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Author Topic: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me  (Read 1700 times)

Seth Udoll

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Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« on: September 16, 2020, 03:20:38 pm »

Hi guys!  I read through a few pages of the Vocal Mic sticky thread.  Seems to be a lot of sharing of what everyone uses them for and their opinions on what they're good for.  It's raised some curiosities for me and I think I have something to learn in/on the subject of microphones.

Here's what I (think I) understand about microphones;
  • They all have unique response curves and a frequency band that they're effective in (similar, in a way, to speaker cabs)
  • Their polar patterns can be advantageous in reducing unwanted audio content and feedback

That's about it.

So, similar to performers being picky about "their tone", I get that we can get geeked out on microphones.  Which seems to me is more of an artistic approach, or opinion based selection process.  Back in the day, when you were lucky to have 3 fixed bands of EQ on a channel, I get that a microphone could really make a difference.  But, in this day and age, with most digital mixers having 4 or more fully variable parametric bands of EQ available on each channel, is the microphones native response really that big of a game changer?

I've watched a couple "cheapest mics on Amazon" YouTube vids, and yeah I can hear a difference, even with EQ and effects two microphones don't sound the same.  However, without a contrast/comparison, I'm not sure many, even seasoned pro's, would know the difference in a live situation unless there's some sort of glaring deficiency or unnatural artifact in the sound.  No matter what mic, aren't they all getting EQ'd to taste anyway?

I don't mean to compare price to price, I just brought up the YouTube vids for some conversation body to build upon.  The point (curiosity) stands even between two similarly priced options.  Although, it's difficult to ignore the price of a mic, even if ultimately it's a status symbol.  Which means a lot whether we like it or not.  Gotta look the part.  Can't show up to a premium gig with less than premium (occurring/looking/brand name) gear, no matter what it sounds like.  Just the world we live in. 

Anyway, as it occurs to me, with my limited knowledge on the subject, if a microphone's frequency range reasonably covers the original intended content, I'm not too worried about the response curve.  Should I be?  Seems that durability/longevity and noise rejection in the null zones (I think I made that term up, but you get the point) in the polar pattern would be the prime reasons to choose one mic over another.

I have the feeling I'm missing something.  Please, enlighten me if I'm off base.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2020, 03:32:29 pm by Seth Udoll »
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frank kayser

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2020, 04:37:56 pm »

Hi guys!  I read through a few pages of the Vocal Mic sticky thread.  Seems to be a lot of sharing of what everyone uses them for and their opinions on what they're good for.  It's raised some curiosities for me and I think I have something to learn in/on the subject of microphones.

Here's what I (think I) understand about microphones;
  • They all have unique response curves and a frequency band that they're effective in (similar, in a way, to speaker cabs)
  • Their polar patterns can be advantageous in reducing unwanted audio content and feedback
That's about it.

So, similar to performers being picky about "their tone", I get that we can get geeked out on microphones.  Which seems to me is more of an artistic approach, or opinion based selection process.  Back in the day, when you were lucky to have 3 fixed bands of EQ on a channel, I get that a microphone could really make a difference.  But, in this day and age, with most digital mixers having 4 or more fully variable parametric bands of EQ available on each channel, is the microphones native response really that big of a game changer?

I've watched a couple "cheapest mics on Amazon" YouTube vids, and yeah I can hear a difference, even with EQ and effects two microphones don't sound the same.  However, without a contrast/comparison, I'm not sure many, even seasoned pro's, would know the difference in a live situation unless there's some sort of glaring deficiency or unnatural artifact in the sound.  No matter what mic, aren't they all getting EQ'd to taste anyway?

I don't mean to compare price to price, I just brought up the YouTube vids for some conversation body to build upon.  The point (curiosity) stands even between two similarly priced options.  Although, it's difficult to ignore the price of a mic, even if ultimately it's a status symbol.  Which means a lot whether we like it or not.  Gotta look the part.  Can't show up to a premium gig with less than premium (occurring/looking/brand name) gear, no matter what it sounds like.  Just the world we live in. 

Anyway, as it occurs to me, with my limited knowledge on the subject, if a microphone's frequency range reasonably covers the original intended content, I'm not too worried about the response curve.  Should I be?  Seems that durability/longevity and noise rejection in the null zones (I think I made that term up, but you get the point) in the polar pattern would be the prime reasons to choose one mic over another.

I have the feeling I'm missing something.  Please, enlighten me if I'm off base.


One thing for sure, you'll seldom disappoint a performer if you put a Shure SM58 in front of them.  Mic is rugged, and decent gain before feedback.  Nearly every performer knows how to work the mic.


Yeah, sometimes one can get an Amazon cheapie or a counterfeit brand name mic to perform reasonably.  Sometimes they will not be as rugged, or sound alike one to another.  Some have odd spikes or "holes in their patterns" that make them more susceptible to feedback.


Unfortunately, there is more to a microphone than a frequence chart and a polar pattern.  Of course, that document can be counterfeit, too.


Does every sound guy have their go-to mic? Yes.  Always a SM 58?  More likely than not.  Is it a stellar performer?  It is a workhorse, reliable and consistent.


Personally, I have a limited inventory of SM58.  I have others I like more.  Can I work with a 58?  Sure.  I can make it sound just fine.


Not exactly an answer to your question.  This was not meant to be a sales pitch, either.  Some that I wrote touches on your questions.


Good questions.  I'm sure others can fill in the gaps better than I.


frank
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John L Nobile

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2020, 04:42:03 pm »

You can't add what's not there.

I've never worried about the response curve. It's all about listening to the mic. And who is using it. One mic can sound great with one singer but so-so with another. Polar pattern and proximity effect are important, especially with seasoned singers that like to work a mic.
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Seth Udoll

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2020, 05:14:59 pm »

You can't add what's not there.

I've never worried about the response curve. It's all about listening to the mic. And who is using it. One mic can sound great with one singer but so-so with another. Polar pattern and proximity effect are important, especially with seasoned singers that like to work a mic.
Hi John,

Omitting the rest of the PA system for the moment, isn't the response curve what you hear when listening to the mic?  Or is there a quality that you hear that's beyond the scope of a microphones native response?

-Seth-
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Seth Udoll

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2020, 05:24:59 pm »


...I have a limited inventory of SM58.  I have others I like more.
Hi Frank,

What qualities do the other mics have that has you like them more?

-Seth-
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Tom Roche

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2020, 05:31:00 pm »

Hi guys!  I read through a few pages of the Vocal Mic sticky thread.  Seems to be a lot of sharing of what everyone uses them for and their opinions on what they're good for.  It's raised some curiosities for me and I think I have something to learn in/on the subject of microphones.

Here's what I (think I) understand about microphones;
They all have unique response curves and a frequency band that they're effective in (similar, in a way, to speaker cabs)
Their polar patterns can be advantageous in reducing unwanted audio content and feedback

That's about it.

So, similar to performers being picky about "their tone", I get that we can get geeked out on microphones.  Which seems to me is more of an artistic approach, or opinion based selection process.  Back in the day, when you were lucky to have 3 fixed bands of EQ on a channel, I get that a microphone could really make a difference.  But, in this day and age, with most digital mixers having 4 or more fully variable parametric bands of EQ available on each channel, is the microphones native response really that big of a game changer?

I've watched a couple "cheapest mics on Amazon" YouTube vids, and yeah I can hear a difference, even with EQ and effects two microphones don't sound the same.  However, without a contrast/comparison, I'm not sure many, even seasoned pro's, would know the difference in a live situation unless there's some sort of glaring deficiency or unnatural artifact in the sound.  No matter what mic, aren't they all getting EQ's to taste anyway?

I don't mean to compare price to price, I just brought up the YouTube vids for some conversation body to build upon.  The point (curiosity) stands even between two similarly priced options.  Although, it's difficult to ignore the price of a mic, even if ultimately it's a status symbol.  Which means a lot whether we like it or not.  Gotta look the part.  Can't show up to a premium gig with less than premium (occurring/looking/brand name) gear, no matter what it sounds like.  Just the world we live in.

Anyway, as it occurs to me, with my limited knowledge on the subject, if a microphone's frequency range reasonably covers the original intended content, I'm not too worried about the response curve.  Should I be?  Seems that durability/longevity and noise rejection in the null zones (I think I made that term up, but you get the point) in the polar pattern would be the prime reasons to choose one mic over another.

I have the feeling I'm missing something.  Please, enlighten me if I'm off base.

Like with most things, you usually get what you pay for.  Generally speaking, a mic with smooth frequency response will sound more natural.  I have not come close to seeing the frequency response charts of all of the popular, quality microphones, but suspect they have relatively smooth response curves (not to include curves that are shaped by design), at least compared to cheap mics.  I imagine exceptions exist to some extent, just as exceptions exist that all cheap mics sound bad.  Case in point, I acquired no name Chinese made SDC mics that sound amazingly good for a fraction of the usual price.

Mics that cover the same frequency range but have different response curves won't sound the same.  Should you worry?  I wouldn't, but you could use the info to inform your decisions.  For me, I've never worried too much about the response curve of a quality mic.  It's all about how it sounds for the intended use. 

Include handling noise and proximity effect as additional factors.
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Tim McCulloch

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2020, 05:44:48 pm »

Back when there were meaningful polar plots of microphones...

One could sort of discern how a source would sound at various spots around the microphone, how much, at what frequency, was rejected at the sides/back of a directional mic, etc.  These plots show the deviation from 0h/v (on-axis).  What they don't show is the tonal characteristic of the mic.

The dirty little secret of selecting a mic specifically for it's rear rejection:  if you're using it live, for a singer who removes the mic from the stand, much of what you were depending upon it for (presumably gain before feedback in a foldback monitor) just became a huge variable.  Even if you love a particular mic for a specific source, if it makes the gig difficult it's probably not long for the gig.

The *phase response* of a microphone has a great deal to do with perceived clarity, detail, and the way off-axis sources are colored.

Omni mics have far less variation in phase response, they sound more alike than not, and tend to sound more like we perceive soun - without a proximity effect or 'presence boost' HF EQ.
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John L Nobile

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2020, 05:52:36 pm »

Hi John,

Omitting the rest of the PA system for the moment, isn't the response curve what you hear when listening to the mic?  Or is there a quality that you hear that's beyond the scope of a microphones native response?

-Seth-

The response curve will not tell you what it will sound like with different voices or instruments. If it comes down to graphs vs ears, the latter always wins.

And unless your mic is new and calibrated, those curves may not be accurate. Freq response changes as mics get used. Especially ones that sit in a kick drum.
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Seth Udoll

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2020, 06:28:51 pm »

The response curve will not tell you what it will sound like with different voices or instruments. If it comes down to graphs vs ears, the latter always wins.

And unless your mic is new and calibrated, those curves may not be accurate. Freq response changes as mics get used. Especially ones that sit in a kick drum.

Thanks John, I appreciate your input and conversation.

I'm not necessarily talking about an actual plotted graph that we can look at.  More so (attempting) to use term "response curve" as a way to quantify and/or communicate the differences in the way 2 mic's may sound.  Really, just for lack of a better term.  Seems logical to me that response curve, whether it be on paper or perceived through listening is a fair term to use.  Maybe there's a better word for it?

But, that brings up another question, if we had an accurate graph for a mic you liked, and an accurate graph for another mic, couldn't the 2nd mic be EQ'd to sound reasonably close to the one you like, using the graphs alone?
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Seth Udoll

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Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2020, 06:37:30 pm »


The *phase response* of a microphone has a great deal to do with perceived clarity, detail, and the way off-axis sources are colored.

Phase response!  Now we're in the territory of new aspects I'm not aware of.  Gonna have to do a little reading on that.  Thanks Tim! 
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ProSoundWeb Community

Re: Shed a little microphone knowledge on me
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2020, 06:37:30 pm »


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