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Teach A New Dog Old Tricks? Thoughts On Microphones

When it comes to mics, there are a thousand flavors -- and new isn’t always synonymous with better...

By Ken DeLoria June 16, 2016

Old Bugaboo
Another favorite for bass amplifiers is the Sennheiser MD 441, a mic that’s rarely used for this purpose. (Not the 421, mind you, but the 441.)

Years ago, working front of house at a reggae festival at Pauley Pavilion in LA, we had an A-team of stage techs and an A-plus inventory of active and transformer isolated DIs, but something was seriously amiss with the power distro, causing a 60 Hz hum from the bass DI that could not be chased down.

So we tried a variety of mics on the bass amp and it was still a far cry from acceptable. This was a big-money gig in a 14,000-seat arena, and no one was feeling too good about the situation.

Finally, my counterpart on stage placed the only suitable mic we hadn’t yet tried on the next act’s bass rig, and suddenly, it all came together. You guessed it – a 441.

For the rest of the festival we used it, and no matter the amp or playing style, we got what we needed – and in most cases way more than we would have reasonably expected. The bottom end of the music came through with the power that made the packed house of reggae fans as happy as… well, only reggae fans can be.

The mechanical LF roll-off in the KM 85. (click to enlarge)

Making A Difference
Here are a few more things I’ve noted over the years. The beyerdynamic M160 ribbon mic is amazingly clean and clear when capturing the high end of orchestra bells, cymbals, clapsticks, Native American rattles, and other upper-frequency instruments. The definition in the high end is better – to me – than most condensers, especially large-diaphragm types, and the sweetness is unsurpassed.

Neumann KM 85s as overhead mics on a trap kit, or used with percussion toys, sound significantly different than KM 84s, though physically they are nearly identical. The built-in mechanical LF roll-off in the KM 85, at about 150 Hz, means that the mic preamp isn’t being hit with broadband energy that will be filtered out later. (And yes, this does make a difference.)

Applying multiple types of mics to kick, snare, guitar amp, and maybe even saxophone and trumpet, provides another set of tools to work with beyond EQ, plug-ins, and effects. For example, employing a large-diaphragm mic such as an MD 421 at the sound hole at the front head of the kick drum, and a small, rapid-response mic like a Shure Beta 91A inside the drum shell – on another input channel of course – offers a vast range of tonal possibilities merely by adjusting fader levels.

The beyerdynamic M160 ribbon mic and Schoeps models that produce exceptional gain-before-feedback.(click to enlarge)

This makes it very easy to change the character of the instrument on the fly, even during a single tune, to best suit the music. For podium mics that sound like handhelds (and who wouldn’t want that?), Schoeps cardioid and hypercardioid models are fantastic. They’re small and unobtrusive, and seem to defy the normal constraints of physics in terms of gain-before-feedback, with a full, rich timbre.

Worthy Of Respect
It’s also important to not be afraid of straying “off the beaten path” because of unfamiliarity. After working a number of classical and operatic shows in Scandanavia with Lars Wern of EM Nordic, one of the great mix masters of all time, I came to respect the Milab microphone portfolio. Lars and I did Handel’s “Messiah” in a 16,000-seat arena in Norway with a 5,000-voice choir from the World Federation Choir, as well as a 60-piece orchestra, all mic’d with various Milab models.The quality was impeccable.

That same year we did the 90th anniversary show of the Nobel Prize Awards, and later, a Christmas show featuring soprano Dame Kiri Takanawa. Both were held in the fabulous Globe Arena in Stockholm with large orchestras. Again all mics were Milab – and again, nothing less than superb results.

Whenever you have available time, don’t hesitate to try a second, third, or even a fourth mic on a given instrument. In this way, you can compare it to your go-to selection in real time, at a real event (or at least at a sound check). You may just find some surprising results.

Over the course of more than four decades, Ken DeLoria has provided sound design and tech support at hundreds live concerts and events, and as the founder of Apogee Sound, developed the TEC Award-winning AE-9 loudspeaker.

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About Ken

Ken DeLoria
Ken DeLoria

Over the course of more than four decades, the late Ken DeLoria tuned hundreds of sound systems, and as the founder of Apogee Sound, he developed the TEC Award-winning AE-9 loudspeaker.


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