When used effectively, microphone balance can be useful when it comes to adding depth and focus to your compositions. In this article we'll be looking into how you can combine some of these microphones to not only enhance your compositions, but to give you a better understanding of the Mic Mixer in general. The final intention being that you can then confidently adjust the mixer to your own personal preference.
By default, the SSO has 3 microphone positions: Close, Tree & Ambient.
With the professional editions, you will get access to some extra microphones: Outriggers, Close Ribbons, Stereo Pairs & Galleries. As well as this you'll also receive the Jake Jackson stereo mixes, which are pre-mixed combinations.
Note: Currently the additional microphones are only available in Chamber Strings Professional, with Symphonic Strings, Woodwinds and Brass Professional coming in 2019.
|Close||Also known as "Spots", this signal will give you closest sound to the instruments. You will hear significantly less of the hall, but much more detail, focus and 'bite'.||✕|
|Tree||The default microphone in most Spitfire libraries. The Decca Tree is situated high above the conductors head, giving a strong representation of the hall and room, whilst maintaining instrument focus.||✕|
|Ambient||Placed at the back of the room, these microphones will give a great amount of the hall, perfect for adding ambiance and depth to your mix.||✕|
|Outriggers||Sometimes referred to as "Boosters", Outriggers have slightly more distance in comparison to the Decca Tree signal, but with significantly more natural width. These are particularly good on Strings and Brass due to their position on the sound stage.||✓|
|Close Ribbon||Almost identical to the Close in placement, but instead using a ribbon microphone - producing a much warmer and well rounded tone. Try these on the Woodwinds!||✓|
|Stereo Pair||Somewhat similar to the Decca Tree and Outriggers in sound, but with less direct focus than the Tree, and not as much width in comparison to the Outriggers.||✓|
|Gallery||Recorded way up in the galleries, these microphones give the absolute greatest amount of room possible, a huge representation of the AIR Lyndhurst hall!||✓|
|Leader||Unique only to Symphonic Strings, this microphone is placed close to the leader of the section, capturing a direct signal with minimal ambiance. Think of this as the leader's spot mic.||✓|
The AIR Lyndhurst Hall & Placement
Below is a placement diagram of the SSO. You can download the image here.
Getting Started With Combinations
The best way to explain combinations would most likely be in the form of audio examples, so we'll work with a small snippet from a composition written using only the SSO. The snippet utilises each family and can hopefully display the vast differences and combinations you can achieve through the mic mixer. Take the below examples with a pinch of salt, I say this because depending on the context of your writing, the mix could be very different. Think of it as an initial guide to how microphones can influence a mix, and as with most things music - trust your ears!
An important note when combining and balancing microphones is to imagine where the "focus" is in your composition. Do you have a solo Flute line that needs some clarity? Do you want your percussion to sit as far back in the mix as possible? Maybe it is both! A good starting point is to listen to a composition that is similar in style to your own, and really try to 'hear' where the instruments are sitting in the mix. Whilst microphones often cannot achieve all of this alone, they can certainly give you a good starting point!
Try to use one 'main' microphone, and to dial in others as secondary. Some examples of what are considered main microphone contenders are: Decca Tree, Stereo Pair, and Outriggers. Secondary microphones fall under Close, Ambient, Outriggers (for natural width), Gallery, and Leaders. As a starting point, use one main microphone and dial in others at around -6dB. From there adjust to your taste!
This mix focuses more on the standard 'Hollywood' sound, which has a great sense of room and distance, but still maintains a good amount of clarity in all key areas of the composition. The main microphones used are Tree and Ambient, however the Brass dials in a lot of the Outriggers. As well as this, the Harp is using a large amount of the Close signal, something very common in a Hollywood mix.
As a further example of perhaps a more 'modern' Hollywood sound, here is a snippet mock-up of John Powell's "Mine Mission" cue from Solo: A Star Wars Story. This mix uses the Tree as the main signal, while dialing in some Outriggers and Close as secondary. You'll notice that the Tree mics are actually panned almost to match the width of the Outriggers, as well as a lot more Close signal on the 2nd Violin Spiccato.
If you are intending to use much more of your own reverb, it's safe to say that a Close signal could be beneficial. The Close mics are by far the 'driest' available in the SSO, thus allowing you to apply more of your own verb without completely washing out your mix. It's worth noting that the Close mics are understandably more narrow in comparison to the others, so dialling in some of the 'roomier' mics is still recommended!
This mix is perhaps a more extreme example of the distant sounding microphones available. It is very wet by nature, and not as focused as the previous examples. Whilst this example does give a great representation of the Air Lyndhurst hall, it will probably sound a little too wet for most people! Comparing this to the Close mix is quite staggering!
Taking what we know from the examples above, I spent some time with the SSO attempting to use these methods to create a mockup of an already existing John Williams piece from the film "War Horse". The great thing about mocking up a real piece is that it can train your ears to 'hear' the balance, and can also help in setting up your template for use in the future. In this example, the microphone balance is somewhere between a standard and distant mix, utilizing mainly outriggers and ambient microphones. You can listen to the mockup below.
One more final thing to note: this truly does come down to personal preference. Some people much prefer a closer mix, whereas some prefer a distant mix. The real thing to trust is what sounds good to you. There are no rules here! Experiment and have fun!
Technical Tips & Tricks
By default, each microphone is assigned to a CC number, meaning that you can control these through faders or on your MIDI Controller. Using automation on microphones can be very useful, and many of the great engineers (such as Shawn Murphy) will often 'ride' certain microphone signals where needed. The CC values for these microphones are as follows:
STEREO WIDTH & PAN
Another handy tool built into the interface is that you can choose to pan and enhance the stereo image of the microphones. Above the mic mixer, selecting this icon on your interface will open up stereo width and pan, select the microphone you'd like to change and then edit away! This is extremely useful with specific families, especially woodwinds.
MIC SPECIFIC OUTPUTS
Another helpful tool on the interface is the ability to assign individual microphones to different outputs within Kontakt, which can come in very useful if you'd like some extra control over signals when mixing. You can access this by simply right-clicking the respective letter beneath the faders.
MIX BY ARTICULATION
When an articulation is selected, you can 'save' a specific microphone mix to it by selecting this icon on the interface. Handy when it comes to things such as dialling more close signal into your short articulations for more bite.
You can use certain keys on your computer whilst dragging the sliders to change the way they behave.
Shift: More precise control whilst dragging.
ALT: Prevents the microphone from loading/purging.
Ctrl/Cmd: Reset to 100% levels upon release.
Q: Should I still use Reverb with all these mics loaded?
A: Whilst in some of the more 'distant' mixes you may not feel you need to, you still absolutely can. A little extra 'glue' reverb can go a long way! Reverb will almost certainly be needed on a Close mix.
Q: Following this, which reverbs would you recommend for use with the Spitfire Symphonic Orchestra?
A: Christian Henson recommends "VSS3 Native" by TC Electronic, whereas Jake Jackson often favours the "Worcester Hall" preset in Altiverb. Another great choice is "Seventh Heaven Professional" from LiquidSonics. We do have a couple of handy YouTube videos on the subject, which can be found here and here.
Q: I'm limited when it comes to CPU power and/or RAM, is there a workaround?
A: There are multiple ways that you can approach this, perhaps one of the more popular would be to use a 'freeze' and 'unload' function in your DAW once you've activated the microphones. Another option is to export the stems separately for each microphone, and then do the mixing/balancing in another session - as would be done with a real orchestral mix!
Q: Where can I hear some more examples of the SSO balanced with the microphone mixer?
A: Andy Blaney is well known for using only microphone mixes in his Spitfire demos. Look out for his demos on the product pages, as well as on the official SoundCloud page here.
If you have any other questions please feel free to leave a comment below!