What’s the Life-Span of a Microphone?

by | Apr 1, 2015 | Mics, Popular | 1 comment

IMG_3437So…right off the top, you must know there will always be a different life-time expectancy between quality name-brand mics and those of a lesser renown/price tag.  Kinda like a Ford Focus and a Chevy Corvette.  Both look shiny and bright on the show-room, and run fine for the first couple of years…but which one has the higher re-sale?

Having made that pithy analogy, I think this is a valid question to ask about the single-most iconic piece of equipment in your audio chain.

A standard answer is:  “If maintained and stored properly…handled with care, a good mic will last a lifetime.”

That reminds me of the statement 95-yr-old George Burns made when Caesars Palace wanted to sign him to a 3-year contract.  “How will I know Caesars will still be here in three years?”…he’s alleged to have remarked.

Back to microphones and their life expectancy.
First there’s the matter of care.  Are you keeping you mic covered and protected from dust when it’s not in use?  If  you live in a very humid environment, are you taking counter-measures?  How much of your own expectorations land on the mic-screen?  Do you handle your mic with respect?  When you travel, does it have it’s own padded carrying-case?  Are you following the manufacturer’s recommendations for optimal use?

Secondly there’s the matter of type of microphone.  Is it a tube mic?  You may find yourself replacing the tube every now and then.  If it’s a mic built with time-honored designs like screw fittings, good parts and point-to-point assembly, then chances are it’s gonna last a long time.  Hot-melt glue assemblies might not have the same expectation.

After all, there are no moving parts to speak of in a microphone, and any old-timer radio engineer will tell you stories of RCA mics or Neumann CMV-3’s that last for decades.  Sometimes the foam that couches a diaphragm in some mics will dry up with time and crack apart.  But that’s a very inexpensive fix.

The problem with today’s cast-off society is that no one is willing to see how long a mic will last… we all keep buying new ones!

An entry in a GearSlutz forum I visited had this comment:  “Aside from the tube itself, there are likely caps in the circuits, both in the mic and the power supply, and these may degrade over time. Also, depending on what the capsule is skinned with, it may dry out or stiffen eventually (this was more true of the early PVC diaphragm materials than mylar which is more common in current production mics).
These things are true of solid state condenser mics too, to a degree, but the mild heat given off by the tube increases the rate of degradation. But even so, it depends on the materials used and the mic design (how hot the tube gets, how well ventilated it is, how close it is to heat-vulnerable components.”

Sounds like the guy knows what he’s talking about.

Another registered user of the acoustic guitar forum says:  “Electret condenser mics although advertised as “permanently polarized” can lose their polarizing charge over time, especially if subjected to high temperatures. This is the electrostatic counterpart to the “permanent magnetism” in dynamic and ribbon mics becoming weaker over time. Knocks from rough handling can also re-align the magnetic domains in PM mics making then weaker.
The “ribbon” in ribbon type mikes can be over-stressed by extreme vibration and need to be handled with care for maximum longevity.”

I’m no George Whittam, but it’s nice to know even a cursory review of available resources all point to the fact that when cared-for,  your mic will likely outlive you.  🙂




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1 Comment

  1. Chuck Davis

    One thing to note is the “upside-down” orientation for large condenser mic’s. That comes from tube mics. The intent was to have the heat rise away from the diaphragm, rather than heat it and shorten it’s lifespan.


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