Skip to content

Guide to Selecting Microphones for Video

  • by
  • Updated
  • 10 min read
boom microphone hold up high by video or film prod 2022 11 07 23 32 21 utc scaled e1693494036351

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to us at no cost to you. You can read our full affiliate disclosure in our privacy policy.

Content Status: This is draft content while we get our site up to speed. Expect refinements and additional editing in the future.

Selecting the right microphone is critical for capturing high-quality audio to match your video production. This introductory chapter will provide an overview of the key factors to consider when choosing a microphone for video.

Overview of Microphones for Video

There are several specifications and features of mics that determine how well they pick up audio for video. Key factors include:

  • Sensitivity – how well the mic converts sound pressure levels into output voltage. Higher sensitivity mics work better for distant miking.
  • Noise Floor – the inherent self-noise of the mic. Lower noise is critical for quiet sources.
  • Directivity – the mic’s pickup pattern. More directional mics reduce off-axis sounds.
  • Power Needs – whether the mic requires phantom power, which condensers need.
  • Size and Mount – Miniature mics offer placement flexibility.

In video production, high-quality audio is just as important as the visuals. Poor audio can undermine an otherwise great video. Choosing the right microphone for the situation helps ensure the audio matches the high production value of the filming.

Selecting the Right Microphone

This article provides an in-depth look at the key specifications of different microphone types and offers guidance on selecting the right mic for your video shoot based on factors like:

  • Intended use – interviews, studio, field, lavalier
  • Sound source – vocals, ambient, instruments
  • Environment – indoor, outdoor, wind
  • Power and connectivity – available phantom power, wireless
  • Budget – price ranges for different mics

Properly outfitting your video production with the right microphones for each situation will elevate your videos with clear, professional audio.

Microphone Types

When selecting a microphone for video production, one of the most important choices is the mic’s polar pattern or directionality. The polar pattern determines how sensitive the microphone is to capturing sounds from different angles. There are several common microphone directionality types to consider:

Omnidirectional

Omnidirectional mics pick up sound evenly from all directions. They are effective for capturing ambient sounds in a naturalistic way, like recording outdoor scenes or room tone. Omnis have a wide, spherical pickup pattern and are prone to picking up unwanted sounds like traffic noise. They are rarely used close to the sound source.

Cardioid

Cardioid mics are more directional, capturing sound mainly from the front while rejecting sound from the rear. They are useful for recording podcasts, interviews, and vocalists. Cardioids reduce unwanted ambient noise but can still pick up some side and rear sounds. Proper positioning is key.

Shotgun

AdobeStock 142899133 scaled

Shotgun mics are highly directional and focus on sounds directly in front of them. Their tight polar pattern provides excellent isolation from off-axis sounds. Shotguns are ideal for on-location filming like interviews and events. But they require precise positioning and boom pole operation.

Lavalier

lavalier microphone 2023 05 08 16 57 10 utc scaled

Lavalier or lapel mics clip onto clothing for hands-free operation. They capture clear speech from up close while remaining unobtrusive. Lavs work well for interviews, stage performances, and presenters. Clothing rustling noise can be an issue. Small condenser lav mics provide the best sound quality.

Special Use Microphones

In addition to the common microphone types used for general video production audio, there are also more specialized microphones designed for particular applications and scenarios.

Microphones for Surround Sound

Surround sound refers to multichannel audio reproduction that creates an immersive listening experience by distributing sound throughout the listener’s environment. To capture audio content for surround formats, specialized microphone techniques and setups are required.

Here are some key considerations for recording surround sound:

Surround Microphone Arrays

  • Surround microphone arrays consist of multiple cardioid, hypercardioid or shotgun microphones arranged in specific patterns to pick up sound from all directions. Some common arrays include Decca Tree (3 front microphones), OCT (8 microphones) and INA-5 (5 microphones).
  • The microphones are spaced evenly and angled apart to provide separation between channels. This allows capturing a seamless soundscape when panned across surround speakers.
  • Advanced surround arrays like SoundField microphones use ambisonic technology to capture full spherical sound reproduction.

Stereo Microphone Techniques

  • Standard XY or ORTF stereo mics can be used for front center and stereo rear channels. Spaced omnidirectional mics capture side channels.
  • In Mid-Side (MS) stereo micing, a bidirectional mic captures side audio, and a cardioid mic captures the center. This provides flexibility in post-production.
  • Binaural dummy head mics emulate human ears and natural spatial hearing. Useful for immersive first-person perspective sound.

Room Mics and Spot Mics

  • Dedicated room mics add a natural ambiance and environmental tones. Large-diaphragm condensers work well.
  • Spot mics on specific instruments direct desired sounds to intended speaker channels to create channel separation.

With strategic microphone placement, array choice, and post-production techniques, captivating surround soundscapes can be crafted to immerse the listener.

Headset Microphones

Headset mics with an adjustable mic boom are ideal for noisy environments. They maintain a fixed optimal mic position at the mouth for consistent audio. Headsets allow for hands-free use but can be visually obtrusive. Common for live TV, sports casters, and theater.

Boundary/PZM

Boundary mics are designed to capture sound by being mounted directly on flat surfaces like tables, floors, or walls. The boundary eliminates phase cancellation issues. Useful for recording meetings and conferences when laid flat on a tabletop. Provide excellent speech clarity.

Selecting the right polar pattern is crucial for achieving high quality production audio based on the recording scenario. Each directional type has advantages and disadvantages that must be considered. Proper microphone placement and use technique is also essential.

Choosing the Right Microphone

Selecting the best microphone for each video production scenario requires considering multiple factors:

Match Pickup Pattern to Situation

  • Omnis for natural ambient sound
  • Cardioids for interviews and voiceovers
  • Shotguns to isolate subjects
  • Lavs for clear close-mic speech

Wired vs. Wireless

  • Wired mics provide interference-free sound
  • Wireless allows movement and flexibility
  • Evaluate available inputs and outputs

Power Requirements

  • Dynamic mics don’t need phantom power
  • Condensers need 24-48V phantom power
  • Battery-powered options for DSLRs

Environmental Conditions

  • Durability, water/moisture resistance
  • Wind protection for outdoor filming

Budget Constraints

  • Professional studio mics can be costly
  • Consumer/prosumer models are more affordable
  • Rentals offer high-end mics when needed

Do test recordings in your actual shooting conditions. There’s no single perfect microphone—it comes down to selecting the best tool for each application. Flexibility and experience using different mic types is key.

Recording Speech and Interviews

Capturing clean dialogue and speech is vital for production audio. Here are some key techniques for recording interviews, voiceovers, and other spoken word:

Positioning Lavalier Microphones

  • Place lavalier mic just below the subject’s chest near the collarbone. This area provides the most clear and full voice pickup.
  • Clip the lav firmly to clothing, but watch for rustling noises if attaching to loose fabric. Use a windscreen for additional noise isolation.
  • For interviews, presentations, or footage with movement, use a wireless lavalier system to allow freedom and flexibility.

Utilizing Headset Microphones

  • Position and secure the boom mic just off the center of the mouth, about 1-2 inches away. This allows for consistent close-mic positioning as the head turns.
  • Headset mics are great for situations like live broadcasting where consistent audio is critical. The fixed mic position minimizes variations.
  • Make sure the headset fit is adjusted for comfort while keeping the mic boom properly placed near the mouth.

Booming with Shotgun Microphones

  • Position the shotgun mic just above or below the video frame, pointed directly at the subject. This provides audio isolation while keeping the mic out of view.
  • Angle the shotgun mic slightly away from the speaker to reduce plosives and mouth noises. A windscreen also helps reduce pops.
  • An assistant will be needed to boom properly and continuously aim the shotgun mic for interviews or footage with movement.

Proper Microphone Technique

  • When using a handheld mic, maintain a consistent distance from the mic of 6-12 inches for optimal sound quality. Avoid moving towards and away.
  • Speak clearly, project your voice, and use proper enunciation for the best vocal sound pickup and intelligibility.
  • Reduce handling noise if using handheld mics

With careful positioning, the right mic choice, and proper speech techniques, your dialogue, interviews, and voice tracks will sound clear and professional. Evaluate the situation to determine the best microphone and placement.

Location Audio Challenges

Capturing high-quality production audio on location comes with some unique challenges that need to be addressed. Here are some common issues and solutions for managing them:

Wind Noise

AdobeStock 509474418 scaled

Wind hitting unprotected microphones creates rumbling and high-frequency noise that can ruin dialogue tracks. Foam or furry windscreens are essential for reducing wind noise. Specialized windjammer covers provide even more isolation for microphones outdoors.

Crowd and Room Noise

Crowd murmurs, traffic, and other ambient sounds can overwhelm your audio. Directional mics reduce pickup of off-axis noise. Place mics close to sound sources to maximize signal-to-noise ratio. Record some “room tone” to layer under dialogue in post.

Reverb and Echo

Recording in large, reflective rooms adds unwanted reverb to sound. Position mics close and aim away from reflective surfaces. Omni mics minimize coloration. Add absorptive materials if possible. Some reverb can be reduced in post using EQ and effects.

Quiet Sounds

Capturing subtle natural sounds requires top-quality mics with low self-noise. Mics with high sensitivity and wide dynamic range perform best for nature recording. Portable digital recorders provide pristine signal chains. Keep mic cables short.

Mic Blocking

On-camera mics easily get visually blocked by people or objects, muffling sound. Boom just out of frame, use lav mics, or capture sync sound with a separate recorder. Watch camera angles to prevent obstruction.

With preparation and experience, you can overcome any location audio challenge. Use the right microphone, position it strategically, control the environment when possible, and practice boom operation and mic placement.

Conclusion

Proper microphone selection and technique is crucial for capturing professional-quality audio for video. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right mic for each situation, from polar patterns to power requirements. Placement and positioning also greatly impact the audio.

The key is matching the microphone pickup characteristics to the particular recording environment and subject. Omnis provide natural ambient sound, while shotguns isolate single sources. Lapel mics work well for interviews and voiceovers.

It’s also essential to manage location challenges through proper mic positioning, wind protection, environment control, and recording techniques. Room acoustics, ambient noises, and other issues must be addressed.

With experience and the right tools, clear dialogue, immersive atmospheres, and clean music recordings are achievable for both field and studio production. Taking the time to learn proper microphone principles, methods, and practices is one of the best ways to enhance video with professional grade sound.

The next step is to experiment with different mics and techniques until you find what works best for the projects you are creating. Remember – the microphone is the crucial first link in the audio chain. Invest in quality tools and take advantage of their capabilities through educated use. Your ears and audiences will thank you.

Share this post on social