The Blumlein technique

blumlein array

In the recording world, there are those who follow the tried and tested methods, running sessions by the book, and there are those who are not afraid to experiment. Experimentation isn’t always a sensible approach – especially when your client is paying you by the hour, but when you have the opportunity to experiment, you should do so. Many pioneering techniques have come from recording engineers trying things with no regard to theory or general practice, and the technique I am about to tell you about is one of them.
The Blumlein technique was named after its discoverer, Alan Blumlein, who famously worked on creating binaural recordings at EMI studios using omnidirectional microphones and was an expert in stereo recording.

The technique that bears his name consists of a pair of figure-8 microphones placed closely together at 90 degree angles. The resulting effect of the Blumlein array is a very natural, spatial recording that really comes to light when listening through headphones, though it still works well on loudspeakers. Basically, you have every angle covered.

By using figure-8 microphones (which pick up from the front and back of the capsule), you don’t have to worry about the proximity effect (enhanced bass response due to proximity of the mic to the source) as figure-8 microphones don’t produce this effect. However, as this technique picks up sound from all directions, it’s essentially a type of room miking, so the sound of the room really comes into play. I would only adopt this technique if I was recording in a fairly large room with pleasant acoustic properties.

The setup for the Blumlein technique is very similar to the way you’d set up for mid-side miking (see my article on mid-side miking entitled ‘Secret Weapon’). All you need to do is position two microphones in figure-8 pattern as close to each other as possible and at 90 degree angles. The standard approach is to place one microphone in position, flip the second mic upside down, and place the grills of the two mice as closely as possible without them touching.

As with all microphone techniques, a Blumlein array won’t always be a suitable choice and should only be utilised when an all encompassing sound is required. I would try the Blumlein technique on piano, acoustic guitar, and groups of vocals like choirs. I have used this technique to great effect on a roots band who wanted to play live in the studio.

Obviously to recreate this effect, you’ll need to have two figure-8 microphones handy, which may be outside of your budget, but with multi-pattern microphones on the market for $300-400 it’s certainly in the reach of a home or project studio owner. I would recommend hunting the Internet for a recording employing this technique to give you an idea of what to expect before running out to pick up two multi-pattern microphones.

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