What Are Top, End & Side-Address Microphones? (+ Examples)


Knowing where your microphones are pointing is an essential part of mastering the art of microphone positioning. The address type of a microphone is a great indicator of a mic’s directionality and helps us know how to best position our microphones.

So what are top-address and side-address microphones?

Top-address microphones have the centre-axis of their polar patterns pointing out of the “top” of the microphone. This is typical of small-diaphragm condensers and handheld microphones.

Side-address microphones have the centre-axis of their polar patterns pointing out of the “side” of the microphone. This is typical of large-diaphragm condenser mics.

In this article, we’ll define the two microphone address types in more detail and offer real-life microphone examples of each type.


Address Types And Microphone Polar Patterns

To learn about microphone address-types, it’s best to understand microphone polar patterns first.

Each microphone has a polar pattern that describes the angle-dependent sensitivity of that microphone.

In order to know the angle-dependent sensitivity of a microphone, we need a reference point or a reference axis. In other words, we need to know the direction in which the microphone is effectively pointing. From this directional “pointer” we can trace a polar pattern of angle-dependent sensitivity.

As an example, let’s look at the incredibly common cardioid polar pattern:

Cardioid Polar Pattern Graph

In the above graph, we see 360 degrees around a circle with inner circle lines that represent relative sensitivity.

The 0° represents the direction in which the microphone points. In other words, 0° is the on-axis line. If it points out of the side of the microphone, then the microphone is side-address. If it points out of the top of the microphone, then the microphone is top-address.

Let’s consider the null point to the rear of the cardioid microphone. With top-address mics, the null point would be toward the “bottom” of the microphone (the opposite direction of the top). With side-address microphones, the null point would be on the opposite side of the microphone’s on-axis angle.

So with that out of the way, let’s look at top-address and side-address microphones.


What Is A Top-Address Microphone?

What is a top-address microphone? A top-address microphone has an on-axis line pointing out of its top. Top-address mics have capsules at the top or end of their bodies and a most sensitive (if directional) in the direction they point in. Pencil mics and most handheld mics are top-address.

Top-address microphones look as if they should “point” at their intended sound sources. They are often long and have clips/shock-mounts that position them in a fashion that points them in a particular direction.

Top-address is also known as end-address, end-fire, and top-fire.

How To Tell If A Microphone Is Top-Address

Though it’s not always obvious if a microphone is top-address or not, there are certain characteristics that help us to identify top-address microphones.

Common top-address microphone characteristics include:

  • Pencil microphone shape.
  • Shotgun microphone shape.
  • Handheld microphone.

Pencil Microphones

Pencil microphones are designed to be top-address. Their long and thin designs have their diaphragms at the “top” of their bodies and their outputs at the “bottom” of their bodies.

With these microphones, it’s easy to tell that the mic points out from its top. In fact, there are no pencil mics that are not top-address.

One popular example of a top-address pencil microphone is the Neumann KM 184 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Neumann KM 184

Another example of a top-address pencil microphone is the AKG C 451 B (link to check the price on Amazon):

AKG C 451 B

Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun microphones are essentially pencil microphones with extended interference tubes. Though these long microphones have their diaphragms positioned somewhat in the centre of their bodies, they are still considered top address since their on-axis direction points out of the top of the microphone.

A common shotgun microphone is the Sennheiser MKH 416 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Sennheiser MKH 416

Handheld Microphones

Most handheld microphones are top-address for simple ergonomics. It’s easier to hold a microphone from its body and have its on-axis direction point upward.

The most common example of a handheld top-address microphone is the Shure SM58 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Shure SM58

Other Common Top-Address Microphones

There are some microphones with large grilles that are actually top-address. Many of these are studio-grade large-diaphragm dynamic microphones.

Examples include the Shure SM7B (link to check the price on Amazon) and the Electro-Voice RE20 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Shure SM7B
Electro-Voice RE20

Non-Obvious Top-Address Microphones

Some microphones may not seem top-address though they actually are.

A famous confusing example is the Sennheiser MD 421 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Sennheiser MD421

As we can see from the picture of the MD 421 above, it would be safe to assume that this microphone is side-address.

Take a look at the grille. It seems as if this microphone has a capsule that points to the side since there is an obvious structural obstruction over the top.

However, this microphone is, in fact, a top-address mic. Its on-axis line points out of the “top” of the microphone!

Neumann, AKG, Sennheiser, Shure and Electro-Voice are all featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.


What Is A Side-Address Microphone?

What is a side-address microphone? A side-address microphone has its primary axis pointing out from its side. Most ribbon mics and large-diaphragm condenser mics are side-address.

Side-address microphones generally have large grilles that allow us to see the microphone capsule and the direction in which it points. These mics often have shock mounts that position the “pointing straight up or straight down” while their on-axis points horizontally.

Side-address is also known as side-fire.

How To Tell If A Microphone Is Side-Address

Though it’s not always obvious to tell whether a microphone is side-address or not, there are particular design qualities that we can assume make a microphone side-address.

Common side-address microphone characteristics include:

  • Large-diaphragm condenser capsules.
  • Flat microphone design.
  • Multi-pattern microphones.
  • Bidirectional polar patterns.
  • Ribbon microphones.
  • Stereo Microphones.

Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

As we discussed earlier, many large-diaphragm dynamic microphones are top-address.

However, when it comes to large-diaphragm condenser microphones, the vast majority are side-address. This is because condenser capsule designs are much more involved than dynamic elements and so they benefit from the freedom of being side-address.

If we think about it, top-address microphone diaphragms are limited by the physical body that resides behind/behind them. With side-address large-diaphragm capsules, the options for polar patterns are essentially limited to the capsule itself rather than the body of the microphone.

So many large-diaphragm condensers are side address. Let’s look at some examples:

The Rode NT1 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a large-diaphragm electret condenser microphone that is side-address:

Rode NT1

The Neumann U 87 AI (link to check the price on Amazon) is a large-diaphragm true condenser that is also side-address:

Neumann U 87 AI

Finally, let’s look at the Sony C-800 G (link to check the price on Amazon) which is a large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone:

Sony C 800-G

Flat Microphone Designs

Flat microphones, by the physical nature of their design, are essentially all “side-address microphones.” This is true, although it may be difficult to pinpoint what the “side” is, exactly.

An example of a flat side-address microphone is the Audix ADX60 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Audix ADX60

Though these flat boundary mics are considered side-address, they have hemispherical polar patterns. This means that their on-axis direction is not any more sensitive than any other direction. That being said, they still resemble a side-address microphone.

Multi-Pattern Microphones

If you’re working with a multi-pattern microphone, you can bet that it’s a side-address mic. These microphones get their multiple polar pattern options from combining signals from back-to-back diaphragms.

These diaphragms must be evenly exposed to sound pressure to be effective. Therefore, these multi-pattern microphones need to be side-address to perform optimally.

A great example of a multi-pattern microphone is the aforementioned Neumann U 87 AI.

Bidirectional Polar Patterns

Bidirectional microphones are equally sensitive to sound from the front and the back.

It is physically impossible for the bidirectional polar pattern to exist in a top-address microphone that has a physical body behind the rear of the mic capsule.

For this reason, we find that the great majority of ribbon microphones are side-address. Ribbon mics are naturally bidirectional. Let’s talk more about this in the next section:

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones are naturally pressure-gradient bidirectional microphones. Their ribbon diaphragms are positioned within magnetic baffles and are equally exposed to sound pressure from the front and back.

Sound waves coming directly from the sides of a ribbon microphone hit both the front and rear of the diaphragm at the same time in-phase and effectively cancel each other out.

So with equal sensitivity (with opposite polarity) from the front and back and no sensitivity from the sides, ribbon microphones portray a bidirectional polar pattern only possible with a side-address mic.

A couple of common ribbon microphones examples include the Royer R-121 (link to check the price on Amazon) and the Coles 4038 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Royer R-121
Coles 4038

A common example of a top-address microphone is the Beyerdynamic M 160 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Beyerdynamic M 160

The M 160 is a hypercardioid microphone with a dual-ribbon diaphragm. It has a complex acoustic labyrinth designed to achieve its rather intricate polar pattern.

Stereo Microphones

Stereo microphones are often side-address. This is particularly true is they are set up as a Blumlein pair.

A common example of a Blumlein pair stereo microphone is the Royer SF12 (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video):

Royer SF12

The SF12 has two axes (one for each of its ribbon diaphragms). Both these axes lines point out from the sides of the microphone.

That being said, there are some stereo microphones that operate with two moveable diaphragms. With these diaphragms, there are often to (obviously) top-address capsules. These mics resemble microphone pairs more so than compact stereo mics.

These mics can be side-address, like the Schoeps CMXY 4V (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video) or top-address, like the Rode NT4 (link to check the price on Amazon):

Schoeps CMXY 4V
Rode NT4

Recap On Top And Side-Address Microphones

So there are no set rules on top-address and side-address microphones. It’s ultimately up to the microphone user to ensure they understand whether their microphone is top or side-address.

For example, we could agree that small-diaphragm condensers are top-address, but if we look at the example of the Neumann M 150 (link to check the price on Amazon), which is a side-address mic, we’d see that that is certainly not the case.

Neumann M 150

However, there are commonalities between side-address and top-address microphones that have been discussed in this article which should help you to figure out if your microphone is top or side-address!


Related Questions

What is a cardioid microphone? A microphone with a cardioid polar pattern is unidirectional. It is most sensitive in its on-axis direction (this is true of top-address and side-address cardioids). It also has a rear null point with no sensitivity. The cardioid pattern becomes less sensitive as the angle of incidence moves from the front to the back.

What is an omnidirectional microphone? A microphone with an omnidirectional pattern is equally sensitive to sound from every direction, regardless of its address type. Omni mics become slightly more directional (toward their axis line) as sound frequencies increase and are somewhat altered by the physical body of the microphone.

To learn more about omnidirectional microphones, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).

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