There are a lot of different ways to mic your instruments. One of the most popular techniques in the decades since it began being used is the XY recording technique. This involves using two microphones with slight variations in their placements to simultaneously record a source, yielding a unique tone for each track. When blended together this creates a fuller tone and more complete representation of that source, not to mention these tracks can be panned to create width for that source in your mix.
Let’s show you exactly how to use the XY recording technique.
XY Recording Technique
You’ll need two cardioid microphones for the XY recording technique. As I discussed in my overview of the microphone polar patterns, cardioid microphones primarily pick up what they are facing.
While this pattern also reduces room noise by dampening anything it’s not facing, you should still be aware of ambient noise like the hum of an air conditioner or your computer’s fan.
It goes without saying, but mitigating as much noise or recording as far from them as possible will yield the cleanest audio (duh, I know).
Let’s assume we want to record an acoustic guitar with the XY recording technique.
Place the microphones about 6 or so inches away from the 12th fret as a good starting point. If you want more room sound, move them farther back. Keep them 6 inches away or closer for a drier sound.
Secondly, if you want a slightly brighter sound, move them closer to the neck. If you want a warmer sound, move them closer to the bridge.
Regardless of where you put the microphones, I recommend sitting down when performing so that there’s little to no movement and you send a more consistent signal to the microphones.
The real magic in the XY recording technique comes in tilting them off axis.
Instead of having them point directly at the fretboard at a 90 degree angle, you want to angle them inwards so that the heads of the microphones are slightly facing one another.
You should experiment with the exact angle; somewhere between 45 and 90 generally works well. Ideally you can have someone playing while you listen to what the microphones are picking up and adjust them accordingly.
The idea is that each microphone picks up a blend of the tone while still favoring different tones.
Then, when the two microphones are blended together, you get a much fuller balance of body and brightness from your guitar.
Panning one track hard left and hard right when you’re finished recording gives you the full sound of the guitar while also giving some contrast between the tones which creates a more natural stereo spread.
What to Use XY Recording Technique On
The XY recording technique is arguably most commonly used on acoustic guitar (as I show above), but it’s also useful when miking drums.
Try this as your overhead setup, on your hi-hat, or on your snare.
Don’t limit it to percussion, though. Try it on piano or even instruments you would normally only use one microphone on to get a fuller recording which you can pan for some width.
Speaking of acoustic guitar, check out my complete overview on how to record acoustic guitar for more techniques and tips to get the best tone from your acoustic.