By: Ron Huisinga
One of the most frequently asked questions from churches regarding microphones is, "Which hand-held microphone will work best at our church?"
Although this can be a complicated question to answer, a basic understanding of the characteristics of the hand-held and the instrument microphones will help you in your search.
This article will explain the key characteristics of these microphones and provide you with advice about purchasing the microphones your church may need.
A hand-held microphone is usually a cardioid microphone, and it is designed to be used close to the mouth.
Let's look at some of the key characteristics and terms for these microphones.
1. Built-In "Pop Filter"
Try putting your hand close to your mouth and say "pop." Feel the air moving? The "pop filter" helps stop the explosive booming sound that can occur when certain consonants (such as "p," "b," or "t") are spoken.
The filter, which is usually a piece of special foam, helps to diminish the increase in volume that speaking these consonants produces. The "pop filter" at the end of the microphone provides the distinct ice-cream cone look to the typical hand-held microphone.
2. Directional Pick-Up Pattern
Most hand-held microphones have a directional pick-up pattern. That means sound will be picked up better in the front and less in the rear and sides of the microphone. There are other microphones with a more narrow pattern. These are called supercardioid and hypercardioid microphones.
3. Proximity Effect
The physics involved in producing the directional pattern creates a phenomenon called proximity effect. Proximity effect produces a stronger bass response when you get closer to the microphone. In fact, a singer might choose a microphone specifically because of its proximity effect.
Watch a professional singer. They will change the distance between the microphone and their mouth to achieve the desired effect. By varying the microphone distance, a singer can change the tone of their voice to enhance it or to create mood for dramatic effect. Most directional microphones exhibit proximity effect.
4. Bass Roll-Off/Reduction
Hand-held microphones usually have the bass frequencies rolled-off or reduced. This helps compensate for the proximity effect mentioned above. However, the microphone will then sound "thin" with a lack of bass when used at a distance of 24 inches from the mouth.
5. Flat Response
An instrument microphone would normally have a flat frequency response. A flat response allows the microphone to pick up all of the audio frequencies at the same volume. A flat frequency response allows the sound of a violin or choir to be picked up and reproduced as accurately as possible. The instrument microphone is normally positioned two feet or more from the sound source so the proximity effect does not boost the low frequencies.
6. Presence Peak
A hand-held microphone often has a presence peak built into its frequency response. A presence peak is a boost in the frequency response between 1250 and 8000 Hertz. A boost in these frequencies will cause the voice to stand out or appear closer. It can make the voice clearer.
A poor loudspeaker system, which has a weak high frequency response, will appear to sound better with a microphone that has a large presence peak; however, the same microphone could sound very harsh on a loudspeaker that has a flat response. Likewise, a microphone that enhances one voice may make another voice sound tinny and unpleasant.
Hand-held microphones should come with a label that says, "Caution - Handle with Care." Unfortunately, hand-held microphones are very easy to drop. Even a single drop can cause a change in the frequency response of the microphone. If your favorite microphone sounds different than the last time it was used, it may have been dropped and damaged.
You may be wondering how you can choose the right microphone for your church or group. There are so many choices!
Be aware of the characteristics of your microphones and how they reproduce on your loudspeaker system. If you can, test several microphones with your sound system to learn their characteristics. Evaluate how they reproduce sound in your church.
If your budget allows, it is a good idea to have microphones with different characteristics so that you can better match the microphone to a particular voice. However, it is wise to have several microphones with the same characteristics for a duet or trio.
This article was printed with permission from the Internet Sound Institute, www.soundinstitute.com. Ron Huisinga has been in the sound industry since 1983. He graduated with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota. He has designed sound for large church productions and is also involved with his own church's music department as a director, singer, and violinist. Huisinga is the co-founder of New Life Communications, Huisinga and Olsen Publishing, and the Internet Sound Institute.