Microphone Stands Evolve Into Sound Tools

In the not so distant past, the microphone stand was simply a support device to keep a microphone secure. When its quality was high, the stand just did its job and was forgotten. Today, microphone stands have evolved to include accessories that can actually improve audio performance.

There are many kinds of microphone stands to choose from — ranging in cost from almost nothing to hundreds of dollars. Most professional users have encountered cheap, poorly-made stands that can barely support themselves, much less a microphone. With experience, one learns to avoid these trouble-prone stands.

When considering new microphone stands, there are many more choices than ever before. Some come with problem-solving accessories that can make a sound engineer’s life easier. Most models fall under either short, standard and tall categories.

Short, including tabletop stands, range from supporting desktop microphones (for seated talent and announcers) to musical instruments, such as drums or guitar amplifier cabinets.

O.C. White Broadcast Boom

O.C. White Broadcast Boom

A variation is the broadcast boom, designed for broadcast announcers or podcasters. Professional booms use a robust version of the scissor mechanism found in some desk lamps to allow announcers to instantly reposition the microphone.

These mic support systems are ideal for users who need to move around a desk while on the air. Most broadcast booms clamp to the desktop and feature some internal shock dispersion to prevent vibration on the desk from traveling up the boom into the mic. They also normally include cable management features.

The next category, standard-sized stands, are the bread-and-butter support systems. When high-quality stands are used, they can reach most of the range of a short stand and remain stable when extended to the same height as a tall stand. It is important to match the stand to the application.

An important consideration on mic stands is the clutch, which is the mechanism that locks the stand’s height into place. There are two basic types of clutches on mic stands — twist and grip.

Twist is the most popular. A cheap twist clutch takes several turns to tighten and still may not hold tight, while a higher-end twist clutch locks tight with minimal motion. Grip clutches, on the other hand, only require a one-handed squeeze to adjust them, which is a major bonus for live performance.

Finally, tall microphone stands are similar to standard-height stands, only with longer shafts that allow them to extend higher. Their bases are usually the same width as standard stands, so they are often functionally less stable when extended. In most cases, however, they’re sufficient for drum overheads and applications such as miking upright pianos.

When extra height and the stability to extend microphones horizontally is needed, users may be better served with a studio boom, which can cost some serious money, depending on options.

Studio boom

Studio boom

Studio booms are designed to reach above sources such as choirs and orchestral performers. It’s not uncommon for these ultra-heavy-duty mic stands to reach over six feet without the boom, which makes overhead positioning easy. A couple of features to look for in a studio boom include an adjustable counterweight to counterbalance heavy microphones and a wheeled base to make moving them around easier.

On some studio booms, there’s a tension screw. This is a type of clutch that either tightens a collar or presses into the inner tubing to keep it from sliding. These vary greatly in quality and typically only appear where you rarely need to make adjustments. Most booms also use a kind of disc clutch at the base to allow users to adjust the angle.

When purchasing all microphone stands, look for overall stability. Factors that impact stability include the style and weight of the base, the kind of clutch mechanisms used and the thickness of the tubing. This is where the tradeoff comes. Stability usually comes at the cost of portability. Heavier is usually better, though there are some ultra light-weight models that are stable. But you will pay more for them.

Once the basic stand is selected (assuming it’s high quality), the limited pipe diameter range and standard ⅝-inch threading creates an excellent base for adding all kinds of specialty gear.

A main accessory is the boom, which is available in various lengths and telescoping designs. Match the boom’s quality the mic stand, since it makes no sense to mismatch them. Cheap booms can be hard to position and wear out quickly, leaving users with a boom that’s prone to sag. Quality booms deliver added stability.

Gooseneck

Gooseneck

Another traditional choice for fine-tuning microphone positions is the gooseneck. Be careful, because their flexibility and noisiness when bending can affect sound quality. Use them only with lightweight microphones. A high-quality gooseneck can handle the weight of the average handheld mic.

Triad-Orbit Micro Series adapter

Triad-Orbit Micro Series adapter

Sweetwater Sound, a pro audio dealer, recommends orbital adapters such as Triad-Orbit’s Micro Series. This device allows users to quickly position microphones at an ideal angle and then lock them into place. This solid, locked down method beats goosenecks any day.

Sabra-Som ST2 stereo bar holds dual microphones on one stand.

Sabra-Som ST2 stereo bar holds dual microphones on one stand.

To place multiple mics in a tight space, use a stereo bar, such as the Sabra-Som ST2. This tool goes beyond allowing simple stereo recording. The ST2 allows the placement of a pair of mics in tight spaces without having to use extra mic stand.

One of the best investments for a location sound system, said Sweetwater, is a set of quick-release mic clip adapters, such as the ones made by Gator Frameworks. It may not seem like much, but the time saved swapping out mics can add up and the convenience alone makes them worth owning.

An sE Electronic’s Reflexion Filter helps prevent extraneous sound from affecting a recording. Click to enlarge.

An sE Electronic’s Reflexion Filter helps prevent extraneous sound from affecting a recording. Click to enlarge.

A very popular accessory that can dramatically improve on-location audio is a stand-mounted baffle, such as sE Electronic’s Reflexion Filter line. These range in size from stand-mounted pro models that allow any space to be turned into a voiceover studio to the small guitaRF, which makes blocking out stage noise easy on guitar cabinets.

These portable “sound booths” can be one of the best investments you make in your sound kit. They attach to a microphone stand and position a dense absorptive foam barrier just past the microphone to catch sound before it can reflect in the room. The result is a measure of acoustic treatment that can make the difference between an amateur or polished vocal sound.

Though sE Eletronics invented Reflexion Filters, other companies are now making their own variations of such filters as recording moves to untreated locations in offices and homes. Engineers of all kinds — from studio to live production — are starting to embrace just how useful these filters can be. But don’t try using one on a flimsy, cheap mic stand.

Mic stand viewing accessory.

Mic stand viewing accessory.

If you can attach it to a mic stand, there’s an accessory attachment for it. Some are practical, while others are no more than creature comforts. Music stands, tablet and phone holders, cupholders, headphone hangers, accessory trays — you name it — they are all available. Some of these attachments are real lifesavers, and being able to provide talent with ways to hold scripts or chord charts is always a plus.

Finally, it’s a pain to try to carry around by hand more than a couple of mic stands and accessories. Most users who work in the field invest in a mic stand bag to move their gear. Not only does a carry bag make it easier to transport the stands, but it also protects them in transit.

Editor note: Want to know more about microphone stands? See Frank Beacham's "On Buying My First High-Quality Microphone Stand.

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