HANDHELD MICROPHONES FOR SINGERS

Eventually, I hope to do a video showing exactly how to set up a mixer board and do a proper side-by-side comparison of mics. Until then, here are some basics for singers about choosing a microphone.

This started as a small article that blossomed into a lot more as I kept adding bits of information and advice. It should be quite helpful for new singers and possibly even for veteran singers, because we should all learn from each other.

This article is to help singers understand the basics of handheld microphone types, how different mic patterns affect your singing style, and why you might like one kind versus another. It is sadly common that even music stores that sell the mics won’t know the differences and how they change the way a singer uses the mic. Often the sales-person leans towards one or two mics and that is all a singer may encounter. In the last store I visited with a new singer, they gave her two mics, a cord, and a portable loudspeaker and had her try them in a small room. Not the best way at all, but I was there and made it work well enough to test the two mics.

WHY THIS ARTICLE?
I have been singing publicly for the past 7 years, and my social group is mostly other singers and instrumentalists. Especially in the past 4 years, I’ve been studying handheld microphone types, mic handling technique, mic equalization, and how to select a microphone by actually testing and comparing them. Singers are largely unaware that different mics will make them sound differently, and that is the primary thrust of this article.

I’ve also encountered a fair share of “I’m a pro, and this is the mic EVERYONE should use”, particularly from those who have been in the business for decades. I’ve even seen singers select a very nice mic, only to turn around and also buy “THE mic” because a pro shamed the singer into buying it. I’ve covered this previously in my blog article “MIC SHAMING”. As I point out in that article, nothing compares to testing mics side by side, each one set up on a mixer board and EQ tweaked to get the best sound for that mic and for your particular singing voice.
mic-test

The reason for this test is simple. This is the only way to really hear how a particular microphone design shapes your voice, and to hear the differences in the microphones themselves versus the difference in a whole sound system and room (both of which also change how you sound). It also gives you the opportunity to see how proximity effect (a boomy bass quality from having your mouth very close to the mic grill) changes the sound of your voice on different mics. It also shows how mic patterns differ, and how the the pattern affects how you can actually use the mic (example: most cardioid mics will sound odd with the singer being right up on the grill, but most super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid mics are designed to have the singer that close).

Once you have settled on a particular mic, it is often a good idea to always use that mic wherever you go because you will get used to how it responds to your voice, and other perfectly good mics may respond very differently and distract you during a performance. I’ll revisit this idea at the end of the article.

MICROPHONE GENERAL NOTES
There are a few different general microphone types, and understanding the design of your microphone is important. Advances in technology have been made in the past 40 years, and microphones that were go-to models for singers for years now have strong competition from mics with more modern design. I’m not going to cover wireless options in this blurb, though the “patterns” are still the same.

I’ll end with three common microphone manufacturers and the mics often chosen by singers.

1. This one bears repeating. It is important to read up on how to choose a microphone, and to not buy one simply because “pro singer X said to buy this one”. You may find by testing microphones side by side that you prefer the sound of a different mic. I just helped a singer pick out a mic at a local music store, and the “go-to” mic sounded harsher to us than the mic she chose at the end of the test for an equivalent price. Sometimes that sound quality isn’t apparent until you can hear them side by side.

2. Also note that “more expensive” doesn’t translate to “this is a better mic for my voice”. Nothing compares to a side-by-side test that has been properly set up.

3. Mic pattern (which I’ll discuss shortly) is another consideration. Some singers love being right up on the microphone grill, and others seem to have a hard time staying close to the mic. The mic pattern will help determine what kind of mic to get, and the other part is simply learning how to use the mic properly. Almost all mics should be pointed directly at your mouth and held so that you are speaking directly into the mic from about 2-3 inches away.

4. Don’t “cup” the mic (see pic below), even if famous singer/rapper X does. Cupping is holding the grill/cage of the mic instead of the handle. It is a VERY bad mic technique, even if you think it looks cool. The sound becomes weird, and the sound board has to be tweaked a lot to compensate for this bad technique. Hold the mic by the handle. You don’t need to have a tight death-drip on it, but keep your hand away from the mic grill.
mic-cupping

5. NEVER drop the mic. The whole idea of dropping mics on purpose is stupid. It was intended as a final visual puctuation mark after saying something really profound. But it ruins the mic, and even an average mic is about $120, some are more then $400. You drop it, you bought it. It also makes a super loud BANG and may also cause a shrieking feedback in the monitors. All in all, a very stupid and expensive thing to do, especially with someone else’s equipment.

TWO PRIMARY MICROPHONE TYPES
Dynamic: Non-powered mic, very common for singers, durable. Larger diaphragms can deliver sensitivity close to a handheld condenser mic.

Condenser: Requires power either from a battery or over the mic cable from the mixer board that has “phantom power”. Condenser mics are very sensitive to sound (and damage). Phantom power is usually 48v, though occasionally it is 15v. Condenser mics are said to deliver a better fidelity of sound than dynamic mics, but for most singers the difference is not noticable. I’ve seen several say that they only use condenser mics for quiet instruments or as a non-handheld studio mic. It is also important not to disconnect a condenser mic from the cord while the mixer board is turned on, as the phantom power will cause a very loud POP which is harmful to the speakers.

MICROPHONE PATTERNS (how the mic picks up sound)
The microphone pattern represents how a microphone picks up sound (or not). All mics pick up sound from the front, but some are designed to not hear sound from the sides or behind the mic. The pattern is essential for understanding how to use a particular mic. The pictures show the “lobes” of where the mic hears sound. Each kind requires a different handling technique from the singer. Some mics are made to be held very close to the mouth, and others are not.
typical patterns

Cardioid: Medium pickup pattern from front and sides, no rear lobe (may also have electronic rear-rejection built-in to prevent feeback from monitors). Singer can be close to mic grill, but mic will exhibit “proximity effect” (boomy bass) if right up on mic. Typically singer should stay 2-4 inches from the mic grill, or further if singing loudly. (HEIL, SENNHEISER)

Super-cardioid: Tight pickup pattern from front (more directional). Singer should stay close to the front of the mic (typically 0-2 inches unless singing loudly). Small rear “lobe” at the back of the mic that can pick up monitors, so keep monitors off-axis (not pointing directly at the mic). (SHURE, SENNHEISER)

Hyper-cardioid: Like super-cardioid, but even more directional. Very tight pickup pattern to avoid picking up other singers or instruments on stage, but also has a significant rear lobe that can pick up monitors, so keep monitors off-axis. Singer should be very close to mic, within 2 inches. (AUDIX)

Omni-directional: picks up from any direction equally. This is not often used on stage since other singers and instruments will be picked up also, though to a lesser extent. However, feedback is much harder to get on an omni mic and proximity effect is non-existent. They are said to give a very clear and accurate sound reproduction. Omni mics are often used in a recording studio because there is no danger of bleed-over from other singers or instruments, and because of the lack of proximity effect. If this had a picture, the lobe would be a complete circle with the center on the mic head.

MOST COMMON MIC MANUFACTURERS AND SOME COMMON SINGER MICS

AUDIX (all hypercardioid)

  • OM2&3: General purpose speaking mics
  • OM5: $195 “Warm” sound, low handling noise and low boominess (not nearly as sensitive to anything below 120Hz), side sound rejection, used by Bonnie Raitt, CSN, Alanis Morissette, Blue Oyster Cult. Excellent overall mic. Compare this one with the Shure Beta 58.
  • OM6: $239 Warmer sound than OM5, lower range not as attenuated so will pick up more low end. Handles “screamers” (rock, blues) well.
  • OM7: $285 Designed for very loud stages and singers with lousy mic technique (cupping), very low impedance requires a rock-star pre-amp and amp that are powerful to get decent sound out of it. No one in the jazz/folk singer circle would probably use this.
  • OM11: $240-320 Very low handling noise, but with low-range sensitivity, desinged to bring the human voice through the mix of other instruments, sharp crisp sound and works well with baritone voices also. It is said to handle plosives well (“P” words that push a sudden gust of air at the mic). Heavier than other mics, according to one user.

HEIL (cardioid)

  • PR22: $184 Large diaphragm (1.125″) dynamic mic with rear-rejection for sound coming from the back of the mic. Accurate vocal reproduction. 50 Hz – 18 kHz. 600 ohms impedance. 14oz.
  • PR35: $277 Large diaphragm dynamic mic. Large diaphragm helps it pick up soft and deep sounds better than other mics. 40Hz-18kHz (or 80Hz-18kHz with low-cut switch engaged). 370 ohms impedance. 15oz. Mic seems heavy for those used to using Shure mics. This is the mic I currently use.

SENNHEISER (cardioid, super-cardioid, prices reflect the amount of design time and electronics inside)

  • e835: $100, basic cardioid, 40Hz-15kHz
  • e935: $179, cardioid, popular singer mic, recommended 5-10cm (2-4 inches) to distance from mic, closer gives high proximity effect (boomy bass). Compare this to the Shure Beta 58.
  • e945: $220, super-cardioid, more sensitive mic for higher pitched sounds, picks up vocals and drums especially strong (helpful if lots of instruments)
  • e965: $700, condenser, cardioid and super-cardiord (switchable), large-diaphragm, low-cut switch, 40Hz-20kHz

SHURE

  • Beta 58A: $100, super-cardioid, very popular singer mic, designed for close up use 0 to 2-inch, Shure website says that proximity effect “adds warmth and fullness”. This is a good one for singers that like to be right up on the mic grill. This is often the one that pros recommend, despite it being nearly a 30 year old design. You may agree or decide differently when you test it with other mics side by side as I’ve recommended repeatedly. Age of design isn’t always a problem, since some old professional mics are still great.
  • SM58: Much older design, was very commonly used in travelling bands. Replaced by the Beta 58.
  • KSM8: New design for 2016, dual-diaphragm, $500. Cardioid. Accurate and sensitive. Low proximity effect, though it has some. Only one review mentioned that it was better for tenor and soprano voices than for baritone and bass. One review said it was easily damaged on tour, others say it is durable.

There are many other great and not-so-great brands and models of mics that I haven’t mentioned. The above are the most common that I encounter.

USING YOUR NEW MIC:
Once you are used to using a particular mic, you may want to always take it with you to gigs instead of relying on whatever they happen to have for you. There are a few things to understand about this:

A. It is always best to ask if you can change the mic when you walk up to the stand. Most places won’t care at all (as long as you don’t make their speakers POP when you switch mics.) Some singers do this to have a consistent sound, others just don’t like using a mic that carries germs.

B. You may want to avoid taking your mic with you if you have a condenser mic, because you can only use it with a mixer board that has “phantom power” (discussed below). Also, the sound for the speakers MUST be turned down before connecting/disconnecting a condenser mic, or engaging or disengaging phantom power, or the speakers *will* POP loudly.

C. Always press the little release button on the cord when attaching or detaching a microphone. This avoids a pop when the mic is attached.

D. Make certain that your mic never is pointed at the front of the speaker or at the monitor, because this will nearly always result in a loud screeching feedback that makes everyone wince and makes you look stupid. When you lower your mic hand, always keep the mic head up so this doesn’t happen.

E. The mixer board may or may not be something you are allowed to adjust. Many sound techs really do know what they are doing and have to keep constant vigilance over their mixer boards to keep idiots from changing EQ settings and more. I’ve seen singers in various venues approach a mixer or equalizer and start changing settings that were set professionally, because “Everybody knows the sliders ought to be set like a smile”. Such idiots should be beaten.

Conversely, some “sound guys” just don’t want anyone else touching their stuff, and some sound guys really don’t know what they are doing. So you may have to settle for what you can get. I had one that almost came unglued over me wanting to plug in a mic cord (and I asked first). He actually yelled “WAIT! THAT’S NOT SOME CHEAP CRAP IS IT?!” Yes, I only ever use cheap crap, in fact the brand name is Cheap Crap.

F. On your own mixer board, learn what all the dials and sliders do, and what the effects do. Spend time with the manual, or with someone who will teach you. You may need to pay a pro to teach you each part, but you will benefit from knowing what your equipment can do, and how to set it up. Some venues have a lot of sound absorbing material like carpets, cloth covered booths or chairs, curtains, and people with clothes (seriously). All of these will deaden the sound coming from your speakers, and change the sound quality. Other venues are mostly hard surfaces, and even a little bit of volume carries and bounces off walls repeatedly requiring you to adjust your settings. Then when you get to a different venue, you will need to adjust the settings again, especially if you are changing from inside to outdoors.

G. Wind screens (aka “clown nose”) are a foam covering for the microphone. The primary purpose of a wind screen is for when you are singing outdoors, as it keeps the wind from making noise in your mic. Some mics that are especially sensitive to plosives (“P” words that send a sudden gust of air at the mic) and sibilance (“S” words that make the singer breathe out a flow of air at the mic so it sounds like wind) can benefit from having a wind screen on during a performance.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Wind screens are acoustically transparent and do not make the sound “muddy”. I’ve been approached by veteran singers at shows who told me never to use a wind screen because it makes the sound muddy. They are incorrect. Muddy sound comes from bad EQ on the mixer, usually from not using a low-cut filter (which I did recently…) Mostly, people don’t like the way the foam cover looks. There are mic techniques such as singing over the mic instead of directly into it that can help control P’s and S’s, and many singers prefer this over the wind screen. But if you are singing outdoors, you really should use it.

H. Use a monitor. This is a small speaker that faces towards you so that you know better how you sound to the audience, and it helps keep you from being pitchy when singing. Alternatively, have your speaker slightly behind you so you hear how you sound. But always have someone in the audience area help correct your sound (more or less volume/bass/treble/reverb).

SUMMARY
Hopefully, I have conveyed the basics of common handheld microphone types that most singers will encounter, as well as what those differences mean to singers. Singers need to be aware of the microphone pattern in order to adapt their mic handling technique on-the-fly. This information will also help singers to choose a microphone for purchase.

OTHER MICROPHONE AND SINGING ARTICLES

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Viewing angle of monitor affects color perception

On a flat screen computer monitor, color perception changes with the angle of view, even slight angles. Something pink can appear red or even blue from some angles.

I have a reclining office chair at my computer, and skin colors were appearing a bit green, which led me to think I needed to apply a color filter to the video I had shot. But when I reclined a bit to view straight-on, everything looked fine. (Some depends on the quality of the monitor also). This is why it’s also important to calibrate the monitor, if you are in the business of photos or video.

I had calibrated about six months ago with a Spyder5 device, and the free DisplayCAL software for Linux (took an hour or so to calibrate). The software also will automatically load the changes it makes at boot time, and I see this happen just after the wallpaper becomes visible after log-in.

Typically, the screen top should be just below eye level in the position where you normally work. My monitor is a bit cheap, so even that angle gives a slight green to skin color. I have to view directly on at the middle to see things in the correct color. I’ll upgrade when I build a new computer in the next year.

“Microphone X is prone to feedback”

Something I’ve read rather often on music gear forums is that a particular mic (doesn’t seem to matter which one, call it Mic X) is prone to feedback, or picking up noise. I don’t buy that for a second. What this tells me is that “I always use these particular settings for whatever I attach to my mixer board, and this mic doesn’t sound right and gives feedback.” In other words the person doesn’t really understand that each mic is different and needs to be set up on the mixer separately. It can also mean that the person doesn’t know about proper placement of stage monitors or speakers.

I posted a while back about how to choose a mic, and about well-meaning people that should not ever touch a mixer board because they really don’t understand what they are doing, and who tend to go with “I’ve done it this way for years – everyone knows you’re supposed to do it this way – you’re stupid for not knowing that”.

EVERY MIC MODEL IS DIFFERENT AND REQUIRES YOU TO KNOW WHAT THE KNOBS ON THE MIXER DO TO GET THE BEST SOUND FOR THAT MIC AND FOR THAT SINGER FOR THAT VENUE!

Read that over and over again.

1. For a basic mic/mixer/powered-speaker setup that most singers use, start each mic with gain set to mid-way or less, all EQ knobs in the neutral position.
2. Most of the time, you should engage the “low-cut” filter on that channel to remove the very low sounds that make a singer sound “boomy” or muddy.
3. Have a singer actually sing normally into the mic and start adjusting the volume slider. Then adjust the EQ knobs to get a nice clear sound, typically adding a bit of treble and seeing if that helps, perhaps cutting or adding a bit of the low EQ.

At a recent outdoor gig, one mic needed rather a lot of low EQ added to give the singer presence, while another mic needed quite a bit of treble added to prevent a muddy sound.

It is always best to do your sound check prior to the public showing up (by actually singing normally), but being able to tweak the settings during a performance is also critical as more bodies in the room change the sound.

Speakers should almost always be placed in front of the singers and facing forward to avoid feedback. I did a gig last night where the speaker had to be placed behind and to the left of me and the keyboard, so I aimed the speaker over the head of the keyboard player so it wouldn’t be facing my mic. This made the speaker act as a monitor for us as well, since the venue was small. But remember where the speaker is located so you don’t wander in front of it with the mic.

Monitors are typically on the floor aimed towards the singers, but not necessarily directly at the singers. Some mics like the Shure Beta 58 (super-cardioid) have a small rear-lobe instead of rear-rejection and may pick up the monitor and create feed-back if the monitor is aimed directly at the singer. Aim them a bit off-axis for best results. Usually a standard cardioid mic won’t have that issue.

Singers may be used to a particular model of mic, and other models will be different. Different isn’t necessarily BAD. But if someone has been using a Shure Beta 58 for many years, handing that singer a Heil PR35 is a bad idea since the Heil is a lot more sensitive and has a completely different proximity effect. But just because that singer won’t handle that mic well does not mean the mic has a problem, it is simply different than the singer’s expectations. I’ve had to fend off a LOT of comments and suggestions about mic technique when using my Heil because the other singers are used to their Shure mics.

Firefox: Facebook comments missing from news sites

Minor issue, but after installing FF 59 (due to constant crashing of 61 and 61.0.1) and making some changes to settings, I noticed that comments had disappeared from the two news sites I frequent. I tried turning off Ublock Origin, but no change. Then I checked my FF settings page.

In settings, Privacy and Security, if you have set Tracking Protection to Always – Always, FB comment sections on news sites will not appear (at least that is the case for me in FF 59). Set these to Only in private windows and Only when using Tracking Protection. Comment sections are back.

Firefox 61 on Ubuntu sucks like a neutron star

I’ve been using Firefox mostly happily up until today. Site after site gives me the damn “Gah! Your tab just crashed” error. If I disable that feature, it crashes FF. Also, Facebook videos stopped working. No, it isn’t an add-on. Even a totally new install does the same thing. Completely useless, Mozilla. Thank you.

I have an older version of FF installed concurrently and it works perfectly, demonstrating that the issue is in the programming of the new FF 61 (and 61.0.1 which I also tried). Mozilla is on a campaign to purge information about how to even install older versions. They say this is because it will leave the user open to malware. Sure, I if I were using the browser for general purposes instead of specific. But the whole nanny attitude of “we know what’s best for you” is infuriating. I’m back to using version 59.

By the way, if you want to install an older version of Firefox on Linux, I found these steps to be necessary to keep it from updating itself automatically after install:
1. Unplug your network connection or disable it from the user interface
2. In terminal, specify “./firefox” from the folder where you put the older version, otherwise the system will use the globally installed version.
3. Install from terminal using the “-P” option in terminal when you do the install. This makes it use the Profile Manager which lets you specify a new profile just for the older version. Give it an obvious name.
4. When you create a shortcut (launcher) on your desktop, you can also specify that it not talk to other installed versions of Firefox. This line also specifies that it use the profile I just created:
/home/(...)/Downloads/Firefox/firefox59/firefox-bin -P -no-remote FiftyNine (FiftyNine is the Profile name I gave it when installing)

-P says to use a certain profile
-no-remote says to not talk to any existing FF installed on the system
FiftyNine is what I named the profile during install

Update: GAH! FF keeps finding ways to update even when I tell it not to. I’m beginning to really despise the developers. Dudes, I honestly don’t care what you want. I want my browser to work with all the sites I normally visit. FF 61 crashes consistently and you seem fine with that. Go find a job with Trump, you’d fit right in.

Trouble (and solution) getting Hanwha XNV-6011 to record on Pelco Digital Sentry

Korean military supplier Hanwha bought the company Samsung and has been updating some of the products with their new brand and some new features. The company for which I work uses a lot of Samsung IP cameras, and now Hanwha. Up until yesterday, I’ve had no issue with connecting to the cameras, either through the generic ONVIF method, or through RTSP streams.

I recently bought 4 new Hanwha XNV-6011 mini-dome cameras, installed them, and went to add them to our aging Pelco Digital Sentry NVR. I had no issue viewing the cameras in a browser, or in VLC Player, but the Digital Sentry unit consistently refused to show any video. It worked fine with the previous version, the Samsung SNV-6013 mini-dome. The new camera is supposed to be ONVIF S compliant, which is what the Pelco unit requires.

I went in circles checking and double-checking to make sure I hadn’t typed anything wrong, and still no video from these cameras in the Digital Sentry. I tried placing the username and password in the RTSP URL, but that didn’t work either.

Then I started looking at the various settings available on the camera itself, and found one that allowed me to use an RTSP stream without authentication. Since my camera networks are all private IP based (can’t be viewed from Internet), this wasn’t really an issue, so I checked that box and the video instantly appeared on the Digital Sentry!

I still don’t know why this was an issue, since the Digital Sentry had the proper username and password.

Transferring files to and from an Android phone: KDE Connect app

A couple of years or so ago, when I’d want to connect my Android phone to my computer, it was as simple as hooking up a micro-USB cord and plugging it into the computer. Then one day it didn’t connect. After searching for reasons, I found that I now had to do things like “Enable USB debugging” and choose what I wanted as a default when USB was detected by the phone, and then it seemed to work ok.

Recently, I found that even after selecting these options, Linux would show the icon for the phone on my desktop but it still wasn’t really connecting. I did some more searching and a handful of sites had multiple steps for installing MTP file system programs, none of which seemed to work very well as a practical solution. Criminy, I just want to transfer some files, not go through a ritual each time.

I then saw a reference to a free Linux program “KDE Connect” and an accompanying app for the phone (also free), and the transfer will happen over wifi for any device that is running the KDE Connect software.

On the PC (running Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop), I added the current PPA (some articles reference an outdated one):
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/indicator-kdeconnect
sudo apt-get update

To install the program:
sudo apt install indicator-kdeconnect

The icon “KDE Connect Indicator” showed up in my System drop-down folder. Two other very similar icons also showed up, one also in System called “KDE Connect Indicator Settings”, the other in Internet which is also called “KDE Connect Indicator Settings”.

The one I found useful was the first one. It tells the user to start the phone app and request pairing. Click that and an indicator in the upper right of the PC screen pops up and says “Pairing request from ____ Accept or Reject?”. Accept it and the indicator appears as an icon in the toolbar. Clicking the icon shows the name of my phone, the battery level, and some options for browsing the phone or sending files. Browse doesn’t seem to work at all for me, not sure if that is an issue with the Xfce desktop I’m using or what.

On the phone, I have the options to Send files, Multimedia control, Run a command, and Remote input which lets me control the PC mouse.

It struck me how utterly simple that was. No USB cable, no new filesystem installs.

Read up on how much this app is able to do, and what can be shared between the devices.

Here is the link to information about the updated “fork” of the program:
http://www.webupd8.org/2017/01/integrate-your-android-device-with.html

And a link to the wiki:
https://community.kde.org/KDEConnect

NOTE: The paranoid me says to be careful not to give a backdoor into your PC via a compromised phone. The number of malware infested Android phones are in the millions. This program acts just like you on your computer, so be aware of that.