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How to get the best out of any microphone

A RecordProducer.com reader asks, "What if you are using a Behringer B1 microphone. How can you bring the best out of it?"

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I had to think about this question. The microphone is clearly not in the Neumann class so surely it would need special care in use to get the best out of it.

But then I thought, well even the best microphone in the world will benefit from care and attention in the way it is treated and used.

So would you treat a budget microphone any differently from a high-class microphone?

Well apart from being more expendable and therefore you can consider placing it closer to the drummer's flailing drum sticks, I think not.

Both budget and expensive microphones will benefit from the same kind of treatment.

Firstly think about the wellbeing of the microphone itself...

Microphones prefer to be kept in a consistent atmosphere in terms of temperature and humidity. Microphones obviously are designed to work well at temperatures and humidity levels that human beings have to work in. But what they like less are changes in conditions.

So if you treat your microphones with the same care as you would treat a Stradivarius violin, or your pet Shih Tzu, you will get the best out of them.

For instance, if you bring a capacitor microphone from the cold into a warm room, then moisture will condense on the diaphragm. This will cause frying pan noises until the moisture has evaporated, although the mic should be fine after that.

Also under the heading of wellbeing comes spit. Yes, that stuff that comes out of the human mouth.

It is a rare vocalist that doesn't shed a little saliva now and then when singing. And some of that will end up on the diaphragm of the microphone.

So when you use a microphone close-to, if you use a pop shield then the amount of saliva spray will be minimized.

One more point on looking after your microphones.

It may seem obvious but microphones do benefit from not being dropped. I've dropped a few mics in my time and what I have found from my own experience is that a mic might be damaged by a drop onto a hard surface and not work. But I haven't had one where the sound quality has been degraded. For me it has been all or nothing. It would be interesting however to hear about other people's experiences.

Moving on to how you use the microphone...

It makes an interesting comparison to mount two microphones onto the same stand then compare them to see which sounds best.

But although this comparison is interesting and illuminating, it isn't how you would judge which is the better mic.

Every mic needs careful and precise placement, for each and every recording task, to achieve the best that it is capable of.

So Mic A might sound best in one position, Mic B in another. And if one mic sounds better overall, then the other might win out on another task.

So microphone placement is absolutely key to getting the best sound out of any microphone that you have, budget or high-class.

It is my feeling that an experienced engineer could get better results from a Behringer B1 than a novice could get from a top-of-the-range Neumann. And all it takes is a little care and patience.

By David Mellor Thursday January 6, 2011
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