Step Up To the Mic

August 15, 2013

Good microphones can last for years and sometimes fade in to the background while more pressing needs (such as HD Radio) get most of the attention (and capital). But after you've improved the sound of the station perhaps it is time to reconsider the old microphone standards to which you've become so accustomed.

One way to stand out and above the competition, in my opinion, is with realistic microphone sound. Listeners are more familiar with the sound of the human voice than anything else, and with a little effort and the right mic an announcer can sound like he or she is right there in the car or at home with that listener.

There are several trends in microphones that I'll cover. One is the move toward high-end condensers and dynamics. Another is toward mics that have a retro look or feel to them. The third is the integration of a mic with new recording techniques and playback media.

Condenser mics

Large-diaphragm condenser mics are well known for their ability to pick up fine high-frequency detail. With on-board amplification they typically have higher output levels and consequently will need less gain in an external part of the system (such as a console mic preamp or processor). The net effect is a lower noise floor, and hence finer detail.

One would think that this kind of mic would only really be useful in an application that allows for the transmission of quite a bit of high-frequency information, such as FM or HD Radio. However, my experience is that condenser mics make a substantial improvement on AM radio as well, where high-frequency content in the vocal range is extremely important for intelligibility and presence.

Shure offers the KSM44, a multiple-pattern, dual large-diaphragm microphone with a low noise floor. Some of the features that should be of interest to broadcasters are its low-frequency response, its high-output level, its ability to withstand high SPL levels (screaming jocks), and its inherent rejection of RFI and common mode noise. Perhaps most importantly, it includes an integrated three-stage pop filter (for p-popping jocks).

Audio-Technica offers the AT4060, which is a large dual-diaphragm condenser mic with a built-in tube amplifier. It features low noise, a high output level and a maximum input level of 150dB SPL (for 1 percent THD). The pop filter is external and offered as an accessory.

AKG offers a wide product line, but in particular are the C414 B XL II and XLS, which are the latest versions of the AKG classic. Like other condensers it has a low noise level in the output, and an ability to withstand a high SPL level; accordingly, it has a wide dynamic range. This new version features five switchable polar patterns and built-in LEDs that provide a quick visual indication of the polar pattern that is selected, and also an overload indication.

Neumann is well known for its famous and historical line of condenser mics, but I want to mention one that perhaps you haven't seen or heard yet: the KMS 105. This is a condenser mic without a large diaphragm, but with the special features of a hand-held performance mic. If you have jocks that like to grab the mic and move it and the boom around while talking then this should be of interest to you. It has a tight polar pattern, thus minimizing pickup from the rear of the mic. It is optimized for the vocal range of frequencies and finally it has an integral four-layer pop filter built in.

Dynamic mics

While I like condenser mics there are plenty of good dynamic mics out there too.

Heil is a relative newcomer to the field of professional broadcast microphones and has several lines of dynamic mics. Among them is the PR-30, a dynamic with a cardioid pattern. It has a wide frequency response — close to that of a condenser mic — and likewise can withstand a high SPL. It also has an integral pop-filter.

Shure is still manufacturing what is surely considered a classic by those of us that have been in this business for some time: the SM7B. It features a flat frequency response but also includes bass roll-off and presence boost controls. It has a cardioid pattern and also improved rejection of electromagnetic hum, specifically to reject noise signals from computer monitors. It has a built-in windscreen, but an additional external pop filter is available.

There are several manufacturers making dynamic mics with what I would have to call a retro look about them. First of these is the Heil Classic Pro studio mic. Let's just say it looks an awful lot like the old RCA 44-BX and includes a bracket that goes over the end (opposite the mounting bracket) for displaying the station call letters.

Neumann has introduced its first-ever dynamic mic: the BCM 705. This is a supercardioid specifically designed for speech reproduction at close range. The headgrill can be removed for cleaning, and fortunately it comes with a built-in pop filter for the jocks that define close range. This particular mic has a wide frequency response (20Hz to 20kHz) for a dynamic. In practice it sounds much like the BCM 104 condenser (in the exact same package).

Electro-Voice also has a new line of trendy retro microphones, including the Blue Raven, a dynamic mic with a cardioid pattern, and an interesting double-swivel mount.

Unique mic apps

First is the HHB Flashmic (DRM85), which is built around a Sennheiser omni-directional condenser capsule. In the body of this mic is a 48kHz/16-bit digital audio recording device. It records to an internal 1GB flash memory. Linear (WAV) files or MPEG 1 Layer 2 files can be recorded and then transferred up to 90x real-time via a USB cable to a Mac or PC. Two AA batteries can power the Flashmic for six hours. This looks interesting for news or sports gathering.

And speaking of sports, AKG offers a line of professional level headsets derived from its K171 and K271 headset line. The HSC171 and HSC271 feature condenser mic elements, a flexible mic arm that will swivel through 270 degrees for use by lefties or righties, and noise-free microswitches used for mic muting.

Microphone preferences are so subjective that you should try different mics for yourself. I have provided only a few ideas about types and manufacturers. It is a good idea to audition multiple mics at the same time, hopefully in the same studio environment, so that at least some of the external factors that affect the sound will be the same for the mics under test.

Mics with a different character — whether it's their sound or their look — can go a long way toward giving your station a unique feel with listeners and a unique look for jocks and other staff.

AKG Acoustics

Audio Engineering Assoc.






Brauner Microphones

Cad Professional Microphone

DPA Microphones


G Prime

Heil Sound

HHB Communications

Independent Audio


Marshall Electronics

Mojave Audio

Nady Systems


Pearl Microphone Lab
+46 42 58 810

PMI Audio



Samson Technologies

Sanken Microphones

Schoeps/Posthorn Recordings

SE Electronics

Sennheiser Electronic


Sony Electronics

Sound Performance Lab

Soundelux Microphones

Studio Projects


Irwin is director of engineering for Clear Channel Radio Seattle.

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