Electronics project notes/Audio notes - microphones

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This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Choosing a mic for a purpose

Which type for which use

To introduce the technical names...

"I'm a..."

...podcaster, gamer, or streamer without facecam

...streamer, with facecam

"...what's the cheapest good mic?"
"...are USB mics any good?"
This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

tl;dr: It varies, a bunch.

Mics with USB connections have existed almost as long as USB has, but were usually things of convenience rather than quality.

Around microphones of any sort, we generally have distinct cost-quality wishes in the range between

  • "absolutely anything will do (e.g. I just want to shout obscenities while gaming / do a video call over the interwebs)", and
  • "I want to sound sultry and smooth and surely throwing money at professional gear is the way"

Those attitudes meant there was little demand inbetween, so few products marketed that way.

That demand only seemed to grow when vlogging and streaming became more of a thing, and even then relatively slowly.

With increasing needs to get decent quality (and of not spending weeks reading up on pro gear), there are more and more USB mics of decent quality, sensitivity, and noise levels.

Few are great in a pro sense.

A bunch are quite good for the price.

'But the crap is also still there, and their marketing will look the same, so you still want to do your research - and test if you can (but know that your room is also part of the equation, that a mic cannot change, and that poor use can make the best mic sound bad).

USB mics are audio interface and microphone in one.

If you only ever need one mic - which includes most streamers - the USB mics are smaller, less fuss, and there are more options in the "getting vaguely professional" range
you can e.g. spend something like 100 EUR/USD in total on audio, and have it sound pretty decent
...and at the same time feels inflexible to professionals who would rather have an audio interface they can plug any of their collection of mics into, and may talk about upgrade paths (=upgrading one part, without needing to necessarily replace the entire thing).
"...can I get an off-screen mic?"
This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

tl;dr: Yes, but that's not necessarily worth it.

Putting a mic closer to your mouth is the easiest way to have your voice be be stronger than environment noise.

That's just physics.

As is the noisy things you have in your room.

A pricy omnidirectional mic can't do anything to change that.

Post-processing can only do so much, and anything you don't have to fudge to fix is likely to sound a little more natural.

Two footnotes to that:

  • a directional mic essentially gives you stronger signal in one direction.
this too is physics, of the mic design, and it means that -- compared to an omnidirectional mic in exactly the same situation -- the thing you point the mic at (e.g. you) will be a few dB louder; from another view, the environment sound will be a little lower.
...but a few dB is all you will get. Again, because physics.
  • the mic's internal electronic noise, which is part of type and design quality
this means amplification actually does help.

(amplification doesn't help you, in that turning such a knob up will amplify most of the noise up just as much as it amplifies the voice)

All that aside, you may like your mouth moderately close, for the warmer sound of having some proximity effect (more lower frequencies).

The above roughly why

decent quality vocal mic tend to be on screen.
boom mics on movie sets (directional) are still specifically held as close as possible without being in frame.
headphones with a built-in mic, even when cheap, can actually sound quite decent
they are close, meaning they can be cheap omnidirectional and still have your voice be stronger than environment noise (that said, other noise in the path is less predictable)
also, they are at a stable distance (consistent proximity effect), and can often be positioned to the side (don't have to think about pops and esses)
you see a lot of lav mics (the things you pin to a shirt) in things like interviews - it's closeish and stable
their downside is the wire (nice-quality wireless means expensive), and you need to learn to place them, because rubbing against them is very audible.

If you insist on an out-of-shot mic:

consider doing facecam rather than room cam - it means "just out of shot" is closer.
a directional mic, probably a shotgun mics (e.g. those specific for camcorders)
...but you can't buy away physics, so it only goes so far, and don't expect very much spending under 100-200EUR/USD (and you can get a somewhat nicer vocal mic for that price).
above 200 you start taking pro mics, like NTG2, which may also be directional enough to reduce room characteristics

Also, if your goal is actually an unobtrusive mic, you might also consider a halfway-decent lav. But those are some work on positioning, thinking about movement noise, and are still wired (wireless lavs are a bunch more expensive).

...home recorder / amateur musician / student doing fieldwork

...youtuber / film student

Using a mic well

Typical use and gain / How to set reasonable levels for any given mic

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Some (cheapish) quality-improving tips

Mic technique

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

A person's microphone technique is being aware of microphone behaviour enough to work around it or with it.

This includes things like

a pop shield (e.g. sock on a wire) a dozen centimeters away works decently too, and means few specific instructions to give (people adopt a decent distance without instructions, even)
note that if you speaking alongside a mic, not directly into it, you may not need a pop filter and can get closer (but may or may not want to get that close, for other reasons)
pop shields and such also help avoid dampness problems, which e.g. condensers are somewhat sensitive to over the long term
  • turn your head away when breathing, when possible
  • varying distance to even out volume, e.g. when going from quiet to louder singing
yes, you can fix this later to some degree, but that's a lot of work do smoothly, so if you can teach yourself to do this almost instinctively, that saves a lot of work.
also, depending on your range of loudness, you might make some inputs clip if you don't do this
also, an automatic filter may do weird things when presented with different loudness
  • knowing the type of mic well enough to know what distance and loudness are going to give good signal(-to-noise)
  • knowing about directionality
staying in the sensitive area so that you don't unintentionally vary volume and frequency content
  • know about the proximity effect, to
avoid hearing it (volume and frequency difference ), and/or
using it to your benefit (e.g. that bassy radio voice)
recording engineers may even consider using two mics, one close and one a little further away, to give more mixing options later.
  • minimize handling noise on held mics
mounted mics avoid this

Basic mic positioning / mic technique: Just plain distance

Relevant for: everyone (from streamers to casual recorders to studios)

Too close: pops and proximity effect

Pops are sudden rushes of air from your mouth (from plosives - p and b sounds mostly). Those rushes disspiate quickly, but if you're basically eating the mic, they arrive at the capsure very efficiently. And if you're that close you also can't put anything inbetween that reduces this. You can maybe do it to the side, but would have to know about it.

The proximity effect basically points to a constructive effect that means bassy sounds work well when very close to a mic. Which you may like, for that deeper radio voice, yet it also means very little movement varies that bass, so you would have to know about it.

There is a simple and stupid way to avoid having to explain this to people: tell them to sit 10-20cm away. Or avoid having to, but putting a pop filter or something else in front. (I've seen radio stations use large foam windscreens, probably for this reason)

Too far: Consider the how intended signal strength, such as your voice, relates to environment noise.

If your environment is otherwise pretty quiet, and you want to pick up the environment (people, cats, dogs, whatnot), then you can sit at some distance so that everything is picked up.

You can absolutely amplify that, but you will necessarily be amplifying both you and that environment noise.

So consider your room being loud, or people or cars through an open window are, or the HVAC system has a low hum, your PC is loud and/or you'll be on your keyboard while recording, etc. If it's roughly as loud as you, you will hear it just as much, and there's no separating the two afterwards.

If you want to pick up just you, then yes, you can look for directional mics, but there is an even simple method: sit closer.

The louder your are (in absolute terms), the less gain you need.

The closer you are to the mic, the louder you are. That environment noise did not change.

If you turn down the gain to keep your voice output the same, the net effect is that you are only really turning down that environment noise.

Or, from another view, that you are isolating yourself better from that noise.

(...also from other people in the room. This is one reason radio stations that have guests tend to sit close to mics. And have them sit at some distance, but there's only so much room for that)

In fact, the better you can do this, the more that even cheap mics will sound pretty decent. This is one reason even cheap headset mics sometimes work quite well - you even avoid the proximity effect variations by being in a constant position, and also pops if you put it a little to the side.

If you get to play with a decent mic (negligible other noise sources such as internal noise and lower amplification noise, so the effect is clearer):

Sit at half a meter, turn up the gain until you are at decent level.
You're clear, and so is you snapping your fingers behind you.
Sit at a few cm and turn down the gain accordingly
That same snap behind you is now barely there.

(Note: in the moment you won't hear the environment noise as much, because our brains have had a lifetime of experience at tuning that out, and you're hearing it through the headphones at the same time as you're in the room. Record it and play it back -- it's a lot more apparent.)

Now record both and listen to it later (because in the moment, you're good at thinking away the environment).

Listen to the difference in sound clutter and noise in the background, which probably includes your PC, and imagine a passing truck, neighbours shouting or walking down the hall, or even someone else on their own mic in the same room.


  • This is one reason that a decent headset mic actually works quite well.
  • if your environment is louder than a mic's noise specs, those noise specs barely matter anymore
particularly for free-standing mics
  • in fact, if you're recording in your bedroom without sound isolation, this puts a serious limit on how much a fancy mic even can help
in some cases you may be just as well off with a EUR30 dynamic mic or decent headset mic (just because you'll use it closer) than a sensitive EUR200+ condenser

Beyond vocals:

  • Distance on acoustic instruments
again, closer makes for better isolation
for concurrent recording of live performances, this matters
also why pickups are nice
closer may catch some odd harmonic effects, more fingering sound, and such
further than necessary just loses volume (and isolation)
  • people point mics at guitar amps, rather than using the signal going to its speaker
arguments against micing an amp:
most of the internal tone and distortion processing is also present on the output
so using a DI is smaller, and not another another mic and stand to lug around.
you have to tend to gains to get decent on-stage isolation of sound
neutral arguments:
the physical driver is probably a little bassy, so it's not quite the same as the signal, though you can mostly EQ that
arguments for micing an amp:
it's an easy way to avoid ground loop noise (when you don't have enough DI boxes to do this properly)
the setup may introduce a little compression, because physics(verify) which is e.g. nice on bass guitars

Proximity effect


Wind, shock, pop, reflection, and other noise protection

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Relevant for: vocals, outside recording, preventing some environment rumble anywhere

The issues

Wind as in weather.

Strong wind is a lot of physical movement streaming past, often turbulent around objects and cavities so if it reaches the capsule directly would often overpower most other sounds.

So when you can, you want to reduce wind getting close to the microphone, while reducing vibrations much less. This is relatively easy to do at all, though hard to do well.

Microphones tend to come with a little wind-style protection built in, because it's universally useful.

But they won't do it much because it will also reduce the amount of useful sound that arrives as well, so it's better as an option you can add only when you know you need it.

Whistling with the airstream directed into the microphone is the same sort of wind.

One vocal-specific issue is pop, the sudden ejection of wind from your mouth that you get from plosives like p, b, and others. When this easily reaches the capsule, it's the same as the wind problem, though a lot more instantaneous.

Another vocal problem is sibilance, the ess sounds (s, t, ch) that sound harsh - and easily louder than other parts of the vocals.

This one's harder than pop, in part because it's less directional. It's a good idea to record less of it to start with.

Shock refers to hitting whatever the mic is standing on / handing by (and anything hard-coupled enough, like your desk and keyboard, your floor and your foot-tapping and the passing truck and neighbours rumbling or walking down the hall). If the mic is mounted to avoids hard coupling, most of that sound won't make it in via this route.

Reflection here refers to the fact you probably have multiple walls nearby, meaning you record direct and reflected sound - effectively a little reverb on everything. For live use this isn't much of an issue (it just sounds like a person in a room, which we are used to hearing), yet lessening this reflection gives you more leeway and options when mixing later. (Note also that this can be less relevant when you're closer to the mic)

Solutions designs, and products

  • Pointing the mic at your mouth from the side
Helps: vocal pops
But: positioning of yourself now has a little more effect on frequency content (and volume, due to the pickup shape),

so it's often easier (and a little more controlled) to explain and use pop filters.

  • Pop filter are primarily for reducing pop in vocal use.
Helps: vocal pops
It's typically just any thin piece of fabric suspended in front of the mic.
One design is a few nylon layers to reduce wind speed - which is easy enough to DIY with some coathangers and pantyhose.

are a specific foam stuck over all the inlet of a microphone (which for many mic designs works out as blobs, though longer for e.g. shotgun mics).
Helps: vocal pops, wind
These work against gentle wind, and also act as a pop filter.
They are not the best at either, but decent, cheap, and typically supplied with microphones.

are furry variants of windscreens, that tend to be be a little better at reducing wind than just foam
Helps: wind, vocal pops
They cost a little more, and come with some practical details like fluff varying with air moisture, and that you may have to clean them more often.
  • Softies (initially a brand name, but later a much more generic one)
is a vaguer term but frequently refers to a larger synthetic-fur thing large enough you can stick various microphones's business end in them.
Helps: wind, vocal pops
Helps: wind, vocal pops
similar to softies, but are larger, and will often contain the entire mic with a a bit more air between microphone and boundary, and usually use a mesh material (regularly with thin foam on the inside) to stop rushing air.
Seen e.g. on boom mics. They work better, but are heavier.
These may also have a removable synthetic fur cover. (This seems to be where the 'dead cat' name originated)

  • Shock mounts are elastic suspensions, which reduce physically coupled rumble.
Helps: shock, rumble
Basic versions are easy enough to improvise from, say, elastic bands. The characteristics of what frequencies they work best for varies, but halfway decent for no effort
Things like tension do matter matter to how well they work a little, and studios and other permanent setups will probably invest in something less fiddly and more durable.

Reflection filter is often a acoustic foam around half of the mic, opposing the sound source, creating a small stall.

The intent is to control and reduce reflections from hard surfaces in at least most of the direction, which can help isolate the source from other sources. Note that it does only half the job (at best) that e.g. a vocal booth would, but it reduces reverb to a good amount so can be an effective tool for e.g. vocal work.

Switches on microphones

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Are most commonly:

Low cut / roll-off (bent-line symbol) - removes low frequencies with a filter

when recording vocals, frequencies below 50 or 100Hz or so are likely to be nothing but rumble (also for home use; think passing trucks), and maybe some wind
knee frequency varies. Some mics have two positions for this, varying knee frequency
can't be changed, so doing this filter in an EQ down the line is sometimes more useful (and largely the same)

Pad switch - basically just lowers amount of signal - attenuation on the order of 5dB, 10dB or 20dB

useful when the input is structurally very loud, e.g. putting mics on a guitar cab.
when the output has a voltage maximum that can overload (consumer 3.5mm, +4dBu XLR), you want to do this before it hits the point it can overload. The mic is a perfectly sensible place to do that
You rarely want this for softer instruments, softer vocals
There are sometimes also pads down the line, which is more about gain staging - comparable levels and e.g. not forcing sliders/knobs down to their first 5%
(not directly related: pad is also sensible to have on DIs, for very hot signals)

Other mic tools

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Basic mic positioning

Fancier mic positioning

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Stereo/soundstage effects

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Relevant for: fancier serious instrument recording, studios

...and arguably also e.g. recording groups of voices. It turns out that e.g. the hand-held recorders with two mics on front tend to record a binaural-like effect that we humans can use well to isolate sources, making it easier to listen to and e.g. transcribe.

These are mostly techniques that let you get a spacious recording of something live, without synthesizing that effect in mixing.

  • XY pair
Two directional microphones, inlets/capsules very close, at a 90 degrees angle
proxmity means no time-of-arrival ambiguity, (so) stereo image comes mainly from directional pressure differences.
less impression of space/depth than most other setups, but more stable
no issues mixing down to mono
small amount of high frequency loss in the plane between the mics, which is why they are usually placed above each other (means this rejection is above/below, not left/right)
if the mics touch, this may ruin the effect (or the recording, if there's rattling)
  • Blumlein pair
XY pair using bidirectional microphones
tends to give a nicely realistic soundstage

  • AB pair
Two omnidirectional microphones in parallel, some space apart
tweaking the distance changes amount of directionality that is picked up (verify)
a little bassier, because omnidirectional mics tend to be (verify)
mixing to mono by adding the two is less than ideal, as that tends to show comb-filter-like effects. Yet often, using just one channel is perfectly fine.
  • Jecklin disk
AB style, at 36cm distance, and with a disk inbetween that increases the apparent separation
Easier to mix to mono because of side rejection (side tends to arrive more in one mic)
  • Decca tree
three mics, at least 1.5m distance
seems to ask for moderately dictional mics, at least at higher frequencies (verify)
resembles AB with a center fill
wide stereo image, mostly used for orchestras and choirs and anything else large. Does not work so well for smaller areas(verify).
There seem to be variants with five (extra left, extra right, look for 'outrigger')
takes care to position, takes care to mix

  • near coincident are setups with effects between XY and AB, usually decent ambient and decent directional, and most are named for institutions that thought up each specific setup, like ORTF (French television), NOS (Dutch television), DIN (German standardization)
ORTF: cardoid, pointed outwards, 110 degree angle between them, capsules 17cm apart (roughly a head's width)
NOS: cardoid, 90 degree, 30cm
DIN: cardoid, 90 degree, 20cm

  • Mid/Side
seems to refer to a two-mic setup, with a cardoid or omni facing the sound source, and a figure-eight mic acting pointed perpendicular
...but also frequently imitated with three mics (two imitating that figure-eight) (verify)
Outputs are generally:
Mid as-is
Left = Mid + Side
Right = Mid − Side
The main reason seems to be flexibility: you can tweak the depth while mixing (something you can't do with most of the above)
mixing to mono is simple: just use the mid mic, with less thought about phase

Related tricks

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Relevant for: stage, studios

Differential microphone is a noice-canceling arrangement useful in live setups on smaller stages, where crowds and things like guitar amps are nearby:

use two identical microphones, one trained on the sound you want, the other not, and probably nearby each other
invert one (i.e. reverse phase) (fancier consoles tend to allow this in the mixer)
anything that shows up equally at both mics is likelier to cancel out
which is likely to include lowish frequency crowd noise, guitar amp bleed, drums, backline speakers, etc.
anything that shows up at one mic (e.g. the singer) barely so.
sometimes leads to some odd phasing effects, though(verify)

Not to be confused with differential microphone arrays, which use beamforming from multiple mics to isolate in a direction, thereby suppressing background noise and some reverb.

On active noise reduction

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

After-the-fact noise suppression may help with any mic.

...but not much, because doing so afterwards will not make the quality of the signal any better, it primarily makes the whole recording less distracting.

Noise, in this context, is primarily anything other than human talking.


  • gating assumes you only need to hear loud sounds, and assumes anything low-level is always noise
sometimes this is hard gating, which basically toggles between full signal as-is, and basically-muted
but many implementations try to shift more smoothly between the strong attenuation and no attenuation, because this sounds less annoying
when that threshold is well tuned
it's perfectly quiet when people are not talking
the noise is there when they are, but it's probably low enough to not bother communication
when the threshold is set wrong
set too high and it removes to much, e.g. cutting off every first word
set too low and it removes no noise at all, or seems to cut in and out randomly
the noisier the mic is (by nature), the harder the threshold is to set - it may be more distracting than not having it.
if input levels are not very consistent (e.g. varying distance to a stationary mic a lot), that threshold will be wrong over time
The later a gate sits in your audio chain, the harder it may be to tune (particularly if it's after a compressor(verify))
gating is potentially more annoying than leaving the noise in

  • noise suppression based on an example of noise
Basic 'noise removal' features (e.g. try the one in audacity) often ask you to provide an example of just noise
typically what they do is
determine the frequency content in the noise, then later reduce those frequencies
often using an envelope detector to reduce it more strongly in weaker parts of the signal, so that it bothers actual signal less
great at removing anything constant - hum, AC rumble, whistle, microphone bias, steady device noise
as a moderately aggressive EQ (e.g. 12dB reduction in narrowish bands), so the more you remove frequencies, the more easily it introduces little artifacts. You can reduce that, but mainly by reducing how much noise is removed.

buzzword compliant, due to neural net training
what they do is typically mostly adaptive EQing -- a little fancier, but not much
partially trained beforehand on what kinds of spectra to respond to
but adaptive, so unlike the previous, it it doesn't require an example of noise - and can deal with more varied noise and with changes in noise
magically more selective - when it works, it works well.
magically more unpredictable - the training hides a lot of assumptions, and you don't get to control them.
These seem to be trained for average vocals over typical noise -- not singing, shouting, mumbling, unusual noises
usually little to no way to tune or control any of that
...unless you know how to train neural networks and you chose something not proprietary (most are proprietary)
you still have to think about your audio chain, e.g. a compressor after probably works better than before(verify).
RTX Voice
only runs on Nvidia cards, specific RTX and some GTX, and gamers may note a small framerate drop
proprietary(verify), free
can present a noise-filtered device based on another (practical to use it for voice chat without requiring plugin style integration)
Used by: OBS (its "Noise Suppression" audio filter)
open, free
Used by: Discord
also a standalone, proprietary, paid-for thing (free version is time-limited)
can present a noise-filtered device based on another device (practical to use it for voice chat without requiring plugin style integration)

More technical

Microphone cabling

Microphone directionality

Sensitivity, noise performance, and some further stuff that influences quality (specs)

Acoustic Overload Point (AOP), "Maximum SPL"

Self-noise / equivalent input noise / equivalent noise

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

A microphone will emit some amount of noise even when there is no sound.

This is often largely determined by its own electronics.
(and from unavoidable thermal noise of the electronics,
and potential effect of thermal agitation of air (that doesn't come from environment noise nearby)

Terms like equivalent noise and self-noise refer to this, though both are a little more specific.

How quiet you can record signals without them falling into noise is determined by

  • mic sensitivity
  • mic self-noise
  • anything else that might introduce further noise before it's amplified
...which is why mic preamps are sometimes very important -- or, where they are unnecessary, irrelevant

In the end, noise is more important than sensitivity -- it's just that in a lot of mics, noise and sensitivity are somewhat entangled: a lot of cheaper mics are both noisier and less sensitive, many fancier mics are less noisy and frequently more sensitive.

In practice, self-noise of powered mics tends to combine to, maybe 10 to 20dB. In itself this is volts and doesn't fundamentally relate to a physical level, but since mics tend to be engineered to a specific purpose, it is tied to a physical level in the process.

Note that microphone's noise also tends to have its own spectral properties - some mics have bassier, hissier, or cracklier noise. (presumably roughly following the mic's sensitivity?).

A decent mic might effectively put that at ~20dB(A) SPL.

Since most environments aren't that quiet, that Which given typical environment noise is quite enough.

A mic and its preamp


Sensitivity for analog microphones

That 94dB you see in the specs
Okaaaay, but what do the figures mean?
The audio world world be itself without dancing about the definitions

Sensitivity for digital microphones

Sensitivity and noise combined

SNR in theory, and in practice

Signal path can add noise

Environment noise can add noise

Distance and directionality

Mic dynamic range

Between specs and uses

Directional behaviour

Directionality means a microphone picks up sound coming from some directions much more than from others.

More directional mics make it easier to train a mic one a specific sound source , to isolate some environment noise (e.g. the PC opposite you, though not the rumbling truck outside), to get somewhat isolated recordings when you're playing together (less need to record separately), (therefore) more mixing choices later, avoid feedback on stage (with stage monitors), to have speakers on their own mics in a radio studio or podcast even when they're fairly close together, and more.


  • a bunch of these things are also served by putting mics closer (and dialing down the amplification), but with some footnotes.
  • frequency response will differ between directions
...which is one reason why, in well-controlled environments, omnidirectional designs can be useful - they sound more consistent and neutral. And why they sometimes have use in mixes.
  • even highly directional designs (shotgun, parabolic) rarely give more than 20dB of reak difference between what they focus on and what they don't.
Depending on your needs, this may be more than enough (e.g. when mics are closer) - or disappointing when your expectations came from spy movies and mic cost.

There are a bunch of words that are shorthands for typical shapes on the polar chart [1].

These include:

  • omnidirectional, a.k.a. non-directional
sound from all directions (more or less) equally.
any mic that does not use cavities or surfaces tends to be relatively omnidirectional.
truly omnidirectional response is actually hard, more so when it has to do so for higher frequencies well (but there is rarely a need for such purism)
Prone to feedback.
  • Subcardoid
Like cardoid, but without the rear rejection.
You could think of it as omnidirectional that was sort of biased to one direction after all.
More prone to feedback
  • Cardioid
The polar plot is shaped roughly like a heart, hence the name.
Fairly directional, which makes it useful for
voices, in that it's often close to and pointed at a person
stages in general, because lower sensitivity at the back lessens the likelines of feedback
  • Supercardoid
narrower than basic cardoid, effectively making it more directional towards the front
but also adds pickup directly behind
  • Hypercardoid
Basically the superlative of supercardoid: reject side better, pick up more in front - and directly behind.
...to the point they resemble bidirectional a bit.

  • Bi-directional (figure eight)
roughly equal pickup on one side and the opposite
also meaning better side rejection than most other things


  • shotgun - actually a mic design
it turns out to have a relatively unique polar patterns, because of the interference tube these use (see also line + gradient)
the polar patterns can vary a bunch between different design choices.
so this means "look closer"
...yet probably in the area of supercardoid, sometimes figure-eight-like (but more focus on one side, and rejects side less)
  • Parabolic
The nature of a parabola is that parallel incoming things are focused on one spot (or, in the other direction, things originating from that one spot end up sent out in parallel beams)
this makes it useful for dish microphones. (and for many non-sound things. Consider solar cooking, spot lighting, dish antennae)
the fact that higher frequencies are more directional is pretty clear in this design
below 2kHz you get relatively poor pickup. A larger dish helps, but only so much. (Apparently a parabola with a shorter focal length also helps(verify))
  • Laser
Laser mics aren't sound transducers themselves. They reads the vibrations off a remote surface,
which often makes it an extremely directonal pickup -- of a there-relatively-omnidirectional surface. So categorize how you prefer.

Handling noise

Cable noise

Surface microphones

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

A surface microphone is one made to be attached to a surface, and mostly picks up that surface vibrations, rather than air vibrations.

This particularly makes sense for instruments.

However a surface microphone picks up most things more or less equally, and it is surprising how much you don't actually want that for many uses, or at least have to now think about things like handling that instrument.

They are often piezo elements, regularly with a simple amplifier circuit. See Electronic music - pickups.

On preamps


Powering mics

Note that

Of the microphones in common use, it is primarily condensers that need power.
it is fairly unusual for dynamic mics to use power.



  • Simple, avoids need for all of the below details


  • Batteries can be empty, which is awkward to deal with.
  • (Forgotten) batteries can leak, which can cause damage

For real shows on stage, people tend to swap them out a lot faster than necessary just to be sure, because troubleshooting in the middle of an event looks really unprofessional.

T-powering / 12T / AB powering / Tonaderspeisung / DIN 45595

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Relevant to plugs: XLR, (others? e.g. grosstuchel/kleintuchel?)

Supply power to a mic via the XLR cable that also carries audio

by putting 12V DC between XLR pins 2 and 3 (the differential pair).

Note: This is not phantom, is not compatible with phantom, and mistaking one for the other can sometimes damage microphones


  • Avoids shield, so avoids shield-related issues


  • accidentally mixing this with now-typical Phantom can damage things
  • any power impurity is on the same wires as the audio signal, and therefore audible (but you'll probably be DIYing neither this or Phantom, so...)

See also:

Phantom power / P48 / IEC 61938 / DIN 45596

Relevant to plugs: XLR

Phantom power can supply power to a mic via the XLR cable that also carries audio.

by putting a voltage equally on pins 2 and 3
...and using shield (pin 1) as ground for this circuit
which is a bad idea for interconnects, which is why phantom should only be used/enabled for mics (and other phantom-powered things) and it is good habit to turn it off until you need it

Audio interfaces with XLR inputs often supply phantom on it.

Mixer panels can regularly let you enable phantom power on all their inputs.

Many active DI boxes can be powered by phantom, often as one of the options (Passive DI boxes do not need power).

Anything non-XLR does not do phantom power.


  • Lets you supply power to the mics that need it (mostly condensers) without needing extra wiring, replacing batteries, etc.
mics that need it send a stronger signal, so the net effect is that you can use longer cables before noise is relevant.
  • should not affect signal quality

Keep in mind:

  • mics that require phantom power will probably barely work without it, or not work at all
most notably condenser mics
  • For mics that don't support it, it makes no difference
  • There are a few reasons to keep phantom power supply turned off until you know you need it, roughly:
the pin 1 problem in interconnects (probably the largest reason)
Earth lift, sometimes necessary to work around the pin 1 problem, will also disconnect phantom power
applying this power on some unbalanced microphone designs (most aren't) can be trouble
and some other details, see e.g. [2]
Generally none of these are an issue, since you'll generally only plug balanced mics (or mics via DI boxes) into XLR-with-phantom sockets - but there is the odd case where you can introduce noise or even damage (mostly in stage settings), so it's something you want to eventually know

Technical side:

Phantom power is

  • a voltage placed equally on pins 2 and 3
which means that the receiving side (the differential amplifier on the audio lines) shouldn't see it on the signal at all (hence 'Phantom'), as as power should flow equally through both balanced-pair wires.
  • ...and using shield (pin 1) is now used ground for this circuit.

Using shield as ground is not advisable in general, but primarily because it is a bad idea when using XLR for interconnects (see also the Pin 1 problem - and you want to turn phantom off on any XLR inputs used as interconnects), yet is fine on inputs that are a single microphone (which is floating/isolated).

On DI boxes there are some extra footnotes (mostly to their design(verify)).

  • Voltage:
Technically three variants: 48V, 12V, and later 24V
in practice often 48V (though is apparently allowed to be 10..52V(verify)
the 48V is purely for historical reasons, and actually somewhat impractical now (9..12V is enough for almost all circuits, and microphones have to step it down to that)
  • Current:
early phantom supplies might only supply 2mA, enough for a single FET
modern phantom supplies should be capable of 10mA-15mA, and modern mics usually use something like ~5mA

See also:

  • http://en.wikiaudio.org/Phantom_power
  • mention in IEC 61938 (1993) ("Multimedia systems - Guide to the recommended characteristics of analogue interfaces to achieve interoperability")
  • mention in DIN 45596 (1973, 1981)

Plug-in power / Bias voltage

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Relevant to plugs: 3.5mm plugs (and some custom ones)

In practice, bias voltage is a mostly a thing on mics connected via 3.5mm TRS, like PCs, video cameras, DSLR, phones, voice recorders, minidisc.

Don't expect it to be more than 2V, don't expect it to have to supply more than 1mA or so.

(The actual voltage has varied with designs and over time - on specific/custom equipment might actually between 1.5V and 10V - but anything you connect to consumer hardware (e.g. sound card, hand held recorders) is likely to be around 2 or 3V (DC))

This bias power is specifically for electret mics with a FET amplifier inside it.

...it just happens that most desktop mics with a 3.5mm connector are exactly that. Note that not all mics with 3.5mm need (or can use) bias voltage, including e.g.

  • lav mics with an inline battery-powered amplifier
  • dynamic mics (but this is rare)

Mics that don't need it are often designed to ignore it, so it should be hard to damage a mic with bias voltage.

The voltage, and low current capacity, means there is a quick and dirty test for the presence of DC bias on a mic input with a plain LED (probably even without the resistor), preferably a red one because those have a lower forward voltage.

Wiring microphones

Things to keep in mind:

On impedance

See Music_-_studio_and_stage_notes#Analog_audio_stuff

But basically: most pro, XLR-connected mics are order of 200 ohm (often within 150..250 but it's not a fixed range), because they are designed to impedance-bridge with approximately 1.2kOhm on the other side - mixer, interface, or other mic input.

This is typical enough that for the most part, you plug it in and it works.

Higher and lower mic impedance exists.

Higher and lower amp impedance exists.

Most of them are special cases - which you'll typically intuit are unusual, even if you don't understand the details yet.

If either side's impedance is switchable, that mostly changes the amount of load, which mostly just bends the frequency response a little.

The effect is mostly about EQ -- unless you're connecting a rather unusual mic, or a very old one (from the era when studios were new, and only two steps removed from how phone systems used to work).

Offset or rectify


Isolation, DC removal

Types of microphone - workings

Dynamic microphone


Pre-polarized versus externally polarized

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Is often often about condenser mics (not always?(verify)).

It's about where the backplate's energy comes from.

  • externally polarized means something external to the mic applies voltage to the backplate
e.g. phantom-powered qualifies (typically on XLR)
though the term seems to come up mostly around measurement microphones, apparently then often 200V,
and you see connectors like e.g. 7-pin LEMO seems used around some measurement microphones
  • Pre-polarized
e.g. electrets by definition have a magnet as the energy source
seems to effectively refer to electrets

e.g. an XLR "phantom to pre-polarized microphones adapter" is probably an adapter for electret - probably specifically for lav mics, and to do that conversion close to the mic for quality reasons.

It is a little unfortunate that these terms refers only to the backplate design -- most real-world electrets have a FET integrated that does still need external bias power, but this detail is left up to context.

Electret microphone

Circuit use

Related hacking


This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

More widely, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) refers to microscopic devices that have both electronic and moving parts, particularly where the processes to make the electronics can also be used to make said moving parts, so it's not just two things in the same package, it can e.g. be part of the same silicon.

For microphones, MEMS e.g. means smaller than electrets, and MEMS is now quite typical in smartphones. While electret can be made just as small, MEMS have other properties that makes them a practical choice.

So basically, a tiny condenser-style design etched into an IC, usually alongside a preamplifier and possibly ADC.

Many speak PDM (at MHz rates), or possibly things like I2S. PDM also makes them a less sensitive to electronic noise than analog (...when consumed as high speed digital signals, often by an audio codec), and because it's PDM you could choose to use their output as an analog signal.

Piezo microphone

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Piezo microphones, a.k.a. crystal microphones.

Piezo elements are more general type of sensor, usable to sense stress, vibration. They are ceramic capacitors that are designed to be bent a little. This bending creates the voltage. (due to the piezoelectric effect: stress on a crystal leads to voltage across it).

They are often discs, presumably because it's an easy design and it makes it easier to couple to a larger surface. There are other designs, e.g. the flat ones in piezo guitar bridge pickups -magnetic.

Reacting to being bent means they are good at picking up sound that carries through a solid material, and quite poor at picking up airwave sound directly.

This "it hears only what it's pressed onto' is a feature in applications like as in vibration sensors, impact sensors (you can DIY a drumkit with these), instrument pickups. Contact microphones are often piezo elements plus a little amplification (often fairly closeby because the high output impedance is less than ideal).

One limitation of piezos is relatively narrow frequency response, which also comes in part due to the physical size - each disc design has a significant physical resonance frequency and its sensitivity falls off beyond it.

Acoustic-guitar pickups are often piezos under the bridge so that string vibration makes it to the piezo fairly directly. (There may also be a body pickup as well, piezo or electret, to get the soundbox's sound).

Piezos are not used on electric guitars, which typically use magnetic pickups. Magnetic pickups work only with metal strings, which isolates to pick up just the string movement, and will e.g. ignore slapping and some other things you might do playing acoustic guitar (except whatever movement that makes it to the strings).

See more notes at Electronic music - pickups

Ribbon mic

Historic or exotic




Fiber optic


Some more glossary

Measurement microphones

Response field

Frequencies for wireless microphones

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Classical systems are RF systems, often FM modulated(verify).

Because the license-free and licensed bands vary per country, classical RF wireless systems play a game between "can use many distinct channels" and "can't be used in specific countries", and such products are more easily sold only for specific areas (europe, US, Japan, australia)

They usually stick to license-exempt frequencies -- but the definition may change over time, particularly as markets like the mobile one demand more of that spectrum.

Details may be specific to a country (see e.g. this document). For example, I have a device that can send between 470-862Mhz (which is aimed at most of the EU)

Such license-free bands will also change over time. For example, in the EU, 694-790

It will also change over time, e.g. in the Netherlands you should no longer used some of that (791..862MHz) since 2016 [3][4], and you would already have had trouble within 790..862 MHz since around 2013, when mobile devices started using it.