DkIT Audio Research Dissertation

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  • UTILISING REFINED MICROPHONE CHOICE AND PLACEMENT TO ACHIEVE OPTIMUM

    TONAL, TEXTURAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS

    by

    Sen Mc Keown

    Submitted to

    Department of Music, Media and Creative Arts

    in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the

    Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Production of Music and Audio

    Dundalk Institute of Technology

    May 2015

  • Acknowledgements

    I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dundalk Institute of Technology and its entire

    academic, technical and administrative staff, but in particular to the lecturers and supervisors

    that facilitated and supported my academic journey from the very beginning. Their guidance

    was always encouraging, and this research paper in particular, would not have been possible

    without them. I would also like to thank my peers, family and friends for their constant

    support throughout the year.

  • Abstract

    The average listener does not appreciate the technical and aesthetical art of microphone

    choice and placement employed by audio engineers and music producers, in order to

    effectively capture tonal and textural characteristics within an environment. This research

    paper will examine a series of resources and focused interventions to examine the pickup and

    rejection characteristics of various industry standard mics1 and their relationship to placement

    within an environment, with regards to both the soundsource and the recording space itself.

    Effective capture of a soundsource at the recording stage is the first and arguably the most

    important step in the production process, which will likely have most affect on the finished

    product. The research detailed in this paper will allow a more active and considered approach

    to achieving the tailored tonal and textural characteristics, which musicians, producers and

    engineers envision for each of their recordings; while the average listener has come to take

    this for granted, and expect from a commercial recording.

    1 Throughout this paper, the word mic is a shortening of the word microphone.

  • Table of Contents

    i

    Table of Contents

    List of Figures ...................................................................................................... ii Chapter 1: Introduction ......................................................................................... 1 1.1 Background Overview 1 1.2 Action Research Overview 2

    Chapter 2: Background/Literature Review ........................................................... 3 2.1 Early Recorded Music and Microphone Development 3 2.2 Understanding Microphone Charateristics 5

    Chapter 3: Methodology ........................................................................................ 6 3.1 Pressure-Operated and Pressure-Gradient Microphones 6 3.2 First and Second Order Microphones 8 3.3 Interventions 9

    Chapter 4: Findings ............................................................................................. 11 4.1 Research Findings 11 4.2 Intervention Findings 12

    Chapter 5: Discussion .......................................................................................... 13 Chapter 6: Conclusion ......................................................................................... 14 Appendices .......................................................................................................... 15 Bibliography, Discography and Web Resources ................................................. 29

  • List of Figures

    ii

    List of Figures

    Figure 1. Early mechanical recording (Huffman, Victor Acoustic).... 3

    Figure 2. True condenser mic diaphragm (Nave, 2000). 6

    Figure 3. Omnidirectional polar pattern (Shure, 2015).. 6

    Figure 4. (Nave, 2000) Electret condenser mic diaphragm... 7

    Figure 5. (Nave, 2000) Dynamic mic diaphragm...7

    Figure 6. (Nave, 2000) Ribbon mic diaphragm. 7

    Figure 7. Figure-of-eight polar pattern (Shure, 2015)... 7

    Figure 8. Combination of pressure-sensitive and pressure-gradient polar patterns (Vocal

    Technologies, 2015)8

    Figure 9. Supercardioid polar pattern (Shure, 2015). 8

    Figure 10. Variations of the cardioid polar pattern (PA for Music, 2015). 8

    Figure 11. Experimenting for effective capture of the source and its environment (Source:

    Authors own photograph, April 2015)...9

    Figure 12. Recording, managing and analysing captured audio in Pro Tools (Source: Authors

    own photograph, April 2015)....10

    Figure 13. STC 4021 ball and biscuit mic (Coutant, STC).11

    Figure 14. The 4038, as originally manufactured by STC (Coutant, Coles).....11

    Figure 15. Dynamic, SDC and LDC cardioid mic analysis (Source: Authors own photograph,

    March 2015)......12

    Figure 16. Minute differences in positioning can yield distinct results (Source: Authors own

    photograph, March 2015)......12

    E Figure 17. Evolution of the AKG C 12 to the modern C414. One of many that has stood the

    test of time (Colletti, 2015).......13

  • Chapter 1

    1

    Chapter 1: Introduction

    1.1 Background Overview

    When capturing an acoustic or amplified soundsource, how it behaves or radiates sound may

    vary greatly. However, the sole instruments of capture, and the operation of these

    microphones remains unaffected. As a result of this, it is imperative that engineers and

    producers possess an intrinsic knowledge of microphone fundamentals.

    The microphone is the first stage in the complex and extended technical chain between live

    performance and sound reproduction. (Rayburn, 2004, p. 7)

    The motivation behind the investigation and exploration on this topic stems form both

    academic, and personal criteria. As both a musician and music producer, this aspired me to

    gain an in-depth understanding of the physical and technical phenomena at play when

    recording a soundsource. Also, the topic of this research has been seldom approached from an academic standpoint. Hence, it is necessary to give credence to the considered and precise

    practices in this manner. Amplified guitar recording has long been established as a core

    element when producing contemporary music. However, academic research into the

    technology, approaches, and their resulting sonic characteristics, has often been overlooked.

    This is a result of the vast influx of technological advances over recent years to the relatively

    new art form of recorded music.

  • Chapter 1

    2

    1.2 Action Research Overview

    This research in ways, will feature the music producers variety of the microphone

    driver theory test. Great understanding and consideration towards the subject is required in

    order to make efficient and effective use of microphones. This research paper will also carry

    out investigations using a set of constant and control factors where necessary, in order to

    accurately measure a desired contributing factor or quality. For example, the sonic

    characteristics of a performance can vary widely due to many factors - the guitarist, the guitar

    and its setup, the amplifier and its configuration. In order to reduce or eliminate these

    contributing factors, pre-recorded passages will be reproduced using a consistent amplifier

    setup. A control recording will be observed for each investigation also. It is important to,

    allowing a default frame of reference for comparison in each investigation. The selection of

    microphones employed will feature a series of industry-standard microphones found in both

    professional and home recording studios worldwide. The recordings captured from the

    investigations carried out will be examined and reviewed for formative feedback by various

    groups in order to determine the perception of various practices, construct a consensus of their

    effective qualities and retain objectivity throughout. These groups will feature musicians,

    engineers, producers, academic peers and supervisors, as well as laypeople. This paper and

    the collated findings of my research will aid others who wish to study the field and provide

    the reader with a greater understanding of the contributing factors and techniques involved in

    capturing a desired sound, through effective microphone choice and placement.

  • Chapter 2

    3

    Chapter 2: Background

    2.1 Early Recorded Music and Microphone Development

    In order to appropriately study the effective capture of musical instruments such as the

    electric guitar, it is first necessary to examine the historical perspective on the advent of the

    microphone in the recording studio. Predecessors of the modern microphone operated on

    acoustical and mechanical principals alone. The earliest recording and playback technologies,

    such as Thomas Edisons 1877 phonograph and Emile Berliners gramophone, required

    performers to be strategically positioned around the devices large recording horn. At the apex

    of this conical device, sound vibrations from the performers would excite a diaphragm

    connected to a cutting needle, which would indent a wax cylinder or disc for later playback

    (Huffman, Victor Acoustic). Early electrical microphones, pioneered by the likes of

    Alexander Graham Bell, David Edward Hughes and Francis Blake in the late 19th century,

    were forerunners of the