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  1. Is this Illidan?

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    So true TMF.... there is no "I can fix it later". You can't. You can take 5 extra minutes to fine tune a mic, or 20 minutes in the mixdown. Your choice really....

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    Microphone Selection



    How do you select the right mic? First off, it helps to really get to know different microphones. You can study all the frequency response plots and specs that you want, but you won't actually KNOW those mics. There's no shortcut... you have to use them frequently, and in many different situations. Only then will you begin to get an idea of how the mic reacts to different sources, positions, rooms, how it blends with other specific mics etc etc... If you're starting to build your own little mic locker, you can start there. If you can, find ways to borrow mics from somewhere, so you can experiment.



    There are several different things you need to think about before reaching into your mic locker. The primary factor of course is the source, and the mic's characteristics are also paramount.

    Is the source loud or soft? A very loud source needs mics that can handle the high sound pressure levels (SPL's) without distorting, or worse breaking. Mics designed for such often have built-in pads (attenuators), which increase the mics' max. SPL handling level (this is an important spec to know about!). Sometimes, preamps have pads built into each channel, and this can sometimes enable you to use a mic that would normally clip in your DAW with the gain all the way down on your preamp. But some mics, even when used with a preamp that has a pad are not suited for loud sources and will distort nonetheless.

    Conversely, a very soft source calls for a microphone with a low level of self-noise. What is self-noise? It is the noise (think of white noise) that the components of a microphone introduce into the signal chain (remember I talked about degradation in my last post?). More specifically, it is the equivalent sound level that the mic itself produces in the absence of sound. This means that this number represents the lowest point of the mic's dynamic range. The AKG C414, for instance, is very popular for orchestral recordings (where you often find performances with p to pppp dynamics and moments of silence), because it only produces 6db's of self-noise. If you don't know what that means, I'll tell you that it's barely anything. You probably don't want to use a tube condenser mic in this situation, as they often have high levels of self-noise, often exceeding 20db's. 20db's may not seem like much, but with your gain levels generally being quite high during the recording of soft music, you will be bringing up the noise level as you crank the gain on your preamps.

    Now you know why the AKG C414 is such a workhorse mic! It not only does it have an absence of any major peaks in it's wide freq. response, multiple polar patterns, 4-position HPF's and Pads, it has a self-noise level of 6db, when it's -18db pad is engaged, it has a max. SPL handling of 158db's! Many engineers call it their 'desert island' mic. Alas, I digress...

    What range of notes (frequencies) does it have? The following terms and categories are just examples, don't try to categorize everything, I'll explain later. Is it in a general sense an upper register (e.g. piccolo, trumpet, soprano vocalist), lower register (e.g. upright bass, tuba, basoon) middle or full spectrum instrument? (e.g. piano, harp, drum set, marimba etc..).

    There is another measurement that you need to factor into the equation, in addition to the above, and that is microphone sensitivity. This doesn't actually refer to the 'sensitivity' in the traditional meaning of the word, so don't be mislead. It refers to how well it can transform sound pressure into output level. In my posts about the different mics I mentioned some typical senstivity levels for the three types of microphones. In practice, it will affect how much gain you will use with your preamp for a given mic. A mic with high sensitivity will put out a much stronger output level than one with low sensitivity, so you'll be amplifying the signal with your preamp less with the former and more with the latter. So you might look at a mic and see it has a moderate to low self-noise level (let's say 14db), but if it's sensitivity is only 1mV/Pa, you know you'll be amplifying the output level of that mic quite a bit with your preamp, unless the source is very loud. But for a soft source, you might want to rethink using that mic.

    Although I will get more into this topic later, mic placement is another important factor to consider. Will you be placing the mic real close or further away? Will the source be isolated or are there other sources nearby? Are you trying to capture the full sound of the source or a part of it, and to what extent? Many factors that I have already introduced play into this, such as the mics' polar pattern, proximity effect and frequency response.

    That being said, just like with every factor I'm going to mention, you can't and shouldn't base your mic choice on any single factor, because you have other ones to consider. For instance the performance. What if you got out your favorite bass mic for an upright bass, and the musician ends up only playing in his highest two octaves? You need to know this before take 1, otherwise you'll look a bit silly running frantically to change out that mic. Or worse, what if take 1 was "IT"? You already messed up, because you didn't find out everything you need to find out before hitting the record button. Don't set up your typical drum mics only to have the drummer pull out his brushes, mallets or play with his hands and make you look stupid. The lesson here: Always listen to the band first. Find them on youtube or facebook, sit in during a rehearsal, and if neither are possible, have them play the actual tunes they want to record during the set up or as you're settling levels (and that for more than just that reason). Every instrument (with very few exceptions such as the harpsichord), has a decent dynamic range, and you have to be prepared for anything!

    Another thing you need to consider is the end-product. Do you want to capture the source as naturally as possible, or are you going for a certain sound, that is unlike it's natural sound? Either path is equally valid, although each one also has it's place. Generally for situations like classical and chamber recordings, you don't want to alter the sound at all. But for a pop or rock session, it's commonplace to explore new and different sounds. A microphone can either accurately translate a source's sound, compliment or flatter it, do it no justice, mask some of its traits or anything inbetween these.

    Vocals are a great example of this. If you have a really whiney, nasal-sounding tenor, you probably won't reach for a mic that will accentuate those traits of his voice, or even one that is very accurate sounding, unless that's what you're going for. If you have a drummer with cymbals that have a very brittle and harsh top-end, you probably don't want to reach for your brighter-sounding condenser mics. Some ribbon mics might be the ticket, since they have a very smooth high-end response and will tame the sound of those cymbals. Hopefully you get the idea.

    Now that you've read this, look at all the important things that someone will completely ignore and overlook that simply throws up some mics and tries to fix in the mixdown. You can't fix that kind of stuff... you need to get it right!
    Last edited by thismercifulfate; 07-04-2011 at 09:48 PM.

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    Microphone Placement



    I briefly touched upon mic placement in my last post about mic selection. That is because you don't first select the mic and then place it. You have to already be taking the general placement of the mic into consideration when you choose it, just as you're taking into consideration what source you're capturing it with, as well as the performance, context etc..

    The placement of a microphone can be very finicky. There are many factors that play into it, such as the room it's in (size, shape, treatment or lack thereof) and its corresponding acoustics, whether your source is isolated inside the room or if other sources are present and more.

    There are different ways to mic a source:

    Close Miking:



    Also called spot miking, with this position you are capturing the source from a close distance, which can be anywhere from several feet to almost touching (or touching, if you're using a pickup type mic). In a session where you are using all different forms of miking, close miking gives you control: the possibility in the mixdown to bring out that source in a mix with many other sources. In terms of sound, close micing captures the most direct sound relative to reflected/room sound. The sound a mic captures from up close can be very detailed and very 'intimate', but it's also not a sound we're necessarily used to hearing and may not sound natural. Afterall, when at a show have you ever stuck your head inside the bass drum, next to the F-hole of an upright bass, or up to the lips of a singer? Just some food for thought.

    Area Miking



    A great example of area miking is drum overheads. Whether you want them to capture a balanced, overall sound of the kit or mostly the cymbals, you're miking an area, not an individual part of the kit. When recording an orchestra, you don't necessarily need to spot mic every single instrument; it's more practical to mic sections of it, like the low brass, the violas or the french horn section. While you give up control of individual musicians, you can still easily balance the orchestra this way in the mixdown. Obviously the placement is further away than with spot miking, but the placement is strategic to capture a specific area or section. This will also introduce more bleed, but again it's not necessarily a bad thing. It can give your recording a fuller sound. Using directional mics, careful placement and baffling (using acoustic baffles for isolating sources from eachother somewhat) can help knock down the bleed if needed.

    One thing to think about when comparing close and area miking is sound development. Guitar cabs are often seen with the cloth grille removed and a mic stuck bare millimeters from the exposed speaker cone. A mic positioned like that is only (intentionally, or maybe not?) capturing part of the guitar cabs sound. The more it's pointed at the center of the speaker, the brighter the sound will be, because that's the part of the speaker that reproduced the higher frequencies, whereas the edge of the speakers produces the lower ones. A mic positioned a few feet back from the cab would capture more a blend of the overall sound. Some distance lets the sound develop, and also introduces some of the room sound, which can be a great thing. Engineers love to stick a Neumann U47 FET condenser mic a couple of feet away from a bass drum. Sometimes they build a tunnel, to knock down bleed and room sound. Why? Because out there the sound of the kick has developed, and desireably balances all the traits of the kick. That same sound cannot be found inside the bass drum, or inches off the front head. Try it out yourself, it sounds huge! In fact, just try kneel down in front of a kick, plug one ear and have someone (lightly!) play the bass drum.

    Room Miking



    Room mics do exactly what their name suggests: They capture the room. Whereas spot and area miking focuses on the source, the room mic is often not even pointed at the source, or they are often omnidirectional mics, because their aim is to capture the sound of the room's response to the source. Here your reflected to direct sound ration is the greatest; these mics capture more soundwaves that have not travelled directly from the source to the mic, but rather the ones that have gone in other directions, bounced off surfaces and travelled more distance before reaching the mics' capsule. So when you introduce a room mic track into a mix, all else equal, you're not only hearing a different sound than your close and area mics, but you're also hearing a delay, because the soundwaves reached the room mics later in time than they did the close mics. This delay between the sounds of the close mic tracks and room mic tracks is part of what creates a sense of space.

    Remember the Mid-Side mic technique? The 'side' mics are essentially room mics - rejecting the direct sound and capturing reflections, whereas the 'mid' mic can is an area or close mic.

    Naturally, the room itself plays an immense role in the sound that your room mics capture. Studios tend to have larger rooms (they simply tend to sound better and give you more options for placement) that are acoustically treated, to make sure no frequencies are being overemphasized in the room. The walls are not parallel to prevent standing waves/flutter echo and sound cancelation (like in your bedroom or garage). A room can be designed and treated to have a more lively sound (more reflective surfaces) or to have a very dead sound (lots of diffusion and absorbtion). Big studios will have both types of rooms. And each room will have sweet spots to place the source in, and also to place a mic in, depending on where the source is. These must all be explored. But if your room simply sounds bad, you probably don't want to introduce any room sound into your recording.

    Last edited by thismercifulfate; 07-04-2011 at 05:42 PM.

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    Microphone Placement continued...

    There are yet more considerations to be made, besides the distance from the mic to the source, especially with directional mics. Keeping the mic at the same distance, but changing where it's pointed at will yield different results. Pointing a mic at the edge of the snare drum will emphasize overtones, whereas pointing it more in the center will dry up and focus the sound. This is because you're changing where the most sensitive part of the microphone is pointing at, and thus, which part of an instrument's sound you are going to in a sense emphasize. On an acoustic guitar, the more you point a mic at the sound hole, the more bass you'll get. If the sound is too muddy, you can easily fix it by pointing it more away from the sound hole and more towards the other end of the neck. On a piano pointing the mic at the hammers yields the greatest attack. But too much will pick up mechanical sounds, and you might want to back off. You get the picture. A fundamental understanding of each instrument will be a great help to any aspiring engineer, and will give you a greater understanding of how to more effectively use the tools you are given.

    On a drum set, and also in situations with poorly isolated multiple sources, you have bleed control to deal with. If you mic a snare drum from the side, it's going to be pointing either at the hihats or the floor tom, and those will bleed into the mic. But if the mic is pointing towards the player, both of those will be on the sides of the mic, and with a directional mic, the bleed will be minimized. Use the polar pattern and the frequency response of the mic to your advantage! The nullpoints of a ribbon mic can be highly useful. I once miking a drum set and a sax in the same room. I used a ribbon mic with the nullpoint facing the kit, and the bleed was very minimal. But sometimes you simply can't avoid it, like a ride cymbal positioned very closely above the floor tom. You may politely ask the drummer to tweak his set up a bit, but be prepared to take no for an answer, don't force them! The musician must be comfortable, because that's more important for the sound of your recording than your mic position!

    Finally, you also have to consider the performer's comfort instrument and performance when positioning a mic, especially with close miking. A mic placed right over a drummer's shoulder might sound awesome, but if he's twisting and flailing around, he'll probably hit it. Or if it's too close to his head, it might make him really nervous. A great way to capture an upright mic is to place a condenser mic in front of the F-hole. But if the player suddenly whips out a bow and wants to play arco, you've got to compromise that position, because his bow will cross in front of it when he's playing. Another great way to capture upright bass that minimizes bleed and that works with players who move around a lot when they play is to attach or suspend a mic in the bridge. But you can't just walk up to a guy with duct tape, rubber bands and a mic and say hey, I'm going to stick this mic on your instrument (unless you want that instrument wrapped around your neck). Some guys don't care, but some don't want anything touching any part of the bass, because they're very expensive or they don't want anything messing with the resonance of the instrument. Always be VERY mindful and respecting of every musician and their gear. Treat it as its your own.

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    Thanks for the sticky!

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    Speaking of mic placement, here's a real-world example from my most recent recording project. I have a vocal jazz ensemble consisting of 16 singers, piano, guitar, bass and drums. I have one medium sized tracking room, two small isolation booths and a very large hall.



    I stuck the drums in the medium room, the solo vocalist in one iso booth



    ...and the guitar in the other.




    The bass player sat in the control room, with a DI box splitting his signal to a direct line into a preamp and another under the door to the hallway where I ghetto-rigged a little iso booth for his amp (front baffle removed for the picture).

    Since those are all isolated, bleed was not an issue there, but now I had one hall left to place 16 singers and a piano, with a total of 18 mics. I first thought I'd get them on either side of the room, and baffle the hell out of the piano, but that seemed like a hassle and if any piano did bleed into the vocal mics, there would be a huge time delay.



    I ended up sticking them both in the center of the room. The singers were set up in a semi circle (I used an XLR cable measuring out from the center of the piano to 'draw' it first), which is both practical for me and incidentally exactly how they're set up when they perform and when they rehearse with a PA, so it made them feel at home. I set up 4 floor monitors, so they could hear the rest of the ensemble and tried to keep their volume as low as they could possible perform with comfortably. All the singers were on cardioid pattern large-diaphragm condenser mics. I positioned them so that their null points (in this case the rear of the mics) were facing the floor monitors, for maximum rejection. It was also very handy, since I don't have 16 pop filters. The mics were slightly below chin level with each singer, so they could sing over the mic, and that took care of popping 'plosives.



    I put the piano about 10 feet away, with the lid opening away from them. This kept both the vocals out of the piano mics and the piano out of the vocal mics. I also surrounded the back of the piano with some baffles to minimize bleed both ways.



    I used a pair of Ribbon mics for half the tunes, which were positioned spaced, and with their null points in the direction of the vocal ensemble. But for the other tunes I used a pair of multi-pattern large-diapgragm condenser mics set to wide-cardioid and the bleed from the singers and monitors is was still negligible.

    The results are fantastic. There was some piano bleed in the vocal mics and also some from the monitors, but far less than I had anticipated. Of course each mic got a little of each singer that was on either of it in there too, but this gives me a fuller sound. In the end, the background vocals won't be too up front in the mix, so all the bleed not a concern.

    Last edited by thismercifulfate; 07-05-2011 at 12:42 PM.

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    Default Mic Shootout!

    So over the weekend I decided to conduct a big mic shootout, to support much of what I have already posted on here. Reading is one thing, but hearing is even better, this is audio recording after all! This is for everyone's benefit, so feel free to save the files onto your computer and load them onto your DAW for comparisons etc.. but please don't claim any of these recordings or material as your own. I've put hours and hours of hard work into this, for no money at all. I hope this will help some of you, and of course feel free to ask any questions!



    For this shootout I decided to use the biggest room available on the college facilities. It's a large hall, which gets used for anything from concert band rehearsals, chamber ensemble concerts, theater production rehearsals (which explains all the tape on the floor and props in the background) and recording of course. It's a tracking room, with 58 channel inputs split into 3 wall snakes, which lead right into the patchbay in our control room. The room has a curtain system, which lets us adjust the acoustics of the room to a certain extent. For demonstration purposes, I chose to leave the room wide open, to add greater contrast between some of the mics and technques I employed. And not to mention drums sound glorious in big wide open spaces!



    Last edited by thismercifulfate; 07-18-2011 at 08:09 PM.

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    Comparing Mic Types and Different Polar Patterns in Mono

    Before I start throwing lots of mics on the drum set, I wanted to make a simple demonstration to all of you. In this era of plugins galore, many erroneously believe the mixing and editing is where the sound 'sculpting' takes place. I'm a firm believer of striving to get the best possible sound from the get-go. As I have stated many times in my other posts, your mic selection and position are powerful tools, which have a huge effect on the sound. I will first demonstrate the 3 main types of microphones in a general manner to give you a first impression of how they differ sonically.



    For my shootout I selected an Allegra MasterCraft Series Custom Drum Set with 8-ply Keller Maple shells (compressed with 50% higher pressure than standard Keller shells according to Allegra's specifications for an even thinner shell) in a "Black Parisian Tour Tuff" laminate veneer finish, with a Ludwig Acrolite snare. The toms are outfitted with Remo clear Emperor batter heads over Remo clear Ambassador resonant heads. I used a pair of 14" 1970's hollow logo Zildjian hihats, matching 20" ride (medium weight) and my 19" Bosphorus Master Ride (used as a crash cymbal).



    I set up a Dynamic, a Condenser and Ribbon microphone up next to eachother and recorded the drums from a short distance away. This way we can listen to some general differences between how each type of mic responds to the sound of the drums. I used a Shure SM57 dynamic mic, a Neumann KM184 small-diaphragm condenser and a Stellar RM4 Ribbon microphone.



    Click the links below to hear the soundfiles:

    Dynamic
    Condenser
    Ribbon

    The type of mic has a huge effect on the sound you will capture. There is no one 'best' type of mic for one type of instrument, because you also have to take the context into consideration. Some applications might call for a more lo-fi ballsy type of sound that the Ribbon mic offers, while others might want a more accurate sound that you'd get from the condenser, or the mid-forward, gritty SM57 sound. Always keep the end-product in mind when you make the choice.

    * * *

    Next I'm going to show you what happens when you change the pickup pattern of a microphone. I used four AKG Acoustics C414B-XLS multi-pattern large-diaphragm condenser microphones. They all had their pads and high pass filters turned off, and each one was set to a different pickup pattern: Omnidirectional, Cardioid, Supercardioid and Figure-of-Eight.



    The signal path was as follows: Microphone -> Mogami Star Quad XLR cable -> True Systems Precision 8 Preamp -> Digidesign 192 I/O -> ProTools 8 HD.



    I used a very nifty On Stage MY700 Multi Purpose Stereo Microphone Mounting Bar to mount all 4 mics in a nice row off just one mic stand. All 4 mics recorded the same performance at the same time.

    Omnidirectional
    Cardioid
    Supercardioid
    Figure-of-Eight

    Some things to listen for: Hear how the bass drum sound changes. Which is the most ambient and which is the most dry? Which captured the most balanced (between all elements of the kick) sound?

    From both of these shootouts, you might notice that it's a pretty nice sound for using just one mic, if I may say so myself. It comes to show that you don't necessarily need tons of mics to capture a decent recording of a drum set. The best way to pick a spot for a mono mic is have someone play the set, plug one ear and walk around. You'll find the sound changes drastically as you change your position, not just walking around, but also going up and down with your head. You simply place the mic right where you thought the kit came together the best, which is what I did here.



    These tracks are unprocessed, but you noticed a big difference between each polar pattern. You could attempt to take the driest one of them and use EQ and reverb to try and emulate the other ones, but you wouldn't get very close. And why use effects, which degrade the signal, when you can 'naturally' scuplt the tone and the wetness/dryness of your sound with your microphone? If you have access to a great-sounding room like the one I recorded in, take advantage of it! Anyone can use a digital reverb... very few have access to real life good sounding rooms. Remember, the less your signal is processed, the less it is degraded, so getting it right at the source allows you to retain a better quality signal for the end-product!
    Last edited by thismercifulfate; 07-18-2011 at 11:35 PM.

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    Snare Drum Microphone Shootout

    I did a quick shootout with four different microphones for snare drum. The drum I picked is a 70's Ludwig Acrolite 14X5 aluminum shell, 1.6mm triple-flanged hoops with an Evans Coated G1 on top, Remo Hazy Ambassador on the bottom and it's outfitted Puresound Custom 20 strand wires.



    The mics used, in no particular order, are: Shure Beta98 miniature condenser mic, Audix i5 dynamic mic, Oktava MC-012 small-diaphragm condenser mic and Shure SM57 dynamic mic. The signal path was as follows: Microphone -> Mogami Star Quad XLR cable -> True Systems Precision 8 Preamp -> Digidesign 192 I/O -> ProTools 8 HD.

    This shootout was by no means scientific. I opted to record the same performance with all 4 mics. The advantages are that since the performance is identical, it's not going to affect your preference of microphone, whereas with multiple takes, a not so good take might taint your opinion of one mic over another with a 'better' (or louder) performance. The drawback is that all the mics were different distances away from the hihat, but listening back I don't think it made too drastic of a difference. I did my best to line up all the capsules from the center of the snare. Still, there's no perfect way to conduct a mic shootout. All the files are volume-matched as best I could.

    Snare Microphone 1
    Snare Microphone 2
    Snare Microphone 3
    Snare Microphone 4

    I like to listen to shootouts blind, that way any bias and preconceptions are eliminated, and you can only use your ears to hear the differences and also form an objective opinion on each mic. I like to write down my thoughts as I'm listening and comparing.

    Some things to listen for: Which frequencies are emphasized/attenuated? Do any annoying tones stick out? How much bottom end is there? How much bleed entered (especially from the hihat) and how does the bleed sound? Those with experience; want to wager a guess at which is which? Which would you pick, depending on different contexts?

    Click HERE to see which mic is which.

    I will follow up this shootout with some of my own notes at a later time, so that many of you get a chance to listen to the files without any preconceptions or expectations which could taint your personal conclusions.

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    Bass Drum Microphone Shootout

    I also conducted a quick bass drum shootout with four different microphones. The kick is an Allegra MasterCraft Series Custom 20X16 Maple shell in a "Black Parisian Tour Tuff" laminate veneer finish, 13-ply wood hoops with a Remo clear Powerstroke III batter head, Evans EQ3 Resonant (ported) played with the master pedal of a PDP 402 double pedal using the felt side of the double-sided beater.



    The mics used, in no particular order, are: Stellar RM-4 Double Medium type Ribbon mic, AKG D112 large-diapragm dynamic mic, ElectroVoice RE-20 dynamic mic and Audix D6 kick dynamic mic. The signal path was as follows: Microphone -> Mogami Star Quad XLR cable -> True Systems Precision 8 Preamp -> Digidesign 192 I/O -> ProTools 8 HD.



    Again, this shootout was by no means scientific. I opted once again to record the same performance with all 4 mics. The kick is ported, but there is no way to get 4 [big] mics positioned in a reasonable manner around a 7" or so port. There is however once kick mic position I'm a big fan of, that I chose for this instead, which is off the side facing inward - pretty much the position that's often used to mic toms and snare drums. I chose the angle you see so that none of them were much closer than the other to the port. All the files are volume-matched as best I could.

    Kick Microphone 1
    Kick Microphone 2
    Kick Microphone 3
    Kick Microphone 4

    Some things to listen for: Does it sound boomy, clicky or punchy? How much bleed entered from the rest of the kit (particularly the snare and the cymbals) and how does the bleed sound? Those with experience; want to wager a guess at which is which? Which would you pick, depending on different contexts?

    Click HERE to see which mic is which.

    I will follow up this shootout with some of my own notes at a later time, so that many of you get a chance to listen to the files without any preconceptions or expectations which could taint your personal conclusions.


    Enhancing the Kick Mic with a Subkick

    It's not uncommon to use two microphones on a source during tracking and then blend both channels to create a new sound during the mixdown. On bass drums, many engineers will place a mic on the batter side to capture the attack of the beater, as well as a mic on the resonant head to capture the low-end. Often a single mic inside the bass drum or halfway through the port will get a blend of both. But what if you want to enhance the low-end of your kick mic?



    The RE-20 is a fantastic mic for a bass drum. Unlike many designated bass drum mics, it does not have a strongly tailored (pre-EQ'd) frequency response, which in turn means it has a very natural and unhyped sound. In the kick mic shootout you probably noticed that compared to the other mics it had the least low end, but chances are that, like me, you loved the 'snap' in its attack and the firm thump it offers.



    I'd like to introduce you to "Big Momma". She's comprised of a very massive JBL 15" speaker, a Yamaha SS652 snare stand and some weird sand-filled 'feet' to keep the stand from toppling over. It's basically a giant dynamic mic, with the wires on the speaker reverse-wired. It's hooked up to a transformer coupled to an XLR out. Her signal is extremely hot and needs to be padded. In my case I ran her into a Digi PRE preamp with a -20db pad engaged to tame the signal. There are commercially available subkicks on the market, such as the Yamaha subkick, but they're very easy and cheap to assemble yourself. Many studios have done so, with legendary Yamaha NS-10 monitor speakers. Here are some soundclips:

    RE-20 Solo
    Big Momma Solo
    RE-20 + Big Momma

    You're obviously not going to hear the difference on your laptop speakers, cheap PC speakers or earbuds. So listen through some decent headphones, some decent speakers/monitors or something with a subwoofer!

    The difference becomes even bigger with more context, so I threw a mono overhead on the kit:

    Overhead Solo
    Overhead + RE-20
    Overhead + Big Momma
    Overhead + RE-20 + Big Momma

    By herself, Big Momma doesn't exactly impress. But paired with the RE-20, provided you have a decent means of playback, you can certainly feel the difference, if not hear it. Big Momma's response rolls off at a very low frequency and doesn't capture and high-end at all. But in the low-end, she extends far beyond what the RE-20 is capable of picking up. In the mix-down, you can adjust the subkick level to your liking, to control how much 'girth' you want to add to your kick sound. Don't overdo it though, because it will muddy up your mix and make your speakers work extremely hard to reproduce the many sub-bass frequencies. It might not even be a bad idea to thrown in a high-pass filter on the very end, to relieve your speakers a bit. It's not like we can hear below 20hz anyway... Another cool thing you can do is mess with the alignment of the subkick track with the other kick mic track. You can get a really massive sound if you delay it slightly. Since the RE-20 was halfway inside the kick, the sound wave reached it first, so you could also shift the subkick back a bit for a tighter sound.

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    Comparing different Stereo Overhead Microphone Techniques

    I couldn't decide whether I wanted to use a pair of small-diaphragm condenser mics or a pair of large-diaphragm condenser mics for this comparison, so naturally I chose both! So there's a little mic shootout snuck into this comparison. In order to make that work though, I had to put together two 'contraptions' which would allow me to have the capsules of each pair of mics alligned as closely as possible. Not to mention positioning 2 stands is so much easier than 4.





    My small-diaphragm condensers of choice are the Neumann KM184 and my large-diaphragm condensers of choice are the AKG C414B-XLS. The 414's were set to cardioid patterns, with the HPF and pad turned off. The signal path was as follows: Microphone -> Mogami Star Quad XLR cable -> True Systems Precision 8 Preamp -> Digidesign 192 I/O -> ProTools 8 HD.

    The True 8 is a very transparent preamp, and the gain for the Neumanns was all the way down, and only + a few db's for the AKG's, so there's pretty much no preamp coloration at all. I did my best to level-match both sets of tracks.

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    Continued...

    For all the tracks I chose to play 16 bars of a halftime-shuffle, the first 8 on the hihats and the second 8 on the ride cymbal with simple fills so you can hear the toms clearly. I did my best to make each take consistent (I was admittedly a little shaky at first), please forgive my less than studio-worthy playing. I set up the overheads according to the following 'standard' stereo mic techniques plus two experimental ones:



    AB (Spaced pair)



    XY (Coincidental)



    ORTF (Near Coincidental)



    Recorderman Technique



    Glyn Johns



    AB Wide and Low



    Near Omni Pair

    I made careful measurements to ensure that with each configuration both sets of mics were equidistant to the center of the snare drum batter head. Because of my 'contraptions', and the form of my large-diaphragm condenser mics, for the XY pair I had the 414's as close as possible, but you can see my 184's are quite a bit apart, so they're not setup in a true XY.



    Rules are there to be broken right? For the recorderman I positioned the back pair a bit higher up than I normally do, but I did so to add a little more contrast for comparing with the Glyn Johns, which is pretty similar. In all tracks, I panned the mics hard left and right, with the exception of Glyn Johns, where it's advised to pan the overhead mic only halfway to one side, and the other one hard. As for the AB wide and low set up, I've seen engineers mic cymbals in a similar way from below, so I thought why not mic the whole kit like that? I'll admit that I didn't measure the distance to the snare for this one; I just eyeballed it. Both sets of mics were aimed at my head.

    Without further due here are the clips:

    AB184 || AB414

    XY184 || XY414

    ORTF184 || ORTF414

    REC184 || REC414

    GLYNJ184 || GLYNJ414

    ABWL184 || ABWL414

    The last set up is something I've been meaning to try for ages, but I didn't dare try it out during a real session because I didn't know what to expect at all. The idea is that each mic is strategically centered between 'clusters' of the drum set elements on each side of the kit. If you look at the image below you'll see the left mic is right in the middle of the hihats, crash, rack tom, snare and kick, and the right one is centered around the snare, kick, ride and floor tom. They both 'share' the snare and rack tom. The right mic had direct line of sight to the kick batter head and I predicted it would get a pretty decent kick sound into the mix.



    The mics seem awfully close, but remember that with the omnidirectional pattern selected, the mic would not exhibit proximity effect, and will pick up equally all around, so on paper at least it seemed like a worthy idea. Each mic was exactly on of my drum sticks' length (Vic Firth American Jazz AJ2) away from the center of the snare. That's half the distance to the snare as for Recorderman and Glyn Johns and over more than half than with the rest. Hear for yourself how it sounds. I always encourage experimenting, the coolest things are discovered this way!

    NOMNI414

    Some things to listen for: How do the snare and kick sound? How much room got into the mics, or how dry is it? Is the stereo image wide, realistic or narrow? How is the balance?

    I'll be back with some of my notes on these later on, after hopefully many of you have had a chance to listen and take notes.
    Last edited by thismercifulfate; 07-30-2011 at 04:20 PM.

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