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Tech Tip Of The Day: Care & Feeding Of Microphones

What you really need to know about caring for your microphone, whether it's a dynamic mic used in a club or a pricy studio condenser.

By PSW Staff August 19, 2010

Provided by Sweetwater.

Q: I’ve been a long time audio engineer and often get asked questions, which I really enjoy answering.

After all, it’s nice to pass along knowledge. However, I was asked one recently that really stumped me.

This nice kid in a club wanted to know how I take care of my microphones. Well, I know what I do, but I’m long past the point of having any substantive advice on the topic.

What are your thoughts?

A: Thanks for asking! To start, microphones hate water, and you need to protect them from it. We’re not just talking about an obvious “don’t put your mic in the dishwasher” warning.

The most common source of damaging moisture is the human voice (and, to a lesser extent, brass and woodwind instruments). Singing or speaking into a microphone subjects it to a stream of humid air and even drops of water.

Even with a wind screen, some moisture can get through, and when it lands on the diaphragm it can accumulate and speed up the deterioration of the element. Over time, moisture can also cause electrical contacts to fail. When possible, use a pop filter. Pop filters are designed for a different function, but they can help shield the mic from damp air.

Although you should never attempt to clean your mic’s diaphragm, there are a couple of steps you can take to reduce the harmful effects of moisture. First is to store your mics in a cool, dry place (the term “mic cabinet” isn’t just a catch phrase).

Second, after a recording session, let your mics “air out’ in an open room before putting back in their boxes/pouches. Packing them up immediately means they’ll be trapped in the box with little air circulation to allow them to dry.

Clubs are particularly brutal environments for microphones. If you’re fortunate enough to play to a packed house, all those human bodies generate gallons of humidity, which mixes with that other enemy of all electronic gear, smoke. It’s best not to leave them set up overnight. Take them down and give them some time to dry in the van or at home before stowing them.

Most condensers operate on phantom power — usually delivered via the mic cable from the mixer. Avoid “hot-plugging” your mic. Repeated power-on surges can shorten its life.

Make all connections before activating the channel, and then apply power. If you have a tube condenser mic with its own power supply, this is just as important. Don’t turn on the power until after you’ve connected the mic input and the mixer output.

Tube condenser mics also require a little time to warm up to perform their best. Manufacturer recommendations vary but range from 2-3 minutes to 10-15 minutes. Once your tube mic is on, some sources recommend that you leave it on to maximize the life of the tube.

Hopefully this is the type of substantive advice you were looking for!

As always, we welcome input from the PSW community and would love to know your thoughts on microphone care. Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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Paul McKeown says

I keep all my ‘good’ mics each in its own sealed ziploc bag with a little bag of silica drying agent - the kind you get with new computer parts. You can dry out the silica from time to time in the microwave.

Watch out for condensation - going from cold to warm air. Keep your mics sealed in the bags til they have warmed to room temperature.

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