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Although I normally only post in the non-pro forums regarding gear, I figured I'd stroll on over here for this particular question to get a pro answer.

I am a songwriter/composer producing my own music at home. I am constantly looking for new instruments to add to my palette. Over the years I seem to have developed in a certain direction: apart from vocals and synths I have many kinds of instruments that are relatively difficult to mic, namely: flute, kalimba, ukelele, and glockenspiel.

And now, after finally biting the bullet this past weekend and buying a marimba, I figured I should do some serious research about what the best way to mic these guys is (especially considering I'm already lusting after vibes too!)

Am I looking at investing in one really good set of overheads? At this point I don't mind if you lay on the pro gear suggestions... I want to know what the 'real' way to do it is.

(Of course if you feel they each deserve a very different mic treatment, then I'd mainly appreciate advice about the tuned percussion instruments)

Thank you very much, in advance,

Polly Six


Codemonkey Mon, 08/18/2008 - 21:38

Hmm, pro...oh who cares.

Had a bit of experience with flutes, live though.
What I gleaned from it was, in a recording studio, you'll probably want keep the mic more than 1 foot away, less than 5/6 feet away and don't place it in line with, or pointing at, the flautist's mouth. Tends to be too breathy although further away may be lightyears better.

Of course, that may be the ideal position and I'm talking bollocks.

When in doubt, try a SM57, up close, possibly one 3x as far away.

Boswell Tue, 08/19/2008 - 09:59

Hmm, yes, I thought we had dealt with this issue in the other forum.

I think you will find the Rode NT55s are not too bright for a marimba. At a higher price point, a pair of Shure SM81s or even AKG C414s will do a good job.

Greg Malcangi (Evelyn Glennie's husband) is the expert in recording just about any instrument that you have to hit. He used to post in these forums some years back, but I haven't seen him here recently. He emphasized that you don't just record a marimba, like most instruments you record it and the acoustic space that it occupies, so you have to do a lot of experimenting with microphone positions until you get the sound you want.

BobRogers Tue, 08/19/2008 - 11:08

Hmm... Yeah, looks like I never posted clips from that performance I talked about in the previous post. Graduation sort of got in the way of everything and other things took over after that. I'll see if the guys will give me permission to post clips. As I reported before, both the NT55s and the Fat Heads sounded great - but very different. The Fat Heads dark and smooth - the NT55s bright and crisp. I was pleased with the recording and they were too. So much so that they never even got together with me to try to revise the rough mix I gave them the day after the show.

I'm with Boswell on the importance of the room here. Where are you going to be recording this?

RemyRAD Tue, 08/19/2008 - 23:30

These kinds of percussion instruments & instruments with higher frequency transients & overtones are best served by ribbon microphones. In recording situations, condenser microphones are frequently too crispy, frequently resulting in horrendous high-frequency distortion. Besides, there is hardly a microphone technology on this planet that can track transients better than a ribbon. Their mass is the lightest. You just don't want a flutist blowing into one. That'll just set you back a precious microphone. I think the Cascades Fat Head is a good bang for the buck. The Beyer M160 is my first choice. The David Royer if you got the $. I thought the $2900 tube powered one sounded nice? I just don't have a first born male child. So no children to use as collateral.

Of course I always love the SM57 as it is truly a "go to" tool. And because of its bandwidth limitations, high-frequency overload is rarely a problem. And because of their insensitivity in comparison to hot output condensers, rarely an overload producer. A known quantity. A sure bet. Shure bet, yup.

If I had a penny every time I said that....???
Ms. Remy Ann David

JoeH Wed, 08/20/2008 - 18:52

I'm with Remy in general, I too like ribbons on many things, including percussion, esp tuned stuff like vibes, marimbas and other mallet-drive instruments. I have several Cascade Fathead ribbons, and like 'em a LOT for this sort of thing.

I posted a long clip here not too long ago recounting the mics we used on a group called "SO Percussion", performing live here in Phila at the Kimmel Center. Depending on the instruments, setup, and availability, we used a variety of SD and LD condensers, dynacmics and pickups on several different percussion "Rigs". We used the SD mics on the smaller and intimate stuff like food bowls, small toys, etc. WHere they weren't in danger of being overloaded, they sounded wonderful. Other things (like kick drums, floor toms, etc.), needed bigger dia. mics and more robust pickup.

You really gotta experiment and listen carefully. I agree with Remy about the overly cripsy top end of SD mics getting blown out and sounding nasty, it's easy to have it happen, even with the best mics and pres out there. I too wouldn't turn down an SM57 or 58, or an MD421 in a pinch. They're still work horses, and you gotta love the natural, smooth, built-in "limiting" sound these dynamic mics will give you.

Cucco Mon, 08/25/2008 - 06:14

So - a couple things to think about here -

First, what is the quality of the Marimba? Are we talking some $1000 HS Band Marimba, or are we talking a Mallatech Imperial Grand? Just going out and buying a Marimba on a whim would suggest to me that it's a lower cost marimba (usually correctly associated with lower quality, clunky and tinky sounding). Of course, this is a GROSS assumption and if I'm wrong, please accept my apologies.

The second (and probably most important) consideration is to the room itself. I like to record Marimba in churches. In fact, a friend of mine does have the Malletech Imperial Grand and we record it in a large Catholic church with high ceilings and lots of medium-density reflective surfaces (think cherries and mahoganies not marble and granite).

The room compliments the instrument.

Another thing to consider with an instrument and a room like this is how much space it takes for an instrument to come together. You don't want to do an XY overhead at 3 feet or the instrument's going to sound....well...bad.

Give yourself some distance.

I've approached a large marimba one of a few ways with luck - all were dependent upon a quality space. Without that, I'd be lost.

First -
I've tried spaced omnis in AB at about 2 feet apart angled about 15 degrees off center axis roughly 6 feet back and 7 feet off the ground. Again, in the right space, this works VERY well and the bottom end of the instrument just sings. The top end isn't brittle at all when given this distance (and a quality mic).

Second -
I've done an SF12 at about 5 feet distance aimed downward at the instrument from about 6.5 feet off the ground. This sounded great too but with a little less bottom-end power and a LOT more mid-range presence.

Give us some more details about the room and the instrument and what you have available to you in the way of mics and we might be better equipped to help out.



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