Microphone mounting bars seem to come in two different varieties, namely 'cheap and cheerful' and 'well engineered but expensive'. I'm not saying that the less expensive variety are bad (I've been using simple K&M bars for years), but the cheaper bars don't display the distances and angles that are needed to help you produce the correct microphone layout easily, which means that you have to resort either to making up special protractors or just guessing (which mostly turns out wrong). If you do a lot of recording, there are times when you really hanker after a quality bar that's both fast and accurate to set up, and in an easily repeatable way.
As well as the spaced pair, XY and M/S confirgurations, there are several commonly used stereo microphone arrangements, which require this sort of precision:
- ORTF: Cardioids placed at 110 degrees, with 17cm spacing.
- NOS: Cardioids placed at 90 degrees, with 30cm spacing.
- DIN: Cardioids placed at 90 degrees, with 20cm spacing.
- Faulkner phased‑array: Figure‑of‑eight mics facing forward, with 20cm spacing.
Several microphone manufacturers already produce well‑engineered mounting bars for the spaced pair, XY and M/S configurations, but now Grace Design (a company who are perhaps better known for their high‑quality microphone preamps, headphone amplifiers and monitor controllers) have entered the fray with their new SpaceBar.
There are two versions of the SpaceBar (both available with either US‑style 5/8‑inch or European‑style 3/8‑inch Whitworth threads): the SB30, which is 30cm long, and the SB66, which is (you've guessed it) 66cm. Both bars have a minimum mount spacing of 7cm, and the maximum spacing of the SB30 is 26cm, whereas that of the SB66 is 61cm. For the sake of clarity, I should point out that this is the mount spacing — and that maximum capsule spacing is greater than this if the mics are angled outwards.
The big selling point for the SpaceBar is that it has accurate spacing distances and angles marked. The bar itself has distance markings on it (marked every half centimetre), and the microphone mounts slide along the bar. Each sliding mount has an easily operated locking‑screw, so that once you've set the correct angle you can lock it in place, and still leave the mount free to slide along the bar until you can set the correct spacing distance by tightening the bottom screw. The mounts themselves also have angles marked on them (to an accuracy of five degrees), and the centre boss also has degrees marked on it, making it easy to repeat the angle of tilt.
It's worth mentioning that this is the only bar that I know of that includes all of the above, but it also goes further. When setting up microphones, you often need one of them to be positioned above the other, in order to achieve the correct angle, and to cater for this the SpaceBar comes with an additional 'high riser' mount, which is taller than the others, allowing you to raise one mic above the other.
The first time you set up using the SpaceBar takes slightly longer than usual, as you have to take account of capsule spacing. For example, to configure an ORTF pair you set the angles to 55 degrees each side (making a total of 110 degrees) and position the capsules at the 8.5cm mark each side (giving you the 17cm capsule spacing). The first time you set up, the easiest way is to fold a piece of paper or card; with the edge at the 8.5cm mark it's easy to get the capsule spacing correct. However, once you've done this, note the actual spacing of the microphone mount itself (this could be at the 3.5cm mark, for example), and next time you use the same microphones you'll find it extremely fast to set the angle and distance using the mount spacing you noted before. At a recent recording session, I managed to set up and get an ORTF pair of Sennheiser MKH8040s working in about 30 seconds.
There are various SpaceBar kit options. Both the SB30 (short bar) and the SB66 (long bar) come complete with two standard mounts, plus a high‑riser, and there's an optional carrying bag for both models. There's also an SB30/66 kit, which is basically the SB30 kit with an additional SB66 bar, which you can swap with the short one when needed (so you don't have to pay for both full sets of hardware). There are also many bits and spares available separately, so you can easily choose your own setup. My personal choice, for example, was to purchase the SB30/66 kit and add two extra standard mounts (making four standard mounts and one riser mount in total) and the large bag. The two extra mounts will enable me to do an ORTF set‑up with two extra omni outriggers on the long SB66 bar.
What I've discussed above is already available, but the SpaceBar is actually an ongoing project, and Grace are about to launch a special bridge (pictured) for a central mic. With this arrangement, you'll be able to have an M/S rig with omni outriggers, or use, for example, the triple 'OCT' arrangement of a pair of supercardioids and a middle cardioid eight centimetres forward of the others. There's also work under way on a flying rig that will screw into the stand thread and enable the SpaceBar to be 'flown' on catenary wires. It will be possible to retrofit both these new additions — and I'll probably be adding them to my own bar as soon as they come out!
The SpaceBar is extremely well engineered, and although not cheap, it's in the same ball‑park as other well engineered bars: it's not overly expensive. I'm absolutely delighted with mine and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a high‑quality bar that's quick and easy to set up, with everything easily repeatable for the next time. Especially with the new accessories, this is an extremely versatile microphone mount — which will be even more so with the new accessories — and I think it's essential equipment for those who take stereo recording seriously.
SB30 £343.85; SB66 £458.85; SB30/66 £573.85. Prices include VAT.
Sound Link +44 (0)1223 264765.
SB30 $295, SB66 $395, SB30/66 $495.
Grace Design +1 303 443 7454.