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Q&A: Audio Queries

Real users have the best questions.

By Chris and Trish Meyer | April 18, 2008

During the Post|Production World conference that ran alongside NAB 2008, I gave an extended session on audio connections, microphones, and other related issues. At the end, the attendees hit me with their individual problems. I thought the questions and their answers might be useful to others, so I decided to add them to the archives up here, amended with additional thoughts and research I've gathered since returning from NAB.

Note that essential companion reading to these comments include my previous article on audio wiring and connections, plus my blog on dealing with ground loop hum.

If I'm on a budget, what is the one microphone I should get?

There is no one microphone that will work for all jobs. You want to have an assortment of mics - even just two - to pick the best microphone for a given task. For example, you may want a mic that emphasizes low frequencies over highs to help remove any thinness from a female voice, and a mic that emphasizes highs over lows to add some clarity to a male voice.

For the first of those two mics, I would consider a Shure SM57 (around $100 through It is rugged, does not require battery power, and can add some body to a thin voice. For the other, I would consider a medium to low-priced condenser mic. I use an AKG C1000 (around $200 through on my own voice a lot; it has been set to hypercardiod mode to reject more noise from the computer and hard drive fans in the room.

I was told that at an earlier talk at NAB, a person from Podango said that you should buy a condenser microphone that costs at least $200. I agree that you should buy the best equipment you can possibly afford - but I also realize that the reality of budgets can intrude upon one's lofty ideals. If you're on a really tight budget, there are some steals to be had in the area of Chinese and Russian-manufactured condenser mics.

For example, pictured at right is a package that Marshall Electronics offers including their MXL 990 vocal mic and MXL 993 instrument mic with a metal carrying case for about $200 street (currently on sale at Musician's Friend for $120), including a fancy shock mount for the bigger MXL 990. These are not world-quality mics, but at least you can have some options at your disposal for relatively little money. If you miss the sale, an alternative is the MXL 990/991 combo for $100 street.

Can I use one mic to record two people I'm interviewing at the same time?

You can; if in a relatively quiet environment, you can place an omnidirectional microphone between them or aim a cardiod (directional) microphone with a "soft" pattern (not a hypercardiod) at them.

However, I prefer to use one mic per person as possible - both for the possibility of altering the mic tone to flatter each speaker individually, and to be able to set their volume levels or edit out extraneous noises or asides individually. Try to get as much isolation as possible between the two subjects, such as by placing tieclip mics closer to their mouths, or carefully aiming cardiod mics so that each mic picks up one speaker and rejects sound coming from the other speaker.

We have a setup with a lot of people around a table. Each has their own microphone, going into a large Mackie mixer. We have a problem with picking up noise from the other speakers whenever someone else is talking. Is there any way to cut out this noise without buying a voice channel per microphone?

Yes. The section of a voice channel that would help you here is the noise gate or downward expander. You can buy a device that contains several noise gates in a single rack unit, and wire it into the mixer using the "channel inserts" for each microphone channel. This will take the mic into the mixer, send it out to the noise gate, and then take it back in to feed to the fader on the mixer. For this task, I've heard that a lot of people are happy with the PreSonus ACP-88 8-channel Compressor/Gate, which contains a noise gate as well as a volume-leveling compressor per channel all for about $900 street, compared to roughly $700 for a single voice channel.

Another alternative in this situation is an Dugan automatic microphone mixer or mic processor. This is a mixer that automatically alters the volume on individual microphone inputs to favor the mic where someone is speaking, and to cut out the others. They're not cheap, but if you have a budget for a show or new installation, they could save you a lot of hassle - especially in live situations.

next page: questions on digital audio, buzz, and hum

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