The Proximity Effect!

As a child, I remember thinking whispering was an amazing thing. I could share secrets and say things to a single person without letting everyone else know what was going on. As an adult, I realize how terrible children are at whispering. I find myself laughing at just how bad my own kids are at whispering. But one thing that I notice about having a child whisper in my ear...they all of a sudden have a deep voice. Now I'm not talking Barry White deep, but considerably deeper than their voice normally is. Especially my somewhat squeaky voiced 8 year old son.

Have you ever noticed that the closer you are to something, the boomier it is? Try this really fast as an experiment: Go put your face into the corner. You know, where two walls meet at a 90 degree angle. Yeah, put yourself in the corner. Now say something. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Did you notice that? All of a sudden there was a LOT more bass! That's why you don't really want to put speakers in a corner. And why you see extra sound treatment in corners called bass traps. Bass frequencies build up in these spaces. 

Well, did you know that you can use this same principle to get a deeper, boomier sound with certain microphones? Don't go putting them in the corner. Nobody puts baby in the corner. No, but with certain mics you can get a bigger bass response putting it closer to the source. Like, let's say your mouth. This works with cardioid microphones and is called the proximity effect.

Cardioid microphones are called cardioid because the area that they pickup sound is in the shape of a heart. They get the most sound from directly in front and then bubble out the back sides and reject sound from directly behind it. Like a heart shape. They're directional. This emphasis in front gives these mics a certain effect, there's more bass if the mic is really close to the source.

Mics that are famous for this are hand held vocal mics like the Shure SM58, a lot of large diaphragm condenser mics like the Blue Spark, and a lot of others. Check your microphone information. If it's a cardioid microphone, it'll have some kind of proximity effect.

This proximity effect can be both a good thing and a bad thing, depending on what you're looking for. With voice work, if you need a deeper voice for a project, then lean into it. If you're recording a guitar and there's too much bass, maybe pull the mic away a little bit. The key to using this to your advantage is knowing that it's there. You're already winning!

Take a little time and play with your mics. Test them out. You might find that you really like the sound when you get up close to it. You might find that it's too much. It's always good practice to test things out, move the mic around, and find the position that sounds best to you. Don't make the all too easy mistake of simply setting up a mic and figuring it'll be "good enough." Try to record the best sound possible. While you can often fix the sound during the editing or mixing phase, you can't always. Plus, why do something that needs to be "fixed" from the get-go?  Why not take an extra couple minutes to test different mic placements and angles to get the best sound before you record? If you do, I think you'll be happier in the end.

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