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What Is a Boom Microphone and Where Is It Used?

02/04/2024

Boom microphones are a key part of recording for broadcasting, television, and film sound. So, what is a boom microphone, how is it used, and what is it good for? Let’s dive a little deeper and find some answers to what these mics are capable of and how they could benefit you.

A brief overview

To summarise, here are a few key takeaways:

  • Boom microphones are held above the desired sound source
  • They’re mounted on boom poles, also known as ‘fishpoles’ held by an operator
  • Any microphone can be a boom mic if it’s mounted on a boom pole
  • These mics free your subjects to act more naturally, and they stay concealed from camera
  • They’re best for capturing spoken word, ambient sounds, and foley for film and TV

What is a boom microphone?

A boom microphone is a microphone that’s designed to be held over whatever you’re recording. To do so, they’re mounted on large arms called boom poles or fishpoles. Boom microphones will be held and moved by dedicated operators most of the time, picking up sound from above the source and providing clarity without encumbering the subjects. This makes them unobtrusive and great for capturing performances.

These mics tend to be very directional and have a shotgun polar pattern, but they can be pretty much anything. So long as the microphone is held above the sound source, and mounted on a boom arm – it is a boom mic!

What is it used for?

G4M Boom Microphone StandBoom microphones are generally associated with broadcasting, film, and TV, usually as an alternative to or in addition to lavalier microphones. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, they free up actors, newscasters, or presenters to act naturally without worrying about a handheld microphone or any other similar encumbrance.

Secondly, they’re held above the subjects. This means that they can pick up the sound while staying out of shot, so you don’t have the distraction of seeing a microphone on-camera, especially for things like fiction programs where there shouldn’t be a visible one!

Boom microphones can be used on anything, however, including drums in the recording studio and classical performances, from capturing live choirs and orchestras on stage to sitting in the orchestral pit of a theatre for musicals and ballets, for example.

This does make the generalisation of boom mics difficult, as they can be dynamic, large-diaphragm condensers, small-diaphragm condensers, or even ribbons. However, for broadcasting, film, and TV, they tend to have a shotgun polar pattern.

Pros and cons of using a boom mic

ProsCons
Frees performers up to act naturally as the mic is held above themHeavy carrying weight can be uncomfortable for the boom operator
Can be easily hidden out of shot for projects where you don’t want the mic to be seenKeeping out of shot consistently for long periods of time requires skill and attention
Directionality of microphones makes preventing unwanted noise easyRequires careful gain setup due to indirect audio capture

How to use a boom mic on a TV or film set

Invest in a strong boom pole

For TV and film recording, the boom mic should be mounted onto a suitable boom pole. Many different mic stands are classified as boom stands, as they have an adjustable arm. This is useful for stationary or desktop recording, but for moving around the set and following the action, you’ll need a pole.

Poles tend to come in several pieces, which slot together and can then be adjusted to the right distance from and held by the operator. Ideally, you want something lightweight to reduce the strain from the heavy mic at the end.


Hold your boom mic correctly

Since the boom mic will likely have a shotgun polar pattern, it’ll be highly directional from the front. Ensure the end of the microphone is set near and above the subjects, close to their mouths. There are six main techniques to hold the boom pole correctly that’ll maximise your comfort. Remember – this is a marathon, not a sprint! You’ll be carrying that mic around for many hours at a time with few chances to rest.


Keep the mic out of shot

The most important thing while the cameras are rolling is to keep the microphone out of the field of view of the cameras. This can be difficult, as you also need it close enough to get a clear signal, so your gain has to be dialled in very carefully and the mic will probably be so close to inside the frame that you won’t have much room for error if the mic drops.

Since you’re holding the boom pole for long periods of time and may need to switch positions to give yourself a rest, take care to keep the microphone at a consistent height while you switch. Follow your performers, but take care not to move too suddenly, otherwise, you might ruin your mic height or create a bunch of vibrations that travel down the pole and mess with your signal.

Things to consider when buying a boom mic

Polar pattern

G4M Telescopic Boom Microphone StandThe polar pattern determines the directivity of the microphone, which is really important to the overall positioning. Typically for a boom mic, especially for film and TV, we’ll want a shotgun polar pattern.

This is like a hypercardioid polar pattern but with extra rejection at the back and sides and extended front pickup. This helps account for the distance away from the performers the mic will be held at.


Weight

The weight of the microphone is absolutely key to boom microphones. Being a boom operator isn’t an easy task, so holding a heavy microphone in place on the end of a long pole for an extended period of time can be a real challenge! The lighter the microphone, the better in this respect.

However, lighter microphones can be more susceptible to external factors like handling or wind noise, or they may have worse frequency responses.


Frequency response

Frequency response is a measurement that helps give a sense of the overall sound of the microphone. Ideally, we want something linear that spans the entire range of human hearing, 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Responses less than that may feel lacking in bass frequencies, or not have enough treble to feel clear and polished-sounding, but this is not always the case and comes down to clever tuning.

The most important thing is that the frequencies are balanced and linear throughout the response.


Sensitivity levels

The sensitivity level will help you determine how close the mic should be to your sound source to pick it up clearly. Microphones with lower sensitivity will need more gain to be brought to a good volume, whereas mics with higher sensitivity will need less. Given the distance from the source, this is a balancing act.


Connectivity

Put simply, what do you need to connect your microphone to? Different sets will have different types of audio equipment they like to run for recording. Some will prefer a wireless system, others will prefer a wired XLR connection, and others yet will want a 3.5 mm minijack. There are plenty of options available that cover this ground.

Our favourite boom mics

1. Rode NTG-2

The Rode NTG-2 is a flexible modern shotgun condenser that’s ideal for boom-mounted use. Its long form factor is very lightweight at just 161 grams, meaning operators won’t get too exhausted over long recording sessions, and it can be powered by either phantom power or a pair of AA batteries.

All of this makes the NTG-2 extremely adaptable straight out of the gate. It’s also equipped with extremely low-noise circuitry that can take gain without ruining recording quality, and a switchable high-pass filter at 80 Hz for eliminating low-frequency noise.

The NTG-2 comes with a clip and a windshield to get connected to a boom pole and resist plosives or unwanted wind noise. This condenser is a great starting point for film and TV audio.


2. Sennheiser MKE 600

The Sennheiser MKE 600 is a shotgun microphone that’s intended for film and TV use. The MKE 600 has an interference tube that helps prevent more ambient noise than even just a typical shotgun pattern. It’s clear and articulate, ensuring that speech and dialogue are fully intelligible. Plus, the mic can be powered by phantom power or AA batteries with a battery life indicator to monitor your use time.

The MKE 600 has a low-cut filter for helping to combat wind noise and low-frequency rumbles for a cleaner signal. Its design resists handling noise, and it comes fully packed with a windshield and shock mount.


3. Shure VP89L

The Shure VP89L is a long-format shotgun microphone that’s full of advanced features for high-level professional recording. Its pickup angle is exceptionally narrow, making it great for recording sound sources that are far away from the microphone.

Its built-in preamp helps to reject electrical interference from other recording equipment, which is very beneficial on sets where there are not many ways to deal with that issue. There’s also a low-cut filter for managing low-frequency noise.

The VP89L’s modular design gives it compatibility with other microphone capsules in Shure’s VP89 series, allowing a range of sound characteristics and polar patterns to be used, as well as different off-axis rejection.

Our boom mic stand recommendation

The Boom Mic Stand by Gear4music is the perfect partner for people looking to set up a boom recording. Designed to meet the demands of both live performances and studio recordings, this stand boasts a fully adjustable setup, allowing for precise microphone positioning. Plus, the robust tripod base of this stand ensures your setup remains secure and in position.

Its collapsible design makes transportation a breeze, while the durable construction promises enduring quality, ready to accompany you through countless recording sessions.

FAQs

What are boom mics used for?

Boom mics are used to capture audio from a distance, commonly in film, television, and broadcasting. They allow for clear sound recording while being positioned out of the camera’s frame, making them ideal for dialogue and environmental sounds.


What is the difference between a mic and a boom mic?

The difference between a mic and a boom mic lies in the setup and application. A boom mic is specifically a microphone attached to a boom pole, used for directional audio capture from a distance. “Mic” can refer to any type of microphone, regardless of its specific use or mounting method.


What do you need for a boom mic setup?

For a boom mic setup, you need a microphone suitable for your audio needs, a boom pole to hold and position the mic, a shock mount to reduce handling noise, and a windscreen to minimise wind noise. Cables or wireless systems are also necessary for connecting the mic to a recording device.

Rode NTG-2 and stand

Final thoughts

So, a boom mic really doesn’t refer to a specific type of microphone so much as how it’s mounted and used. But it can often be associated with specifically shotgun microphones since they’re most frequently used in a boom setup to record at range.

Commonly seen in TV, news, interviews, film sound, and even video content, a boom setup is great for capturing dialogue and even ambient sounds when wanted. If you need to capture speech and the feel of a space, there’s no better way to go about it.

 

Content Writer - Live Sound

Callum is a former audio and music technology student who has a love of punk, rock, metal, and electronic music. In his spare time, he produces music, and DJs occasionally. He's also a freelance engineer when possible, helping local bands make their noise even noisier.

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