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Drum Overhead Mics Time/Phase Alignment

So for years now, at least since DAWs have given us the ability to move audio files around by infinitesimal amounts within a time line, I've both read and talked to other engineers about time aligning the overhead drum mics to the Snare and Kick...
I know there's also software available that can apparently time align those mics/tracks, although I've never used it.
On a recent song/mix I was working on, I thought I'd experiment with doing this alignment manually; that is, moving the overhead tracks to align with the Snare. I chose the Snare simply because of the physics of it, in that the Snare mic is so close to the head that it presents the least amount of time delay on the kit. Even the kick - at least the way I mic it with the mic outside the front head port - has a little more time delay than the Snare mic does.
So, I saved the project I was working on, then saved a copy with the title "Time Align Test". I then zoomed into the Snare track so that I was actually down to the individual sample- accurate level; I dropped the cursor there, scrolled down a bit to the overheads, and pulled them forward to match the Snare hit on the overheads to the direct Snare track. I then aligned the kick and toms in the same ways. I really had no expectations either way, this was a true test that I wanted to be able to A/B myself with the project that wasn't time aligned.
And here's what I heard:
The drums instantly sounded "tighter", more defined, they had more clarity, more punch, and there was a pesky 300hz thing that had been happening in the previous version of the project that was now gone.
At first I wondered if this was a "power of suggestion" thing. Did it really sound better, or did I just think it sounded better because of what I had done?
I A/B'd both mixes several times. There was no doubt that the time aligned version sounded better to my ears... more clarity, more definition. Less "mud" and "saggy" sound in the low end.
I'm curious to see what my colleagues here think, if they have ever worked with time alignment, and if so, what their perceptions were... did you find it helped? Hurt? No difference?
Just curious... ;)
-D.

Comments

bouldersound Mon, 11/13/2017 - 09:47

I do it all the time. For it to work out right you need coincident overheads, X-Y or M-S. You can set up spaced pair overheads to make it possible to align the snare, but not all the toms.

I tend to prefer the aligned drum mics, but it's subjective.

I start by aligning the overheads to the snare, then everything else to the overheads. I think that's the same as what you did.

Boswell Mon, 11/13/2017 - 10:15

Time alignment of kit mics is something I do quite a bit, but only if the kit was recorded in a good room. I have found by experiment that, to make it work well, the ceiling echoes from the snare must be at least twice as much time again than the direct path delay to the OHs, and more than 30dB lower in received amplitude, i.e. including the directional attenuation characteristics of the OH mics. In distance terms, this translates to the OHs being less than half way up from the snare to a reflective ceiling.

Boulder is right about this being easier with a coincident OH pair, but it does also work with other simple configurations such as the 4-mic Recorderman arrangement. It's much more difficult when you are presented with tracks of mic-per-tom proliferations, usually with chronic wall reflections.

pcrecord Mon, 11/13/2017 - 10:57

I also do this from time to time.
If you want to do it the lazy way, try this : https://www.soundradix.com/products/auto-align/
To me it just sounds different not better. If you put overhead 6ft in the air it's normal that the sound of the drums take time to get there.
In some case this time differencial may give a more complex and bigger sound. But for todays music, we tend to like a more focus sound.
This might be due to the over usage of samples we hear in so many recordings. We get used to drums being perfectly aligned and time isolated.

I remember talking to Martin Stevens (Love is in the air) before we went on stage together.
He remembered that they were probably the first to record every drum kit pieces seperately to minimise bleeding and phase issues.
So they got the drummer play each instruments seperatly; Recording the bassdrum alone, then the Hi-hat.. etc...

I think it's up to us to decide if it works better with the song.
If I'm doing blues or jazz, I won't touch a thing unless I made a mistake with the mic placement.

DonnyThompson Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:02

Dave (@dvdhawk ) and I had a coincidental pair over the top, a mic on the kick, Snare, a rack tom and floor tom. (I forget what OH mics we were using, dave might recall)

The ceiling of the space we were recording in was canted from 8' to 12', with the kit placed on the 8' side and firing towards the higher side, though there was a glass wall on the floor tom end and a regular wall on the hh side, and, they were pretty close to the kit - so maybe it was the ceiling height that saved us. The other thing that may or may not makes difference here is that the kit was a lovely old set of '66 Ludwigs, and they sounded beautiful for what we were doing.
:)

DonnyThompson Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:27

pcrecord, post: 454002, member: 46460 wrote: I remember talking to Martin Stevens (Love is in the air) before we went on stage together.
He remembered that they were probably the first to record every drum kit pieces seperately to minimise bleeding and phase issues.
So they got the drummer play each instruments seperatly; Recording the bassdrum alone, then the Hi-hat.. etc...

I think it's up to us to decide if it works better with the song.
If I'm doing blues or jazz, I won't touch a thing unless I made a mistake with the mic placement.

I know there are those who have tracked that way, although I can't think of an example at the moment. For isolation, that separate recording way would certainly do it, giving you maximum ISO, but probably not necessarily the best way to create groove, pocket, or a dynamic feel with the othe instruments. Then again, "Love Is In The Air" did have feel and groove, with that sort of Conga-ish rhythm.

We tracked this song (actually so far all the songs) live with drums, bass, guitar, and keys playing at once, we were going for a "band vibe". I've been very happy with the feel of these performances. There is definitely something about hitting the R button on a group of great players working as an ensemble.
Dave (@dvdhawk) has done a wonderful job of capturing these instruments and performances. The fidelity has been wonderful; things sound very "natural", and all the tracks have a nice feel. It's been a treat working with him, bouncing ideas off each other. He's not my "assistant" engineer or producer, he's my partner on this project. I couldn't have done it without him. :)
-d.

pcrecord Mon, 11/13/2017 - 16:02

My point is that we hear perfectly recorded drums all the time that are actually samples and we are used to THAT sound for many years.
But THAT sound isn't at all natural.
I'm sure your tracks sound more natural because they were played and recorded on real drums by a real drummer.
If you feel that aligning the tracks adds to the tightness and overall sound, then that's your winning recipe and you should keep doing it. (or not)
A good engineer isn't bound by bounderies like some purists adopt, he/she just do what it takes to make the songs work.

A great band + great tracking = easy mixing
I envy you my friend. ;)

DonnyThompson Tue, 11/14/2017 - 03:35

@audiokid @Boswell @bouldersound @pcrecord @dvdhawk
Lol, with all the comments of everyone here having had experience with time alignment, I feel like I'm REALLY late to the party. LOL.
I guess my approach to this process was stuck back in time, when we were all working with tape, and with the exception of perhaps adding certain delays to tracks to get the time/phase closer ( which I personally never did) there wasn't the ability to move tracks around to sample accurate alignment...
It's not that I never thought about the possibility of overheads being delayed from the snare, tom's and kick, it's just that I tried to use that delay to an advantage. And, I'm not implying that I'm planning on going back to other songs to do this, or that I'm going to do it with every mix from now on, either.
But for this song, I was surprised at what a noticeable positive difference it made.
I did look into the Sound Radix auto align plug... But as it turns out, I had already downloaded it a year ago, installed it ....and then never used it, so I can't do another trial again to see if I would like it.
Doing it manually isn't hard, though... Maybe a bit time consuming, but it's not like it's an all day process. I was able to do the manual alignment for all drum tracks ( using the snare as the reference point) within a half hour.
Thanks guys, for your all your comments and suggestions. :)
-d.

Kurt Foster Tue, 11/14/2017 - 07:16

phase alignment is not a new trick. doing it itb / post recording is what's new. to get it right we used to have to get it while we tracked. Armin Steiner had a box to adjust phase of recorded tracks in the 60's. it was one of his secret weapons.

proper aligning the phase of a multi mic set up used to take two people and perhaps hours prior to recording tracks, one in the control room to listen and an assistant in the live room making the adjustments.

i recall spending almost an hour before a mix session flipping the polarity / phase (choose your poison) on every track to be sure everything was as "in phase" as possible. making sure that all tracks are properly recorded in phase with each other is part of what makes great recordings.

JayTerrance Tue, 11/14/2017 - 08:57

pcrecord, post: 454002, member: 46460 wrote:
1) I also do this from time to time.
2) To me it just sounds different not better. If you put overhead 6ft in the air it's normal that the sound of the drums take time to get there.
3) I think it's up to us to decide if it works better with the song.
4) If I'm doing blues or jazz, I won't touch a thing unless I made a mistake with the mic placement.

You made 4 great points. I thought I'd highlight them.

Davedog Wed, 11/15/2017 - 12:48

Chris Perra, post: 454031, member: 48232 wrote: I've been using a mono mic on a diagonal and left and right that are all equidistant from kick and snare.. I line up both the kick and snare to the mono mic...

Yep.

And all the other methods. I've been aligning the drums for several years now. I gotta say it's so much easier to do this in PT than with the tape recorder. Although as Kurt referenced to, my original recording teacher also had home built phase devices everywhere. More of these than compressors or EQ's. He used the word "coherent"a lot.

Davedog Wed, 11/15/2017 - 12:51

pcrecord, post: 454002, member: 46460 wrote: I remember talking to Martin Stevens (Love is in the air) before we went on stage together.
He remembered that they were probably the first to record every drum kit pieces seperately to minimise bleeding and phase issues.
So they got the drummer play each instruments seperatly; Recording the bassdrum alone, then the Hi-hat.. etc...

I have recorded this way. It does make a very clean and quiet drum track. It also takes an exceptional drummer to make this work.

pcrecord Thu, 11/16/2017 - 04:40

Davedog, post: 454044, member: 4495 wrote: I have recorded this way. It does make a very clean and quiet drum track. It also takes an exceptional drummer to make this work.

Personally, I'd rather have a good drummer do is thing naturaly.
But I thought writing about this would show that phase and aligment is not a new thing. Even when recording to tapes, engineers were aware of it and some went to the extreem to prevent such effect.

Also a good story to tell at a dinner ;)

DonnyThompson Thu, 11/16/2017 - 04:55

pcrecord, post: 454050, member: 46460 wrote: Personally, I'd rather have a good drummer do is thing naturaly.
But I thought writing about this would show that phase and aligment is not a new thing. Even when recording to tapes, engineers were aware of it and some went to the extreem to prevent such effect.

Also a good story to tell at a dinner ;)

Lol. Yes, if your dinner guests happen to be engineers. ;)
I'm picturing myself discussing this with friends at Thanksgiving, people who aren't audiophiles:
"So what have you been up to lately, Donny?
"I've been time aligning drum tracks, to obtain an improved phase coherency..."
What THEY will hear:
"I've been blah blah'ing drum blahs to obtain an improved blah blah blah..."
;)

Davedog Thu, 11/16/2017 - 11:24

pcrecord, post: 454050, member: 46460 wrote: Personally, I'd rather have a good drummer do is thing naturaly.
But I thought writing about this would show that phase and aligment is not a new thing. Even when recording to tapes, engineers were aware of it and some went to the extreem to prevent such effect.

Also a good story to tell at a dinner ;)

My experience is an interesting story about recording drums one at a time on some tracks. Too long for here....I'll save the bulk of it for putting the grandkids to sleep by telling them about it.

Your point about clearing up crosstalk, phase anomalies, and room node problems is exactly why we decided to even embark on such a thing. More of an experiment than anything else. Suffice to say, we learned a lot about drum arrangement as well as the "sweet spot" in a room. And as I said.....the drummer has to be able to break down his playing into individual parts while retaining the 'feel' originally written for the song. And it all had to coalesce. But the up side was drum tracks from an 'iffy' room that sounded like they came from a Sound City or Oceanway.

x