Which Microphone Should I Get?

A PAG Discussion from 1998

The following are two discussions of different microphone types taken from the Producers' Advocacy Group (PAG) listserve from June and September 1998. The PAG listserve is available to members of the Association of Independents in Radio. This discussion is made available to Radio College with permission of the authors.

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From: Claire Holman

I am buying a Sony PCM-M1(unless any of you exhort me not to for some technical reason) and don't know what kind of mic to get. The Sony will be used mainly for inteviews and ambient sound, in short, basic feature production. I imagine I don't need a stereo mic, but the AT 822 was suggested. Is this a good idea? If not, what? Thanks in advance for the help. I need it.

Claire Holman

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From: Flavia Potenza

I'm planning to buy a DAT soon, too, but don't know yet what kind. Maybe a SONY but maybe the next step up. I was advised to get a shotgun mike and a handle ($75 extra) to go with it. She said any EV type, even Radio Shack, which is definitely in my budget. I'm going on a trip this summer with my mother and sister. My omni mike is okay for ambience but if I want to do any interviews (which I will), the shotgun (uni-directional, I presume) will give me clean sound and cut out the background noise. The technical bar is getting higher and I'm learning to jump.

Flavia

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From: Henry Howard

>She said any EV type, >even Radio Shack, which is definitely in my budget.

I would avoid the Radio Shack line unless you know someone who has had V E R Y good experience with a specific model. There are a few that may work, but you really don't get what you don't pay for.

Most EV, Shure, and many other pro mics are good, each does a specific job well and other jobs ok.

What type of work are you specifically going to be doing?

Henry Howard

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From: Claire Holman

Henry:

The Sony DAT recorder, will be used primarily for inteviews and ambient sound -- features, basically. Any thoughts?

Claire

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From: Steve Rowland

The people who recomend shotgun mics for interviews are almost always folks from film&video backgrounds.

They really aren't a good idea for radio.

The advantage we have in radio is being able to get a mic in real close.

The best mics for this are usually omni's. the EV RE-50 is the old standby, and the Beyer M-58 is also very good. (it has a longer handle which is an advantage). You can go up in price and get powered condensor mics made by Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Neumann, Schoeps etc. if you want even better sound.

There are several problems with shotguns, including handling noise, wind noise, syllibance & "P" popping, and the problem of having your subject moving in and out of the mic's pick up pattern.

steve rowland

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From: Karen Michel

I disagree about shotguns.

I often use a short shot for interviews, with good results (it's a Sennheiser); always w windscreen. Great for noisy environments.

Karen M.

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From: Barrett Golding

in regards short-shotgun use i have the akg 451 capsule series and always use the omni when possible but if off-axis sound rejection is needed i find my short shortgun sounds way better than my cardioid, and the short shotgun w/ foam rejects handling noise and wind better as well just another tale from the front

bg

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From: Jeff Towne

I have to admit that we go back and forth about optimal mics for interviews on Echoes. So far we have been using cardioids, placed in fairly close. For Echoes we try to get as intimate and ambience-free of a sound as possible, except when someone is in a particularly interesting space. In that instance we tend to use our Sony ECM-3 stereo mic, which is very expensive, but has been a great mic. As we have mentioned before on this list, it tends to overload the DAP-1 preamps without the pad in, and requires a bit of practice to eliminate handling noise, but gives a nice sound and a fairly tight cardioid pattern when switched to mono mode. Proximity effect and P-pops are problems with any cardioid, but when one develops a good hand-held technique, and is monitoring fairly loud on good headphones (we use Sony VR-6s--doesn't everybody?) this can be overcome.

On the other hand, we had Lars Hoell do a double-ender for us a few years ago, and his recording, with a Neumann short-shotgun was one of the finest sounding voice recordings I have heard. I'm not sure how much credit to allocate to technique, microphone pattern, and Neumann engineering, but the combination of the three was pretty impressive.

So sadly, I'm not sure there is an answer to "what's the best mic?". It depends a lot on what sound you are looking for, and your own technique. We have no problem practically sitting in the interviewee's lap, jamming the mic right in close (off-axis, of course!) but if your style is to back-up a bit, or use a mic stand, or record while walking around, or if you want a lot of the ambience on tape, then you will need to adjust your equipment and technique to fit.

An Omni is a good all-around journalism mic. Cardioids will let you get a bit more intimate, rejecting more of the surroundings (good for minimizing hotel-room hum). Shotguns will let you back up a bit, and also reject extraneous sound very well, but you need to get pretty good at aiming them accurately if the subject can move around (many newsies like them because they are often recording people making statements from behind lecterns. The reporter can't get very close, and the subjects don't move around much. ) But these can be great mics for other applications if you develop some skill with them. If you are lucky enough to have a good Pro-Audio or music store nearby, bring in your DAT, and try out a bunch of mics, interviewing your salesman about what's good about them. He will be blathering some crap about frequency response and warmth, and which one works well on a kick-drum because that's all that salespeople know about microphones, but you can get a sense of what works best for your style and your DAT.

And oh yeah.....DONT buy a radio shack microphone.

Jeff Towne, Producer, Echoes

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From: Henry Howard

>The people who reccomend shotgun mics for interviews are almost >always folks from film&video backgrounds. > >They really aren't a good idea for radio.

Not necessarily so. I use shot shotguns regularly to get that 4 to 6 inch sound at 12 to 18 inches. It really helps keep the subject at ease. I would not say this is the only way to go, but it certainly does a good job for me many times.

Your over all best route would be to use a microphone package, one preamp with multiple capsules, and change them according to conditions.

(Yes it cost more, but are we professionals?)

Henry

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From: Jululuiba at aol.com

I have always used unidirectional shortguns (Neuman KMR81s) for interviews. Whether that's good or bad I cannot tell. Maybe it's all I know how to use! Engineers have suggested this!

Julian Crandall Hollick

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From: Gregg McVicar

I've always been hooked on short-shotgun mics and regularly use two of them:

* the little Sennheiser model (ME-80?) with a Rycote Softie windscreen (you see these on C-SPAN all the time clustered around Kevin Starr -- grey fuzzies) and,

* the mystical Neuman RSM 1901-s. Not exceptionally portable, but sonically it goes beyond the beyond. Dig up an old copy of "Hell's Bells" and listen for it in the Nicholas Johnson FCC interviews -- he had his mouth right up to the foam windscreen.

For field interviews I've had consistantly nice results from some little Nakamichi electret condensers that I picked-up used a long time ago. They have removable omni or cardiod capsules and match-up very well with a Sony D-5M (cassette!) with metal tape.

A few weeks ago I interviewed some guys at a computer conference using one channel from a CoreSound binaural pair -- tiny little omni capsules (so small I clipped it to a popsicle stick) -- into the Sony D5M with Maxcell Metal tape, and people can't believe it's not a digital recording. Sounded great on the air except for one big plosive which knocked the D5's limiter for a loop.

Gregg McVicar

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From: ThinkRadio at aol.com

Jeff, thanks for more mic advice. I'm thinking of getting some lavaliers. Any more suggestions? Anybody?

Flavia

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From: jefft at pond.com (Jeff Towne)

>Jeff, thanks for more mic advice. I'm thinking of getting some lavaliers. >Any more suggestions? Anybody?

No, no no...just say no to lavaliers. They are great for video so you don't see them, and they will stay a pre-defined distance from the subject, but the position is much less than ideal. Down on a lapel, or hanging from around the neck is not where the voice sounds the best. And you will also get a lot of noise from clothes rustling, hand bumps, etc. I used them a lot in my previous life in conference audio-visual support, and I never like them then either. But even the best ones sound OK for TV, but don't sound very good on radio. Our local NPR station used to run MacNeill/Lehrer on the FM and it always sounded weird. I finally figured out it was because they were all on lavs. There may be one or two situations in which they are the best device, but in general, avoid them for radio.

Jeff Towne

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Also from September 1998,the following discussion:

From: Carl Lindemann

Would anyone care to offer recs on a decent field mic? It's mostly for man-in-the-street sound gathering. Typically, I've used an EV 635A. What else is worth considering?

CL

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From: Deirdre Kennedy

I use an Electrovoice RE-50. It seems to work great for most field recording. I've even used it for recording music on occasion. And it makes a pretty good nail driver too.

Deirdre Kennedy.

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From: Carl Lindemann

Thanks, Deirdre.

It looks like the RE 50 (or neodymium RE50N/D) is a good pick. The only other I'm considering is the Beyer M58. Does anyone have any observations about this mic, or a comparison between these two? Any other candidates?

CL

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From: Steve Rathe

In a message dated 98-09-10 03:12:41 EDT, We see Carl Lindemann's request response:

>Would anyone care to offer recs on a decent field mic? It's mostly for man-in-the-street sound gathering. Typically, I've used an EV 635A. What else is worth considering?

and Dierdre Kennedy's response

>I use an Electrovoice RE-50. It seems to work great for most field recording. I've even used it for recording music on occasion. And it makes a pretty good nail driver too.

As Jeff Towne or Jerry Summer will no doubt have noted by the time this post apppears - the RE-50 is the 635 A with a field wrapping -- shock mounted handle and an extra windscreen. (If you unscrew the top of the "50" you'll see the 635 element).

It's not very sexy, but I think that's a good choice. I carry one with our smallest DAT machine all the time. It's not as quiet, as good for music, or for stereo recording as the newer electret condensers but it will bring back a broadcast quality recording under almost any circumstances. It is eq'd for voice which always provides an edge on the intelligibility. And because it's an omni, it is less sensitive to popping and wind. You can turn it into a sort of PZM on a hard floor for recording performance excerpts, it never needs new batteries, and its small enough to go with a "datman" a coily cord and a pair of ear buds and not make a briefcase out of it.

Steve Rathe

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From: David Freudberg

My favorite RE50 story: Back in the mid-70s, when I worked at WGBH-FM/Boston, we had a cabinet full of field recording gear including a bunch of RE50 mics. One of the mics, with an identifiable inventory number, was discovered missing one day. Eighteen months (including a bitter New England winter) later, the mic was discovered by the GBH grounds staff, lodged deep within a bush presumably the entire time. For laughs, we connected it to a cable and, astonishingly, it worked like new. In addition to being the single best studio investment I've ever made -- not once in twenty-five years of using 'em has one failed me -- RE50s are great for hammering big nails, too.

David Freudberg

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From: Sandina Robbins

My favorite RE 50 joke is the one about the recording equipment convention where the new kid on the block asks the veteran radio producer-turned-mic vendor-for-survival, "If you were locked in a studio and could choose only one mic to have in there with you, which mic would you choose?" And the wise old AIR member responded, "Naturally the RE 50. I'd get all my work done and still be able to use the mic to break down the door!"

The mic never let me down me, either.

Sandina Robbins

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From: Carl Lindemann

24 Jan 1999

Figured to follow-up on an earlier thread...

When last seen, I was looking for the legendary "best" field mic. As per everyone's recommendation, I borrowed an RE-50...same sound as the 635A (no surprise). But I got to pick up at RE-11 cheap (like new, under $100), and think it has a MUCH richer sound. The RE-50 sounds a bit tinny to my ears - lows and mids are muffled. Not so with the RE-11. The RE-11 is a cardioid (not an omni like the RE-50), and so that may be a plus or a minus depending on your application.

I did an a/b comparison on my DAW. I traded out my standard studio mic (an RE-20) with the RE-50 and RE-11. Obviously, the RE-20 is fuller than either field mic - and utterly awkward for such use. But the RE-11 was not too far from the RE-20. The RE-50, however, couldn't keep up (for my ears, anyway).

OK...so the RE-11 is certainly no match for the RE-50 as far as being a "nail driver". And if you're in the habit of loaning out your equipment to people with butter fingers, or need the security of knowing you can use your field mic for self-defence purposes in hostile interview situations, maybe it's the only way to go. But if sound quality is the issue, and you're not prone to abusing your equipment...give the RE-11 a listen.

CL