Continuing the PAR Session Trial series—comparative gear evaluations—I investigate microphone stands, truly the workhorses of any live music environment. I selected mic stands from five leading manufacturers in common sizes and configurations; a variety to equip a studio or typical stage with what is generally needed. One exception is full size stands—those with the mass, reach and features necessary to place heavy tube LDCs, for example, up and out at great distances—which are not covered here, constituting their own category (stay tuned for part 2).
Offerings were tested from Atlas Sound, Galaxy Audio, König & Meyer (K&M), newcomer Triad-Orbit and Ultimate Support. Models included three varieties: straight with disc base, short tripod boom, and tall tripod boom.
I started with simple height tests, as in “how high does it reach?” There are enough tall performers and apps like miking cymbals, choirs and room to warrant use of models with standard ceiling-reaching ability. Conversely, “how low can it go” (a.k.a. the limbo test) is equally important for jobs like kick drums, snares, floor toms, guitar cabinets and seated performers.
Functional boom length is another important factor, as height alone won't get you out and over a sound source (e.g., drum kits, pianos, keyboard-playing vocalists, etc.). Stability factors into this measure as well, as reach without stability may result in broken mics. For this, I came up with a “bump test”—I gently backed into each stand, loaded with a stereo bar and a whopping 6.6 lb. pair of condensers, bumping harder and harder until they fell over. On a scale of 1 to 10, “1” tips right over if you tap it; “5” takes a reasonable bump before failure; “7” requires some purposeful force; and “10” would require a full body weight hit to topple.
Next, I weighed each stand, correlating that info with my bump test findings, then evaluated the findings for various users—those who are mobile, on location, or even touring. I also considered portability, too; some models are more likely to survive life in a road case than others.
And finally—the most important test of all, in my opinion—was ease of use testing. Setting up, loading with a heavy mic or stereo pair, adjusting to position, and breaking down: the devil is in the details. If you place mics for a living, you understand why I might be sensitive to bad designs or faulty parts, and why I might just get giddy over a workflow enhancement or another way to protect my mics.
1. Atlas Sound (http://www.atlassound.com)
Full disclosure, I’ve been happily using Atlas Sound microphone stands since my first gig in 1979 and my studio is populated with them to this day. Take the MS25 ($150 street), for example, my first pro mic stand: this large, straight stand is characterized by its distinctive 20 lb. steel triangular base. With a minimum height of 38 inches and maximum of 63 inches, the air suspension of the center tube makes for smooth and easy height adjustments. Once tightened, the height clutch is strong and firm; it took almost my full downward weight before slipping. The MS25 holds steady, too; it took a strong 7 to 8 in my bump test before tipping over. The small footprint of the base makes for some convenience around drum kits, but the heavy weight and lack of tripod-foldability makes for awkward travel.
Atlas Sound’s tall tripod, the T3664 with B2237 boom (together approx. $90 street), has an attractive black paint finish with a height of 38 inches at the boom pivot and a whopping maximum total height of 97 inches. The boom extends 31 inches with a total length of 38 inches. At about 7 lbs., the T3664 was a typically stable performer, with a bump test rating of 5 or 6. The T3664 didn’t like downward pressure, however; it sagged readily under my weight. The adjustment knobs worry me a bit here, too; one was starting to crack from use and the small, plastic boom knobs seem destined for road case destruction.
The T1930 short tripod (approx. $75 street) also pairs with the B2237 boom for a 24-inch minimum pivot height that’s a little too tall for kick drums, too short for standing performers, but ideal for those seated or for snare drums (max. 68-inch height). The height clutch seems a little rough on this model and downward pressure wasn’t handled too well, either. With a bump test of approximately 5, the T1930 hung in there, but is better suited to more reasonable apps.
2. Galaxy Audio Standformer Series (http://www.galaxyaudio.com)
Galaxy Audio sent two new and similar models in for review, both unique in the marketplace. Both their short MST-C60 and tall MST-C90 Standformer tripod booms ($119 list, $79 street, each) have a non-telescoping, non-counterweighted boom arm that can slip back inside the stand's center tube, effectively making a straight stand into a “convertible,” if you will. This may not be a crucial feature, as any boom stand can be set up to be nearly a straight stand, but this is far more elegant and sturdier in use, not to mention weight efficient; one might be able to travel with fewer Standformers than standard stands, plus these Standformers (at only 4 and 5 lbs., respectively) are rather lightweight.
The MST-C60 has a minimum boom pivot height of 24 inches (the height of its fulcrum from the floor), making it just a little too tall to get inside a kick drum; it could reach the resonant head's hole, but not for inside-the-drum use). The MST-C60 will reach up to 62 inches and “boom out” up to 23 inches; it is well suited for floor toms, guitar cabinets, upright bass and seated performers. My 6lb. stereo bar was handled well by the MST-C60 as a straight stand (with a bump test rating of 5), but it couldn't hang on to all that weight as a boom (it could just barely hold my 4.2 lb. Avatone CK-40 stereo mic boomed, though not fully extended). Standformers are conservatively rated to safely handle 2 lbs.
The MST-C90’s minimum boom pivot height is 36 inches with a maximum height of 91 inches and a 30-inch fixed-length boom, making it tall enough for vocalists/front line work. The MST-90 held my heavy stereo bar, but just barely, rating a comparable 5 in the bump test. Such extreme use made the height clutch hard to use, even though they feel solidly built.
In most standards apps, the Standformers were easy to use, with their convertibility a true plus. I wouldn't expect them to hold up in long-term road use (years of being thrown around in road cases, as there are numerous plastic parts and even a protruding knob) but they will surely provide studio-based medium-duty performance at medium-duty prices.
3. König & Meyer (K&M, http://www.k-m.de/us)
K&M provided their standard-sized, disc-based 260/1 stand, a model with a minimum height of 34 inches and a maximum of 61 inches. This diminutive little stand ($65 list, $49 street)—with its small tubing and base—not only handled my heavy stereo bar, but also held firm with additional heavy downward pressure. Very impressive. Even with a die-cast base and 7 lb. weight, its small footprint wasn’t stable enough to get a bump test score any better than a 1 or 2. Such disc based stands don't travel well, either (as they don't fold), yet they take up little floor space in crowded studio spaces.
K&M also provided their large straight stand, the 26125 ($85 list, $65 street) with a taller 39-inch minimum and 67-inch maximum height. Still 7 lbs. even with larger tubing due to its light base, the 26125’s height adjustment was nicely dampened and very smooth in operation (ideal for delicate and sensitive transducers), though it couldn't handle any additional downward pressure. The larger base yielded a bump test score between 2 and 3.
The standard-sized K&M 210/9 boom ($109 list, $85 street) is a studio staple; I personally have four of them and new models were included in this review package. With a minimum boom pivot height of 39 inches, max height of 89 inches and max boom (fixed) of 24 inches, this model is suited for vocalists, front line applications and drums, but I wouldn’t recommend for overheads. Lightweight with plastic clutches, they are notably sturdier than most of the competition, with a bump test score of 5 or 6 with my heavy stereo bar in play. At 7.2 lbs., they travel well, but expect some shearing off of the tripod base’s adjustment nuts. Used more reasonably around the studio, these stands have proven to last a very long time, much longer than budget-priced competitors with similar designs, in my experience.
4. Ultimate Support Pro Series (http://www.ultimatesupport.com)
Although Ultimate Support offers a wide variety of models and also some unique designs (disc-based stackables, one-handed height adjustment features, etc.), I stuck with the basics for this Session Trial. The Ultimate Pro Series ST straight stand ($99 list, $59 street) was my favorite straight stand tested. With large, thick tubing (more than an inch in diameter); a 13.4 lbs. weight, a range from 37 to 65 inches, a large quarter-inch turn clutch. six sturdy rubber feet, a strong powder coated paint finish, and a lifetime warranty, the Pro ST not only handled my heavy stereo bar, it took additional weight without sag. With a large triangular base, the bump test yielded only a 2 or 3. Though with more reasonable usage, this stand is more than stable enough for heavy mics and even a boom.
The Pro-T-Short-T tripod ($109 list, $79 street) was also a top performer. The same large tubing, with a fixed length 28-inch boom is a large, heavy 7.6 lb. stand. The minimum boom pivot height of 20 inches places this stand just barely short enough to get inside kick drums, although it will reach to a full 60 inches of height at full extension. I found this simple, rugged stand to be great for floor tom, snare, high hat, guitar amps or seated performers. Though its boom clutch is plastic, it's strong—just strong enough to hold my heavy stereo bar for a bump test of 4 or 5 (it held my 4 lb. CK-40 with ease).
Despite two other solid performers, I didn't appreciate the Pro-T-T tripod boom ($119 list, $89 street) nearly as much. With a telescoping 28-inch boom atop a tripod with a 43-inch minimum pivot height and a whopping 100-inch maximum height, this stand got an impressive bump test rating of 6 or 7 with the heavy stereo bar. Despite the stand's excellent stability (weighing 9.4 lbs. in total), the boom itself failed and was generally hard to work with. It's thick and counter-weighted, but the adjustment knobs for the boom position and the telescoping section aren't able to hold the sections still and firm, not to mention the small, hard-to-grip conical knobs that will hurt your fingers before securing adequately. I could never get the boom to hold my CK40 as overheads, either (I thought it would, so I cranked it down tight, but it still slowly slipped).
5. Triad-Orbit Advanced Microphone Systems (http://www.triad-orbit.com)
I saved this new manufacturer for last because its stands require more explanation and, frankly, are my new favorites. The key to Triad-Orbit stands is in their modularity. I reviewed three different height stands, each compatible with two booms, each compatible with pivot adapters (allowing mics to hang at sharp angles at boom's end, such as suspending tube mics from above for vocalists) and 5/8-inch, threaded hex-rod “quick connects.” [See Micro 2/M2-R adapter photo at right.—Ed.]
These connections are properly rugged, and a breath of fresh air; do not fear that they are the weak point due to their modularity, as they are indeed the strong point. Triad-Orbit stands, booms, extenders and adapters are all fitted with this well-machined hex connection, allowing not only flexibility in configuration but also speed/ease in set-up. Since threading large shockmounts onto certain booms can be tedious (and sometimes thread-destructive), the Triad-Orbit hex connections allow the small hex adapters to be threaded onto shockmounts in your lap or on a desk, then easily fit on to stand or boom ends. Yes, other manufacturers make quick connect systems (some of which I own and use), but the Triad-Orbit hex fittings are better machined, sturdier and easier to use than anything else I’ve found. This feature alone makes for quick mic change outs and great ease of use.
The T1 short tripod ($149 retail) has a small footprint for a tripod, but with enough weight (12.8 lbs. with boom) to securely hold my heavy stereo bar with a bump test score of 6. The tripod legs are articulating; that is, they can be individually raised, allowing the stand to sit at an angle or on a stairway; this leg-locking feature can be controlled via foot-release latches. A minimum boom pivot height of 20 inches just allows inside kick usage, with a long 36-inch telescoping model O1 boom, that will reach a whopping 65 inches max. height.
The T2 full-size stand ($179 retail) offers a minimum boom pivot height of 37 inches, a lofty 98-inch max. height and a max. boom length of 36 inches with the O1 boom ($109 retail). The substantial weight of this ensemble (16.2 lbs.) was more than enough to easily handle my stereo bar, garnering a bump rating of 7 or 8, and it easily handled my CK-40 over a drumkit as stereo overhead, the first stand in this Session Trial to accomplish this.
In a category all by itself, let's look at the T3 stand with the O2 double boom ($219 and $199 retail, respectively). This three-section stand has a minimum boom pivot height of a normal 36 inch, but an incredible max. height of 101 inches (extendable to 137 inches with the 34-inch extension bar). The T3/O2 setup is 18 lbs. of boom-inspired confidence; it was the only set up I've ever used that took all I could give it. You see, as a double boom, each of the O2’s telescoping, independently pivoting arms cover a ridiculously wide range; each are lockable with a powerful ball-joint (which does not mar or wear from its tensioning nut, somehow achieved through a mysterious design secret, according to the company). It can be positioned into grooves that will support very heavy weights at extreme angles (including one deep groove that allows the booms to criss-cross in an X shape). The whole rig can be set up very quickly due to the quick hex connects. This advanced design opens up many time saving possibilities: widely spaced pairs or ORTF, M-S, or X-Y for your overheads, all possible with one stand.
The functionality and durability of the Triad-Orbit stands (with rubber-coated clutch handles, no shearable nuts, and strong boom adjustment handles) offsets the comparatively high cost. For smaller studios just starting out, I would highly recommend committing to this modular stand system.
In retrospect, this Session Trial revealed that all the tested stands (except for one boom) were competent beyond their weight ratings or expectations. I also realized that there is a place for all these models, as each application and budget brings its own challenges, and each stand evaluated here offers its own unique strengths.
Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC since 1995.http://www.catalystrecording.com
1. Goby Labs (http://www.gobylabs.com)
By Strother Bullins
Distributed by Hosa Technology, Goby Labs is a clever pro audio accessory company that specializes in affordable all-metal stands featuring die-cast components. For review, we received their GBM-300 microphone stand with boom ($72.95 street) plus the GBX-300 tablet frame for iPad ($29.95 street).
Out of the box, Goby's stand is notably larger than the "standard"—while most tripod-style models feature approximately 12 inch legs, Goby's GBM-300 legs are nearly 16 inches in length, adding substantially more "holding" power to the approximately 65-inch tall GBM-300 (measured floor to boom pivot). The GBM-300 will "boom out" to 33 inches, making it a great option for high-reaching room or drum kit overhead miking jobs. In use, the GBM-300 easily out-reached and out-held my standard beloved K&M boom; where I would normally sand bag a K&M tripod leg for drum overhead apps (using a SDC pair in a one-stand, X-Y stereo configuration), I was able to confidently position the Goby stand with no extra support needed. The nearly extra foot of leg reach truly does make a big difference in such applications.
The GBX-300 is lightweight and very adjustable; in use, I was able to position it easily while it was attached to the GBM-300. Artists needing an iPad onstage wouldn’t go wrong with this accessory, which will fit most any stand on the market.
2. Vu (http://www.vu-gear.com)
By Strother Bullins
Vu offers very affordable stands with remarkable build quality for the price. Case in point, Vu’s MST100-30B microphone stand with telescoping boom ($49.99 street) is designed much like my preferred K&M boom with nearly the same size/height specs (65-inch tall, measured floor to boom pivot, with a “boom out” reach of 28 inches).
There is minimal plastic utilized in the MST100-30B—primarily in its knobs, and even then it’s not at all brittle or cheap-feeling. After using the MST100-30B for a couple of weeks, I wouldn’t be scared to toss it in a road case; it feels as it could take the abuse of club gigs quite easily.
Approximately 65 inches tall at full height, the Vu MSS300-10B standard stacking microphone stand ($34.99 street) is similarly built, with high quality hardware and components throughout. The stackable base is designed to easily mix in with other stackable straight stands. Like the Vu boom stand, the MSS300-10B is an extremely affordable road-worthy option for musicians who prefer round base stand models.
All in all, I find Vu’s stands to be true bargains—well built, simple, and attractively priced.
PAR Editor Strother Bullins is an active live and recording musician.