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In footage from concerts in the 1970's +/- I've notice that they often had pairs of microphones taped together, e.g. these:

Grateful Dead Genesis

It seems like it was somewhat "standard practice" at one time; why did the engineers setup the microphones in this manner back in the day?

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Whatever it is that the fox says, she apparently says it into 2 microphones. – Ben Miller Oct 20 '14 at 18:46
up vote 17 down vote accepted

In these pictures it's likely that one mic is for the PA and the other mic is for recording. Either they didn't have mic splitters or they didn't trust them! This was a very common way of doing things in the 70s.

The Grateful Dead are known to use two mics as a noise cancelling technique. The output of the two mics is combined with equal levels but opposite polarity.

In this arrangement two omnidirectional mics are set up so that one is a few inches further from the wanted sound source than the other. That's quite a different physical arrangement to the one in your photos.

The signals from the two mics contain almost identical levels of background noise, but one has a louder version of the vocal than the other. By combining the two, with reversed phase, (background noise minus background noise = silence), (vocal from closer mic minus vocal from further mic = audible vocal). There is some phasing-related distortion on the vocal, but in a live setting it's too subtle to matter.

Of course this doesn't only apply to vocals - it could work for any sound source. Indeed it may be more suited to acoustic instruments, because it's reasonably easy to shove your mouth right up to a unidirectional mic -- it's less easy with certain instruments.

Most bands don't need this because they play on a reasonably quiet stage, with the PA speakers in front of them. The Grateful Dead play in front of a loud backline, so they need tricks like this to deal with background sound.

I can't find any photographs of the Grateful Dead employing this technique - so it's possible they only use(d) it in certain circumstances. All the photos I've found show them in the 70s, with one mic for PA and one for recording.


Different microphones do have different characteristics, and it's certainly possible to fine-tune the sound by combining signals from more than one mic - perhaps running each one through a different effects chain.

However this is something you'd be more likely to do in a studio than in a live setting.

I have seen footage of Bryan Ferry performing with two handheld mics, deliberately moving one or the other closer to his mouth, to achieve a stereo pan.

During Live Aid, Bryan Ferry was apparently using two mics for musical effect. In fact, one was broken:

"And then my microphone wasn't working, which for a singer is a bit of a handicap. A roadie ran on with another mic so then I was holding two mics taped together and I wasn't really sure which one to sing into. It was a great day though."


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liked the part about the Grateful Dead. + 1 – filzilla Jul 1 '14 at 0:08
@slim So how was the directioning of the Grateful Dead mics? – loveNoHate Jul 1 '14 at 15:28
Some people also liked the sound you got by combining different types of mics, or when one mic is clean and the other is processed (this also goes back to not trusting/having mic splitters). Mark E. Smith (of The Fall) is a modern example, in footage from the studio you can clearly see him using two mics. – player3 Jul 2 '14 at 5:16
@slim - could that have been the vocal equivalent of a humbucker then ? – Tim Jul 2 '14 at 7:03
@tim vaguely I suppose. Although the mic equivalent of the humbucker is the balanced cable. It's more like the stage version of noise-cancelling headphones. – slim Jul 2 '14 at 7:16

Used for live recording before modern technology allowed easy splitting of individual chanels. Extra mikes to multi track recorder allowed an uncomplicated method to grab each sound source without having to disturb or modify the PA FOH mixer channels.

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In those days, the PA system was tuned to what the house sound and the band wanted, and film makers of the day were not an integral part of the gig. Soundboards of that time were not set up to be tapped into in that way back in those days, and were not trusted to deliver the sound that the film maker wanted. It was deemed simpler for the film sound to have it's own microphones, rather than risk messing up the gig sound, which was what the band was being paid for. Lots of extra cabling and equipment needed, but parallel systems were a comfort zone for the acts of the time. Another factor of the time was 4 channel audio, which was also new, and separate microphone systems for recording that way was needed, which also required a parallel system for recording. Rock acts were fairly easy to record in quad, but what sounded good for the PA and what was needed for a multi-track master recording were not always the same. Splitters of the time were not simple affairs in those days, as integrated circuits that we take for granted now did not exist in those days, and the ones that did exist were expensive and not trusted by sound engineers until years later because of hum problems.

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I hadn't really noticed this but I'm guessing it was probably used to create a stereo effect to make the vocals a bit richer. I don't think it is really necessary anyway which might explain why it was abandoned. It's also hard for the singer to move away from the mic stand.

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This isn't really an answer... – Basstickler Jun 30 '14 at 19:57

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