Hearing Ain’t That Simple

earYour ears are one of the most under valued of our senses.  The human race is so visually orientated, we totally  underestimate our hearings ability.  Our ears collect and process a huge amount of subliminal information of which we remain blissfully unaware.

Imagine being at a Party or in a busy restaurant.  Your Partners conversation becomes boring and you find yourself listening to a couple on a table 10 metres away, ever done that???   How do you do it?    Then obviously your Partner mentions your name, your brain kicks into gear and suddenly they have your full attention again!!!!

Your hearing has an amazing ability to process all the complex information involved in volume, phase, time of arrival, tone, character etc - and even in a noisy situation like that, allow you to disregard all other noises and tune into the focus of your attention.

On the other hand a microphone is a very simple device in comparison, without the ability of your ears and the processing behind them (i.e. your Brain!).  A microphone is simply a device that generates a voltage when sound vibrates a diaphragm, as the volume increases and the diaphragm vibrates more, the voltage down the cable increases.  The only measurement and reference of sound a microphone has by itself  is volume.

If you put a microphone on your table at the restaurant or party it would have no option but to listen to your partner!

So what does this all mean when you come to use a microphone during a recording?  Although engineers have been able to give some microphones a directional bias their use must be carried out with an understanding of their capabilities and it should not be assumed that they are hearing what we are hearing.

Hollywood portrayals of microphones underneath helicopters hearing through the double glazing of a sky scraper don’t help the understanding!  Believe me, you won’t even be able to hear the helicopter engines under the rush of wind blasting down from the rotors!!!   That little diaphragm would be fighting for it’s very existence!

So understanding the capabilities of your microphone is a must, as well as actually listening to it as you record, so you can judge how it’s doing.  If it’s a directional microphone understand how it picks up, point it in the correct direction and get it as near as possible to give it a chance of hearing the conversation.

Miss use of microphones is rife.  Currently the worst example of this is the global use of ‘personal’ lapel microphones.  These microphones are ‘omnidirectional’ - they have no directional bias and pick up sound from every direction.  Whilst their one advantage is movement and the ability of the person recording not to have to think too much, if you are recording in a reverberant room you’ll hear it - much better to use a quality ‘cabled’ directional microphone you can point at the sound source - the mouth - and loose some of the room effect. boywithpole Plus, have you ever rested your head against someone’s chest and covered the  other ear?????  It’s no great - most sound comes not from the mouth, but the chest cavity and throat.  As I’ve said, there is not getting away from the freedom the personal radio microphones give, but remember, that’s about their only advantage over a ‘proper’ microphone.  If you can put a good quality directional microphone on a pole and follow the person speaking around, you’ll get a much better sound.

So next time you see someone wearing a hearing aid (basically an omni mic and amplifier), have a little more understanding when they ask you to repeat what you’ve just said!
Hearing ain’t that easy!!!

See what your ears can do and whilst you’re there have a virtual haircut - You’ll need headphones!

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inner ear

    If you’re interested in more about how your ears work have a look at this article!
    Click the ear!

  1. #1 by chriswf at July 14th, 2009

    Totally awesome audio, I looked over my shoulder a few times, totally immersive.

    BBC Radio did a Binaural play years ago but I cannot find it on the web. C’est la vie.


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