The podium microphone is a common way to reinforce a speaker's voice during live presentations. Podium microphones are very popular in churches (otherwise known as pulpit mics); in graduation ceremonies; in lecture halls, and in presentations that have several speakers in serial.
So what microphones work best on the podium? Here are my top 2 recommendations:
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Top 2 Podium/Pulpit Microphone Recommendations:
- Earthworks FM500: The Earthworks FM500 is my top recommended microphone. This microphone is a bit pricey, but offers industry-leading intelligibility, mechanical noise isolation, and comes with the Earthworks 15 Year Parts and Labor Limited Warranty. This versatile microphone gets my top recommendation as a podium mic.
- Shure MX418D/C: The Shure MX418D/C is a well-respected podium microphone and gets my top “budget” recommendation. The D/C version of this mic is cardioid, but the MX418 also has a supercardioid option. We may also choose between a 12″ or 18″ gooseneck. The gooseneck is easily adjustable and the microphone capsule is shock mounted, isolating it from mechanical noise. On top of that, the MX418D/C simply sounds amazing on speech.
Let’s discuss the Earthworks FM500C and the Shure MX418D/C and why they're two of the best podium mics.
“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist's price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.
Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:
- Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
- Microphone technique/placement
- Number of microphones used
- Natural sound of the room
- Content (whether that's the song, discussion, or otherwise)
- Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)
With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”
What Factors Make An Ideal Podium Microphone?
When looking for a podium microphone, there are a few things worth considering:
- Unidirectional Polar Pattern: Select a cardioid-type directional microphone to work well with fold-back monitors, give more gain before feedback, and help with isolating the speaker from other sound sources.
- Presence Boost: A boost in sensitivity between 3-6 kHz helps improve speech intelligibility.
- High-Frequency Roll-Off: A roll-off of high frequencies help reduce the potential for feedback and harshness in the microphone signal.
- Low-Frequency Roll-Off: A roll-off of low frequencies reduces handling noise, vocal plosives, and low-end rumble in the microphone signal.
- Low Handling Noise: Choose a microphone with an isolated, shock mounted capsule within the mic body. This will greatly reduce the amount of handling noise (mechanical noise) transmitted from the podium and floor to the mic.
- Flexibility: Pick a microphone that is easily repositioned. A gooseneck podium “mic stand” is typically the best bet here. Having a microphone that is easily repositioned allows people of all heights to use the mic with ease.
- Size: Choosing a slender, small microphone is ideal for podiums. A thin mic won't eclipse the speaker's face while they are presenting.
- Grille/Pop Filter: A grille/pop filter is critical is protecting the microphone diaphragm from foreign objects and from vocal plosives.
- Price: Whether you’re making money from live speaking engagements or not, budgeting should be considered when purchasing a podium microphone.
Let’s look at the Earthworks FM500C and the Shure MX418D/C through the lens of the above criteria.
The Earthworks FM500C
The FM500C is a back electret small-diaphragm condenser microphone one of the many excellent microphones in the Earthworks FlexMic family. Any microphone in this group could have gotten my recommendation, but the FM500C won out due to its gooseneck length and flexibility as well as its incredibly wide and consistent polar pattern. Let's talk more about the fantastic Earthworks FlexMics and the FM500C model in particular.
Polar Pattern Of The Earthworks FM500C
The FM500C is one of the cardioid versions of the FlexMic. Here is a graph of its polar response.
As we can see, the polar pattern of the FM500C is very consistent (like all mics in the FlexMic family).
The negligible amount of off-axis colouration in the 500C allows for a consistent capture of the speaker, even if they move significantly off-axis. If the speaker was to turn their head, look down at notes, or move to one side of the podium, the quality of the microphone pick up would not be terribly noticeable.
That's all good, but a consistent pickup pattern could likely be better achieved with an omnidirectional mic. Why choose a cardioid instead? It comes down to gain before feedback.
Microphone feedback is a terrible occurrence to have happen during a podium speech, lecture, or otherwise. Feedback happens when the mic signal is sent through loudspeakers, the loudspeakers send sound waves to the mic, and a positive feedback loop takes place. The signal gets overdriven and the notoriously horrible squealing sound of microphone feedback is then emitted by the loudspeakers.
Cardioid mics help combat microphone feedback and give us more gain before feedback due to their rear nulls in sensitivity. Pointing a cardioid mic (like the FM500C) at a loudspeaker or monitor will likely cause feedback even at low amounts of mic gain or loudspeaker volume. However, pointing a cardioid microphone away from a loudspeaker will greatly reduce the chance of feedback at low gain, allowing us more gain before feedback and, therefore, a strong mic signal.
For more information on microphone feedback, check out my article 12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback.
Frequency Response Of The Earthworks FM500C
All FlexMics are rated as having a frequency response from 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz, which is the full range of human hearing. Here is the frequency response graph of the FlexMics, including the FM500C:
This beautifully flat frequency response makes for an incredibly accurate capture of the speaker's voice on the podium. There are no excessive boosts or cuts to negatively affect the tonal balance of the speaker's voice.
Notice, however, that there is a low-frequency roll-off. Why is this beneficial?
The roll-off of low-frequencies helps to reduce the amount of low-end rumble, mechanical noise, and vocal plosives in the microphone. Thus, the FM500C cleanly reproduces the human voice (which often doesn't have a whole lot of information in the bass and sub-bass frequency ranges, anyway).
Notice the different in the frequency response when the speaker is 5 inches away from the microphone versus 12 inches away. The increased sensitivity in the lower frequencies when at a closer distance is caused by the proximity effect. Good public speakers will often use this to their advantage when speaking into a microphone.
However, the increase in bass response is not overly excessive in the FM500C like in many other microphones. The characteristic sound of the microphone does change at different distances, but so much as to draw attention to itself. The listener will more than likely only notice an increase in volume, if anything, when the speaker gets closer to the FM500C.
Internal Shock Mount Of The Earthworks FM500C
Although the back electret condenser capsule of the Earthworks FM500C is not shock mounted within the diaphragm, the microphone is still virtually free of handling noise. How so? The answer lies in the gooseneck.
The goosenecks of the FlexMics are built with specific flex materials to virtually dissipate handling and movement noise before they ever reach the microphone diaphragm.
Flexibility Of The Earthworks FM500C
The length and flexibility of the various FlexMic goosenecks vary. The FM500C has an 18.3″ (46.5cm) overall length with a gooseneck of 10.1″ (25.5cm) that is fully flexible along its length.
The length and flexibility of the FM500C gooseneck allows speakers to quickly reposition the microphone capsule to suit their height and voice. Simply grab the microphone and position it where it best serves the speaker on the podium and the gooseneck will hold it in place in this new position.
Size Of The Earthworks FM500C
As mentioned, the length of the FM500C gooseneck is 10.1″ (25.5cm). The gooseneck has a diameter of .275″ (7mm) and maximum head diameter of the capsule is .860″ (22mm).
Earthworks FM500C is a very thin podium mic is unlikely to obstruct the view of the speaker at the podium.
Note that different FlexMics have different lengths (some longer and some shorter than the FM500C), but that all are equally thin.
Grille/Pop Filter Of The Earthworks FM500C
Earthworks has designed a sleek metal mesh windscreen/grille for its FM and FMR series podium microphones. The grille provides protection and durability.
The windscreen is coupled with layers of foam to help reduce plosives. An additional foam windscreen (FMW2) is available for windy outdoor conditions.
However, because the heads of the FlexMics are so small, there's only so much that can be physically done to the microphone to help prevent plosives. The strategy, instead, is to position the FM500C so that it does not point directly at the speaker's mouth.
Remember from our discussion on the polar response of the FM500C that the microphone has a very wide pickup. Speaking off-axis will not negatively affect the quality of the microphone signal. In fact, it will greatly benefit the signal due to the decrease in vocal plosives!
For more information on microphone plosives, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
Price Of The Earthworks FM500C
At under $600 USD, the FM500C sits nicely in its price range. Note that the microphone comes with a 15-year warranty.
Whether you're deciding on a permanent podium microphone installation, or just want a solid, wide cardioid microphone that sounds great on just about everything, the FM500C is a great choice.
The Shure MX418D/C
The Shure MX418D/C is my top recommended “budget” podium mic. This miniature back electret condenser mic is part of the MicroFlex MX400D series of gooseneck microphones by Shure. We'll talk specifically about the 18″ cardioid option (418D/C), though most variations get my recommendation (12″ options and supercardioid options, but not the omnidirectional options).
The MX418D/C comes with other options, too:
- Desktop base for temporary mounting (A412B)
- Mounting flanges to mount the gooseneck mic flush to a podium (A12 & RPM640)
- Shock mounts (A400SM, A400SMXLR & A53M)
- Preamp (RK100PK)
- Shotgun mic cartridge (R189)
- Several different windscreens
The pickup, flexibility, ease of use, quality of sound, and price should make the Shure MX418D/C a top contender as a podium mic.
Polar Pattern Of The Shure MX418D/C
The Shure MX418D/C has a cardioid polar pattern (the C stands from cardioid). Here is the polar response graph:
As mentioned in our discussion of the Earthworks FlexMic, a cardioid-type microphone is ideal for a podium mic for 2 main reasons:
- Isolation of the speaker.
- More gain before feedback.
Let's discuss these reasons with the Shure MX418D/C in mind.
The MX418D/C is sensitive to the front (where it points to) and insensitive to the back (where it points away from). Therefore, having the 418D/C positioned and directed at the speaker on the podium will capture their voice strongly while rejecting most other sound sources.
Because the microphone is pointed at the person speaking and not at the speakers, the risk of feedback in diminished. A directional microphone allows for much more gain before feedback, making the 418D/C an excellent podium microphone choice where vocal reinforcement is needed.
Frequency Response Of The Shure MX418D/C
The frequency range of the MX418D/C is specified as 50 Hz – 17,000 Hz. Here is the microphone's frequency response graph:
As we can see, the frequency response is very flat, with a slight boost in the upper frequencies (peaking around 12-13 kHz) and a low-frequency roll-off (starting around 400 Hz).
The flatness of the graph tells us the microphone will accurately reproduce many of the important fundamentals and harmonics of the human voice. This makes the microphone sound natural.
The high-end boost helps with sibilance but may be a bit bright and harsh depending on the speaker and the room. The roll-off that happens immediately after the upper-frequency peak (around 13 kHz) helps to reduce unneeded “air” and “brightness” from the podium microphone.
The low-end roll-off seems to be a bit premature for a podium microphone. But with the aid of the proximity effect, a solid bass response can be had. Simply position the MX418D/C capsule closer to the speaker and the low-end will suddenly appear in the mic signal.
The benefit of having a low-frequency roll-off like that of the MX418D/C is that the microphone will effectively filter out low-end rumble, mechanical noise, vocal plosives, and electrical hum.
Internal Shock Mount Of The Shure MX418D/C
The shock mount of the Shure MX418D/C provides over 20 dB of isolation from surface vibration noise. This makes it an excellent choice for attaching to a podium (though I still wouldn't recommend tapping on the podium while speaking into the mic).
Flexibility Of The Shure MX418D/C
The “fully flexible” MX418D/C is actually a rigid centre gooseneck. Though it's not the most flexible podium mic on the market, it is still easily adjustable for practically any speaker that comes up to the podium.
Size Of The Shure MX418D/C
As mentioned, the MX418D/C is an 18″ long gooseneck microphone. As with most gooseneck mics, the 418D/C is very thin and will not eclipse the podium speaker from the audience.
Grille/Pop Filter Of The Shure MX418D/C
The small grille of the 418D/C is fairly effective at protecting the mic capsule from plosives and wind. The mic comes with a snap-fit foam windscreen for outdoor use.
The best strategy to avoid plosives in the MX418D/C is to aim the microphone off-axis from the speaker's mouth.
Price Of The Shure MX418D/C
At under $300 USD, the Shure MX418D/C gets my top “budget” recommendation.
As a quick recap, the Earthworks FM500C is my top recommended podium microphone. The Shure MX418D/C is my top recommendation for a podium mic under $300 USD.
- Audio-Technica U875QU
- Countryman ISOMAX 4RF
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.