You Ask, We Answer: Choosing an Omnidirectional Mic

Close-miking with omni-pattern microphones
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I recently learned that omnidirectional microphones don’t produce the proximity effect. What is a good, cheap omni mic that you would recommend?

Indeed, one common use for a microphone with an omnidirectional pattern is as a close-mic on an instrument or voice to avoid the type of low-end boost—called the proximity effect—that results from placing a directional mic near the subject. The closer you move a directional mic (cardioid, figure-8, etc.) toward the sound source, the more the low frequencies increase in level. Although the proximity effect isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it can be used creatively—you can counteract it when you need to using an external EQ or the microphone’s low-cut switch (if it has one). However, many engineers will simply replace the directional mic with an omni, which typically doesn’t increase in the low-end when used at close range.

It might seem counter-intuitive to use an omni mic when the instrument you’re recording—say, an acoustic guitar—shares the studio with other instruments. But by placing the omni a little closer to the guitar than you did with the cardioid, you get a similar relationship between the direct sound and any ambience. You will also notice a greater sense of openness in the sound when close-miking with an omni.

In terms of “good” and “cheap,” we always recommend you buy the best quality mic you can afford. There are many well-built, low-cost side-address condensers that include omni among the selectable polar patterns, as well as inexpensive pencil condensers that have interchangeable capsules. But don’t base your final decision on price alone. Listen before you buy and find out as much as you can online about the long-term performance of a mic. Whichever one you choose, you want to get many productive years out of it.

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