Microphone Position

Where Should I Place The Microphone For Speech Recording?

For speech recording and streaming, position your microphone between 4 to 6 inches away from your mouth. As the “best” position will vary between microphones, it is recommended that you experiment with the position to find your optimum microphone position and try on-axis (in front of) and off-axis (off to one side) positions.

A good microphone position is essential to recording and streaming.

It does not matter how amazing your microphone is, if you do not pick a good position, you will either:

  1. Not get the most out of your microphone capability
  2. Not get the best recording
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Best Microphone Positioning Practice.

1 – Most experts will recommend you place the microphone within 4 to 6 inches away from your mouth.

This will vary depending on your setup but at this distance, you will be close enough to pick up clear speech without picking up too much background noise. 

2 – Some recording engineers will insist that the microphone is positioned in front of the performer (on-axis), while others insist that the best microphone position will be off to one side (off-axis).

Both positions have merit. You will get very clear and loud recordings if you are speaking directly into the microphone, however, there is a greater risk of recording noise from breath pops or “plosives”.

Some words, particularly “t” and “p” sounds, move a lot of air when spoken. When such words like “poop” are spoken directly into the microphone, the large volume of air being moved by your mouth will cause turbulence and create a “pop” sound or turbulent noise on your recording.

The remedy to this is to place the microphone off to one side. By doing this, you are not directing air towards the microphone head. 

If you do need to position the microphone directly in front of you, use a pop filter which helps reduce the impact of such noise. 

3 – Ensure you are within the microphone pickup area.

All microphones have a “pickup” area within which they will pick up the most sound. This area is often called a “microphone polar pattern” or “pickup pattern”.

Below is an image of some of the most common microphone pickup patterns. 

When you record, ensure you are speaking within this region or the microphone just won’t hear you!

MIC POLAR PATTERNS

How to position your microphone to improve tonal quality:

Where you position your microphone will have a direct impact on the tonal quality of your recording.

Tone is important when recording speech and stream broadcasting, for example, if your tone is warm, people will just like it. If you have ever watched or listened to a David Attenborough documentary, his tone is soft and warm and wonderful to listen to!

How do you find the best position for microphone tone?

Imagine you have a microphone placed at a certain distance from a vocal performer that you are recording. It could be yourself or someone else.

If you move the microphone right, left, up, or down,  you will notice that you will have changed the tone of the recorded audio.

In one spot, your vocal recording will sound distant and muddy. In another spot, your recording might sound very clear with great clarity.

In a nutshell,  to find a good tonal recording position for your microphone you need to experiment with different locations and listen to the results.

With some experimenting, you will find a position that sounds good or at least sounds better than the rest. 

tone and mic positions

Why does moving a microphone change tonal quality?

When you speak, sound radiates off in different directions.

For example, when you listen to someone who is standing directly in front of you, you will hear them very clearly.

If you are listening to someone speaking off to one side, it can be more difficult to make out what they’re saying. 

The microphone is “listening” and where you position it relative to the sound source will affect what it hears. 

How close should I place my microphone for speech recording?

Most experts agree that positioning the microphone between 4 to 6 inches is a great starting point. 

The closer you are to a microphone, the louder you will sound. 

In addition, the closer you are to a microphone, the more the microphone will pick up your voice and less background noise and ambiance. 

“Close miking” (12 inches or less) sounds loud and present, “distant miking” sounds faint and far away. 

Why does “close miking” sound louder?

If you position a microphone very close to your voice the sound at the microphone head is very loud, therefore when it comes to mixing your podcast or broadcast,  the sound is already loud so you don’t need to turn it up much or at all.

If you place your microphone further away from your voice,  the sound at the microphone is much quieter, therefore when you start producing your content, you are going to have to turn up the fader an awful lot more to hear the voice

This is a problem, because when your microphone is further away, not only is it picking up your voice but it’s also picking up the room acoustics and any background noise that’s in the room, therefore when you turn up your fader you’re also turning up that background noise with it.

Microphones that are positioned far away from the performer,  for example, 10 feet or more, are called “ambient miking”.

Microphones positioned at a distance, pick up mostly room ambiance and echoes. Ambient microphone techniques are used by recording professionals to give a sense of space or “live sound” on recordings.

For example, you could position a microphone in close proximity to a vocalist and concurrently position a microphone at a distance within the room.

By using two microphones, one close and one far away, you are recording your vocalist and the sound of the room.

By mixing both recordings together, you can achieve a live room sound or introduce a feeling of space into your recording. 

Using an ambient microphone is not relevant for content creators or streamers, but this technique is very important to producers of live music where you have an audience and want to pick up the crowd clapping or room atmosphere.

mic position for volume

What are the disadvantages of placing my microphone too close?

If you position your microphone too close to your sound source you will get an unnatural effect in your recording.

Let’s take musical instruments as an example.

Musical instruments are best listened to at some distance. If you place a microphone too close to an acoustic guitar you are going to hear a very unnatural acoustic guitar.

By moving the microphone back or away from the sound source, you will get a more natural sound.

The same is true for recording vocals and speech.  If you speak far too closely into the microphone, it’s almost like someone speaking directly into your face – it doesn’t sound natural!

Moving back or away from the microphone will give you a more natural and more pleasing recording.

Recording problems encountered when recording dialogue and how to overcome them:

1. Breath Pops

When you say certain words that have a “p” or a “t” sound, it creates what we call a plosive on a recording.

Ts and Ps create a lot of air turbulence when you say them. For example, if you say the word “poop”, you will notice a pop sound on your lips as you are moving a lot of air.

As a result,  when you’re speaking directly into a sensitive microphone, you will get a little blast of air from these “t” and  “p” words which will sound like noise on your recording.

This is a very common problem.

The first thing you can do is move your microphone off to one side. By speaking at an angle into your microphone and not directly into it, you are directing air across the microphone and not straight it. 

The other option to remove “pop” and plosives on your recording is to use a pop shield or filter.

This consists of a nylon material stretched over a hoop which is placed in front of your microphone. You can buy this type of device for a couple of dollars. 

When you speak “P” and “T” words, the nylon shield protects your microphone from the little blasts of air coming from your mouth.

Another great aspect of using a pop shield is that it can help you set up and remember your microphone position and stop you from getting too close to your mic.

The pop filter sits in front of the microphone,  between you and the microphone,  therefore it will stop you from getting too close to your microphone source.

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2. Sibilance

Sibilance happens as a result of “s” or “sh” sounds. 

Sibilance does not cause as many problems as breath pops but it can be an annoyance for some content creators, creating a  “hiss” sound. 

If you want to reduce or remove the sibilance from your recordings you can use a microphone with a flatter response or you can use EQ to remove some high frequencies around the 8kHz frequency band as this is typically where sibilance is most dominant. 

The easiest and best way to remove the sibilance from your recordings, particularly if you are new to this, is to use a de-esser plugin.

A de-esser is a piece of software this will automatically remove high-end frequencies and hiss from your recordings.

3. Reflections From the Microphone Stand or Microphone Arm

Sound bounces off hard surfaces in your studio.

Sound will travel from your mouth, reflect off the mic stand and surrounding surfaces and then go back into the microphone. Sometimes, this causes delayed sound reflections or may influence the tonal quality negatively,

To be honest, this can be is very difficult to hear and only very advanced mix engineers will pick up on this effect, therefore it’s not typically a concern for your average content creator

However, it’s good to be aware of these things in case you do have a “flanging effect” on your audio recording or broadcast and can’t find the source.

If you do have a flanging effect on your recording which you think could be a result of your microphone stand or surrounding surfaces, just move stuff around!  

This will move the sound reflections in different directions and hopefully remove the unwanted noise. 

Conclusion

For speech recording, most experts agree that placing the microphone between 4 to 6 inches away from your mouth is a good guideline. 

This number does vary so it is always best to experiment with your microphone position, moving it closer and farther away from your mouth and listen to the impact.

It is important to move “around” the microphone and experiment with on and off-axis microphone positions. By placing a microphone off to one side, you will reduce noise problems such as breath pops.

It is important to ensure that you are always recording within the microphone pickup area. All microphones have an optimum region within which they pick up sound. This is called the microphone polar pattern or pickup pattern and to get the best out of your microphone you need to be within this range.

Finally, it is always best to experiment to get the best microphone position. Trust your ears and with some trial and error, you can find the best microphone position for your personal recording setup. 

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