New NFL Field Mic Still a Work in Progress

Viewers have now had several chances to experience the NFL’s newest microphone. More precisely, it’s a pair of wireless lavalier transducers that replace the single mic previously worn by the umpire, who this season was moved out of harm’s way, farther back from the line of scrimmage.

However, the decision whether to make the signal available is being left up to the teams. For instance, at the Eagles-Packers matchup on Fox on Sept. 12, both teams permitted players to wear the microphones, but, for the Colts-Giants game on Sunday, neither team would agree.

During an extended testing period that spanned most of preseason play, the microphones have been positioned on the center and on several defensive and offensive linemen. The microphones remain under league control; an NFL Films mixer opens and mutes the channels at the beginning and end, respectively, of plays and sends the signals to the broadcast mix.

Fred Aldous, Fox Sports’ audio consultant and senior mixer, mixed the first Fox season game to use the new mic configurations for the Packers-Eagles game at Philadelphia. He says the new microphone positions sound good, although they offer a somewhat different perspective from the umpire microphone’s.

“The sound is tighter, and you can hear the cadence more clearly from the quarterback,” he explains. “It’s closer to the field, so you can hear the defensive calls and the line surge very clearly. Now the microphones are 4-6 in. away from the quarterback, as opposed to 15-20 ft. when the mic was on the umpire. So it brings the viewer right up on the field.”

But that same highly focused audio range picks up less ambient sound than before, which Aldous says makes the field audio a bit drier. Some of that can be made up by using more of the parabolic microphones positioned along the sidelines, as well as the shotgun mics mounted on the handheld cameras. However, those microphones will also pick up more of the crowd noise, which could compete with the field audio when the crowds become exceptionally vocal.

“My job from here on is to find ways to get more of that ambient sound back into the mix but still keep the balance right,” says Aldous. “It’s still a work in progress.”