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Q. Can dust affect microphone performance?

By Hugh Robjohns

Protecting condenser mics like Neumann's TLM103 from dust will prolong their lifespan.Protecting condenser mics like Neumann's TLM103 from dust will prolong their lifespan.This is probably a silly question, but I was just wondering: if I left my Neumann TLM103 mic out on its stand when not in use for long periods of time, would its performance be affected, by dust in particular? It does have a lovely wooden case to store it in when not in use, but I would prefer to leave it on the shockmount if possible.

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Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: If anything, taking the mic on and off the stand and shockmount is likely to cause more damage in the long term, and certainly increases the risk of dropping it! I would suggest leaving the mic rigged on the stand, and placing a clean plastic bag (a large freezer bag, for example) over the mic when not in use to keep the dust off. Don't seal the bag at the bottom (to prevent condensation), but make sure the bottom of the bag hangs down well over the mic to minimise dust entering the bag.

Many professional studios do exactly this, rather than putting the mics away in boxes or cupboards. Some even leave the mics connected to phantom power sources to ensure a constant internal temperature, but that might be going a bit far for a home studio.

Microphones are delicate instruments capable of detecting minute changes in air pressure, so keep them away from any drafts and never slam shut the lid of a box with a mic inside. Ribbon mics are particularly prone to damage in this way. Condenser mics are also prone to rapid changes in humidity, so avoid moving the mic from warm to cool places, and if you have to, allow the mic a chance to equalise in temperature before you power it up and use it. They also don't like airborne contaminents like cigarette smoke which will degrade performance quite significantly over time. Capacitor capsules can be cleaned and restored, but it is a very specialised job and only cost-effective for the higher-end mics. Dynamic mics, on the other hand, are pretty robust in most conditions — you have to try fairly hard to destroy a good dynamic!

Published October 2004