Types of Stereo Mic Techniques

   By Sarah C   Categories: GeneralLive Audio ShowRecording

To make a stereo recording, you can use one of these basic techniques:

1. Coincident pair.

2. Spaced pair.

3. Near-coincident pair.

4. Baffled pair.

Let’s look at each technique.

Coincident Pair

With this method (also called XY), you mount two directional mics with grilles touching, diaphragms one above the other, and angled apart (Figures 9-2 and 9-3). For example, mount two cardioid mics with one grille above the other, and angle them 120° apart. You can use other patterns too: supercardioid, hypercardioid, or bidirectional. The wider the angle between mics, the wider the stereo spread.


Figure 9-2 Coincident-pair technique.


Figure 9-3 Photo of coincident-pair technique.

How does this technique make images we can localize? Recall that a directional mic is most sensitive to sounds in front of the mic (on axis) and progressively less sensitive to sounds arriving off axis. That is, a directional mic puts out a high-level signal from the sound source it’s aimed at, and produces lower-level signals from sources to the side of the mic.

The coincident pair uses two directional mics that are angled symmetrically from the center line (Figure 9-2). Instruments in the center of the group produce the same signal from each mic. When you monitor the mics, the same signal comes out of each speaker. Identical signals from two speakers produce a phantom image midway between the speakers. So you hear the center instruments in the center.

If an instrument is off-center to the right, it is more on axis to the right-aiming mic than to the left-aiming mic. So the right mic will produce a higher-level signal than the left mic. When you monitor the mics, the right speaker’s signal is louder than the left speaker’s signal. This reproduces the image off-center to the right. So you hear the right-side instruments toward the right side.

That is how coincident stereo miking works. The coincident pair codes instrument positions into level differences between channels. The brain decodes these level differences back into corresponding image locations. A pan pot in a mixing console works on the same principle. If one channel is 15–20 dB louder than the other, the image shifts all the way to the louder speaker . Play Website track 5 to hear image location versus level differences between channels.

Suppose we want the right side of the orchestra to be reproduced at the right speaker. That means the far-right musicians must produce a signal level 20 dB higher from the right mic than from the left mic. This happens when the mics are angled apart by a certain amount.

Instruments partway off-center produce interchannel level differences less than 20 dB, so you hear them partway off-center.

Listening tests have shown that coincident cardioid mics tend to reproduce the musical group with a narrow stereo spread. That is, the group does not spread all the way between speakers. Play Website tracks 8–11 to hear the image localization of some coincident cardioid techniques.

A coincident-pair method with excellent localization is the Blumlein array. It uses two bidirectional mics angled 90° apart and facing the left and right sides of the group.

A special form of the coincident-pair technique is the mid–side (MS) recording method illustrated in Figure 9-4. It uses a “mid” microphone facing the middle of the orchestra and a bidirectional microphone aiming to the sides. The middle mic is most commonly cardioid, but it can be any pattern.


Figure 9-4 MS technique.

In a device called a matrix, the signals from both mics are summed (mixed together) to produce the left-channel signal and are differenced (mixed in opposite polarity) to produce the right-channel signal.

You can remote-control the stereo spread by changing the mid/side ratio in the matrix. This remote control is useful at live concerts, where you can’t physically adjust the mics during the concert. You can also control the stereo spread during mixdown rather than during the recording. In Chapter 10, under the heading “Stereo-Spread Control,” I describe how to use a computer digital audio workstation (DAW) to vary the stereo spread without using a matrix device. MS is covered in detail in Appendix B under the heading “Mid–Side.”

A recording made with coincident mics is mono-compatible. If you expect that your recordings will be heard in mono (say, on TV), then you’ll probably want to use coincident methods.

Spaced Pair

With this method (also called AB), you place two identical mics a few feet apart and aim them straight ahead (Figures 9-5 and 9-6). The mics can have any polar pattern, but omni is most popular for this method. The greater the spacing between mics, the greater the stereo spread.

How does this method work? Instruments in the center of the group produce the same signal from each mic. When you monitor the mics, you hear a phantom image of the center instruments midway between your speakers.


Figure 9-5 Spaced-pair technique.


Figure 9-6 Photo of spaced-pair technique.

If an instrument is off-center, it is closer to one mic than the other, so its sound reaches the closer microphone before it reaches the other one. Both mics produce the same signal, except that the farther mic’s signal is delayed compared to the closer mic’s signal.

If you send the same signal to two speakers with the signal in one channel delayed, the sound image shifts off-center. With a spaced-pair recording, off-center instruments produce a delay in one mic channel, so they are reproduced off-center.

The spaced pair codes instrument positions into time differences between channels. During playback, the brain decodes these time differences back into corresponding image locations. Play Website track 6 to hear image location versus time differences between channels.

A delay of 1.2 milliseconds (msec) is enough to shift an image all the way to one speaker. You can use this fact when you set up the mics. Suppose you want to hear the right side of the orchestra from the right speaker. The sound from the right-side musicians must reach the right mic about 1.2 milliseconds before it reaches the left mic. To make this happen, space the mics about 2–3 feet apart. This spacing makes the correct delay to place right-side instruments at the right speaker. Instruments partway off-center produce interchannel delays less than 1.2 milliseconds, so they are reproduced partway off-center.

If the spacing between mics is, say, 12 feet, then instruments that are slightly off-center produce delays between channels that are greater than 1.2 milliseconds. This places their images at the left or right speaker. I call this “exaggerated separation” or a “ping-pong” effect (Figure 9-1(d)). Play Website tracks 18–20 to hear the image localization of some spaced-pair techniques.

On the other hand, if the mics are too close together, the delays produced will be too small to provide much stereo spread. Also, the mics will tend to emphasize instruments in the center because the mics are closest to them.

To record a good musical balance of an orchestra, you need to space the mics about 10 or 12 feet apart. But then you get too much separation. You could place a third mic midway between the outer pair and mix its output to both channels. That way, you pick up a good balance, and you hear an accurate stereo spread.

The spaced-pair method tends to make off-center images unfocused or hard to localize. Why? Spaced-pair recordings have time differences between channels. Stereo images produced solely by time differences are not very sharp. You still hear the center instruments clearly in the center, but off-center instruments are harder to pinpoint. Spaced-pair miking is a good choice if you want the sonic images to be diffuse or blended, instead of sharply focused. Play Website track 24 to hear a comparison of a spaced pair versus a coincident pair on a drum set.

Another flaw of spaced mics: if you mix both mic channels to mono, you may get phase cancellations of various frequencies. This may or may not be audible.

Spaced mics, however, give a “warm” sense of ambience, in which the concert-hall reverb seems to surround the instruments and, sometimes, the listener. Here’s why: the two channels of recorded reverb are incoherent—that is, they have random phase relationships. Incoherent signals from stereo speakers sound diffuse and spacious. Since spaced mics pick up reverb incoherently, it sounds diffuse and spacious. The simulated spaciousness caused by the phasiness is not necessarily realistic, but it is pleasing to many listeners.

Another advantage of the spaced pair is that you can use omni mics. An omni condenser mic has deeper bass than a uni condenser mic.

Near-Coincident Pair

In this method, you angle apart two directional mics, and space their grilles a few inches apart horizontally (Figures 9-7 and 9-8). Even a few inches of spacing increases the stereo spread and adds a sense of ambient warmth or air to the recording. The greater the angle or spacing between mics, the greater the stereo spread.


Figure 9-7 Near-coincident-pair technique.


Figure 9-8 Photo of near-coincident-pair technique.

How does this method work? Angling directional mics produces level differences between channels. Spacing mics produces time differences. The level differences and time differences combine to create the stereo effect. Play Website track 7 to hear image location versus level and time differences between channels.

If the angling or spacing is too great, you get exaggerated separation. If the angling or spacing is too small, you hear a narrow stereo spread.

A common near-coincident method is the ORTF (French) system, which uses two cardioids angled 110° apart and spaced 7 inches (17 cm) horizontally. Usually this method gives accurate localization. That is, instruments at the sides of the orchestra are reproduced at or very near the speakers, and instruments halfway to one side are reproduced about halfway to one side.

The NOS (Dutch) system uses two cardioids angled 90° and spaced 12 inches (30 cm), while the DIN (German) system is 90° and 7.8 inches (20 cm). Compared to ORTF, those methods have less off-axis coloration because the mics are less angled away from the center instruments. Also their 90° angle between mics is easier to set up visually than the ORTF 110° angle between mics. Play Website tracks 12–14 to hear the image localization of some near-coincident-pair methods.

Baffled-Omni Pair

This method uses two omni mics, usually ear-spaced, and separated by a hard or padded baffle (Figure 9-9). To create stereo, it uses time differences at low frequencies and level differences at high frequencies. The spacing between mics creates time differences. The baffle creates a sound shadow (reduced high frequencies) at the mic farthest from the source. Between the two channels, there are spectral differences (differences in frequency response).


Figure 9-9 Baffled-omni technique.

Three examples of a baffled-omni pair are the Schoeps sphere microphone, the audio.com BS-3D sphere microphone, and the Jecklin Disk (Figure 12-3). The omni condenser mics used in the baffled-omni method have excellent low-frequency response. Play Website tracks 15–17 to hear the image localization of some baffled-omni-pair methods.

A special form of the baffled-omni pair is binaural recording with an artificial head (dummy head). The head contains a microphone flush mounted in each ear. You record with these microphones and play back the recording over headphones. This process can re-create the locations of the original performers and their acoustic environment with startling realism. For more detail on binaural recording see Appendix D.

You can clip a pair of miniature omni or cardioid mics onto the temple pieces of eyeglasses. Each mic is on the opposite side of your head, either in your ears or on your temples. Chapter 12 lists some websites of these binaural microphones. To compensate for the acoustic effect of the head, the signals need some equalization (EQ), which is a broad dip around 3 kHz.

Boundary (surface-mounted) mics can be used for any type of stereo miking. Appendix C describes some stereo mic techniques using boundary mics. Play Website tracks 21–23 to hear the image localization of some stereo boundary-mic techniques.

Excerpt from Recording Music on Location, 2nd Edition by Bruce Bartlett and Jenny Bartlett © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.


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