Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (2023)

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (1)

In most cases, most people only deal with three types of microphones. These are the main options used in most recording and streaming scenarios.

The main difference is in their membranes, the mechanism that responds to sound and converts it into an electrical signal that can be sent through a loudspeaker or recorded on magnetic tape or computer memory.

Due to the different construction of diaphragms, each of these three main types has different levels of sensitivity and tonal characteristics. I'll explain how each works below. Knowing these three types of microphones gives you enough knowledge to make the right choice for your needs.

In addition, I'll show you some other types of microphones that you might hear or see, but might never feel the need to use alone. And they are all just subtypes of the three main types with different intake patterns, so don't get confused.

The 8 types of microphones

The main microphone categories to think about and remember are the following three:

  • Condenser microphone
  • dynamic microphones
  • ribbon microphones

Depending on the type of membrane used, these three categories cover the broad spectrum that all other subcategories do. Still, it's worth mentioning a few other types that fall into these main categories but have such unique applications that we'll discuss them separately. These are:

  • multi-pattern microphones
  • bass mics
  • Shotgun-Mikrofone
  • Border Microphones
  • USB Microphones

There are others you'll find, like B. Lavalier microphones (the kind TV hosts clip to their jackets), but for the most part, the types above are what you'll hear. Some people keep breaking them and there are always extreme cases. But that's more than enough.

The 3 main types of microphones

If you remember anything from this article, you might remember this one. There are three main types to keep in mind:Condenser, Dynamics and Band.

Let's look at each one individually so you can understand why they exist and when to choose them.

Condenser microphone

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (2)

Use when:In the low-noise studio, recording vocals, recording 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 its name. Each shines in a different application, which I mention below.

Condenser microphones are generally chosen for studio recording when you are in a controlled, noise-free environment with excellent acoustics, which means that sound is not bouncing off the walls and returning to the microphones.

The reason they are chosen is that they are extremely sensitive and can pick up many details that other types cannot. Because of this, you don't want a perfect acoustic environment, as they also pick up unwanted noise.

They are also mainly 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 picked up. You can damage diaphragms by exposing them to excessively high Sound Pressure Levels (SPLs).

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are best for vocals, while small-diaphragm condenser microphones (often called stick microphones because of their shape) are great for instruments with a lot of high-frequency detail, such as guitar or bass.

However, you could just stick with the large-diaphragm options and get it right, which I do to keep my smaller mic body tidy. We've covered our top picks for this before.best condenser microphonein different budget ranges if you want to get an idea of ​​what's inside.

Two other interesting things about condenser microphones are that they contain vacuum tubes that can be switched to provide different levels of heat and saturation, and they require 48 volts of power.Phantomspeisungto power your active electronics. our articleWhat is ghost power?explain more if you are interested.

Some may use a battery or be self-powered, but more often than not a mic preamp (which all mics must be connected to) can send phantom power down the mic cable to power them.

dynamic microphones

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (3)

Use when:on stage or in a live or noisy situation, recording guitar amplifiers, in the case of loud sound signals, in the case of signals of different volume levels, recording rap and rock vocals.

When you want to record an instrument or vocalist that has a wider amplitude (volume) range or is very loud, you usually opt for a dynamic microphone. They can handle higher sound pressure levels without being damaged or creating internal distortion.

Because they are less sensitive, they are often the best choice for live situations where the audience is on location, such as a press conference, music concert or 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 vocals like a heavy metal or rock singer. Many rappers also record themselves dynamically, in part because of theirproximity effectThis is bass boost when the microphone is very close to the instrument or mouth.

Previously, we covered our favorite picks for thebest dynamic microphonesin different budget ranges if you are interested to see a wide range of options in this category. They are essential for any music studio, just like capacitors.

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.

ribbon microphones

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Use when:in the studio looking for a warm vintage sound. These are rare, fragile and expensive. Instead, opt 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 league of its own because of the unique diaphragm it uses. I'm sure you will be surprised to know that it comes in the form 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 provide even more detail than condenser microphones, but the problem was that they were so fragile. Any damage to the fragile tape would ruin them, and they were, and still are, extremely expensive.

Even today, a mistake like using 48V phantom power can cause the tape to fry. If you drop it, the handle may break. It really doesn't make sense to use one of these these days, 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 are in their own category because of their unique design purposes. They are built for a reason and are therefore considered separate subcategories, although this is not entirely true.

If you're interested in the subject of microphones, read on because these specific subtypes give rise to other things you need to know, such as:collection pattern,preamp, and more.

multi-pattern microphones

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (5)

Use when:Want to capture ambient noise, vocal groups or a bluegrass band, vocal duets or harmonies. Most of the time, it's best to use a condenser and a cardioid polar pattern.

You may not know it, but almost all microphones use the cardioid pattern (sometimes called directivity). The cardioid pickup picks up basically everything on the front and sides while rejecting noise from the rear.

This is obviously the most useful recording pattern, as we tend to record everything on a separate track for later mixing. But there are many other pickup patterns you might want to use, and that's where multipattern mics come in.

These have switches that allow you to select different recording patterns. This includes polar patterns such as supercardioid, hypercardioid, figure eight, shotgun, and omnidirectional. Essentially, they give you the choice of double-sided, 360-degree shooting, or a narrow laser focus pattern.

In most cases, you will never use them. Omnidirectional microphones are good for picking up ambient noise for TV and movies, while shotgun microphones are good for picking up people's voices for the same purpose.

Figure 8's defaults can sometimes work for stereo recordings, although I can't think of a scenario where you don't want two mono tracks. Also, you cannot log in. You have two sides and that's it, which is a lot less useful than using two separate cardioid mics.

bass mics

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (6)

Use when:Recording of kick drum, bass cabinets, cello or other musical or low frequency instrument. Nothing for low voices.

Bass mics were designed with one main goal in mind, which is to pick up instruments that are extremely low in the frequency spectrum. These include a bass drum, bass drum, cello, etc. They are often referred to as kick drum microphones, but that's just one application.

What makes them unique is their frequency response. They are designed to pick up nuance in the bass, but also have a bass boost and mid cut. That mid-range crackle is a good thing, as bass instruments often sound muddy or boomy in most small rooms.


Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (7)

Use when:Recording actors on a movie or television set, recording sound effects on location, trying to remotely capture a specific source.

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 very focused area you're aiming at.

Also, they often have a very long interference tube at the front that further filters sound from the sides. They look like shotgun barrels and hence their name. The reason this tube exists is that the pickup pattern still accepts noise from the sides (there's no getting around it).

The best we can do is hide the diaphragm behind this soundproof tube. It works amazingly well and produces the vocal recordings you hear on almost every TV show and movie you watch. You may have seen people on set holding those long, fuzzy microphones over the scene at one point or another.

Border Microphones

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (8)

Use when:record entire rooms, such as a conference room, a theater performance, a church choir, a room microphone in the studio, etc.

Boundary mics are an anomaly that exist for two specific reasons. They don't suffer from comb filtering as they are flush against the walls, reflecting sound and causing comb filtering. The other reason is to conveniently capture the sounds of an entire room.

You can usually find them in business conference rooms at the center of the table where everyone is seated, and sometimes in theater rooms positioned in front of the stage to record the presentation. Otherwise, they are sometimes (rarely) found in studios as room mics to give you more possibilities when mixing.

USB Microphones

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (9)

Use when:Record amateur-grade 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 microphone is the USB microphone. When they first appeared in the mid-2000s, everyone, myself included, made fun of them. They absolutely sucked, but that's because they were cheap to see if people wanted them. Turns out that was the case and the quality improved.

They exist only for people who make music recordings, podcasts, or audio book narration. They contain small preamps and analog-to-digital converters and then eject the digital signal from a USB cable to the computer to capture the recording.

It's an extremely cheap way to start recording, but you're sure to get lower quality. It lets you skip buying a separate mic preamp and audio interface, which would be much higher quality. You're trading convenience and cost for quality, which may be good for your needs.

I guess I should mention mic preamps, which every mic needs unless it's a USB mic (which also needs them but includes one). Microphone audio signals are output with very low amplitude and need to be amplified.

If you try this with the volume slider it will also greatly increase the background noise. Preamps are designed to boost the signal without also increasing the noise level. Not only can you not record anything in decent quality without one, but it's probably the most important piece of equipment if you want professional quality, even more so than the mic itself.

And those are the 8 types of microphones!

To reiterate, if you just remember that condenser mics and dynamic mics 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 are so rare that you might forget about them.

The other types of microphones are just subcategories but are listed separately as they are created for specific purposes. They're 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 shooting!

Jared H.

Types of microphones and their uses (when and why) | Ledger (10)Jared has completed 20 years in the music industry. He serves as owner, editor, lead author and web designer for LedgerNote and is a co-author of all articles. He has released 4 independent albums and merchandise for sale worldwide. He has also mixed, mastered and recorded for numerous independent artists. learn more about.

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