Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by AG
Microphones are an essential tool in today’s world, playing a vital role in a wide range of applications. These devices have the power to transform sound waves into electrical signals, which can then be recorded, amplified, or transmitted. Doing so enables us to capture the nuances of our voices, instruments, and ambient sounds, bringing them to life in various formats.
One of the most common uses for microphones is in music recording. Whether it’s a solo singer-songwriter or a full orchestra, capturing the essence of a musical performance requires a quality microphone that can faithfully reproduce the sound. From the warm tones of an acoustic guitar to the powerful resonance of a drum kit, microphones are the key to preserving the magic of every note and beat.
In recent years, the rise of podcasting has further highlighted the importance of microphones. As millions of people around the world tune in to hear their favorite podcasters discuss topics ranging from true crime to personal development, the audio’s quality significantly impacts the listener’s experience. A good microphone can make the difference between a loyal fan base and listeners quickly losing interest.
Microphones are also vital in other applications, such as video production, conference calls, live performances, and even gaming. In each of these contexts, having the right microphone can enhance communication, boost sound quality, and create a more immersive and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
As we delve deeper into the world of microphones, we’ll explore the different types of microphones available, their unique characteristics, and when to use them to achieve the best results.
By understanding the nuances of these remarkable devices, you’ll be better equipped to choose the perfect microphone for your specific needs.
Dynamic microphones are a widely-used and versatile type of microphone, known for their durability and ability to handle high sound pressure levels (SPLs).
Structure and Working Principles of Dynamic Mics
At the core of a dynamic microphone is a thin diaphragm made from a material like Mylar or other synthetic polymers. This diaphragm is attached to a coil of wire, which is positioned within a magnetic field created by a permanent magnet.
When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it causes the coil to move within the magnetic field, generating an electrical current that is proportional to the vibrations of the diaphragm.
This process, known as electromagnetic induction, allows the dynamic microphone to convert sound waves from acoustic energy into electrical energy (an audio signal). The resulting signal can then be amplified or recorded for various purposes.
Dynamic microphones are often praised for their robustness and ability to withstand high sound pressure levels, making them a popular choice for both live and studio applications.
Popular Models and Applications of a Dynamic Mic
Some well-known dynamic microphone models include the Shure SM58 and SM57, each with its specific applications.
Shure SM58: The SM58 is often regarded as the industry standard for vocal microphones. With its cardioid polar pattern, it excels at isolating the main sound source while minimizing background noise.
The microphone’s tailored frequency properties enhance vocals, and its built-in spherical wind and pop filter helps reduce unwanted plosive voice sounds. The SM58’s rugged construction ensures its reliability in various environments, making it a staple for live performances and studio recordings alike.
Shure SM57: The SM57 shares many similarities with the SM58, but its primary application is for miking instruments. The SM57’s contoured frequency curve and tight cardioid pickup pattern make it an ideal choice for capturing the nuances of various instruments, such as guitar amps, drums, and brass.
Its durable design and ability to handle high SPLs further contribute to its popularity in both live and studio settings.
In summary, dynamic microphones are a versatile and durable option for a wide range of applications. With models like the Shure SM58 and SM57 leading the way, these microphones have proven their worth in capturing vocals and instruments with accuracy and reliability.
Condenser mics are another popular type of microphone, known for their sensitivity and ability to capture a wide range of frequencies.
Structure and Working Principle of Condenser Mics
Condenser microphones, also known as capacitor microphones, consist of a thin diaphragm placed close to a fixed backplate. Together, they form a capacitor, with the diaphragm acting as one plate and the backplate as the other.
When sound waves strike the diaphragm, it vibrates, causing the distance between the diaphragm and the backplate to change. This, in turn, alters the capacitance and generates a voltage proportional to the sound wave.
To function, condenser microphones require an external power source, either from phantom power (typically +48V) supplied by a mixer or audio interface, or from a battery. This power source is necessary to establish an initial charge on the capacitor and to power the internal preamplifier that boosts the microphone’s signal.
Condenser microphones are often preferred for their sensitivity, wide frequency response, and ability to accurately reproduce delicate and transient sounds, making them ideal for studio recordings.
Popular Models and Applications of a Condenser Mic
Some well-known condenser microphone models include the Audio-Technica AT2020 and the Neumann U87, each with its specific applications.
Audio-Technica AT2020: The AT2020 is a versatile condenser microphone that offers exceptional performance at an affordable price. Its cardioid polar pattern reduces the pickup of sounds from the sides and rear, improving the isolation of the desired sound source.
With its wide frequency characteristics and low self-noise, the AT2020 is suitable for a variety of applications, such as recording vocals, acoustic instruments, and even podcasts. Its sturdy construction and reliability make it a popular choice for both home and professional studios.
Neumann U87: The U87 is a legendary, high-end studio condenser microphone known for its rich and detailed sound. Equipped with three selectable polar patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8), the U87 offers versatility for a range of recording situations.
Its smooth and extended frequency curve makes it an ideal choice for capturing vocals, instruments, and ensembles with precision and clarity. While the U87 comes with a higher price tag, its reputation for quality and performance has made it a sought-after microphone in professional recording studios worldwide.
Condenser microphones are highly regarded for their sensitivity and ability to capture a wide range of frequencies with accuracy.
Models such as the Audio-Technica AT2020 and the Neumann U87 showcase the versatility and performance that make these microphones an excellent choice for various recording applications.
Ribbon mics are a unique and often sought-after type of microphone, renowned for their smooth, natural sound and ability to capture the warmth and character of various sources.
Structure and Working Principle of Ribbon Mics
Ribbon microphones consist of a thin, corrugated metal ribbon (usually made of aluminum) suspended between the poles of a magnet. When sound waves strike the ribbon, it vibrates, generating an electrical current through electromagnetic induction. This current is proportional to the velocity of the ribbon, and as such, ribbon microphones are also known as velocity microphones.
One key feature of ribbon microphones is their bidirectional, or figure-8, polar pattern. This pattern allows the microphone to capture sound from both the front and back while rejecting sounds from the sides. This characteristic can be used creatively to capture multiple sound sources or to create a sense of space in recordings.
Due to their delicate nature, ribbon mics are more fragile than dynamic or condenser microphones and require careful handling. However, modern ribbon microphones often incorporate protective features to improve durability without sacrificing their sonic qualities.
Popular Models and Applications of a Ribbon Mic
Some notable ribbon microphone models include the Royer R-121 and the AEA R84, each with its specific applications.
Royer R-121: The R-121 is a modern ribbon microphone that has gained popularity for its ability to handle high sound pressure levels and deliver a smooth, warm sound. It is particularly well-suited for recording guitar amplifiers, as it captures the full range of frequencies and nuances without harshness or distortion.
The R-121’s figure-8 polar pattern can also be utilized for room and ambiance recording, as well as for capturing multiple sound sources simultaneously.
AEA R84: The AEA R84 is another highly regarded ribbon mic, known for its versatility and vintage-inspired design. Its smooth frequency curve and natural sound make it an excellent choice for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, and even orchestral ensembles.
The R84’s figure-8 polar pattern can be used to advantage in various recording situations, such as capturing room ambiance or for Blumlein stereo techniques.
In summary, ribbon microphones are valued for their smooth, natural sound and unique characteristics. Models like the Royer R-121 and the AEA R84 showcase the warmth and versatility that make these microphones a favorite among audio professionals and music lovers alike.
Lavalier microphones, also known as lapel or clip-on microphones, are small and discreet devices designed to be attached to a speaker’s clothing for hands-free operation. These microphones have become indispensable in various situations, such as interviews, presentations, video production, and podcasting.
Structure and Working Principle of Lavalier Mics
Lavalier microphones are typically either dynamic or condenser microphones, with the latter being more common due to their small size and sensitivity. The basic structure of a Lavalier microphone consists of a miniature capsule that houses the diaphragm, a protective grill, and an integrated clip for attaching the microphone to clothing or other surfaces.
Condenser lavalier microphones function similarly to their larger counterparts, utilizing a thin diaphragm and a backplate to form a capacitor.
When sound waves reach the diaphragm, it vibrates, causing a change in capacitance and generating a corresponding electrical signal.
These types of microphones usually require phantom power or a battery as an external energy source, to charge the capacitor and power the internal preamplifier.
Dynamic lavalier microphones, though less common, employ a small diaphragm attached to a coil of wire within a magnetic field. Sound waves cause the diaphragm and coil to move, generating an electrical signal through electromagnetic induction.
Popular Models and Applications of a Lavalier Mic
Some well-known Lavalier microphone models include the Sennheiser ME 2-II and the Rode Lavalier GO, each with its specific applications.
Sennheiser ME 2-II: The ME 2-II is a condenser lavalier mic designed for use in interviews, presentations, and other spoken-word applications.
This omnidirectional microphone captures sound from all directions, ensuring consistent audio quality regardless of the speaker’s head movements. The ME 2-II’s compact design and discreet appearance make it an ideal choice for situations where unobtrusive microphone placement is essential.
Rode Lavalier GO: The Lavalier GO is another popular condenser Lavalier microphone, designed for use with Rode’s Wireless GO system.
Its omnidirectional polar pattern ensures clear and consistent audio capture, making it suitable for video production, podcasting, and other applications where high-quality, hands-free audio is desired. The Lavalier GO’s durable construction and versatile mounting options make it a reliable choice for a variety of situations.
So, Lavalier microphones offer a discreet and hands-free solution for capturing high-quality audio in a wide range of applications.
Shotgun microphones are specialized devices designed to capture sound from a specific direction, making them ideal for situations where it is crucial to isolate a particular sound source. These microphones are commonly used in video production, film, television, and other applications where directional audio capture is essential.
Structure and Working Principles of a Shotgun Mic
Shotgun mics are generally condenser microphones featuring a long, cylindrical body with a series of slots or vents along the sides. The capsule, which houses the diaphragm, is located at the end of this tube. The tube and the vents work together to create an interference tube, which is responsible for the microphone’s highly directional pickup pattern.
When sound waves enter the interference tube, they interact with the slotted design, resulting in constructive and destructive interference. Sound waves arriving on-axis (directly in front of the microphone) pass through the tube with minimal interference, while off-axis sounds are significantly attenuated due to phase cancellation.
This process results in a highly directional pickup pattern, often referred to as a “lobar” or „super cardioid“ pattern, which enables the microphone to focus on a specific sound source while rejecting unwanted ambient noise.
Popular Models and Applications of a Shotgun Mic
Some notable shotgun microphone models include the Rode NTG4+ and the Sennheiser MKH 416, each with its specific applications.
Rode NTG4+: The NTG4+ is a condenser shotgun mic designed for use in video production and other applications requiring precise directional audio capture. Its super-cardioid polar pattern allows it to focus on a specific sound source while rejecting off-axis noise.
The NTG4+ also features a built-in rechargeable battery, providing over 150 hours of runtime, and includes digital switching for high-pass filtering, pad, and high-frequency boost. Its rugged construction and excellent sound quality make it a popular choice for both indoor and outdoor recording situations.
Sennheiser MKH 416: The MKH 416 is a professional condenser shotgun microphone widely used in film and television production. Its lobar polar pattern provides excellent directionality and off-axis sound rejection, ensuring clear and focused audio capture.
The MKH 416 is also known for its low self-noise, high sensitivity, and resistance to adverse weather conditions, making it a reliable and versatile option for various recording environments.
In conclusion, shotgun microphones are specifically designed to capture sound from a particular direction, making them an invaluable tool for isolating sound sources in a variety of applications and a go-to choice for professionals and enthusiasts in the world of audio capture.
The Differences Between Microphone Types
Each type of microphone offers unique characteristics that make them suitable for different applications.
By comparing and contrasting the differences in relevant aspects, you can better understand which microphone is best suited for your specific needs. So, let’s look at the key differences between the three main types of microphones.
The Sensitivity of a Microphone Type
Sensitivity refers to how well a microphone converts acoustic pressure into an electrical signal. High-sensitivity microphones can capture quieter sound sources with greater detail, while low-sensitivity microphones are better suited for louder sources.
Dynamic Microphones: These microphones generally have lower sensitivity compared to condenser and ribbon mics. This makes them ideal for high SPL sound sources, such as drums and guitar amplifiers.
Condenser Microphones: Condenser microphones tend to have higher sensitivity and can capture subtle nuances and quieter sounds with more clarity, making them suitable for vocals, acoustic instruments, and studio recording.
Ribbon Microphones: Ribbon microphones have a sensitivity level between dynamic and condenser microphones. They can capture the warmth and natural tonality of sound sources but may require additional preamplification for quieter sources.
Frequency Response of Different Types of Microphones
Frequency response describes the range of frequencies that a microphone can accurately capture and reproduce.
Dynamic Microphones: Dynamic microphones often have a more limited frequency curve compared to condenser and ribbon microphones. However, this limited response can be advantageous when recording specific sound sources, as it can help emphasize particular frequency ranges.
Condenser Microphones: These microphones typically have a wide and flat frequency characteristic, allowing them to accurately capture a broad range of frequencies. This makes them suitable for a variety of sound sources and applications.
Ribbon Microphones: Ribbon microphones are known for their smooth and natural frequency response, with a gentle high-frequency roll-off that imparts a warm, vintage character to the recorded sound.
Directionality refers to the microphone’s sensitivity to sound coming from different directions.
Dynamic Microphones: Many dynamic microphones have a cardioid or super-cardioid polar pattern, making them more sensitive to sound coming from the front and less sensitive to sound from the sides and rear. This can help reduce off-axis noise and feedback in live situations.
Condenser Microphones: Condenser microphones are available in a wide range of polar patterns, including omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-8. This versatility allows them to be used in various recording situations and applications.
Ribbon Microphones: Ribbon microphones typically have a figure-8 polar pattern, which captures sound from both the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. This characteristic can be useful for specific recording techniques, such as Blumlein stereo recording.
In conclusion, understanding the differences between microphone types in terms of sensitivity, frequency response, and directionality is crucial for selecting the appropriate microphone for your specific needs.
By comparing and contrasting these characteristics, you can make an informed decision and choose the right microphone for your sound source, environment, and intended application.
If you still don’t know what microphone to start with: for a beginner, a good-quality condenser microphone is a versatile choice that can record various sounds, from vocals to acoustic instruments.