at the KSM44, because of its ability to work in omni mode, which is what some have recommended to catch the pipe organ room ambience. One thing I did observe in the store is that the SM81 seemed to have a higher handling noise than either of the KSM's, which were very well isolated. I'm drawn to the flexibility of the KSM44, but don't like the fact that it's response curve is not as flat as the SM81 or KSM32 (I don't want the organ and piano peaking in the midrange). What do you thing will work best? I'm willing to spend money to get a high quality recording, but don't want to spend anymore than necessary.

One other question of clarification. The SM81 data sheet states that the SM81 is an "electret bias" type. Most manufacturers seem to use this nomenclature to refer to a polarized capacitor type microphone, but I didn't think the SM81 was such a mic. Is the SM81 a "true" capacitor mic and can you clarify what Shure means by the "electret bias" definition?

Thanks so much for your time. You folks have a great web site full of lots of valuable information.


Sound is a very personal thing. Only you can decide if you think that one microphone is worth the extra expense when compared to another microphone.

Whether you will hear any difference between the microphones will be dependent on the quality of the rest of the system as well as how good your ears are.

A large diaphragm versus small diaphragm will not make any difference when discussing maximum SPL level. The maximum SPL level is determined by the electronics that are used in the preamp of the microphone. Large diaphragm microphones will not wear any different than smaller diaphragm microphones. Please see the following link to our online FAQ for more information:

Does the KSM32 have a large diaphragm?

You might also be interested in reading the following link:

"Unique Directional Properties of Dual-Diaphragm Microphones" at Educational Articles - Online booklets and bulletins

The KSM32 and KSM44 have internal shock mounts, where as the SM81 does not. That is why you experienced more handling noise with the SM81. But, then again, none of these microphones are designed to be hand held.

There is only one definition for the term "electret". The term electret means that the microphone element is permanently charged during the manufacturing process. Please see the following link to our online FAQ for more information:

Difference between electret condenser and true condenser microphones

Also, to see which microphones we recommend to record various instruments, please see our online Which microphone should I use on ... ? (Selection Guides)

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