Microphone Types That You Should Know About

Microphone Types That You Should Know About

Recording audio requires a lot of tools, but the most significant one is a microphone.

The right microphone type is critical if you want your audio to sound ready for listening.

But when it comes to choosing the right microphone type for your studio, the choice can be confusing. Even finding the best microphones can be a daunting task. It is especially difficult if you are recording music for the first time.

There is a wide variety of microphones available in the market to choose from. But the task shouldn’t be as difficult as it seems.

Though there is an increase in the microphone types produced each year, there are only a few ways to capture sound waves.

So if you know how a certain type of microphone works, then you will be able to shortlist the right microphone type you will need for your job.

Let’s have a look at different microphone types to find the best one for you. Using the information in this article, you will develop an understanding of different kinds of microphones and when each microphone type is used.

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the microphone types, we got you covered:

Microphone Types

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Condenser Microphones

Condenser Microphones

The most preferred type of microphone for studio recording has always been condenser microphones. A condenser mic can be further divided into two types.

  • Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
  • Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Though they are similar in construction, there are a few differences which affect the quality of audio.

Both types of condenser microphones work by using a condenser (or a capacitor) which converts sound waves (acoustic vibrations) into electric current. As the sound waves hit the diaphragm, it moves back and forth against the solid back plate.

This converts sound waves into electrical signal. But this conversion is not possible without a power supply. So a condenser microphone needs an input of P48 phantom power.

Since this type of microphone uses electricity, they are much more sensitive than other microphone types used for recording sounds. Below is a description of each of the two types of condenser microphones.

Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

This is the most common microphone type used in studios. Large diaphragm condenser microphones also known as LDC, are as the name suggests, large and have a more professional look.

They are sensitive which makes them the ideal choice for recording quiet or dynamic sources.

LDC displays a variety of audibly pleasing varieties of sound. It is this microphone type which allows you to get the “larger than life” sound quality which is associated with professional vocalists.

But one of the advantages of LDC microphones is that they can handle all kinds of audio sources.

So if you are looking for a single microphone type which can handle all types of sounds, then a LDC is the best choice. By choosing among a variety of LDC microphones, you can easily build your music studio around it.

Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Small diaphragm condensers, also known as pencil condensers belong to the family of LDCs. However, they are narrower.

But despite their small size, a small diaphragm condenser is as effective as LDC when it comes to audio recording. 

A transient refers to a short lived, high level peak in the sound such as a clap or a drum hit. How the microphone responds to this transient is known as transient response.

Small diaphragm condensers have an excellent transient response. This makes them ideal for both acoustics instruments as well as realistic stereo techniques.

This is the reason why you most commonly get to see small diaphragm condensers especially in a classical music recording session.

For stereo recording, small diaphragm condensers often come in pairs. This makes them more effective in capturing a more realistic image of the acoustic space.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones are a great choice for recording a variety of sounds. They are tough, cheap and versatile. However, they come with their own set of short comings.

Dynamic microphones are tough means they can drop on stage, get hit by other instruments or fall repeatedly. Yet, they survive and continue to record the sound you need.

Another advantage of dynamic microphones is that they are often the cheapest when it compared with other microphone types. So you can stock up as many mics as you want.

Also, dynamic microphones are versatile. This is because this microphone type is not particularly sensitive to different types of sounds.

They can be a perfect choice when recording loud sounds. This is the reason why you see them placed on drums and guitars. Also, this versatility makes it suitable for recording all kinds of sounds in a studio.

Dynamic microphones are ideal for home recording. This is because this microphone type has a unidirectional pattern (also known as cardioids).

So the mic picks up the sound only from the direction in which it is pointed and cancels any other sound which is coming from other directions

So in home studios where the room can add to distractions, you can simply use a dynamic microphone and point them close to the source of the sound. This is one of the best ways to record in your living room or bedroom.

Dynamic microphones are best used on instruments which have high energy at low and mid ranged frequencies. But they are not ideal for use on instruments with low frequencies.

However, there are few varieties of dynamic microphones which are designed for such instruments. So if you are using dynamic mics of low end instruments, make sure you know about the right type.

In all, dynamic mics are great for almost everything in a studio. But the only shortcoming is that they are not very effective when used on low end instruments.

Also, compared to condenser microphones, the sound may not be as accurate. So depending upon your usage, make an informed decision.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones were the recording essentials of the early music days. This microphone type was popular in 1950s and 60s before dynamic and condenser mics entered the music world.

If you look at the photographs from the early days of broadcasting, you can pinpoint class ribbon microphones.

Let’s take a look at the physical features and characteristics of ribbon microphones. They are made up of an ultra-thin ribbon. This ribbon is made up of an electromagnetic conductor and is suspended between the two poles of a magnet.

Because of their design and ultra-thin ribbon, this microphone type is extremely fragile. If you move them improperly or subject them to high sound pressure level (SPL), the ribbon can break.

The initial designs were far more fragile but even today, this remains a major drawback.       

However, this drawback come with an advantage. Ribbon microphones are valued for their warm tone. They are ideal when you need to tone down excessively harsh sounds from sources such as guitar, drum overheads or brass.

Ribbon microphones are the most sensitive type of microphones around. They are ideally used for softer sounds such as recording vocals or strings. This is the reason why ribbon microphones are categorized as more expensive microphone type.

Also they are always bidirectional. This means that unlike dynamic microphone which capture sound from one direction, ribbon microphones capture sounds from the front and the back but not from the sides.

So ideally, they should be used in a room which is well treated. This will help reduce the amount of room distractions which get recorded.

An important reminder when using ribbon microphones: Do not use a P48 phantom power supply when using ribbon microphones. Using this power, you might electrocute the ribbon itself.

So if you are a professional and can deal with sensitive musical instruments, then ribbon microphone is for you.

But if you already have a couple of dynamic and condenser mics in your home studio, then you don’t really need a ribbon microphone.

Multi-Pattern Microphones

Multi-Pattern Microphones

Multi pattern microphones have been used in audio recording since quite some time. But they are increasingly becoming more common in live music as well. Let’s take a closer look at how multi pattern microphones work.

Basically microphones are classified according to how they respond to pressure and how they respond to velocity. In a sound wave, pressure does not have any specific direction.

Whereas velocity is a directional part of the sound wave. A microphone which responds to pressure is omnidirectional which means that it allows sound at the front only whereas the back is enclosed. This is the case in condenser mics.

A microphone which responds to velocity will have a maximum response on one axis along with a minimum response on the other axes.

This makes a figure 8 pattern. In such microphones, sound waves are allowed to travel both from the front and the back of the microphone.

However, there is a difference in polarity. Sounds from the front will have positive polarity whereas sound from the rear will have a negative polarity.

Most people are aware of the cardioid polar pattern. This is formed when the microphone picks up sounds from one direction. Generally, this is done using dynamic microphones but there are other ways to accomplish this as well.

One of the ways is to place an omni microphone along with a figure 8 pattern mic. Another way is to place two omni microphones is a certain way which samples the pressure from two different points.

The third way is to allow unrestricted sound from the front of the mic while constructing the back of the microphone.

A multi-pattern microphone is the one which uses some of the combinations of two different types of combinations highlighted above. So it responds well to both the pressure and velocity aspect of the sound.

Using multi-pattern microphones, you can alter the use of microphones accord to the sound. This can be used even to modify the vocal style of the singer.

Multi-pattern microphones are extremely effective in reducing feedbacks and controlling background noise in live recordings. So if you have a home studio with different types of microphones, you don’t need a multi-pattern mic.

But if you are a professional dealing with various types of recorded and live sounds, then you will need a multi-pattern microphone in your studio. 

USB Microphones

USB Microphones

A USB microphone is one of the easiest ways to make high quality audio recordings on your computer. If you have a home studio set up, a USB microphone can be a great investment.

Using a USB microphone you won’t have to buy a lot of equipment. Plus it is easy to set up with your existing computer in the studio.

They can also adjust well in a variety of systems so whether you work with a PC, laptop or an iPad, you can use the same set of UBS microphones across all systems.

Also USB microphones are portable, means you don’t necessarily have to attach it with the system. But you can carry it along. An added advantage!

A USB microphone is a relatively cost effective microphone which gives you a decent sound quality on your computer.

Despite its lower price, it has all the relevant features of a functioning microphone. However, if you are a professional who wants excellent audio records, then a USB microphone is not for you.

Boundary Microphones

Boundary Microphones

A special type of small diaphragm condenser microphone is a boundary microphone. However, the diaphragm is mounted parallel to the surface on which it is attached.

This parallel set up allows the microphone to absorb sounds which reflect from the surface on which the microphone is attached such as a wall or table.

This type of microphone is very effective in picking up sounds in a reverberant room. It can also pick up sounds from various sources.

So if you are in a room where different people are talking, you can record all the sounds using a boundary microphone and you won’t have to place microphones in different parts of the room.

This type of microphone is typically used in lecture halls, tables at a conference room or in the church.

In audio recording set ups, they are effective with instruments which have mid ranged frequencies so it works well with pianos and other instruments which do not have super low frequency.

Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun Microphones

If you want to record sounds from a very specific source, then shotgun microphone is for you. It is a highly directional microphone which is placed directly at the target sound which it wants to record.

The microphone takes its name from its shape and targeted approach. The body of the microphone is shaped like a barrel of a shotgun.

Also, shotgun microphones are exceptional in picking up sounds when placed directly at the source but are not so great in capturing sound from behind (rear) or from the sides.

So to get the best sound, you need to place the microphone at its target source; similar to a shotgun.

Essentially, this type of microphone is a unidirectional microphone and belongs to the family of dynamic microphones so it shares almost similar qualities and drawbacks of a dynamic microphone.

So the advantage of shotgun microphones is that they focus specifically on the source in front but do not pick up other noise in the background.

This can prove to be a much desired quality especially when recording in a home studio.

This type of microphones are best used in lecture halls or in radio broadcasting where the speaker stays in one position and does not move around unlike the singer on the stage. 

Bass Microphones

Bass Microphones

Bass drums have an extremely high sound pressure level. At the same time, they have very low frequencies.

So when you are recording sound from a bass drum, you need a microphone which can best work with high sound pressure and low frequencies.

So a professionally used microphone such as a ribbon or dynamic microphone might not be the right choice here. You will need to invest in a bass microphone.

This is a subcategory of large diaphragm condenser microphones. This type of microphone gives a cardioid polar pattern and a tailored response for recording low frequency sounds.

Conclusion

When it comes to audio recording, the choice of the right microphone type is one of the most important factors.

Now that you already know about different microphone types and how they work, you can make a better and more informed choice and get the best quality audio.

But to choose the right microphone type, you first need to analyze what you want to do with the mic. Once you know what you want to record, choosing the right microphone for your job will be easier.

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