No matter how much money is invested in the console, audio effects or other aspects of audio postproduction, it's the microphone that does the heavy lifting. Picking the right one is critical.
When it comes to finding the right mic, the job dictates the decision. Typically, handhelds work for field reporting; reporters can also attach the mic flags that identify the station or network. Headsets are generally best when a mic must stay in front, no matter which way a user turns. Lavaliers are suitable for newscasts.
Michael Pettersen, director, applications engineering, for microphone manufacturer Shure, states the obvious when he says good sound should be the biggest consideration. But that isn't the only factor. "It's also important that it is rugged and has good shock value," he says. "Interview mics take a beating."
Reporters' handheld mics are brutalized in the field, so sturdiness is a factor. In addition, Pettersen says, a good mic has an internal shock mount to minimize hand noise if, for example, the reporter is nervous. Shure's SM63 mic, he says, has a rubber-like donut on which the microphone floats inside.
Inside the newsroom, lavalier mics continue to be the top choice for newscasts and studio programs; art directors like them, too. They're compact and discreet, but don't expect them to get any smaller. Lavalier-mic technology must remain practical to use.
"We're actually getting into the limitations of the size of the human fingers," Pettersen says. "If it's much smaller, people won't even be able to put it on themselves."
As for headsets, they continue to get more lightweight and comfortable, which is helpful for announcers covering a five-hour golf tournament. And they've come a long way from the early days. "Today, art directors like the way they look, the talent likes them because they're comfortable, and the audio guy likes it because it tracks the mouth," says Pettersen. "Everybody wins."
Simply put, the goal should be a mic that delivers natural speech. Other things to look for include resistance to some wind for outdoor needs and the ability to withstand shock.
Once the type of mic to use is decided, the next choice is the one that sounds the best. Unfortunately, that part of the decision is completely subjective. "Asking someone what kind of mic they should use is like asking an artist what color you should use to paint a sky," says Pettersen. "It depends on what kind of effect you want to get."