A microphone, colloquially mic or mike (), is an acoustic-to-electric transducer or sensor that converts sound in air into an electrical signal. Microphones are used in many applications such as telephones, hearing aids, public address systems for concert halls and public events, motion picture production, live and recorded audio engineering, two-way radios, megaphones, radio and television broadcasting, and in computers for recording voice, speech recognition, VoIP, and for non-acoustic purposes such as ultrasonic checking or knock sensors. Most microphones today use electromagnetic induction (dynamic microphones), capacitance change (condenser microphones) or piezoelectricity (piezoelectric microphones) to produce an electrical signal from air pressure variations. Microphones typically need to be connected to a preamplifier before the signal can be amplified with an audio power amplifier or recorded.
Some of the most common types of microphones include dynamic, condenser, and ribbon microphones.
- Dynamic microphones are typically more rugged and can handle high levels of sound pressure, making them ideal for live performances.
- Condenser microphones are more sensitive and capture a wider frequency range than dynamic microphones, making them ideal for recording applications.
- Ribbon microphones are often used in professional recording studios due to their smooth, natural sound.
Mics can be divided into two main categories: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics use a thin membrane that vibrates when sound waves hit it, while condenser mics use a diaphragm that converts sound waves into electrical energy.
Dynamic mics are great for loud sounds like drums and guitar amps, while condenser mics are better for recording vocals and acoustic instruments. In this article, I’ll explain the differences between these types and how they work. So, let’s dive in!
Getting to Know Your Mic: What Makes It Tick?
A microphone is a transducer device that converts sound waves into electrical energy. It uses a diaphragm, which is a thin membrane that vibrates when it comes in contact with air particles. This vibration initiates the conversion process, turning the acoustic energy into an electrical signal.
There are three primary types of microphones: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. Each type has a different way of capturing sound, but they all have a similar basic structure:
- Diaphragm: This is the thin membrane that vibrates when sound waves hit it. It is usually suspended by a wire or held in place by a capsule.
- Coil: This is a wire that is wrapped around a core. When the diaphragm vibrates, it moves the coil, which generates an electrical signal.
- Magnet: This is a magnetic field that surrounds the coil. When the coil moves, it generates a voltage that is sent to the output.
The Different Types of Microphones and How They Work
There are several types of microphones, each with its own unique characteristics and uses. Here are some of the most common types:
- Dynamic Microphones: These are the most common type of microphone and are often used on stage. They work by using a coil and magnet to generate an electrical signal. They are good at picking up loud sounds and minimizing background noise.
- Condenser Microphones: These are often used in the studio because they are more sensitive than dynamic microphones. They work by using a capacitor to convert acoustic energy into electrical energy. They are ideal for capturing the nuances of musical instruments and voice.
- Ribbon Microphones: These are similar to dynamic microphones but use a thin ribbon instead of a coil. They are often referred to as “vintage” microphones because they were commonly used in the early days of recording. They are good at capturing the warmth and detail of acoustic instruments.
- Piezoelectric Microphones: These use a crystal to convert acoustic energy into electrical energy. They are often used in situations where a microphone needs to be small and unobtrusive.
- USB Microphones: These are digital interfaces that allow you to plug a microphone directly into your computer. They are often used for podcasting and home recording.
The Role of the Preamp
No matter what type of microphone you use, you will need a preamp to boost the signal before it goes to the mixer or interface. The preamp takes the low voltage signal from the microphone and boosts it to line level, which is the standard level used in mixing and recording.
Minimizing Background Noise
One of the primary challenges of using a microphone is minimizing background noise. Here are some tips for getting the best possible sound:
- Use a directional microphone: This will help to pick up the sound you want and minimize the sound you don’t want.
- Get the microphone as close to the source as possible: This will help to minimize the amount of ambient noise that gets picked up.
- Use a pop filter: This will help to minimize the sound of plosives (popping sounds) when recording vocals.
- Use a noise gate: This will help to cut out any background noise that is picked up when the singer is not singing.
Replicating the Original Sound
When recording, the goal is to replicate the original sound as closely as possible. This requires a good microphone, a good preamp, and good monitors. The mixer or interface is also important because it turns the analog signal into a digital signal that can be manipulated in a DAW (digital audio workstation).
Microphone Types: A Comprehensive Guide
Dynamic microphones are the most commonly used type of mic in live performances and recording studios. They utilize a basic design that uses a metal coil and magnet to convert sound into an electrical signal. They are suitable for a wide variety of genres and are great for recording loud sounds like drums and guitar amps. Some examples of dynamic mics include the Shure SM57 and SM58. They are also the cheapest type of mic available and are incredibly durable, making them perfect for live performances.
Condenser microphones are more delicate and require careful handling, but they offer excellent sound quality and are widely used in professional recording studios. They utilize a unique method to convert sound into an electrical signal by using a thin diaphragm and a voltage supply called phantom power. They are perfect for recording natural sounds like vocals and acoustic instruments. Some examples of condenser mics include the AKG C414 and Neumann U87.
Other Microphone Types
There are also other types of microphones that are less commonly used but still have their own unique functions and designs. These include:
- USB Microphones: These mics are designed to be attached directly to a computer and are perfect for podcasting and speaking.
- Shotgun Microphones: These mics are designed to pick up sounds from a specific direction and are commonly used in film production.
- Boundary Microphones: These mics are placed on a surface and utilize the surface to create a unique sound.
- Instrument Microphones: These mics are designed to be attached to instruments like guitars and drums to accurately capture their sound.
Choosing the Right Mic: A Guide for Your Audio Needs
When looking for the perfect microphone, it’s important to consider what you’ll be using it for. Will you be recording instruments or vocals? Will you be using it in a studio or on stage? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Dynamic mics are great for live performances and recording loud instruments like drums and electric guitars.
- Condenser mics are more sensitive and are ideal for recording vocals and acoustic instruments in a studio setting.
- Ribbon mics are known for their natural sound and are often used to capture the warmth of instruments like brass and woodwinds.
Understand the Different Types of Microphones
There are multiple types of microphones on the market, each with their own unique features and uses. Here are the most common types:
- Dynamic microphones: These mics are durable and can handle high sound pressure levels. They’re often used for live performances and recording loud instruments.
- Condenser microphones: These mics are more sensitive and produce a higher quality sound. They’re often used in studio settings for recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
- Ribbon microphones: These mics are known for their natural sound and are often used to capture the warmth of instruments like brass and woodwinds.
Test Multiple Models
When choosing a microphone, it’s important to test out multiple models to find the one that best suits your needs. Here are some tips for testing:
- Bring your own gear: Make sure to bring your own instruments or audio equipment to test the microphone with.
- Listen for quality: Pay attention to the quality of the sound produced by the microphone. Does it sound natural? Is there any unwanted noise?
- Consider the genre: Certain microphones may be better suited for specific genres of music. For example, a dynamic mic may be great for rock music, while a condenser mic may be better for jazz or classical music.
Connectivity and Additional Features
When choosing a microphone, it’s important to consider how it will connect to your audio equipment. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- XLR plug: Most professional microphones use an XLR plug to connect to audio equipment.
- Additional features: Some microphones come with additional features like built-in filters or switches to adjust the sound.
Pay Attention to Build Quality
The build quality of a microphone is critical to its performance and longevity. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Look for a sturdy build: A well-built microphone will last longer and perform better.
- Consider the parts: The parts inside the microphone can affect its sound quality and durability.
- Vintage vs. new: Vintage microphones are often associated with famous recordings, but newer models can be just as good or even better.
Make Sure It’s the Right Fit
Choosing the right microphone is critical to producing high-quality audio. Here are some final tips to keep in mind:
- Understand your needs: Make sure you understand what you need the microphone for before making a purchase.
- Ask for help: If you’re unsure about which microphone to choose, ask for help from a professional.
- Don’t be afraid to try different types: It may take a couple of tries to find the perfect microphone for your needs.
- Price isn’t everything: A higher price doesn’t always mean better quality. Make sure to test multiple models and find the one that sounds best to you.
Do Different Types of Microphones Record Sound Differently?
When it comes to microphones, the type you choose can significantly impact the sound you capture. One crucial factor to consider is the microphone’s pickup pattern, which refers to the direction(s) from which the mic can pick up sound. Some common pickup patterns include:
- Cardioid: This type of mic picks up sound from the front and sides while rejecting sound from the rear. It’s a popular choice for recording vocals and instruments in a studio setting.
- Supercardioid/Hypercardioid: These mics have a more focused pickup pattern than cardioid mics, making them useful for isolating a particular instrument or sound source in a noisy environment.
- Omnidirectional: As the name suggests, these mics pick up sound equally from all directions. They’re great for capturing ambient sounds or an entire ensemble.
- Shotgun: These mics have a highly directional pickup pattern, making them ideal for miking a particular instrument or interviewee in a noisy or crowded situation.
The Impact of Microphone Type on Sound Quality
In addition to pickup patterns, different types of microphones can also impact the sound quality you capture. Some things to keep in mind include:
- Single vs. Multiple Capsules: Some microphones have a single capsule that picks up sound from all directions, while others have multiple capsules that can be adjusted to capture sound from specific angles. Multiple capsule mics can offer more control over the sound you capture, but they can also be more expensive.
- Acoustic Design: The way a microphone is designed can impact the sound it captures. For example, a small diaphragm condenser mic is often used to capture the sound of a guitar because it can pick up the instrument’s high-frequency sounds. On the other hand, a large diaphragm condenser mic is often used for recording vocals because it can capture a wider range of frequencies.
- Polar Patterns: As mentioned earlier, different pickup patterns can impact the sound you capture. For example, a cardioid mic will pick up less ambient noise than an omnidirectional mic, which can be useful in a noisy environment.
- Bleed: When recording multiple instruments or vocals at once, bleed can be an issue. Bleed refers to the sound of one instrument or vocal bleeding into the mic intended for another instrument or vocal. Different types of microphones can help prevent or minimize bleed.
Selecting the Right Microphone for Your Needs
When selecting a microphone, it’s essential to consider your specific needs and situation. Some things to keep in mind include:
- The type of sound you want to capture: Do you want to capture a single instrument or an entire ensemble? Are you recording vocals or an interview?
- The acoustics of your recording environment: Is the room you’re recording in acoustically treated? Is there a lot of background noise to contend with?
- The specs of the microphone: What are the microphone’s frequency response, sensitivity, and SPL handling capabilities?
- The type of recording you’re doing: Are you recording for a consumer video or a professional mix? Will you need stems for mixing later?
A Logical Approach to Microphone Selection
Ultimately, selecting the right microphone comes down to a logical approach. Consider your needs, the situation, and the microphone’s specs and features. Some great options to consider include the Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun mic, the modified lobar capsule mic, and the omnidirectional mic mounted on a video camera. With a little care and attention, you can find the right microphone for your recording needs and capture great sound every time.
What’s Inside a Mic and Why It Matters
The components inside a microphone can significantly impact the resulting sound quality. Here are some ways that different components can affect the sound:
- Capsule type: Dynamic mics are generally better for handling high sound pressure levels, making them a good choice for recording loud instruments like drums or electric guitars. Condenser mics, on the other hand, offer a more detailed and delicate sound, making them a good choice for acoustic instruments or vocals. Ribbon mics offer a warm, natural sound that can be highly focused on a specific instrument or sound source.
- Pickup pattern: Different pickup patterns can offer different levels of control over the sound being recorded. For example, a cardioid pattern is highly focused on the sound source directly in front of the mic, making it a good choice for recording a single instrument or voice. An omnidirectional pattern, on the other hand, picks up sound equally from all sides, making it a good choice for recording multiple instruments or a group of people.
- Electrical circuit: The circuit inside a microphone can impact the resulting sound quality in a number of ways. For example, a traditional transformer-based circuit can offer a warm, natural sound with extended low-end response. A newer, transformerless circuit can offer a more detailed sound with less noise. Some mics even include a switch to change the circuit, giving you more control over the resulting sound.
Why Choosing the Right Mic Components is Crucial
Choosing the right components for your microphone is crucial if you want to get the best possible sound quality. Here are some reasons why:
- Sound quality: The right components can significantly impact the resulting sound quality, making it important to choose the right ones for your specific needs.
- Instrument positioning: Different components can handle different instrument positions, making it important to choose the right ones for your specific recording needs.
- Noise reduction: Some components can offer better noise reduction than others, making it important to choose the right ones if you’re recording in a noisy environment.
- Protecting delicate instruments: Some components can handle delicate instruments better than others, making it important to choose the right ones if you’re recording something that requires a delicate touch.
- Power requirements: Different components may require different levels of power, making it important to choose the right ones if you’re recording in a studio or on stage.
Our Recommendations for Choosing the Right Mic Components
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to choosing the right mic components, here are some recommendations:
- For recording electric guitars or bass, we recommend a dynamic mic with a cardioid pickup pattern.
- For recording acoustic instruments or vocals, we recommend a condenser mic with a cardioid or omnidirectional pickup pattern.
- If you’re recording in a noisy environment, we recommend a mic with good noise reduction capabilities.
- If you’re recording delicate instruments, we recommend a mic with a ribbon capsule.
- If you’re recording in a studio or on stage, we recommend a mic that can handle the power requirements of your setup.
Remember, choosing the right components for your microphone is crucial if you want to get the best possible sound quality. Take the time to research your options and make an informed choice based on your specific needs.
So there you have it- a guide to the different types of microphones and how they work. Dynamic microphones are great for live performances, condenser microphones for studio recording, and ribbon microphones for a warm, detailed sound.
You can use this knowledge to find the right microphone for your needs. So don’t be afraid to experiment and find the perfect one for you!
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe