Overhead recommendations?

Mastiff

Senior Member
Right now I have the Shure 7 piece mic kit, which is all intro stuff. The overheads are PGA81. I'm finding the sound is pretty decent with just the overheads, bass and snare, especially since I moved the overheads to behind the kit to get a clear view of the top heads. Anyway, I'm wondering if I'd notice a significant improvement with higher quality overheads? If so, looking for recommendations.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Right now I have the Shure 7 piece mic kit, which is all intro stuff. The overheads are PGA81. I'm finding the sound is pretty decent with just the overheads, bass and snare, especially since I moved the overheads to behind the kit to get a clear view of the top heads. Anyway, I'm wondering if I'd notice a significant improvement with higher quality overheads? If so, looking for recommendations.

What sort of improvement are you looking for? What’s an example of a drum sound that you like?

My feeling is that other factors (tuning, placement, room acoustics) will be more important that the mics.
 

johnjssmith

Junior Member
The PGA81 is a lower end mic and so a set of high quality overheads will definitely give you a big improvement, provided the rest of your setup (your room, your tuning, your drums, cymbals...) already sounds as good as reasonably possible.
Is your room treated, or otherwise good sounding, without any relevant comb filtering, null, annoying resonances... ?
Are your drums and cymbals good quality, professional (sounding) pieces of gear?

When that's taken care of, budget is most often the constraint in questions like this: how much do you want to spend for a new set of overheads?
 

drumnut87

Well-known member
When that's taken care of, budget is most often the constraint in questions like this: how much do you want to spend for a new set of overheads?
^ this.
like if you want a decent set of overheads on a budget, i can fully recommend the lewitt 040 matched or the 140 AIR matched pair. but they may not have a sound you want. if you want to spend a large amount (4 figures) look into the neumann stuff.


What sort of improvement are you looking for? What’s an example of a drum sound that you like?

My feeling is that other factors (tuning, placement, room acoustics) will be more important that the mics.

^ this definitely applies. for example if you have a bright reflective room you'll get a lot of the reflection back in your mics.
 

cbphoto

Gold Member
IMO, if your drum room can be improved by treating it with diffusers and absorbers, that’s where I’d put my money.

However, when I asked my sweetwater rep about my “next level” in overhead mics (I currently use a pair of Sennheiser e914), he recommended the Shure KSM44A.
 

Mastiff

Senior Member
Thanks for the replies. I think my room is is decent shape for what it is (small). It's fairly well treated with the exception of the ceiling, which is next on my list.

You can easily spend as much on one mic as I spent on seven, so there must be something to it. I guess the question is whether the rest of my setup is good enough that the difference can be heard. I don't know how I can know without trying.

Incidentally, I have all good equipment with the exception of my actual drums (shells), which are Tama Swingstars. This raises the big question of whether I should hold off on everything until I get them upgraded. This is on my list too. There seems to be no consensus on how much difference there really is in sound between cheap and expensive drums if they both have good heads and are tuned well.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
You would maybe notice a bit more detail and clarity with a decent pair of LDCs, but overheads are going to sound like overheads. I was pretty shocked at how good some $100 MXLs sounded. If you added another pair of mics, and you have enough channels , then you could add an under snare mic, a hi-hat mic, a room mic, a crotch mic, and so on. And that changes your palette of sounds a bit more.

Who do you want to sound like? It could be that your idea of “good” relies on some other technique or approach, which may be totally feasible in a small room with only a few mics.
 

Mastiff

Senior Member
Who do you want to sound like? It could be that your idea of “good” relies on some other technique or approach, which may be totally feasible in a small room with only a few mics.

I'm trying to get a prog rock kind of sound, everything pretty clear and good attack on toms and bass with little sustain or ring out on anything. Check out the fill around 5:00 on this one (Gavin Harrison):


Or the tom sound throughout, but right from the start here:

 

brentcn

Platinum Member
I'm trying to get a prog rock kind of sound, everything pretty clear and good attack on toms and bass with little sustain or ring out on anything. Check out the fill around 5:00 on this one (Gavin Harrison):


Or the tom sound throughout, but right from the start here:


Man, if there’s one thing you can’t fake, it’s the real reverb in a nice room. A decent pair of overheads isn’t going to do it. You need room mics in a nice room, and the know-how to mix them.
 

Mastiff

Senior Member
Well, all I can do now is get as close as I can. I feel fortunate to have a sound isolated practice space in any case, even if it's not the idea recording studio too. Technically, it sure seems like if you had a completely dead room, you could add echo and reverb and all that after the fact. But I realize that's not the way the pros do it, so they must not have really cracked that problem technically.
 

Vintage Old School

Gold Member
One quick comment before you purchase a new mic. Have you exhausted every possible positioning option(s) with your existing microphones? If not keep changing the overhead positions to see if you come up with a better sound with the microphones you already have. If you have exhausted a variety of mic placement positions then press on in your search for your new overhead.

If you have any friends in sound reinforcement you might have them bring an array of their mic's you could sample in a single day and see if a particular make/model catches your ear.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Technically, it sure seems like if you had a completely dead room, you could add echo and reverb and all that after the fact. But I realize that's not the way the pros do it, so they must not have really cracked that problem technically.

Try as they might, reverb plug-ins are just not that great, at least when it comes to drums. Part of the issue, I think, is that the reverberant sounds coming into overheads differ from those coming into rooms, which differ from boundary mics, and so on.

If you can connect even one room mic, it will probably get you closer than upgrading your overheads. A trick I’ve used is to apply processing the room mic as follows:

Stereo widening plug in
EQ (gently)
Reverb plug-in (room reverb, short decay, 20-50% wet)
EQ (scoop mids, roll off high end, other boosts and dips as needed)
Compressor/limiter (lightly)

This way, you combine some of the real reverb you’ve recorded with a bit of the plug-in’s reverb. And then you process that track as you would if you had recorded a good room mic track.
 

johnjssmith

Junior Member
You can easily spend as much on one mic as I spent on seven, so there must be something to it. I guess the question is whether the rest of my setup is good enough that the difference can be heard. I don't know how I can know without trying.
That first point is exactly why it's important for you to decide how much money you're willing to spend.
Should you want to spend $300 per pair you will hardly be able to get a significant improvement over your current OH's, with $500 it's definitely possible, more so if you're willing to buy used mics, and with $2000 you'd be getting mics that wouldn't be able to shine, so to speak, in a less than good room.

One characteristic of good microphones is their accurate off-axis response, which is especially important in situations where the sound is coming from all sides and you want the reflected sound to sound just as accurate and realistic as the sound coming from the front instead of scooped and jumbled.
It's easier to achieve with small diaphragm mics, but good mics are relatively expensive regardless, so consider whether the investment will be worth it if you mostly, or only, record yourself for fun and your band for demos.
Incidentally, I have all good equipment with the exception of my actual drums (shells), which are Tama Swingstars. [...] There seems to be no consensus on how much difference there really is in sound between cheap and expensive drums if they both have good heads and are tuned well.
I'd definitely upgrade your drums sooner than your mics if that's the case.
I also found a few discordant opinions online, but aside from these few big contrarians the consensus seems to be that expensive drums generally do sound better than cheap drums, even leaving aside all of the other advantages such as better hardware, better QC, better tuning stability and so on, so while you can get a "usable" sound out of anything a better drum set seems to be the biggest improvement your setup needs if you're not satisfied with your current recording quality.

A sound like the one in the songs you posted you can achieve more o less easily by using samples though, that just requires getting the samples and then replacing or doubling the drum sound with those in your DAW.
Coincidentally that's how the drum sound in most modern pop/rock/metal production is made, so if you aren't particularly concerned with accurate and wide dynamic swings or with retaining your own original drum sound definitely look into samples.
Try as they might, reverb plug-ins are just not that great, at least when it comes to drums. Part of the issue, I think, is that the reverberant sounds coming into overheads differ from those coming into rooms, which differ from boundary mics, and so on.
Some reverb processors sound great actually, some even sound realistic.
Even in the early '80s the 224XL was ubiquitous in high end studios where they had good live rooms for days, because, as unrealistic as it sounded, mostly everyone thought it sounded pretty good for some applications.
FFWD to around 2008 we get the Bricasti M7, which is probably the most realistic reverb processor you can find, and boy does it sound good on drums, just as it sounds good on mostly anything else really, and the Lexicon PCM96, which is great for lush ambience, big halls and so on.
Both of those are available as native plug-ins as well today.
FFWD to around 2012 we get Altiverb 7, which is a collection of convolution reverbs from lots of well known concert halls, stadiums, cathedrals, theaters..., and it sounds pretty much like being there.
After that we have Nimbus by Exponential Audio and Verberate by Acon Digital, which are two more great sounding "realistic" reverbs, both available for relatively cheap.

The reason why even the best sounding reverb can't be a substitute for a good room is that you can't remove a bad room sound from a recording, so these reverb processors can only be used as "support" for the already present room sound, as unobtrusive as it may be in case of a very dead room, or to give some ambience to things like gated and close mic'd drums, amp sims and whatnot.

So I agree that a reverb processor is not a substitute for a good room, but the reason is definitely not the fact that modern reverb processors don't sound very good.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
That first point is exactly why it's important for you to decide how much money you're willing to spend.
Should you want to spend $300 per pair you will hardly be able to get a significant improvement over your current OH's, with $500 it's definitely possible, more so if you're willing to buy used mics, and with $2000 you'd be getting mics that wouldn't be able to shine, so to speak, in a less than good room.

One characteristic of good microphones is their accurate off-axis response, which is especially important in situations where the sound is coming from all sides and you want the reflected sound to sound just as accurate and realistic as the sound coming from the front instead of scooped and jumbled.
It's easier to achieve with small diaphragm mics, but good mics are relatively expensive regardless, so consider whether the investment will be worth it if you mostly, or only, record yourself for fun and your band for demos.
I'd definitely upgrade your drums sooner than your mics if that's the case.
I also found a few discordant opinions online, but aside from these few big contrarians the consensus seems to be that expensive drums generally do sound better than cheap drums, even leaving aside all of the other advantages such as better hardware, better QC, better tuning stability and so on, so while you can get a "usable" sound out of anything a better drum set seems to be the biggest improvement your setup needs if you're not satisfied with your current recording quality.

A sound like the one in the songs you posted you can achieve more o less easily by using samples though, that just requires getting the samples and then replacing or doubling the drum sound with those in your DAW.
Coincidentally that's how the drum sound in most modern pop/rock/metal production is made, so if you aren't particularly concerned with accurate and wide dynamic swings or with retaining your own original drum sound definitely look into samples.
Some reverb processors sound great actually, some even sound realistic.
Even in the early '80s the 224XL was ubiquitous in high end studios where they had good live rooms for days, because, as unrealistic as it sounded, mostly everyone thought it sounded pretty good for some applications.
FFWD to around 2008 we get the Bricasti M7, which is probably the most realistic reverb processor you can find, and boy does it sound good on drums, just as it sounds good on mostly anything else really, and the Lexicon PCM96, which is great for lush ambience, big halls and so on.
Both of those are available as native plug-ins as well today.
FFWD to around 2012 we get Altiverb 7, which is a collection of convolution reverbs from lots of well known concert halls, stadiums, cathedrals, theaters..., and it sounds pretty much like being there.
After that we have Nimbus by Exponential Audio and Verberate by Acon Digital, which are two more great sounding "realistic" reverbs, both available for relatively cheap.

The reason why even the best sounding reverb can't be a substitute for a good room is that you can't remove a bad room sound from a recording, so these reverb processors can only be used as "support" for the already present room sound, as unobtrusive as it may be in case of a very dead room, or to give some ambience to things like gated and close mic'd drums, amp sims and whatnot.

So I agree that a reverb processor is not a substitute for a good room, but the reason is definitely not the fact that modern reverb processors don't sound very good.

Thanks for going into more detail on that. I’m not completely sure I agree. I have tried many times, and I’ll take a pair of room mics any day, in a less than stellar room. In particular, processing a room mic track with EQ and compression yields a result that I’ve never come close to, even with very decent IR reverb. It’s quite fine everywhere else (plates, halls, large room, “studio A”), but small, short room reverb still lacks, IMO.

I do agree that samples may be the answer to the OPs dilemma, although I think that recording either doesn’t rely on them, or the use of samples is very, very judicious. It sounds like the real deal to me. Gavin Harrison hangs out here in his thread, and I’ll bet he knows for sure how that recording was mixed. I’m willing to admit defeat if they didn’t use room mics; there are plenty of better engineers than me out there.
 

Mastiff

Senior Member
Nice video from Gavin Harrison with a section on how he records in his home studio. His examples sound pretty darn close to the Porcupine Tree I posted.

 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I learned the hard way that expensive mics require even more expensive pre-amps to deliver all they're capable of.

In other words, you don't need Neumanns if you don't have Neve pre-amps for example

The mics themselves are rarely the cause of poor sound.

Just because I throw a bunch of money at mics doesn't guarantee great sound.

I can get 90% of the great sound for a small fraction of what I would pay for great mics and pre-amps

That's what EQ is for, and plug-ins, to come closer in sound to the big bucks rigs.

However I get there is perfectly fine
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
I was using some rather inexpensive overheads for a long time. Started with Behringer C2's, then got a set of Audix f15's that I liked. Still use those live, but I have upgraded to Soyuz 013 fets. They are rather pricy, but after trying a demo pair out on some sessions last year I just had to have them.
 
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