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Equation Audio Alpha Series

Drum Microphone Set
By Paul White

If you've not yet built up much of a microphone collection, a dedicated drum-mic kit can be a sensible investment - and the price of this one puts it within reach of even entry-level users.

Equation Audio Alpha SeriesPhoto: Mike CameronThere are no secrets when it comes to which drum mics the professionals use — we've published numerous articles that delve into the subject in minute detail — but a professional set of drum mics can set you back a couple of thousand pounds or more, which is well outside most home studio budgets. There are, of course, dozens of cheaper drum-mic sets on the market, many costing less than a single pro-quality tom mic and the majority built in the Far East, but what kind of quality can you expect for such a modest outlay? Clearly, a seven-piece drum-mic set that costs less than half the VAT bill on the professional equivalent isn't going to sound as good, but you may be surprised at how well some of these low-cost outfits perform, nevertheless.

The Alpha Series

The Equation Audio Alpha Series MTD7.2 drum-mic set that landed on my desk recently is marketed by Equation Audio in Nashville. However, the mics themselves are manufactured in China and are clearly built to a budget. All the snare and tom mic bodies are made of plastic, rather than metal, and their stand clips are moulded into the mic bodies rather than being separate. This works well enough, but if you break a clip you'll need to replace the mic. Even so, they seem pretty rugged from a physical standpoint, and their compact form makes them easy to position around a drum kit.

First out of the foam-padded nylon case that comes free with the kit is the DMI 104 SLF kick/bass microphone with a separate stand clip. This is a supercardioid, dynamic model with an enhanced bass response and the familiar scooped mid-range (centred at around 500Hz) adopted by many dedicated kick mics to reduce boxiness. This is augmented by two DMI 101 dynamic cardioid snare/tom mics, two further dynamic hypercardioid DMI 102S snare/tom models with a little more mid scoop, and a pair of very short stick microphones to serve as overheads. I was a little puzzled by this choice of mic models, as to me it would seem more logical to provide three identical tom mics, and maybe a different model for the snare drum.

The CMI 103 overheads are cardioid-pattern capacitors, and so need phantom power to operate. I suspect that they're back-electrets, but the limited info on the box didn't make this clear, and checking the Equation Audio web site for further information revealed only the same details as were printed on the packaging. These short, end-fire mics, which come with separate mic-stand clips, have a nominally flat response, with a gentle LF roll-off below 250Hz and an HF roll-off that starts at around 10kHz and is about 10dB down by 18kHz. Switches for 10dB pad and roll-off are recessed into the side of the mic body, where they can be operated using a small screwdriver or toothpick.

The Hit Factor

I coerced Chris Hewitt, the drummer from my band, to let me try these mics on his kit, so we stripped down his existing, rather more grand, setup and put the Alphas in their place. After some adjustment of mic positioning, we set about recording through each mic onto separate tracks of his sequencer. Despite their budget provenance, we actually got a pretty decent recording first time around, although the kick mic needed some equalisation to make it sound adequately punchy and snappy. The tom and snare mics turned in a very respectable performance, delivering a well-balanced sound with perhaps just a touch less definition than you'd get from a set of pro dynamic mics, such as Sennheiser 421s. However, Chris actually observed that the snare mic (the hypercardioid DMI 102S) gave a crisper sound than the Shure SM57 he normally uses.

I thought the overheads sounded pretty well balanced with no pad or low-cut filter switched in, and pulling up their fader really brought the kit sound to life, although a little 'air' EQ at 12kHz helped to lift the cymbals. More exotic mics would no doubt give a better-focused sound, but overall I have to say that I liked what I was hearing. The weakest element of the set, for me, was the kick mic, which had a rather 'soggy' sound prior to being equalised, but if you're prepared to work on the EQ, drum tuning and fine positioning, the result is very acceptable once the sound of the overheads is mixed in.

Bang For The Buck

Money spent on a well-chosen budget set such as this is never wasted, because you can upgrade it gradually, as your needs change (possibly starting with the kick mic, in the case of the Alphas). Given its almost absurdly low cost, this drum-mic set proved itself capable of delivering solid results, and I particularly liked the physical shape of the snare and tom mics, which made positioning them very easy, compared to long-body microphones.

As most engineers will tell you, a great drum sound starts with a well-tuned kit in a decent-sounding room, so if you get these things right there's no reason not to achieve good results with this little mic kit. 

Pros

  • Good value for money.
  • Tough, padded carry-case.
  • Decent sound quality.

Cons

  • No complaints at the price, but I'd be tempted to upgrade the kick mic as soon as I could afford to.

Summary

A very affordable seven-piece drum-mic kit, capable of producing good results if used with care.

information

£175 including VAT.

Planet Audio Systems +44 (0)208 950 1485.

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Published August 2008