I was asked by a friend just the other day why I set up my drum overhead mics the way I did. I explained my ideas and methodologies and he said “Haven’t you tried anything more conventional?” This article is the story of my experiments including audio examples for you to listen to and compare for yourself.
Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Finding the right overhead mic has become a bit of a quest for me. Recently I’ve been using the Sontronics STC-1 with the standard cardioid capsules. All the recordings you are about to here were made with the mics set flat, no low frequency roll-off and no pads. The recording level, gain and mix settings also all stayed the same. The only variation was the position and arrangement of the overhead mics. If you can listen to the examples on high quality headphones or studio monitors rather than ear-buds or laptop speakers you will hear a little more variation but in some cases the differences between the recordings is very subtle, and in other cases it is much more obvious. I also understand that one of the biggest limiting factors to my drum sound is the ceiling height, or rather the lack of it and unfortunately this is not something I can resolve anytime soon!
The JIVEY Default Set Up
This is how my overhead mics are normally set up. It’s a kind of variation on X-Y but the tips of the capsules cross in the middle rather than at the front edges. I think of this configuration as a “point it at what you want to record” arrangement. For a modern track I use the overhead mics to capture the cymbals rather than a picture of the entire kit. If I recording a jazz kit I do approach overheads a little differently but in this case I want the overheads to mainly pick up the clanging metallic stuff on top.
In these images below, you can see how my default position is set up.
I’ve been researching this article quite a bit and found that there is a great deal of variation in all of the techniques I have tried. The X-Y arrangement is a coincident pair of mics at a maximum angle of 135 degrees to each other. The capsules also should meet at the front to get around any timing or phase issues.
Take a look and see how I set it up.
Believe it or not the name ORTF has nothing to do with the arrangement of mics but it is the name of a French broadcasting company who first used this array. The mics capsules are spaced around 7 inches (17.8 cm) apart at a maximum angle of 110 degrees.
Once again NOS has nothing to do with the arrangement. This time it is the name of the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation. The setup is similar to the ORTF but the capsules are a little more separated at 12 inches (30.4 cm) apart and with a smaller angle of 90 degrees. My cable and set-up OCD kicked in on this one as the best way to create the right arrangement was to use my stereo bar off centre. It looks totally wrong but it did create the correct array.
It might have something to do with the set up in my room but I very rarely use a Spaced Pair setup in my room, but it’s what I always use live. Due to the lack of height in my room, I decided to pull the mics back a bit in line with the drum throne to give an almost “Drummers Ear View” of the kit.
I have grouped all the audio examples together so you can quickly flip between the examples. There are two files for each stereo mic arrangement. The files labelled Just Overheads are just that. The overheads have been panned hard left and right and soloed. The Full Mix files are a full mix of all 13 mics on my kit. This gives you a real life drum sound.
When Is Stereo Just A Little Bit More Or Less Stereo?
At this point I know I am supposed to write something like I really preferred the X-Y to the ORTF or I didn’t like the NOS. However, in reality, I’m not sure I have a preference. To my ears all the mixes sound good and would be more than passable for a session or mix. If really pushed, I do like something about the image of the Proper X-Y version but it’s very very subtle. So, over to you. Let us know in the comments which version you like and most importantly why.