Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 1, last updated 6/25/2013
about the physical relationship between the microphone and the loudspeaker. Since the
microphone is capturing the performer from a great distance, the loudspeakers directly over the
stage could easily be the same distance or less distance from the microphone as the performer,
resulting in the sound from the loudspeaker arriving at the PZM at the same level or higher than
the sound from the performer, a perfect recipe for feedback. Acoustic gain is covered in more
detail in Chapter 4.
As part of a newer trend in this digital age, the prevalence of USB digital microphones
is on the rise. Many manufacturers are offering a USB version of their popular microphones,
both condenser and dynamic. These microphones output a digital audio stream and are intended
for direct recording into a computer software program, without the need for any additional
preamplifier or audio interface equipment. You could even think of them as microphone-
interface hybrids, essentially performing the duties of both. The benefits of these new digital
microphones are of course simplicity, portability, and perhaps even cost if you consider not
having to purchase the additional equipment and digital audio interface. However, while these
USB microphones may be studio quality, there are some limitations that may influence your
choice. Where traditional XLR cables can easily run over a hundred feet, USB cables have a
maximum operable length of only 10 to 15 feet, which means you‟re pretty tied down to your
computer workstation. Additionally, having only a USB connection means you won‟t be able to
use the microphone in a live situation, or plug it into an analog mixing console, portable
recorder, or any other piece of audio gear. Finally, a dedicated audio interface allows you plug
in multiple microphones and instruments, provides a multitude of output connections, and also
provides onboard DSP and mixing tools to help you get the most out of your audio setup and
workflow. Since you‟ll probably want to have a dedicated audio interface for these reasons
anyway, you may be better off with a traditional microphone that interfaces with it, and is more
flexible overall. That being said, a USB microphone could certainly be a handy addition to your
everyday audio setup, particularly for situations when you‟re travelling and need a self-
contained, portable solution.
If you buy only one microphone, it should be a dynamic one. The most popular
professional dynamic microphone is the Shure SM58. Everyone working with sound should have
at least one of these microphones. They sound good, they‟re inexpensive, and they‟re virtually
indestructible. Figure 1.10 is a photo of an SM58. If you want to purchase a good-quality studio
condenser microphone and you have a recording environment where you can control the noise
floor, consider one like the AKG C414 microphone. This is a classic microphone with an
impressive sound quality. However, it has a tendency to pick up more than you want it to, so you
need to use it in a controlled recording room where it isn‟t going to pick up fan sounds, the hum
from fluorescent lights, and the mosquitoes in the corner flapping their wings. Figure 1.11 is a
photo of a C-414 microphone.
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