Taking the mic...
Not all mics are equal, actually they’re not meant to be. Despite the advertising Bob and his mics, not saying they’re bad, are not the only game in town. Whether you choose a headset, fist mic or base mic, is not the subject for this piece. This is about how you sound and some ideas to get the most from your dulcet broadcast tones. Getting up to the mic is a very personal business, the tone, depth, warmth and ambience all affect your audio avatar. Some are now going to shout that to break through in an SSB pile up you need this or that and the bandwidth restricts or this is not broadcast FM. If that is true for you, I’m not arguing the point. It is however nice to know you can explore & change much, developing your operating style or mic personality. The photo above shows my journey through dynamic, condenser, end & side address. My personal favourite is an Audio Technica BP40 dynamic end address, at the bottom of the screen & my go to. One is missing from the group, that being my Electrovoice RE320 dynamic, end address, currently attached to my Kenwood 590S. In order to get what I want from my voice the mic is also connected to a valve amp, compressor & noise gate. More of that later.
To find a mic that suits my shack ambience, operating sound & style. Your surroundings affect the quality of voice, whether that be background noise or reflections from within the space. Usually a mixture of the two. I treated my shack with acoustic tiles to remove the reflections, there is plenty of information on acoustic treatments and how to use them. I would thoroughly recommend having a look. Although not essential in this instance, elsewhere I use a DAW called Reaper for audio recording and that is when you will spend more time creating your work space. My own personal style is up close and personal on the end address of a dynamic mic. There is a mean distance quoted for general use, around 3 to 4 inches. But just see how moving around changes the same mic setting.
Dynamic - like my BP40, RE320, Heil PR781 or as you see in the photo the Rode shotgun mic. These mics require more gain & this can be achieved simply with an inline preamp like a Cloudlifter or Fethead. If not there are many devices to achieve this even if going straight into a PC or laptop. In the case of the shotgun mic, it has a very narrow pattern and I tried it to see how it eliminated the background.
Condenser - Generally much more sensitive with less added gain, largely side address and can therefore show up all sorts of nastiness if the work space is lively. I have an Audio Technica 2035. The size and the type of the diaphragm alter the performance of any mic, but especially true of these. The AT is by no means the largest or most expensive. There are some superb brands & mics out there, but here I will add a caveat. As an untrained ear like mine, there is a cost benefit analysis. I actually did voice over training and it is there where you meet some expensive mic preferences, acoustically treated studios, booths, plus more twiddling & tweaking.
You will have noticed that these mics are 3 pin XLR, widely used in the music, audio, recording industries. Not the 8 pin or RJ45 common to our rigs. This is where Heil have excelled having adaptors of all shapes & sizes, with a little effort & pin out diagram you can hack most situations. If your XLR mic plugs into conventional preamps, compressors & noise gates, you will be able to end at the rig with an adaptor. The noise on an audio chain becomes more important the longer it gets and please do remember we are dealing with RF too.
This is not the write up for swathes of tech spec talk, but out of the box mics will have been designed to be flat or characterless usually sounding dull at first hearing. This means you’re going to do more tweaking between mic & rig. Yes, I note most ‘modern’ rigs do come with equalisation features. You will still be tweaking a flat mic like the Shure SM7B or Electrovoice RE20, my AT BP40 is similar. My RE320 is ‘brighter’ & the RE27 ‘brighter’ still. If you have ever read Heils specs then you will know that the PR781 was aimed at hams with a brighter, sharper sound designed to ‘punch’. The AT2035 being a condenser needs a little more space between you & it and is more of a recording mic, not dissimilar to the Heil PR40.
Twiddling & tweaking
SDR & hybrid rigs will have more audio & equalisation within the menu than older rigs. No doubt these are very good, not everybody wants piles of extra gubbins. I opted to tweak the mic outside the rig, just leaving me the ALC to set. The hangover from my V.O training was to control the shack space, they are listed below and you can draw up your own preferences for your own situation.
Dynamic end address mic - I sit up on the mic invading its space. The mics characteristics eliminate some of the background noise.
A valve preamp to inject a bit of ‘Warmth’
A compressor & noise gate - This takes out the background ambient noise and gives the voice the ‘punch’ I spoke of.
A channel mixer to allow more than 1 input or mic and average levels.
Also remember I did acoustically treat the shack to take out the reflections and ‘deaden’ the background. If you want to try this simply clap your hands in a room, listen carefully and think what a mic would pick up.
Ham radio encompasses so many different technical aspects and your mic along with what you do with it is another good example. We are not all going to be broadcast stations, in the same way we won’t all have 75’ towers with Optibeams atop. But we can make the most of what we have. As a 2E0 who has been around this lark 30 years told me recently, knowledge is power. I’ve included some links below to broaden the scope slightly, the first two channels are not only entertaining but very informative about all things microphone. The last Three are just for fun, but what good is a mic if you can’t make yourself understood.