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What Are Pencil Microphones? How Does It Work? (Explained)

Are you a musician or singer who loves to perform but hates having to lug around bulky equipment? If so, you’ll love pencil microphones! These tiny microphones are perfect for use in various situations, from audiobooks to video recordings. Plus, they’re easy to transport and set up, so you can start capturing great audio recordings immediately! But what is a pencil microphone?

Unfortunately, not knowing what a pencil microphone is can lead to unexpected problems.

Image of a gray colored pencil microphone on a stand. Source: brett sayles, pexels
Image of a gray colored pencil microphone on a stand. Source: Brett Sayles, Pexels

This article covers pencil microphones, how they work, and their benefits. So if you’re interested in trying it, this post is for you!

What is a pencil microphone? The cylindrical, long, and skinny design of a pencil microphone is what inspired the name. These mics are small-diaphragm condenser mics, often called recording microphones, despite their wide range of potential applications.

What are pencil microphones?

The phrase “pencil microphone” refers to a microphone due to its cylindrical form. In other words, a pencil mic has the same length, width, and cylindrical shape as a [unsharpened] pencil. Top-address microphones, sometimes called end-fire microphones, have their main axes of sensitivity pointing upward. A pencil microphone is easy to direct since it is top-address and has a long body.

How do pencil microphones work?

There is a wide variety of uses for pencil microphones. So, let’s talk about some of the most typical applications for pencil mics.

Pencil mics and stereo-miking techniques

When using a stereo miking setup, pencil microphones are a fantastic option. This is notably the case with coincident and near-coincident couples.

Mics with the size and shape of a pencil have very tiny diaphragms. This is ideal for coincident and certain near-coincidental pair approaches because it simplifies the placement of two (or more) pencil microphones near one another. Because they are directed upwards, pencil mics are also easy to aim at. Pencil microphones aim in the right direction easily, so we can easily set the correct stereo miking angles.

Pencil mics as drum overheads

While large-diaphragm condensers have their place as drum overheads, pencil microphones aimed downward in a spaced pair (or a single mono) are a common sight instead. Pencil microphones are ideal for recording a drum set’s entire, coherent sound from above because of their uniform polar patterns and broad frequency responses.

Pencil mics on stringed instruments

When recording stringed instruments, pencil microphones are often used to capture the instrument’s main sound and complex harmonic character. Therefore, studio engineers commonly use pencil microphones to get the best possible sound while recording piano, guitar, harp, violins, and many other stringed instruments.

The benefits of using pencil microphones

High transient responsiveness and clarity are the key advantages. Due to the narrow diaphragm and condenser architecture, pencil microphones deliver outstanding clarity and focus despite rejecting any off-axis noises. So, for example, if you’re recording a snare, your pencil microphone will be able to tolerate the increased SPL of the drum, catch the clarity of the drum sound, and reject the background noise of the room or “bleed’.

The cardioid polar pattern is the reason why everything is so detailed. We suggest reading our guide on microphone polar patterns better to understand the value of a cardioid polar pattern. In addition, their overall frequency response makes them ideal for use as overhead microphones for recording a drum set in all its sonic glory.

They also make for great voice microphones when you want to capture a clear, detailed, and concentrated sound—particularly good for lead vocals in a space without acoustic treatment. Also, since they are usually mounted on a mic stand, they pick up very little background noise.

This makes them the mic of choice for many live and studio engineers since you receive the sound source you want, rather than the bleed from other instruments on stage or during a practice in the studio. They’re also easy to blend.

They’re ideal for close-mic technique, especially with a guitar cabinet or acoustic guitar. However, they can still catch the detail when you move the microphones farther away from the high-volume objective, i.e., a drum set or brass section.

What is a pencil microphone used for?

Pencil microphones often capture quick, explosive noise (a short, sharp burst of sound energy). For example, picking an acoustic guitar string or a quick note on a brass instrument are high transient sounds.

Image of black colored pencil microphone on a stand. Source: pixabay
Image of black colored pencil microphone on a stand. Source: Pixabay

They may also be used to measure ambient noise levels. You can do this by playing a long note in one part of your studio, pointing the pencil mic in a certain direction, recording it, and listening to the sound to figure out its quality, loudness, and characteristics. You may use this information to choose the best spot for your speakers or acoustic panels.

When recording in stereo, pencil microphones are useful for capturing the low tight end of an acoustic guitar, the high end of an overhead drum, or the general atmosphere of a room. These microphones may also be used for field recording and sound measurement.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Pencil Mic Vs Large Capsule Condenser | AKG P170 Review” from the Dark Corner Studios YouTube channel.

A video called “Pencil Mic Vs Large Capsule Condenser | AKG P170 Review” from the Dark Corner Studios YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about pencil microphones.

Why do pencil mics come in pairs?

This is ideal for coincident and certain near-coincidental pair approaches because it simplifies the placement of two (or more) pencil microphones near one another. In addition, pencil mics are also easy to aim at because they are directed upwards.

What are pencil mics good for?

Pencil microphones often capture quick, explosive noise (a short, sharp burst of sound energy). For example, picking an acoustic guitar string or a quick note on a brass instrument are high transient sounds.

What is the 3-to-1 rule for placing microphones?

This rule is in place to reduce phasing problems that can be heard when many microphones are combined into a single mono signal. In general, the distance between the microphone farthest from the sound source and the sound source should be three times the distance between the microphone farthest from the sound source and the microphone closest to it.

Conclusion

So, that’s the basics about pencil microphones. Now that you know more about pencil microphones look for a reliable one before recording anything. It will give you crystal-clear audio output!

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great musician by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered what a pencil microphone is, how it works, and its benefits. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • The phrase “pencil microphone” refers to a microphone due to its cylindrical form. 
  • There is a wide variety of uses for pencil microphones.
  • High transient responsiveness and clarity are the key advantages.
  • Extra tips
    • The sp-1 pencil microphones are a pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones.
    • Pencil microphones all have back-electret condenser capsules and a machined brass preamp, and they also have gold-plated Neutrik xlr connectors and are designed to resist RF interference. 
    • An omnidirectional microphone, or omni mic, is ideal for recording situations when a big sound source, such as a choir, has to be mixed.

So, is a pencil microphone convenient for you? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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