Saturday, January 24th, 2009 | by matthew mcglynn
In my first 30 minutes at the winter NAMM show, I saw two neat kick-drum products. This is the story of the first one, the Kelly Shu.
(UPDATE: the other kick-drum product I saw is called the KickPort.)
It is the world’s first portable, permanent isolation mount for an internal kick-drum microphone. It looks like a horseshoe (hence the name Shu) suspended in the middle of the drum by bungee cords.
When my band was gigging, I grew weary of the haphazard approach to kick-drum miking employed by the soundmen at the (admittedly low-rent) clubs my band would frequent. Usually there would be a floor stand with a D112 (or, on less-happy days, an SM57); it would get shoved unceremoniously into the hole in the drum’s front head. Wherever it landed, that would be the kick sound for the evening.
And probably it would be fine, or at least, it wouldn’t stand out as the first thing a professional engineer would fix. But I longed for an upgrade — for a nice mic, permanently installed, in a position that I’d optimized for the specific drum, tuning, beater, and playing style.
But, in my experience, it doesn’t really deliver on its promise. The mounting arm works itself loose over time, and is impossible to correct by reaching through the small hole in the front head. I could take the head off to adjust it, but that sort of defeats the purpose of the thing.
I loved the idea that once I’d dialed it in completely, I’d get a perfect, reproducible kick sound simply by attaching a cable to the XLR jack on top of the shell… Unfortunately, the limited range of motion of the mounting arm, and the device’s tendency to work loose, have prevented me from either finding the ideal position or from keeping the mic in one place.
Another challenge for this system is the lack of vibration isolation. There is a rubber isolation mount that allows the mic to float to some degree, but judging from the sound of recorded tracks it seems like I get a lot more attack than I should, as if the shell resonance is being transmitted mechanically through the mounting arm.
The Kelly Shu addresses some of these issues — most significantly, it is a true isolation mount. The mic holder is literally suspended by elastic cords.
Positioning is less limited than with the May mount; by varying the length of the cords and the orientation of the Shu, as well as the position of the mic on the Shu, it looks like it would be easy to locate the mic anywhere in the middle 80% of the drum. For positions close to the shell, the May would have an advantage in positioning. (That said, I’m not sure anyone mics a kick drum near the shell.)
To be fair, my experience with the May system is not universal. The May mount has been used by countless touring bands with great results. For example, I spotted it recently in the Neil Peart DVD, Anatomy of a Drum Solo; one of the bonus clips on the second disk features Rush engineer Paul Northfield and Peart’s drum tech Lorne Wheaton setting up a D-112 inside the kick drum on a May mount. Click the image at right for a video excerpt. If Northfield couldn’t have gotten a good sound from the May system, I’m sure he’d have changed it. Remember too that on a drum DVD, there’s no mix to hide flaws in — the drums have to sound great. And they do.
But Paul Northfield isn’t miking my kit, and Lorne Wheaton isn’t setting it up. So I’m ready to swap my May for the Shu. Installation and initial adjustment might still be fiddly, but it’s certain the mic will be mechanically isolated. And, given that the Shu mount is getting pulled by elastic cords in all directions at once, there’s not much chance its position will drift around once it has been set up.
There are two Shus to pick from — an anodized aluminum model that comes in different colors for about $100 street (see Amazon widget at right), and a high-density fiberglass model that streets for under $50.
I’d love to hear reactions from May and Shu users; please comment below!