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Q: "Why is the signal from my microphone low in level and noisy?"
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Is there a limit to how small a microphone can be? From an electro-acoustic angle, yes there probably is. The smaller the diaphragm, the fewer air molecules cause it to vibrate, and the greater will be the effect of random motion of the molecules in comparison to the motion caused by the sound wave. (If you remember your school physics you will be familiar with the term Brownian motion). From the users point of view, there are some people for whom a microphone cant be small enough. TV directors are among those who can spot a bug sized mic on a video monitor at twenty paces, if it hasnt been adequately camouflaged by the sound recordist or assistant. Theatre audiences too may spot the odd wart on the forehead of leading actors and actresses and wonder whether there is some sort of skin complaint common to the profession. From the sound engineers perspective, as long as the mic isnt too conspicuous, and isnt too noisy, all it has to do is sound great and be easy to handle.
There havent been too many options in the miniature microphone market, and over the years favourites have included the Sony ECM50, Beyer MCE5 series and the Sennheiser MKE2, the latter arguably being the front runner at the moment (argue with me via e-mail please). AKG have had miniature mics in their catalogue for some time, but they obviously now hope that their new C577 will make a sizeable dent in Sennheisers sales figures.
To start with, this mic is definitely small, with a small s. I doubt if anyone but those in the very front rows of the stalls will notice it, and since they paid extra money to be able to see the show better I dont suppose they will mind. The TV cameraman too will have to put on his macro lens to spot this mic, if it has been even moderately well concealed. In fact, I needed a magnifying glass to find it in the excessively large plastic case in which it is supplied. Secondly, the sound quality is pretty good, and I dont imagine anyone will be disappointed on that score. Its an interesting point that you would be entitled to expect better sound quality (apart from signal to noise ratio) from a mic with a small diaphragm, and mics in B&Ks instrumentation range will bear this out. Of course, the subjective interpretation of sound quality doesnt always correspond to objective facts so Ill leave it up to you to decide next time the AKG rep calls round.