[Written by Tim Nielsen]
I’ve been recording with MS since I started in this industry, about 12 years ago now. There are of course many other recording techniques available, and I own microphones suited to most of them. I tried to elaborate a tiny bit on some of the other stereo techniques in my previous article, and that’s when I realized that MS really needed it’s own article.
Of all the stereo formats I record in, MS is my favorite. I find it to be the most compact, and by far the most versatile, of all the stereo recording techniques I know. It’s also a bit tricky to wrap your head around the first time you try to understand it. I remember at USC the day I asked Tom Holman, creator of THX, to explain something about MS that had been puzzling me (probably the entire idea behind it and how it worked at all). For the next hour or so, he proceeded to draw math equations on the dry-erase board. I sat, staring and dazed, occasionally nodding to feign understanding. The fact is, MS is a strange recording method.
I’ve had quite a few people, even ones I work with, tell me they don’t like MS, but many times it seems to me that they can’t tell me why. Maybe it’s simply that it’s a bit too much like voodoo. But properly done, MS recording is basically another form of XY recording. David Farmer and I, while both in New Zealand, did some tests between his Schoeps XY microphone, and my MS rig. Neither of us could hear much difference, and my memory is that both of us slightly preferred the MS rig when we felt we could hear any differences. There is really nothing to be afraid of with MS.
For those who don’t know, an MS rig consists of two microphones (or more, as there is a Schoeps Double-MS setup and I’ve personally set up and tried a Triple-MS rig of my own Frankensteinian devising). In the stereo version, there is a Mid microphone, and a Side microphone, hence the name MS Recording, or Mid-Side Recording. The mid microphone faces forward, and can be of any pickup pattern, although almost always a cardiod or hyper-cardiod microphone is used. The side mic is always a Figure-8, or bi-directional microphone, whose polar pattern is perpendicular to the front facing microphone. The two microphones are ideally very well matched, and most of us use mid microphones that have in their family a Figure-8 version as well, for instance the Schoeps MK series of capsules, the Sennheiser MKH series, or the Neumann KM100 series with AK capsules. All of these have cardiod, hyper-cardiod and Figure-8 mics available and are ideal to use in an MS setup. There are also self contained MS microphones, made by companies like Pearl and Sanken, or the Neumann RSM-191, which I know several people here use. The only reason I tend not to like microphones like the RSM-191 is that they use external powering and matrixing boxes, which I find cumbersome. But the RSM-191, the Sanken CMS-7 are very nice sounding MS microphones as well.