There are studio photos which show jazz bands arranged with the
softer instruments (eg., acoustic guitar) positioned quite close to the
mic, and the louder instruments spaced farther back, with the drums
at the rear. I believe this type of set up was most common. If there
was a singer, there would be a second mic, and vocal booths were
I think the reason many of the early records sounded so good has to
do with use of the early large-diaphragm condenser mics. The Western
Electric type-394 had a 2" diaphragm which produced a "presence peak"
right where the human ear is most sensitive (about 3 kHz), and the
knew this on-axis peak could be used to achieve a satisfactory musical
balance when when arranging instruments around the mic. The mics
were inherently omni-directional at low frequencies (the 394 was
flat down to a few Hz!), so some instruments could be placed behind
the mic and still be picked up adequately. (Smaller diaphragm designs
were eventually developed to raise the peak to a higher frequency,
where the ear is less sensitive.)
Of course, the use of a single mic has the advantage of coincident
arrival time of all sound waves, avoiding phase cancellations which
plague multi-mic set ups. But more than one mic was used on some
occasions, such as Jelly Roll Morton's 1926 Victor recording of
Doctor Jazz, where you can hear his vocal mic being opened
just before he starts singing at the piano.
I believe the skill of the engineer was a critical factor.
The Bix And His Gang recordings, made in Okeh's NYC studio
are remarkably well-balanced and obviously made with one mic.
I believe the engineer was Chas Hibbard, who had learned his
craft working for Edison.
The ribbon mics, used with the equipment designed for them,
produced a splendid, less peaky sound, altho they sounded dull
compared with the condensers, so equalization was often applied
to brighten their sound (not always with good results).
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> Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2011 10:40:26 +0000
> From: Don Cox <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: How would a band be setup for recording in the late
> On 08/02/2011, Roger Kulp wrote:
>> I have been reading this thread about the inferiority of these mikes
>> from the 20s.Why then,is it.that many of these early electrical
>> recordings sound so good,even 70+ years later?
> I think the main reason is that only one, or at most two, mikes were
> used. This makes it very easy for the brain to understand the sound.
> A multiple mike setup is like nothing you ever hear in the real world,
> and the instruments are in no logical relationship to each other or to
> the reverb.
> Don Cox
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