Paul McGowan writes: The two parts to any sound reproduction chain that are imperfect – in fact not very close to perfect at all – are the inputs and outputs. Everything else in between the input microphone and the output loudspeaker is relatively perfect when compared to the inaccuracies of the these two primary transducers.
The microphone, which is the first part of the reproduction chain, is perhaps the most difficult piece for anyone interested in high-end audio to manage or deal with. We can choose which loudspeakers we want to listen to, which amplification chain and even what type of recording media we prefer, but our only discretionary means of selecting the best sounding microphone is pretty much limited to our choice of recordings. Recording engineers make microphone choices for us and thus our only choice in the matter is to hope they made a good one – one that agrees with our view of what sounds acceptable when it comes to believability.
Recording engineers have a wide variety of microphone sounds and types to choose from: those that work best on vocals, or cymbals, ambient room reflections, close proximity, distant proximity, different patterns of sound and so on. And each microphone type has its following among the many to where truly the skill of the recordist comes down to microphone type, placement and connected equipment used to amplify and record.
Even artists may have a special microphone that gives them the “sound” they want people to hear them through.
Considering all the different colorations of various microphones and how they are used, we could pretty accurately consider these mechanical devices like lenses and filters used by photographers. No two dimensional photograph actually looks real – we understand that they are merely representations of what we see – and photographers have a small arsenal of lenses and filters that help them bring their viewers closer to what they want one to see. In the same way, recording engineers use microphone choices to bring the listener closer to what the recordist is hearing and wants his audience to hear.
Accepting that microphones are not accurate and perfect transducers of live events, just as photographs are not perfect three dimensional representations of what we see, we’ll move on to describing how these devices work.