Saturday, January 24th, 2009 | by
In my first 30 minutes at the winter NAMM show, I saw two neat kick-drum products. This is the story of the first one, the Kelly Shu.
It is the world’s first portable, permanent isolation mount for an internal kick-drum microphone. It looks like a horseshoe (hence the name Shu) suspended in the middle of the drum by bungee cords.
When my band was gigging, I grew weary of the haphazard approach to kick-drum miking employed by the soundmen at the (admittedly low-rent) clubs my band would frequent. Usually there would be a floor stand with a D112 (or, on less-happy days, an SM57); it would get shoved unceremoniously into the hole in the drum’s front head. Wherever it landed, that would be the kick sound for the evening.
And probably it would be fine, or at least, it wouldn’t stand out as the first thing a professional engineer would fix. But I longed for an upgrade — for a nice mic, permanently installed, in a position that I’d optimized for the specific drum, tuning, beater, and playing style.
I had read about the May internal mic mounting system, and it seemed ideal. I eventually bought one of May’s kick-drum mounts, complete with D112. It’s been mounted inside my bass drum ever since.
But, in my experience, it doesn’t really deliver on its promise. The mounting arm works itself loose over time, and is impossible to correct by reaching through the small hole in the front head. I could take the head off to adjust it, but that sort of defeats the purpose of the thing.
I loved the idea that once I’d dialed it in completely, I’d get a perfect, reproducible kick sound simply by attaching a cable to the XLR jack on top of the shell… Unfortunately, the limited range of motion of the mounting arm, and the device’s tendency to work loose, have prevented me from either finding the ideal position or from keeping the mic in one place.
Another challenge for this system is the lack of vibration isolation. There is a rubber isolation mount that allows the mic to float to some degree, but judging from the sound of recorded tracks it seems like I get a lot more attack than I should, as if the shell resonance is being transmitted mechanically through the mounting arm.
The Kelly Shu addresses some of these issues — most significantly, it is a true isolation mount. The mic holder is literally suspended by elastic cords.
Positioning is less limited than with the May mount; by varying the length of the cords and the orientation of the Shu, as well as the position of the mic on the Shu, it looks like it would be easy to locate the mic anywhere in the middle 80% of the drum. For positions close to the shell, the May would have an advantage in positioning. (That said, I’m not sure anyone mics a kick drum near the shell.)
Yes, there are other solutions
Underwater microphones are called hydrophones, and they are very expensive (for good ones).
The mics I have are general purpose, and I am not going to sink three grand per mic into something that does only one thing.
The industry standard is to use condoms to deal with humidity.
I'll also put windscreens on them and might have to kick in the highpass filters on the mics, too, which would help with the wind, but would suck out the low-end roar of the waves.
Much experimentation lies ahead.