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A new word for the audio dictionary

How do you describe a microphone's position in relation to the voice or instrument it is recording or amplifying? Perhaps we need a new word in our vocabulary.

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I write a lot about microphone positioning. Why? Because, other than musical and artistic matters, it is THE most important thing in recording.

Microphone selection, preamp selection and settings - yes they are important, but there is nothing in recording that will make more of a difference than microphone positioning.

What do we mean by microphone positioning?

This sounds simple, and it is, but it needs to be precisely defined.

A microphone can be closer to an instrument or further away. This is the microphone distance.

A microphone can be pointed towards one end of an instrument, to the other end, or somewhere in the middle. This is the microphone's angle.

For the same distance, a microphone can be closer to one end of the instrument or the other, or one side of the instrument or the other. This is the microphone's... Er, we don't seem to have a precise word for this.

This is the problem

We're talking about where the microphone should go, and how it should be set up, but we don't have sufficient vocabulary to make the conversation meaningful and fluent.

So I'd like to introduce a new word. I didn't make it up - I've borrowed it from aeronautics and astronautics.

Next time you're watching a space documentary, notice how they talk about the 'attitude' of a capsule, which represents its position and angle in space with respect to the earth, a satellite, or another frame of reference.

This is the solution

We could easily talk about the attitude of a microphone with respect to a voice or instrument. Let's imagine an acoustic guitar, which can sound very different in response to changes in placement of the microphone.

The microphone could be 50 cm from the instrument. We have defined the distance so that's a start.

The microphone could be placed along an imaginary line emerging at 90 degrees from the centre of the sound hole. So the part of the instrument that the microphone is closest to is the centre of the sound hole.

That's where the word 'position' is a little vague because it could easily be conflated with distance, and I would say that it shouldn't be. I would prefer 'position' to mean the part of the instrument that the microphone is closest to, no matter what the distance.

And of course there is the angle at which the microphone points at the instrument. It might point directly towards the centre of the sound hole. Or it might point towards the bridge area of the instrument, or towards the fingerboard. It could point towards any part of the instrument without its distance or position being changed.

So we can see that distance, position and angle are necessary to completely describe what we can now call the attitude of the microphone.

I think that this idea has value and we would all benefit from being able to talk about the attitude of a microphone and understand that we are talking about distance, position and angle, 'position' being too vague to cover all of the variables.

I might be wrong, and I would welcome reasoned opinion to the contrary, but I think that the word 'attitude' could be a valuable addition to our audio vocabulary.

Summary

When we talk about the attitude of a microphone, we are talking about every different way it can be distanced, positioned and angled with respect to a voice or instrument.

By David Mellor Friday August 30, 2019
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