Although not perfect, this setup is adequate for a starter-level acoustic drum monitoring setup (Fig. D). The illustration shows an eight-channel mixer with two mike inputs. But in addition to everything listed in the previous setup, you’ll also need a mike-splitter box. This allows the kick drum mike to be split in two, with one cord going to the band PA, and the other going into the mike input on the mixer. Although a simple XLR “Y” cable would work, the mike splitter box isolates the two outputs from one another with a transformer, minimizing potential problems with ground loops.
I split the kick drum mike because I find that the kick drum is the first thing to be lost in the mix as the stage volume increases. So the second input is used, once again, for an ambient mike. If you use a mixer with more inputs, additional drum mikes can be added to the mixer -— each routed through another microphone splitter box — to give even greater control over the final monitor mix.
Until recently, the previous setup served my purposes well. I could fit it all in one case that I could easily carry onboard an airplane or toss into the back seat of my car. But although it was functional and inexpensive, it took time to assemble before a gig — time I didn’t always have. Once again, my monitoring quest was renewed. It ended in about two days, as soon as I discovered the Shure PSM400 hard-wire Personal Monitoring System (Fig. E), which has become my own piece of personal monitoring heaven.
The PSM400 has all the components of the previously mentioned setup, but in one easy-to-assemble package. Because of cost, I opted for the hard-wired version, which uses the P4HW body pack and a P4M mixer. A wireless version is available, but the hard-wired version is more than adequate for drummers since we’re chained to the throne most of the time anyway. It’s a near-perfect solution for acoustic drums, electronic drums, and hybrid setups, and I don’t leave home without it. Let’s take a look at the components.
The Body Pack is the key element in this system. It has a built-in limiter, so that you’ll never have to worry about your head exploding due to a stray volume spike. This is a positive in my book. The limiter can be switched on and off, so make sure it’s always on! The P4HW also has a 15dB pad if you need to cut down the input level, as well as a high-frequency EQ boost if you want a little more sizzle on the top.
The body pack can function in stereo or mono modes. In stereo mode, the wheel on the body pack raises and lowers the volume of each side of the mix. In mono mode, the wheel acts as a mixer, controlling the volume of each of the two inputs. For example, you could feed a click track to one side and a drum mix to the other, while using the wheel to control how the two are combined. The knob on the top of the body pack controls the overall volume.
The P4M mixer is a four-channel mixer with an auxiliary stereo input, which effectively makes it a six-channel mixer. It’s a very basic unit, but this is the idea. It was designed from the ground up solely to fulfill its role as a monitor mixer. There are panning and level controls for the four channel inputs, but the 1/4" jack-style auxiliary input level must be controlled from the source. Smartly, the P4M will recognize if you input a mono signal into the auxiliary input using a single cable (the left input is the mono input), and send it to both the left and right sides equally — go Shure!
The only perceivable drawback is that the P4M lacks any kind of EQ, so dialing in that perfect kick sound is out. But any mike I’ve put into it, so far, sounds pretty good. Channels 1—4 accept XLR, or 1/4" inputs (guitar-style tip/sleeve and balanced tip/ring/sleeve), and they’re all electronically balanced inside the mixer.
It’s important to remember — as per the P4M’s instructions — that if you plug a 1/4" sound source into one of the inputs and pass the signal through to the PA, use a direct box between the P4M and the sound source (like a drum module). This will protect the sound source from being damaged by any phantom power being sent to the P4M from the PA.
The genius in the P4M is that each of the four channels passes the signal through to an output. Essentially, there are four isolating splitter boxes built right into the unit! You can use the P4M in-line with the microphones, which will amplify the drums in the band’s PA. It’s like it’s saying, “I’ll split the signal and allow you to do your own little sub-mix for monitoring,” so you have almost total control over you own monitor mix. One more thing: check out how I route the audio signals in fig. X [illustration 3]. Note that, being the control freak that I am, I’m still using one of the inputs for an ambient/catch-all mike. Unless you have a sound person you can really count on for a great monitor mix, I think this is a good idea.
Used in conjunction with the P4HW Body Pack, the P4M is an incredible personal monitoring system for drums. Although I chose the Shure system, make sure you check out some of the other options from Shure, Sennheiser, Nady, Aviom, Hear Technologies, and Rolls; there’s certainly more than one great system out there. You’ll also, of course, want to play around with inputs and levels until you find the mix that works for you. Experiment with different configurations; there may be one that better fits your needs.