Types of Microphones and Their Uses – Mic Locker 101
The world of microphones is scary to the untrained. There are different microphone types, and the technology used in each defines their basic sound characteristics. Microphones come in different sizes, regardless of the type of mic. American Music Supply is here to explain the different types of microphones and their uses.
Dynamic microphones are rugged and road-worthy. When sound waves move the voice coil in a magnetic field it generates the electrical equivalent of the acoustic sound wave. Musicians use them in live situations because they can handle high sound pressure levels (SPL). The iconic Shure SM58 is the industry standard handheld dynamic microphone.
Out of the different types of mics for recording, condenser microphones are preferred by engineers. This is due to their sensitivity and frequency response. Condenser microphones are more fragile but result in more clarity and detail in your recording. There are many types of condenser mics, such as large diaphragm for vocals and pencil-shaped microphones for recording overhead drums. Regardless of the size or shape, condenser microphones require phantom power (48 volts) to operate. Most microphone preamps have a phantom power switch which should be engaged after the mic has been plugged in.
Ribbon microphones operate similar to dynamic microphones but employ a thin piece of metal suspended between two magnetic poles. However, unlike other moving coil microphones, ribbon mics are fragile. Strong SPLs can damage the ribbon. Ribbon microphones are preferred for their warmth and good response to low frequencies. Engineers use ribbon microphones on everything from drums to piano. They are quickly becoming a must-have in every studio’s quest for different microphone types.
Polar Patterns and Placement
All types of microphones have polar patterns. A polar pattern represents how the mic is designed to pick up sound. Cardioid microphones pick up sound from the front and sides while rejecting from the rear. Omnidirectional microphones pick up well from all sides. Figure 8 patterns pick up sound from the front and rear but reject the sides.
Microphone placement is also crucial in defining a sound. The closer the mic is placed to the source, the louder it will be. Placing a microphone off center can soften the sound. Again, experimentation is key.
If your microphone is too close to the source it may result in a boomy sound. This is known as the proximity effect. The closer the source is to the microphone, the more bass increases. Also be mindful for plosives. Plosives are the popping sound that happens from words beginning with B or P. Be sure to pick up a pop-filter to reduce plosives.
You filled your microphone locker up with different microphone types. Now what do you do? Try different microphone techniques. If you have two of the same microphone type you can record with the A/B mic technique. Place two cardioid mics three to ten feet apart from each other and panned with a left/right configuration. The distance of the mics depends on the physical size of the sound source.
You can also try the XY technique. Place two cardioid microphones of the same type as close together as possible, at a 90 degree angle. Place the pair with the center of the two mics facing directly at the source, panned left and right.
Different Microphone Types for Specific Instruments
When recording an acoustic guitar, try a large diaphragm condenser on the sound hole and a thin instrument condenser microphone pointed at the fret board.
More often than not, engineers record the direct sound of the bass, without using microphones. However, for harder rock songs use a dynamic microphone to mic the cabinet. Choose a microphone capable of handling high SPLs. Experiment with placing the mic in front of each of the different speakers in the cabinet.
When recording vocals, try both dynamic and condenser microphones. Condenser microphones will more faithfully reproduce high frequencies. Large diaphragm condenser mics are the most common. They produce the entire frequency spectrum and result in a full-bodied sound.
We are just scratching the surface of the types of microphones. Microphones are like paint brushes, you can never have too many. Each microphone will impart its own sonic flavor on your recording. Many guitarists own more than one guitar. Recording engineers should own more than one microphone. Each singer or musician will sound different depending on the microphone. Eventually you will have a microphone that defines your sound. Call us today to speak with our experts. We are here to help.
Click here to learn how to record using ribbon mics.
Click here for some tips on recording instruments with microphones.