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Online Guide Small Diaphragm Mics
The Pros and Cons

 

Many people go by the rule “the larger, the better!”, but small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
mics are actually superior to large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
mics in many respects. Not all, though.


Low Frequency Response

There’s a common misconception that small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
have inferior
BassThe lowest part of the audio frequency range; in popular music, a (generally) rhythmic, low frequency melodic line emphasising the root notes of the chord progression.
bass
response than large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
mics. Seems logical, since everybody knows you need a big speaker to transmit low frequencies, don’t you? But
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
aren’t speakers! A
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
does not produce sound, it does not have to put
AIRSome artists and producers believe that AIR - Always In Record - is a valuable technique, because it can capture moments of musical magic that may otherwise go unrecorded. It simply means that the tape or hard drive never stops running during a session.
air
in motion but is moved by incoming soundwaves. So there is no direct relation between
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
size and low frequency response. Even the smallest
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragms
can pick up the lowest frequencies!


Consistent Pick-Up Pattern

The most important advantage of small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragms
over large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragms
is that their pick-up patterns are more consistent. On a large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
, by contrast, the pick-up pattern is very much frequency-dependent. At high frequencies a large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
produces a very narrow pattern whereas at low frequencies, the pattern becomes very wide. In other words, a large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
whose pick-up pattern is specified as
CardioidA heart-shaped microphone response pattern. In effect, cardioid mics are generally directional, but not strongly unidirectional.
cardioid
actually tends to be
OmnidirectionalsDescribes a microphone that responds to sound equally from all directions. This is represented as a circular or spherical response pattern; omnidirectional designs are often used as ambient microphones.
omnidirectional
at low frequencies and a
HypercardioidA type of microphone polar response pattern which is similar to a cardioid response but more strongly directional, and with a small lobe of response directly to the rear.
hypercardioid
at high frequencies. A small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
varies a lot less. A small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
CardioidA heart-shaped microphone response pattern. In effect, cardioid mics are generally directional, but not strongly unidirectional.
cardioid
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
will have a
CardioidA heart-shaped microphone response pattern. In effect, cardioid mics are generally directional, but not strongly unidirectional.
cardioid
pattern at all frequencies: The smaller the
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
, the more consistent is the mic’s pick-up pattern. That’s very important especially for distant miking and recording large sound sources such as an orchestra, a choir, or a brass section. A large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
would produce an uneven sound image with only the instruments directly on axis sounding bright and full and the sources placed off-axis appearing dull and
Flat ResponseTerm which refers to equipment that does not colour the frequency spectrum of a signal passed through it.
flat
. A small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
produces a much more consistent sound image with the off-axis sources (almost) as bright and full as the instruments and voices directly on-axis.

Microtech Gefell M930

Microtech Gefell M294

The left illustration shows the pick-up pattern of a typical large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condenser
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
(Microtech Gefell M930). At high frequencies, the
CardioidA heart-shaped microphone response pattern. In effect, cardioid mics are generally directional, but not strongly unidirectional.
cardioid
pattern becomes very narrow.
The illustration to the right shows the more consistent pick-up pattern of a typical small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
(Microtech Gefell M294). The pattern remains cardioid-shaped even at high frequencies.


Excellent
TransientA non-repeating part of a waveform, usually at the very beginning of a note or sound, which is usually of a higher amplitude than the rest of the sound and plays an important part in determining the overall subjective quality of the sound.
Transient
Response

Small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragms
provide better
ImpulseA signal or sound with a very short (in theory infinitely short) duration.
impulse
response. The
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
mass is smaller and therefore less prone to mass inertia. Inertia? Well, it takes a short time for the
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
to be set in motion by an incoming
ImpulseA signal or sound with a very short (in theory infinitely short) duration.
impulse
and it takes some time for the
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
to cease its movement after the
ImpulseA signal or sound with a very short (in theory infinitely short) duration.
impulse
has ended. The higher the diaphragm’s mass, the longer it takes for it to react to an
ImpulseA signal or sound with a very short (in theory infinitely short) duration.
impulse
. A small, low-mass
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
, therefore, follows the soundwaves more accurately than a large, relatively high-mass
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
. Small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
are excellent choices for
TransientA non-repeating part of a waveform, usually at the very beginning of a note or sound, which is usually of a higher amplitude than the rest of the sound and plays an important part in determining the overall subjective quality of the sound.
transient
rich material such as acoustic guitar or percussion. (Transients are short, energy rich
ImpulseA signal or sound with a very short (in theory infinitely short) duration.
impulses
, typically produced by fast attacks).


Size Matters

Another advantage of the small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
is its compact size. The voluminous
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
body of a typical large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
produces
ResonanceA parameter for boosting the frequencies around the cut-off point of a filter. When shaped by an envelope so that it moves in frequency it creates the characteristic 'wow' sound of a subtractive synthesizer.
resonances
that may compromise its sound. Moreover, although that’s mostly a theoretical point, the
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
body is part of the sound field. If you subscribe to the “purist” philosophy that a
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
is supposed to record a sound source as it is without interfering with the sound field (and thus altering it by reflections), a
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
ought to be as small as possible. A small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condenser
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
is therefore a more “ideal”
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
than a large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condenser.


DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
Noise
Performance

As you might have guessed, there can’t be so many advantages without there being at least one disadvantage. After all, we do use large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
quite extensively in recording studios, don’t we? The only point in which a large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condenser
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
is clearly superior to a small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condenser is
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
performance. The larger the
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
, the more signal you get. A stronger signal means better signal-to-noise ratio. Small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
, thus, can’t be quite as low
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
as large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers, and in the early days of
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
technology, that was the main reason for using large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
. In the meantime, condenser mics have generally become lower
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
, so best possible
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
performance is rarely an issue, these days. Still, modern large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers do have considerably lower self-noise than modern small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
. The best large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers boast single digit self-noise figures (the Neumann TLM103 is 7 dB-A!), small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
mics, even the best, rarely are below 15 dB-A. However, keep in mind that the room
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
in most recording situations is higher than that, so you may not notice a big difference in many practical applications.


The Pros and Cons in Summary

Small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers have many advantages over large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
. Their pick-up patterns are more consistent, and they are more neutral and accurate. Large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
, on the other hand, are slightly lower
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
and tend to have a more distinct sound character, which, at least in some applications, is perceived as complimentary. Large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers often have a flattering quality that makes vocalists sound better and bigger than they really are. Small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers, by contrast, are workhorses that pick up any sound source in its true proportions. Think of large
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
as “romantics” and small
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
condensers as “realists.”

 

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