Miking Tips: A Natural Tom Sound Out Of The Gates

The usual tendency when miking toms is to place a directional mike about 2" from the drum, which picks up a prodigious amount of attack and results in an artificial low-end boost from proximity effect (which is not necessarily an enhancement of the drum’s actual tone). In the pursuit of capturing a more “mature” bottom end and a fuller, natural sound from the toms, fellow engineer George Borden shared with me one of his favorite recording techniques.

By placing sensitive condenser mikes between 6" to 10" from the toms, you allow the sound of the drum to develop before it reaches the mikes. The downside is that the mikes will also pick up all sorts of bleed. To control unwanted sounds, use close mikes (rim-mounted versions are most practical) on the toms to trigger the opening of gates inserted on the more distant mikes. You’ll get the benefit of lightning-fast response and control while capturing the sound of the toms from a more natural standpoint.

Place medium- to large-diaphragm cardioid or hypercardioid condensers such as AKG’s C3000 or C414 B-ULS, Shure’s KSM32, Audio-Technica’s 4030, or a similar mike, 6" to 10" above the toms (listen to the sound to determine the best distance), over the rim, and angled toward the heads. Insert gates on the distant mike channels. The gate will open to allow the sound to pass when it reaches a certain threshold determined by the attack and then will close when the level dips below a certain point determined by the release setting.

The problem one faces in this situation (Fig. A) is having the gate open too late and close too early. The solution is to create a physical “look ahead” function on the gate by simply using clip-on tom mikes — for example, Sennheiser’s e604, Shure’s Beta98, or Audix’s micro-D — and feeding the output of those mike channels to the side chain/key input of the gates on the distant mikes (Fig. B). The sound hits the close mikes earlier, so the gate opening is instantaneous. Adjust the release control to set a natural-sounding decay time. Borden comments that “the beauty of the sound is when the stick leaves the head … Let it ring!”