Posts Tagged ‘microphones’

Picking The Right Vocal Mic

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Hello all, in today’s blog I’ll be discussing the results of my vocal microphone test. Last time I had a little issue with the final sound clip I posted, it was a little skippy in some places. I figured out this was due to the bass track so I fixed it and you can grab the new file it’s in the same spot as the old one (I replaced it)

The Vocal Mic Test

If you recall, last time I spoke about doing microphone testing and placement with the drums trying to get a good sound out of that. Today I’ll be doing the same thing with vocals. The following is a list of microphones I compared to use as a vocal mic:

  • Shure Beta 52A (My kick drum mic)
  • Audix OM2
  • Shure SM57
  • Rode NT5

Why These Mics?

Something I forgot to explain when I originally posted this is why I chose these mics as my selection, since none of them area really the right type of microphone for the job. The reason I’m using these mics and conducting this test is to determine the best vocal mic out of the mics I already own.

The results of the test are quite dissatisfying and inconclusive, so unlike last time I’ll be short about it.

I discovered that all of my microphones have the same problem in common: they sound too “flat” I believe this is due to the environment where I recorded. I recorded using all of these mics in my room, and the acoustics in my room just aren’t too great for singing. Also, with the dynamic microphones (The Beta52, OM2, and SM57) I had to position myself rather close to the microphones to get a loud enough volume that you could even hear it.

Before Downloading

Before downloading my sound samples here, remember none of these are finished products. So if you want to grab one for listening you might want to wait for my next entry when I will start to experiment using some plugins, and equalizers for vocals and drums.

Beta52

The Beta52 had some deeper tones which was nice, and it was rather clear. But I was getting lots of popping and crackling. I’m not sure if it was just the input volume causing this, or if maybe I needed a pop filter, but the actual sound coming out of the Beta52 wasn’t really all too bad. Listen to the Beta52 Sound Sample.

Positioning

I kept the Beta52 on a desk mic boom stand, and I kept a very close distance while singing. My lips touched the mic a bit.

Audix OM2

The Audix OM2 seemed really nice to be when I was singing, but then when I got to compare it to the other mics I realized this mic was very muddy sounding. Like the Beta52, I got lots of crackling and popping. Listen to the OM2 Sound Sample.

Positioning

Since I left the mic clip for the OM2 in the basement accidentally, I was holding this mic with my hand. Sang close into the mic, lips touching (oooooooooooooooooooooooooh~ <3)

SM57

The Shure SM57 wasn’t too bad. It was pretty clear and I didn’t get any crackling and popping when singing into it. Listen to the SM57 Sound Sample.

Positioning

Like the OM2, I left the mic clip attached to another stand in my basement. I held this mic in my hand and sang close to it, lips did not touch the mic.

Rode NT5

The Rode NT5 definitely felt the nicest while I was singing. It felt more natural to me. The mic wasn’t right up in my face like the others because it didn’t have to be. The sound that came out of this mic is very clear but had a very edgy treble type of sound to it. I’m thinking I could’ve gotten more out of this mic by positioning it even further away and maybe used a second one on the other end of my room. Listen to the NT5 Sound Sample.

Positioning

I used the same desk mic stand as the Beta52 and angled the arm upward, while pointing the mic down. The mic was slightly above eye level, boom arm pointing above my head (mic pointing down at an angle).

Today’s Conclusion

My conclusion from today is that no matter which one of these microphones I pick to use for my final copy, it will need some effects on it to “put back” the missing acoustics where my room failed me. Probably some kind of reverb. Now that I’ve got all the recording done that I want to keep, the next step is to (optionally) jazz it up a bit with extra plugins and effects. I’ll talk about this more next time.

Drum Test #1

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Prelude

Alright, this obviously isn’t my first drum test, but it’s the first one I’m logging. I’ve decided to achieve the best sound I have to take notes in a very obsessive and ritual fashion; hopefully it helps.

Since this is the first entry, I’ll start off by explaining what the routine will be and what the objective is. The objective, is to obviously come to a better understanding of sound. To figure out what works, and what doesn’t work, coming from the perspective of someone who is not very well informed or schooled in anyway. I do all of my recordings from home and in my basement, where I’m surrounded by cement walls. This is where I keep my drums.

From what I’ve noticed, it’s very hard to tell if your drums are sounding good or not until you have it mixed in with your other instruments—this is where things get technical. So in order to test out my mics I’ve decided to pick songs that exist (rather than making my own), and record myself playing them. In this way I hope to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Today’s Test

The Song

Today’s test song will be the song GSF by MxPx. I chose this song because it was a relatively easy song to play, although, I admit I did make some pretty bad mistakes in the drum recording. The other reason I chose it is that I didn’t have any songs I knew already and it seemed easy enough that I could do a decent job of playing through it on the 2nd or 3rd try, which is exactly what I did.

Drum Tuning

I tried to change the tuning of my drums a little bit for the recording. After reading through the entire Drum Tuning Bible and forgetting most of it, I decided I was up for the challenge of retuning. Now don’t get me wrong, I was actually very happy with the sound of my kit when I decided to try and retune. So why did I tune them differently? There are a few reasons. One reason is because I was not happy with the sound of my kick drum especially. It sounded very good to me, but not so hot on recording. After speaking with several people on IRC and reading through the pages of the Drum Tuning Bible I realized that you will have to tune differently depending on your audience; what you hear behind your drum set is not the same as what your audience is hearing. So here’s what I did.

  1. Removed all dampening tapes and rings from drums, with exception of my second snare drum (which I only use for effects anyway). This brought on more overtones and resonating.
  2. Tuned according to the Drum Tuning Bible methods, or as much of it as I could remember. The one tip that stood out most in my mind was to tune batter heads for the feel, resonant heads for the pitch. This idea was ridiculous to me, that the resonant heads could make such a difference; but you know, it actually worked.

Tuning the Kick Drum

The kick drum I actually didn’t change the batter head tension at all, but I did remove an old quilt I had stuffed in there and replaced it with a single pillow. Surprisingly, the sound wasn’t too different based on just that. I positioned the pillow so that it was only touching the batter head. This presented more resonating tones when I later put the resonant head back on; but I wanted to test out a few things before putting that head back on.

I left the resonant head off for a bit before putting it back on to run a few tests. I hit the drum a few times with the resonant head off. It made a very loud “bong” noise, which kind of reminded me of the sound of the drum when I first started using it as a kid (I got the base drum set as a birthday gift when I turned 9). I was actually shocked to see how much the resonant head did at controlling the pitch. I placed the head on and began experimenting with the tuning of this head a bit. The drum tuning guide says you can actually tune it pretty low on the resonant side, I put mine a bit higher than I expected though.

Snare Drum Tuning

I like to keep my snare really, really tight. I thought for recording this might be an issue, several people were telling me to lower it a bit; but of course if you like the sound, you keep it. I liked the sound but again, on recording it just was not that great. Most snare drums in recordings have a bit of an echo on them, some people achieve this through reverb effects added during mixing, but I think most of the time in professional recordings this is a direct result of the drum tuning, and the acoustics of the room. Reverb effects are only added to snare after recording to give a natural acoustic sound when there is a lack of it in the recording.

For this recording I tuned my drum down quite a bit, which may shock you when you hear the sound samples I posted below. A lot of people told me this is still too high.

Since I removed the tap from my snare drum, and consequently accidentally peeled off a small strip of the drum head coating, I had some really nasty overtones. To attempt to dampen these I wadded up a small piece of tape and just taped it to the rim on the side where I placed the snare drum mic. I still got some overtone like this, and many of you may even think it’s still too much after listening to the sound samples, but it’s not like it was before. Also where you hit the drum has an affect on this as well. You can in the recording when I am hitting the sweet spot versus when I miss and hit off into the far off land of the nasty overtone kingdom. For this I only have one recommendation to you: practice your aim.

Mic Setup

I’ll fill this in later with details of the mic setup I used (hopefully). I took a lot of pictures, which should be helpful in aiding me to recall what I did exactly. My only comment on this for right now is that I did get a lot of bleed from my hihat on every one of my mics where it shouldn’t be. This makes me debate taking out my rack tom mic, since it seemed to pick up more than I’d expected.

One suggestion I got from one of the members in #ardour was to move one of the mics back about 10 feet. I think I might try this with one or both of the overheads next time, since they seemed to be picking up a lot of loud sound that I didn’t want.

Overall Mic Setup

Frontal view of drumkit and mics

Front View of Drums and Mics

This is what you see from in front of the kit, if you can really see anything here at all. A few things you might notice from this image:

  1. I am using 6 microphones on the drums – 2 overheads, 1 snare, 1 kick, 1 rack toms, 1 floor tom.
  2. There’s a blue wad of tape stuck to the wall. Why?
    Answer:
    Because I removed the tape I had smeared all over my drum heads. Normally, I would have tape on my drum heads to mute the overtones and get a more concentrated attack sound out of them. But this time I tried something different, I’ll talk more on that later.
  3. I’m surrounded by concrete.
    If you don’t do sound for a living this might not even be something you consider. I know for me it wasn’t something I considered until many people approached me and commented on this. Your surrounding environment greatly affects the acoustics of the room, or so I’m told. But since this is what I have to work with I have to deal with it.

Kick Mic Placement

Kick mic as seen in front of the kick drum

The kick mic is angled (not perpendicular) to the batter head.

Here you’ll see that the kick mic is being placed inside the kit, via the port hole. This is typical (assuming you have the port hole). I did not place the mic straight inside so that it would point straight at the beater, but rather on an angle. From some guides I’ve read this is supposedly a good idea. The mic itself is horizontal, but the stand on the arm points in at an angle.

Inside of the kick drum

Mic is horizontal, boom arm is angled.

You might also notice how there’s a pillow. I will talk more about this in the drum tuning section.

Overhead Placement

Overhead mics cross in XY setup

XY Overhead Mic Setup

The overhead mics are relatively new to me, so I wasn’t too sure what to do for these in terms of how high I should place them or where I should place them. I saw a mic setup like the one the photo here in a studio once and thought, “they did it in the studio, so that must be the way to go!” This type of setup is called an XY setup. I have the two mics on the same mic stand on a stereo bar, and the mics crisscross.

Overhead boom stand is not too high above the drums

Boom stand is actually set pretty low

The mics aren’t placed too high above the drums, as a limitation of the flimsiness of this mic stand that I’m using and the weight balancing factor, although I’m sure there should be other ways to even that out, in my case I lowered the height a little bit and pulled the boom back in more for better balance. After having recorded and listened to this setup, I decided this was a bad idea; I just didn’t like the massive volume I was getting out of these overheads in this particular case. Some thoughts I had were to back up these mics 10 feet maybe and try to capture more of the sound from far away, since the other mics are close. Another idea I’m thinking might have been better would be to separate the mics so i can put them higher up from the drums.

Floor Tom Mic Placement

Floor tom mic hovers over the floor tom near the rim

Floor tom mic is placed directly over floor tom near rim

For my floor tom I used this slinky-like arm dealy on a straight stand. Not exactly by choice, but it’s what I had and for the most part it works. I don’t have much to say on this other than I did experience some hihat bleed on this mic in the recording, so I’m thinking I should angle it differently to avoid that for next time.

Rack Tom Mic Placement

Rack tom mic sits in between rack toms

Rack tom mic faces down in between rack toms.

I used one microphone for both of my rack toms, and stuck the mic right in the middle. This didn’t work too badly for the toms, but I got a lot of hihat bleed here too. All of this bleed from the hihats going into the tom mics and the overheads increases the overall volume of the hats, which is not something we want. I think in this particular spot I’m kind of stuck for better placement, though maybe that’s something for the next test to reveal. Then again, if I moved those overheads back a bit it might not be so bad.

Here’s a front view of the rack tom mic:

Behind the kit view of rack tom mic

Behind-the-kit view of rack tom mic

Maybe I could have lowered this mic a little bit. I was very worried about the wire touching my china cymbal on the left here, if I wobbled the china with my hands it would touch the wire a bit. I also knew that I don’t hit my china that hard, since it makes such a hard loud gong noise and usually requires a bit more effort to smash it into such a wild movement.

Snare Drum Mic Placement

Snare mic boom stand slides under hihats

Snare mic boom stand slides under hihats

This was probably one of the more tricky mics to get in there, and even made me debate buying and trying out mic clips, which is probably something I should just try out anyway. The main obstacle here was my hihat, as with everything else in my drum kit I keep my hihat down low (height-wise). My objective here was to get the snare mic just above the snare and near the rim, with the mic pointing downward. I was using a full sized boom-stand (not a desk/amp mic stand) so it was pretty hard to maneuver it without hitting the hihat or blocking my second snare, or even blocking my left arm from accessing the high tom and hihat. What I settled on was allowing the mic to lay horizontal and point in the general direction of the snare from a little bit of a distance.

Here are some more pictures of what I did.

Snare boom stand legs; I'm also wearing green pants.

Snare boom stand legs touch the hihat leg and slide under second snare stand.

Side view of snare microphone stand

Side view of snare mic stand

Snare mic is about an inch or so away from rim of snare

Snare mic is about an inch away from snare rim

Vanilla Recording

If I manage to maintain my structure throughout all my tests, I’ll make sure that this section appears every time. Here I will post a link to the plain recording of my drums. This is to show what I’m working with, without any mixing, adjusting of track volume or panning. Listen to the vanilla recording. Obviously, there are a few mistakes here and there but because it’s a mic and drum tuning test it doesn’t matter; it’s good enough.

No Overheads

Because I so much liked the sound that I got out of the inside of the kick drum, I thought I’d share with you a vanilla recording, with overhead mics muted. I think if you compare this one to the vanilla recording posted above you’ll notice that the cymbals are less overwhelming. If I had to take a guess I’d say this was a result of bad mic placement of the overheads.

Adding Some Instruments

To get a feel for the sound of the drums in its proper place (a full band) I added the guitar. The plugin I wanted to use wasn’t working exactly as a plugin due to some issues with ardour, which will hopefully be resolved soon in the next version update.

The problem I faced is that I wanted to record a vanilla guitar track, using a direct input from my guitar to the 1/4″ instrument jack on my audio interface, and still have the guitar effects from my plugin. The solution was to use jack in a very tricky way. I recorded the plain track first, then at export time I use some tricky jack-fu to route Guitar1 (the guitar track in my example) from Ardour to Guitar Rig (my guitar stack plugin) and then from Guitar Rig back into jack’s master in/1 and master in/2. The only con to this approach that I’ve discovered is that I can only seem to get one instance of Guitar Rig up and running.

Here is what the song sounds like with the little bit of mixing from before and the newly added guitar track. Listen to GSF with guitar track.

The Final Results

Okay so maybe the title is a little bit misleading, but here you’ll get to see the final results when I use a different combination of plugins and mixing.

No Plugins Necessary

Here’s what the result sounds like without the use of any plugins at all, this is straight up panning left/right and volume fades up/down. No EQing on any tracks (with the exception of possible EQ in the guitar or bass effects). Here’s a screenshot of my mixer window in ardour:

GSF Mic Test mix without using plugins

No Plugins!

Listen to the mix without EQ or plugins.

I might do some modifications with this when the vocals are added, but I’ve been listening to this for the past 2 days now and I think it sounds pretty good. The track might be a bit skippy in some places, I’m guessing this is some lag from overloading my computer while trying to export from ardour.

I’ll try to upload a fixed version, and if not, it will be fixed when the vocals are added in my next article: Picking the Right Vocal Mic, where I’ll test all my different microphones to determine a happy combination of microphone, placement and environment and with any luck, I’ll be able to hit all the right notes!