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Correct microphone placement is vital for capturing the best acoustic sound, whether you’re in the studio shooting a short film or your home recording.
The overall sound of an acoustic recording depends 20% on the position of the microphone.
When having a vocal performance, you’ve probably seen the sound engineers pay more attention to the microphone placement.
A slight change in the microphone positioning can impact the microphone frequency response, subject sound, and many more.
So if you want to yield the best results in your final recording, you have to practice proper microphone placement.
Table of Contents
- 10 Tips For The Best Microphone Placement
- 1. Know Your Sound Sources
- 2. Find Your Microphone’s “Sweet Spot”
- 3. Understand Your Microphone’s Polar Pattern
- 4. Know The Proximity Effect
- 5. Get The Distance Right
- 6. Limit Ambient Sounds
- 7. Use Pop filters
- 8. Understand The Effect Of Vocal Plosives
- 9. Try Different Mics Around The Same Sound Source
- 10. Experiment
- Final Thoughts
10 Tips For The Best Microphone Placement
To help you with this, here are ten microphone placement tips and tricks you should follow.
1. Know Your Sound Sources
The microphone choice, placement, and setting contribute to around 10%, 20%, and 20% of the recording session’s overall sound, respectively.
In comparison, the instruments contribute a significant portion of around 50% to the overall sound.
Whether it’s a guitar, a voice, keyboards, or drums, every instrument sounds different.
The tone characteristics of one instrument are entirely different from another.
Therefore, we can say the microphone placement is accountable for how the sound sources blend in the mix.
For instance, close-miking captures a high-level sound from the sound source compared to distant miking.
On the other hand, distant miking helps to preserve the natural tone balance.
Listen to the instruments in the recording space to have a clear understanding of the following:
- Where the sound is coming from
- The direction the sound is ending
- The distance in which the sound is fully developed
By doing this, you will be able to estimate how your microphone will capture the sounds from the sound sources and make the best decisions on the right microphone placement.
In case a particular sound source doesn’t sound right, simply swap the sound source with another.
2. Find Your Microphone’s “Sweet Spot”
Finding the best listening position or sweet spot of your microphone is a matter of trial and error.
In other words, to get your mic’s optimum sweet spot is an art form that you can’t predict.
On the flip side, you must find it!
What Is The Microphone “Sweet Spot”?
The mic sweet spot is the position of the microphone in relation to a sound source where that source sounds at its absolute best.
This sweet spot depends on the sound sources and the acoustic environment.
A sound source can sound different depending on the mic position and the physical location of the listener.
So if you aim to get the perfect acoustic results, you must first locate your mic’s sweet spot and place the mic there.
How To Find The Sweet Spot?
There are specific methods that can help you find the sweet spot for your microphone.
But, first and foremost, always trust your ears!
Listen to the recording space’s acoustic sound and capture the sweet spot where your sound has the most balanced representation.
Also, to achieve that smooth edge in your recording, you have to try different acoustic environments until you locate the best starting position.
Moreover, the polar pattern of your microphone can help you find the sweet spot.
Stereo Microphone Pattern
When placing stereo microphones, cup both ears with your hands and move around the sound source until you find the spot where the sound is most balanced.
Plug one ear and carefully listen with the other while moving around the sound source.
Now that you’ve found the sweet spot, set up the Omni-mic there and let the capsule occupy the position where your open ear was.
Cover one ear with your hand while cupping the other.
Listen closely with the open ear and move around the sound source until you locate the sweet spot.
Once you’ve found the sweet spot, place the mic there with the capsule pointing to your palm at an angle of 90° toward your mouth.
3. Understand Your Microphone’s Polar Pattern
For optimal mic placement, it is essential to understand the polar patterns of your microphone.
What Are Microphone Polar Patterns?
Although it may sound a bit complicated, a microphone polar pattern determines the microphone’s directional sensitivity at different angles.
In other words, the polar patterns of the microphone will give you an intuitive idea of the direction(s) in which the mic is most sensitive.
A good understanding of how your mic’s polar pattern works will help you visualize how the mic reacts to sound waves picked from different directions.
It will also help you to make informed decisions on suitable microphone placement.
To help you utilize this information in positioning a mic, let’s run over the three most common polar patterns:
Omnidirectional Polar Pattern
The omnidirectional pattern has an equal sensitivity to sound pressure from all directions.
Typically, Omni microphones pick up sound from all directions without interfering with the overall recordings.
An Omni pattern has no proximity effect–and so it has the best frequency and bass response.
In comparison to other microphones, this pattern is less sensitive to positioning.
However, Omni microphones are hard to deal with in most live recording sessions.
They can easily capture unwanted sounds in the recording environment.
Bidirectional (Figure-8) Polar Pattern
A Figure-8 microphone detects the pressure of sound waves only from the front and the back.
This pattern is common in stereo recording techniques.
It’s also useful in a live recording—it can clearly capture the sound source and natural room ambiance of the recording space.
Cardioid Polar Pattern
This polar pattern is highly sensitive to sound pressure coming from the front of the mic and less sensitive when the sounds are coming from the sides and back.
These microphones are ideal for recordings that need a moderate proximity effect.
Once you’ve understood how different polar patterns work, you will not only be able to position your microphone in the right position, but you’ll also be able to pick the right microphone for a particular event.
4. Know The Proximity Effect
When it comes to mic placement, the microphone proximity effect is another factor you should consider.
Having a good understanding of your microphone’s proximity effect can significantly aid your mic positioning.
But, if you’re not careful, it can ruin your impeccable voice project.
What Is The Proximity Effect?
The proximity effect is a low-frequency increase that happens when the microphone moves closer to the sound source.
That is, if the sound source is too close to the microphone, the bass frequency will be greater.
The proximity effect will show up at a frequency range of 200 to 600Hz.
The proximity effect varies depending on the sound pressure differences between the front and the rear sides of the microphone diaphragm.
Bidirectional mics have both front and rear sides of their diaphragms exposed to the external sound pressure.
So they exhibit a higher degree of proximity effect.
Depending on the sound you want to achieve for your recording, how you exploit your mic’s proximity effect is essential.
Excess proximity effects can alter your vocals and make them boom.
If you aim to have a bass frequency, try and move the mic closer to the sound source.
To eliminate the proximity effect buildups, use different directional polar patterns and multiple mic’s.
5. Get The Distance Right
Are you planning to start a career in the voice-over industry?
Or maybe, you’ve already started working on a few voice-over projects, and you wonder how do you enhance your skills?
To succeed in your voice-over tasks, you should not only work on your voice, but you should also learn the ideal distance between your mouth and the microphone.
What Is The Ideal Microphone Distance From The Mouth?
Maintaining an appropriate distance between the mouth and the mic will enable the microphone to pick up the sound of your voice and minimize the chances of picking up the external noises in the room.
The golden rule of thumb of microphone placement is to place the microphone about 6-12 inches away from the speaker’s mouth.
However, the recommended distance from the mouth varies depending on the type of microphone.
Cardioid microphones will give warm and intimate results if placed six inches away from the mouth.
With a dynamic microphone, you can place them as close as you want.
They are designed such that they can prevent the proximity effect.
Compared to Cardioid microphones, Omni microphones can give you clear vocals even with a distance range of 1 inch without affecting the vocal recording.
If you want to find the right microphone placement range where your voice is at its absolute best, you have to try different microphone positions at various degrees.
To help with this, when positioning the microphone, remember not to place it too close to the sound sources.
Placing it close to the sound sources can cause the instrument to lose timbre, and also, it may increase the low-frequency response resulting in a bassy voice.
6. Limit Ambient Sounds
In any given acoustic or recording environment, ambient sounds are external “other sounds” the microphone is likely to capture.
Some microphones are so sensitive that they can pick up unwanted and external noise in the recording space.
These unwanted noises will often result in hollow sounds that will make your recording sound unprofessional.
Some examples of the unwanted noises you should be mindful of before stepping up to the microphone are:
- Cell phone notifications
- Room tone
- Mouse and keyboard clicks
- Clicking heels
- Audible body movements
- Pet noises
- Cars or people outside
While recording, you may not hear these sounds until you’re listening back to your recording.
The sensitivity of the microphone to these external noises will vary depending on the mic position, brand, and type.
To improve the quality of your voice-over recordings, try and do a real quick test by plugging in your headphones and listen to hear what your microphone hears.
Once you master the ambient sounds in the acoustic space, try and reduce them as best as you can.
And there you go!
You now have fewer ambient sounds in your recording space–so you’ll have a crystal idea of where to set up your microphone for clear audio without interruptions.
7. Use Pop filters
When recording in the studio environment, you’ve probably seen sound engineers place a pop filter between the microphone and the speaker at a reasonable distance.
This means pop filters are an essential piece in any voice recording space.
What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And Why Is It Necessary To Use One?
A pop filter shields the microphone capsule from the plosive air gusts in the speaker’s mouth–(hence the common name “pop shields”)
Generally, the popping sounds can be more intense depending on how close the speaker’s mouth is to the microphone.
Therefore, pop filters’ conscious positioning will help you maintain a consistent distance between your mouth and the microphone.
The pop filters can also block the “p” pops sounds from reaching the microphone diaphragm without interfering with the tone of your voice.
Less “p” pops in your final recording means minimal editing!
That being said, in your next recording session, try and create a reasonable distance between your mouth and the microphone using a pop filter.
A good rule of thumb is to position the pop filter 4 inches away from the microphone.
8. Understand The Effect Of Vocal Plosives
In any kind of vocal performance, whether you’re recording in a home studio set up or at a professional studio, always be strategic about your microphone placement.
It would be best if you had your microphone positioned to eliminate all the plosive sounds.
When we talk about vocal plosives, we are definitely talking about human speech.
Plosive sounds are part of human speech that occurs naturally when we speak.
They form when the airflow is partially blocked using the tongue, teeth, or lips when pronouncing some consonant sounds such as Ps, Bs, and Ts.
Depending on your microphone placement from the mouth, these plosive sounds can affect your voice recording.
The blast of the air from these plosive sounds can overload the mic capsule causing a “pop” or “thud” sound.
However, to help with this, the following tips can help you reduce or eliminate the vocal plosives.
When recording, move the microphone further away.
Maintaining such distance will diffuse the air gusts ( plosive energy) in the medium before they reach the microphone diaphragm.
Slightly tilt your microphone off-axis to block these plosive sounds from hitting the microphone directly.
9. Try Different Mics Around The Same Sound Source
Every microphone is different from the other.
On top of this, every microphone has different sets of characteristics and frequency response curves in the frequency spectrum.
Some microphones don’t pair because each microphone’s characteristics vary depending on the type and microphone brand.
When you expose multiple microphones to the same sound source, they will produce different output signals.
So when preparing for a recording session, set up two or more microphones very close to the sound source to help you capture the sound source directly.
Of course, some microphones will definitely outsmart others when it comes to capturing the best sound.
If you decide to use multiple microphones on different sound sources in the acoustic space, always use a natural-sounding microphone.
Finally, to determine the microphone placement, listen back to each microphone and judge which microphone represents the sound source at its best.
Now you know your microphone patterns, the sound sources, and the sweet spot–what next?
You think it’s time to begin using the microphone, right?
Obviously, there is no perfect microphone position.
Whether you plan to have a voice-over or a podcast audio recording, first, blend and experiment with all sorts of microphone positions to find a solid starting point.
Note, every recording is unique and different from another.
So if one microphone position worked best in your previous recording, there is no guarantee it will in your next recording.
Remember, finding the right position to place your microphone is a repetitive process.
Simply put, you have to experiment and calibrate sounds in the acoustic environment until you find the best position where you have more accurate results of what you want.
If you can’t seem to have an accurate feel of what you exactly want, tweak your microphone position again until it picks up the best audio.
Don’t be afraid to repeat the process as much as you can or experiment.
The success of any vocal recording depends on the position of the microphone.
If not correctly positioned, even the best microphones can dramatically affect your voice-over recordings.
Finding the right microphone placement is a repetitive art that you should learn.
In discovering the best microphone placement, always remember each instrument has its own alternative microphone positions.
If you want to have a purer voice sound with fewer plosives and “pop” sounds, place the microphone 6-12 inches away from the mouth.
Before any recording, always experiment with different microphone positions to find your mic’s sweet spot.
And finally, master these microphone placement tips; they will give you the best ideas on how to position your microphone for quality results.