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Posted 10/12/2007 5:47:51 PM

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Tip of the Week

October 10th, 2007 / Choosing a Microphone
By Drew Zambrano, Drum/Audio Sales

You need a microphone, but how do you choose one without spending all your time on research?
Microphones are available in so many shapes, sizes and flavors that it’s tough to narrow it down to what you want and what you need. Your first step is to decide how you intend to use the microphone.Tip of Week Gear
For recording, you’ll want a microphone that is very sensitive and capable of picking up everything your music has to offer.  Recording professionals know that the most important element in a great recording is a great microphone!
For live sound, you’ll need a mic that is less sensitive to extraneous sounds so it won’t feed back and won’t pick up the noises of the performer’s handling of the mic.  However, in a live sound application, you’ll still want to pick up the full dynamic range of the performer with all the subtleties of the sound.
To mic up a drum kit, you’ll need a special set of drum microphones that can handle the extreme dynamic range that only drums produce.
The next step is to match the right mic to the right application:

Condenser mics – The Choice for Recording: A condenser microphone requires 48v Phantom Power to power its diaphragm (this is what actually captures the sound). They are generally sensitive mics that pick up even subtle sounds. They’re most popular in studio recording because of their wide frequency response (the lowest to highest notes it can hear), not to mention their clarity and ability to capture every sound in the room.

Dynamic mics – Good For Live Sound and All-Purpose Use:  A dynamic microphone does not require any power.  Dynamic mics can handle much higher sound pressure levels (volume), are very common for live use, but also found in studios. These are popular because they are rugged and less sensitive, plus they have less handling noise. (Handling noise happens when you touch the mic or move your hand around on it – pretty much a necessity for singers.) Although it is best to choose separate mics for recording and live sound, if you need an all purpose mic, we recommend one of the better brands with a neodymium magnet, which give you more of the sensitivity and dynamic range needed for recording than other dynamic mics. Polar Patterns… This is the area around the microphone that picks up sound directly.

The most common are:

1) Omni-directional (picks up in a circle): Equal in front, back, and sides – Great for recording a group of singers and picking up the blending of sounds in a recording, but not recommended for live sound, because of its tendency to pick up the sound coming from the speakers and creating feed back.

2) Bi-directional (figure 8 – picks up equal in front and back): Again, best for recording rather than live sound applications.

3) Cardioid (picks up mostly in front): Important for isolating the sound of one performer to one channel of your mixer.  This is also the kind of mic that minimizes feedback in live sound applications.

4) Hyper-Cardioid (picks up mostly in front with a slight amount from the rear): What we said for the cardioid mic applies here, too.

Anything else?
Frequency Response. You can find this listed with most microphone specs. It is the range of sound that a microphone can hear. The lower the range, the better for low instruments like Bass drums and electric basses. The wider the range, the most versatile it will be.
Proximity Effect. This is an interesting characteristic with some microphones. Simply put, when you move further from the microphone, there will be less bass in the sound. When you move close, there will be more bass, not just more volume. This is more acceptable at live shows, and less desirable in the studio.
Road Worthiness. Can this mic stand up to being thrown in a case and dragged around to gigs, or does it need to be kept in its case and handled carefully?

Other types of microphones?
There are other types of mics including Ribbon and Boundary. They are used in specific applications because of their unique sound qualities and/or polar patterns.
Which One?  More than one?

Microphones are like spices: You have standard ones you use all the time (salt), and others you save for special occasions (curry). Once you have selected a mic suitable for your basic applications, there really is no right or wrong. Many microphone owners have several to cover anything they need, but always have a staple or two.

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