A perfect set for capturing the punchy, full tones of a five-piece drumset.
Chinese musician/composer Siwei Zou started sE Electronics twenty years ago in an effort to improve the design of some of the microphones that were coming out of Shanghai factories at the time. Then, in 2003, Siwei opened his own production facility for the company so he could ensure higher quality standards and artistic control. Today, sE Electronics is still family owned and operated—Siwei’s daughter now oversees the day-to-day business—and its microphones are first choices for many live and studio musicians and engineers.
This year, sE Electronics put together a complete set of mics especially for drums, the V Pack Arena. Comprising a bass drum mic (V KICK), a snare mic (V7 X), three tom mics (V BEAT), two small-diaphragm condensers (sE8), and three clip-on mounts (V CLAMP), this set has just about everything you need to capture sound from a basic five-piece drumkit. (You’ll still need cables for each mic and stands/mounts for the kick and snare.) The V Pack Arena sells for just $999—and that’s including an insulated hard-shell flight case. We got our hands on one of these kits, so let’s see how it fares.
The V KICK is a supercardioid dynamic mic designed especially for bass drums and other low-frequency instruments. The casing has an integrated 90-plus-degree swivel and lock screw, which provides a lot of positioning flexibility. While the capsule and casing are broader than those of a typical handheld vocal dynamic mic, the V KICK is surprisingly compact. I had no problem getting it to fit through a small 4″ port hole in my bass drum, and its low-mass design made for a sturdier setup, even when the boom arm of my run-of-the-mill floor mic stand was fully extended.
Unlike most dynamic bass drum mics, the V KICK comes with two dual-position tone switches that allow you to pre-shape the overall frequency response and the upper frequencies. The switches are labeled “classic” and “modern.” The left switch shapes the overall tone, from a flatter/warmer response (classic) to one with a scooped midrange (modern). The right switch tailors the high-end tone, from a more rounded presence boost (classic) to a clearer, snappier attack (modern).
I tested the V KICK in two different situations. One was for a handful of tracks for a modern-rock band where I used a beefy 16×22 maple bass drum heavily dampened with a bedroom pillow. For those tunes I needed a kick with maximum punch and clarity, so I positioned both switches to the modern setting and placed the mic straight inside the port hole, adjacent to where the spurs connect to the shell, and aimed at the beater impact point. I was a bit apprehensive using the V KICK for this session; I didn’t think it would provide enough low-end power or snap. But the results were staggering. Straight from the mic to my DAW, this kick drum sounded fully polished. The low end was deep and tight, the attack was thick and crisp, and the cloudy midrange was absent. I often have to use a combination of inside and outside mics—and copious EQ—to get this type of sound. The V KICK provided everything I needed all by itself.
To test the other side of the sonic and dynamic spectrum, I placed the V KICK 4.5″ off the front head of a small 18″ bass drum that’s set up for an old-school R&B/jazz tone. I changed the tone switches to the classic mode. Again, the V KICK captured the sound I was looking for right away. The low end was rounder and warmer, the attack was less pronounced but still present, and the sustain of the drum was captured very naturally. I was also impressed with how little drum and cymbal bleed got into the V KICK. Again…this mic is a winner. You can buy it separately for $199.
The V7 X is also a supercardioid dynamic mic tailored specifically for loud, full-range instruments such as the snare drum. Placed in a traditional position, 1″–3″ above the rim and aimed at the center of the drumhead, the V7 X captures a punchy, detailed tone with a great balance of high-end detail, midrange tone, and low-end depth. And its tight polar pattern minimizes bleed from the hi-hat or other instruments, which allows for greater mixing options without introducing excessive cymbal harshness or sympathetic tom hum. Compared to a few other dynamic mics often used on the snare, the V7 X captured a tighter, denser tone with a flatter and more natural frequency response. This mic rules, too. You can buy it separately for $99.
V BEAT and V CLAMP
he V BEAT is basically a V7 X restructured to fit within a swivel mount similar to the one employed on the V KICK. As such, the sonic profile is nearly identical, with clean, detailed high end, rich midrange, full and beefy low end, and impeccable off-axis rejection. Compared to my regular tom mics, the V BEAT captured a fuller, denser tone with noticeably less cymbal bleed. If you want a fairly small mic that reproduces the maximum amount of sound from your toms, which you can then tailor to taste later via EQ, the V BEAT is as good as it gets. You can buy it separately for $159.
The V CLAMP is a simple, flexible clip-on mount that works perfectly with the V BEAT when you require a compact, stand-free setup. The plastic claw is non-adjustable but easy to work over the hoop, and the metal mounting tube provides a few inches of height adjustability. You can buy it separately for $39.
sE8 Small-Diaphragm Condensers
I was most apprehensive about the sE8 pencil condensers. After all, they’re just $499 for the pair, which is criminally cheap for any condenser mic claiming to be of professional quality. But sE Electronics swears they’re handcrafted and capable of holding their own against other mics at ten times the price. The mic features an ultra-thin gold-sputtered diaphragm and a sophisticated internal electrode designed to be super quiet and to have a natural, linear frequency response. It has two switchable attenuation pads (-10 dB and -20 dB) and two switchable low-cut filters (80 Hz and 160 Hz).
The attenuation pads are useful during loud performances so as to not overdrive the electronics. I ended up keeping the mics set to -10 dB throughout most of our review and compensated with additional gain at the mic preamp when required. The -20 dB pad was helpful when using the sE8 to close-mic a snare or tom. (The sE8 was also an excellent choice for capturing the sizzle of the snare bottom when the -20 dB pad was engaged.)
The low-cut filters provided a lot of pre-EQ options when using sE8s as overheads. When I was going for a minimalist setup, using just the sE8s and a kick mic, I kept the filter flat. That way the fullness of the toms and snare translated into the overheads. That also afforded the most flexibility in the mixdown. The 80 Hz filter came in handy when I added in the snare and tom close mics. That way I could let those mics handle all the low-end information of the drums while the sE8 overheads became more for cymbals and high-end detail. The 160 Hz filter effectively removed all of the drum tone from the mix, transforming the sE8 into cymbal mics only. That setting was also ideal when using the sE8 on the hi-hat, which almost always requires a hefty amount of high-pass filtering to remove low and midrange hum from the signal.
What was most impressive about the sE8 small-diaphragm condensers was how natural and clean they sounded. They weren’t overly hyped or frustratingly dull. The high end was crisp but not harsh, and the low end was present but not bloated. And you can really hit these mics pretty hard with EQ and compression to shape the tone to your liking. Any time I try that with other similarly priced mics, the clarity of the sound falls apart and phasing becomes an issue. Not with the sE8s. Like all the others in this pack, these things rock.
By Michael Dawson