More often than not, most people only handle three types of microphones. These are the main options used in most recording and streaming scenarios.
The main difference lies in their membranes, the mechanism that responds to sound and converts it into an electrical signal that can be emitted by a loudspeaker or recorded on magnetic tape or in computer memory.
Due to the different diaphragm constructions, each of these three main types has different levels of sensitivity, as well as tonal characteristics. I'll explain how each one works below. If you're familiar with these three types of microphones, you'll know enough to make the right choices for your needs.
Also, I'll show you some other types of microphones that you may hear or see, but may never need. And they're all just subtypes of the three main types with different intake patterns, so don't get confused.
The 8 types of microphones
The main categories of microphones to think about and remember are the following three:
- Condenser microphone
- dynamic microphones
- ribbon microphones
These three categories, depending on the type of membrane used, cover the broad spectrum that encompasses all other subcategories. Still, it's worth mentioning a few other types that fall into these main categories but have applications so unique that we'll discuss them separately. These are:
- Multi-pattern microphones
- bass mics
- limit microphones
- usb microphones
There are others you'll find, like lavalier microphones (like the ones TV presenters wear on their jackets), but for the most part the above types are the ones you'll hear. Some people break them down even further, and there are always edge cases. But that is more than enough.
The 3 main types of microphones
If you remember anything from this article, you should remember this one. There are three main types to consider:Condenser, dynamics and tape..
Let's look at each one individually so you can understand why they exist and when to choose them.
Use when:In the low-noise studio, when recording vocals, guitars, and other high-frequency instruments that need to capture subtle details, the sound source is not extremely loud.
There are two subtypes of condenser microphones, namely large diaphragm condenser microphones and small diaphragm condenser microphones. It's obvious what the difference is based on their name. Each one shines in a different application that I will mention below.
Condenser microphones are generally chosen for studio recording when you're in a controlled, noise-free environment with great acoustics, meaning sound isn't bouncing off walls and bouncing off the microphones.
They were chosen because they are extremely sensitive and can pick up a lot of detail that other types cannot. That's why you want a perfect acoustic environment, because they also pick up unwanted noise.
They are also mostly chosen for vocals and instruments like guitar, violin, and anything that doesn't produce a very loud signal and has subtleties that need to be recorded. You can damage the diaphragms if you expose them to very high sound pressure levels (SPLs).
Large-diaphragm condenser mics are best for vocals, while small-diaphragm condenser mics (often called boom mics because of their shape) are great for instruments with lots of high-frequency detail, like guitar or the aforementioned violin.
You can stick with the large diaphragm options and get it right, which is what I do to keep my mic body smaller and less cluttered. Above, we've covered our top picks for that.best condenser microphonethrough different budget ranges if you want to get an idea of what's in there.
Two other cool things about condenser microphones are that they contain vacuum tubes that can be turned off to provide variable amounts of heat and saturation, and they require 48 volts of power.Phantomspeisungto power its active electronic components. our articleWhat is phantom power?explain more if you are interested.
Some may use a battery or have their own power supply, but most often a mic preamp (which all mics must be connected to) has the ability to send phantom power down the mic cable to power them.
Use when:on stage or in a noisy or live situation, recording guitar amps, in the case of loud sound signals, in the case of signals of different volume levels, recording rap and rock vocals.
If you want to record an instrument or singer with a larger amplitude (volume) or very loud range, you generally go for a dynamic microphone. They can handle higher sound pressure levels without being damaged or creating internal distortion.
Being less sensitive, they are generally a better choice for live situations where an audience is present, e.g. B. at a press conference, music concert, or field news interview. They pick up less unwanted ambient noise.
Also in the studio they are the right choice for recording a guitar amp, drums or high pitched vocals like those of a heavy metal or rock singer. Many rappers are also enthusiastically received, in part because of theirproximity effectThis is a bass boost when the microphone is very close to the instrument or soundhole.
Previously, we covered our favorite picks for thebest dynamic microphonesin different budget ranges if you are interested in seeing a wide range of options in this category. They are essential for any music studio, just like condensers.
Dynamic microphones contain passive electronics and do not require phantom power. You won't hurt them by accidentally feeding them this power, as you'll often hear. But you can definitely hurt the next guy if you do.
Use when:in the studio looking for a warm vintage sound. These are rare, fragile, and expensive. Go for a condenser microphone.
The last of the three main types is the ribbon microphone. All other types of microphones are either condenser or dynamic, but the ribbon microphone is in a category of its own due to the unique diaphragm it uses. I am sure you will be surprised to know that it is in the shape of a long thin ribbon.
These were some of the first microphones available and they are making a comeback, but they are still rare. We loved them because they could deliver even more detail than condenser mics, but the problem was that they were so fragile. Any damage to the fragile band would ruin them, and they were, and still are, extremely expensive.
To this day, a mistake like running 48V phantom power to them can fry the tape. If you drop it, the strap may break. There's really no point in using one of these nowadays as there are equally good and much more durable options out there.
The other 5 types of microphones
Let me say again that they are all condenser or dynamic microphones, but they have their own category for their unique design purposes. They are built for a reason and are therefore considered their own subcategories, although this is not entirely true.
If you're interested in the topic of microphones, read on as these particular subtypes lead to the explanation of other things you need to know, such as:recording pattern,preamplifier, and more.
Use when:you want to capture ambient sounds in the environment, singing groups or a bluegrass band, vocal duets or harmonies. Most of the time, you'll be better off with a condenser and a cardioid pickup pattern.
You may not know this, but almost all microphones use the cardioid pattern (sometimes called directivity). The cardioid pickup basically picks up everything in front of you and to the sides while rejecting sounds coming from behind.
This is obviously the most useful recording pattern, as we tend to record everything on a separate track for later mixing purposes. But there are plenty of other pickup patterns you might want to use, and that's where multi-pattern mics come in.
They have switches that allow you to select different pickup patterns. These include polar patterns such as supercardioid, hypercardioid, figure eight, shotgun, and omnidirectional. Essentially, they give you the option to engrave front and back, 360 degrees, or a tight laser focus pattern.
Most of the time you will never use them. Omnidirectional mics are good for picking up ambient noise from TV and movies, while shotgun mics are good for picking up people's voices for the same purpose.
The patterns in Figure 8 can sometimes work for stereo recordings, although I can't think of a scenario where you don't want two mono tracks. Also, they can't aim. You get two sides and that's it, which is a lot less useful than using two separate cardioid mics.
Use when:Recording of bass drum, bass cabinets, cello or other musical or low frequency instrument. Not for low voices.
Bass mics were designed with one main goal, which is to capture instruments that are extremely low in the frequency spectrum. These include a bass drum, bass drum, cello, etc. You'll often see them as kick drum mics, but that's just one application.
What makes them unique is their frequency response. They're designed to capture nuances in the low-end range, but also feature bass boost and mid cut. That hole in the midrange is a good thing, as bass instruments often sound muddy or boomy in most small rooms.
Use when:Recording actors on film or TV, recording sound effects on location, trying to record a specific source remotely.
Shotgun microphones have two main characteristics. They're small-diaphragm condenser microphones with a shotgun pickup pattern, which means they reject as much sound as possible from all directions except the sharply focused area you're aiming at.
Also, they often have a very long interference tube at the front which further filters out sound from the sides. They look like shotgun barrels, hence their name. The reason this tube exists is that the pickup pattern still accepts sonic noise from the sides (there's no way around it).
The best we can do is hide the membrane behind this acoustic protection tube. It works amazingly well and produces the vocal recordings you hear on almost every TV show and movie you watch. You must have seen people on set at some point holding those long fuzzy microphones at the top of the scene.
Use when:Record entire rooms, such as conference rooms, theater performances, church choirs, room microphones in the studio, etc.
Boundary microphones are an anomaly that exist for two specific reasons. They do not suffer from comb filtering because they are against walls that reflect sound and cause comb filtering. The other reason is to conveniently pick up the sounds of an entire room.
You can usually find them in business conference rooms, in the center of the table where everyone is seated, and sometimes in theater rooms, placed in front of the stage to record the presentation. Otherwise they are sometimes (rarely) used in studios as room mics to give you more mixing options.
Use when:Record amateur-level music, podcasts, audiobooks, YouTube videos, etc. Useful for quickly recording song demos or ideas at home. Don't expect great quality.
The last of the different types of microphones is the USB microphone. When they were first released in the mid-2000s, they were made fun of by everyone, myself included. They suck, but that's because they were made on the cheap to see if people wanted them. Turns out that was the case and the quality has improved.
They only exist for people who record music, podcasts, or audiobook narration on an amateur level. They contain small preamps and analog-to-digital converters, and then output the digital signal via a USB cable for your computer to capture the recording.
It's an extremely cheap way to start recording, but you're guaranteed inferior quality. You can skip buying a separate mic preamp and audio interface, which would be much higher quality. You trade convenience and cost for quality, which may be good for your needs.
I think I should mention mic preamps, which all mics require, unless it's a USB mic (which also requires them, but includes one). Audio signals from the microphone are output with a very low amplitude and need to be amplified.
Trying this with the volume control will also increase the background noise a lot. Preamps are designed to increase the signal without also increasing the noise floor. Not only can't you record anything in decent quality without one, but they're probably the most important piece of equipment if you want professional quality, even more so than the microphone itself.
And those are the 8 types of microphones!
To reiterate, if you just remember that condenser microphones and dynamic microphones exist and for what purposes, you know enough to make the right decisions about when to use them. Ribbon microphones are the third main type, but they're so rare you might forget about them.
The other types of microphones are really just subcategories, but they will be discussed separately as they are designed for specific purposes. They are pretty self-explanatory by their names, so don't worry about that. You will remember what they stand for when you hear their names. Have fun and good recording!
Jared has completed his 20th year in the music industry. He is the owner, publisher, lead author, and web designer of LedgerNote and a co-author of all articles. He has released 4 independent albums and merchandise for sale around the world. He has also mixed, mastered, and recorded for numerous independent artists. learn more about.
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