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Mic Week is back (already). This time around we're covering mics that are a little bit more expensive and can do double duty on stage and in the studio. Our friend Eike from Germany is kicking things off for us with his thoughs on the Shure Beta 91.
Back when I was mainly mixing hardcore and metal shows at a small club, I sometimes found it difficult to make the kick drum cut through the noise of a drum kit and two 4x12 cabinets driven by hi-gain amps in a pretty small room. Someone at the local music store recommended the Shure Beta 91 for doing exactly that. Boy was I impressed when I first tried it out! With this mic it's a breeze to dial in the (nowadays pretty much overdone) clicky kick drum we all (used to?) love so much. I had bands bringing in drum triggers and modules - that sounded the same as the signal the 91 put out, basically making them obsolete. I still use it to this day as my go-to-mic for kicks for a lot of material though. Since there's no stand to worry about, this mic proves invaluable on small (and busy) stages - where even the smallest stand will get dragged around by guitar or vocal mic cables eventually. I think the standard approach is having this mic worry about the "attack" content and putting another "regular" kick mic near the hole to give you more low end information to blend in. However, I find that this mic can work as your ONLY kick mic, even if (or because) it produces wildly different results, depending on the PA speakers used: with smaller speakers (or rigs with no subwoofers) the kick is clearly distinguishable (but lacking a smooth or deep bass response), with bigger speakers and subs it puts out a nice bottom end as well, giving you a very "modern" polished sound. A little corrective eq in the 150-400hz region is sometimes all this mic needs.
Lately I've also been using it exclusively as a cajon mic. Works really well. I DIYed a sort of "cradle" for it (cut a rectangle the size of the mic in a mat of heater insulation foam) which holds the mic firmly in place, even if the cajon is tilted. I feel the mic gives me all the stuff I need from the cajon, even if it feels a little hyped / larger than life. Which might or might not be a good thing when the cajon is used in an acoustic type of performance. Sometimes I use a second mic on the outside, but I usually only blend the second mic in to have more options, not because I need it.
I think that the use as a theater/stage mic is another application that gets handled really well by the Beta 91. I don't normally do this type of work, but I tried it out for a small play, and the results came out very nice. The mic rejects noise from behind really well (which helps with gain before feedback immensely), and it sort of reaches far into the stage, so that even actors way back upstage get picked up. Also I feel that the hyped high end actually helps intelligibility in this situation. I tilted the mic up a little so it wouldn't pick up so much "floor noise" (i.e. footsteps, squeaks and so on). I placed it in the middle of the edge of the stage with two similar (but vastly cheaper) mics a couple of meters to the left and the right. These cheaper mics worked ok, but you could easily tell that they were inferior in all the aspects mentioned above.
The one thing I dislike severely about this mic is the flimsy mini-XLR cable that you connect to it. While I've never had one of those cables break or fail, this concerns me every time. Shure were smart enough to design a 4 pole socket that serves no function at all – except being a sort of “dongle”: it effectively keeps you from hooking up “regular” 3 pin mini XLR cables to it (which are hard enough to find around these here parts). So I reluctantly ended up buying the original replacement cable as a backup (which comes at a rather hefty price tag!). The new version of this mic (Beta 91A) has a regular XLR socket. I haven't tried out one of those next gen mics, but this fact alone is almost reason enough to buy one.
There you have it Brethren of the Knob and Fader. The industry standard internal kick drum mic, great for use with a D6 or 52. Auxiliary percussion, no problem. Room mic, stage edge mic for theatre, the list goes on and on. You can even stick two back to back and use them as a stereo pair. A 91 has a long list of uses and if used carefully will quickly become a favorite.
Don't leave us hanging. Send in your favorites and by all means hit the comments section and fill in anything we left out or add your favorite uses and stories.