Wide Open Spaces

Last issue, we dealt with monaural miking concepts for guitar speaker cabinets using one or two mics. Now, we’ll move on to more expansive and dimensional sonic strategies involving stereo mic placement. For this mission, a diverse collection of mics definitely improves your creative options. You don’t have to acquire the armament of a big commercial studio, but it helps to have two large-diaphragm condensers, one or two dynamics, and an affordable ribbon in your trick bag.
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ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

We discussed the importance of listening for the effects of different sonic spaces last month, and that task is arguably even more critical for capturing expansive stereo spectra than for documenting the predominantly close-miked timbres achieved through conventional monaural miking. You see, what’s cool about a stereo sound field is that it’s animated — the sound blossoms and moves and bounces between the left and right perspectives to produce ear-catching textures. Of course, the quality of your room determines how much “animation” is audible, and small spaces present more challenges to documenting spacious sound than large rooms.

But whether you’re blessed with a huge basement or damned by the confines of a dinky bedroom, careful listening to every nook and cranny of your recording space can provide valuable perspective when you start positioning mics. So before you pull out your microphones: Blast that amp and cabinet, walk around your recording space, and take note of the areas where the sound is utterly beautiful, where it sucks, and where interesting sonic anomalies occur. When you get down to actually positioning microphones, pay heed to your notes, and put those mics where they’re going to do the most good. Here are some basic recipes from which to launch your efforts. Don’t forget to experiment fearlessly, and don’t be a stereo wimp — stereo effects are maximized when you record each mic position to a separate track, and then mix the two tracks hard left and hard right.

AUDIENCE PERSPECTIVE

-Mic Types: Two large-diaphragm condensers set to their cardioid patterns.

-Position: Pretend your two condensers are the ears on a giant’s head, and the mammoth cabeza is facing the speaker cabinet. (Those with somewhat vivid imaginations can envision the cabinet as the tip of the giant’s nose.) Place each mic five to 10 feet from the center point of the cab, at a distance of approximately 10 feet.

-Tonal Characteristics: A pretty organic — and rather “wet” — stereo picture. The characteristics of your room will determine the timbre and amount of ambience, as will the volume at which you’re driving the guitar amp. This is a good choice for live-sounding tracks, and a rather hopeless option if you’re looking for a dry punch.

-Variations: If you’re using multi-pattern mics, click the two condensers to their omni settings to increase the sense of depth.

-Ear Training: While maintaining a basic left-right perspective, move one mic forward or back — or a bit wider out — to seek favorable changes in ambience or overall tone.

STAB & DANCE

-Mic Type: One dynamic and one condenser or ribbon mic.

-Position: Position the dynamic right on the cab’s grille, pointing at the center of the speaker cap. Place the condenser (or ribbon) — set to its omni pattern — at least seven to 10 feet away from the front of the cabinet. Move the condenser farther to the right or left to taste.

-Tonal Characteristics: The dynamic provides the “stab,” or attack. The condenser is the “dancer,” delivering an ambient texture. When each track is mixed hard left and right, the effect should be a vicious punch in one speaker, followed by a nasty, but sensual wash in the other speaker. The feeling of natural movement is yummy.

-Variations: Try different dynamic models to fine-tune the midrange or low-midrange punch. Move the condenser or ribbon farther back to increase the slight time delay between the initial attack and the onset of ambience.

ORGANIC SNAP & SHINE

-Mic Type: One dynamic and two small-diaphragm condensers.

-Position: Close-mic one of the cab’s speakers with the dynamic. Place the two condensers approximately seven feet from the cabinet, with the mics positioned as an “x/y” (or coincident) pair — which means placed as close together as possible, with the rear end of the mics angled outwards at about 90°. The mics should look like an upside-down “V” for victory sign. (Note: The x/y position diminishes the “hole in the middle” effect often produced by placing stereo mics very far apart, as in the “Audience Perspective” example.)

-Tonal Characteristics: A nice wallop from the dynamic that morphs into a tight, shimmering wash from the condensers, as small-diaphragm models typically enhance high end. Nice if you want to retain as much impact as possible, but subtly treat it with an organic ambience that sits nicely in the mix.