Several types of microphones and when to make use of them: The form of issues to come back

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There are such a lot of sorts of microphones to select from nowadays. Audio corporations make microphones for recording music, podcast microphones, and gaming microphones, amongst many others. To not point out built-in microphones on headphones, webcams, and audio system. To select the appropriate mic for the appropriate activity, it’s useful to grasp the traits and conduct of the varied sorts of microphones.

What’s a mic, actually?

Microphones seize sound waves within the air and switch them into an identical electrical alerts. To duplicate the unique audio, you’ll be able to ship the alerts from the mic’s output to a mixer or audio interface for recording or to studio screens (or mixing headphones), which turns them again into sound waves. However to get one thing good out of your speaker, it’s worthwhile to ensure you’re getting one thing good to start with. So right here’s our primer on what to anticipate from completely different mics.

Every of the three main sorts of microphones—dynamic microphones, condenser microphones, and ribbon microphones—has a unique technique for changing sound into electrical alerts. 

All three have the identical core development, although. The capsule, generally known as a baffle, picks up the sound and converts it to electrical power. Contained in the capsule is a diaphragm, a skinny membrane that vibrates when it is available in contact with sound waves, initiating the conversion course of.

The perfect sorts of microphones for a given state of affairs instantly seize your meant audio supply, resembling your voice or a musical instrument, with out selecting up every other close by sound. For instance, a singer on stage wants a microphone that may seize her voice whereas minimizing the pickup of the devices in her band. (The audio from different non-intended sources picked up by a mic is known as “bleed” or “leakage.”)

Do the sorts of microphones file in another way?

One of the essential specs of any microphone is its polar sample or the course(s) from which the microphone picks up sound. Some microphones can solely decide up sound instantly in entrance of them, others can decide up sound from any course.

The three commonest polar patterns are cardioid, omnidirectional, and bi-directional (aka “figure-8”).

Cardioid microphones are unidirectional. They decide up considerably extra sound from the entrance of the capsule than the again and sides. The identify cardioid stems from the heart-like form you see in a diagram of its polar sample.

A cardioid pickup (“polar”) sample. Galak76

Most client and hobby-grade unidirectional sorts of microphones function no less than one in every of three cardioid patterns.

Supercardioid mics are extra centered on the entrance than cardioid mics however have a small lobe that picks up from the again however at a a lot decrease degree. 

Hypercardioid mics stop extra audio bleed from the edges however decide up slightly extra noise instantly behind the capsule. Engineers typically select hypercardioid or supercardioid mics when even a cardioid mic will get an excessive amount of bleed from different sources.

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Taking this to its logical excessive, a shotgun mic—just like the $199 Sennheiser MKE 400—solely picks up sounds instantly in entrance of it and solely from a distance. Shotgun mics function a lobar sample, a modified model of hypercardioid or supercardioid that’s much more directional. You’ll typically see them mounted to high-end video cameras.

If you happen to don’t care about ambient noise, you need to use an omnidirectional microphone, which picks up equally from all instructions. They’re nice for conditions the place you wish to file sources on a couple of aspect of the mic. If you happen to’ve ever seen a number of singers gathered round a single microphone, they had been probably utilizing one in every of these.

Omnidirectional pickup (
An omnidirectional pickup (“polar”) sample. Galak76

An omni mic is finest utilized in a recording studio setting, the place you’ll be able to management ambient noise, or in a state of affairs the place you wish to file every thing round you. Think about recording an acoustic guitar in a cathedral, and also you needed the room’s acoustics to be part of the recording. 

Lastly, bi-directional mics decide up equally from both aspect of the capsule however reject the sound coming from the entrance. That makes them helpful within the studio for ensemble miking conditions the place you wish to file, say, a background singer on both aspect of the mic however decrease the bleed from an instrument positioned in entrance of it.

Bi-directional pickup pattern
A bi-directional pickup (“polar”) sample. Galak76

Does what’s inside a microphone make a distinction?

The varied microphones—dynamic, condenser, and ribbon—function completely different applied sciences to transform sound waves to electrical alerts.

Dynamic microphones—just like the $189 beyerdynamic M70 Professional X or $99 Samson Q9U—use electromagnetic induction to transform sound waves to an electrical sign. Contained in the capsule is a Mylar diaphragm with a conductive coil hooked up to it. When sound waves vibrate the diaphragm, it strikes the coil in a magnetic discipline, creating an AC voltage. Consequently, dynamics are generally known as moving-coil dynamic microphones.

They’re sturdy and versatile. Dynamic mics are much less more likely to overload and deform than condenser mics when capturing excessive SPL sources resembling drums, guitar amps, horns, and vocals. Their capsules are usually much less delicate than condenser mics, making them well-suited to be handheld vocal mics for stay efficiency.

Additionally they have decrease sensitivity than condenser mics, requiring larger sound strain ranges (SPL)—that’s, louder sources—to function.  

Shure SM58 is one of the best types of microphones
The Shure SM58 is an industry-standard handheld dynamic vocal mic for stay sound.

Condenser microphones—just like the $239 beyerdynamic M90 Professional X or $169 Neat Microphones King Bee II—use electrostatic know-how. In the most typical design, a movable steel diaphragm is hooked up to a hard and fast steel plate, and each are charged and have electrodes hooked up. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it modifications the gap between itself and the plate, creating what’s known as capacitance and leading to small voltage modifications that mimic the unique wave. (Enjoyable truth: Condenser mics are generally known as “capacitor mics,” significantly within the UK.)

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A condenser mic often requires an exterior energy supply to cost it. They usually pull their cost, known as “phantom energy,” from a mixer or audio interface. 

Of the three sorts of microphone designs, condenser mics usually supply the very best high-frequency audio replica, which makes them the most typical selection for capturing the nuances of voices. Their high-end response additionally permits them to breed higher transients, the peaks at the start of a sound wave. Hand percussion, resembling shaker and tambourine, and acoustic guitar, additionally profit from correct transient replica.

Condenser mics are available in two fundamental classes: large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm. Giant-diaphragm mics are often outlined as having diaphragms which can be 1 inch or bigger. Sometimes, large-diaphragm condensers have a extra well-rounded frequency response and work finest for recording voices. Small-diaphragm condensers have the very best high-end response and are most well-liked for recording devices.

Many large-diaphragm condensers supply a number of polar patterns with the intention to swap between cardioid, omni, and bi-directional. Some even allow you to customise the polar sample to fine-tune its directional focus.

Condenser mics are one of the types of microphones
The Heat Audio WA-47 is a multipattern, large-diaphragm tube condenser mic.

Ribbon microphones are technically a type of dynamic microphone however are usually handled as a separate design as a result of they work and sound very completely different than their conventional counterparts. The ribbon design consists of an prolonged rectangular diaphragm product of skinny aluminum with magnets at both finish. When sound waves hit it, it vibrates to create {an electrical} cost. Most ribbon mics function a bi-directional (figure-8) polar sample.

An incredible ribbon mic affords probably the most pure sound replica. Its frequency vary most carefully mimics human listening to, so audio doesn’t are available in as shiny as on condensers or dynamics, however vocals and devices sound very clear and pure. Ribbon mics are primarily utilized in recording studios, the place you may get good positioning and shield them, as they are usually extra delicate than the opposite varieties.

Ribbon mics are one of the best types of microphones
The Royer R-121 is a extremely regarded ribbon mic.

What’s the proximity impact?

One other vital idea you need to find out about sure microphones is the proximity impact, which is current in all mic varieties besides these with omnidirectional patterns. It manifests in a rise in low-frequency response the nearer the mic will get to the supply. If you happen to’ve ever seen how a lot deeper your voice sounds once you put the mic proper as much as your mouth, what you’re experiencing is the proximity impact.

The impact is most noticeable in sources with plenty of low-frequency content material, resembling male voices. Radio personalities have lengthy used the proximity impact to make their voices sound larger and extra authoritative. 

Though you need to use the proximity impact to assist thicken or deepen the sound of the supply, you must watch out to not add an excessive amount of low-frequency info. One of many causes that singers use pop screens in entrance of mics within the studio is as a result of the accentuated low frequencies from the proximity impact imply that the mic will decide up extra plosives (popped consonant appears like “P” and “B”).

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The proximity impact can be problematic once you place a mic near an acoustic guitar’s soundhole, pointed instantly at it. That’s the place many of the backside finish of the guitar emanates from, and the proximity impact exaggerates it extra. Typically, if you need that soundhole tone, you can use an omnidirectional mic as a result of it doesn’t exhibit the proximity impact.

The right way to decide from the sorts of microphones

When selecting from the numerous sorts of microphones, a very powerful query to ask your self is, “What do I want it for?”

If you happen to’re out there for the very best podcast microphone and solely wish to file your voice, a large-diaphragm condenser might be your best option as a result of it excels in vocal replica. You received’t want a number of polar patterns, simply cardioid. You would possibly contemplate a USB condenser mic—just like the $129 Blue Yeti or $169 Yeti X—on your podcast recording for those who don’t personal an audio interface. The benefit of a USB microphone is you could plug such a mic straight right into a appropriate port in your pc with none extra {hardware}.

Nevertheless, for those who’re in search of an all-purpose studio microphone for recording—one thing just like the $499 Shure SM7B, a terrific microphone for recording vocals, or its direct, equally recommendable competitor, the $299 Common Audio SD-1—you’ll presumably be utilizing an audio interface. Therefore, a large-diaphragm condenser XLR microphone with a number of patterns might be your best option due to its high quality and flexibility. However suppose you’re strictly in search of a mic for recording acoustic devices. In that case, you would possibly wish to contemplate a small-diaphragm mannequin that may probably provide you with a superior high-frequency and transient response.

You’ll be able to’t go fallacious with a cardioid dynamic mic for stay vocals. It’s the near-universal selection of stay sound engineers worldwide. If you happen to like to maneuver in regards to the stage whereas performing, you would possibly contemplate a wi-fi microphone, which can embody a receiver along with the mic.

Can’t make up your thoughts? The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 is a condenser microphone-software combo that mimics and expands on a number of the most well-known classic mics at a fraction of the associated fee, a system so convincing our reviewer mentioned that, even at $1,199, it could be “one in every of my first investments if I used to be constructing a studio and recording gear assortment from scratch.”

The cliché “you get what you pay for” is especially true relating to the sorts of microphones. Whether or not you’re connecting it to an audio interface, mixer, or pc by USB, the mic is probably the most vital element within the sign chain. If it doesn’t present an genuine replica of the supply, all the remainder of the gear is irrelevant. As you set collectively the important gear on your residence recording studio, it pays to check completely different microphones to seek out the correct on your particular challenge after which buy the very best mic you’ll be able to afford.