Whether on stage or in the recording studio, seemingly small choices in equipment can have an indelible impact on the final product, which is the sound the audience ultimately hears. We’re going to take a cursory glance at a crucial piece of equipment from each of these environments: Wireless microphone systems and recording microphones.
For a music producer or recording engineer, the choice of which recording microphones to use is almost instinctual, based on the results they hope to achieve. Granted, most of these sonic craftsmen have ears which are so finely tuned they can detect nuances which most of us would find imperceptible, but that’s how they’ve achieved their status. Some may choose to use a Shure SM-57 right on the center of a guitar speaker, while others may use a large diaphragm condenser mic a few feet away to get a different effect. Still another may use both. There really are no rules.
In very general terms, most often the term recording microphones refers to condenser microphones, but this is not always the case. It may be helpful to remember that the most often used live sound microphones, the Shure SM-57 and SM-58 were originally intended for studio use, hence their SM designation. I’ve seen Shure SM-57s used in the studio for drums, vocals, guitars, violins, horns, and even security. (Don’t ask.) Although the Shure SM-58is usually considered to be a vocal microphone, I have a friend who swears by them for electric guitar. As has often been said, if it sounds good, it is good.
The bottom line here is that although different microphones may be better suited to some applications more than others, the field is essentially wide open. Keep in mind that common sense may dictate some applications. For example, I don’t think I’d try to use a Neumann U-87 as a handheld mic for the vocalist in a metal band, but you never know. The Shure Green Bullet was originally intended as a vocal mic, but has become the industry standard for harmonica, of all things. Just go with what works for you.
On an almost entirely unrelated note, have you ever been to a presentation where you really noticed the wireless microphone systems? If you have, I’d venture a guess that it was because the system probably wasn’t working all that well. Here’s what I mean:
I’ve been to a number of lectures and seminars where the presenter was using a wireless microphone system, usually in conjunction with a lavalier mic. Most of these events turn into daylong (or more) endurance fests, where the brain is forced to take in far more information than the backside can endure. As the tedium sets in, one starts to notice the little things. When the speakers open their mouths, there is an audible hiss from the p.a. system. The hiss remains until about a second after they’ve finished their sentence, then it goes away. As soon as they start to talk again, it returns, and so on. After a day of this, it gets pretty annoying. After enduring countless boring presentations, bad coffee and stale cookies, it gets to be too much. This phenomenon is called breathing or pumping, and is the hallmark of cheap wireless microphone systems.
Many of the newer Shurewireless microphone systemsutilize Audio Reference Commanding circuitry which helps to do away with breathing and pumping, so your next presentation can be a resounding success.