MXL has been making affordable microphones since 1998 (the ubiquitous MXL 2001, anyone?). One of their latest offerings is the PA-5K Pro six piece drum microphone ensemble. The kit consists of two CR21 small diaphragm condenser mics (for overheads), two A-5t dynamic tom mics, a 606 small diaphragm mic for snare/hi-hat, and a dynamic A-55 Kicker mic for bass drum. The 606 mic includes its own small aluminum case (more about this later). The A-55 includes a vinyl, drawstring bag for storage. The A-55 and A-5t mics have built-in mounts, while the others include plastic mic clips. The A-5t mics also include mounts for clipping the mic on the rim of a tom. All six mics include a microfiber cleaning cloth.

My first opportunity to use these mics was in the studio for a tambourine overdub. I put up the 606 and noticed it has plenty of gain, even at 3 feet away! After engaging the -20 dB pad on the mic, as well as a pad on the preamp, I was able to rein it in. This mic is bright, but not in a harsh way, and after some EQ the tambourine sat nicely in a rock track.

Next, I placed the A-55 just inside the ported front head of a kick drum and got a very familiar pre-EQ'd sound. I arranged the CR-21 as overheads in a spaced pair. They also have quite a bit of gain, so I had to back off my preamps from typical settings. The sound reminded me of the MXL 603S [Tape Op #28] but with upgraded capacitors to smooth out the highs – it seems MXL took notice and upgraded the build of these. I also noticed the CR-21 mics were pretty sensitive to air movement. If using these for outdoor gigs foam windscreens would be in order.

With the 606 on snare and its pad engaged, I got a nice, full-bodied thwack. In fact, the 606 really made me re-evaluate my typical use of the dynamic snare mic I use; one I always have to EQ in the mix. With this mic I was already 95% there with the finished sound I wanted.

I used the included clips to mount the A-5t pair on the toms. I'm not always a big fan of this method, but I didn't hear any extraneous noise transmission problems here. The mounts attached easily (even on die-cast rims) and positioning can be adjusted closer or further away from the drum head. Both mics had a noticeable boost in the upper mids that accentuated the attack. I adjusted the mics on the mounts but did not notice a big change from proximity effect – I was hoping the A-5t would capture more low end from the floor tom, but I switched it out for the 606 and it captured the bottom I was looking for. With the 606 now on the floor tom, I clipped the A-5t I was using for the tom to the snare. The A-5t gave me a very familiar snare sound, which was totally workable after a little EQ.

I took the PA-5K to a local gig where the venue was looking to purchase a drum mic kit. The sound engineer mic'd up the kit with the CR21s on overheads and the A-55 on kick. We saved the A-5t pair for percussion. Though we could not use the clip mounts due to the design of the congas and bongos, we mounted them on stands with success, and they provided the percussionist with a fighting chance against the guitars and drums.

As mentioned earlier, a case is not included that will hold all six mics, and I missed that when transporting them to shows. There are plenty of configurable, third-party cases out there (for mics, cameras, etc.), but remember to factor that into your purchase. Overall the MXL PA-5K Pro six piece drum microphone ensemble is a solid choice for home studios, gigging drummers, and clubs looking for an affordable yet versatile mic set.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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