Capturing a stellar recording of a drum kit is rarely simple. Typically, it involves multiple mics, multiple tracks, and lots of processing afterward. The Earthworks DK25 DrumKit System (see Fig. 1) offers an alternative method for kit recording that is simple and effective: two microphones serve as overheads, and a third microphone is set up to record the kick drum.
FIG. 1: The DK25 DrumKit System comes in two flavors: the DK25/R (left), which is intended for studio applications, and the DK25/L (right), which features cardioid overheads and is designed primarily for live drum miking.
The manufacturer's claim is that this system provides a more solid, focused drum sound than the array of 7 to 12 microphones commonly used in professional studio and stage applications. The idea is that by reducing the phase cancellation issues that arise as the number of microphones increases, the kit will have more punch and will sound like one cohesive instrument rather than a collection of individual drums.
That is not a new approach to recording the drum kit. A large part of John Bonham's drums with Led Zeppelin were recorded with two overhead mics and a mic on the kick drum. Those drum sounds have influenced a generation of rock drummers, engineers, and producers, and they still sound great today. It's interesting to note that many great recordings of the past treated the drums as a single instrument, rather than segregating the kick, the snare, and the cymbals (as is now commonplace).
New and Noteworthy
Earthworks has not simply repackaged old techniques into a new product. The DK25 system uses a proprietary microphone design. The mics feature a small diaphragm for exceptionally fast transient response but maintain the extended and consistent frequency response for which Earthworks mics are known. A new twist is a proprietary (and patent-pending) device called the KickPad (see Fig. 2), which is inserted between the kick drum mic and the mic pre. The KickPad customizes the kick drum mic's signal to a near-perfect sound. The result is a dynamic, detailed, and open drum sound.
FIG. 2: Both incarnations of the DK25 come with the KickPad, a proprietary device that plugs in between the mic preamp and the microphone, and alters the EQ contours of the mic signal to optimize it for kick drums.
The DK25 is available in two versions (both of which I received for this review): the DK25/R (Recording) and the DK25/L (Live). The DK25/R comes with two TC25 omni condensers for overheads and a single SR25 cardioid condenser for the kick. The DK25/L, which is the same price as the DK25/R, features three SR25 cardioids to minimize unwanted stage sounds. Both systems use the KickPad on an SR25 cardioid for the kick drum.
Inside the Box
The DK25/L includes a metal carrying case with interior-fitted foam for the three microphones and the KickPad. The DK25/R comes in a nice wood box that also has interior-fitted foam. Both sets include a small windscreen for the kick drum mic to help minimize airburst problems. Each microphone comes with a clip that holds it securely in place. All the mics are condensers, so they require phantom power.
The specifications indicate that the frequency response for the omni and the cardioid mics goes as high as 25 kHz, with the cardioid going down to 50 Hz and the omni going down to 9 Hz. The mics can handle a maximum of 145 dB SPL, so there is no harm in using them in loud settings. The diagrams in the manual and in the promotional material claim that the polar patterns are uniform. A layman's test backed up that claim: the omni sounded virtually the same in all directions.
The KickPad appears to do its sonic treatment with some kind of tailored EQ. Earthworks would not reveal exactly what was going on inside it other than to confirm that there was some frequency manipulation. According to Earthworks, the KickPad can be used with any cardioid mic, not just the SR25. Even if you don't want to purchase the entire DK25 kit, you can buy just the KickPad for $124 and use it with a cardioid that you already own.
Whatever kind of voodoo is going on inside the KickPad, it helps make for a deep, great-sounding kick drum when paired with the SR25 (see Web Clip 1). If it doesn't suit your taste, you can easily shape the sound further with EQ, compression, or both.
In the Studio
I was able to use the DK25/R set for a rhythm date I produced at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles. Session drummer Kevin Stevens was on the date, so I knew I had the makings for a good drum sound.
When I arrived and informed the engineer we would be using Earthworks microphones on the drums, he immediately smiled. Only a few weeks earlier he had cut a new album for Lucinda Williams in the same room using the same TC25 microphones for drum overheads. He was pleased, and he told me how easy it was to get a great drum sound with them.
Because we were cutting five tunes that day, I set up additional microphones on the drums so that I'd have the sonic versatility to vary the sounds from track to track. In addition to employing the DK25/R system, we added an AKG D 112 on the kick; a mono ribbon overhead; traditional mics on the snare, toms, and hi-hat; and two AKG C 12s set up as room mics. In other words, I would have the tracks from the Earthworks 3-mic system and a traditional 11-piece miking array to choose from in the mix (see Web Clip 2).
No More Overheads Needed
I had originally intended to add a second pair of overheads to the session as a safety measure, but as soon as I heard the TC25s by themselves in the control room, I dropped that idea. If I had to, I could have lived with the sound from just those two mics. I then asked the engineer to bring up the SR25 on the kick drum (with the KickPad), and there it was: a complete drum sound.
The sound of the kit was detailed and focused. I could hear every nuance. The kick was deep and full, the snare and toms maintained a great balance of top end and bottom end, and the cymbals were open and airy. A touch of high-end EQ was added to give the sound some shimmer.
We then started adding some of the other drum mics, and the sound changed. In some ways it got bigger as the subtle delay and phasing effects of more microphones were introduced, but in other ways it got cloudier and more tonally segregated between individual drums. It's not a bad sound, just a common one. The “great drummer, great kit, great room” vibe was starting to disappear.
Without question, the DK25/R system provides excellent drum sound that works well if you're in a great-sounding room. If you're in a studio that is small or doesn't sound so great, however, I would opt to try the DK25/L cardioid microphones as overheads to cut down on the room sound. In fact, if you are in a small or mediocre room, I would argue that the 3-mic system sounds better than a multi-mic array, because the latter will introduce more of the bad room and increase the phasing issues.
As I write this, I am still working on the five songs we recorded that day, and I have not decided which combination of microphones best serves each song. I have, however, decided to use only the DK25/R system without any of the other mics for at least one tune — that drum sound fits the song's vibe perfectly.
One technique that I am also considering is using the additional snare and tom microphones to feed a reverb unit without bringing up their nonprocessed signals in the mix. That way I can use discrete processing, one of the advantages of individual drum miking, while still maintaining the focused, punchy, and direct drum sound provided by the DK25 mics.
Of course, the beauty of the DK25 DrumKit System is that it gives you three killer microphones you can also use for other applications. The mics came in handy in the studio that day, because I didn't like the acoustic piano sound we were getting, even though we were using a very popular set of studio microphones.
Because I had the SR25s with me, we set them up in addition to the piano mics already in place and ultimately recorded two stereo pairs. As with the drum set, I am still undecided as to which combination of mics I'll end up using for each song — either the two sets blended together or the Earthworks mics by themselves. If I do end up using a blend, it will probably be at least 60/40 in favor of the SR25s, if not more.
After that session, I used the SR25s for recording acoustic guitar and achieved an excellent sound. I even tried one out on vocals and it sounded great. Remember, you can use these microphones for just about any source — they aren't exclusively drum microphones. Just don't forget that the TC25s are omni mics, which will pick up sound in all directions and may not be appropriate for some sources and environments.
I loved the approach to recording drums and the quality of sound provided by the DK25 DrumKit System. It is easy to get a killer sound, especially when using the KickPad. (Earthworks will send you a free demo CD with information and sonic examples of the DrumKit System. See the company's Web site for details.) Even if you can't afford the complete system, there is no reason not to get a KickPad for use with your own mic when recording a kick drum. It will save you time.
The transient and frequency responses of Earthworks microphones are legendary, and they have become staples in test-measurement and creative-recording circles. Drums and percussion arguably benefit from those traits most, and it is satisfying to shift the paradigm back to listening to a drum kit as a single instrument. The DK25 DrumKit System forces you to think that way again, and I am finding that good drummers love it. If you provide the great drummer, drum kit, and room, Earthworks will take it home from there.
Rob Shrock is an EM contributing editor who played keyboards on the new Burt Bacharach release, At This Time, and has worked with a who's who of artists.
PROS: Easy to get a great drum sound. Excellent transient and frequency response. Uniform polar pattern. Microphones are great for recording other sources. KickPad provides tailored EQ specific for kick drum. KickPad works with other cardioid microphones.
CONS: Relatively pricey.
EASE OF USE 5
AUDIO QUALITY 5
DK25 SPECIFICATIONS TC25
Frequency Response 9 Hz-25 kHz (+1/-3 dB) Polar Pattern omnidirectional Sensitivity 8 mV/Pa (-42 dBV/Pa) Power Requirements 48V phantom, 10 mA Peak Input Level 145 dB SPL Output XLR (pin 2 hot) Minimum Output Load 600Ω between pins 2 and 3 Noise 27 dB (A-weighted) Dimensions 6.5" (L) × 0.86" (D) Weight 0.35 lbs.
Frequency Response 50 Hz-25 kHz (+/-2 dB) Polar Pattern cardioid Sensitivity 10 mV/Pa (-40 dBV/Pa) Power Requirements 48V phantom, 10 mA Peak Input Level 145 dB SPL Output XLR (pin 2 hot) Minimum Output Load 600Ω between pins 2 and 3 Noise 22 dB (A-weighted) Dimensions 6.5" (L) × 0.86" (D) Weight 0.35 lbs.