Recording Secrets For The Small Studio - Additional Resources
Chapter 7: Multimiking In Mono
Table of Contents
(This page is for the second edition of Recording Secrets For The Small Studio. To access an archive of the first-edition resource pages, click here.)
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Phase-matching Coincident Multimics: Here’s a little demonstration of the phase-alignment technique discussed in Section 7.1.1 of the book. In this example, let’s say I want to mic up a guitar amp with a dual-mic coincident array comprising a Shure KSM137 small-diaphragm cardioid condenser mic and a Shure SM57 cardioid dynamic mic. I’d therefore mix the two microphone signals together at an equal level, invert the polarity of one of them, and then slowly sweep the position of one mic relative to the other Ex07.003: WAV/MP3play_arrow, listening for the strongest phase-cancellation effect – which occurs about 20 seconds into the audio example. Note that if you mix those two signals without the polarity-inversion Ex07.004: WAV/MP3play_arrow the tightness of the phase-match becomes much harder to judge.
Balancing Instrument Facets: Multimiking is frequently used to balance different facets of an instrument’s sound into a more representative whole. A common application is using a crossed coincident pair of cardioid microphones for acoustic guitar, one mic pointing towards the fretboard to capture the string character Ex07.005: WAV/MP3play_arrow and one mic pointing more towards the soundhole to capture the body resonances Ex07.006: WAV/MP3play_arrow. These can then be blended together to taste Ex07.007: WAV/MP3play_arrow with negligible comb-filtering side-effects, on account of the coincident setup. Crossed pairs are often used for miking grand piano too, as in this example where a pair of small-diaphragm cardioid condenser mics are close in behind the music stand, one pointing towards the high strings Ex07.008: WAV/MP3play_arrow, and the other pointing towards the low strings Ex07.009: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Mixing the mics together then gives a more even balance of the instrument’s pitch registers Ex07.010: WAV/MP3play_arrow, although inevitably without a tremendous degree of low-end weight given the close-miking position close to the ends of the strings. If you wanted to bolster the coincident rig’s low frequencies, you might place another mic more in the centre of the piano where the low-end is more pronounced Ex07.011: WAV/MP3play_arrow and then mix that in Ex07.012: WAV/MP3play_arrow. The moment you use non-coincident multimic setups, however, you have to be aware that very small microphone repositionings can have a big influence on the mixed sound, because of comb-filtering between the mic signals. Take the following acoustic guitar multimic rig, for instance, where a cardioid condenser mic 30cm from the instrument just above the soundhole Ex07.013: WAV/MP3play_arrow is combined with an identical mic 30cm in front of the 12th fret Ex07.014: WAV/MP3play_arrow to create this composite mixed sound Ex07.015: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Although moving the second mic 5cm closer to the instrument Ex07.016: WAV/MP3play_arrow or 5cm further away Ex07.017: WAV/MP3play_arrow makes little difference to that mic’s tone in isolation, its impact is much more audible on the mixed sound because it changes the phase relationship between the mics: here’s the original mix again Ex07.015: WAV/MP3play_arrow; here’s the mix with the 12th-fret mic 5cm closer Ex07.018: WAV/MP3play_arrow; and here’s the mix with the 12th-fret mic 5cm further away Ex07.019: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Mixing Mics On Different Guitar-amp Speaker Cones: Here are a couple of examples of multimiking two guitar-amp speakers and combining the results. The first setup comprises two on-axis Shure SM57s, directly against the speaker grille of a Fender Twin Reverb combo, one covering the left-hand speaker Ex07.020: WAV/MP3play_arrow, and the other covering the right-hand speaker Ex07.021: WAV/MP3play_arrow. This is what those two sound like mixed together Ex07.022: WAV/MP3play_arrow. The second setup involves a centrally placed pair of AKG C3000 large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mics 15cm away from the speaker grille. The mics are spaced 15cm apart and angled outwards so that each focuses primarily on a single speaker. Here are the left mic Ex07.023: WAV/MP3play_arrow and the right mic Ex07.024: WAV/MP3play_arrow on the their own, and now the mix of both of them Ex07.025: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Miking An Instrument From Opposite Sides: There are some situations where you may wish to mike an instrument from opposite sides. The most common situation is where a mic over the snare drum Ex07.030: WAV/MP3play_arrow and a mic underneath the snare drum Ex07.031: WAV/MP3play_arrow are mixed together to give a combination of top-mic punch and bottom-mic rattle Ex07.032: WAV/MP3play_arrow. However, you have to be careful to check the polarity relationship between the two mics before mixing them, because one of the waveforms will usually be inverted in relation to the other, and if you don’t correct this it will leave you with a gutless tone Ex07.033: WAV/MP3play_arrow. The same applies if you decide to dual-mic a kick drum from both sides to combine batter-head beater definition Ex07.034: WAV/MP3play_arrow with resonant-head roundness Ex07.035: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Get the polarity relationship right and you get a useful composite of each mic’s good qualities Ex07.035: WAV/MP3play_arrow; get it wrong, however, and you’ll end up with a mixed sound that’s a lot less than the sum of its parts Ex07.034: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Blending Microphone Tonalities Using Coincident Arrays: Coincident multimiking allows you to blend together the tonal colours of different microphone designs in a fairly natural manner, free from the unpredictable interference of comb-filtering effects. Consider this example: an electric guitar cabinet multimiked with a three-mic coincident array roughly six inches from the speaker cloth. The mics in question are a Shure SM57 cardioid dynamic mic Ex07.040: WAV/MP3play_arrow a Sennheiser MD421 cardioid dynamic mic Ex07.041: WAV/MP3play_arrow and an AKG C414B-XLS large-diaphragm condenser mic in its cardioid mode Ex07.042: WAV/MP3play_arrow. To give an idea of the tonal colours this makes available, check out this mix Ex07.043: WAV/MP3play_arrow where I start with the SM57 signal on its own, and then slowly crossfade to the MD421, ending up with just the MD421. You’ll hear a similar crossfade between the SM57 and C414B-XLS signals in this mix Ex07.044: WAV/MP3play_arrow. If you’d like to explore other combinations, import the three mic signals into your own audio system and balance them against each other for yourself. One way of getting maximum tonal range out of this multimiking technique is by choosing microphones that are very different in character. Here, for example, a rich-sounding AKG D112 cardioid kick-drum microphone Ex07.045: WAV/MP3play_arrow and a thin-sounding AKG C418 clip-on electret mic Ex07.046: WAV/MP3play_arrow set up in a coincident array six inches in front of the same guitar cabinet provide a broad range of different balances, as you can hear as I gradually crossfade between the two mics in this mix file Ex07.047: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Time-aligning Room Mics: Here’s a guitar amp that’s been miked up close with a Shure SM57 cardioid dynamic mic Ex07.070: WAV/MP3play_arrow, while an AKG C3000 large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mic picks up the room sound from roughly four metres away Ex07.071: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Here’s what those two signals sound like simply mixed together Ex07.072: WAV/MP3play_arrow, although some engineers like to compensate for the time-of-arrival difference between the two mics to reduce comb-filtering interactions, as you can hear in this example Ex07.073: WAV/MP3play_arrow. One side effect to listen for, though, is what this time-alignement does to the sense of depth, because time-alignment of this type can make the instrument appear less ‘upfront’.
Sculpting Multimiked Guitar Tones With ‘Phase EQ’: In Section 7.2.2 I mentioned that producer Jack Douglas has a method of sculpting the tone of electric guitar overdubs – he calls is the ‘Phase EQ’. Here’s the kind of setup he’s referring to: two dynamic mics right up against the speaker grille at an angle, on opposite sides of the speaker cone, the first a Shure SM57 Ex07.050: WAV/MP3play_arrow and the second a Sennheiser MD421 Ex07.051: WAV/MP3play_arrow, plus a large-diaphragm condenser mic on-axis about 30cm away, here a C414B-XLS in cardioid mode Ex07.052: WAV/MP3play_arrow. This file Ex07.053: WAV/MP3play_arrow demonstrates four very different tonalities that I managed to achieve by combining these recordings, using nothing more sophisticated than fader levels and polarity settings. There’s nothing sacred about this specific setup, though, because the same kind of tone-bending power is available to any non-coicident multimic rig – especially where each mic signal has been selected to provide a distinct timbre of its own. So here’s another multimic electric-guitar recording you can experiment with on your own system, comprising: a Shure SM7B cardioid dynamic microphone two feet from the amp, with its sub-200Hz bass cut and 4kHz presence boost switches engaged to give it quite a boxy and aggressive sound Ex07.055: WAV/MP3play_arrow; a Shure SM57 cardioid dynamic mic roughly 40cm from the amp and slightly off-axis, giving it an uncharacteristically warm timbre Ex07.056: WAV/MP3play_arrow; BLUE’s unusual phantom-powered Kickball dynamic mic around 45cm inches from the amp, with its internal LF contouring switch in its central position for a nice balance between meaty low end and upper midrange crunch Ex07.057: WAV/MP3play_arrow; an Electrovoice RE20 cardioid dynamic mic about 60cm from the amp, towards the edge of the cabinet to capture lots of warm low midrange Ex07.058: WAV/MP3play_arrow; and an AKG C414B-XLS large-diaphragm condenser mic in hypercardioid mode with its low-cut filter engaged, set back from the amp about 90cm Ex07.059: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Now let’s say I decided to start off with the C414B-XLS as the basis of my sound Ex07.061: WAV/MP3play_arrow, I might listen to the other mics and decide I’d like to add some ‘growl’ in the 700-800Hz region from the Shure SM57, only to discover when mixing the two mics together that its achieved the very opposite Ex07.062: WAV/MP3play_arrow, so I invert the polarity of the SM57 signal Ex07.063: WAV/MP3play_arrow, which improves matters considerably, although with a certain loss of low-midrange warmth. I try to mix in some of the Electrovoice RE20 signal to compensate for this, but again it does the opposite of what I’d hoped Ex07.064: WAV/MP3play_arrow, so I polarity-invert that signal too in order to reach a more well-balanced end result Ex07.065: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
- Guitar ‘Phase EQ’ Video Demonstration: Here’s an additional video demonstration of the ‘phase EQ’ setup featured in audio examples Ex07.055-Ex07.065, showcasing a range of different sounds you can achieve just using faders and polarity switches.
Affordable Multimic Mounting Hardware: A decent short stereo bar is very affordable and useful for simple coincident multimiking tasks – the K&M 23550 stereo bar shouldn’t set you back more than a tenner, for instance. For more complicated multimiking rigs, I’d suggest investing in a few K&M 238 Microphone Holders, which will clamp onto almost any mic stand (or indeed bannisters, curtain rails, random bits of furniture) to increase the number of mics you can put up at once – and, again, they’re only a tenner a pop, which is a whole lot cheaper than buying lots of extra mic stands.
Variable Phase Adjusters: Hardware phase adjustment still isn’t particularly cheap, with things like the Radial Phazer and Little Labs IBP demanding a considerably investment. For this reason, many small-studio users would prefer to stick with mic-positioning and polarity reversal tools while tracking, and leave variable-phase tweaks in the software domain. In this scenario, my top tip has to be Voxengo’s PHA979 plug-in, which I use all the time, but you can find several other suggestions here, as part of my Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio resource pages.
Using Loudspeaker/Headphone Drivers As Microphones: If you’d like to experiment with building your own mics from loudspeaker or headphone drivers, check out these videos for ideas: DIY Video 1; DIY Video 2; Mounting The Speaker In A Cabinet. The Zyra.org site also has a nice ‘All Speakers Are Microphones’ page. Alternatively, Avantone and Solomon Design both sell smart-looking prefab models.
- Guitar Tones Via Multimiking: I often use multimiking for tonal control while recording electric guitars, and wrote about one such session in Session Notes August 2013. Also in the magazine’s archives is this great article on guitar multi-miking from Jack Ruston called ‘Bigger, Badder Electric Guitar’, which has a selection of good audio examples to go with it.