Adventures In Audio

Why do microphones sound different?

Firstly, is there such a thing as a perfect microphone? How would we know that it is perfect?

Well, if you could record someone speaking, then play the recording back through a very accurate loudspeaker, probably an electrostatic, then you would have an excellent basis for a comparison test.

Simply compare the sound coming from the loudspeaker, blindfold, with the real live sound of your voice artist.

If you can't tell the difference, then the microphone is as perfect as it needs to be.

If you want to buy a near-perfect microphone, then you might start with DPA products, which are widely regarded as being very accurate.

But this isn't always the sound that we want. Usually we seek to achieve an up-front, 'larger than life' sound, for which imperfect microphones are often more appropriate.

Microphones that do not strive too hard for perfection nearly always sound different from each other. Even seemingly identical samples of the same model can show a difference.

So why do they sound different?

Firstly, the size and shape of the microphone - objects that are larger in size than the wavelength of the sound that strikes them have an effect on that sound. So at higher frequencies, the microphone interacts with the sound field and changes the sound it is trying to pick up.

Second, the grille. Try scratching the grilles of several microphones (gently, as you record) and compare the often huge differences in sound. This must be affecting the audio. We will find out by how much at some point in the not-too-distant future when we conduct a grille test. (George Foreman not invited.)

Third, the capsule. The capsule is the part of the microphone where the diaphragm is mounted. There are a variety of materials from which the diaphragm itself can be made, and methods of construction differ. This has a significant effect on the sound.

Fourthly, the internal amplifier of capacitor (condenser) microphones. These amplifiers tend to be very simple in design and often do not exhibit the ultimate in accuracy. Every degree of deviation from accuracy affects the sound.

Finally, the transformer. Most professional microphones have a transformer and those that do not have an electronic circuit that mimics the effect of a transformer. Transformers subtly, but often audibly, alter the sound quality.

In summary, we like mics that are accurate and near-perfect. We'd like more of them to be available.

But it's in the differences between imperfect microphones where much of the texture and interest in audio lies. Long may these differences continue and prosper!

Comments on this video

You can comment on this video at YouTube

@ronbynum7304:  Always a treat. This one, in particular, is prescient because far too many aspiring engineers lack even a rudimentary understanding of all things microphones.

@parentteachernight:  Thanks.

You can comment on this video at YouTube

Saturday October 3, 2020

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Learn Pro Tools with our amazing range of video courses

Pro Tools video course catalog

Browse Pro Tools courses...

Learn Logic Pro with our amazing range of video courses

Logic Pro video course catalog

Browse Logic Pro courses...

Learn Cubase with our amazing range of video courses

Cubase video course catalog

Browse Cubase courses...

Audio Masterclass gives you all the technical knowledge and skills to bring your musical dreams to life

The Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Course

Get the most from your studio with the Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Course.

Learn more...

More from Adventures In Audio...

Hi-Fi comfort OVER your ears? TRUEFREE O1 detailed review

Get the tube sound in your system with the Fosi Audio P3

Any studio you like, any listening room you like - For producers and audiophiles

Hidden Hi-Fi - The equipment you never knew you *didn't* need - Fosi Audio N3

Adding tubes to a jazz mix with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to a rock master with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to female vocals with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to male vocals with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to real drums with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to a bass guitar with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to speech with Freqport Freqtube

Adding tubes to an acoustic guitar with Freqport Freqtube

Parabolic reflector microphone - Sound On Sound latest issue

Your power amp is average - Here's why

MANCAVE REVIEW: In-ear monitors - Better than earbuds?

Can this tiny amp really produce 600 watts? - Fosi Audio V3

MANCAVE - Recreating Olivia Rodrigo's 'Vampire' vocal

Why does this song sound so bad?

Audiophiles - You're all wrong!

MANCAVE RE-REVIEW: OpenRock Pro earbuds in language Audiophiles can understand

MANCAVE REVIEW: OpenRock Open-Ear Air Conduction Sport Earbuds

Can lossy digital audio be better than lossless?

Man-Cave: Microphone mysteries revealed

How I improved my audio - From the Mancave