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    The essentials
                How to choose the right mic for the job


                                                                                         of microphone technology




The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
W W W . D P A M I C R O P H O N E S . C O M



               Contents

               1.   Getting the right microphone

               2.   Live vs. studio miking

               3.   Dynamic vs. condenser microphones

               4.   Testing your microphone

               5.   Directional/cardioid vs. omnidirectional microphones

               6.   Large vs. small diaphragms

               7.   How to read microphone specifications




The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
Getting the right                                           The main problem with a live setting is the large number
                                                                    of other loud sound sources other than the one you
                                                                    wish to amplify or record such as the P.A. front and the
          microphone                                                monitors that can cause feedback, or the other musicians
                                                                    and their amps that are often much louder than the
                                                                    voice or softer instrument you need to mic.

   Before buying a microphone, it is essential to make sure         This means that the primary objective for a live micro-
   that it will do the job you want it to do. This means that       phone is separation and secondarily good off-axis sound
   you have to clearly understand which application(s) the          (sound taken in from the side/back of the microphones).
   microphone was designed for.
                                                                    If the monitor and amplifier level on stage is controlled
   There is no such thing as an all-purpose microphone              and relatively low, it is possible to gain more clarity and
   that is ideal for every application. Differences in pick-        definition by using less directional microphones.
   up pattern, maximum SPL constraints and noise floor
   should all be taken into account during the selection
   process. All microphones are made for a certain pur-
   pose or sometimes a compromise between several re-
   lated purposes.                                                           Dynamic vs.
   Is it primarily for recording in a studio or home studio,
   is it for live use or perhaps both? Is it meant for one
                                                                           condenser mics
   specific instrument or sound source or should it be for
   more general use? Is it to be mounted on a stand, an
                                                                    Dynamic microphones are, in brief terms, a reverse dy-
   instrument, a head or is it handheld?
                                                                    namic loudspeaker (you can actually use a loudspeaker
                                                                    as a dynamic mic – don’t try the opposite). It’s a moving
   Is your budget limited? Quality always costs. You can
                                                                    coil in a permanent magnet. The diaphragm is attached
   save money on features you don’t need, but to most
                                                                    to the coil, and when it moves, it produces varying cur-
   people quality is a feature they do need.
                                                                    rent through electromagnetic induction.

                                                                    The construction of dynamic mics is quite simple, which
                                                                    makes them rugged and inexpensive and they don’t
                                                                    require external power. The rugged heavy construction
                                                                    also makes them more ‘forgiving’ with less resolution.
                                                                    Most common applications are live – especially on vo-
                                                                    cals, drums and amplifiers.

                                                                    A condenser microphone consists of a capacitor, where
                                                                    one side is the diaphragm and the other is the back
                                                                    plate which is polarized either from an external power
                                                                    source or by prepolarization. As the diaphragm moves
                                                                    it changes the capacitance, and these changes are then
                                                                    amplified to make a transmittable signal.

                                                                    All condenser mics need external power (referred to as
            Live vs. studio                                         phantom power) to energize the internal electronics.
                                                                    They produce a sound signal of a much higher quality

                miking                                              than the dynamic mics, but they are more expensive,
                                                                    and a little more fragile to use, however newer technol-
                                                                    ogy has made them far more resistant to rough use,
   The main difference between these two environments is            and the use of condensers in live applications is on the
   not the sound source itself but the surroundings.                rise.

   The studio is a relatively controlled environment, where
   you often are given a second chance if the result is not
   satisfactory. For that reason your expectations of the result
   will, of course, also be much higher. That means the de-
   sire for clarity, definition and low noise has no upper limit.

   In order to compensate for poor sounding acoustics or
   to get more channel separation when multiple instru-
   ments are recorded, directionality can be more important
   than definition and noise.

The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
Testing your                                          For live use you generally want as much suppression
                                                                     of off-axis sound as possible. You only wish to hear
                                                                     the sound source itself. But very hard suppression often
               microphone                                            gives a very uneven off-axis sound that will give the
                                                                     impression of ‘unnatural’ sound reproduction.

                                                                     Usually this compromise relates to the genre of music
                                                                     you play. An acoustic low volume genre really appreci-
                                                                     ates an open, natural and clean sound, whereas the
                                                                     louder the volume and the higher the need for gain
                                                                     before feedback, the higher tolerance towards ‘unnatu-
                                                                     ral’, amplified sound.



                                                                     Directional/cardioid
                                                                     vs. omnidirectional
                                                                         microphones
   Never test a microphone alone. It’s always easier to hear
   a microphone’s character if you compare it to some-
   thing.                                                            Microphones can have different directional characteris-
                                                                     tics. Omnidirectionals that pick up the sound all around
   It is important to keep in mind that the acoustic memo-           them, and cardioids that mainly pick up the sound
   ry of the human being is only a few seconds. You can’t            directly in front of them. Other directional patterns are:
   rely on your memory of a microphone you tried last                bidirectional/figure 8, supercardioid, hypercardioid, and
   week, you need to be able to switch back and forth                wide cardioid.
   – A/B-testing. You can either test against an alternative
   microphone you are considering buying or one of your              Generally a cardioid sounds appealing, since in a musi-
   own microphones that you are very familiar with.                  cal setting you only want the sound source and rarely
                                                                     want to record or amplify the surroundings. But direc-
   Compare their on-axis sound. For a studio microphone              tionality has a price and that sometimes is not worth
   this can be done at two different distances: 30 cm,               paying.
   which is the normal distance when recording a vocal,
   and for further testing, 3 cm on a loud sound source              Directional microphones need to have a much softer di-
   to check its upper dynamic range. If it’s a directional           aphragm than an omni. This softness results in handling,
   microphone, this will also help to check proximity effect         pop and wind noise which puts a limit to how close
   and pop noise (more about this later).                            you can get to a vocalist, even when using pop-filters.

   For all microphone testing using a really challenging             A directional mic also suffers from proximity effect, which
   sound source can be very revealing. Try testing with a            means that the closer you get to the sound source the
   large ring of keys. The sound of jangling keys has some           louder the low frequencies get and vice versa.
   very complex high frequencies that are difficult to repro-
   duce. Good mics can, but lesser mics sound like you are
   crumbling a piece of paper.

   To test a live microphone you wish to hear its perfor-
   mance in its normal environment, so standing in front
   of a P.A. facing the stage would be ideal. Place the mi-
   crophone as it will normally be used, usually very close
   to the sound source, and again always test multiple mics
   at the same time.                                             -


   In live use gain before feedback is very important. You       -
   therefore need to test at quite high volumes to see
   which microphone feeds back first.

   Next compare their off-axis sound. On directional micro-          The proximity effect exhibited by the DPA 401
                                                                                                                 1-TL
   phones you need to check the suppression of off-axis              Cardioid Microphone.
   sound. How hard is the suppression and – also very
   important – how good it sounds.

The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
A cardioid microphone can be adjusted to be linear at
   the distance it is normally used. A vocal microphone for
                                                                                                                       Cardioid        Super-
   live use, for example, is adjusted to be linear at a distance                                                                      cardioid
                                                                                                Omnidirectional
   of approximately 1 – 2 cm and at longer distances the
                                                                      Source
   low frequencies drop dramatically. A studio microphone is
                                                                                                                                                   Hyper-
   typically adjusted to work at a longer distance.                                                                                               cardioid
                                                                                                                      Bidirectional

   In the example of the DPA 401  1-TL, when used closer
   than 30 cm it gives a low frequency boost, and when                                                1                    1.7          1.9   2
   used further than 30 cm it gives a low frequency roll-
   off. That means that from any other distance than 30
   cm equalization is needed unless the proximity effect is         Relative distance to sound source for equal balance
   desired.                                                         between direct and indirect sound.
   Additionally the off-axis sound of a cardioid is less linear     Multi-pattern microphones with both omnidirectional,
   than that of an omni. It is very hard to reduce the level        bidirectional and cardioid characteristics will always com-
   of sound taken in from the sides without some color-             promise the sound quality. It may be very convenient
   ation, and some directional microphones have a notably           to have a 3-in-1 solution, but the drawback is reduced
   poor off-axis response.                                          performance in each mode.
   This means that sound entering the microphone from               Due to the need of a pressure gradient design, a multi-
   the sides and the rear are more or less strongly col-            pattern microphone in omni mode has many of the
   ored – the industry names this “the curtain effect”. This        weaknesses of the cardioid, such as popping, handling
   effect can be seen on the microphones polar pattern              and wind noise and a less linear off-axis sound. In fact
   as ‘spikes’.                                                     a multi-pattern microphone in the same mode can have
                                                                    different characteristics depending on the frequency.
   On the other hand, miking live with high level monitors
   can make the omni mic feed back, which makes the
   cardioids more suitable for this application, although the
   use of in-ear monitors reduces that problem.                            Large vs.
                                                                       small diaphragms
                                                                    Before choosing between a large and a small diaphragm
                                                                    microphone it is important to know the difference in
                                                                    features between them, and microphone behavior can
                                                                    not be compared with that of a loudspeaker when
                                                                    considering size.

                                                                    A large diaphragm microphone is not better at repro-
                                                                    ducing low-frequencies, but it may be less precise in
                                                                    reproducing high frequencies, which may make it sound
   If you choose an omnidirectional microphone, channel             as if it has more low end.
   separation may be less precise than with a directional
   microphone, because the omni will pick up sound from             A small diaphragm has a higher self noise due to the fact
   all directions. Therefore, if channel separation is preferred,   that the small diaphragm is less compliant and therefore
   the ratio between direct and indirect sound can become           more sensitive to the bombardment of air molecules
   more unfavorable with an omni.                                   that causes some of the self noise of a microphone. And
                                                                    since the large diaphragm is softer than the small, it is
   The omni, however, can be moved closer to the source,            easier to move and therefore more sensitive – even at
   without the penalty of proximity effect. As a general rule       very low levels.
   it can be said that if we place a cardioid at a distance
   of 1 cm to the source, then an omni placed at 1 cm
        7                                              0            This means that the small diaphragm, because it’s stiff,
   gives the same ratio of direct and indirect sound as the         can handle a higher sound pressure without clipping or
   cardioid.                                                        distortion, but is less sensitive and needs more amplifica-
                                                                    tion, which also adds a little noise.




The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
When reproducing very high frequencies, large dia-
   phragm microphones have a more limited range than                       How to read
   the small diaphragms. This is caused by three factors:

   1. A large diaphragm tends to break up and will no
                                                                         mic specifications
   longer act as a true piston. This phenomenon is also
   recognized in loudspeaker technology and is the reason
   why loudspeakers are manufactured with different sizes         When you read microphone specifications in order to
   of diaphragms to handle different frequencies.                 compare different microphones, it is extremely important
                                                                  that you understand how to interpret them.
   2. The weight of the diaphragm will attenuate the dis-
   placement of the diaphragm for higher frequencies.             In most cases the specifications can be measured or cal-
                                                                  culated in many different ways. This article is designed to
   3. The diffractions around the edges of the microphone         help evaluate specifications in a meaningful way.
   capsule will limit the microphone’s capability to handle
   very high frequencies.                                         While microphone specifications provide an indication
                                                                  of a microphone’s electro-acoustic performance, they will
   Conclusion                                                     not give you the total appreciation of how it will sound
   Both diaphragm sizes have their respective advantages          – just as it is with cars. Knowing that it is a 3.0 turbo-
   and disadvantages. This is illustrated in this table, which    engine with 4WD gives you an idea of a pretty good
   compares the specifications of DPA’s small and large dia-      driving experience, but for the exact feeling, you need to
   phragm microphones:                                            drive the car yourself.

                                                                  Frequency range/frequency response
                                                                  Frequency range tells you the range of the frequencies
                                                                  (for example 20 Hz to 20 kHz) that the microphone
                                                                  can pick up and reproduce, but not how well the dif-
                                                                  ferent frequencies are reproduced. To see that you need
                                                                  the frequency response:

                                                                 10
                                                                 dB
                                                                  5
                                                                                                                                On-axis
                                                                  0
                                                                  -5
                                                                          5 dB                                   Diffuse
                                                                 -10
                                                                 -15
                                                                    10   20 Hz 50   100   200 Hz 500 1 kHz   2   5   10    20     40



                                                                  Frequency response of DPA 4006 Omnidirectional Mi-
                                                                  crophone, P48.
   Both diaphragm sizes have their respective advantages
   and disadvantages. This is illustrated in the table above.     Here you see how linear the response is or if the mi-
                                                                  crophone has any ‘spikes’. But pay attention to the scale
                                                                  on the left. The number of dB each step represents can
                                                                  vary a lot.

                                                                  The frequency response normally refers to the on-axis re-
                                                                  sponse, which means from a sound source right in front
                                                                  of the microphone. The diffuse field response curve will
                                                                  illustrate how the microphone will respond in a highly
                                                                  reverberant sound field.

                                                                  It is also important to examine the off-axis response.
                                                                  A microphone always takes in sound from the sides too,
                                                                  the question is just how much and how good it sounds.
                                                                  In particular, directional microphones can, in their at-
                                                                  tempt to suppress sound from the sides, get an uneven
                                                                  off-axis response:




The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
Sensitivity, sound pressure level (SPL) handling
                                                                 and total harmonic distortion (THD)

                                                                 Sensitivity tells you how well the microphone can convert
                                                                 the acoustic sound into electricity and according to the
                                                                 IEC 60268-4 norm, the sensitivity is measured in mV per
                                                                 Pascal (air pressure) at 1 kHz. The higher the sensitivity
                                                                 the better, because it reduces the need for amplification
                                                                 and therefore reduces the amplification noise.

   On- and off-axis responses of DPA 401
                                       1-TL/4012/4021/           SPL handling tells you how much sound pressure in dB
   4022/4023 cardioid microphones measured at 30 cm.             the microphone can handle before it either clips (the
                                                                 diaphragm hits the backplate or the amplifier overloads)
                                                                 or reaches a certain level of distortion (THD or total
   Finally a polar plot can show the 360° response of            harmonic distortion). Typically either 0,.5 % or 1 %. The
   selected frequencies. The response curves should be           higher level of sound pressure before clip or distortion
   smooth and symmetric to show an uncolored sound.              the better.
   Extreme peaks and valleys are unwanted and the re-
   sponse curves should not cross each other.                    Example:
                                                                 DPA 4004 Hi-SPL Omnidirectional Microphone, 1 V:
                                                                                                               30
   From the polar diagram you can also see how omnidi-           Maximum sound pressure level:1 dB SPL peak
                                                                                                68
   rectional microphones usually become more directional         Total harmonic distortion:1 dB SPL peak (<0.5 % THD),
                                                                                            42
   at higher frequencies.                                        1 dB SPL peak (<1 % THD)
                                                                  48




                                                                               Conclusion
                                                                 We sincerely hope this microphone guide will be helpful
                                                                 to you, and make you aware of what to look for when
                                                                 buying your next microphone.

                                                                 We know it’s a very technical field, but we are convinced
                                                                 that today’s musicians and home studios have demands
                                                                 just as high as sound engineers and producers, and so
                                                                 need the same level of knowledge.

                                                                 For a deeper exploration of these topics, please refer to
                                                                 other sections of the Microphone University.
   DPA 4006 Omnidirectional Microphone.

   Equivalent noise level/self noise
   The equivalent noise level indicates the sound pressure
   level that will create the same voltage that the self-noise
   from the microphone will produce. A low noise level is
   especially desirable when working with low sound pres-
   sure levels so the sound will not “drown” in noise from
   the microphone itself. The self-noise also dictates the
   lower limitation in the microphone’s dynamic range.

   There are two typical standards:
   The dB(A) scale will weight the SPL according to the ear’s
   sensitivity, especially filtering out low frequency noise.
   Good results (very low noise) in this scale are usually
   below 1 dB(A).
             5

   The ITU-R BS.468-4 scale uses a different weighting, so
   in this scale, good results are below 25 dB.




The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
w w w . d p a m i c r o p h o n e s . c o m / m i c u n i




             Microphone University                   Application Guide                 Microphone Guide

           DPA’s    online   Microphone         The Application Guide offers       Whether you are a recording
           University is your pro audio         useful tips about which mi-        musician, a Foley artist, or an
           learning center, providing a         crophones to use and how           audio engineer for a house
           wealth of articles discussing        to use them on a variety of        of worship, the DPA Micro-
           all things microphone.               instruments.                       phone Guide is a great place
                                                                                   to start.
           Subjects include basic techni-       From acoustic guitar and
           cal information, microphone          banjo to trumpet and vio-          There is a DPA microphone
           placement, applications, ste-        lin, this guide shares tips on     for every job – use the Mic
           reo and surround recording.          how to find your instrument’s      Guide as a quick and easy
                                                sweet spot.                        way to find the right one.




The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job

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DPA - The Essentials

  • 1. w w w . d p a m i c r o p h o n e s . c o m / m i c u n i The essentials How to choose the right mic for the job of microphone technology The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 2. W W W . D P A M I C R O P H O N E S . C O M Contents 1. Getting the right microphone 2. Live vs. studio miking 3. Dynamic vs. condenser microphones 4. Testing your microphone 5. Directional/cardioid vs. omnidirectional microphones 6. Large vs. small diaphragms 7. How to read microphone specifications The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 3. Getting the right The main problem with a live setting is the large number of other loud sound sources other than the one you wish to amplify or record such as the P.A. front and the microphone monitors that can cause feedback, or the other musicians and their amps that are often much louder than the voice or softer instrument you need to mic. Before buying a microphone, it is essential to make sure This means that the primary objective for a live micro- that it will do the job you want it to do. This means that phone is separation and secondarily good off-axis sound you have to clearly understand which application(s) the (sound taken in from the side/back of the microphones). microphone was designed for. If the monitor and amplifier level on stage is controlled There is no such thing as an all-purpose microphone and relatively low, it is possible to gain more clarity and that is ideal for every application. Differences in pick- definition by using less directional microphones. up pattern, maximum SPL constraints and noise floor should all be taken into account during the selection process. All microphones are made for a certain pur- pose or sometimes a compromise between several re- lated purposes. Dynamic vs. Is it primarily for recording in a studio or home studio, is it for live use or perhaps both? Is it meant for one condenser mics specific instrument or sound source or should it be for more general use? Is it to be mounted on a stand, an Dynamic microphones are, in brief terms, a reverse dy- instrument, a head or is it handheld? namic loudspeaker (you can actually use a loudspeaker as a dynamic mic – don’t try the opposite). It’s a moving Is your budget limited? Quality always costs. You can coil in a permanent magnet. The diaphragm is attached save money on features you don’t need, but to most to the coil, and when it moves, it produces varying cur- people quality is a feature they do need. rent through electromagnetic induction. The construction of dynamic mics is quite simple, which makes them rugged and inexpensive and they don’t require external power. The rugged heavy construction also makes them more ‘forgiving’ with less resolution. Most common applications are live – especially on vo- cals, drums and amplifiers. A condenser microphone consists of a capacitor, where one side is the diaphragm and the other is the back plate which is polarized either from an external power source or by prepolarization. As the diaphragm moves it changes the capacitance, and these changes are then amplified to make a transmittable signal. All condenser mics need external power (referred to as Live vs. studio phantom power) to energize the internal electronics. They produce a sound signal of a much higher quality miking than the dynamic mics, but they are more expensive, and a little more fragile to use, however newer technol- ogy has made them far more resistant to rough use, The main difference between these two environments is and the use of condensers in live applications is on the not the sound source itself but the surroundings. rise. The studio is a relatively controlled environment, where you often are given a second chance if the result is not satisfactory. For that reason your expectations of the result will, of course, also be much higher. That means the de- sire for clarity, definition and low noise has no upper limit. In order to compensate for poor sounding acoustics or to get more channel separation when multiple instru- ments are recorded, directionality can be more important than definition and noise. The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 4. Testing your For live use you generally want as much suppression of off-axis sound as possible. You only wish to hear the sound source itself. But very hard suppression often microphone gives a very uneven off-axis sound that will give the impression of ‘unnatural’ sound reproduction. Usually this compromise relates to the genre of music you play. An acoustic low volume genre really appreci- ates an open, natural and clean sound, whereas the louder the volume and the higher the need for gain before feedback, the higher tolerance towards ‘unnatu- ral’, amplified sound. Directional/cardioid vs. omnidirectional microphones Never test a microphone alone. It’s always easier to hear a microphone’s character if you compare it to some- thing. Microphones can have different directional characteris- tics. Omnidirectionals that pick up the sound all around It is important to keep in mind that the acoustic memo- them, and cardioids that mainly pick up the sound ry of the human being is only a few seconds. You can’t directly in front of them. Other directional patterns are: rely on your memory of a microphone you tried last bidirectional/figure 8, supercardioid, hypercardioid, and week, you need to be able to switch back and forth wide cardioid. – A/B-testing. You can either test against an alternative microphone you are considering buying or one of your Generally a cardioid sounds appealing, since in a musi- own microphones that you are very familiar with. cal setting you only want the sound source and rarely want to record or amplify the surroundings. But direc- Compare their on-axis sound. For a studio microphone tionality has a price and that sometimes is not worth this can be done at two different distances: 30 cm, paying. which is the normal distance when recording a vocal, and for further testing, 3 cm on a loud sound source Directional microphones need to have a much softer di- to check its upper dynamic range. If it’s a directional aphragm than an omni. This softness results in handling, microphone, this will also help to check proximity effect pop and wind noise which puts a limit to how close and pop noise (more about this later). you can get to a vocalist, even when using pop-filters. For all microphone testing using a really challenging A directional mic also suffers from proximity effect, which sound source can be very revealing. Try testing with a means that the closer you get to the sound source the large ring of keys. The sound of jangling keys has some louder the low frequencies get and vice versa. very complex high frequencies that are difficult to repro- duce. Good mics can, but lesser mics sound like you are crumbling a piece of paper. To test a live microphone you wish to hear its perfor- mance in its normal environment, so standing in front of a P.A. facing the stage would be ideal. Place the mi- crophone as it will normally be used, usually very close to the sound source, and again always test multiple mics at the same time. - In live use gain before feedback is very important. You - therefore need to test at quite high volumes to see which microphone feeds back first. Next compare their off-axis sound. On directional micro- The proximity effect exhibited by the DPA 401 1-TL phones you need to check the suppression of off-axis Cardioid Microphone. sound. How hard is the suppression and – also very important – how good it sounds. The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 5. A cardioid microphone can be adjusted to be linear at the distance it is normally used. A vocal microphone for Cardioid Super- live use, for example, is adjusted to be linear at a distance cardioid Omnidirectional of approximately 1 – 2 cm and at longer distances the Source low frequencies drop dramatically. A studio microphone is Hyper- typically adjusted to work at a longer distance. cardioid Bidirectional In the example of the DPA 401 1-TL, when used closer than 30 cm it gives a low frequency boost, and when 1 1.7 1.9 2 used further than 30 cm it gives a low frequency roll- off. That means that from any other distance than 30 cm equalization is needed unless the proximity effect is Relative distance to sound source for equal balance desired. between direct and indirect sound. Additionally the off-axis sound of a cardioid is less linear Multi-pattern microphones with both omnidirectional, than that of an omni. It is very hard to reduce the level bidirectional and cardioid characteristics will always com- of sound taken in from the sides without some color- promise the sound quality. It may be very convenient ation, and some directional microphones have a notably to have a 3-in-1 solution, but the drawback is reduced poor off-axis response. performance in each mode. This means that sound entering the microphone from Due to the need of a pressure gradient design, a multi- the sides and the rear are more or less strongly col- pattern microphone in omni mode has many of the ored – the industry names this “the curtain effect”. This weaknesses of the cardioid, such as popping, handling effect can be seen on the microphones polar pattern and wind noise and a less linear off-axis sound. In fact as ‘spikes’. a multi-pattern microphone in the same mode can have different characteristics depending on the frequency. On the other hand, miking live with high level monitors can make the omni mic feed back, which makes the cardioids more suitable for this application, although the use of in-ear monitors reduces that problem. Large vs. small diaphragms Before choosing between a large and a small diaphragm microphone it is important to know the difference in features between them, and microphone behavior can not be compared with that of a loudspeaker when considering size. A large diaphragm microphone is not better at repro- ducing low-frequencies, but it may be less precise in reproducing high frequencies, which may make it sound If you choose an omnidirectional microphone, channel as if it has more low end. separation may be less precise than with a directional microphone, because the omni will pick up sound from A small diaphragm has a higher self noise due to the fact all directions. Therefore, if channel separation is preferred, that the small diaphragm is less compliant and therefore the ratio between direct and indirect sound can become more sensitive to the bombardment of air molecules more unfavorable with an omni. that causes some of the self noise of a microphone. And since the large diaphragm is softer than the small, it is The omni, however, can be moved closer to the source, easier to move and therefore more sensitive – even at without the penalty of proximity effect. As a general rule very low levels. it can be said that if we place a cardioid at a distance of 1 cm to the source, then an omni placed at 1 cm 7 0 This means that the small diaphragm, because it’s stiff, gives the same ratio of direct and indirect sound as the can handle a higher sound pressure without clipping or cardioid. distortion, but is less sensitive and needs more amplifica- tion, which also adds a little noise. The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 6. When reproducing very high frequencies, large dia- phragm microphones have a more limited range than How to read the small diaphragms. This is caused by three factors: 1. A large diaphragm tends to break up and will no mic specifications longer act as a true piston. This phenomenon is also recognized in loudspeaker technology and is the reason why loudspeakers are manufactured with different sizes When you read microphone specifications in order to of diaphragms to handle different frequencies. compare different microphones, it is extremely important that you understand how to interpret them. 2. The weight of the diaphragm will attenuate the dis- placement of the diaphragm for higher frequencies. In most cases the specifications can be measured or cal- culated in many different ways. This article is designed to 3. The diffractions around the edges of the microphone help evaluate specifications in a meaningful way. capsule will limit the microphone’s capability to handle very high frequencies. While microphone specifications provide an indication of a microphone’s electro-acoustic performance, they will Conclusion not give you the total appreciation of how it will sound Both diaphragm sizes have their respective advantages – just as it is with cars. Knowing that it is a 3.0 turbo- and disadvantages. This is illustrated in this table, which engine with 4WD gives you an idea of a pretty good compares the specifications of DPA’s small and large dia- driving experience, but for the exact feeling, you need to phragm microphones: drive the car yourself. Frequency range/frequency response Frequency range tells you the range of the frequencies (for example 20 Hz to 20 kHz) that the microphone can pick up and reproduce, but not how well the dif- ferent frequencies are reproduced. To see that you need the frequency response: 10 dB 5 On-axis 0 -5 5 dB Diffuse -10 -15 10 20 Hz 50 100 200 Hz 500 1 kHz 2 5 10 20 40 Frequency response of DPA 4006 Omnidirectional Mi- crophone, P48. Both diaphragm sizes have their respective advantages and disadvantages. This is illustrated in the table above. Here you see how linear the response is or if the mi- crophone has any ‘spikes’. But pay attention to the scale on the left. The number of dB each step represents can vary a lot. The frequency response normally refers to the on-axis re- sponse, which means from a sound source right in front of the microphone. The diffuse field response curve will illustrate how the microphone will respond in a highly reverberant sound field. It is also important to examine the off-axis response. A microphone always takes in sound from the sides too, the question is just how much and how good it sounds. In particular, directional microphones can, in their at- tempt to suppress sound from the sides, get an uneven off-axis response: The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 7. Sensitivity, sound pressure level (SPL) handling and total harmonic distortion (THD) Sensitivity tells you how well the microphone can convert the acoustic sound into electricity and according to the IEC 60268-4 norm, the sensitivity is measured in mV per Pascal (air pressure) at 1 kHz. The higher the sensitivity the better, because it reduces the need for amplification and therefore reduces the amplification noise. On- and off-axis responses of DPA 401 1-TL/4012/4021/ SPL handling tells you how much sound pressure in dB 4022/4023 cardioid microphones measured at 30 cm. the microphone can handle before it either clips (the diaphragm hits the backplate or the amplifier overloads) or reaches a certain level of distortion (THD or total Finally a polar plot can show the 360° response of harmonic distortion). Typically either 0,.5 % or 1 %. The selected frequencies. The response curves should be higher level of sound pressure before clip or distortion smooth and symmetric to show an uncolored sound. the better. Extreme peaks and valleys are unwanted and the re- sponse curves should not cross each other. Example: DPA 4004 Hi-SPL Omnidirectional Microphone, 1 V: 30 From the polar diagram you can also see how omnidi- Maximum sound pressure level:1 dB SPL peak 68 rectional microphones usually become more directional Total harmonic distortion:1 dB SPL peak (<0.5 % THD), 42 at higher frequencies. 1 dB SPL peak (<1 % THD) 48 Conclusion We sincerely hope this microphone guide will be helpful to you, and make you aware of what to look for when buying your next microphone. We know it’s a very technical field, but we are convinced that today’s musicians and home studios have demands just as high as sound engineers and producers, and so need the same level of knowledge. For a deeper exploration of these topics, please refer to other sections of the Microphone University. DPA 4006 Omnidirectional Microphone. Equivalent noise level/self noise The equivalent noise level indicates the sound pressure level that will create the same voltage that the self-noise from the microphone will produce. A low noise level is especially desirable when working with low sound pres- sure levels so the sound will not “drown” in noise from the microphone itself. The self-noise also dictates the lower limitation in the microphone’s dynamic range. There are two typical standards: The dB(A) scale will weight the SPL according to the ear’s sensitivity, especially filtering out low frequency noise. Good results (very low noise) in this scale are usually below 1 dB(A). 5 The ITU-R BS.468-4 scale uses a different weighting, so in this scale, good results are below 25 dB. The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job
  • 8. w w w . d p a m i c r o p h o n e s . c o m / m i c u n i Microphone University Application Guide Microphone Guide DPA’s online Microphone The Application Guide offers Whether you are a recording University is your pro audio useful tips about which mi- musician, a Foley artist, or an learning center, providing a crophones to use and how audio engineer for a house wealth of articles discussing to use them on a variety of of worship, the DPA Micro- all things microphone. instruments. phone Guide is a great place to start. Subjects include basic techni- From acoustic guitar and cal information, microphone banjo to trumpet and vio- There is a DPA microphone placement, applications, ste- lin, this guide shares tips on for every job – use the Mic reo and surround recording. how to find your instrument’s Guide as a quick and easy sweet spot. way to find the right one. The essentials of microphone technology: How to choose the right mic for the job