New Music Gear Monday: MXL DX-2 Dual Capsule Microphone

MXL DX-2Most directional condenser microphones have dual capsules, but they’re almost always identical, and it’s how they’re placed that makes the mic directional. That said, what if you created a mic that had 2 capsules, but one was a large diaphragm and the other was small so you could get a combination of the sound of the two instead? That’s exactly what the new MXL DX-2 dual capsule instrument microphone does.

The DX-2 is meant for guitar amps, and as such, it’s built with a flat face that makes it side-addressable.  That means that it’s easy to hang over an amp or speaker cabinet without the need of a microphone stand, although it is possible to mount it on a stand as well. While that’s pretty cool in itself, the real coolness comes from the two condenser capsules, one large and the other small, inside the mic. On the rear of the mic is a crossfade control that allows you to go from one diaphragm to the other and everywhere in between. This allows you to dial in the exact sound without changing mics, and provides a wider tonal palette than most mics that you might use for this purpose.

Besides the difference in size, both capsules also have different pickup patterns, with the large being super-cardioid while the small diaphragm features a wider cardioid pattern. Those patterns probably won’t mean much with the mic being that close to the source, but it does change the sound, as you can hear from the video below.

What’s interesting is that according to the video, you do get some cancellation between the mics at a certain point when the mics are mixed together, but that could also make for an interesting sound as well.

The MXL DX-2 is very affordable at only $149 retail and has recently become available for shipping. Check out the video below to hear what it does and the website for more information.

October 21, 2016

A Look At The Early Music Business In The Beatles First Album

beatles_and_george_martin_in_studio_1966The early music business in the 50’s and 60’s was a completely different animal from what we have today. For one thing, studio recording offered a quick turnaround since the technology was so much simpler then, but the mentality of doing things quickly to see if it worked or not was a big part of the business as well. One of the things that’s the same as the pop business of today is the fact that everything is based around the hit song, and that’s perfectly illustrated by this video on the making of The Beatles first album, called Please Please Me in the UK.

The video has Sir George Martin describing how he looked for a hit song for the group from outside songwriters and actually found one, only to have it brushed off by the band because it was too soft and went against their tough Liverpool image (hard to believe that now). There’s also individual clips from the Fab Four describing a little bit of their songwriting process at the time, and some great archival live concert footage.

An Acoustic And Computer Giant Passes

Dr. Leo BeranekOne of the world’s foremost acoustic geniuses has passed. Dr. Leo Beranek and his company Bold, Beranek and Newman (BBN) have been been the leader in acoustic design for decades, designing the acoustics of the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York, and concert halls at Lincoln Center and Tanglewood, among many others.

Dr. Beranek taught acoustic engineering at Harvard and M.I.T. for more than three decades, and did quite a lot of groundbreaking research, including determining the noise standards for public buildings and airports that are still in use today. His biggest selling book, Acoustics, was originally published in 1954 (it was updated in 1986 and 2012) and still remains a textbook for acoustic engineering students around the world. His 1962 book, Music, Acoustics, and Architecture, which examined the acoustics of 100 concert halls around the world, is also considered a classic.

During World War II, as the director of Harvard’s Electroacoustic Lab, Dr. Beranek worked to improve voice communication between airplanes and the ground, which to that point was impossible. After the war, he was responsible for designing and building the first anechoic chamber, a critical tool in acoustic measurement today.

While his acoustic achievements were widely known and have impacted not only music listeners but society in general, his contribution to the world of computing may have a more lasting effect.

BBN was responsible for the precursor of the Internet as the company transitioned to fields other than acoustics, which Beranek felt was limiting. The company built the Arpanet for the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a way for government agencies and universities to more easily share information. It was the first computer-based network in the world, and it went into operation in 1970. In 1972, BBN was the first to send an email message that used the symbol “@,” a process that we take for granted today.

Dr. Baranek led a good long life as he passed at 102 years old, but he’s one of the few people who’s work has had an unseen affect on all of our lives every single day. We’re going to miss him.

Choosing the Right Microphone For The Job

Choosing the right microphoneWhile it’s safe to say that most engineers rely on experience when choosing which microphone to use in a given situation, these are some things to consciously consider when selecting a microphone. Here’s a list of items to think about from the latest edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook.

  • There’s no one mic that works well on everything. Just because you have what could be considered a “great” mic doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the best choice in all situations. There are times when the characteristics of that mic just don’t match up with the instrument you’re recording, and another mic will work better. In fact, sometimes even an inexpensive mic can work better than an expensive one.
  • Select a microphone that complements the instrument you’ll be recording. For instance, if you have an instrument that has a very edgy top end, you normally wouldn’t want to choose a mic that also has that quality, since those frequencies will be emphasized. Instead, you might want to choose a mic that’s a bit mellower, such as a ribbon. This is one of the reasons that a ribbon mic is often preferred on brass, for instance.
  • Is the mic designed to be used in the free field or in the diffuse field? Free-field means the sound that comes directly from the source dominates what the mic hears. Diffuse-field means that the room reflections play a large role in what the mic hears. Mics designed for free-field use tend to have a flat frequency response in the high frequencies, and as a result can sound dull when placed farther away in room from the sound source. Diffuse-field mics have a boost in the upper frequencies that make them sound flat when placed farther away. A good example of a diffuse-field mic is the esteemed Neumann M 50, which was meant to be placed somewhat away from an orchestra, so it has a high-frequency boost to compensate for the distance.
  • Select a mic that won’t be overloaded by the source. Some mics are sensitive enough that you must be aware of how they’re used. You wouldn’t want to put certain ribbon or condenser mics on a snare drum with a heavy-hitting drummer, for instance. Even some dynamic mics have little tolerance for high sound-pressure levels, so always take that into account.
  • Choose the right polar pattern for the job. If leakage is a consideration, then choose a mic with the proper directional capabilities for the job. If a mic is flat on-axis (at the front), it probably will roll off some of the highs when it’s 90 degrees off-axis (on the side). If it’s flat 90 degrees off-axis, it may have a rising high end when it’s on-axis.
  • Is proximity effect an issue? If you intended to place the mic within 6 inches or closer from the source, will the bass buildup from the proximity effect be too much? If you think that may be the case, consider an omni pattern instead.
  • A large-diaphragm condenser mic is not necessarily better than small-diaphragm condenser. Believe it or not, small diaphragm condenser microphones can sometimes capture the lower frequencies better, are generally less colored off-axis than large-diaphragm mics, and have a smoother frequency response. Large-diaphragm mics are a little less noisy, though.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

October 18, 2016

Mike Dias From Ultimate Ears On Episode #131 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Mike DiasIf you’re like me, you don’t have a huge amount of experience with in-ear monitors. I’d just gotten fitted for a set, and thought it would be a great idea to find out as much as I could about them, so I asked Ultimate Ears sales director Mike Dias to come on this week’s podcast to fill us in.

In this episode we’ll talk about all the nuances of in-ears, as well as the laser scanning process for the ear molds, and the fact that these tiny earpieces hold as many as 18 drivers!

On the intro we’ll look at Amazon’s new Music Unlimited streaming service and it’s deceptive low prices, and some out-of-the-box thinking of putting music venue sound systems in the ceiling instead of on the stage.

You can listen to it at, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

October 18, 2016

Frank Zappa Studio And Estate Up For Auction

Frank ZappaEveryone who knew Frank Zappa is shedding a tear at the fact that items from the great composer’s estate, which includes gear from his legendary Utility Muffin Research Kitchen studio, is about to go to auction. The property was on the market for about $5.5 million, and has reportedly been purchased by Lady Gaga.

Among the items available include Harrison and Neve consoles, tape machines and gear from his studio, all his touring and rehearsal gear from Joe’s Garage, and a wide variety of musical instruments. A full list can be found here.

As often happens when the parents die and money has to be split amongst the siblings, Frank and Gail’s children have been particularly divided over the sale and auction, which has led to much acrimony between them. For anyone who has spent any time at the estate, it’s a particularly sad way to see it go. One can only hope that their differences can be resolved so that Frank’s memory can continue unimpeded by anything but peace, love and music. Check out the video below for a look at the estate.

New Music Gear Monday: Drawmer MC3.1 Monitor Controller

Drawmer MC3.1One almost essential accessory for any computer-based DAW is the monitor controller, and there are a lot of them to choose from these days in just about all price ranges. Most of them in the sub-$1,000 range, while quite capable, are usually without some feature or features that you wish it would have. That’s what makes the new Drawmer MC3.1 so compelling. It’s one of the few monitor controllers at that price point that has all the most wished-for features covered.

The Drawmer MC3.1 monitor controller (not to be confused with a computer interface with monitor control capabilities) first and foremost allows you to adjust the level of the control room monitors, but it also incorporates a number of features usually found in controllers costing many times more. For instance, it has 3 sets of speaker outputs plus a mono sub output that can be switched individually and simultaneously, making A/B comparisons a snap. Each output also has a level trim to provide precise channel matching.

As far as inputs, there are a total of 5 – 1 digital AES/SPDIF, 2 balanced analog inputs, a stereo RCA analog input on the rear panel, and a 3.5mm front panel AUX input with it’s own level control. The digital and balanced analog inputs utilize Neutrik XLR/1/4″ COMBI jacks. These inputs can be selected to feed two separate signal paths; one for the main speaker output, and a second for the Cue buss to either an external output or to the internal headphone amps. Speaking of which, there are actually two separate headphone amplifiers with individual level controls and input switching so the artist can listen to a different mix than the engineer. There’s also a built-in talkback circuit complete with level control, external mic input, and a footswitch control, which is a very cool and overlooked feature even on high-end controllers.

But the main function of a monitor controller is to control the level of your speakers and here the MC3.1 also has a few extra tricks as well. First of all, the level can be set either with the large variable volume control knob, or by a button that switches to a preset level, which many mixing for TV or films will love. There are also comprehensive mix checking facilities as well, including dim, mono and phase reversal switches, plus mute switches for left, right and both speakers. The MC3.1 also has the unusual feature of Band Solo, which allows the user to listen to just the low, mid or high frequency bands to hear how they’re being reproduced by the speakers. Finally, the unit has timed relay protection on all speaker outputs to prevent power up/down bangs.

The Drawmer MC3.1 monitor controller is packaged in a desktop wedge form factor in a rugged steel box with a stylish brushed aluminum cover. The retail price is $999 and you can find more details on this dedicated page from Transaudio, the U.S. importer for Drawmer.


Michael Jackson “Beat It” Instrumental Track

beat it instrumentalIt’s time to listen inside another big hit from the past. This time it’s the instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It’s actually pretty amazing what you can hear once you strip the vocal off, although it shouldn’t be too surprising since it is the center of attention. Here’s what to listen for:

1. The reverb tail on the main guitar riff is very long. This makes perfect sense since it has to hang over at the end of the riff.

2. There’s not that many elements to the song. It’s actually pretty simple in that there’s usually only 3 elements playing at the same time – rhythm section, a keyboard pad, and a guitar riff.

3. There are some extra guitar parts that aren’t that apparent in the final mix. Listen to the clean guitar on the second half of the verse and the second 8 bars of the chorus. Also in the bridge there’s a 16th note guitar that plays underneath the main figure.

4. The drums are pretty plain in they just keep the beat. It sounds like a drum machine with real drums overdubbed with the high hat doubled and panned to each side, which fills up both the frequency and the aural space.

It’s always fun to listen inside of a hit, and sometimes just taking away the vocal reveals many parts that you don’t hear in the mix but are essential to the song. That’s the cool thing about production. The most important parts of the house aren’t usually the ones seen from the outside.

October 13, 2016

Let’s Put The Club Sound System In The Ceiling

sound ceilingWhen you think about it, we’re still stuck in the last century when it comes to live sound systems, especially in clubs. In almost all cases you’ll find a speaker array on both sides of the stage, sometimes sitting on the stage and sometimes flown. The problem with that is excessive SPL levels up close to the stage and beyond, especially outside the club. Time for some out of the box thinking. Let’s put the club sound system in the ceiling.

That’s exactly what a Swedish company called JBN Sound Solutions does. It sells an innovative ceiling system that hovers over the dance floor radiating the sound downward. This makes the audio more uniform, provides areas in the club with very low SPL (how many times have you wanted that), and best of all, keeps the neighbors from complaining. The company has already installed over 4,600 systems worldwide, but it’s first US install is just underway in Austin, Texas.

Noise pollution from clubs and venues has been a major problem in areas that are newly gentrified like in many downtown areas. Where there were previously no complaints over audio levels, newly constructed condos and hotels can suddenly spell trouble for a club. That’s what’s happened with The Nook Amphitheater in Austin ever since a new Westin Hotel opened nearby, so they’re turning to JBN in an effort to keep the sound inside the club and keeping everyone happy.

sound propagation

The system consists primarily of evenly spaced custom 10″ bass drivers and 6 1/2″ dual-concentric mid-tweeter drivers, although there’s not much additional information as to what kind of power or DSP the system uses.

That said, JBN systems are used in clubs, casinos, resorts and hotels around the world, so they must be on to something. And when you think about it, a sound system in the ceiling focused downward does make a lot of sense. Let’s see if the rest of the industry catches on.

The Drum Recording Checklist

drum recording checklistDrum recording is too often left to trial and error to when getting sounds. Here’s a checklist from the 2nd edition of my Drum Recording Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that makes sure that the basics are covered (assuming that the drums sound great acoustically) before you open up the mics.

“Like the foundation of a house, the drums are the foundation of a recording. With a strong foundation, you can build almost anything on it that you or your clients can imagine. A little effort and time spent miking the drums and getting the sound just right can result in a recording that sounds better than you would have ever imagined.

Remember, take risks, experiment, take notes on what works and what doesn’t, be creative, and most of all, have fun!

Here’s a list of things to check if something just doesn’t sound right. Remember that each situation is different and ultimately the sound depends upon the drums, the drummer, the room, the song, the arrangement, the signal chain, and even the other players. It’s not unusual to have at least one of these things out of your control.

☐ Are the mics acoustically in phase? Make sure that tom mics and room mics are parallel to each other. Make sure that any underneath mics are at a 45° angle to the top mics.

☐ Are the mics electronically in phase? Make sure that any bottom mics have the phase reversed. Make sure that all the mic cables are wired the same by doing a phase check.

☐ Are the mics at the correct distance from the drum? If they’re too far away they’ll pick up too much of the other drums. If they’re too close the sound will be unbalanced with too much attack or ring.

☐ Are the drum mics pointing at the center of the head? Pointing at the center of the drum will give you the best balance of attack and fullness.

☐ Are the cymbal mics pointed at the bell. If the mic is pointed at the edge of the cymbal, you might hear more air “swishing” than cymbal tone.

☐ Is the high-hat mic pointed at the middle of the hat? Too much towards the bell will make the sound thicker and duller. Too much towards the edge will make the sound thinner and pick up more air noise.

☐ Are the room mics parallel? If you’re using two room mics instead of a stereo mic to mic the room, make sure that the mics are on the same plane and are exactly parallel to each other. Also make sure that they’re on the very edge of the kit looking at the outside edge of the cymbals.

☐ Does the balance of the mix sound the same as when you’re standing in front of the drums? This is your reference point and what you should be trying to match. You can embellish the sound after you’ve achieved this.

These are not hard and fast rules, just a starting place. If you try something that’s different from what you’ve read and it sounds good, it is good!”

You can read more from The Drum Recording Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

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