Welcome to the first installment of our Tech articles! In this do-it-yourself technology series, we will be providing details on how to create your own tools in the studio and explaining the most commonly practiced studio techniques. We’ll also be reviewing new equipment that is priced for aspiring engineers and how to use it to best suit your project.
In the video below, Chris Thomas of Strewnshank Productions explains how to build your own Subkick™ featuring audio examples showing the difference in a drum sound with and without the speaker microphone mixed in.
Note: To really hear the difference, we recommend watching the video with good speakers or headphones.
Today, we’ll be demonstrating how to create a cool microphone out of any guitar amp or speaker. Though there are professionally manufactured versions of this speaker microphone (the most well known is Yamaha’s Subkick™), we are going to show how you can create this unique tool for a fraction of the cost. Before we get started, let us warn you that SubKicks™ are not for every application. Due to its size, a Subkick™ will work best when picking up low frequency sound sources like a bass amp, and as we will show in our video, a kick drum.
In this example, we use a Fender Blues Junior. Use a small combo amp if you have access to one -- it will work better because it won’t be large and clumsy like a 4x12 half stack. After choosing the amp you’re going to use, take a look at its connections in the back and locate where the speaker plugs in to the amplifier electronics. This connection is what you’re going use to send the signal into your recording device. Most amps are going to have a ¼ inch plug for the speaker which makes the process simple!
The DI Box and Attenuation
For the next step, you’re going to need a DI Box, also known as a Direct Input Box. These small adapters will convert your high-impedance signal into a low-impedance balanced signal, usually through an XLR connector. If you have a loud sound source (like a drum, for instance) you will need to use an attenuator, also known as a pad. If a pad is not used, the high voltage signal will distort the preamp. Luckily, many DI boxes come with a pad. A -10dB pad should suffice on the speaker microphone.
Connect an XLR cable to the other end of the DI Box, attach the whole signal chain to your preamp, and then to the recording device. You are now the proud owner of your very own Subkick™! Have a friend sound check your new toy and play around with its location until you capture the sound you’re looking for. As always, experiment with your speaker to see what works best for your project. For drums, the Subkick™ can always add cool low end to the kick drum especially for rock and jazz styles. Be sure to let us know if you have some cool applications of your own!
As we continue writing these articles, feel free to let us know if there’s anything in particular you want to learn about! We’re more than happy to help you experiment with sounds and equipment.
Chris Thomas and Joe Mahoney contributed to this article