Low-Dough Drum Miking Shootout & Tutorial
KAM Instruments D7 Kit
Street Price: $275
Other than the sonic differences of the microphones, this kit is quite similar to the Karma kit, except it includes one large and strong plastic case. It includes four snare and tom mikes (ST2), another model for bass drum (BD2), and a pair of cardioid condenser overhead mikes (i2). A couple of differences are that I was also sent KAM’s optional and inexpensive metal clips. These came in handy when trying to attach the mikes to my mounted tom’s suspension band that was too narrow for the plastic clips to grab securely, which was also blocking access to the small tom’s hoop. I was able to clamp the mounted-tom mike directly to the metal band. I had to use an LP Claw to attach the Karma mike to the small tom on the test kit.
The other and more important difference is that the KAM i2 overhead mikes come with two sets of capsules: a cardioid pair and an omnidirectional pair giving you two sets of sounds and pickup patterns. To switch capsules just unscrew them and replace with the others.
The KAM i2 also has a 10dB rolloff switch – useful if you’re sending too much signal to your mixer – and a low-cut filter to remove lower frequencies, making this quite a versatile pair of mikes. Some engineers prefer to remove lower frequencies from their overhead mikes and have the close mikes provide them.
Recording Method And The Low-Tech Advantage
Though there are many different ways to position overhead mikes, we’re going to use a very popular one: the XY configuration. In this configuration, the mikes are usually positioned at least several feet over the kit with each pointed downward and toward each other – one pointed to the left side of the kit and the other to the right – and are panned accordingly. This gives a sense of space when used with directional (cardioid) mikes. Omni overhead mikes offer much less of a stereo image when panned and often sound somewhat monophonic, so your stereo image will be provided by the panning of the drum mikes.
You’ll also need a pair of mike boom stands, or to save money, a stereo bar, which allows you to mount two mikes in an XY configuration from one stand.
*Tip: Simply lay a common barbell weight against the bottom of an inexpensive boom stand to keep it from tipping over and destroying your mikes.
Rather than record into a DAW or recording interface, I went low-tech and recorded a stereo mix of these mikes directly to the video camera, much like I was mixing a live gig. This forced me to create a mix and commit to it. Both drum miking kits’ sound could be improved with EQ, compression, gating, and effects, but to keep with our low-dough and low—know-how theme, and to accurately judge these mike’s raw sound, I captured everything dry. For this test, we were taking a jailhouse snapshot, not creating a portrait.
The low-tech advantage is that it saves you time and money and encourages you to make test recordings, experiment with mike placement, head choices, and muffling prior to recording, learning as you go, rather than try to “fix it in the mix.”
The Karma K-TDM and KAM ST2 go head-to-head.
Snare: For this test, I compared the Karma K-TDM and the KAM ST2 to the industry standard Shure SM57 on a snare drum. The SM57 is known for having a strong midrange that adds body, helping a snare cut through a mix. The KAM ST2 shared a resemblance to the SM57’s sound, but with more top and a little less midrange fullness, offering a clearer sound than the SM57. The Karma K-TDM sounded darker, lacking the high end of the other two mikes. Also, its strong midrange made the mike sound a little dull, so I’d brighten it with EQ.
While it’s hard to beat a SM57 on snare, the KAM ST2 had a very good articulate sound without EQ and can function without needing a bottom snare mike. In fact, the KAM ST2 sounded consistently good on snare and toms throughout the tests, never requiring EQ, and I’d venture to say it can compete with industry standards costing many times more. I preferred it to the Karma K-TDM.
Bass Drum: For this test, I compared the Karma K-BDM and the KAM BD2 to the industry standard AKG D112 on a bass drum. The D112 has hyped attack, scooped mids, and enhanced low end that soundmen love or hate, depending what they’re going for.
The Karma K-BDM had a strong attack with a low boost that was centered at a higher frequency than the KAM BD2, giving the Karma mike a hard-sounding chest punch. I’d probably add some deeper lows to this mike.
The KAM BD2 mike had a fuller low end but less attack than the Karma mike. I might scoop the mids a bit, but I’d rather have the extra low-end gut punch this mike offers for the rock pop stuff I generally play. I’d probably boost 4K to add more attack.
Overheads: My room is very dry with carpeted floors and Auralex panels around the kit. The Karma K10 is a very good-sounding pair of inexpensive overheads that extended reasonably low, making the whole kit sound punchy and present. The K10’s didn’t add any ambience and a touch of reverb might help these in my room. Overall, I liked these a lot.
The KAM i2’s with the cardioid capsules might have a slightly wider pickup pattern and seemed to add more room to the sound, making the kit sound smaller than when using the Karma K10’s. I didn’t use the pad or low-frequency roll-off switch on the KAM i2 since I normally wouldn’t.
While both kits offer value for the price, I prefer the Karma K10 for its greater presence and smoother sound. Either can give a good overall kit sound and the addition of a kick mike would enhance both.
Switching the KAM i2 to the omni capsules resulted in a nice and fat kit sound with some additional room ambience, so the drums sounded a bit further away. The omni capsule’s low end sounds similar to pushing the loudness button on a stereo.
The Karma K-Micro “Silver Bullets” have smaller diaphragms than the i2 capsules and didn’t pick up nearly as much low end as the KAM i2 microphones did. It’s not as smooth as the other mikes here but sounded reasonably good for an investment of just $35!
Full Kit: I was pleased with the sound of both kits. The KAM ST2 offered clearer toms with both top and bottom, which worked well for busier jungle-type grooves that sounded a touch muddy with the Karma kit.
The full mids of the Karma kit helped bring out the toms’ sustain and sounded fine for slower fills (no reverb necessary), though I’d be tempted to add some top to these mikes.