More on amplification & getting a natural sound

Hi all,

I wanted to start a new thread here, since I wasn't sure how long I'd go on with this.... I had more thoughts about the amplification issues that were again raised, and especially Ted's post about the Deagan instrument with mics inside each resonator. I had an idea about doing that when I was younger, and I never knew there was a production instrument made with such as system.

OK, first, let's totally separate the task of recording the vibes from the job of amplifying them. These are 2 different things, even though they both may use microphones. To get a pretty respectable sound in the studio is pretty easy - just put up 2 Neumann U87 or U47 mics (or the best large diaphragm condensers you can afford) spaced evenly a few feet above the instrument. Along with proper isolation, that's it. I saw Elliot Scheiner do a demonstration at Avatar Studios the other day, and he had some Royer ribbon mics for the drum overheads. I bet that would work on vibes. But otherwise, you can't go wrong with this overhead setup, unless there are other problems in the room.

Once you get onstage, however, there is a big drawback to overhead miking: it is much harder to isolate the sound, and lots of other stuff leaks in. This causes the output to be muddled or messy. What you need is much more control over "your" sound. The only time this may not be a problem is in 2 situations: (1) playing solo, where there is no issue of isolation, and (2) working with a good front-of-house sound engineer, who really knows how to make things sound good on stage with overhead mics. But most of us are in situations where the musicians are close together, and standard overhead mics don't work that well. The goal is to not have to play hard to be heard, and to maintain a full dynamic range despite the volume level of the band.

So, one thing you can do is to use pickups, which are very good at giving you this control, but come with their own set of issues. For one, they are often a drag to set-up - who needs to attach 37 or more mini-connectors after assembling a whole vibraphone, only to find that 3 have come loose and need to be glued back on right before the gig (I know some come permanently attached..)? But before all that, there is a whole difference in sound quality. Since you are banging directly on the bar attached to the pickup, the tone is much plunkier (for lack of a better word). It is full of attack characteristics that are not very natural, and that lack a certain "air." But it makes perfect sense. Look at an acoustic guitar using a similar piezo pickup - the pickup is on the BODY, not on the STRING! In that way, it can be more natural and effective. But since our bars are not physically attached to the rest of the instrument (and in particular, the resonators), there is nowhere else to attach a contact pickup that will do any good. In a general sense, "sound" is defined as waves moving through air. The natural sound of the vibes starts with a vibrating metal bar, and travels all around through air, being deepened and enhanced by the action of the resonators. When you use pickups, you are removing all of this, and the bar sound gets directly injected into the audio signal. None of the sound in the air gets amplified.

So now what? Well, look at acoustic piano for a minute. The best way that gets handled in a noisy stage environment is to mic it with the lid partly closed, and some moving blankets over the top for isolation. That seems like the best answer - good miking, more isolation. So for myself, I came up with the system of using mics from below in live applications, because that is where the sound is most concentrated, and the resonators act like baffles against outside noise. If you eliminate the pedal vibrations with elastic, you can clip these right to the frame and the setup is a breeze. But it still isn't perfect - the mics do pickup other stage sound, and the tone is not 100% ideal. But there is enough indirect sound from the instrument in the room that this added amplification usually gives me the control I need, and it all feels natural - so I can play at a dynamic level that I prefer. And another plus is that there are no mic stands in your way. If you would like an example, here is a Youtube video using this miking (there was a sound man here, but he just used my mic output and the results were great): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6lK8SpnfnI

But.... when you take this idea further, it really seems that INSIDE the resonators would be a great place to put the mics! The sound is super-concentrated, and the isolation from outside leakage is optimal. In a larger venue, combining this with some overheads could also be very effective - using just enough from the overheads to perhaps dial-in more attack, with the resonator mics providing clear detail and a high level of discreet control. In addition, such a system can be permanently mounted, so there is no issue of setup. Just plug it in (we'd all love that..). I recently bought a Hammond 44 melodica, which has a similar type of built-in internal microphone (same as played by Spike in that video post with Behn) - the amplified sound is superior to anything else available.

So, I am not the guy who is going to build this, but I did order some inexpensive mic elements to experiment with. You can find some that have a pretty reasonable freq response for a few dollars each, so cost-wise, this is not impossible at all (here is such a supplier: http://search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksus.dll?Detail&name=P9925-ND). But, there are some definite challenges. Mostly, it will be about balancing out the sound over the range of the instrument. Putting a capsule about 10 inched down into a lower resonator should work well, but as you go up to the higher notes the tubes are so short that the mic will end up very close to the bar. The sound pressure will almost certainly distort the sound right at the capsule (not to mention that these notes cut through and need less amplification to begin with). So the system would need collector rails with adjustment pots (like K&K pickups), or some kind of special wiring with resistors to compensate. The upper notes may not really need a mic in every tube - I'm thinking a single mic underneath would be most natural & effective for the upper octave. The real challenge is designing good electronics, so that many mic elements can be wired together and there is no hum or buzz, and so the whole thing will run off standard phantom power. I definitely know some guys who could build it. Maybe if some of us experiment and come up with something that sounds good it might be worth pursuing? I think it really could be the way to go, if done right...

Steve, in the original thread about your suspension system for condenser mics, you recommended the Audio Technica Pro 35X (two of them at around $140 each). I found the Audio-Technica ATM 350 while doing a search, which appears to be a better quality mic. It is mlmost twice as expensive but expense is relative to getting the right sound, so do you think it would be a better overall investment for the money?

Here is a link to the 350: http://www.guitarcenter.com/Audio-Technica-ATM350-Cardioid-Condenser-Cli...

Those mics have nice specs and very high SPL rating. Too bad they don't offer them with a longer goose neck.....or do they?

Thanks for posting this Steve! I was thinking of starting a new thread about this because of all the reasons you mentioned. You did a better job than I would have (fah sho). So Thanks!

Your clip from the Jazz Standard sounds really good! It does have a little more frame noise than I prefer because the mic is underneath though. (Not that my typical pickup only sound is better...)

I agree that the top octave only needs one below (or goose neck above). So that lowers the number of signals by 12 or more.

Please let us know how it turns out with the mics you purchased. I am totally into this idea! I hope it will produce the natural amplification we need.

p.s. I know this is crazy, probably doesn't work and is unfeasible but what if the resonator cap itself was an electrified diaphragm?

i'm in a hurry but wanted to say a couple things.

first, you are right on, and i know you know a lot about all this. that IS A FACT recording vibes and amplifying vibes are two very different thing.

i think no matter where you put the mics you're going to get a lot of bleed. so i always thought there were two factors here.

one, set up as far away from everyone as musically possible.

two, make sure your sound going into the mic is louder than the bleed. then you have a chance. i like that the amt mics go over and underneath.
2 above and one below.

the resonators are the same problem as the k and k's right steve? time consuming.

MAN WHY can't someone make a 'rail' mic that we could place right above the resonators off to the side. THEN OUR sound would be the loudest going into the mic, i think. hmmm maybe a collecting rail with all the mics in place. then clip on the resonator and the the sound as it's being amplified. just an inch away from EVERY note. wouldn't that do the trick? and be an easy set up??????

i always tell people about singers and mics. they act as a baffle and the mic is 1 inch from there mouth. there sound IS THE loudest to go in, so you can use less gain, that brings in less outside sound and the voice can drown everything else out.

am i right on this?

so a rail with mics on it that clip on and are .5 inches from each resonator might TOTALLY DO THE trick. right?

but then who's going to build it!!!!

Hi, Steve! You have covered all bases on the pros/cons on "getting a natural sound", very well.
I don't know if you read my article dated 11/12/10 entitled, "Regarding belts and microphones".
Since my first days of playing the vibraharp/phone, about 70 years ago, the concern of "hearing the instrument amongst the surrounding environment", has never resolved a final answer.
I am going to give you my personal considerations to my beliefs and findings as follows!

01. To begin with, each vibraharp/phone, has it's own 'respective sound' to the bars and there is no way that anyone can make a satisfactory conclusion for a 'brand' to be placed for every instrument made,on the market.

02. Another thing that no one mentions is: You have to have a matching amplifier!

03. Forget about attaching any form of 'clip or stand' that will be 'directly touching the keybed or lower framework, because, you will be picking up a "thump, thump from the striking mallets. (I went crazy with my microphones mounted on the ends of the keybed frame).

04. You have to remember that the most significant location of concentrated sound vibrations, as you strike the mallets (forget about the footpedal manipulation to stop the sounds), lie in the area, directly under the bars, in between the long resonator tubes. You may have one note ringing or eight notes+ ringing and your intention is to project the 'focal point' of sound that you desire to put forth.
Yes.............your mic or mics, should be located in the middle of this 'crucial area'.

05. As I had mentioned before, while a piano tuner was tuning the piano (a small upright), at one of my gigs, years ago, I asked him what that small 3" square gadget was, attached to the wall, inside the piano and he said, "A boundary microphone that is attached to the room amplification system overhead". (And as you mentioned, Steve, with the top opened up a little).
That was my introduction to this type microphonea).

06. In my previous article, I mentioned how I built a small insulated box to surround the boundary mic to ward off surrounding noises and it has been proven to work well.
I believe that we can forget the big expensive costs for all of the ideas put forth to date and concentrate on finding a boundary microphone manufacturer (The one and only that makes the 'Radio Shack' boundary mic that sells for $50.00).

07. This is my suggestion! If a boundary microphone is made narrow, long and placed into a designed narrow, insulated container, one mic for each octave, that can be placed 8 inches directly under the bars in the middle of the bottom framework.
You could just set this assembly across the bottom framework crossarm for any standard 3 octave brand of vibes for under $1000.00.

08. Of course, a matching amplifier, like my Bose Compact L1 or Roland, might work out well.

Be glad to answer any questions!

Angelo

Angelo,

When you say "boundary microphone", do you mean the type shown in the link below?
http://www.amazon.com/Crown-Sound-Grabber-Condenser-Microphone/dp/B0002H...

If so, it seems Radio Shack has discontinued those. I remember using those in stereo pairs to get a great room sound for recording a combo but never tried using them as live amplification mics. I don't know how well it would work if you were, as I sometimes am, set-up in front of a bass player with a wall of an amp. If that's not the type of microphone, could you refer us to a model number or a web link to the exact product you use?

Thanks,
Dana

Dana, here is the Radio Shack Boundary Microphone information:

Catalogue number: 33-3022
Omnidirectional
Wide 30-18,000 Hz
3 5/8 inches at one end and tapers down 3 3/4 inches to other end which is 2 3/8 inches
The patch cord is close to 25 feet long, has a on/off switch (with tiny disc battery) and the end plug jack is mini (that I insert into a 1/4 inch amplifier receptacle.

Thet listed around $50.00 and on sale for $40.00

Angelo.

Thanks Angelo. Unfortunately, Radio Shack does not seem to carry that product anymore. Fortunately, it is the same type of microphone as linked above in my post so if anyone is interested, they go for about $60 up to $250 depending on model.

Microphones in the resonators was discussed some time ago on thevibe.net. If I recall correctly, Sid Edwards said he had built a prototype at some point but abandoned it because the resonators don't just amplify the bars above, they amplify any sound in the room that's the right pitch. So, counter-intuitively, mics in the resonators pick up more bleed through than mics above.

Does anyone else recall this discussion?

Tom P.

What you're saying makes sense. Is this the thread you are referring to?:
http://thevibe.net/smf/index.php?PHPSESSID=ada3143bf8d1220c58d33e3034aad...

Also, has anyone tried using shotgun style mics?

Hi Dana,

Yah, I think that's the thread I remember, although I didn't find any reference to the resonators resonating to room noise.

Tom P.

Wow, glad this got people jumpin'...

@Tony: yeah, you are right with everything. And the rail mic idea could be interesting.. but it would have to use some kind of isolation if it attached to the resonators or frame. however, something like that could use far fewer mic elements - maybe 5 or 6 spaced evenly along the instrument?

@Tom: your comment about the resonators picking up outside sound is quite possible - need to experiment with it. everything picks up SOME outside sound.

@Dana: the youtube video only has audio from the camera, so it is hard to tell - but there really is not a lot of frame noise. I hate that. the elastics usually work well to eliminate this.

@Angelo: Dave Samuels used to use a boundry mic with Spyrogyra, which he wore around his neck! That way it picked up whatever he played - vibes or marimba. But I always thought the overhead mics sounded better, so I never experimented with it much myself. That might be something which could be improved further, as you have done.

@John: I'm sure the ATM350 is better than the Pro 35, but given all the other factors on stage, you may not hear that much difference. Maybe more if you were close-miking a violin. I'd say, try a store with a good return policy and buy one of each. Then swap whichever you want to replace. If you think the ATM350 is worth it - let me know!

i think a rail system maybe that attached to the frame and went the length of the resonators. that might work, huh? i know frame noise, but the mics would be suspended some how.

now keep in mind this. gary burton said he's always heard and never has a problem with volume. so i think in most jazz settings overhead mics can easily work.

It's not that overhead mics don't work, it's more that they can be difficult to deal with... And I always want more control over the amplified sound, like the pickups but with a better tone. That's what I keep searching for...to put a little reverb on the vibes and not hear the snare drum coming through it (although sometimes that sounds cool!).

right, the do sort of work. you just have to play with hard(er) mallets. your sound has to be the loudest going in the mic and you're in ok shape. right steve? i think you've already agreed to that.

i can't imagine EVER being able to put effects on mics on the vibes unless some innovative cat figures a way to get the mics close to the resonators.

my question is this, what about close to the bars. do we need the resonators for amplification. theoretically that is.

so if i was playing ONLY one bar. could i put a mic a quarter inch from a bar and would it amplify the bar. i mean the bar makes the sound right. the full sound? i realize without resonators the bar sound changes but is the bar making the complete sound, it's just too low for us to hear.

make sense?

I didn't not by any means intend to offend you BTW. I think your mic set-up sounded great even taking into account I am hearing the sound through a camera mic. Also, your band is killin'! My "excuse" for my statement was I thought I heard a little sympathetic frame noise come through at one point but it could have been a lot of things. I know from my own experiences that I get a lot more of the frame vibration sound and pedal/dampening noises when micing below. A small sacrifice perhaps for the added insulation. Also, if your vibe is whisper quiet then frame noise might not be an issue. Anyway, hope I didn't ruffle your feathers (so to speak).

Dana,

No, none taken at all! It's always a funny thing about posting online - trying to avoid any wrong interpretation. It takes a lot more than that to ruffle my feathers, mate! I just was meaning that I hate hearing frame noise, so I wouldn't be into this mic setup if it were a problem. And hey, I know you use the pickups, and I didn't mean to dis those at all. I used them for years, and they work really well. It really comes down to what makes us each most comfortable, so we can play our best.

Thanks for your comments about the band. Just listened to your version of Behn's etude - sounds great!

S.

Steve, since I have your attention for a moment on this thread, I want to express how appreciative I am for the suggestions you've offered on mic'ing. I still have to try the suspended condenser mic setup you use and haven't done so because I'm in the piano mode this year, but you've solved a lot of problems for me in the future. I happen to like the motor, and being able to get a good sound without frame and especially motor noise is going to be really important. I have a Bose L1 PA, so I'm really looking forward to applying everything you've shown me and adding the Bose into the equation to really get a three-dimensional vibe sound.

Thanks so much, and I'll let you know when I get it up and running.

John,

I bet this will work really well with the Bose L1. I have been interested in that system. Glad it can be of help. I seem to be the only one who does it this way - but it is easy & I have had good success in many different halls & clubs with it. Would love to know what you think.

S.

by frame noise you mean the noise the impact of the stick causes, right?

and then there's frame noise, how noisy is your instrument. if your instrument is noisy micing it underneath will amplify the frame noise if it's there. maybe in a live setting you won't hear it over the music. there's something about micing underneath exclusively that's a little strange to me personally. but in a live situation that might not matter too much. i think over all (would we all agree?) the optimal mic placement is above the instrument, and that's what you strive for. for me anything else is a compromise to other factors involved in the gig.

in fact if it wasn't for raising the sticks, 3 mics placed about 6 to 9 inches above each octave would be perfect. but that's impossible right?

a soundman that's never miced vibes knows exactly the optimal height intuitively for the best sound. his ignorance is that he forgets how high we have to raise the sticks. there in lies the problem. there's a math equation there i think.

i get the idea of micing underneath to use the resonators as a baffle.

hmmm there's the other option. carry about plexy glass and put up three walls. then you're just getting the sound as it bounces off surfaces and comes back in your open side. that sound is definitely not as loud as coming from the original position.

right?