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Even the best sound engineers in the world can't be trusted - apparently

Admit it - do you always raise the microphone up and point it down?

Are you guilty of recording cliches? Do you do things because you've seen other people doing it like that? Or do you decide for yourself what's best?

Watch someone setting up a microphone for an instrument (other than a singer). They will raise the boom to higher than head height, then point the microphone down at the instrument.

OK, lets examine the logic in this. Perhaps...

  • Evolution was wrong, and we should have had extensible ears on stalks to get a higher perspective.
  • Instruments offer a better sound quality in the upwards direction where no-one is going to hear it. Their designers designed them this way.
  • Sound rises. To have the mic too low risks not capturing all of it.
  • Microphones were not designed to be used with the diaphragm vertical. It needs to be angled down so that it sags a little and becomes differently responsive to the sound field.
  • Setting a mic stand vertical is too safe and sensible. It is better to work 'on the edge' and set the stand so it risks falling over.

Honestly, it isn't hard to get as cynical as this if you just practice a little every day ;-)

I am very much in favor of people placing mics as they feel is best, but I can't help getting the feeling that they do this because that's what they have seen, and then of course perpetuate the myth.

Let's start from first principles. The average distance from the ground of the human ear is somewhere around 160-170 centimeters, give or take. Acoustic instruments have without exception been designed to sound good to the human ear, so why ever place the mic higher than that?

Then consider that people most often enjoy music from a seated position, so the height of the ear falls to around 140 cm. (4 feet 6 inches for the metrically challenged), so there is a good case to make that a mic should never be placed higher than this.

Try it! I guarantee that the mic will look ridiculously low. But that's where people listen from, so could all those people be wrong?

Yes, that's it! What we really need is to bring listening into line with microphone technique and give people a box to stand on so they can 'listen down' on an instrument the same way that mics do!

So next time you set a mic on an acoustic instrument, ask yourself whether you are aping microphone technique you have seen elsewhere? Or have you thought for yourself? More important...

Have you experimented for yourself?

By David Mellor Monday March 29, 2010