Placement Techniques for the Beta 181 Side-Address Condenser Microphone
By: John Born, Rob Klegon and Chad Wiggins
Beta microphones, first introduced in 1989, have earned a reputation among touring pros and recording engineers for rugged reliability and construction (a Shure signature), precise sound reproduction, low handling noise and high gain before feedback. Everyone knows that. Beta mics, like their indefatigable SM cousins, turn in a solid, no-surprises performance that make them favorites of artists as diverse as Boney James, Herbie Hancock and Maroon 5. Engineers, too.
But late in 2010, Shure had some surprises in store for Beta fans and the larger pro audio community with the introduction of the ultra-compact Beta 181 side-address condenser microphone. Not only is this tiny titan an “ace in small places”, it is the first wired mic from Shure that features a choice of four interchangeable polar pattern capsules. The side address form factor enables the Beta 181 to go places where traditional end-address “pencils” simply won’t fit and the interchangeable heads give great versatility to an endless amount of applications, environments, and stage volumes.
Shure’s Chad Wiggins puts it this way: “It’s so compact; it can really fit in anywhere, whether it’s under a piano lid or in, around, and over a drum kit. And because it offers a selection of interchangeable capsules, musicians and engineers can get really creative with their mic placement, depending on the sounds they’re trying to achieve.” Its side-address design makes it versatile enough for stereo miking applications plus it’s as practical on the road as it is in the studio. Two more reasons why it won the TEC Award for Microphone Technology and Sound Reinforcement at the 27th Annual Awards at NAMM in January 2012.
Lately it’s been grabbing some serious attention, not only for its good looks, but its amazing sound quality and versatility. In this article, we’ll highlight the features of the Beta 181 and where it’s finding a home all over the stage or in your project studio.
Just how versatile is the Beta 181? We asked Shure’s John Born and Rob Klegon to share instrument-miking tips for stereo recording, piano, acoustic guitar, drums and percussion.
Let’s look at them one by one.
The advantages: With four polar pattern options, the Beta 181 can literally perform any stereo technique in the book for a wide array of stereo images and options.
XY: Use 2 Cardioid heads at 90 degrees to each other. Offers good separation and minimal phase issues.
Blumlein Pair: Use 2 Bi-directional heads at 90 degrees for a highly realistic stereo image.
Mid-Side (M-S): Use a cardioid and Bi-directional head and change the width of the stereo image later.
Want to know more about stereo miking techniques? Check out this podcast.
The advantages: When used with Shure’s new A75M universal clamp, the side address form factor allows you the ability to get the lid closed on most grand pianos, which improves gain-before-feedback.
For Live Reinforcement: Use cardioid or supercardioid patterns clamped to the spine of the piano using the A75M clamp. Place each Beta 181 near the hammers just behind the long structural support that runs the length of the lid (use gaffers tape to protect the finish of the piano before using the clamp). One for high and one for low; you’ll get great attack from the hammers with plenty of gain due to the textbook polar patterns and ability to close the lid.
For Studio Recording: If you’re tracking without other instruments in the room, try spaced omnis for a more natural open sound. If you need the isolation, try the live sound technique, close the lid, and drape packing blankets over the piano for increased isolation.
The advantages: The Beta 181 sound quality brings out the clarity, presence and tone in your guitar while giving you easy placement due to the side address form factor.
With four polar pattern options, try mixing and matching 2 mics, one further on the neck and the other at the sound hole. You’ll be amazed at the tonal consistency you’ll receive between polar patterns while giving you two distinct sounds due to the mic placement.
In a studio environment, try putting the omnidirectional about 2’ back from the sound source. In a good sounding room, this can add richness to your recording for any instrument.
If you’re recording a vocal track at the same time, try the supercardioid capsule and slightly angle the mic downward for the most separation between your vocal mic and guitar mic. For increased separation, try a dynamic mic on your vocals (Like the Shure SM7B) to really isolate them from each other.
Drums & Percussion
The Advantages: The Beta 181 can find a home anywhere on your drum set or auxiliary percussion setup. Being a side address mic, the Beta 181 sneaks under a cymbal on floor tom or snare with ease and offers plenty of headroom and SPL capabilities. Add in the A75M clamp and the interchangeable heads and your possibilities are endless.
Snare: Try a supercardioid head right between the hat and first tom for maximum rejection or use a bidirectional head directly under the hi-hat and capture both with one mic. For snare bottom try a cardioid and remember to flip the phase (to maintain coherency between your top snare mic). The discreet form factor easily maneuvers between your drum hardware.
Toms: Use the bidirectional head and place it between the two rack drums. The null of the pattern will give you great isolation from the kick drum and provide minimal phase issues with your overheads.
Overheads: Try any of the stereo techniques mentioned above. Each technique will offer different stereo images and provide a clean crisp look due to the low profile design of the Beta 181. Use a single Bidirectional microphone to capture both sides of the drum set with one mic. The Beta 181 also makes a great underhead mic when a very direct cymbal sound is desired.
Congas/Bongos: The bidirectional head between the two drums works great in this scenario. Or you can mount two cardioids in an XY between the two drums for a huge stereo image.
Talk about a Mic Shoot-out!
Shure Beta mics are known for taking some serious abuse. Continuing this tradition, the Beta 181 features a machined capsule housing with a hardened-braised grille and die-cast preamp. In fact, to ensure the grille will hold up to a massive drumstick whack, Shure designed a new quality test that fires a drum stick tip from an air pistol directly at the grille of the Beta 181. This means it will survive even the wildest drummer.
Last but not least…a few comments from engineers!
“The Omni Pattern on the Beta 181 is my favorite on acoustic guitars in the studio. It’s very natural and versatile.” – Eric Schilling (Grammy Award Winning Engineer)
“Love, love these mics. For a drummer, I really don’t want a microphone getting in the way. The Beta 181’s are perfect for that. The sound of the mic is crisp – great low end and great punch. I’m using them all over the world.” – Charlie Benante, Anthrax
“We began using the Beta 181 on the top of the Leslie cabinet about a year ago and haven’t looked back. The mics are placed on opposite sides, right next to the louvers on the outside of the cabinet. The console eq is flat, the image is wide, and the Leslie sounds in the PA like you are sitting right in front of it. Perfect!” – Hugh Johnson, FOH Engineer for Vince Gill
Got a favorite side-address mic tip to share? Please share it below!