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A Beginner's Guide to Microphones

microphone is an essential part of any live performance, as it is the tool that transmits an audio signal to an amplification device
A Beginner's Guide to Microphones

What is a microphone and how does it work?

A microphone is an essential part of any live performance, as it is the tool that transmits an audio signal to an amplification device.

Therefore, it is vital for roles such as feeding the sound of guitar amps through a PA, projecting vocals and showcasing instruments such as the drums.

Sound waves cause a suspended voice coil to move, which generates a small current, thereby projecting the sound through appropriate equipment, such as a PA speaker.

Microphones available on the market

Typically, a musician may choose to purchase a dynamic microphone such as a Shure SM58, which is a relatively inexpensive device that produces a warm, thick sound and is ideal for voices.

It has been widely hailed as the first choice of many live and studio artists, as it has a highly effective built-in spherical filter that reduces background noise, such as wind. The cardioid pickup pattern isolates the main sound source and blocks out the extraneous sounds that could hamper a performance.

But its tough frame makes it even more of an asset to the travelling musician, as its steel mesh grille will ensure that it can cope with rough handling and all types of outdoor conditions.

However, others may decide to opt for condenser mics such as the Neumann KM184, despite it being a far more expensive option than the SM58.

The KM 184 is a top-quality device that is particularly well-suited for recording either at home or in a studio. Indeed, it has been highly rated for the sound it picks up from instruments such as acoustic guitars. As a small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone, it has also proved useful for engineers who want to record a live performance, as it features very smooth frequency responses for both the 0 degree axis and lateral sound incidence.

Neumann has hailed the device as an improvement on its previous KM 84 model, as a slight change of its capsule's rear opening has enabled it to achieve a fresher and livelier tonal balance than was possible in the past.

What do the different kinds of microphone do?

However, since different microphones are often designed for different purposes and environments, these factors need to be considered by prospective purchasers. For example, while an SM58 may be ideally suited for vocals, a Shure PGDMK6 Drum Microphone Kit may be more appropriate for miking up a snare, toms and bass drum.

And drummers who want to mic their kits may themselves have a number of issues to consider, such as whether they want to use a standard set of condenser mics or mics that are designed specifically for this instrument, complete with clips. With the various options available, as well as the infinite numbers of possible drum configurations, players may be well advised to research what is on the market thoroughly before deciding what best meets their needs.

Another issue to consider is whether users want low or high impedance mics. The former can transmit signals over hundreds of feet without any noticeable deterioration in sound quality. However, the signal on more affordable high impedance mics can deteriorate if cables over more than 20-feet are used.

Directional mics

Vocalists and musicians may also need to consider how sensitive mics are to sounds from certain directions. A unidirectional mic is undoubtedly more suitable for stage purposes, as the cardoid polar pattern helps it to ignore some external sounds, such as those created by other instruments in a live scenario.

By contrast, omnidirectional devices, such as the AKG D230 ENG Dynamic Mic, allow sounds to be picked up even when the person speaking has his or head turned. In fact, this highly robust mic delivers exceptional sensitivity and clarity which could be well-suited for people such as journalists.

People who are looking to buy a microphone for the first time would be well advised to take all these issues into account, considering what they intend to use it for and the environment in which it is to be set up.

Posted on 23 Jun 2009 16:15 to category : Tips and advice

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