Speech Reinforcement: Microphones

By: Owen T. Heisler
Updated: 2019-10-25
Published: 2016-08-05

This article is part of a series; see Speech Reinforcement.

The microphone is the first component in the signal path that you have full control of. You need a good one, one designed specifically for speech. Other traits include: type, pickup pattern, frequency response, and proximity effect.

Consider these microphones

  • Sennheiser e835: “Dynamic cardioid microphone designed for speech and vocals.”
  • Shure SM48-LC: Dynamic cardioid microphone “for lead vocals, backup vocals, and spoken word applications”.
  • beyerdynamic M 59: Hypercardioid dynamic microphone for “in-studio or on-location ENG/EFP speech and interview applications.”

Microphone types

  • Condenser microphones are sensitive and provide a high-quality signal. This is often especially noticeable in the higher octaves where sibilants occur, thus delivering improved speech clarity. Condenser microphones require phantom power, usually provided by the mixer but in some designs by a battery in the microphone. They are generally considered to be more fragile to physical abuse than dynamic microphones.
  • Electret condenser microphones are permanently charged condenser microphones, but often require phantom power for an internal pre-amplifier. Electret microphones are cheap to mass-produce, and consequently are often cheaper but also of lesser quality than non-electret condenser microphones.
  • Dynamic microphones are more durable but less sensitive than condenser microphones. They do not require phantom power, but will usually tolerate it without any problems.

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Polar (pickup) patterns

  • Omnidirectional microphones pick up equally from all directions (bit a bit less from the rear). They do not suffer from proximity effect.
  • Subcardioid or wide cardioid microphones are only slightly more directional than omnidirectional and slightly less directional than cardioids. They exhibit very little proximity effect.
  • Cardioid microphones have a heart-shaped (cardioid) pickup pattern, with more directivity than the subcardioid. Cardioid microphones suffer from proximity effect.
  • Proximity effect is a result of the design of directional microphones. It causes the frequency response of the microphone to change, boosting the low range significantly as the sound source gets nearer to the microphone. For a plotted example of the proximity effect, see the Shure Beta 57A specifications (PDF).
  • Supercardioid and hypercardioid pickup patterns are too focused for most speech applications. It is far worse to discard valid signal because the speaker is a bit off-axis than to pick up some noise (which is at a much lower level anyway). Generally, do not attempt to solve feedback problems by using more focused pickup patterns.

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Microphone stands

When a microphone and stand have been set up for use, to accommodate most heights, the microphone capsule should be adjustable from 4 ft (120 cm) to 6 ft (180 cm).

I recommend the On-Stage MS7700B Tripod Base Mic Stand as a basic microphone stand.

Here are some portable stands to consider:

  • goSTAND Portable Mic Stand
  • Manfrotto 5001B
  • Manfrotto 1051BAC
  • Lowel Uni-TO
  • On-Stage MSA-9500
  • Shure S15A
  • Avenger a635b
  • Avenger a0035b
  • Auray MS-5220T
  • camera tripod stands?

Remote motorized stands:

  • Optogate Mic Lift V2: If I am reading the specifications correctly, this stand provides 72 cm (28.3 inches) of motorized adjustment!
  • Chapman Remote-Mast stand model KH, KHW, or KHWB: Unfortunately this unit provides only 30 cm (12 inches) of motorized adjustment, which really isn’t enough.

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