Types of Microphones: All the Basics Explained
If you are a music enthusiast or like making podcasts, you will need to find the best recording equipment. After all, you can have high-quality guitars, drums and other acoustic instruments, but without a reliable microphone, you will not get the best sound.
That said, choosing a microphone can be challenging if you do not have an in-depth knowledge of the subject. You need to know how you are going to use the mic and how to get the best out of it.
Every different type of microphone has a specific use. For example, a mic that is useful for recording vocals might not be useful in recording acoustic instruments like guitars. You can also find an option that is suitable for both tasks.
The three main types of microphones are dynamic mics, condenser mics and ribbon mics. Each type has its strengths – when combined with the right equipment, it can produce realistic sound. Likewise, they can be mediocre if used with the wrong instruments.
Below is an in-depth insight into the three types of microphones available in the market.
Dynamic microphones are the most used type of mic, especially in recording studios. They have an unrivalled robust design – even if they fall off the stage, or even a skyscraper, they will still be functional.
Because they are not as sensitive as other microphones, dynamic mics are ideal for recording loud sources, such as guitar amps and snare drums. This characteristic also makes these mics useful for all types of sounds recorded in a studio.
Another quality that explains the widespread use of dynamic mics is their inexpensiveness. You can buy multiple pieces at once without spending a huge chunk of your savings.
Notably, dynamic mics record sound unidirectionally, also known as a cardioid pattern. This means that they only pick up the sound from the direction you point them to, and cancel all the noise coming from other directions.
Cardioid patterns make dynamic mics ideal for home recording studios, as most of them lack the features of a professional studio. You can position the microphones such that they point away from the walls that tend reverberate sounds.
For the best results, use dynamic mics on instruments with substantial low-mid energy since a boosted high-mid energy to make up for it. Avoid using these mics with low-end instruments like kick and bass drums because they have a roll-off in the bass.
Despite their incredible versatility, dynamic mics do not produce accurate and realistic sounds like condenser mics. Instead, they make instruments to produce aggressive and warmer sounds.
Condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamic mics, making them the perfect choice for capturing vocals, acoustic guitars, and other forms of precision recording. The enhanced sensitivity comes from the conductive diaphragm that vibrates with sound pressure and relies on capacitance to generate the audio signal.
However, these features also make the mic more susceptible to distortion at higher levels. This is why you often see a pop shield filter in front of a condenser microphone when someone is recording vocals or playing the piano. Its function is to prevent air pressure from vibrating the microphone’s diaphragm.
Although they are not as versatile as dynamic mics, condenser microphones are renowned for improving the quality of sound. Their unique design and the features mentioned above allows them to produce less muffled sounds than dynamic mics.
Additionally, condenser mics have three polar patterns. Most models with a switch that allows you to choose among unidirectional, bidirectional, and omnidirectional recording patterns.
As mentioned earlier, unidirectional recording picks up sound from one direction. In the bidirectional recording, the mic captures sound from the front and the back, while cancelling sounds from the sides. When you activate omnidirectional recording, it picks up sounds from all directions, without cancelling anything.
There are two types of condenser microphones – large-diaphragm condensers and small diaphragm condensers.
Large-diaphragm condenser mics mostly capture lows and low-mids but are less effective at picking up highs. For this reason, they are ideal for full-bodied instruments.
On the other hand, small-diaphragm condensers are excellent at highs, but not so impressive at picking up lows and low-mids. This makes them perfect for recording sharper instruments.
If you decide to invest in condenser mics, ensure that have an audio interface that supplies at least 48V, as the microphones require power to work.
Due to the emergence of dynamic and condenser microphones, ribbon mics are no longer as popular as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Early models were extremely fragile – you risked damage by moving them improperly or subjecting them to high SPL.
Ribbon mics use an ultrathin ribbon of conductive material suspended between two magnetic fields to create an audio signal. These features boost sensitivity, making ribbon mics ideal for recording soft sounds like vocals and string instruments.
Moreover, all ribbon mics have a bidirectional polar pattern. Therefore, it is best if you use them in a room with soundproof walls to reduce the risk of capturing unwanted sounds.
It is advisable to avoid purchasing ribbon mics until you are familiar with dynamic and condenser microphones. For some music genres, they are entirely useless.
Even though modern ribbon mics have a more robust design than previous models, they are still more fragile than dynamic and condenser microphones. You also need soundproof walls to enjoy the best of these mics, making them an unwise and exorbitant investment for home studios.
As seen above, each microphone type has its best use case. If you are not keen on details and want an incredibly versatile mic, you might want to invest in dynamic mics. Contrarily, if you want a mic that accentuates your vocal and produces high-quality sounds, condensers are your best bet, but you will have to pay more money.
Ribbon mics are no longer popular as they were in the past, but they are perfect if you are not on a tight budget and desire to enjoy a classic feel.
Regardless of your preferences, ensure that research extensively before settling on a particular choice.