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Q. Which mic should I use when recording Tablas?

I realise that it's almost impossible to name a specific model for the job, but could you tell me what type of microphone I should be using to record my tablas?

Umesh Patel

Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: As you mention, it's very difficult to name a mic on specification alone, as dozens of microphones are capable of doing the job.

When recording percussive instruments with complex transient content, condenser or ribbon mics are usually favoured, such as Rode's NT4 stereo condenser microphone, shown here.When recording percussive instruments with complex transient content, condenser or ribbon mics are usually favoured, such as Rode's NT4 stereo condenser microphone, shown here.

When considering mic type, however, there are a few things to consider. Moving-coil dynamic models work well on heavy percussion, because the relatively high mass of the diaphragm and coil acts as a kind of acoustic compressor. Fast transients are largely ignored, resulting in a higher average sound energy level and beefier drums. However, with hand-played percussion, the transient detail is often a critical part of the overall sound, so a more responsive microphone is required: this means either a ribbon or a capacitor mic.

Probably the most common approach for tablas (when used in acoustic music) is the use of a capacitor mic. I've achieved great results in the past with both large-diaphragm mics, such as the AKG C414BÆ and small-diaphragm mics, such as the Rode NT5.

Placement would typically be between the drums, far enough back to ensure even coverage of both. If you require a stereo effect, you'll need a pair of mics, and again there are several alternative approaches open to you. The simplest way is to place a mic overlooking each drum and pan their signals accordingly, to provide the required stereo spread. Add a little stereo reverb and you'll have an impressively spacious and pleasing sound.

Another approach would be to use a crossed-pair technique, either with two mono mics or a single-bodied stereo one. I've had good results using the Royer SF12 stereo ribbon in this kind of application, but on a stricter budget, I'd try the Rode NT4, as it would provide a usable sound and would be easy to place. Of course, if you situate the mics close to the drums, the stereo effect will tend to be quite exaggerated, but pulling the mics back a little will help to create a more natural spread. Remember you can always turn the pan pots back towards the middle to narrow things down. 

Published June 2007