Feature Design Digital Wireless Microphone
Feature Design Digital Wireless Microphone

Insight from those in production

Yoneda: Our research yielded many suggestions to consider in design. Previous microphone design had focused on the performer, as we sought ergonomic mics that were easy to use over extended periods. But in fact, audio engineers and technicians tend to be more sensitive to microphone issues than the artists themselves. They form a key group we had overlooked. Their trained ear and wealth of experience help them evaluate mic performance, ease of use, and audio quality. They also fine-tune equipment to suit the particular setting. After all of this careful preparation, they finally hand over the mic to artists.

Considering a broader user base inspired new ideas, down to specific microphone details. It was enlightening to hear of artists waiting offstage who accidentally pressed the wrong button on a mic before going out. Others recounted how mics sometimes slipped right out of artists' hands at live shows and flew into the audience. All of these accounts gave us tips about features we should implement through design.

First, we approached mic design from a different angle. Handheld microphones normally call to mind simple, continuous curves from the top to the bottom. Mic design therefore seems to be a matter of ensuring the details fit this general shape. But look closely, and you'll notice that each section must meet different requirements. The head gathers sound, the middle provides a grip, and the bottom transmits radio waves. Accordingly, it seemed to make more sense to design individual sections first, focusing on their function, before combining them in the general shape.

A real-world example of a similar device would be a flashlight. Each section serves a different purpose-one part to hold, another to control the beam, and another to cast the light-but they're all integrated into a single unit. Microphones are clearly much more sophisticated, but fortunately, brainstorming provided clues about details in each section that seemed very promising in design.

Qualities only revealed once you hold the mic

Yoneda: Careful design of the grip section should encourage performers to hold mics the recommended way, we thought. This is critical, because it also helps prevent feedback. We've seen some singers hold mics quite close to the head, depending on their style or the genre of music. A good example is hip-hop artists or rappers; some even rest their fingers on the mic head. Unfortunately, there's no denying that obstructing the head may reduce audio quality and even cause feedback. To prevent feedback, we do all we can on a technical level, but we also want to address this issue through design.

Microphones to date have been simple cylinders. It's a graceful shape, but it also allows you to hold mics in ways that aren't recommended. To discourage this, we ventured to make the grip tapered in the middle. We wanted the contours to define where to hold the mic, but deciding on the optimal position and extent of tapering took much research. Hip-hop artists, rappers, and other performers will see that the ridge near the head is thick enough to rest their fingers on, as with previous mics, but the ridge also keeps fingers off the head. At the other end, the ridge near the bottom keeps the mic firmly in your hand. By focusing on the functions of each section, we succeeded in designing a grip that's easier to use and much more dependable.

Rhyme and reason to every detail

Yoneda: Because the bottom of the mic is an antenna, designing this section required sensitivity to a few issues. For optimal radio wave transmission, we wanted to expose the antenna as much as possible, but we also needed to protect it from impact (in case the mic is dropped, for example). To resolve this dilemma, we covered it partially with a plastic antenna housing.

The housing effectively protects the base of the antenna, where reliability is essential. A key point here is how the housing zig-zags. The shape both exposes and protects the antenna, and we put the Sony logo between ridges on the bottom to meet another design requirement. Other benefits of this zig-zag contour are that it serves as a finger rest and makes it easier to attach or detach the antenna housing. Between the grip and the antenna housing, various colored rings can be inserted to identify which channel is used, and this structure also makes it easy to switch rings.

Buttons and displays that used to be exposed are now concealed in the body. This eliminates any concern that artists might accidentally change the settings. Here, we used an OLED display. It may seem extravagant, but it's actually very practical, because it offers excellent visibility even in dark, offstage areas or under rehearsal lighting. The LED power indicator is in the base of the grip, hidden except when viewed from the bottom. Those in broadcasting, where it's desirable not to show viewers unneeded light sources, may appreciate this touch.

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