Monday, June 23, 2014

M-S Recording: A Useful Technique for Working in Stereo

M-S (mid-side) recording is a two-mic approach to recording orchestras, jazz combos and similar self-balancing ensembles. M-S goes a long way toward reducing the “hole-in-the-middle” that can result from other two-mic stereo techniques, while affording extensive control over the width of the ensemble.

In brief, the M (or mid) mic exhibits a bi-directional or cardioid pickup pattern and faces the front and center of the orchestra. The S (or side) mic exhibits a bi-directional pickup pattern and is oriented at 90 degrees to the M mic, facing the side walls.

By mixing the output of the S mic with positive polarity (“in phase”) with the M mic to derive the left channel, and mixing it with reversed polarity (“out of phase”) with the M mic to derive the right channel, the apparent width of the sound stage can be adjusted to be wider or narrower simply by varying the overall level of the S mic.

This technique provides results consistent with the X-Y technique (crossed cardioid or bi-directional mics) with two additional advantages:

1. instruments in the center of the stage are not picked up off-axis as they are with both X-Y mics (which are pointing away from the center); and

2. the recording is 100% mono-compatible (e.g., for FM radio transmission), since in mono the +S and -S signals are added together and cancel each other out, leaving just the M component.

I have used the M-S technique extensively with good results. The first example on this page illustrates the technique used to record Tafelmusik, a world-class Baroque orchestra:

Here's an excellent technical introduction to M-S.

The authors also provide a comprehensive and comparative review of various stereo miking techniques here.