Getting the Most Out of Mic Stands
By Jon Chappell |
Tips for Getting Your Mic Stand to Help Out in the Studio
By Jon Chappell
Trying to get a clean recording in many home studios can be about as easy as losing weight on a diet of Boston cream pies. Even if your gear is in pristine condition and your signal path is as pure as an audiophile’s ear canal, you’re likely to be working in an environment full of ambient noise, poor isolation, and other acoustical distractions.
One of the advantages of professional facilities is that, in addition to having floating floors, soundproof rooms, isolation booths, and acoustical treatment, they also have professional-quality microphone stands and shock mounts, which prevent unwanted rumbles from making their way onto your tracks. Below are some low-cost tricks you can use to help isolate your tracks using common mic stands and materials easily found around the house or at the hardware store.
Stabilize That Mic Stand
Remember those plastic weights you bought to help rebuild the Adonis body you had in college? Do you remember where you packed them away? Good, because now you can set up for your next session, work out, and justify the fact that you never like to throw anything out, all in one easy step. Inexpensive mic stands are notorious for having wobbly bases, especially ones with round bases (Fig. 1). Even if it doesn’t seem to wobble to the touch, any gap, no matter how slight will create a rumble once vibrations start hitting hit (including foot tapping from across the room in a live jam.
If your mic stand has a round base, unscrew the base from the pole. Slip one of the weights around the pole, and put the base back in place. Your stand will now be much less likely to wobble, even a little bit, not to mention tip over. Ten- to twenty-five-pound weights work best, but you can always add more than one disc, concentrically on top of the other disc. If you don’t have any weights, check out some garage sales. The sellers will be very grateful to have you haul them away.
Float Like a Butterfly
Another common problem is noise and vibration transmitted from the floor to the mic stand and then on to the mic itself. This is an especially thorny problem if you’re dealing with drums, loud guitar amps, or other sources that literally shake the house.
Rubber and neoprene doormats make excellent isolation tools and work to acoustically decouple the mic stand and mic from the floor. Cut the doormat into small strips and lay the strips under the base of your mic stand. The material will absorb much of the vibration of the floor. You can further enhance the absorption by using small squares of old carpeting in addition to the rubber. One of the best solutions is the “carpet square,” shown in Fig. 2.
Fig. 2: Carpet squares are often available very inexpensively from carpet stores, particularly those that specialize in industrial supply.
This has a thick pile on top, plus a rubber pad on the bottom. You can get these as individual purchases, remnants, or even free samples if you know where to look (large neighborhood carpet seller, etc.). When dealing with an amplifier, place the amp on a chair or other stand, and use the rubber/carpet combination to isolate the amp from the chair, the chair from the floor, and the mic stand from the floor. You should notice a substantial difference.
There are also several commercially available version, like Primacoustic's TriPad (Fig. 3). These help isolate the legs of tripod-type mic stands from the floor.
Fig. 3: Primacoustic makes several isolators for acoustic treatment in studios.
A more specialized isolator, also from Primacoustic, is their KickStand, which keeps vibrations from getting into the kick drum mic (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: While specialized, the KickStand is effective at isolation.
Of course, the question then becomes how well these devices work. As it so happens, Craig Anderton wrote a review of the KickStand and figured out a methodology for testing it. You can see from his results in the review that these isolators are actually quite effective. Home-made options, like using carpet squares or welcome mats, may not be quite as effective but they still make a considerable difference.
You can help tame the acoustics of a reverberant room and even provide some degree of isolation using a boom-type mic stand and a blanket. Set up the boom in the shape of the T, with the main part of the stand telescoped as high as it will go. Drape blankets over the T (the stand shouldn’t tip over if you apply the trick with the weights mentioned above). You can use these blankets to help curb sound waves from reflecting off the floors and ceiling and adding an unwanted room character to your track. One application that works well: set up the blanket as a backdrop behind a vocalist. The mic will face the blanket, so reflections off the back wall won’t get to the mic. This is based on the same principle as products like sE Electronics' Reflexion Filter (Fig. 5), but costs considerably less.
Fig. 5: sE Electronics' Reflexion Filter X is one way to minimize room coloration on a vocalist's mic, but you can create something similar with a boom mic stand and blanket.
Goin’ by the Book
Miking drums can be a chore, especially if you want to isolate individual components of the drum kit, such as the snare and the hi-hat. You can create a mini isolation panel with a gooseneck mic stand, a universal mic clip (available at most large music stores), and a thin panel of a hard substance (a children’s book is almost ideal). Clip the panel to the gooseneck and the position it between the capsule of the snare drum’s mic and the hi-hat (or vice versa). This technique won’t entirely eliminate bleed, but it will reduce its intensity as well as the frequency content of the offending sound. This should make it easier to further isolate each individual track with noise gates, and to shape each track with EQ.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).