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Q. At what distance from my mic should I record my voice?

By Sam Inglis
Published January 2001

I recently purchased a Stagg microphone and a Joemeek VC3Q recording channel and initial trial uses have really impressed me. However, I know almost nothing about mics and no information was provided with the Stagg, so I have a few unanswered questions.

Firstly, the Stagg has two switches on it, one toggles between a little diagram of a straight line and line pointing diagonally downwards, the other toggles between a diagram of a circle and what is best described as an upside‑down heart shape. Could you tell me what these are and how they should be used? Secondly, what is the best distance to record voice at? I remember receiving various pieces of advice from producers from several professional studios (in my band days). One producer told me to sing about six inches away from the pop shield, with the mic about another six inches away from the shield on the other side, whereas another told me to sing as close as I could to the shield and the mic was almost touching the shield on the other side!

Lee Abraham

Assistant Editor Sam Inglis replies: In response to your initial question, the first switch brings in or out of the signal path a filter which cuts out the very low frequencies (when the switch is to the flat line, the filter is bypassed). The idea is that vocals, and most acoustic instruments, don't contain frequencies below 60Hz or so, and therefore any sound in this frequency range is likely to be noise such as traffic rumble. The low‑cut filter reduces this. The second switch changes the polar pattern of the mic between omnidirectional (circle) and cardioid (heart‑shaped). In the omni setting, the mic will pick up sound equally strongly from all directions. In the cardioid setting, it will pick up sound most strongly from the front, and tend to reject sound from the back.

Regarding your second question, it depends how much of the sound of the room you want to record. If you want to record the vocals 'dry' and then add reverb from a reverb unit later, go close to the mic (maybe six to nine inches away in total). This is the way most modern pop vocals are recorded, since it's far more flexible to be able to add artificial reverb later than to record natural reverb at source.

The further away from the mic you go, the more the direct sound of your voice will be mixed in with its natural reverberation in the room you're recording (not to mention any background noise!). Once you record a reverberant signal like this, however, you're stuck with the room sound, so you can't change it later if you don't like it. The distance from the mic will also change the tone of the voice — if you go in very close, you'll notice that your voice sounds artificially bassy because of what's called the 'proximity effect'.