What are the different types of microphones?


Maybe you didn’t know, but there are a variety of microphone designs in use in studios and on stages. Yes, there are more than just condenser and dynamic microphones available at your local musical instrument store. You may never use any other kind than these two in your entire career. Still, let’s say that a ribbon mic can be found in almost any advanced studio. Ribbon microphones have a strong low end and pure highs that will enhance any acoustic guitar or vocal, bringing out their unique characteristics. These are the three most common kinds of microphones. Every microphone, like everything else in the world, serves a purpose.

Aside from categorising them based on their technical characteristics, we can also sort them based on what they are used for. For example, vocal microphones, acoustic guitar microphones, drum microphones, and so on. Furthermore, the directional characteristics of the microphones describe how, or where, the microphones pick up sound. We can also categorise them according to these characteristics.

In the following paragraphs, we will explain what distinguishes each type. What are their main characteristics, how do they work, and what are their benefits and drawbacks? We will do our best to answer your questions and clear up any confusion.

Various design styles of mics

Condenser

Condenser microphones contain capacitors that convert acoustic energy into electrical signals. The condenser in a typical studio condenser microphone is made up of two metal plates that are very close to each other. The backplate is one plate, and the diaphragm is the other. It begins to function when the diaphragm detects changes in air pressure. This can be caused by the voice, an instrument, or basically any sound. Condenser microphones are highly valued in the music industry. They are also known as capacitor mics, and they are admired for their sensitivity and the clarity of sound that they can capture.

Most of these mics require power to control their components as they contain active circuitry. They consist of a lightweight diaphragm suspended from a fixed plate. Sound waves apply pressure to the diaphragm, causing it to move. Condenser microphones can be powered by batteries or phantom power (+48V) from your mixer or audio interface. These microphones are an integral and indispensable part of any professional or normal, basic home recording studio, and you will rarely have the opportunity to see them in live performances, except when miking choirs, cymbals on drums and the like, where it is necessary to capture a large portion of the sound source. Because of their characteristics, condenser mics are best for capturing high frequency sounds such as cymbals, vocals, acoustic guitars, etc.

This design of microphone is most likely preferred for most indoor applications. No other microphone can produce a more detailed sound. They are extremely sensitive, and you must exercise extreme caution when handling them. You certainly don’t want your condenser microphone to fall or be damaged in any way. You should also make certain that it is not in a room with excessive moisture.

Small vs Large Diaphragm

The main advantage of a large diaphragm mic is most likely its low noise performance. Small-diaphragm condenser microphones, on the other hand, are excellent. Although many people believe that the larger the better, this is not the case. Both are equally capable of performing their duties. Condenser mics with a large diaphragm shape the sound slightly, whereas small-diaphragm condensers, also known as pin condensers due to their shape, are the best choice for capturing a pure and natural sound. In other words, small-diaphragm capacitors produce an uncolored, neutral, and highly detailed sound, whereas large-diaphragm capacitors produce a larger, richer, and smoother sound. When deciding on the best microphone for your needs, keep in mind that both large and small diaphragm condenser microphones make excellent recording devices.

Dynamic

The dynamic microphone uses a coil of wire and a magnet to generate the audio signal. When sound waves strike a thin metal diaphragm attached to a wire coil, the diaphragm causes the coil to vibrate in response to the sound wave. This process generates a current in the coil, which is then sent through the wires by the microphone. A dynamic microphone, like a condenser microphone, is an essential piece of equipment in a music studio. We simply cannot imagine a professional recording studio or a simple home studio without at least one legendary Shure SM57. Because dynamic microphones are typically less sensitive, they are ideal for use with loud audio sources. They’re typically found on the grille of a snare drum or a guitar amp. This type of microphone has three distinct characteristics.

Dynamic Mic

The first property is a very high SPL (sound pressure level), and the second is a proximity effect. With the ability to withstand extremely high sound pressure levels, these microphones are ideal for recording loud instruments without the risk of clipping. In other words, the possibility of sound distortion is reduced to a bare minimum. Many people are unaware of the proximity effect, which is a feature of dynamic microphones. It is a phenomenon that occurs when the microphone is placed very close to the sound source. In some cases, the low frequencies are amplified by up to +6 dB. Another significant benefit is the high noise rejection. This is due, in part, to its directional nature. This is most likely why it is so frequently used in live performances. The Shure SM58 is another standard microphone from the same manufacturer. If it’s not the primary mic, many musicians have at least one SM58 on hand as a backup. Dynamic microphones, with their noise-cancelling properties, can also be useful when recording in a non-acoustically treated room. Dynamic microphones are particularly durable. Workhorses, tough guys. Unlike condenser microphones, they can be dropped on the floor without fear of being damaged. Not to mention ribbon models, which are extremely fragile. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to take care of them. They can serve you indefinitely if handled properly.

Ribbon

The ribbon microphone is a one-of-a-kind dynamic microphone design. Ribbon microphones are a unique microphone design. You’ll either adore or despise them. Everything in music and recording, like everything else, serves a function. It’s all about the “why” and… “for what.” These are a very specific design, not only because of their appearance, but also because of their characteristics and their distinctive sound. They appear to be a very special design based on their appearance. Despite the fact that it functions similarly to a traditional dynamic microphone, it still requires a preamp to produce the best results. Of course, any mixer or audio interface will suffice to power it, but nothing beats a good preamp for adding magic to a ribbon mic. This is the microphone for you if you like warm, rich vintage sound. Despite the fact that it can be very expensive, it will not disappoint you, and that is completely negotiable because of the warm sound it produces.

You’ll form a special bond with it and take special care of it because it’s so delicate. Have faith that it will be worthwhile. You’ll be hard pressed to select another microphone after hearing the recording. It easily muffles high frequencies and adds warmth to your recording. Some will argue that it generates a lot of low frequencies, which is true to some extent, but it’s also very easy to control. If low frequencies are present and reduced, you are more likely to get a good recording than miss them because you cannot boost them in this case. Ribbon microphones, in general, are heavier, both physically and when recording. Some models can weigh as much as 900g / 2lbs due to their well-built bodies. They all have an 8-way pickup pattern for some reason, which allows them to capture audio from both sides exactly the same way. Ribbon microphones are unique in that they can be used to record almost anything. From vocals to acoustic instruments and ambience, it will do an excellent job.

Shotgun

Shotgun microphones, also known as boom microphones, are designed to capture a distant sound source. You must point the microphone directly at the sound to capture it. They effectively eliminate ambient noise due to their remarkably directional nature. This is the primary reason they are used when recording dialogue outdoors, particularly when the actors are not moving around too much. Working with a shotgun mic has the added benefit of not requiring you to wire everyone up as you would with a lav mic. One disadvantage of these mics is that they are less forgiving than lav models, and after a while the mic operator’s hands are in excruciating pain.

Lavalier

We’ll assume you know how they got their name. Lavaliers, like shotgun microphones, have applications in film and television. This setup is ideal for walking interviews that don’t require a lot of movement. Unlike a shotgun mic, a lavalier model requires you to be relatively still because it can pick up on the rustling of fabrics with any movement. The main advantage of lav mics is their small size and thus unobtrusiveness, but they will still stand out in close-up shots.

Also, if you are using wireless lavalier mics, you may run into problems, especially if you are recording in a busy city. The signal can be lost or simply jammed, affecting your recording.

USB

Perhaps one of the most popular microphones  among the masses right now. And why? Well, quite simply, it’s plug-n-play. Many users of USB mics, usually gamers because they like gadgets, aren’t overly demanding, and they just need something that gets the job done as quickly as possible, as well as possible. And that’s exactly what this form of microphone can provide. Most of these microphones don’t require an additional power supply, a preamp, or anything like that that the average user doesn’t understand. All you have to do is plug it into your computer via a USB cable, and that’s it. Windows will probably recognize it and install the necessary drivers on its own. Piece of cake. Therefore, you should not expect spectacular quality, although, for example, the 2020 USB mic audio is very good and worth mentioning. The biggest disadvantage of USB microphones is that there can be serious conflicts between their drivers and the drivers of your audio interface. There is a high probability that this USB cannot be used in your DAW.

Polar Patterns

If you want to make a perfect recording, you should be familiar with the polar pattern of the microphone. Don’t look at us as if we’re crazy; believe us when we say that this is very important in recording. It defines the area of the microphone that picks up the majority of the audio. Understanding your microphone’s polar pattern will allow you to better adapt to the situation at hand. The pickup pattern of a microphone determines its type: cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid, unidirectional, omnidirectional, bidirectional, or figure-of-eight (8).

Omnidirectional

Omnidirectional microphones can capture sound from both sides or directions with equal gain. You can pick up from any location around the microphone, and it will capture the exact same sound from each side. These are the simplest microphones to construct and comprehend. Although omnidirectional microphones appear to be the best option for any recording situation, they do have a disadvantage. In addition to what you want to record, any unwanted background noise will be recorded.

Cardioid

Cardioid microphones pick up the audio signal that is directly in front of them. They are used for vocals and drums because of their ability to repel ambient noise. Essentially, it is used when we need to concentrate on a specific sound.

Supercardioid

As the name implies, supercardioid is said to be even better than cardioid. It is highly resistant to feedback and background noise. It has the same diagram shape as a cardioid, but it picks up less sound. Of course, it can still detect noise from behind, but only to a lesser extent. An excellent choice for extremely loud instruments such as drums.

Hypercardioid microphones are even better at handling and eliminating noise and feedback. They have a pickup angle that is uniformly closed. They’re perfect for loud live performances.

Unidirectional

Unidirectional microphones are, in fact, the most directional. They are mostly used in film and television to record dialogue. Because they only pick up sound that is directly in front of them, you must aim carefully and point directly at the source of the sound.

As previously stated, the 8-way microphone pattern is typically found on ribbon microphones. It gets its name from the fact that it is shaped like the number eight. They can capture sound from both front and back and are thus suitable for studio use, but they are not recommended for live performances.

Frank Edwards

Frank Edwards is the founder and owner of churchsoundtips.com and has over 10 years experience running sound in his local church. About Frank Edwards

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