9

I am planning on purchasing a condenser microphone to record acoustic guitar (AKG Perception 420) but I also plan on travelling via plane with it in the future so I was wondering, how fragile are they? I am someone who has no experience whatsoever with microphones. The questions that come to my mind are that,

can they handle a drop from waist height? Is bumping into them all right? Most importantly, can I package them well, and travel with them as checked luggage and expect them to be fine?

An explanation that would explain the durability of condenser mics directed to a beginner is what I am hoping for and would be much appreciated.

13

No piece of electronic equipment appreciates being dropped.

Stage-ready dynamics are tougher than most, studio condensers are not.

Treat a large diaphragm condenser like you'd treat a high-end DSLR camera. Pack it in a flight case or other sturdy box with adequate padding so it doesn't get rattled around & don't put it in checked baggage ever.

Just to differentiate - small diaphragm condensers can be pretty rugged too. I've a few in my mic case that get no special treatment (except the don't fly them in checked baggage) & have stood up to years on the road with reasonable care.
Studio "vocal mikes" on the other hand are not so resilient. They're not made of eggs, they're quite prepared for a bit of 'handling', but not dropping, kicking, being bounced around in a suitcase etc.

I found this from Shure, who reckon a modern condenser is as durable as a dynamic. Top 8 Microphone Myths Exposed
And I do have to admit to carrying my 3 grand Neumann U87 in the same mic case as all the others, inside its own case. My mic case never leaves my sight. I'm not going to put it in checked baggage, ever.

From comments
I spent many years on the road. I have seen every kind of baggage handling abuse a suitcase can be subjected to. Dropped from sufficient height to explode the case (not just spill, shatter into pieces), run over by a tractor… you name it, I've had it happen. I never put anything in checked baggage that can't handle being dropped from 20 ft, especially my mics & camera, where you may not even be able to see the damage until too late to claim compensation.

4
  • Why not in a checked baggage? Even if it comes with it's own protective box? If you look up the akg perception 420 you would see that it comes with it's protective box, I plan on putting that in a checked baggage, what are you thoughts on that? If it is that sensitive than how are they delivered by amazon in the first place? – Shahzad Rahim Feb 24 at 15:19
  • 6
    I spent many years on the road. I have seen every kind of baggage handling abuse a suitcase can be subjected to. Dropped from sufficient height to explode the case (not just spill, shatter into pieces), run over by a tractor… you name it, I've had it happen. I never put anything in checked baggage that can't handle being dropped from 20 ft, especially my mics & camera, where you may not even be able to see the damage until too late to claim compensation. – Tetsujin Feb 24 at 15:24
  • 2
    Even ignoring damage potential, checked baggage is often lost and even more often delayed or misrouted. A solid gold bar would be impervious to damage but I’d still never check it as commercial airline baggage. – Todd Wilcox Feb 24 at 18:11
  • 2
    I'm picturing the damage claim - suitcase 1, socks pr 4, underpants pr 4, gold bars 1, shaver... – Tetsujin Feb 24 at 18:13
5

I certainly wouldn't be using a condenser mic anywhere apart from the studio. Travelling with one, it'd be in its own special drop-resistant case. Dynamics are fairly bomb-proof, but I still wince when I see one fall off a mic stand - and if it's mine there's hell to pay.

Buy one by all means, but be very protective of it, don't let anyone near if possibe, pack it away a.s.a.p. Or, buy a decent quality dynamic, which will be pretty good for the job, and give you peace of mind.

4
  • I need it for acoustic recording and I have studied that condenser mics work best for that, is it possible to put condenser mic on a checked baggage? the AKG 420 comes with it's on protective box, that put in a checked baggage is what I am thinking of, If it is that sensitive than how are they delivered by amazon in the first place? – Shahzad Rahim Feb 24 at 15:23
  • You can do whatever you like - it's your mic! I certainly wouldn't trust airline baggage staff with a dead cat, so my mics stay with me. You may well be lucky - you may not. Worth the gamble..? – Tim Feb 24 at 15:54
  • 3
    It seems you want someone to tell you it’s ok to put your valuable condenser mic inside a checked bag just because it’s in a protective case. That’s not going to happen here. You can do it 20 times and it might make it through just fine on all 20. Something has to go wrong only once. – John Belzaguy Feb 24 at 16:02
  • 3
    I went through my true 'golden age of baggage mangling' in the late 90s. My average suitcase lifespan over that period was … two flights. My record was, they killed one case on the way out & its replacement on the way back. 100% strike rate ;) One of those was banana shaped with a clear tyre track over it. My current cases cannot be destroyed this way - only the contents. – Tetsujin Feb 24 at 16:20
1

Durability in a well-packaged box is not much different to any other equipment

Well-packaged in a foam box, it's absolutely fine. As the best example of that, how do you think it got to you? Answer: shipped by air, loaded and unloaded by forklifts, put in the back of a truck to a warehouse, put in the back of a smaller truck to the shop - and then if you bought it online then you can also add whatever postal service got it to your house. At no step in that chain did it get any special treatment.

So if it's in the box it came in, or something equivalently well packed, then there is close to zero risk. Unless they literally run a truck over it, it's going to be fine.

I wouldn't recommend dropping them from waist height - but then I wouldn't recommend doing it with any mic! I've done it though and they've survived. Not that I didn't curse my own carelessness, of course.

But beware of humidity

Condenser mics do have one big problem which dynamic mics don't have, and that's humidity. A build-up of damp in the mic affects the element, causing crackling noises. This is an issue with hold luggage when you descend, because cold metal items will get condensation on them. Open the mic box when you get to the hotel and let it acclimatise before you use it.

It could also be an issue when you're recording, depending on where you are. If you're going to anywhere hot and humid, you're better not taking a condenser mic with you.

It's not your biggest problem though

A far greater risk is whatever you plug it into. All mics need a proper mic preamp, whether that's a mixer, an audio interface, or whatever. (And don't forget you need phantom power as well - some lower-end audio interfaces don't have it.) Packaging this for safe transport is going to be significantly harder, because it's larger than the mic and it's significantly more fragile. I certainly wouldn't bet on my mixer surviving a drop from waist height - even in a flight case, that's an experiment I have no interest in trying! Similarly your laptop or whatever you're using for recording.

Why that mic?

Large-diaphragm side-addressed mics have some advantages. They give a higher level, lower noise, and they usually sound good for vocals.

Where they definitely don't score well is picking up sounds other than what they're pointing at. Sometimes that's a good thing - if you're recording drums in a good ambient space, then the echoes off the walls in your overhead mics are part of what makes a killer sound. If you're in a well-damped studio or booth, then it doesn't matter either way. But if you're out in the open with environmental noise around you, or worse, if you're on stage, then they are entirely the wrong tool for the job.

They also tend to roll off the high end a bit. This is flattering for vocals, but for instruments you nearly always want all of that, otherwise the attack on picking or other transients will tend to be reduced. Dynamic mics like the SM57 have a similar problem, which the SM57 solves with a (horrible-sounding to me) huge artificial boost to its frequency response at about 10kHz.

For recording guitars and other instruments, it's much more common to use a small-diaphragm "end-fire" condensor mic. The frequency response is basically flat out to beyond hearing. More importantly though, their pickup response is much better at blocking off-axis noise. They're still generally more sensitive to off-axis noise than dynamic mics, but they're good enough that they get plenty of use on stage, and in other applications where it's important to have a good off-axis response (such as XY arrangements).

For a similar price to your Perception 420, I'd be looking at something like a Rode NT5, or maybe an SE Electronics SE8 if I had to save a few quid. (Don't be tempted to buy Behringer. Some Behringer kit is surprisingly decent - but their mics are not!)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.