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Which side of the microphone is the front?

'Point the microphone at the source of sound.' That's rule number one of audio with very few exceptions. But how can you tell which is the pointy end?


It isn't always obvious how a microphone should be pointed. For instance some microphones are end-address (sometimes referred to as front-address), others are side-address, and in some cases it's tricky to know - take for example the Sennheiser MD421 which looks very much like a side-address mic but it is actually end-address.

Sennheiser MD421

When you know that a microphone is end-address it is obvious how to point it. But what about side-address microphones?

Normally a side-address microphone will have the manufacturer's badge or logo on the front and any pad and filter switches on the back. But what about the sE Electronics 4400a? That's an exception - the switches are on the front.

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sE Electronics 4400a

The reason for having switches on the back is clear - the artist shouldn't be messing about with them. That's the engineer's job. But many recordists and podcasters are self-op, so it makes a lot of sense for the switches to be instantly accessible.

But what about the mic on the cover of the Radio Times? This is a vintage BBC-Marconi Type A designed by the BBC as a $12 alternative to the $168 RCA Model 44 way back in the 1930s.

Clearly this is the back of the mic. There's no way the BBC would place the screw terminals of the mic (no XLRs in those days) directly in front of the artist. Perhaps it was photographed in this way because there is a BBC logo on the front and the Radio Times, which used to be a mouthpiece for the BBC, these days is broadcaster-agnostic.

Perhaps it's not even a real microphone but a digital model.

But there's one more thing...

The BBC-Marconi Type A is a ribbon microphone. It is therefore figure-of-eight pattern, so it sounds exactly the same from the front and from the back.

In conclusion therefore, it isn't always obvious which side of the microphone is the front. A listening test will reveal all.

One more thing... You probably want to know what the BBC-Marconi Type A sounds like (with a few crackles due to this 1940 recording being made to disc). Here it is...

By David Mellor Sunday February 17, 2019