If you’ve only ever used stage microphones, chances are you haven’t used a microphone shock mount either. Those big basket-looking microphone holders we see so often in studio settings are there for good reason. Let’s talk about it!
What is a microphone shock mount and why is it important? A shock mount effectively holds a microphone in place while isolating it from the stand or boom it is attached to. This isolation provides protection from shock (mechanically transferred noise) and safely mounts the microphone to its stand or boom arm.
So now that we know the basics of shock mounts, I’d like to provide you with some extra details about these essential studio hardware pieces.
What Is A Microphone Shock Mount And Why Is It Important?
A shock mount (otherwise known as an isolation mount) is designed to hold and isolate a microphone, protecting it from shock. What suitable names for this device!
A shock mount is a mechanical fastener that elastically connects a microphone to a threaded mic stand or boom arm/pole. This elastic connection is critical, providing secure mounting for the microphone and, at the same time, the freedom for the microphone to move independently of the mic stand or boom pole.
The freedom for a microphone to move independently of the stand it is attached to is key. It reduces the amount of mechanically transmitted noise (shock) the microphone will be susceptible to.
Note that typical live performance microphone clips do not elastically isolate their microphones. This leaves the mics susceptible to mechanically transmitted noise.
Microphone diaphragms are designed to move in reaction to sound waves and create a coinciding audio signal. However, diaphragms also move in reaction to external vibrations in the microphone.
To learn more about microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm? (An In-Depth Guide).
To make matters worse, some microphone elements like transformers and vacuum tubes are naturally microphonic. This means they create electrical noise when subjected to vibration.
So it’s a double whammy when mechanically transmitted noise gets to your microphone. The diaphragm responds to it and consolidates it into the audio signal. Meanwhile, the microphonic components of the circuitry add noise to this signal.
Shock mounts elastically isolate microphones from their solid environment. This isolation drastically decreases the severity of mechanically transmitted noise and external vibrations present in the microphone. Which, in turn, lessens the noise in the microphone signal!
For more information on mic clips, mic stands, and boom arms, check out my article How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand.
Before we get into the design aspect of shock mounts, let’s discuss mechanically transmitted noise.
Mechanically Transmitted Noise
Mechanically transmitted noise wreaks havoc on microphone signals.
Solid material typically carries vibrational energy a long way. Let’s say your microphone is slipped in a mic clip and the mic clip is attached to a stand. Any touching or vibration of the stand will be transmitted through the mic clip to the microphone. Even footsteps on the ground around the mic stand may very well travel up to the microphone. As we’ve discussed earlier, this is not good!
Similarly, if your microphone is at the end of a boom, then any tapping on the boom may very well reach the microphone.
Once again, shock mounts are designed to stop these noises from getting to the microphone!
The most common forms of mechanical noise are handling noise and low-end rumble.
Handling noise is any mechanical sound made while handling a microphone.
That could be altering your grip on a handheld microphone or on a boom pole that holds a mic.
It could also be bumping the stand the microphone is attached to or even the pop filter in front of the mic.
Basically anything that is mechanically connected or touching the microphone can cause handling noise.
In the case of the pop filter, the connection is quite extended: handling noise in the pop filter travels to its clamp, through the mic stand up to the mic clip, and ends up in the microphone.
Low-end rumble is the low-end frequencies inherent in our environment.
Low-end rumble could be from any of the following:
- A truck idling outside
- HVAC systems
- The AC power mains
- Earth itself
And any number of other low-frequency producing things.
Low-end rumble is tricky to get rid of. Unless you’re in an anechoic chamber, the chances of completely eliminating low-end rumble are slim-to-none. Shock mounts, however, provide mics with decent isolation from the nearly inevitable low-end rumble.
We could argue about simply using a high-pass to rid of the low-end rumble in a microphone signal. But what if the instrument we’re recording has important sonic information in the low-end? Shock mounts are the answer!
For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?
To learn more about microphone noise and methods to reduce it, check out my article 15 Ways To Effectively Reduce Microphone Noise.
Shock Mount Design
So what goes into the design of a good microphone shock mount?
Well, it has to be able to attach to a microphone stand or boom arm/pole. This means there will have to be some sort of female threaded connector. That’s the easy part.
Next is the suspension. A shock mount must be able to isolate the microphone from its attachments. There are several common designs for this. The shock mount designs usually come down to the type of microphone the shock mount will be housing.
Large Diaphragm Side-Address Microphone Shock Mounts
The most common shock mount for large diaphragm microphones is generically called the cat’s cradle shock mount.
Though cat’s cradles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, they all share the same design basics.
Cat’s Cradle Large Microphone Shock Mounts
Cat’s cradle shock mounts have an exterior skeleton and hold the microphone with fabric-wound rubber elastic bands. These elastic bands provide the isolation.
The microphone threads into a centrepiece. This centrepiece is attached around its circumference to the exterior skeleton by the aforementioned elastic bands.
Although these are the industry stand for larger side-address mics, there is a critical issue. The bands will eventually wear out over time, causing the microphone to sag. This, of course, will take a long time to happen in quality cat’s cradle type shock mounts, but I figured it was worth noting.
One such example of a cat’s cradle shock mount is the Samson SP01 Spider (link to check the price on Amazon).
Plastic Elastomer Suspension Large Microphone Shock Mounts
These shock mounts are similar in shape to the cat’s cradle, but utilize plastic elastomers to suspend and isolate the microphone rather than elastic bands.
Elastomer is a portmanteau of elastic and polymer. It is basically a fancy term for rubber. Using specially design rubber to isolate microphones in a shock mount proves to be more durable than elastic bands while providing equal or better shock protection.
Rycote is a leading manufacturing company for shock mounts. Their USM model (link to check the price on Amazon) is a great example of an elastomer suspension shock mount.
Pencil Microphone Shock Mounts
Nearly all shotgun and pencil microphone shock mounts have the same basic design.
The design includes two points of contact to hold and isolate the microphone. These points of contact are in the centre of a circularly designed skeleton.
Elastic Bands Pencil Mic Shock Mounts
The use of fabric-wound rubber elastic bands provide sufficient isolation for the shotgun and pencil microphones. However, the issue is, once again, that these bands eventually start to sag.
ZRAMO has an example of an elastic bands pencil mic shock mount. Click here to check it out on Amazon.
Plastic Elastomer Suspension Pencil Mic Shock Mounts
Once again, the elastomer technology increases the longevity of these pencil mic shock mounts. The Rycote Lyre shock mount is perhaps the most common.
These designs offer greater displacement along the mic’s prime axis than their elastic band counterparts. They also restrict movement on the other two axes (movement toward the out circular skeleton). These suspensions, therefore, have more consistent mic positioning.
The Rycote Lyre INV-7 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a common example of a plastic elastomer pencil mic shock mount:
Shotgun Microphone Shock Mounts
Shotgun microphones can be thought of as pencil microphones with long interference tubes connected to them. Their shock mounts, then, are similar to those meant for pencil microphones, only longer.
One good example of a longer shotgun microphone shock mount that works with a mic blimp, check out the Rycote 68 Duo (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video).
To learn more about shotgun microphones and mic blimps, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• The Lobar/Shotgun Microphone Polar Pattern (With Mic Examples).
• What Is A Boom Microphone? (Applications + Mic Examples).
• How To Properly Hold A Boom Pole And Microphone.
Individually Dedicated Shock Mounts
Some microphone manufacturers design mic specific shock mounts. Neumann immediately comes to mind as they have designed a shock mount for each and every one of their microphones. The shock mounts are designed specifically for their dedicated microphone and are nearly always the best choice!
Is it worth it to use a shock mount in a live setting? It depends. If the live performance is in a studio and the microphone is in an isolation booth, a shock mount may be beneficial. However, on a noisy stage, mics are subjected to so much extraneous noise that shock mounts wouldn’t help much. They would be more of a physical obstacle that anything.
What is a microphone pop filter? Pop filters and shock mounts are often used together when recording vocals in a studio. A microphone pop filter is a screen that protects a mic from plosive sounds while still allowing sound waves to enter the mic. Plosives are bursts of air from the mouth caused by the sounds P, B, T, D, K, and G.
For more information on microphones pop filters and plosives, check out my articles What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And When Should You Use One? and Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.