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So many microphones... Which one do I need?
Why are there different types of microphones? The simple answer is that there
are so many types of musical sounds. Vocals, electric guitar, clarinet, drums,
keyboards, violins… all generate different frequencies or combinations of
The major differences between microphones are the transducer type and the pickup
pattern. The transducer is the element inside a mic that converts sound waves to
electrical impulses. The pickup pattern is the area around the mic where sound
can actually be "heard" by the microphone.
First, let's look at microphone pickup patterns.
Omnidirectional: Picks up sound from all directions; good for ambient
sound and group vocals
mic that is equally sensitive to sound from all sides is called an
omnidirectional mic. Omni mics are great for picking up natural room sound
and are also very good for capturing group vocals.. Omni mics also tend to be
more "forgiving" because they pick up sound even when the mic is rotated at
Be careful working with omni mics in the studio. If they're not positioned
correctly, you may end up with too much ambient sound in your recording.
Cardioid: Picks up sound only in front of the mic; is the most common
type of microphone
unidirectional mic is sensitive to sound only in a specific direction. The most
common type features a cardioid (heart-shaped) pattern that rejects sound
coming from behind the microphone. This can be very useful for reducing bleed
when recording a guitar amp sitting next to a drum kit. A supercardioid mic has
an even narrower pickup pattern, further reducing bleed from nearby sound
Sometimes it's better to stick with cardioids when you first start
recording. They're a good balance between the omnis which have the widest pickup
pattern and the supercardioids which have the narrowest.
Supercardioid: Has the tightest pickup pattern; is ideal where multiple
mics are used.
and supercardioid mics are good for crowded spaces (like group recording
sessions) where multiple microphones are positioned close together.
Now let's look at the two basic microphone transducer types: dynamic
To understand the difference between these types of microphones, you have to
know something about how they work (which gets a little technical).
In a dynamic mic, a coil of wire is mounted on a diaphragm, which sits inside
a magnetic field. When the diaphragm is moved by the sound source the resulting
fluctuations in the magnetic field create an electric current that travels from
the mic through the rest of the recording system.
Dynamic mics are rugged and can handle high sound pressure levels, like those
delivered by kick drums, snare drums, and high volume guitar amps. They're also
good for loud, aggressive vocals. Most people start out recording with dynamic
mics because of their lower cost and high durability.
A condenser mic utilizes a constant electric charge, provided by a battery or
phantom power in a mixer. Because condenser diaphragms have less mass, which
requires less energy to move, condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamic
mics and are very responsive to high frequencies produced by an acoustic guitar
or cymbals on a drum-kit.
Small-Diaphragm Condenser Mics
condenser microphones are called "small-diaphragm" condensers. This
configuration is used for vocals in live performance, and for live and recorded
instruments. Here are some examples of small-diaphragm condenser mics.
Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mics
Large-diaphragm condenser mics are often chosen for recording vocals. These
condensers may be considered a luxury for people who are new to home recording,
but they're a good investment if you want an immediately noticeable upgrade in
Phantom Power and Bias Voltage
The type of power needed by the condenser microphone and the way that it is
provided are important issues that may affect whether a particular professional
condenser microphone will work with particular sound card, and how the cable connecting
them together should be configured. One type of power, called bias voltage,
provides power for a small transistor inside the microphone element or ‘head’.
The other type is called phantom power, and is used to operate a small
preamplifier which slightly amplifies the signal or provides frequency
contouring. The preamplifier may be housed inside of the microphone handle or --
in the case of small lavalier or gooseneck microphones -- in an external tube or
Some professional condenser microphones are designed to accommodate an internal
battery, while others require phantom power from a microphone mixer or power
The microphones supplied with computer sound cards often operate on bias
voltage supplied by the sound card through the Ring portion of the stereo miniplug connector. So far, sound cards cannot provide the phantom power used by
many professional condenser microphones.
Computer Multimedia Microphones
Computer multimedia microphones are usually relatively cheap condenser mics. The
sound quality produced by these mics leaves a lot to be desired, and it is
recommended that they should only be used for entry-level sound recording.
Most sound cards are wired to provide a bias voltage of 3 to 9 volts DC to the
mic on the Ring portion of the stereo miniplug connector. This is different to
the wiring required for a professional microphone, so sound cards cannot provide
the power required by most professional condenser microphones.
A transformer or a USB sound card (with an XLR mic input) is usually required to
connect a professional microphone to a computer.
Portions copyright (c) Shure Incorporated. All rights reserved. Used with
Shure PG48 Dynamic Handheld Microphone.
Vocal Microphone is a great live performance professional microphone for applications such as spoken word and Karaoke.
The PG48 is a cardioid (unidirectional) dynamic microphone with a frequency response of 70 to 15,000 Hz,
perfect for clean reproduction of vocals.
Shure Performance Gear microphones are durable and reliable, and ideal for everyday use.
Click here for more
information on Shure PG48 Dynamic Microphone
MAudio Fast Track USB Audio Interface.
The MAudio Fast Track USB is the easiest way to connect a professional microphone (such as the
Shure PG48) to your computer
for recording and playback.
Provides a dynamic microphone input (XLR) with gain control and signal LEDs, plus a switchable instrument/line input.
Lets you use your laptop or any USB-compatible computer to record and play audio whenever and wherever inspiration strikes.
Click here for more
information on MAudio Fast Track USB Audio Interface
QuikLok A188 Desktop Tripod Microphone Stand.
The QuikLok A188 is an adjustable-height desktop microphone stand
with a convenient tripod base.
Height is adjustable from 4.3 in. to 6.7in, and the base diameter is only 7.5 in.
Perfect for microphone recording at your desk.
Click here for more
information on QuikLok A188 Desktop Tripod Microphone Stand