A Primer On Choosing Recording Microphones
Secret Life Of Mikes
Another thing to bear in mind is how a mike picks up sound, which otherwise is called its polar pattern. A mike that picks up sound equally from all directions is omnidirectional. Cardioid mikes pick up sound from one direction only while rejecting sound from the rear and sides. Tighter unidirectional patterns are hyper- and supercardioid, which offer maximum rejection from juxtaposed sound sources if isolation is necessary. Mikes that pick up sound from the front and the rear while rejecting sound from the sides are known as bi-directional, or figure-8.
A mike’s frequency response often colors the sound being captured, and it is for these unique characteristics that mikes are selected. For instance, some mikes are designed with hyped high- and low-end response to best capture the desirable sonic attributes of a bass drum. Others have a sparkly high end that captures more definition, while others are extremely accurate with a razor flat frequency response. Where you place those mikes affects response. Placing a unidirectional mike close to a sound source will result in a low-end boost called “proximity effect,” a phenomenon you could use to your advantage. Let’s take a look at each instrument in the kit and examine tried-and-true microphone choices to set you off on the path to a great drum sound.
If you’re looking for a chest-thumping classic rock or funk sound on your bass drum, start by looking at large diaphragm dynamic mikes designed specifically for bass drum. These mikes are essentially “pre-equalized” for the task at hand, with a slightly hyped high end for capturing a snappy attack, and fat, punchy lows for that big cajones sound. In this camp are the Shure Beta 52, Sennheiser E602, AKG D112, and Audio-Technica’s ATM25, just to name a few.
Smaller, jazzier kick drums may be better served by choosing a versatile large-diaphragm dynamic like Electro-Voice’s RE20, which has an airy low-end response shaped ideally for that jazz kick sound and isn’t as bright as an E602 or Beta 52. If you’d like a sound that is little less dark, you could try Sennheiser’s MD421, which offers some low mid punch without being overly aggressive.
For extra viscera-concussing woof, you could make your own mike with a 12" to 15" bass speaker by wiring it into a direct box. You’ll get plenty of lows around 50Hz and absolutely no attack. With a MD421 inside the kick pointed at the beater, and your homemade “mike” out in front, you’ll get a huge sound with a lot of chutzpah.
For a different sound, place a large-diaphragm condenser out in front of the kick rather than inside. This fancy option is especially useful for double-headed, smaller kick drums to get extended lows and a clearer attack. A drawback to using a condenser for a kick drum mike is that it is more sensitive than a dynamic, which makes it prone to leakage from other sound sources. Use your ears and judge whether or not the situation is appropriate for this approach.
Shure’s KSM32 has a fairly tight cardioid pattern, rejecting off-axis sounds adequately. When placed out in front of a small double-headed kick, it offers a warm, controlled low end, and a well-defined attack. Groove Tubes AM11 can capture tons of lows, while a Neumann M147 placed around four feet in front of the kick will give you plenty of punch and a classic, round tube-y sound. If you’re looking for a beefy bottom end with extra snap on the highs, a Neumann U47 FET is a good choice. For a brighter sound, try a Neumann TLM103. Experiment a bit with different mikes, but beware of overloading on high SPLs when using a condenser.