I have lost count of the number of times I have seen vintage ribbon mics used as drum overhead mics, but have you seen the prices for mics like the Coles 4081 go for on the second hand market? Not to mention that vintage mics have a habit of packing up when you least expect it and most need them.
I decided to wade through the mic locker and pull out some modern ribbon microphones by Sontronics and Audio Technica and put them over my kit and let you hear how they fair. I might have just found a new favourite set of overhead mics. This is not a shoot out, it’s just a chance to listen to some mics and see which you like best.
Stereo Drum Overhead Microphones
My drum room is far from ideal. The ceiling is very low so I opt to mount the overhead mics to a stereo bar from the ceiling. This cuts down on hardware but means there can be problems with rear reflections bouncing off the hard plasterboard surface behind the mic. This could be a particular issue as Ribbon mics normally have a figure of 8 polar pickup pattern.
You can see in the picture below how the Audio Technica AT4081 Ribbon mics are mounted and positioned above the my kit. Not idea but this is what I have to work with.
I found 4 very different pairs of Ribbon mics (ok one is a stereo mic but you know what I mean) to record with:
Audio Technica AT4081 (Pair)
Audio Technica AT4080 (Pair)
Sontronics Sigma 2 (Pair)
Sontronics Apollo 2 (Stereo Mic)
Below you will find 8 audio files to listen to. The first of each pair of audio files is just the Ribbon mics panned hard left and right. These are unprocessed, no EQ or Dynamics.
The second audio file is the full processed drum kit mix of 13 mics including 3 Kick mics, 2 Snares, Hat, 4 Toms, Ride, Overheads and mono Room mic.
Audio Technica AT4081
The AT4081 are some of my favourite mics for Acoustic Guitar and they sound great inside a Piano.
Audio Technica AT4080
I believe the AT4080 has the same ribbon element at the 4081 but it just sounds a little more mellow to my ears.
Sontronics Sigma 2
The original Sigma was my go-to for classical strings like Violin and Viola, but I think we may have just found some magic with this pair of Sigma 2 microphones. I’m not sure what it is but these mics in this position just sound fantastic. The stereo image is really good. I’m not sure how I found it but it works. Due to the nature of the Sontronics shock mount I have had to invert the mics but much like the others they are still very close to the ceiling. Sometimes magic does happen.
Sontronics Apollo 2
Technically speaking this should give the best stereo image as the Apollo 2 has the ribbon elements as close as it is possible to get them and they are at perfect 90 degrees to each other. This is also know as a Blumlein stereo pair.
To get the Apollo 2 into the same sort of position as the other mics I had to move the stereo bar back to the rear of the two mounting points and swing it around and mount the Apollo 2 from the front of the bar.
It’s All Very Subjective
So there are our 8 audio examples. As I said earlier, I think there is some special “magic” happening with the Sigma 2 pair. To me these are the stand out pair of the quartet. All the mics sounds great and impart a slightly different flavour to the recording but the Sigma’s are doing something special, and who said mic placement does not matter?
Let us know in the comments below which pair (or stereo mic) you preferred and why.