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Recording a cymbal from different mic positions (with audio)

An interesting audio comparison of microphone positions on cymbal, sent in by an Audio Masterclass student. The choice of mic is interesting too...

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Here is an interesting recording sent to us by one of our students. Take a listen (preferably on your studio monitors or headphones, not your laptop speakers)...

The recording is clean, well-trimmed and edited, and - most importantly - it sounds good!

The first section was recorded, according to the information given to us, from 30 cm above the cymbal, at a 45-degree angle pointing at the bell. The second from underneath also from 30 cm but pointing between the bell and the edge. The third example is more of a 'room mic' position, which was 2.5 meters from the cymbal, 1 meter above it, pointing in "the general direction of the cymbal".

The comparison between the sound textures achieved is interesting and demonstrates the importance of microphone positioning. Of course, when the cymbal is played as part of a complete drum kit there are practical positioning issues, and the other mics to consider. However it is perfectly possible to record cymbals as overdubs, in which case you can choose whatever mic position you like.

I'm not going to conclude on what is the best position from these examples because each could find application according to the context of the rest of the music. I do like the washiness of the last example though. 'Washiness' more than 'stickiness' I would say.

One other point that is interesting is the mic that was used - the Shure SM57. We often hear that capacitor microphones should be used on cymbals and metallic percussion in general. Yes, they will have a more detailed sound. But the question often arises of how much detail you need. Listen again and form your own conclusions. Maybe some time in the future you will find yourself reaching for an SM57 to record cymbals. The next step will be to experiment and find the exact position that is right for what you want to achieve.

By David Mellor Thursday March 13, 2014
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