Microphone FAQs

microphone faqs

This is a collection of information of potential interest to users of microphones, especially those who use them to record live musical performances.

General Questions

What are some of the techniques for stereo microphone placement? What is “MS,” “XY,” “AB,” “concident pair,” “ORTF,” etc.?

Many different mic setups exist for location stereo recording. Refer to The New Stereo Soundbook by Alton Everest and Ron Streicher, Tab Books 1992, for more.

Coincident Pair – Two mics arranged (typically) one above the other, so that sound waves reach both capsules at the same time. The following three techniques are coincident pair techniques:

XY – Coincident cardioids at 90 degrees

MS – Mid/Side. Use a single mic, which may be anything from omni to hypercardioid, facing forward (mid) and a figure-eight facing to the left. Remember that the back lobe of a figure-eight is out of phase by 180 degrees from the front. When you add mid plus side, you get a left-pointing pickup. When you subtract mid from side (mid plus inverted side), you get a right-pointing pickup. If the mid mic is cardioid, the resulting left and right signals are cardioid at 90 degrees. Theoretically the result is the same as XY.

Blumlein – Coincident figure-eight mics at 90 degrees

Semi-coincident – Two mics angled to encompass the sound stage but also spaced between 6 and about 48 inches apart to add time-of-arrival/phase differences to the amplitude differences caused by the directional pattern. The following techniques are semi-coincident:

ORTF – Office de Radio-Television Français – two cardioids angled 110 degrees, spaced 170 mm.

NOS – Nederlandsche Omroep Stichting – two cardioids angled 90 degrees, spaced 300 mm apart.

AB – Generally two spaced cardioids facing forward to slightly angled apart

What’s all the hubbub over MS mic-ing?

MS is nothing but a different mathematical representation of the polar patterns inherent in coincident AB recording. In theory there should be no difference between an MS mic and an AB mic when positioned identically.

In practice, the greatest difference is due to the fact that sounds in the centre of the stage hit the M mic bang on axis; such sounds arriving at a coincident AB pair with a 90 degree angle are therefore 45 degrees off axis, and it is a very good mic indeed whose frequency response is anything like as good at 45 degrees as it is at 0 degrees. Therefore centre sounds are likely to be better when MS mics are used. The biggest disadvantage of the technique is that by definition, two non-identical mics are used. At the very least you could use the same type of mic body in each case, equipped with a cardioid capsule for the M, and a figure-eight for the S. Purpose built single body stereo condenser mics are often capable of either AB or MS working, but they are expensive.

Apart from the significance of MS mic techniques, remember that you can convert a stereo signal to MS at any time; altering the relative amounts of S will change the width of the stereo (the obvious reductio ad absurdum is no S at all – you are merely left with the output of the single mono mic fed to both speakers). Likewise you can achieve some increase in apparent width by increasing the relative S level beyond the norm. The reductio ad absurdum here relates to complete removal of the M signal – the output of the S mic appears in anti-phase on each of the speakers and the resultant signal when reduced to mono – zilch! So you have a convenient way of controlling width on a single fader, with the possibility of going slightly “super-wide” but beware; super-wide results in greater than normal out-of-phase content which some listeners find disturbing, and mono compatibility is always compromised. Apart from the super-wide aspect, the control of width available to you is really no different to that which you achieve by closing up the panpots on an AB signal.

MS mic-ing offers no magic solutions. Assuming you are using coincident techniques you are merely using a different model of the same signal. To sum up: central sounds will probably be cleaner as they are on the M mic’s axis, but the fact that the two mics are non-identical may bring its own problems. Whether the signals are handled as AB or MS further down the chain is unlikely to make any sonic difference – AB is certainly more convenient. [po]

[dj] refutes [po]’s comments:

In practice, the greatest difference is due to the fact that sounds in the centre of the stage hit the M mic bang on axis; such sounds arriving at a coincident AB pair with a 90 degree angle are therefore 45 degrees off axis, and it is a very good mic indeed whose frequency response is anything like as good at 45 degrees as it is at 0 degrees.

Not quite. Nearly all cardioids show in fact identical response over a 90 degree cone (+/- 45 from center). It’s the zone from 45 to 90 that’s the problem, where the left mic is picking up right signals (by definition, a cardioid is only -6dB at 90 degrees!).

The biggest disadvantage of the technique is that by definition, two non-identical mics are used. At the very least you could use the same type of mic body in each case, equipped with a cardioid capsule for the M, and a figure-eight for the S.

I don’t think so. The two output channels left and right are produced with the same virtual microphone, which is the sum of the two real microphones used. My early MS work was done with a ribbon mic for S (an RCA 44BX, which is flat to 20 Hz, something very few condenser figure-eights can claim) and a cardioid condenser for M. This worked just fine. Remember you are measuring very different things: the S mic is sampling particle velocity while the M mic is sampling vector pressure. Each of the outputs L, R contains equal amounts of the two microphones. The big problem with using the same type of mic body is that this assumes, in all currently available interchangeable capsule systems, a 19 to 21 mm maximum diameter. This works OK for a cardioid or omni, but I have yet to hear a figure-eight that small that sounds right, which is the reason I no longer make the KA800 capsule. Schoeps tries to fix this problem with extensive baffling and damping; AKGand Neumann don’t attempt it anymore (AKG had a large diaphragm figure-eight capsule in a wire mesh ball which would screw onto the end of a C451 but does no longer); the Sennheiser small figure- eight uses fairly radical electrical EQ in the (non-interchangeable) mic body to make the capsule measure flat. Neumann made a small capsule dual-diaphragm mic that synthesizes figure-eight by combining two cardioids back-to-back and out of phase. This is found in their KM56, SM2 stereo mic and the KM88, and is probably the best compromise for a small figure-eight but the frequency response is not wonderful (-6 dB at 50 Hz, +6 at 6 kHz, -6 at 14 kHz).

Assuming you are using coincident techniques you are merely using a different model of the same signal. To sum up: central sounds will probably be cleaner as they are on the M mic’s axis

Given ideal microphones, they are the same signal. With practical microphones central sounds will be very similar between the two techniques, it’s the edge sounds that will be most compromised by using XY. Another minor problem with XY is that you can’t get the two mics in the same place. With MS, the mics are automatically in the same place and the physical obstruction that one mic makes in the other’s sound field is symmetrical for the left and right channels. This is also the case for XY when you put the mics in the same plane, but now you get reflections off one mic’s diaphragm grille right into the other mic, which makes for some nasty comb filtering at high frequencies. If the mics are one on top of the other, there is a vertical time of arrival difference of opposite sign between the two channels that can cause odd shifts in the reverberent pickup. There’s no free lunch.

Whether the signals are handled as AB or MS further down the chain is unlikely to make any sonic difference – AB is certainly more convenient.

Yes… which is why many people recording in MS will in fact matrix at the recording site, putting down left and right tracks on tape rather than M and S.

Note I left out of my earlier post on MS, there are two excellent sources for info comparing the various stereo mic-ing techniques. One is the compendium volume “Stereophonic Techniques” which is articles excerpted from the Journal of the AES, and published by the AES. The other is the “New Stereo Soundbook” by Alton Everest and Ron Streicher, published last year by Tab Books.

What are the differences between microphone transducer types (stereo, binaural, electret, condenser, dynamic)?

There are two principal types of transducers used in mics: dynamic and condensor. Dynamics are often favored for miking individual instruments because they add a favorable color to the sound. Condensor mics are generally more accurate than dynamic and are preferable for audience recording. Modern condensors use an “electret” design which enables the mic to operate from a low voltage which can be supplied by an internal battery or by an external power supply or by certain mic preamps. By contrast dynamic mics need no power source.

What are the differences between microphone response patterns?

This is a type of question which is sure to get many “religious” responses, but I will try to stick solely to the facts. I will also try to keep the discussion in the context of audience recording, since this is probably the most common application amongst DAT-Heads.

a) Omnidirectional This type of microphone will pick up sound evenly from all directions, hence the omni- prefix (they are sometimes called non-directional). For this reason, omnis should be used only when recording very close to the source. It is generally felt that omnis offer the best sound as compared to directional mics, and top omnis are often less expensive than top directional mics. For an audience application, omnis are generally only used for fob (upfront) recordings, since they tend to pick up too much audience noise when used at too great a distance. Another common audience application is to use an omni/shotgun mix from further back in the hall. The shotguns are used to pick up the direct sound from the sound system while the omnis provide ambient information. The reasoning behind this method is to give “presence” to the mix, which would be lacking in a shotgun-only recording.

b) Cardioid This type of microphone is slightly more directional than omnis. Much of the sound coming from behind the microphone is not picked up. There is also a small amount of side rejection as well. Cardioids are often used as vocal mics since they will not pick up most of the other noise onstage coming from the amps, monitors, etc. For a Dead-show-type application, proximity to the sound source is important, though not quite as critical as with omnis. Like omnis, you will get the best results when used upfront. Some people use cardioids from further back, but audience noise becomes more of a problem the farther back you go. If you plan to use cardioids from a large distance (i.e. the tapers’ section at Grateful Dead shows), the best results are usually obtained when the mics are elevated as far as possible above the audience in order to minimize crowd noise on the recording. Cardioids usually work well in a small club setting and also outdoor amphi- theatres, where the crowd noise tends to be more attenuated than on indoor audience recordings due to the lack of reflective surfaces (i.e. side walls and ceilings). A cardioid which has a 20-20000 Hz frequency resonse will generally be less expensive than a comparable hypercardioid or shotgun.

c) Hypercardioid This type of microphone is more directional than standard cardioids but less directional than shotguns. Hypercardioids are not shotguns. They can be thought of as “short shotguns.” They have more side rejection than cardioids but not as much as shotguns. I find the hypercardioid to be the most flexible of the four polar patterns discussed here (in the context of audience recording). Excellent results can be obtained from far back as well as upfront. They also work quite well in small clubs. Hypercardioids are generally the least common of the polar patterns and you can expect to pay a tidy sum for a good pair.

d) Shotgun This type of microphone is the most directional of the four. Shotguns have the most side rejection and thus are well suited for recording at a large distance. Shotguns are the microphone of choice in the tapers’ section at Grateful Dead shows. Shotguns tend to have a number of drawbacks, however. The less expensive shotguns will not have very good frequency response, especially in the lower octaves. For this reason, lower-end shotguns are often described as “tinny” or “hollow” sounding. Also, the drastic side rejection of a shotgun often results in recordings with a lack of “presence.” Expect to pay a fairly large sum to get a shotgun with 20-20000 Hz perfromance. Because of their large size, shotguns are not usually used upfront. Directionality is useful for increasing the ratio of direct sound (from the stage and P.A. system) to reverberant and ambient sound (from the rest of the room). This becomes more critical as the distance from mic to stage is increased. Generally, one must pay more money for a shotgun in order to get as good sonic characteristics versus a less directional mic.

In contrast to omni’s and cardiods, microphone placement is very critical with shotgun capsules, which some believe is more often the reason behind the “tinny, hollow” sound than the technical qualities of the microphones themselves. These mics are very directional, and you really have to consider the fact that they are recording where you point them — unlike omnis which record the sound where they are located. After some years of experimentation with Nakamichi CM-100 bodies with the CP-4 shotgun capsules, I [sj] have found that the amount of bass in the recording is highly dependent on the position of the mic with respect to the PA. My current alignment results in a very clear bass, almost to the point of considering the use of the “Lo-Cut” switch. It is my opinion that the “traditional Dead Taper” placement does not adequately take these effects into account, hence the resulting “tinny, hollow” recordings that people dislike.

DAT-head recording techniques are generally divided into stealth and non-stealth projects. For the former, generally the technique of choice is to wear a pair of mics more or less near the ears (binaural). This works far better than it has any right to, given that commercial or semi-commercial stereo mic systems can be had for less than $250, or you can also build your own for less than $10 using the Panasonic WM063 capsules that seem to work best.

For non-stealth techniques (including overt on-stage taping when they want you to be there) it’s mostly a choice of directional pattern and tone color. Less directional microphones generally sound better than more directional ones, but often you need to record from a long way away, and the only simple way to do this is with highly directional mics.

Omni mics are absolute pressure transducers and inherently would have response down to DC but for a small air leak built in to allow them to be shipped by air, not explode in tornados, etc.

While omni mics, being pressure transducers, almost always produce a cleaner sound, many times the recordist finds that some directionality is required. The practical way to achieve this is with a mic that combines absolute pressure and pressure gradient responses. All of these mics have a directional pattern that follows the equation x + y*(cos of angle) where x+y=1 and the angle begins with 0 being on-axis to the microphone. The standard cardioid is x=y=0.5, hypercardioid is x=0.3, y=0.7.

There are two families of directional mics in common use: phase shift pressure gradient, and interference tube. Phase shift pressure gradient mics are available in a continuum of patterns which can all be expressed with the relation x + y*cos(theta) where theta is the angle from the mic to the sound source. For x=0, the pattern is bidirectional with the implied phase reversal toward the rear and sharp nulls at 90, 270 degrees. For y=0, the pattern is omni. For x=y, the pattern is called “cardioid” (for heart-shaped, not “cardiod”, please) and the response at 90 degrees is 0.5 of (or -6dB from) the on-axis response. For x around 1, y around 2, the pattern is called “supercardioid” or “hypercardioid” and there is a small rear lobe out of phase with the front pickup, but sharp nulls at 135, 225 degrees.

Since the pressure gradient is sensed by leaving the mic diaphragm open on both sides, the inherent frequency response is inversely proportional to wavelength… the longer the wavelength, the less response, because there’s less pressure gradient at any instant between the front and the back of the mic. This makes a frequency response curve that, left to its own devices, would be very un-flat; rising 6dB per octave. Most unidirectional mics use a lot of damping to flatten out the response at some point, above which it doesn’t rise anymore. But below this frequency (typically 100-400 Hz) you have in effect a bass rolloff. Which is another reason that directional mics are often used in concert recording, because all of the low frequency energy is rolled off even before it gets to the first FET in the mic body.

Variable pattern mics are available (AKG C414, Neumann U87, U89, TLM170, Milab, etc) that are either two cardioid capsules back-to-back (each one of 0.5 + 0.5 cos theta, you can work out the patterns that result when they’re added in phase and out of phase with each other), or are (Schoeps MK5) a phase shift pressure gradient type with mechanically variable phase shift parts to make different patterns.

Inteference tube mics use a perforated tube in front of a phase shift pressure gradient type of microphone, that gives more directionality at frequencies where the tube is more than a quarter wave long. Most interference tube mics, even expensive ones, have a sort of strange hollow sound which may be more than overcome by the fact that the performer sounds closer than it would otherwise be possible to get, and as you point out there is a lot less crowd noise.

What factors, other than microphone selection, will affect the end result?

The general idea is to place microphone selection in perspective. If the microphone is great, but the factors listed below are not considered, the results can be disappointing. If the microphone is great, but the factors listed below are not considered, the results can be disappointing.

Your actual results will depend on: the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual content of the music; the skill and level of preparation of the composer, musician, and recording engineer; the amount of ambient noise; the musical instruments; the room acoustics; microphone placement; the quality of the recording equipment (including the preamp); the quality of the playback equipment; the environment in which the playback takes place; and the ability of the listener to appreciate music.

Is there any advice you can give a beginner who’s unfamiliar with using microphones?

[td] writes:

My conclusions ? I prefer using the Schoeps, Neumann’s or B&K’s. Why? I like the sound. Many other who hear them like the sound as well. However, they are not without problems. If the 4011’s are used off center, they sound like shit. The KMi84’s outdoors are a bit boomy (maybe that was just foxboro) The Schopes are a little tinny, etc…

Each of these mics has its use and its place.

That perhaps is some of the most valuable experience a recordist can gain about his or her art. The only way to know is by experimentation and LOTS of listening. However, if you can only afford one set of microphones and you rarely get a chance to compare them with any other, then you’ll probably be happy with whatever you have.

Someone once asked me, “…what’s the best placement of a microphone to record a piano?” I replied with, “…what’s the best place to put a camera to photograph a mountain?” [ss]

Live Recording:

When should I use a shotgun/hypercardioid mic instead of an omni/cardioid and vice versa?

Think about the pattern of the null of the mic, rather than the pattern of the main lobe. The on-axis performance of all of these mics can be quite similar. The differences are in the off-axis response. Think about pointing the null at the sound you don’t want, rather than pointing the front at the sound you do want. Use a tighter pattern when the reverberation or overall room noise overpowers the desired sound.

Note that besides the design-center directionality pattern, there are a host of other compromises the mic manufacturer must accept in order to have a produceable model. While their specs may be identical, omnis, cardioids, and hypercardioids all sound very different. The main specifications that are almost never reported include capsule-generated distortion, phase or impulse response, off-axis frequency response, and frequency distribution of mic-generated noise including capsule-generated noise.

What types of mics should I consider for use in small, medium-sized and large venues.

Depends on the room acoustics. Start with one of the pair techniques in {1}. Listen to how the room sounds and listen to the sounds you want to get rid of. If you need more room isolation, think about ways to orient the mics so that the nulls are pointed at the noises you want to lose. [dj]

What mics are good for ‘up front’ (FOB) recording?

In general, you can get away with using omnis/cardioids or other less-directional mics up front, mostly because you are closer to the source and the music is generally much louder than venue acoustics and crowd noise. Using highly directional mics like shotguns up front might not allow you to capture the entire sound. [jm]

{12} What kind of mics are good for live recording with a DAT?

Mic selection is generally driven by budget, personal taste, and pattern requirements (which are in turn driven by recording location and venue layout), and stereo recording technique. There is no such thing as the perfect microphone, even for a single type of recording situation. [rg]

Some of the most popular mics for live taping, along with miscellaneous comments from users. In general, high cost means >$1000 per mic; mid is ~$1000 per mic, and low is $500 per mic or less.

Model cost notes: AKG 414 high a very versatile microphone

AKG C460B + CK8X high shotgun, preferable over C460B + CK8

AKG C460B + CK8 high shotgun

AKG C451 + CK9 high shotgun, not recommended

B&K 4011 $2600/pr + pwr supply

Neumann TLM170 $3400/pr + pwr supply 5 position switch selectable, includes subcard and hypercard. Nice bass response, even on hypercard because of the very large diaphram. A very large mic. Perhaps the best multifunctional mic out there.

Neumann KMi84 high Cardioid – Compact

Neumann KMi86 high Omni/Cardioid/Figure-8 – Switch selectable pattern. Large. Nice sound. Older model, around $2000 each or more. 2 84-series capsules back to back for each mic.

Neumann KM1xx (100 series) high mic body, with different replaceable patterns (screw on) KM140 is a card. It is compact, and with an optional remote active cable (SKM140) just the capsule need be exposed making it good for stealth.

Schoeps CMC34 high cardioid, $1900/pr + pwr supply (CMC3 + MK4)

Sennheiser MKH815 high shotgun

AKG C568 $700/pr shotgun, hypercardioid at low frequencies

Audio-Technica 4071 mid/lo

Audio-Technica 813 $300/pr cardioid, electret condensor

Core Sound Binaurals mid/lo quasi-binaural

Crown mid/lo pzm

Nakamichi CM100 + CP4 mid/lo shotgun

Nakamichi CM300 + CP4 mid/lo shotgun

Shure SM94 $500/pr cardioid

Sonic Studios $300/pr quasi-binaural

What microphones are good for unobtrusive (“stealth”) recording?

There are many microphones out there that are small yet provide good sound. During the 80’s, two of the more popular larger “stealth” microphones were Nakamichi’s 300 and 700, modified to use a short barrel. These are roughly the size of a man’s index finger and are sometimes built into hats.

Considerably smaller and stealthier than the Naks are the electret condensor microphones that are designed to attach onto the temple pieces of your eyeglasses, clip onto your jacket’s shoulders or lapels, or clip to any handy object (light grid, chair, curtain). At least two manufacturers (Core Sound and Sonic Studios) offer these. These microphones are roughly the size of jelly beans. Despite their small size, they typically have very wide and flat frequency responses. A few models can record over very large dynamic ranges with little distortion. This makes them ideal for a compact, stealthy concert recording setup. Their main drawback compared to larger, more expensive microphones is a relatively high self-noise (roughly 30 to 40 dBa) but the self-noise is normally swamped by the ambient noise level at a concert. The microphone elements are typically omnidirectional and can be used to make binaural or spaced-omni stereo recordings. Prices under $500. Combine these microphones with a portable DAT recorder and you have a stealthy, good sounding, reasonably priced and simple recording setup. [lm]

What mics are good for radio reportage, radio drama, and film and tv location work? Mechanical durability, resistance to handling noise, and cost need to be considered.

The all-time favorite mic for reportage, at least in the US, is the Electro-Voice 635A series. This is an omni dynamic, available also in a heavily padded and screened version called the RE50. They are nearly indestructible, and older ones are covered by a lifetime warranty; if it isn’t mangled, they will fix it for free, forever. Used 635A’s typically bring $50. If I only had $100 for mics, that would be it.

Choosing and Purchasing:

15. What types of power sources should I consider when buying a pair of mics?

There are three: internal power, phantom and parallel. Trouble with internal power is that you’re always worrying about whether the mic battery will die during your gig. Phantom is pretty much universal in the pro world, and when done correctly will work fine. Parallel (also called AB or Tonader powering) is used almost only in the film industry. It can work as well as phantom but very little of the available equipment offers parallel power. [dj]

A simple stereo phantom that runs for ~4 hrs on 1 9 volt is the Neumann BS48i2. It is compact and the price is right (about $375 to $400). Other people manufacture supplies, but they are frequently very expensive ($1100) and bulky. [td]

What types of cables are good for keeping noise to a minimum?

For electrostatic shielding, you need full coverage of the cable pair(s). Multiple layers of shield braid are good. For electromagnetic shielding, you want the pairs themselves to be twisted tightly. Four conductor “star quad” cable from Mogami, Canare and others helps electromagnetic shielding too. [dj]

What is “phantom power”? Why would I want/not want mics that need it?

See above. All electret and condenser mics require power for the impedance converter stage, if nothing else. You can use a battery inside or the mixer/ preamp etc. can supply the power using phantom. [dj]

I’m interested in getting into recording live shows, but I don’t have a deck or microphones. What are some things I need to consider?

Frequency response, both on and off axis. (Ideally, the response off-axis should be as linear as on-axis, just attenuated in the desired direction). Self-generated noise level. Maximum output level without overloading. Subjective judgement about sound quality. Ruggedness. Price. Availability of service. Matching of a stereo pair. [dj]

How often to microphone manufacturers come out with new models — Do I need to worry about blowing my money on an obsolete pair?

Very seldom, actually. A mic product line, like the AKG 451 or the Neumann KM83/84/85, is typically in production for 20 years or more. You don’t need to worry about buying an ‘obsolete’ microphone. [dj]

I’m not sure about the introduction rate of new models, but some older mics are ‘classic’ now and are still in use. This comes to mind with some Neumann models. For example, the KMi86 was the predecesor to the U87 and TLM170 mics, and all are still in use. Old Neumann tube mics are still used as wel. I don’t think there is an obselescence as with other products (computers, etc). [td]

How much better is a newer line of microphones than an older line? Can I save a ton of money and not lose a lot in sound quality by getting an older set of mics?

By itself there is no correlation between age and quality. Most of the older German and Austrian mics, even the ordinary ones, are worth far more now than they were when new.

Sometimes. I bought a KM-84 at a flea market for $10. Unless you know the type offered, stick to the well known brands: Neumann, AKG, Schoeps, Sanken, MB, Bruel & Kjaer. The problem is to find out whether the mics are in good shape. A good test is to see if two sound the same, because it’s unlikely that the same fault would appear in both mics. Another check is to mix the two mics out of phase so that they null. Whatever sound is left, is the difference between them. [dj]

What is a vocal mic and why should/shouldn’t I use it for recording at a Dead show?

Vocal mics, such as the ubiquitous Shure SM58, typically have a rolled off low frequency response (to compensate for the bass boost when used up close) and a 6 to 12 dB boost in the 4-7 kHz range for “presence” and punchiness. These are not attributes you want for recording at a distance.


{23} What are the advantages/disadvantages of buying mics that have a selectable pattern?

You can tailor your mic pattern to suit the situation you are recording in. It is a more flexible system, but it is more expensive.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of buying mics that have interchangeable capsules?

Again, you can tailor your mics to the situation, this time by changing the capsule. This requires the purchase of a pair of capsules for each pattern to be used. The patern change is not accomplished with electronics as the swicth selectable mics do.

Selectable Pattern Interchangeable Capsule

Operating Usually back-to-back cardioids, Made to suit pattern: Principle either discrete capsules or omnis are pure pressure Braunmuehl-Weber type mics rather than two cardioids added together

Cost Higher at first Cheaper at first

Flexibility All or most patterns available Must buy new capsule for new patterns, no really good figure-8 available

Sonics Subjectively warmer Subjectively cleaner

Flash Factor High Low

Obtrusiveness High Low

What kinds of mic stands are there? Where do I go to get the really tall ones that are good for use at a Grateful Dead concert?

Two kinds: too small and too heavy. The tallest stock kind is the Shure SA15 which is 15 feet tall, aluminum and about $150. These work OK if you weight them down with a bag of lead shot or sand. The really tall ones come from Matthews in LA and other people who make light stands for movie production. [dj]

Get a LIGHTING stand, one made by BOGEN. They are more stable than a mic stand. You can get adapters to get the proper fittings on them for mics.

What’s the best mic for under $100?

There is little correlation between mic quality and price, except that mics that are cheaper to build cost less and are generally more fragile. The large diaphragm mics like AKG C414, Neumann U87, U89, TLM170, etc. cost a lot to make. Electret condenser mics may be more modern than traditional DC-polarized condenser types, but few of them sound as good as the traditional type. There are a lot of reasons for this, starting with the type of geometry that’s practical to do with a DC condenser mic (that isn’t with an electret mic). The DC polarized mics are made in much lower quantities than the electret types, so they are a lot more expensive to make.

There is a big gap between the inexpensive electrets ($100-200) and ‘real’ condenser mics ($600-1200 each). One good possibility in this range is the Shure SM81 which has a street price under $300 (Manny’s Music $276). You could also look around for used AKG 451’s, Neumann KM84’s etc. which sometimes show up for less than $200. [dj]

Are there any good microphones for under $200 per pair?

There’s no comparison in sound quality between the professional microphones made by Bruel & Kjaer, Schoeps, AKG, Neumann, and others, and the microphones available for under $200. But not all of us can afford between $1500 and $3000 for a pair of microphones. Just because you’re not able to spend that kind of money doesn’t mean you can’t make good quality, satisfying recordings. There are some amazingly good microphones in the under-$200 price range that offer high fidelity, ease of use (small size, no need for bulky phantom power supplies), and durability. In some cases, you won’t perceive an appreciable improvement over the performance these low-priced microphones offer until you spend more than $800 per pair.

There’s Radio Shack’s PZM (modified using Phil Rastoczny’s instructions), the Core Sound Binaural “standard” and battery box” models, Sonic Studio’s low end model, and a slew of so-called vocal microphones (Shure, EV, Audio-Technica) commonly used by performers. [lm]

What are the sources of mic noise?

I assume you mean hiss rather than hum or extraneous pickup caused by poor wiring. In a typical recording setup, exclusive of the A-to-D or tape, in order of decreasing loudness, the sources are mic preamp noise from its circuitry, mic noise typically from the front end FET, Brownian motion noise of the air inside the mic capsule, and thermal noise from the wire and other resistance between the mic and the preamp. [dj]

Tony Berke reports on experiments he’s done with various mics re noise level, and comes to the conclusion that large capsules and omnis are quieter, but that there’s no really conclusive explanation why this might be so, and why there seems to be such a disparity in specs from the various mic makers. (Sorry if I have paraphrased too crudely, Tony!)

This is a big problem, and one that until recently the mic makers have not addressed exactly openly. Like most aspects of mic design, it’s also very sparsely covered in the literature. The only really cogent treatment of the subject, and this is still incomplete, is an article by Dick Burwen in the May 1977 Journal of the AES, which fortunately is reprinted in the AES anthology of microphone articles. I have seen two other relevant articles, “Microphone Thermal Agitation Noise” by Harry Olson in the Journal of the ASA, Vol. 51, No. 2; however, like most Olson work, this deals with the measured effects on a ribbon (pressure gradient) microphone rather than a condenser (predominantly pressure) mic. There is also a useful paper in the December 1970 AES Journal by Herman Wilms on the vagaries of noise measurement, “Subjective or Psophometric Audio Noise Measurement: A Review of Standards.”

Noise is typically referred to in microphones in terms of equivalent sound pressure level. But there’s a major catch here. The measure used is typically dBA: decibels above the hearing threshhold of 0.0002 microbar, A-weighted. But A weighting is designed to measure the annoyance factor of sounds in the normal background noise floor level — 40 to 80 dB SPL more or less — not things that are below the ambient noise floor in theory but are still audible and objectonable, as nearly all mic noise is. Usually, the A-weighted curve is used because the number looks the best, but, quoting from the CCIR working group, “…the A-weighting network curve…is not considered suitable for the measurement of audio-frequency noise in broadcasting and sound recording systems, as in this case it is the effect of the noise on the program rather than the loudness of the noise itself which is important.” The standards by which microhone noise are measured are also not shared among the various makers. Neumann tries to cover the bases by referring to both the DIN/IEC 651 standard and the DIN 45405/CCIR 468-1 standard. But both standards ignore the effect of the capsule — these are both just weighting curves for the equivalent SPL of the noise generated by the electronics with a replacement capacitance connected in place of the capsule. There is a DIN spec 45590 for measurement of self-noise of the entire mic, but few mic makers use this spec; it’s difficult to do and the result looks too bad.

Over the last ten years, I have bought every microphone book in every European language I could find, and they all fall way short of anything really thorough on any of the important topics of mic design and comparison. The most useful is probably Acoustics by Leo Beranek, now back in print as an ASA paperback. Of the popular books, the Lou Burroughs book Microphones is probably the best, but long out of print (and the ^*&^$# who borrowed my copy didn’t bring it back!). Careful reading of the articles in the AES anthology volume on mics taught me more than either of those, however.

The electronics of the microphone can easily be modeled, measured and improved. Nearly all condenser mics use an FET operating as a source follower, or a low gain common source stage. The FET and its source and drain resistors are typically the major noise sources. The noise current from the high value gate bias and polarization resistors is delivered into the capacitance of the capsule; the resultant RC pole results in a lowpass filter that, with any reasonable value of resistance, puts most of the noise in the infrasonic range, where it’s blocked by coupling caps, servos, etc later in the chain. Earlier mics used lower value resistors – 150 to 250 megohms – while modern mics use 1 to 3 gigohm resistors, and Burwen uses a 20 gigohm resistor in his design. The cheapest electret capsules use no resistor, just a reverse-biased diode whose leakage current biases the FET (no polarization resistor is required in an electret).

The noise from the electronics is generally white above the 1/f corner of the FET used. In modern design this is usually below 100 Hz and seldom a problem, and the resulting A-weighted noise is around 1 microvolt RMS, or -120 dBV. Unlike most mic and console makers, I don’t use dBm. dBm refers to noise power (it is dB ref 1 milliwatt into 600 ohms) and is only relevant when a matched transfer of power is taking place. The output impedance of a microphone is seldom, if ever, matched these days into the load impedance of the preamp which would make a power measurement meaningful. If you ask the manufacturers about this, they will shuffle their feet and say, “oh yes, we mean dB referenced to the voltage level (0.775V) that 1 milliwatt from a 600 ohm source makes across a matched 600 ohm load.” Arrgh.

The bigger problem, now that we have good quiet FET’s, is the noise from the capsule. Of course smaller capsules will have lower output, and the electronic noise will predominate in relative terms. But the output level at the capsule of a 1/2 inch omni and a 1.25 inch dual-cardioid like the C414 is fairly close, around 12 mV/Pa. This is so because the size of the diaphragm isn’t the only contributing factor; larger diaphragms need to be stretched more tightly and are often spaced away from the backplate further than the small ones.

I have not yet seen a good explanation of the noise generation mechanism of the air behind a backplate. One of the best engineers at AKG in years past told me of an article in the Journal of the ASA about turbulent behavior of the air between the diaphragm and the backplate but I have been unable to find it. The Burwen paper notes without comment that his omni capsule was some 10 dB quieter midband than the cardioid, and the bare electronics were 10 dB quieter than the omni. This was using a Schoeps MKT45 capsule, which is a switchable omni/cardioid. The response is switched by opening or closing vents in the capsule backplate, so diaphragm thickness, tension and spacing are unchanged.

What does change between the various capsules, and what seems to cause the major difference in perceived noise floor, is the damping impedance presented to the diaphragm by the air behind it. In theory, the “thermal acoustic” noise is caused by Brownian motion of the air molecules; this is modeled as a voltage which appears across the mechanical impedance of the diaphragm. A capsule spaced very close to the backplate will be more constrained by the air cushion behind it than if you were to open the backplate up to sound arriving from the rear (as is done in cardioid mics). Close spacing also boosts the output (better for noise) but requires lower polarizing voltage or higher diaphragm tension (worse). This damping impedance is also usually reactive — therefore the tonal color of the noise changes with capsule type. You can have two noise sources, one white and one red, measured to have identical dBA equivalent loudness, and sound very different.

What all of this comes down to is that different mics will sound noisier or quieter in use, with little direct relation to their specs which can almost be pulled out of the air. Someday, mic makers will publish noise spectral curves just like transistor and IC makers do, so that this can all be compared sensibly. Making an isolated chamber thats really quiet is on my list of things to do so that I can do this. So far only B&K has published anything relevant in this field, and then only for their measurement microphones. [dj]

How do I keep mic noise to a minimum so I can have a decent S/N ratio on quiet recordings?

Use mics that have a low self-noise, and use a quiet mic preamp.

What’s the difference between the capsules in a Neuman TLM-170 and a Neuman KMi86?

Ooo, why did you choose this particular pair of mics?! The capsule in a TLM170 is essentially identical to that in the U89. It is about an inch in outside diameter, and follows the Braunmuehl-Weber design which has two diaphragms sharing a common backplate/resonator/phase shift assembly. The two diaphragms produce two cardioid signals which are added together electrically in phase or out of phase to produce the desired pattern. Sometimes this is done by taking the audio output off the common backplate and varying the polarizing voltage, sometimes it’s done by mixing the two separate audio signals. The other Neumann Braunmuehl-Weber capsules are the KK67 family, found in the U67, U87, SM69, and the like, and the KK47 family, used in the U47 and M49. These types all have a center point contact, where the diaphragm is attached to a post coming out of the backplate. The TLM170/U89 capsule has no center point, it is attached only at the circumference (like the Braunmuehl-Weber capsules made by AKG). There was also a KK56/KK88 capsule which is center-point-less like the TLM170 but smaller. The KM86 and KM86i use a back-to-back pair of KK84 capsules, which are also found in the KM84 front-address mic.

The KMi86 (a short production run several years ago) consists of two KMi84 capsules mounted back to back, with the primary pickup direction being perpendicular to the axis of the mic body. It contains internal electronics to allow for pattern switching between omni/cardioid/figure-8.

The TLM170 is a shorter, stouter mic, with a larger diameter capsule, which is also oriented perpendicular to the mic body. The 170 is also switch selectable for omni/subcardioid/cardioid/hypercardioid/figure-8/ user-defineable. The user-defineable patern feature will be offered as an electronics upgrade some time in the next year. A special power supply (phantom/pattern controler) will be required.

Having used KMi84’s, KMi86’s and TLM170’s to master with, I think that I prefer the 86’s. The 170’s are nice, but the 86’s have a warmer sound. That may be because the 86’s I use have been pro ‘tweaked’ to be the best mic that they can be. [td]

What is a PZM? How do I modify one?

The following mod is affectionately referred to the “Rastocny” mod. I’m still using this modified mic in a lot of situations, but I have a few others that I use when conditions are right. The problem is finding the right place and a big enough surface to use them properly. [dv]


About recording pianos, Crown recommends that you tape two of them inside of the lid. I place the mics in various positions depending upon the room. When recording in a large hall, I place them on the floor about five feet apart and 12′ from the bend in the sound board (it’s an unconventional approach; I’ve never seen anyone else use it). When recording in a small room, I tape them to the lid in various positions, depending upon the type of piano.

Crown has several published tips on using the PZMs. If you can find a dealer near you, they may have these articles in stock.

PZMs are wishful-sinful mics: they sound pretty good but they need to be placed against a large surface to work properly. Sometimes this is just not possible and you have to try other mics or go to extremes to find a surface. And unfortunately, PZMs have a rising top octave response :-( But they are seldom seen by the audience!


The RS PZM microphone is an omnidirectional electret microphone patterned after a principal invented by Crown International called the pressure zone microphone (hence, PZM). The output impedance of the stock microphone is about 600 ohms (unbalanced) and it requires a phantom supply voltage from -1.5V to -12V DC for operation. The stock microphone has a supply module and built-in line-matching transformer to convert 600 ohms unbalanced to about 10K ohms unbalanced. The problem with this stock PZM is twofold:

1) you cannot use long cable runs on the mic since the line is unbalanced 2) the matching transformer used in the module is terrible

So the mods outlined below address these two problems by describing a method of using a standard balanced microphone cable in conjunction with an unbalanced (single-ended) microphone input configuration common to most consumer tape recorders. There are compromises made when using this approach, but the benefits in the case of this PZM far outway the compromises.


The stock assembly consists of a mic, a coax cable, a supply module, a twinax (2-wire shielded) cable and a 1/4″ phono plug as shown next.

===== ============== |mic|—coax cable—–|power supply|—-twinax cable—1/4″ phono plug ===== ==============

  1. Cut off the 2-wire shielded cable between the 1/4″ plug and the power supply. Toss the phono plug.
  2. Take the mic apart (screws on the bottom). Unsolder the coax cable from the mic element and replace with the 2-wire cable from step #1 above. This is a somewhat static sensative device so work with a grounded soldering station and appropriate clothing. Connect the low side to the dark color wire and high side to the light color wire. DO NOT CONNECT THE SHIELD TO THE LOW SIDE!
  3. Connect the other end of the 2-wire cable to an in-line male XLR connector. You should now have something that looks like this: male XLR

mic n/c ————————————— shield (pin 1) electret high ——-light wire———————- pin 2 element low ——-dark wire———————– pin 3

  1. Make some long mic cables from some twinax or 2-wire microphone cable. I made three 75′ and three 25′ cables for my setup. Shields are connected on each end to pin 1 and the case on one side (I think it’s the female side) as shown next. female XLR male XLR

case——shield ————————————— shield (pin 1) high ————————————— pin 2 low ————————————— pin 3

The next step is to build an in-line supply that also adapts the XLR connectors to the 1/4″ phono mic input of most consumer tape recorders as shown next. There should be one of these supply boxes built for each mic used.


female XLR——-|supply/adapter module|————-1/4″ phono plug ———————–

  1. Cut a 24″ piece of 2-wire mic cable and connect an in-line female XLR to it as you did in step 3 above.
  2. Cut a 24″ piece of coax and connect an in-line 1/4″ male phono plug to it.
  3. Cut holes large enough in a small steel project box to run the cables through. Add chaffing and strain relief to these two cables.
  4. Connect the shields from the two cables AND the low side of the 2-wire mic cable to the same point (single point) on the project box. (If you prefer to use chassis mounted XLR and phono connectors, instulate these connectors from chassis ground and wire the cases internally to this same single-point ground.)
  5. Connect the “+” side of a 9V transistor radio battery jack to this single point ground.
  6. Connect the “-” side of this battery jack to a 2.2K ohm 1/4 watt resistor.
  7. Connect the other end of the resistor above to the high side of the 2-wire cable.
  8. Connect a 10 uF mylar or metalized polypropylene capacitor from the high side of the 2-wire mic cable to the center conductor of the coax cable. You should now have something that looks like this:

female XLR 1/4″ phono plug

1 —shield—–+—+—- single-point ground —————shield—– 3 —low——–| | ——hot——– 2 —high—– —– “+” “-” — 2.2K ohm —– | | 9 volt | | | battery | | +————————————— | | | ————–||————————— 10 uF input cap.

When the mics are not connected, there is no drain on the battery so there is no need for a switch.

Close up the project box and plug in the microphones and the tape recorder. I think you’ll be surprised by the improvement in these otherwise inexpensive and ho-hum mics.


If you are ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that the input stage of your tape recorder or mixer has an input capacitor (of adequate voltage) and then a load resistor, you can replace the 10 uF cap with a piece of wire. (See below.)


   input                                       input

mic stage cap mic stage cap jack—-||——–input stage jack———-||——–input stage | | load load resistor resistor | | ground ground

If you decide not to or cannot replace the input stage cap with wire, you should replace the input stage caps of the tape deck or mixer with an equivalent value of equal or higher voltage mylar or metalized polypropylene capacitor to obtain the best performance.


You can eliminate any or all of the XLR connectors if you wish to make a custom length, dedicated mic setup. The reason that I suggest the XLRs is that as soon as you get serious about recording, you instantly find out that you need about 10′ more of cable than what the custom lengths are to do what you want. With the XLRs, you can add or remove cable for each situation.

For permanent installations in a mixer or tape deck, you could build a phantom supply similar to what is shown next.

========== =========== ========== |12V c.t.| |full wave| |-12 volt| 2.2K 2.2K 2.2K |xformer |–| Bridge |—–| reg. IC|—–\/\/—–\/\/—-\/\/–> -12V out

========== =====================
— 220uF— 220uF— 220uF— 220uF
———————————————> gnd

You can gang the passive RC components together to run several channels from the same bridge. You could also put all of this inside of a “Bud” box. I recommend using all similar value components since parts are cheaper by the dozen.

This concept provides more than adequate ripple rejection and if you want a bit improved high frequency clarity, shunt all 220uF caps with 0.1uF polypro.

I’ve also done this for budget portable systems. I use one per channel:

        2.2K          2.2K

9V battery–\/\/———-\/\/—–> -9V out | | | | — — | 0.1 uF— — 220uF | | | ——————————-> gnd

I drag a pair of these supplies with hard-wired 20′ cables, a Sony Walkman Pro, and a light weight pair of earphones out with me backpacking and get some wonderful wildlife and wilderness recordings on batteries!

You can also replace the massive square metal plate with a piece of plexiglass with tapered edges. The edges do influence the response of the microphone, but in some situations, what you place the mics on or near will equally degrade the response, so what the heck. My portable rig uses the plexiglass plates; I usually pack in about 45 pounds worth of stuff and shaving off every ounce that you can helps.


One person asked “Why such a big capacitor?” Well, it has to do with the uncertainty of the input impedance of your tape recorder or mixer. If you have a low input impedance (say 1,000 ohms or less) you need this big of a capacitor to get the low frequency response available with this microphone. If you have a high input impedance (say 10,000 ohms or more), you can get away with a smaller capacitor. If you use a lot of different tape recorders and mixers or if you don’t know what the input impedance will be, it’s better to use the big cap (and that’s why I recommend it).

Some folks have asked why I don’t shunt the mylar with a small exotic cap. The answer is simple: the PZM has a rising top octave response. The mylar tames a little of the peak; a shunt cap would only exagerate it.


Some sources for 10uF esoteric capacitors are:

Manufacturer Type Part Number L x W (mm) DCV

ChateauRoux m-pprop ? 64 x 22 ? 250 El. Concepts m-pprop 5MP12D106K 38 x 20 100 El. Concepts m-pprop 5MP12F106K 57 x 23 200 El. Concepts m-pprop 5MP12J106K 57 x 39 400 IAR “Wonder” m-pprop X series 10uF 57 x 29 310 Illinois m-pest 106MWR063K 32 x 14 63 Illinois m-pest 106MWR100K 32 x 19 100 Illinois m-pest 106MWR250K 44 x 20 250 Illinois m-pprop 106MPW160K ? 160 Illinois m-pprop 106MPW250K ? 250 Illinois m-pprop 106MPW630K ? 630 ?(Meniscus) mylar ? ? 100 Panasonic m-pest E1106 31 x 16 100 Paxton mylar 8uF 38 x 19 ? 100 Seacor m-pprop PMWAF100KG ? 100 Seacor m-pprop PMWFF100KG ? 100 Sidereal m-pprop ? 49 x 19 100 Sidereal m-pprop ? 57 x 27 200 Sprague m-pprop 735P106X9100USL 38 x 23 100 Sprague m-pprop 735P106X9200WVL 57 x 26 200 Sprague m-pprop 735P106X9400ZVL 57 x 42 400

I haven’t had time to research all of the sources. I’d appreciate it if you could contact me if you have other sources to contribute or corrections/updates to this list. Addresses and telephone numbers for the above capacitors are:

  • Digi-Key, 701 Brooks Ave S, PO Box 677, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 Panasonic (800) 344-4539
  • Electronic Concepts, PO Box 627, Eatontown, NJ 07724 (201) 542-7880
  • Gateway Electronics, 5115 N. Federal Blvd., Denver, CO 80221 Paxton (303) 458-5444
  • Illinois Capacitor, 3757 W Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, IL 60645 (312) 675-1760
  • Meniscus Systems, 3275 Gladiola SW, Wyoming, MI 49509-3224 Mylar; best prices on ChateauxRoux (606) 534-9121
  • Seacor Inc., 123 Woodland Ave, PO Box 541, Westwood, NJ 07675 (201) 666-5600
  • Sidereal Akustic, 1969 Outrigger Way, Oceanside, CA 92054 SiderealKap, ChateauxRoux (619) 722-7707
  • Sprague Electric Co. There’s probably a sales office in or near your town. Ask for Engineering Bulletins #2092 and #2752, and catalogs ASP-420K and #C-567A.
  • TRT, Box 4271, Berkeley, CA 94704 IAR “Wonder Caps” no telephone number published

=============== {38} What kind of capicators should be used with a mic pre-amp? How does choice of cap. affect the sound?

Len Moskowitz writes in DAT-Heads digest #300 that the CSB mics use 2 uF polypropylene caps between the capsule and the output. Indeed polyprop (or polystyrene, which are impossibly large in this sort of value) would be the type of choice, with polyester or polycarbonate next on the list. Matching within 1% is probably not necessary but it can’t hurt (the input impedance of the decks probably varies by 5% or more, negating any extra care taken in cap matching). The input impedance of the deck (assuming it’s resistive, we’ll call it R) and the cap in series produce a low cut filter with the 3 dB down point set by

f=1/(2piR*C) with f, r and c in Hz, ohms and farads.

This means that with the typical (?) 2K input Z of a dat mic pre, the -3dB point with a 2 uF cap is 40 Hz. To change this to 200 Hz, you would use .4 uF caps. For lower input impedances the frequencies go up because R goes down, hence Guenther’s comment that the capacitors sometimes need to be larger for proper bass response.

Normally, f is set way lower than you would ever need, to be sure that no part of the rolloff gets in the way of the music. 40 Hz sounds a little high to me, so 2K is probably not the right value for a typical mic pre input. But in the case of swamping the DAT input with low frequency signal, what we’re trying to do is roll off some of the LF information so it isn’t overpowering.

Good luck…



{39} What kinds of capsules are typically used in ‘stealth’ microphones? What’s good/not good about them and why?

Several DAT-Heads have written or posted on the problems with the small electret capsules used in stealth mics. The capsule almost universally preferred for these is the Panasonic WM-063, or the WM-060, which is theoretically the same but with a phenolic circuit board rather than epoxy. They sound different, though. The capsules are available from Digi-Key (1-800-344-4539) for about $2. You have to buy a bunch and sort them, because there are major differences in sound. There are several problems with this capsule; some are endemic and some can be fixed.

Some complain that the output is too low; this can easily be fixed with a gain stage. Using a higher voltage and larger load resistor (7-9 volts and 10K, for instance) rather than the 1.4 volt that’s normally found in tie-clip mics will also help and raise the maximum output level before clipping. The output cap can be changed to a bigger and better kind. A 200-300 uF elcap bypassed with 0.5 of 1 uF of mylar or polypropylene makes a difference.

The more difficult problems are noise and harshness. Because the active area of the diaphragm is so small, the output is low, so the FET contributes a lot of noise. You can fix this by opening the capsule, discarding the FET and reassembling the mic in a new housing. Then you can use a good FET and a 2-10 gigohm resistor for bias (which can cost more than the whole mic capsule), instead of the diode leakage current that is used in the “FET-IC” to bias the FET. You can also make the new housing with an opening to the front that is as big as the active area of the diaphragm, rather than the 2 mm hole covered with fuzz that’s there now (a Helmholtz resonator is formed by the hole, the fuzz and the space behind it, which pushes up the HF response, but creates a pole that makes phase problems, thus harshness).

There are better capsules around, but they are hand-made and not cheap. You can use metal diaphragm instrumentation mic capsules, for instance the standard 1/2″ from B&K, ACO Pacific, or Larson-Davis. But these cost $580 (ACO) to $777 (B&K). There are other electret capsules (Sennheiser, Lectret), normally available only to manufacturers, that aren’t much better. I have made a study of all the other available electret capsules (Primo, NMB, Hosiden, Bo Sung, Pan, and others) but keep coming back to the Panasonic.

There are some other mods that can be done to improve the Panasonic capsule. They are generally the result of extensive experiment and are considered proprietary by those who developed them. The critical issues include: stabilizing the aging of the diaphragm and the back-electret film, getting the front of the diaphragm out into the air as much as possible, keeping the back of the diaphragm/backplate structure sealed from the air as much as possible, keeping the mic housing still while only the diaphragm moves, and operating the FET stage in the middle of a wide linear transfer function. Okay, I haven’t given away any secrets, but inquiring minds ought to be able to work good solutions based on this list of problems. [dj]


{40} Why do some shotgun mics have poor bass response?

Most shotgun mics are phase shift hypercardioids at the bass end and line interference types at higher frequencies. Hypercardioid capsules with good LF response are difficult to make, and often it is desirable for their main application (dialog pickup) to roll off the bass, so there won’t be so much (a) room rumble and (b) handling noise as the mic is panned around. [dj]


{41} Which brands/models of shotguns have good bass response?

Neumann, Sennheiser and AKG all make shotgun mics that are used a lot. They all have rolled off bass. The Neumann long shotgun (KMR82) looks like the best, at -3 dB at 60 Hz. Others have the -3 dB point as high as 150 Hz.



{42} What causes some mics to sound tinny or ‘canned’ in some situations? How can I avoid it?

Biggest problem is putting the mic where the sound is already tinny. Plug one ear and listen to the sound with the other ear, where the mic is, devoid of the psychoacoustic reinforcement you get when listening with two ears. Move the mic to where it sounds better. [dj]


{43} How critial is it to aim a shotgun mic directly at the source? What happens if I’m off by 5 degrees? 10 degrees?

Look at the polar plot of the mic. With most, plus-minus 10 degrees makes little or no difference. [dj]


{44} Why do recordings made with shotgun mics lack the ‘presence’ that other mics have? (it sounds like there’s a hole in the center of the sound coming from my stereo system) What can I do to improve the ‘presence’ in my recordings?

By this definition of presence, you probably set the mics at too great an angle apart. Narrow it. Some of the presence also comes from the reverberant environment, which the shotgun mic is trying to get rid of for you. So use something else, like a good hypercardioid. [dj]


{45} What is “binaural recording?”

Binaural recording actually predates stereo recording. In binaural recording two microphones are placed near or in a listener’s ears (or alternately, an acoustically accurate dummy head’s ears). The sounds that the two microphones record are exactly what the listener hears, including the effects of the outer ear (the pinna), the acoustic shadow of the head, and inter-ear phase and frequency response differences that provide localization cues (the information that lets you determine where a sound is coming from).

When the binaural recording is played back over headphones, the ambient sound field of the recording location is reproduced more-or-less exactly. The sense of being there is amazing and you can pick out voices in the surrounding crowd and the placement of instruments to an unparalleled degree. Until you’ve heard a binaural recording played back over a good set of headphones, you haven’t heard how realistic a sound recording can be.

(Stax sells a series of binaurally recorded CDs, including a demonstration disk, whose realism will literally make your hair stand up on end.)



{46} What microphones are available to do binaural recordings?

Both Core Sound and Sonic Studios offer a range of miniature microphones that mount near your ears and are suitable for binaural recordings.

For binaural recording purists, Core Sound offer a set of in-ear microphones that mount in your ear canals using custom made ear molds.



{47} I’ve heard that binaural recording are supposed to be listened to over headphones. How do they sound over speakers?

They sound good but different. Because binaural microphones have nominally omnidirectional pickup patterns, you get roughly the same effect as a spaced-omni microphone setup. But because the microphone spacing is a bit narrow (7 to 9 inches instead of the more typical 24 to 36 inches) the stereo image may sound a bit compressed.

Some binaural microphones can be conveniently used with wider spacings. These provide the usual spaced-omni performance. [lm]


{48} Do you have to hold your head perfectly still while making a binaural recording?

No. Slow movements or movements over a small range during recording are normally unnoticeable during playback. Fast, large movements can be perceived as a shift or rotation in soundstage.


{49} Can I use headphones as microphones?

Ah yes. The old use-the-headphones-as-a-mic trick. I’ve tried this with some Sony headphones and it worked but not extremely well. Those Sennheiser HD 414’s are a good choice because they come with wind screens.

Alot of people probably don’t realize this, but you can also use mics as headphones. Be sure to use dynamic mics! Take a pair of Sennheiser MD 421’s and duct tape them to your head. You’ll need some female-female XLR adapters. This setup even gives you built-in tone controls! The mics will conveniently attach to mic stands (or in this case headphone stands), which might keep you from nodding off if you get tired. For safety’s sake, be sure not to use any mic that is more pointy than your elbow as headphones. Shotguns are definately out.

Also, omnidirectional mics may make excellent point-source speaker systems.


The information was contributed by the users of the DAT-Heads mailing list:

Tony Berke Peter Dabos Tim Dalton David Josephson Jeff Maggard Len Moskowitz Paul Ostwind Phil Rastocny Steve Sergeant Jim Varanelli David Vlack

Copyright by Jeff Maggard on behalf of all of the contributors. All rights reserved.