A soundhouse shootout – kick drum microphones
Author: Chris Merten
/ Video: Mikel Perkins
Engineering: Wyatt Harbaugh, Mikel Perkins, Chris Merten, Mike Sebring
Having been involved in Soundhouse for almost two years has provided me with the opportunity to use a vast array of different microphones and pieces of equipment, but with so many to choose from, sometimes useful mics can become lost in the shuffle. To remedy this, the crew and I set out to capture and compare the sounds of our collection of kick drum microphones. Other than satisfying our own curiosity, we also conducted this experiment to provide an audible showcase of what we have available to clients coming through our doors. As both an engineer and a drummer, I found this particularly useful, and I’m eager to do some experimenting with many of these microphones in future recording sessions. If you’re pressed for time, we’ve also provided a handy video at the bottom of the page for your viewing and listening pleasure!
*If you’d like to skip to the 2 minute video, please scroll down to the “In Conclusion” section!
We used Jack Endino’s kick drum for this experiment (available for use upon request). It is a vintage Ludwig 14 x 22 with a solid punch and aggressive attack.
The Telefunken M82 is quickly becoming a Soundhouse favorite. It features a variable EQ scoop that helps attenuate the boxiness of the kick, and an EQ boost that accentuates the attack of the drum. I am a huge fan of the sound of this microphone, and am looking forward to using it in future sessions.
The M88 is a bit of an anomaly, as it is typically utilized when recording snare or electric guitar. What is notable about it is that the frequency response of the mic varies due to the Proximity Effect. Before this experiment, I never would have suggested using this on a kick, but upon further review, I think that it produces interesting results. The M88 probably would not be my first choice to mic a kick, but in a scenario where I’m experimenting with different sounds, I’d definitely give this a shot.
The D6 is a popular microphone for those looking for a modern kick sound. It features a mid-range EQ scoop, and high frequency boost that really accentuates the attack of the drum: a timbre popular in hard rock and heavy metal applications. I personally have a lot of experience micing kicks with the D6, and love it for its solid punch.
The D112 is a Soundhouse staple, and is often the go-to microphone used when recording a kick drum. It is a personal favorite of Jack Endino, and can be heard throughout his body of work. The low end is punchy and the attack is powerful. You’ll feel it in your chest.
A classic microphone that needs no introduction, the famous 421 has played a key role in recording for decades. It has a vast number of uses, and is commonly utilized when recording toms, electric guitar, acoustic stringed instruments, and even brass and woodwinds. When used on a kick, it sounds best when going for a more organic timbre. I use a 421 in almost every session, and I’m toying with the idea of throwing it on a kick drum in the future.
Shure Beta 52:
Engineers who work in the world of live sound will be very familiar with the Beta 52. Its robust design makes it dependable, and its erratic frequency response curve makes it ideal for minimizing bleed in loud and reverberant spaces. This is another mic with a high-end boost and mid-range scoop, with a very healthy amount of low end. Historically, I’ll usually reach for a Beta 52 or a D112 when tracking a kick.
The D12 is a fantastic microphone if you’re looking for a more vintage kick tone. It adds a little more body to the drum sound, which is somewhat refreshing in an era filled with aggressively scooped kicks. I haven’t had much experience with this specific mic, but after this experiment, I’m excited to bust it out when tracking something with a little vintage flavor.
The is another microphone that provides more of a vintage and full drum sound. Sounds awesome in folk and Americana. Steve Fisk used one when recording Sammy Brue! Apart from kick drums, this mic sounds dynamite on bass cabinets, floor toms, low frequency brass instruments, and vocals.
The ND 868 is a modern sounding mic that really packs a wallop. Nice and punchy. Comparable to the Beta 52 and D6.
The SM91 fills a special niche. While response on the low end may be lackluster, placing an SM91 inside a kick can be the key to getting a defined attack. Best when paired with a mic that responds better to low frequencies. Not a mic that I use frequently, but I’ll be sure to reach for it the next time I’m looking for a strong click.
Audio Technica ATM 250:
I think I can sum up the ATM 250 as a comfortable blend between a scooped modern sound and a warm vintage tone. I REALLY dug the sound of this one.
This whole experiment served as both a comprehensive window into the vast Soundhouse mic locker and a reminder to myself and others to step out of your comfort zone when in the studio. An exciting new sound could be just around the corner, but sometimes you need to do a little experimentation to get there.
We began by calibrating the output of each Trident pre-amp to ensure that every channel would send signal at a uniform level to Pro Tools. After creating an audio channel in Pro Tools and inserting a signal generator plug-in, we ran the output of said channel (PT Output 18) through Pass-Thru 40 and into the Live Room. That signal (pink noise) was then patched directly into each physical Trident input (25 – 35). With all mic input levels set to unity, the line out level on each channel was then adjusted until each corresponding meter in Pro Tools read -22 dB.
Eleven microphones were then placed around the perimeter of the front end of a kick drum. The mics were oriented in an arch formation with each individual mic roughly 3 inches inside the rim of the drum (with the exception of the SM91, which was placed inside the drum). Special care was taken to ensure that no one mic was placed closer to the beater than any other. A series of one-shots were then recorded, varying between soft and aggressive playing.
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