What microphone is right for you?

How to find the right microphone for you

How to find the right microphone for you

The microphone market is a rather saturated one, and this makes finding the right mic (for you) a little more challenging. Microphones are not all made equal and it is not simply the price tag or brand that determines which one will be best for you and your needs. The following is a basic guide to understanding the different types of mics that are available and then which mic is best suited for specific purposes and applications.

Before considering the different types of microphones, there are a few principles and some terminology that needs to be addressed to help make sense of it all. A microphone is simply a piece of hardware which converts sound waves into electrical signals which can then be manipulated as needed. The various ways that the conversion can take place, determines the different types of mics available.

When selecting a mic for a specific application or purpose there are a few factors to consider, these include; frequency response, directionality, diaphragm size, circuitry and build quality.

  • Frequency response: This is a measure of how accurately a microphone can capture audio
  • Directionality or Polar patterns: Directionality or Polar patterns describe how microphones pick up sound, showing specifically where mics 'listen' spatially, and which positions are blocked.
  • Diaphragm size: The size of the diaphragm affects the microphone's sound pressure level handling, sensitivity, dynamic range and internal noise level.
  • Circuitry: The inner electronics which convert the captured sound waves into electrical signals.
  • Build quality: Refers to the design, materials and finishing of a microphone.

 

Types of Microphones

Microphones can be divided into three types of categories; dynamic, condenser and ribbon. Dynamic and condenser mics are the most popular types for both stage and recording purposes with ribbon microphones used primarily for professional studio applications.

Dynamic microphones

The most common microphone used on stage is the dynamic mic. These ‘all-round’ mics are usually rugged in construction with comparatively simple circuitry, offer relatively good frequency response even at high Sound Pressure Levels (SPL). Their reliability and affordability make then very popular microphones for both vocals and instruments, especially for live performances.

Condenser microphones

Condenser microphones offer the most options for specific needs, but at the cost of being more sensitive and prone to damage in comparison to dynamic mics. However, this trade-off results in greater frequency response, superior directionality, better transparency and more precision.

Condenser mics require an external power supply (phantom power) and are typically better suited for studio recording applications where Sound Pressure Levels (SPL) are lower and where the mic can be handled with more care. In comparison to dynamic microphones, condenser mics come at a higher price tag.

Ribbon microphones

Once the epitome of recording mics, ribbon microphones have started making a come-back as new production methods and materials result in a sturdier and more reliable mic. Ribbon microphones allow for improved sensitivity to higher frequencies while retaining the classic warmth of vintage mics. Best suited for applications where noise levels can be managed and/or isolated and thus better suited for studio applications.

In studio recording setups, dynamic or condenser microphones are often used in combination with ribbon mics to capture the nuances and complexities of stringed instruments like an acoustic guitar or piano.

Ribbon microphones are generally priced at significantly higher price point in comparison to either dynamic or condenser mics and are thus typically used only in high-end studios or by serious audiophiles.

 

Which of the three is right for you?

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between dynamic, condenser and ribbon microphones, you now need to consider the application for which the mic is needed, to make the right choice.

Vocals

If you are looking for a vocal microphone for live stage applications, you will most certainly need a dynamic mic. Its reliability and ability to take some knocks and ‘mic drops’ make it the obvious choice for touring vocalists, bands or audio rental companies.

Recommended live vocal microphones:

 

For recording vocals in a studio, a condenser microphone is recommended, or if budget allows, a ribbon mic is an excellent option. It is important to note that for studio recording purposes it is important to match the right preamp to the mic to achieve the best results.

Recommended live vocal microphones:

Guitars

Recording an acoustic guitar (without a built-in pickup) is equal parts science and art. The nuances of the instrument and its dynamic frequency range can be a challenge to get ‘just right’. A large diaphragm condenser mic is the best choice for a studio setting in most cases. For stereo recording in a studio, however, a matched pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones is a more ideal solution.

Recommended studio acoustic guitar microphones:

For live stage recording of an acoustic guitar, a small condenser mic is better suited, but feedback is always a concern to take into consideration especially with placement. Dynamic microphones can be used, but instrument-specific mics are recommended over dynamic vocal microphones.

Recommended stage acoustic guitar microphones:

Recording an electric guitar is commonly done directly via a lineout from an effects unit or the guitar’s jack with amp modelling applied in post to give the desired tone. However, if you want to record the tone produced by a cabinet or combo, you need to use a microphone. Due to the high Sound Pressure Levels (SPL) from guitar amps, it is highly recommended to use a dynamic mic unless you are experienced with condenser mics and placements.

Recommended electric guitar microphones:

Drums

The dynamic frequency range and varying Sound Pressure Levels of a drum kit require more than one type of mic to accurately capture the sounds. To mix and balance out a drum kit for both live and studio purposes, each piece of a drum kit needs to be treated accordingly. Here are some recommendations.

From the list above clearly, a drum kit requires a range of microphones. The best solution for most purposes is to use a drum microphone kit or bundle. These kits include specifically design mics for each element of a drum kit. Apart from the cost saving, setup time is also reduced when using a drum microphone kit. Example: Sennheiser SET 1 - 600 Series drum mic kit in alu case (1x E602-II 1x E604 2x E614)

If your budget does not allow for individual microphones or a drum microphone kit, using two overhead or room microphones is an option to consider. A matched pair of condenser (large or small) mics is the most common and recommended setup.

If your budget does allow (over and above individual or a kit) having a matched pair of condenser microphones is a great way to capture a stereo image of the whole kit which can then be layered under the separate elements of the drum kit in the final mix. Example: Behringer C-2 2 Matched Studio Condenser Mics

 

Which brand/s should you buy?

There are scores of manufacturers who have one, two or all three of the different type of microphones in their catalogue. However, not all dynamic, condenser or ribbon mics are made equal and there are reasons why some brands are industry leaders and why particular microphones they manufacture are the ‘industry standard’. We recommend the following brands:

Sennheiser

Sennheiser electronic GmbH & Co. KG is a German privately held audio company founded in 1945. Sennheiser specialises in the design and production of a wide range of high fidelity products, including microphones, headphones, telephony accessories and avionics headsets for personal, professional, and business applications.

AKG

AKG Acoustics is an Austrian acoustics company and manufacturer founded in 1947 by Dr. Rudolf Görike and Ernest Plass, headquartered in Vienna, Austria and owned by Samsung Electronics through its Harman division.

Røde

Røde Microphones is an Australian-based company founded in 1967. Røde is a designer and manufacturer of microphones, related accessories, and audio software. Its products are used in studio and location sound recording along with live sound reinforcement.

sE Electronics

sE Electronics is a microphone and studio monitor manufacturer, based in Shanghai, China. Formed in 2000 by Siwei Zou, the company manufactures studio microphones, portable vocal booths, and monitoring systems.

Shure

Shure Incorporated is an American audio products corporation. It was founded by Sidney N. Shure in Chicago, Illinois in 1925 as a supplier of radio parts kits. The company became a consumer and professional audio-electronics manufacturer of microphones, wireless microphone systems, phonograph cartridges, discussion systems, mixers, and digital signal processing.

 

Conclusion

While there is currently no ‘one mic fits all’ microphone (yet) available on the market today, at MiTech Direct our knowledgeable sales staff will gladly assist you in finding the right mic for your needs and budget. If you cannot make it to one of your stores, feel free to contact us for more information or to request a quotation.

 

About Brendan Ihmig

Brendan is an accomplished studio and stage guitarist, a project studio owner and former music teacher. He is a freelance writer, branding and marketing consultant, and a professional speaker. Connect on Twitter @BrendanIhmig

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