Finnish folk mythology has it that Ukko, the god of thunder, creates thunder by mating with his wife, Akka. Judging by its moniker, B-Band’s UKKO series drum contact mikes and preamps have been designed with a nod to Ukko, aiming to pick up thunderous sound when mating with your drum set. The system features internal contact mikes and stealthy cling-on preamps, promising a low profile, ultimate convenience, and outstanding sonic control.THE FULL MONTY
I received the ultra-convenient UKKO-PACK for this review. Each of the UKKO contact mikes and preamps are available individually, but the UKKO-PACK conveniently throws them all together into a complete system to install on a 5-piece drum kit. Sweet! The pack includes five UKKO-T contact mikes, replacement adhesive tape for the contact mikes, one UKKO-S snare drum preamp, one UKKO-K kick drum preamp, and three UKKO-T tom preamps, along with mounting hardware to affix preamps to rims (with rubber clips) and/or the drum shell (via the air vent or a drilled hole), the required tool, and an instruction manual.
The electret transducers are made from B-Band’s unique high-tech Emfit film, which is the same stuff the company uses for all its contact mikes. According to B-Band, this exclusive film behaves a lot like a condenser mike, giving you a more natural-sounding reproduction of acoustic instruments over piezoelectric elements. The UKKO preamps, which require 15- to 48-volts phantom power to operate, are tailored specifically to capture the tonalities of the various components of your typical drum set: snare, kick drum, and toms.
The preamps for the toms and the snare can either be mounted to the rim via the supplied rubber clips, or by attaching them to the air hole on the shell or a drilled hole with the supplied bolts and nuts. The kick drum preamp, on the other hand, must be attached to the shell because there’s no rim to attach a clip to. The housing of the preamp is made of a chrome-colored lightweight plastic that discreetly resembles hardware on the shell and doesn’t add any significant weight to the drum — double bonus.
Because the contact mikes affix to the inside of the drum shell and the preamps mount to either the rim or shell, there’s nothing about the setup that’ll get in the way of your playing. Mike cables connect directly to the preamps, eliminating the need for the typical garden of mike stands that usually sprouts up around your kit at shows or in the studio. After the initial installation of the miking system, everything comes together in a snap.
Installing this system on your drums is a bit of a commitment, but in the end it’s a worthwhile effort because the system is so unobtrusive. The top head must be removed in order to stick the contact mike to the inside of the shell, close to the batter head in a sweet spot. The lead gets drawn out through the air vent so that it can be attached to the preamp. The extra length of lead is then secured to the inside of the shell by double-sided tape so it doesn’t flop around. The top hood of the preamp must be removed with the supplied tool in order to gently plug the connector into the appropriate pins inside the device. Also located inside each preamp are two tone-control dipswitches that let you contour the sound to your liking.
I brought the UKKO Drum Contact Miking System into Ex’pression College For Digital Arts for a live-sound drum-miking lab, which allowed me to put the system through its paces in a controlled environment. I installed the mikes inside an older Pearl kit with Remo Pinstripe heads, and a metal Ludwig Supra-Phonic 14" x 5.5" snare drum with a Remo coated Ambassador on the batter side.
I opted to use the rim mounts for the snare and toms, and attached the kick drum preamp to the air vent as per B-Band’s recommendation. The preamps are designed to not block the airflow through the vent. Putting the preamps together was easy, and installing the contact mikes was simple as well. I have to admit, I was initially a little dubious about the staying power of the thin ribbon connection between the mike and the preamp should it accidentally snag on something, but I encountered no such mishap, and in the end the connection seemed plenty sturdy enough to stand up to any rock assault.
It took a few attempts to connect the contact mike lead to the kick drum preamp, and one of the tom preamps to successfully get the sound happening, but all the others worked right away. Out of the gates, the UKKO system sounded impressive and had plenty of cut.
To help draw a bead on the qualities of the B-Band UKKO system, I also put a typical array of microphones on the kit for reference: a Shure Beta 56 on the snare, a Shure Beta 52 on the kick, Sennheiser e604s on the toms, and a Senheiser e609 on the floor tom. I ran the sounds through a Crest console, monitoring through a Meyer system, and recorded the results to Digital Performer for analysis after the fact.
Everyone was impressed with the excellent isolation from sonic bleed from other instruments over standard microphones, as well as the punch and definition this system provided. It was really clean and convenient to just plug in the preamps without having to fuss with stands and positioning mikes around the kit. Here’s the scoop.
The UKKO snare system picked up both the snares and top head really well. You would need two external mikes — one on the top and one on the bottom — to be able to capture that kind of snap. The contact mike picked up great attack and crispness because of its stealthy position inside the drum. It was also sensitive to the sympathetic vibrations of the strainer from tom hits, but isolated extremely well from other sound sources.
Compared to a Shure Beta 56 on the snare, the UKKO setup didn’t sound quite as meaty, but was much more defined and crisp. The snare preamp incorporates selectable switches for a +3dB mid boost at 500Hz and a 6dB high cut shelving above 8kHz, and engaging the 500Hz boost at the preamp and adding about 6dB at 140Hz from the console rounded out the crisp sound and resulted in a very pleasing, well-balanced thwack.
The UKKO kick drum setup had a hot output that was present, tight, and well-defined. The sound was similar to the Beta 52, though the 52 had a bigger low end and sounded, not surprisingly, more open. B-Band recommends using a solid front head on the bass drum for a fuller low end, stating that a ported or completely absent front head would result in a thinner sound. The drum we used had a port already cut into the front head, so the condition wasn’t ideal to realize the full low end potential of the kick drum transducer.
The kick drum preamp has two mini switches to contour the sound: a 6dB mid cut at 330Hz, and a 6dB high boost at 5kHz. Engaging these switches and cutting around 6dB at 650Hz at the console gave the sound more cajones by tightening up the midrange. Overall, the kick sound with the UKKO installed really cut through and had a lot of presence and punch, even with a port on the front head.
The UKKO tom system captured amazing definition in the stick attack, and while drier sounding than the external microphones, the transducers still captured the resonance and life of each of the toms. They were not as muddy sounding as the microphones, exhibiting a brighter high end and much better isolation. The tom preamp features a switchable 6dB high boost at 5kHz and a 6dB mid cut at 1kHz, but we didn’t use these tone controls on the toms. To beef up the sound a bit on the contact mikes, we added a little bit in the low mids and low end from the console to achieve a rounded sound that was crisp and punchy and very satisfying.
B-Band’s UKKO drum contact miking system has a lot to offer in the way of great sound and ultimate convenience. It can be installed without modifying your drum set and adding weight and bulk or getting in the way of playing. The system can stay with the drum, even when packed into cases. Combined with a good pair of overhead microphones, the UKKO system, with its flexible tone-control options, yields an amazingly clean, present, and punchy sound from the entire kit without the hassle of multiple mike stands, which is a boon for both the drummer and the engineer.
MODEL UKKO-PACK Drum Contact Miking System
LIST PRICE $599.99
UKKO (Drum Shell Transducer) Transducer
UKKO-S Preamp (Snare)
Frequency response: 60Hz–35kHz (-3dB)
Preamp mini switches: +3dB mid boost @ 500Hz; -6dB high cut shelving > 8kHz
Phantom power required: 12- to 50-volt
Output impedance: 200 ohm balanced
Weight: 52g/74g with rim mount