Price: $749 retail (under $500 street)
Likes: Pro-caliber sound for under $500
Dislikes: Nothing at this price;
More info: Audix FP7 Drum Pack
by Richard Alan Salz
It wasn't all that long ago that a full set of drum microphones represented a fairly sizable investment — on the order of the cost of the drum set (and cymbals) that you needed to mic in the first place! There weren't all that many viable options for mid-level, well-built microphones that could withstand the rigors of drum duty. And ten years ago, many of the inexpensive drum mics sounded, well...inexpensive!
Times have changed and the market is full of inexpensive, decent-looking drum microphone packages, but are they any good? What if a manufacturer, with an excellent track record producing drum microphones, put together a really affordable microphone kit that sounds professional? Audix's Fusion FP7 kit, priced at $749 retail ($480 on the street), is just such a product line.
It is comprised of seven microphones, including the F5 snare dynamic microphone, three F2 tom dynamic microphones, the F6 kick drum dynamic microphone, two F9 small-diaphragm condensers, and microphone clips for all the microphones. Full specs are at www.audixusa.com. Audix also offers the Fusion FP5 Series kit, which omits the F9s, bringing the price down to $559 retail ($329 street price).
If you were not aware of the price of these microphones, you would have nary a clue that these weren't upper midrange-priced microphones. The finishes are impeccable; they are nicely weighted, the clips are sturdy, and they feel very similar to professional-level microphones. The case is pretty much what you'd expect, a faux flight case, but certainly sturdy enough to protect the microphones during normal transport.
Even though these mics are good for more than just drums (more about that later) let's take a look at them in context, starting from the top down:
If you feel as though you've seen the F9 small diaphragm condenser before, you probably have; they are in the mold of any number of typical Chinese-manufactured small-diaphragm condensers you might run across these days, but that is not a bad thing. These mics are really good.
Cardioid only, and with no filters or pads, the F9s are lean in features, but have a good response curve. You are not going to mistake them for a pair of vintage Neumann KM-84's, but a single KM-84 in good nick, would cost more than this whole kit! The F9 is nicely constructed and well finished, a lot nicer quality than some of the “generic” competition.
If you were not aware of the price of these microphones, you would have nary a clue that these weren't upper midrange-priced microphones. The finishes are impeccable; they are nicely weighted, the clips are sturdy, and they feel very similar to professional-level microphones.
I used the F9s as overhead microphones on two drum kits: a rock sized maple GMS kit (with a stainless steel Ayotte Keplinger snare) and a jazz sized Premier birch kit. Cymbals were a variety of Zildjian A's and K's. As overhead mics, they were punchy and seemed to do a better than average job of passing the transients without excessive coloration. The test recordings revealed that little bit of little nasal tone that my room exhibits — when distant miking drums. I did not notice this nasal effect as much — when using the F9's for direct high hat or ride duties.
Speaking of the F9s, I also tried them out during the sound check for a concert at the local venue I engineered. I miked a restored, Steinway D concert grand piano, positioning them on the harp — approximately 2/3rds of the length of the piano from the keyboard. I normally use a pair of Gefell KMT-71's on this piano. But the sound was so good with the F9s, that I ended up leaving them in place for the gig. How about that?
Miking the toms
The F2 tom microphones were more than up to the job of reproducing the two birch Premiers, and the five maple GMS toms in a rather pleasing manner. I was one of the “early adopters” of the original Audix D1 and D2 microphones (in the mid ‘90's). To be honest, I did not care for the originals very much, but I am happy to say that the Fusion FP tom mics are nothing like my memory of the original D1 and D2. With the new Fusion mics, the toms sounded punchy and fat; they were better than average when it came to rejecting leakage.
I tried the F2s on a guitar amp; they weren't bad either. (I preferred the F5 for alternative guitar miking, though I did get a pleasingly, low-fi acoustic guitar sound with the F2s, using a Gretsch Showdown guitar).
The F5 snare dynamic microphone is probably better than 95% of mics that most people use on their snare drums. I'm sure you know exactly which microphone I mean. The F5 sounds bigger, brighter, and more dynamic. Additionally, it is more compact which makes it easier to position. Another major plus is that the F5 is tough — it takes direct hits to the grille without damage or the dreaded “pop-off.” The F5 also was terrific on guitar amplifiers, yielding finished-sounding tracks — with both half-stacks and combo amps.
Ain’t that a kick
I should mention that I have an Audix bias when it comes to kick drum microphones. I have purchased at least a dozen kick drum microphones over the years, and I have tried lots of non-kick drum microphones in and around the bass drum as well. My current favorite microphone, by far, is the U.S.-made Audix D6!
For the price, the F6 is simply the best-sounding kick drum microphone I have used! Its quality belies its price; I've spent more on a single kick drum microphone than what the entire FP7 kit costs.
With my high-standards for kick drum mics, the Audix Fusion F6 would get the most scrutiny in this drum mic kit. And after using it for a short time, I quickly concluded that the F6 is just as much a reference microphone in the inexpensive kick drum microphone category, as the Audix D6 is in the premium kick drum category. For the price, it's simply the best-sounding kick drum microphone I have used. Its quality belies its price; I've spent more on a single kick drum microphone than what the entire FP7 kit costs.
The F6, like the D6, gives you a workable sound right out of the box. It exhibits the “modern,” slightly scooped kick drum sound that we expect to hear on a recording or at a live concert. It is not a cardboard-y tap, or a pillowy boom, it is much more modern than that. On a non-ventilated kick drum (in a jazz context), the F6 sound was more than acceptable, placed approximately 2” from the head and 3” away from the rim.
The F6 also sounded good on a Polytone bass combo amp (though I ended up preferring a vintage AKG D-12e by a slim margin for the R&B track I was tracking). Without hesitation, I would have no qualms about using the Audix F6 in any professional application. It may be the sleeper of the kit.
The Audix Fusion FP7 (and FP5) kit represent excellent value in today's crowded microphone marketplace. The microphones are well made and voiced appropriately for their intended part of the drum kit. Several of them also work well on other instruments, which is a nice bonus. If you're in the market for an inexpensive, pre-packaged drum microphone kit, the Audix FP7 should be at the top of your list. Along with the amazing combo price and sonic performance of the seven microphones, you also get a three-year warranty. Based on its strengths, the Audix Fusion FP7 kit also nets an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.
Rich Salz is a sound engineer and owner of Vermont Audio Labs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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