If you’re an engineer or sound technician, then you know that microphone placement is a key factor in achieving the best sound quality for voice recordings. But how do you know where to place your mic?
A good microphone position is essential to voice recording and projection.
It does not matter how amazing your microphone is, if you do not have good microphone placement you will not get the best vocal sound.
As a general rule, position your microphone between 4 to 6 inches away from your mouth for voice recording and live sound. As the “best” microphone placement will vary between microphones, it is recommended that you experiment with the position to find your optimum microphone position.
In this article, I want to unpack what is considered the best microphone placement for voice recording, sharing many of the general guides on microphone placement, covering:
- Where should I place my mic for voice recording?
- What is close miking?
- At what angle should the microphone be placed for the direct line of voice?
- What is the 3-to-1 rule of microphone placement?
- Does it matter which way a mic is facing?
- How to improve vocal recording audio
Where Should I Place My Mic For Voice Recording?
Although microphone placement can be considered an art form by many sound engineers, there are some set guidelines that can be followed for the best microphone placement.
Here is a list of the top tips for the best microphone placement:
1. 4-6 Inches From Mouth
Most experts recommend you place the microphone within 4 to 6 inches away from the mouth.
This will vary depending on your setup, but at this distance, your microphone placement will be close enough to pick up clear speech without picking up too much background noise.
2. On-Axis Vs Off Axis
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 microphone 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 words containing sounds like pat, pot, tip, or top 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 the recording or sound.
The remedy to this is to position the microphone off to one side. By doing this, you are not directing air towards the microphone head.
If you need to position the microphone directly in front of your performer, use a pop filter which helps reduce the impact of such noise.
3. 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 from Shure Microphones.
When you record, ensure you are speaking within this region or the microphone will not pick up clear sound.
How Close Should I Place The Microphone For Speech Recording?
Most experts agree that positioning the microphone between 4 to 6 inches is a great starting point for speech recording.
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 have less background noise and ambience.
“Close miking” (12 inches or less) sounds loud and present, and “distant miking” sounds faint and far away.
What Is Close Miking?
Close miking is defined as being closer than 12 inches from the microphone.
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 audio, 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 mix the audio, you are going to have to turn up the volume 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 the volume you’re also turning up 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 ambience 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.
Ambient microphones are very important to producers of live music where you have an audience and want to pick up the crowd clapping or room atmosphere.
The Problems With Close Miking
It can be tempting to close mike on everything in order to get a loud and clean recording, however, close miking comes with its own problems.
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.
This is where the critical listening skills and judgement of the sound engineer come into play, where they can make the best decision to capture the best audio sound.
At What Angle Should The Microphone Be Placed For The Direct Line Of Voice?
How To Improve Microphone Tone
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.
If you move the microphone right, left, up, or down, you notice you change the tone of the sound.
In one spot, the vocals will sound distant and muddy. In another spot, the vocals 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.
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.
With some experimenting, you will find a position that sounds good or at least sounds better than the rest.
What Is The 3 To 1 Rule Of Microphone Placement?
When setting up your microphone for optimal sound quality, it’s important to be aware of two factors: distance and directionality.
The most common technique used for recording vocals is known as the “3 to 1 rule.” This means that when positioning your microphone, there should be three times as much space between microphones as there is between the speaker and your sound source.
This creates a natural reverb effect, which can enhance the sound quality of your recording and reduce phasing effects.
Here is a great video from Gary Boss at Sonic Electronix which explains this.
Does It Matter Which Way A Mic Is Facing?
It is essential to know which way your specific microphone should be facing to pick up the best clarity of sound.
Different mics have different polar patterns which determine how they pick up audio signals.
To find the polar pattern for your specific microphone, this will be shown on your microphone box or in the microphone manual.
If you’re using a cardioid mic, then it’s important to ensure that it’s pointing directly into your mouth rather than off-axis or sideways – this will help minimise any unwanted background noise while still capturing all the nuances in your vocal performance.
However, if you’re using an omnidirectional mic, then this won’t matter as much since they are designed to pick up sounds from all directions equally well.
How To Improve Vocal Recording Audio
Below I have detailed the most common problems encountered when working with microphone placement for vocal recording 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 “pop”, 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 a 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.
A pop shield comprises nylon material stretched over a hoop which is placed in front of a microphone. You can buy this type of device for a couple of dollars.
When you speak “P” and “T” words, the nylon shield protects the microphone from the little blasts of air coming from the mouth.
Another significant aspect of using a pop shield is that it can help you set up and remember your microphone position and stop your vocal performer from getting too close to the mic.
The pop shield sits in front of the microphone, between the vocal performer and the microphone, therefore, it will stop the vocal performer from getting too close to your microphone source.
Sibilance happens because of “s” or “sh” sounds.
Sibilance does not cause as many problems as breath pops, but it can be an annoyance for some sound engineers, creating a “hiss” sound.
If you want to reduce or remove the sibilance from 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 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 recordings.
3. Reflections From The Microphone Stand
Sound bounces off hard surfaces in a studio.
Sound will travel from the 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 sound engineers will pick up on this effect, therefore it’s not typically a concern for many.
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 to throw off the audio reflections.
This will move the sound reflections in different directions and hopefully remove the unwanted noise.
For speech recording, most experts agree that placing the microphone between 4 to 6 inches away from the mouth is a good guideline.
This number does vary so it is always best to experiment with the microphone position, moving it closer and farther away from the mouth and listening 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.