TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 6 Microphone Techniques

In the last TCM Home Music Studio blog, we discussed the different types of microphones – condenser, dynamic and ribbon – and the main types of polarity – omnidirectional, cardioid and figure 8 – this week we’ll be discussing various microphone techniques. Continuing with the mic theme next week, we will suggest specific microphones to use on a cross section of instruments and voices and how best to place them to get a great sound.

Unless your Home Music Studio is based around a MIDI setup (which we will cover in detail in a later blog), you will most likely need to use microphones extensively.

This series of blogs can only go so far in explaining the use of microphones. So even though we are devoting a lot of blog space to the subject, we suggest you do your own research. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to handle any recording situation that presents itself.

Microphones, in all their various forms, convert air patterns into electric signals which can then be amplified and recorded. This applies to any acoustic instrument and that includes the voice.

Broadly speaking you can place mics a few inches from a source (close or spot miking), some distance (a few feet) from a source and far away from a source (ambient miking). Each position has its own pros and cons.

Close miking an instrument (especially with a cardioid) means that you will record more of the instrument than the room it’s in…obviously. If you’re recording in a room that doesn’t sound great you may benefit from a close mic, but if you want the room sound to be a part of the overall recorded sound you will need to put more distance between the source and the mic or maybe use an omnidirectional mic.

A close mic also allows you to isolate an instrument from another, giving you better separation of multiple instruments.

Using a cardioid mic close up will often accentuate the bass. This could work to your advantage or not, depending on what you are recording.

At close range, even slight adjustments in mic position can have a huge effect on the resulting sound. And remember close miking is more prone to overloading and distortion because the mic will be more sensitive to extreme transients.

It’s worth saying at this point, microphone placement is not an exact science. You will find by experimenting with position and different types of mics that a different sound can be captured. Certain techniques will work better than others. So remain open to trying various mics on instruments until you find your favourite combinations. In other words, don’t do the same thing every time or you’ll likely end up with the same sound on each recording…..unless of course that’s what you’re aiming for.

At a distance of a few feet from a sound source, mics can capture the sound of the room. They can also pick up other instruments. Which means that if a player in a group recording makes a mistake, it may be difficult to fix that mistake without affecting the sound of the other instruments in that take.

If you’re using more than one mic, or several, at the same time you need to be aware of possible phase problems. An example of this situation would be recording a drum set – where you may use a couple of overhead mics for cymbals, a mic on the kick, another on the snare etc.

The more mics you use, the more complicated it becomes. There will be some bleed from the snare into the overheads and bleed from the cymbals to other mics. So care has to be taken to ensure that each mic is picking up as much of the intended instrument and as little as possible of the other instruments.

In this situation the various microphones pick up the sound waves at slightly different times, causing phase cancellation. This leads to certain frequencies dropping out (usually the bass). You can correct phase problems by moving one or both of the suspected problem mics until the bass response is restored.

Some digital recorders have a phase switch which allows you to reverse the signal’s phase. Alternatively, replace your mic cables (one at a time) as some are wired differently to others.

A-Close microphone placement.

B-Ambient or distant microphone placement.

Ambient miking definitely has its uses, but there are a few things you need to consider. The further away you place a microphone from a sound source, the more of the room sound is included in the recorded signal. So, if you have a great sounding room, go for it. But a lot of home studios suffer from poor sounding rooms. The only way to see if the result is worth keeping is to record and playback. If you like it, fine. If not, maybe use a closer mic technique or try recording in a different room.

With ambient miking you will lose the attack or transients from an instrument. So if you like the sound from the ambient mic but it lacks punch, you may want to add a close mic too. Just remember to check for any phase problems as a result of using more than one mic.

Stereo Miking – Recording in stereo presents its own special problems and there are a few different techniques you can use. If you’d like more detailed information on this topic, click here.

The easiest solution is to use a stereo microphone. This type of microphone contains two diaphragms and allows you to record the output from each one to a separate track on your recorder.

To get good results, the most common method used is called X-Y (coincident) stereo miking. This arrangement uses two matched cardioid microphones set at an angle of 90 degrees to each other. The resultant stereo image isn’t as wide as real life but is nevertheless a fairly good approximation. This method does not work close up, so you have to place the mics several feet away from the sound source to get stereo imaging.

The Blumlein technique uses two figure 8 mics in a similar X-Y configuration. The difference being that sound is now picked up from the front and the back. This produces a more pleasant natural sound, providing of course that the room you’re recording in adds to the sound and doesn’t detract from it.

Another stereo recording technique uses a spaced pair of matched microphones. This method is popular for recording ensembles but can be prone to phase problems. Care needs to be taken in spacing the mics correctly. Experience has shown that by spacing the mics about three times farther apart from each other than the sound source, will keep phase problems to a minimum.

Again it’s worth mentioning that the time spent experimenting with the mic pair position relative to the sound source, will produce varying results. So when using any method, take your time to get the best position. And the golden rule with miking is never use more mics than you need to.

Also, it’s essential to check how a stereo recording sounds in mono by switching the monitors between stereo and mono. Phasing problems can be detected and it can show up inconsistencies in instrument levels and tone. If a mix sounds good in mono, it will usually sound great in stereo.

All of us at TCM Mastering love music. We’ve all spent most of our lives in this business. So, if you have any questions regarding the blog, mastering or recording in general please drop us a line or contact us here.

The next installment will cover microphone choices for  specific instruments.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Artists, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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  1. […] them simultaneously into a single mic or matched pair. If you choose the latter your options are an omnidirectional, figure-8 mic or a stereo pair of […]

  2. […] of recording a Harp is to use a Blumlein pair of mics. It’s like the X-Y technique (see Part 6 Mic Technique Blog) but with two figure-8 mics set at 90 degrees to each other in a column arrangement. See the […]

  3. […] an X-Y configuration at least 3-5 feet distant (more may be better), 4-5 feet off the ground. You may have to move the […]

  4. […] an X-Y configuration at least 3-5 feet distant (more may be better), 4-5 feet off the ground. You may have to move the […]

  5. […] X-Y configuration (see Home Music Studio Part 6) needs a little trial and error to find the best position. Don’t place the mics too close or […]

  6. […] microphone for the job in the best position. That really is important. Check out earlier blogs on Mic Techniques and miking various […]

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