Types Of Microphones: Which One Do You Need

Types Of Microphones: Which One Do You Need

Your microphone is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can own as a musician.

It determines the sound quality you can produce in your home studio and gives you crisp, beautiful instrument sounds and vocals. But it certainly doesn’t come standard.

How many microphone types are there?

There are two main types: dynamic and condenser microphones, and both are used in recording environments. When it comes to microphones, there are a lot of options you’ll have to consider.

Figuring out what type of microphone to use is an important decision you’ll have to make at some point in your musical career, and it’s not to be taken lightly.

To help you out, here’s a rundown of the best microphone types and when to use them.

Dynamic Microphone

Vocal Dynamic Microphone

This is a highly common microphone that’s used in recording situations.

It’s an all-rounder, which is probably why it’s used so often. It’s quite versatile, as it can be used for recording drums and vocals, and for guitar amps.

Best of all, it doesn’t need to be hooked up to a power supply, which makes it very convenient.

One of the biggest benefits of the dynamic mic is that it can handle a lot of noise in music before it causes distortions.

This is great if you’re recording heavy guitar sounds or if you’re recording a live performance. The last thing you want is for the sound to be noisy.  

Now, for a quick technology lesson. How a dynamic microphone works are that it converts sound into an electrical signal by using electromagnetism.

You can find two types of dynamic mics: moving coil mics or ribbon mics.

Moving Coil Microphones

Moving Coil Microphone

This is the more popular dynamic microphone, so much so that sometimes people consider it to be the dynamic microphone.

The moving coil microphone has similarities to a loudspeaker because it contains a coil that is connected to a membrane, and a metal magnet surrounds the coil.

So, when you use the mic and sound waves strike it, the membrane and coil move according to the rhythm created by sound waves. The coil causes a signal voltage.

Moving coil microphones are recommended for live performances because they are reliable and durable, plus they don’t have to be plugged into an external power source, which is a big bonus.  

Ribbon Microphones

Silver Microphone

This is another type of dynamic microphone that, although it’s built-in a similar way, has some important differences when compared to a moving coil mic.

A ribbon mic doesn’t have coils and membranes; instead, it has thin aluminum foil and this is considered to be its membrane.

Since aluminum foil is lighter than a coil, it can move more according to the sound waves that are produced.

The drawback is that a lack of a coil creates lower output. So, to counteract this, ribbon mics will have what’s known as a step-up transformer. This increases the output voltage.

One of the benefits of ribbon mics is that they’re much more sensitive to sound that strikes them from the back or front of a room, in what’s called a Figure Eight pattern.

Ribbon mics are not without drawbacks, though. Their cons include that they’re extremely delicate, so you have to be careful not to drop them.

Ribbon mics really shine when they’re used for brass and trumpet instruments.

This is because they warm up sounds from these types of instruments to make the quality of sound even more amazing.

You just have to be gentle with them and keep them away from rowdy bandmates.

Condenser Microphones

Neumann Microphone

Another common type of microphone is one that’s known as a condenser.

This is also quite a sensitive piece of equipment. It makes use of a conductive diaphragm that moves with sound waves to create an audio signal.

However, this setup can distort sound at higher levels.

Condenser mics are sometimes used with a popper stopper filter that’s put in front of them when someone records themselves singing as this works well to prevent air pressure from vibrating the mic.

Yup, that’s how sensitive they can be, so you’ll have to be careful when using them to prevent noise interference.  

That said, their sensitivity becomes a positive trait of theirs when it comes to creating accurate music recordings.

Condenser mics are useful tools in the recording studio when you want subtle effects and changes in your acoustic instruments to be heard on recordings.

Main Differences Between Dynamic And Condenser Microphones

Seeing as though dynamic and condenser microphones are the two main types, you might wonder what their main differences are when they’re compared to each other according to some important factors.

Let’s take a look.

What They’re Best For

Two Different Microphones

Dynamic mics are useful when it comes to recording powerful vocals and thunderous sounds. They’re really great for capturing loud sounds, so they are the go-to mic for live performances.

Condenser mics are great for use when you want to record vocals in general or music with high frequencies. 

Do They Need A Power Source?

Dynamic mics don’t require a power source or phantom power as it’s often referred to.

Dynamic mics are called passive in this regard because they don’t require external power in order to work, and this can be part of their appeal because they’re great for on-the-go music recording.

Condenser mics do require a power source, but this is what makes their high-output so much more achievable.

The reason why they need this external power supply is that they contain active electronics.

Durability

Dynamic mics are really tough. You can drop them and they won’t break. This makes them a solid choice, although it’s always a good idea to treat your microphone with care so as not to damage it.

Condenser mics, on the other hand, aren’t as durable. While they’re tougher than a ribbon mic, they can be damaged by being dropped onto the floor or even shouted into too much if their input gain is on high.

Frequency

Illustration Of Testing Microphone Frequency

Dynamic microphones can reach frequencies of approximately 16Hz, which is close to the lowest pitch that we can hear. They aren’t great for capturing the finest details in sound, though.  

Condenser mics are much more sensitive when it comes to high frequencies. They will pick up lots of details in the recorded sound.

Our human ears can hear sounds that are 20Hz to 20kHz (which is the highest pitch), and condenser mics can pick these up without a problem.

Moisture

Although you wouldn’t think of moisture being a problem when it comes to microphones (it’s not like you’ll be leaving them outside where the rain can get to them, after all), things like humidity can affect them.

We mentioned earlier that dynamic microphones are pretty durable, and this is also the case when it comes to moisture.

They’re extremely resistant to moisture, which increases their lifespan and makes them especially useful for those sweaty on-stage performances.

Condenser mics, on the other hand, are not as durable. They can lose power when exposed to extreme changes in humidity.

Diaphragm

Condenser Microphone Diaphragm

The microphone diaphragm is basically the part in it that moves when affected by sound waves. It can be small, medium, or large.

Diaphragm size can affect many different factors during music recording, such as how well the microphone can deal with the volume, the natural noise of the microphone, how sensitive the microphone will be to different frequencies as well as how large its frequency range will be.

A dynamic microphone is built with simplicity in mind. This makes it produce good sound quality and high sound levels because it is not as delicate as condenser mics.

Even its diaphragm, which is made of plastic, is more durable than the condenser mic’s aluminum.

A condenser mic is considered to have a better diaphragm than a dynamic microphone because it has low mass. This means that it can move from sound waves in a more accurate way.

Now that we’ve looked at dynamic and condenser mics in more detail, let’s take a look at other types of mics that might be a good choice for you.

USB Microphone

USB Microphone

As its name suggests, this type of microphone can be connected to a USB port.

So, it has all the wiring you need to be able to do this quickly and easily.

USB mics are great portable options because they enable you to connect them to your desktop computer, laptop, iPad, and Mac without stress.

Often, USB mics also come with headphone outs so that you can listen to your recording and sound through headphones, which makes them versatile.

It’s a great mic option if you want a plug-and-play variety.

What’s so great about the USB mic is that it doesn’t need your computer’s sound card for recording music or vocals.

It has the amplification necessary to keep the signal at the right level, too. This means that your recording sounds better.

A USB mic can be useful in many different situations. These include when you want to capture acoustic instruments and vocals.

They’re especially great for you if you have a home studio on a limited budget that requires you to skip over all the frills.

A USB microphone means that you can quickly set up your recording capabilities.

However, this mic does come with some drawbacks you should know about. These include latency issues.

Many USB mics will experience a delay between the time sound enters the mic and when it exits your headphones.

In addition, you can only record with one USB mic at a time and get quality results, which can be quite limiting if you’ve gone pro with your music hobby.

USB microphones are popular for many uses, and these are not all related to producing music in the studio.

For example, they’re good for creating podcasts. However, this means that they fall a bit short when it comes to recording high-quality, professional sounds.

So, although they’re versatile and can help you stay within your budget when building your home studio, it’s probably a good idea to upgrade to a different kind of microphone that you can use in addition to the USB mic.

Shotgun Microphone

Holding Shotgun Microphone

This kind of microphone is named “shotgun” for a reason: its body is shaped like a shotgun’s barrel and it has to be pointed at its target, whether that’s someone singing vocals or someone playing an instrument.

They battle when it comes to picking up sounds from the side or back.

While that might seem like more of a hassle than a benefit, if you’re battling with a studio that has environmental noise that gets in the way of your recordings, a shotgun microphone can help to decrease or even prevent distortions.

By focusing on its target, other sounds from around it won’t be able to be captured.

Boundary Microphone

Boundary Microphone

This is a type of microphone that can be used for the piano or it can be used to record sound in the entire room by handily being attached to the wall.

Technically speaking, a boundary mic is a small diaphragm condenser mic. It’s built-in such a way that its diaphragm is parallel to the surface, such as a wall, on which it’s attached.

The reason why this microphone is built in a parallel manner is so that it can catch sounds that bounce off the wall on which it’s mounted.

A boundary mic can be very convenient if you’re hoping to record a lot of different sounds that are being created in different areas of your home studio.

This is because it can pick up sounds from various sources simultaneously, so it can reduce your need to have more than one microphone set up in the room.

The best thing about a boundary mic is that you can find one in different shapes and sizes.

For example, you could find a boundary mic that’s small and lies flat on a surface. Others can even be attached to a desk, which opens up your opportunities when recording music.

Boundary mics can either be wired or wireless.

Although a wireless mic is obviously appealing because it’s portable, a wired boundary mic will make the sound move faster from the mic to the mixer so it can be processed.

Bass Mic

Supercardioid Microphone

If you want to record electric bass guitar, you’ll have to invest in a mic that caters to this need – say hi to the bass mic!

You might think you don’t have much need for electric bass, but consider this: sounds from this instrument form the basis of many different musical genres, from pop and rock to country.

So, this type of microphone is definitely a gem in your studio.

There are tons of bass mics to choose from, but the most important features you should look for are an ability to pick up low-frequency sounds in a way that’s clear, and for this, it should have high SPL capability.

This stands for Sound Pressure Level and it’s measured in dB.

You might also want to do yourself a favor and purchase a bass mic that’s also great at recording drums.

In addition, you can find bass mics that have mounts included, which makes them even easier to set up in your home studio.

Related Questions

What’s the best choice of microphone for professional singers?

Many professional singers opt for dynamic mics. These are more durable while also adding a warm tone to their voices.

But don’t discount the condenser mic as it can add a nice breathy and soft touch to a voice because of how it picks up details.

Is a dynamic mic more or less expensive than a condenser mic?

A dynamic mic will usually cost less than a condenser, and a dynamic mic that’s used for vocals can cost between $15 and $50, so it’s really not a lot of money.

That said, if you’re looking for something more professional, you’ll need to pay $100 to $250.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in recording vocals or musical instruments in your home studio, you’ll want to make sure you choose the right microphones as these play an essential part in the quality of your sound recordings.

In this article, we’ve outlined some of the most common microphones, listing their benefits, what makes them useful, and when you should choose to use them, as well as what drawbacks they have, so you can make the best choice to help you start putting out the highest-quality sound you can.

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