Producer/engineer Rob Tavaglione recently put sE Electronics' V Pack Arena Drum Mic Kit to the test during sessions in his studio, Catalyst Recording. Here's what he found out in this Real-World Review....

There are drum mic kits and then there are sE drum mic kits. Admittedly, this is the company’s top-of-the-line kit (MSRP $1,199, $999 street), so you’d expect quality, but from heavy-duty tom mounts to a heavy-duty flight case, this kit looks to be rock ’n’ roll roadworthy, and I mean that sonically, too.

Out of the Box

Bottoms up, it all starts with the V Kick mic—a dynamic with sE’s DCM7 SB capsule housing a 1-inch diaphragm and neodymium magnets. The capsule is well suspended in a small yet sturdy body, with a strong spring/steel mesh windscreen and a particularly sturdy stand-mount swivel joint that allows “straight-in” inside-drum placement, or 90-degree “in-the-hole” placement. Two voicing switches allow four different tones and increased versatility. Switch #1 Classic or Modern offers flat mids or a dip for that modern scoop, while Switch #2 Classic or Modern offers a flat top-end or a definition-increasing boost.

For snare, there’s the V7X, a super-cardioid dynamic instrument type mic (it looks like a handheld vocal mic with a tapered handle) with the similar DMC 7X capsule, a no-roll windscreen (a hex-like shape stops the mic from rolling on a flat surface) and a standard mic clip.

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Three of the V Beat mics are included, all with the same DMC 7X capsule and windscreen, but housed in a short body and with a strong pivot just like the V Kick. This time, the V Clamp is supplied, with a small 2.25-inch gooseneck and rim mount attached, allowing on-drum mounting without resonance problems.

Two sE8 small-diaphragm, cardioid condenser mics are included, with in-house gold-sputtered diaphragms, two levels of switchable attenuation (0, -10, -20 dB) and two levels of high-pass filtering (flat, 80 or 160 Hz). A pair of mic clips and windscreens are provided. The capsules on these mics neatly twist off, which makes one wonder if other patterns are available.

The whole kit is housed in a nice Pelican-style molded case (approximately 18.5 x 14.5 x 7 inches) that’s small enough to be portable and should just fit in an airline’s overhead bins. Everything fits neatly inside, with a spot left vacant to hold a hi-hat mic (and clip), a third overhead, or a snare bottom mic.

In Session

I started testing with a good old rock ’n’ roll tracking session and the Arena pack was a natural fit. The V Kick was very easy to get on a low-profile kickstand, then tighten down the swivel and adjust the two voicing settings (albeit with a mini screwdriver on the latter). With both voicings on Modern, the sound was definitely thick and punchy, defined but not overly bright or aggressive, with a nice click up top but without any particular frequency emphasis. It was an overall balanced tone that could work across multiple styles, unlike certain kick mics that seem to be genre-specific.

There are a lot of secondary snare miking positions (underneath, overhead, a 451 taped to another mic), but many of us start with a SM57 placed up top. With that in mind, compared to your typical 57 close in and up top, the V7X offered a good bit more bottom-end and a good bit less hi-mids, just as you might expect. I found myself missing some of that crisp 57 snap, but the V7X had a lot more punch and more hi-hat rejection, so it’s a taste thing.

The V Beats on toms use the same capsule as the V7X, but I didn’t know that when I started tracking; I thought the two mics sounded alike, with the same chesty punch and polite top-end. In fact, I got a sound that was a little too thick when I mounted the mics on the tom-tom’s mounting support arms—those isolating Gauger Percussion RIMS systems. I should’ve mounted directly on the actual drum rims, where the 2-inch goosenecks could have gotten me more elevation and a touch less proximity effect.

I tried the sE8s as overheads, in a spaced pair configuration a few feet above the cymbals, with snare roughly centered in the overall stereo picture. I didn’t find a pad necessary, as my mic amps (AMS Neves) needed a typical 20 to 25 dB of gain; I also didn’t use a HPF, as the bottom-end was useful (and always filter-able later), and a touch of gentle FET compression held things together. Compared to my typical favorites for the job (Roswell Delphos LDCs or Vanguard Audio Labs V1S SDCs) the sE8s were a little smoother and understated up top, similarly neutral and linear thought the mids, and a little thicker through the low-mids into the bottom-end. Dynamics were open and unrestrained, while the soundstage remained stable (good matching and consistency in manufacturing makes for good imaging), wide and smooth, with off-axis sounds like good SDCs often have.

I got in a couple drum sessions that weren’t as “rocking” and learned more. Needing a gentler sound, I tried the V Kick with Classic settings and found an abundance of mids, less thump and less click. Just a touch of EQ and I had a sound quite different than with the Modern settings. With some thinner snares, I found the EQ balance of the V7X to be much more likable, adding punch where it was sorely needed and where a 57 would need some help. I mounted the V Beat tom mics right on the drum rims and elevated them as far as the goosenecks could reach. I got a better sound with less proximity effect cellulite, although I still wished those goosenecks were an inch longer.

I didn’t get an opportunity to try the V Pack’s dynamics on other sources, though I’d imagine that guitars, horns, percussion and so on would all be in their wheelhouse. I did get to try the sE8s on some acoustic instruments, where their short signal path (no ICs or transformers) conveyed quite flat response, very little noise, natural dynamics and a lack of brittleness that accepts EQ nicely.

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The Final Mix

Considering all the styles of drumming I might come across, the V Pack Arena kit delivered as well as, or extremely close to, all my drum miking favorites curated over many years. With a little EQ, I was able to achieve all the sounds I needed from this kit. OK, I’m still stuck on a 57 for snare top, but I would gladly blend in a V7X to improve on that sound. Stylistically, I think that the kit naturally leans toward a punchy, mids-heavy rock sound that would be great with really loud bands and especially great at reducing nasty off-axis cymbal bleed that some mic kits seem to accentuate.

It deserves mention that this kit has the design, build quality and portability that would excel for live sound and touring acts. Those tom mounts are stout and tough, as are all the windscreens, tightening nuts, pivots and mic clips, all in a sturdy case that’s ready to hit the road.

sE Electronics • www.seelectronics.com