Microphone Buyers Guide
Posted: 25 April 2019
Synopsis: Learn about the different types of microphones including condenser, dynamic, tube, USB, Ribbon and what applications they are commonly used for. Buying a mic for live stage use, can be different to buying a mic for a studio.
With literally thousands of models of microphones available, choosing the best mic for your particular application can seem a little overwhelming. But with a little knowledge about the different types of mics available, the daunting task will seem much more manageable. Listed below are the four main types of microphones, as well as how each are often used.
The most widely used microphone, particularly in live settings, dynamic mics are relatively inexpensive and extremely durable. They are best suited for recording voice / vocals or other audio sources when placed less than a few inches away from the microphone such as on a guitar amp or drum. Dynamic mics do not require 'phantom power' and are generally uni-directional (cardioid), meaning they pick up sounds from directly in front of the mic. Below is a breakdown of the most common uses for dynamic mics:
Dynamic Vocal Mics
You will find a dynamic mic in front of a singer at nearly any live concert you attend. Dynamic microphones are perfect for vocals and speech in a live scenario due to their un-directional nature and resistance to feedback. The Shure SM58 has been the most popular dynamic mic for vocals since the 70's.
Dynamic Mics for Drums
Dynamic mics are usually used to mic each drum individually. Their use on tom and kick drums, stems from their ability to handle more gain than other types of microphones.
Like drums, many other instruments that are mic'ed close to the sound source will use dynamic mics both in the studio and in concert, particularly for loud instruments like guitar amps and brass instruments. The Shure SM57 is a classic for mic often used for guitar amps and other instruments.
Most of the above will also apply to microphone choice in the studio. Though vocals are usually always switched to a condenser or tube mic for the improved clarity and pick up response. In a studio you have the luxury of silent space to record.
Condenser microphones are more widely used in studios and home recording, as they are far more sensitive than dynamic mics and pick up sounds from far greater area. Condenser mics also have a wider frequency response, producing a more "accurate" recording of the sound source. They are a much better option for recording in a silent environment like a studio.
Studio Condenser Microphone
At the heart of any studio is a condenser microphone with a large diaphragm, used to record vocals. The sensitivity and wide frequency response of these mics (LDM's) makes them ideal for recording vocals.
Condenser Mics for Cymbals
Thin pencil style microphones with small diaphragms (SDM) are usually used to mic cymbals because of the wide sound source area resulting in a large distance being needed between the mic and the cymbal. A smaller diaphragm also focuses on higher frequencies.
Condenser Mics for Instruments
Instrument groups mic'ed at a distance, like an orchestra or even a choir, will use a condenser mic. A condenser microphone can often be used for acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars and pianos to provide a more natural sound.
With the recent rise in home computer recording, whether it is music or voices for a podcast, it only makes sense that microphones would need to plug directly into a computer. This allows home recorders to forego having to buy expensive mixers and/or preamps and also saves space. Though it should be noted that most USB condenser mics do not feature a headphone output allow direct monitoring of your signal with headphones. For this reason when recording singing and broadcast audio a proper condenser microphone can be a better option. That said USB microphones have their place as a convenient and practical solution to peoples general audio recording needs.
Originally popular in the mid-20th Century, tube microphones contain a vacuum tube inside to boost their signal. These were soon replaced by microphones containing transistors to provide the signal boost, but today's sound engineers often return to tube mics for the warm and rich tone they provide, particularly for vocals. Tube microphones generally come with a 7-pin XLR output and connect to their own power supply unit, often with selectable pick up patterns.
While there are many common microphones available that are great for capturing sound in the stage and studio environment, many are not portable or directional (reject unwanted noise) enough for practical Camera and AV use. For this reason, we've introduced a new category of Video Microphones. Video microphones incorporate many useful features not found on traditional microphones. These include camera and tripod mount-ability, heavy-duty wind shields, highly directional polar pickup patterns and USB and 3.5mm connectivity.