Microphone Elements Explained

For this week’s Harmonica Microphones post we asked Greg Heumann to give us the low-down on the bewildering universe of mic elements. In the first of a double post, he describes two kinds of elements used for amplified blues harp and… well, it gets technical after that.

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsThere are many kinds of elements in all of microphone-dom, including ribbon mics, condensers, electret, crystal and dynamic. Acoustic players may well use any of these. However, except in the recording studio, amplified players will only be concerned with dynamic and crystal elements.

Fact 1: There is no such thing as a mic element designed for harmonica players.
Every microphone uses an element that was designed for more general purposes. As a rule, the more expensive a mic was when new, relative to other mics of its vintage, the better it performs as a general purpose mic. To engineers, this means it has better frequency response (able to “hear” higher and lower sounds), flatter frequency response (no particular frequencies are made significantly louder or softer), and/or more “headroom” (the ability to tolerate higher sound pressure levels without distorting).

In this case “better” is usually means better for acoustic players. But… (more…)

Cupping Technique 101

In his latest article in the Harmonica Microphone series, Greg explains what happens when your cup overfloweth. The secret is getting a good seal.

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsGood amplified tone starts with the player’s tone, and is accentuated by microphone technique. Cupping is an art; a learned skill that is neither obvious nor easy in practice. Properly done at its extreme, no air you suck or blow can escape “the seal” and therefore no sound at all comes out of the harp. Your goal is to visualize that all your breath must enter and exit through the microphone itself. In reality it is very hard to do this, and it is hard to even come close at first.

When the seal with a microphone is very good, the air pressure changes are effectively “coupled” to the microphone’s diaphragm in a way that is very, very different from the normal “free air” mode in which mics were designed to operate. The result is a very distorted signal sent to the amp. (more…)

Choosing a Microphone: Acoustic vs Amplified?

The Harmonica Microphone Series beginsElwood’s Note: “I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to harmonica mics. When you ask me what my favourite element is, I normally choose between earth, wind, water and fire. I thought “Impedance” was a stigmatised medical condition which affects 50 percent of all men. That’s why we asked Greg Heumann at BlowsMeAway Productions to run a blog here at the Harp Surgery for the next few weeks, giving you (and me) a crash course in microphones and all the fiddly bits inside them. Greg is a performing harp player who’s been making custom mics since 2004, and he’s forgotten more about microphones than I will ever know.

Choosing a microphone: Acoustic vs Amplified?

Biscuit microphone, courtesy of Harmonica MasterclassIn choosing a microphone, the most important question of all is “What do you want to sound like?”

There are two classes of sound, with infinite variety in each class. If you’re a classical musician, you’ll probably stand in front of a stand-mounted microphone and you want the amplified sound to cleanly reflect the tone of your playing – giving the closest representation of what it would be like to be in the same room with you, with no microphone or amplifier at all. We call this kind of sound “acoustic” even though it may in fact be picked up with a microphone. (more…)