I've been a believer in Earthworks microphones ever since I got my first pair of TC30K omni condensers. Since then, I've added a bunch of Earthworks SR69 and SR68 cardioid condensers to my cabinet. I've used Earthworks mics on all the drum recordings I've made in the past five or six years. So when Earthworks sent me the new DK25/R Drum Kit system for mic'ing drums, it didn't take long for me to unpack the mics and start recording.
The DK25/R Drum Kit comes with two TC25 omni mics for overheads, one SR25 cardioid mic for kick, and a KickPad inline pad and EQ-all inside a cherry wood storage case. John Baccigaluppi reviewed the KickPad in Tape Op #45. I tried the KickPad on a number of sessions, and honestly, I chose not to use it for all but one session (as detailed below). It sounds too "rock" for me. Earthworks also sent me two additional SR25 cardioids, suggesting I use these as overheads for recording stage performances instead of TC25's when omni overheads might pick up too much bleed. (The DK25/L Drum Kit comes with three SR25 cardioid mics instead of two omnis and a cardioid.)
The first use of these mics was during Pipeline!, the live music program on WMBR Radio. Ramsey Tantawi was engineering, and the band was Big Bear. After setting up a pair of SR25's as overheads, all of us immediately noticed that the snare drum sounded much bigger and up front in the overheads than it usually does. A full tone- including lots of lower midrange "whack"-was being picked up by the overheads. Strange, especially when you consider that most cardioid mics are voiced to have a flat frequency response at one ft or less proximity, and at greater distances, the low end falls off. We guessed (wrongly, as I explain below) that it was a mic placement issue, and second engineer Bryan Cord noted that he prefers his overheads to pick up more cymbals and less drums. Also, if you've never heard Big Bear, it's worth nothing that they're a loud band. (Their CD is on the Monitor label.) Despite the band's extreme volume, the bleed in the SR25 overheads wasn't muddy. It actually sounded good. Interesting.
I next used the mics on a session with The Dirty Whites. As I already mentioned in a review in the last issue, the bass player in this band is probably the loudest instrumentalist I've ever recorded. While tracking basics, the bleed of the bass amp was everywhere. But surprisingly, there wasn't as much in the SR25 overheads as I would've expected, given the insane volume, and what bleed that was there was actually decent sounding. Also, the snare drum again sounded surprisingly full (with lots of oomph) in the overheads. I ended up needing much less of the snare's close mics than I usually do. And speaking of close mics, there was no way I could use the three-mic technique that Earthworks recommends as I definitely needed the close mics to fight the bleed. On the snare, I used the last SR25 as the top mic and one of the TC25 omnis on the side of the shell. I time-aligned these mics to the overheads by putting delays on them (I monitor and mix through a digital console) to compensate for the distance between the drums and the various mics. The snare sounded great, just like it did in the room.
My next session with these mics was for the upcoming CD collaboration between Chris Colbourn (Buffalo Tom) and Hilken Mancini (Fuzzy). Mike Savage was drumming on this session. Again, I used the SR25 cardioids as overheads, but for the kick, I placed the third SR25 inside the kick drum with the KickPad added in-line. I positioned one of the TC25 omnis outside of the kick. By blending these two kick drum mics (after time-aligning them with delays), I got the "rock" impact of the beater and the boom of the front head. The second TC25 was on the side of the snare shell with an SR69 on top. I was very happy with the drum sounds.
Now getting back to the two interesting points noted previously about the SR25 mics: a much fuller sound when used as overheads than with other cardioid mics; and bleed that's lower in volume but sounds better than typical off-axis bleed. Well, I finally read the documentation that came with the Drum Kit while preparing to write this review. It turns out that the SR25 employs patented technology that allows for a pick-up pattern that's nearly uniform across the whole spectrum. In other words, most cardioid mics have great high-frequency rejection but poor low- frequency rejection. Related to that trait is proximity effect, as all cardioid mics exhibit an increase in low- end levels as the mic gets closer to the source. The amount of proximity effect varies with the design and pickup-pattern of the mic, and most cardioid mics are voiced to have a flat response at close distances. At further distances, their low-end response goes down dramatically. Not so with the SR25. Whatever magic Earthworks put into this mic gives it controlled levels of rejection across all frequencies and reduces proximity effect so that low-end drop-off (or build-up) is minimized. Hence, the snare sounds very much like a snare (with good amounts of low end and lower midrange) even though the SR25 employs a cardioid pickup-pattern. If you've ever used omni mics as overheads, you'll understand. Exhibiting no proximity effect at all, an omni mic's frequency response doesn't change with distance, so if used as an overhead, its sound is extremely full. And speaking of omni overheads, I never had a chance to use the TC25 omnis in the R version of the Drum Kit as overheads. If I had had an isolated drum session, that's what I would've done, because I've gotten great results in the past using Earthworks TC30K omnis as overheards in a room with no other instruments.
I'll end by reiterating that every drum session I've engineered in the past five or six years has employed one or more Earthworks mics. The detail that they offer, especially in terms of transient response, is unequalled by any other mic that I've used. Either of the two Drum Kits would be a great way to get into mic'ing drums, especially if you want to go with a minimal approach. The Drum Kits are also a great addition to an already well-stocked mic cabinet because the SR25 and TC25 mics sound great, and the SR25 provides unique capabilities for a cardioid mic. Visit the Earthworks website for instructions on how to get the free Drum Kit demo CD. ($2100 MSRP for either kit; www.earthworksaudio.com)