Getting the most out of your microphone

Microphones are easy to use when you know how. Sound quality is easy to improve when you know what the cause is and how to fix it. Anyone can sound like a pro with these quick tips.

What is sibilance? https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/sibilance
What is a pop guard? https://www.voices.com/blog/pop_filters/
How to boost mic gain on Windows 10: https://www.thewindowsclub.com/boost-microphone-volume-windows
How to boost mic gain on Mac: https://support.apple.com/en-au/guide/mac-help/mchlp2567/mac


TRANSCRIPT

You’ve been invited as guest on somebody’s podcast but last time you did one, your sound quality was terrible! I’m Andy Le Roy

Louise: And I’m Louise Poole, and we’re giving you the insights that elevate you as the expert in your field

Elevating Experts!
 
Andy: Anyone you’ve ever listened to in the media started out not knowing how to use a microphone properly.

Louise: That’s so true! After twenty years as a professional broadcaster it just comes naturally to me now, but those first few attempts at my community radio station

Andy: Or for me, when I broadcast from my high school’s radio station

Louise: Your school had its own radio station?

Andy: Yes! But that’s another episode… shout out to 2BR at Bonnyrigg High School!

Louise: We HAVE to talk about this later… but for now, what did you learn about handling a mic to get the most out of it?

Andy: Well, the thing that always stands out for me is how you speak into, or rather, across the mic to make sure it doesn’t distort

Louise: I’m gonna get a little bit technical here and explain why this is the best way to face us your microphone

Andy: Before you do, Dr Poole, we should just say that these techniques are for a microphone that’s supported by a mic stand of some sort… these aren’t techniques for hand held or lapel mics

Louise: Good point, Professor Le Roy. So, the reason all of the hints we’re about to crack open are important is because of the way microphones are constructed, believe it or not. Your voice travels as sound waves and they hit a diaphragm inside the microphone that vibrates and moves a magnet near a coil. There’s also a different type of microphone called a condenser microphone where the sound waves vibrate one plate of a capacitor. Either way, these vibrations are converted into an electrical signal which lands on your recording. Pretty clever, huh?

Andy: Totally! But with all of those moving parts, as small as they are, there’s the risk that the sound waves we create hit the diaphragm or plate with a bit too much force in one way or another and the sound gets distorted.

Louise: Popping is one type of distortion that can make the difference between professional and distracting.

Andy: Have a look at your mic right now, or picture it if it’s not nearby. Some microphones on the market have a little shield, or pop guard attached to them that reduces the impact of those hard syllables. Think of the letters P and B in particular. When you speak into your mic, do you hear a low pop as you say these letters? That’s what popping is and it’s easy to fix. If you haven’t got one, you could buy a pop guard, or make your own makeshift guard with a wire coat hanger and a pair of stockings.

Louise: There’s an old radio school hack if ever I heard one!

Andy: I’ve been called worse! But you can also go a long way in overcoming this problem by speaking across the mic instead of directly into it.

Louise: Yes, that’s another great technique, and will also combat another common issue: sibilance.

Andy: (poorly into the mic to bring out sibilance) She sells sea shells by the sea shore

Louise: But not for much longer if she sounds like that! By talking across the mic, the air that issues as you speak the letter S doesn’t directly hit the innards of the microphone so you don’t end up with that harsh sounding S. Also remember that you don’t have to sit right on the mic to get the fullest sound.

Andy: I was taught a good measure is to stretch out the fingers on your hand and measure he distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinkie and make sure you’re no closer than that.

Louise: That’s not a bad tip, but let’s not get too caught up in the technicalities either. Most times, talking across the mic is going to fix most of your problems, and remember there’s always the gain booster.

Andy: That’s just a fancy name for the mic volume, which increases the sensitivity to it can hear a little bit more, but don’t get too far away from your mic and boost the gain too far, otherwise you’ll sound like you’re talking in an empty town hall.

Louise: Right you are, professor, and like with any new skill, practice and experiment a little bit, and you’ll sound like one of the pros in no time.

Andy: It’s always good to demystify some of the techniques behind the scenes Dr Poole – let’s quickly recap how easy it all is!

Louise: You bet. First of all, it’s good to recognise what it is, exactly, you’re trying to fix

Andy: Popping, is when the microphone sounds like it’s being punched every time to say the letters B or P

Louise: And sibilance is when it sounds like someone is sanding back concrete every time you say the letter S.

Andy: While buying or making your own pop guard to put in front of the microphone will help overcome these problems, sitting back from the microphone and speaking across it, instead of into it, will solve most of your problems.

Louise: And when siting back from the microphone, remember to sit at a comfortable distance and use the gain control to help the microphone hear you a little bit better.

Andy: Spend half an hour experimenting with different microphone positions and see how each small change you make affects the quality of how your recording sounds. You’ll always be able to set up for your best mic position without too much thought after that.

Louise: Just like the professionals! Next time on Elevating Experts, our top five planning programs to get you organised!


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