5 Ways to Place Microphones for Great Sound Recording

Part of the PC Recording Studios For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Part of running a great computer-based recording studio is making sure you get great sound from a microphone (or mic, for short). To do this, you need to use the best mic for the application and place it where it can sound its best. This requires not only knowledge of the different types of mics that are available, but also how these mics are used for a variety of instruments.

Regardless of the style of microphone you use — or the type of instrument you record — you can use one or more of the following mic-placement techniques to capture the sound you want:

  • Spot (or close) miking: Spot miking (also called close miking) involves placing your microphone within a couple feet of the sound source. People with a home-recording setup use this technique most often because it adds little of the sound of the room (the reverb and delay) to the recorded sound.

  • Distant miking: When you use distant miking, you place mics about 3 or 4 feet away from the sound source. Distant miking enables you to capture some of the sound of the room along with the instrument. An example of a distant-miking technique is the overhead drum mic. With it, you can pick up the whole drum set to some extent. Coupled with a few select spot mics, you can record a natural sound.

  • Ambient miking: Ambient miking is simply placing the mic far enough away from the sound source so you capture more of the room sound (the reverb and delay) than the sound of the actual instrument. You might place the mic a couple feet away from the source but pointed in the opposite direction, or you might place the mic across the room. You can even put the mic in an adjacent room, although this is an unorthodox technique. The distance that you choose varies from instrument to instrument.

    Ambient mic placement works well in those places where the room adds to the sound of the instrument. (Home recordists sometimes use stairwells, bathrooms, or rooms with wood paneling to liven up the sound.) The sound that you record is ambient — steeped in the sonic qualities of the surroundings (hence the name ambient miking). If you mix this in with a spot mic, you can end up with a natural reverb. If your room doesn't add to the sound of the instrument, you're better off not using any ambient mics. You can always add a room sound by using effects in the mixing process.

  • Stereo miking: Stereo miking involves using two mics to capture the stereo field of the instrument. A variety of stereo miking techniques exist, and things can get pretty complicated when using two mics to record. You can also find stereo mics that — on their own — do a good job of capturing the stereo field of an instrument.

    Stereo miking has the advantage of capturing a natural stereo image. When you listen to performances that were recorded with well-placed stereo miking, you can hear exactly where on the stage each instrument performed.

  • Combined miking strategies: Many times you'll want to use more than one mic. The possible combinations are almost limitless: You can use several spot mics on one instrument, you can use a spot mic and an ambient mic, you can have a distant mic and a spot mic, or . . . Well, you get the point.

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