You cannot expect to become a great musician without a great microphone. If people are going to hear your amazing lyrics and beautiful singing voice, you need to be able to take your songs and gift them to your audience.
A high-quality microphone is the one which detracts the least from the audio.
That could be through a recording or a live performance.
It does not matter how you are using a microphone; a great one is going to produce a sound as close to the original as possible. A high-quality microphone is the one which detracts the least from the audio.
So, in a world of complicated technology and terminology, what is the best microphone?
Join us as we go on a lyrical journey through the world of professional mics.
What Are Polar Patterns?
You may have heard the term ‘polar pattern’ when you have been searching for mics but do you know what it actually means? Does anyone?
Polar patterns describe how a microphone picks up sound. Does that clear it up at all? Let’s break it down.
This is the most common type of microphone but not necessarily the most common one used in music recording. Imagine that there is a large circle with the microphone at the center. This is an omnidirectional microphone. The microphone picks up sound from all directions equally.
Omnidirectional mics are great in certain situations. Imagine you are in a room and want to record all of the sound in a room. You want to be able to record sound from all directions equally, so an omni mic is perfect.
What if you are recording a large ensemble. Again, the sound is going to be coming from many different directions, and you want to record them all.
Omni mics are also great when the source of the sound you are recording is on the move. If you do not know where the source is going to be, then you want to be able to cover all directions.
Imagine that there is a figure 8, and your mic is at the center of it, where the two lines intersect. The two circles (the top and bottom of the 8) are the areas where the sound is picked up. Essentially, the sound at the front and back is picked up while the sound at each side is ignored (or not picked up as much). Of course, switching the position of the mic switches the position of the figure-8.
Now, you may think that this would be good for recording a duet with someone; this is rarely what it is used for. It is much more common for them to be used for stereo recording or isolation of off-axis sounds.
With smart positioning of a figure-8 mic, you can isolate the sound from some instruments and pick up others. This type of mic is often used in ribbon mics (more about them later) as they often require this polar pattern.
With a cardioid mic, you pick up a lot of sound from the front, some from the sides, and almost none from the back. Imagine a heart shape, with the mic at the inner point of the heart.
Cardioid mics are used a lot for vocal recording due to them picking up noise from the direction in which they are pointed. If you are a singer, then this may be the mic for you.
There are also other specific uses where they work great and are a benefit to have. You can use multiple cardioid mics to isolate specific drums in a drum set (that’s pretty cool). They are amazing for live performances where there are a lot of sounds coming from all directions (your vocals will shine through). They are also excellent for rooms with poor acoustics.
Does Diaphragm Size Matter?
You will use your diaphragm a lot when you are singing, but that is not the diaphragm which we are talking about. Microphones have diaphragms too, and the type you use will depend on what you are recording.
The diaphragm is a thin piece of material which vibrates as sound comes into contact with it. There are three types of diaphragm, ranged by size.
They are: small, medium, and large.
Each size alters the way in which the sound is recorded.
Small diaphragms are generally used on smaller mics. The small pencil mics will most commonly utilize small diaphragms. One of the main advantages of using a smaller diaphragm is the ability to have a smaller mic, which is easier to position, handle, transport, and use.
Smaller diaphragms are created to be stiffer and can handle higher sound pressure levels. They have a wider dynamic range but have low sensitivity.
Common uses for mics with small diaphragms are acoustic guitars, drums, and other instruments.
Large diaphragms are large. That size means that they sense more sound vibrations in the air, and the sounds are more faithfully reproduced. Large diaphragms move a lot, unlike the stiffer, small ones, and can detect a sound which is more natural and transparent.
These are the diaphragms which are more readily used in studios for audio recording. They pick up more sound, and that sound is clearer. The only downside is the larger size. A larger diaphragm means a larger mic. If you are short on space, you may have to settle for a small mic with a small diaphragm but, if you have space, then a large mic with a large diaphragm is great.
Large diaphragms are a staple in the recording studio and are used to record all manner of vocals and instruments.
Medium diaphragms, also called hybrid diaphragms, are basically a compromise between a large diaphragm and a small diaphragm. Their size falls in between the other two, and the functionality does too.
Medium diaphragm mics sound similar to large diaphragm mics, having a warm and full sound while being able to pick up the higher frequencies that small diaphragm mics can pick up. They do not do the job of a large diaphragm, nor do they do the job of a small diaphragm; instead, falling somewhere in the middle.
If you do not yet have a mic, then this could be a great first purchase. If you already have a large or small diaphragm mic, then you are probably not going to get a great deal more by buying one of these.
The 3 Types Of Microphone You Should Consider Using
Now that you know a little about the way microphones pick up sound and how the diaphragms work, it is finally time to get into the types of microphone.
There are three main types of microphone: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon, and there is a place for each of them.
Let’s take a look.
When you think of the regular mic on a stand which you see most singers sing into during a live performance, you are probably thinking about a dynamic mic.
Dynamic microphones are your standard, sturdy, and versatile mic. They are reliable, even at high sound pressure levels. They work well with louder instruments, such as bass, amps, and drums, and help to filter out any distortion and noise.
Dynamic mics are versatile mics which work in loud and quiet situations.
With a condenser mic, you have a thin conductive diaphragm which sits close to a metal backplate. What does this give you?
Instead of having moving coils to transfer the sound, you have capacitance. Without getting too deep into how this works, know that this improves the fidelity and sound quality. This makes this mic the perfect one for precision recording.
As long as the sound levels are not too high, this mic will do a great job. It is not as versatile or forgiving as a dynamic mic but can give superior sound in the right conditions.
Ribbon mics used to be very popular in the music industry but are not so much anymore. They are small and light, making them perfect for constricted area or travel. One of the main uses for this type of mic now is to get a retro vibe and sound. When you record on this mic, you mimic the sound which was common with this mic.
This type of mic is great for higher frequencies, due to the light metal ribbon which is used inside. This ribbon (hence the name) picks up higher frequencies and can pick up those higher notes while still giving a warm sound.
A great mic too if you want to look cool in the recording studio.
What Microphone Should You Use
Okay, now you are an expert in microphones, or, at least, you know a little more than you used to. So, with all that information we have just thrown at you, which mic should you use in which situation?
Let’s take a look at an example.
You are the lead singer of your band, or perhaps you are responsible for the mic. Which one should you go for?
A cardioid mic is what you want. You want to be able to get most of the sound from the front of the mic while isolating the sounds from elsewhere. A large diaphragm is also beneficial. You want to be able to record all of the subtle nuances in the singer’s voice.
If you want that retro vibe and sound, then you can also opt for a ribbon mic. This has the added benefit of looking great on stage.
Acoustic guitars can sometimes get lost in the crowd, and you may have to use multiple mics to pick up all of the subtle sounds. A cardioid or figure-8 mic works best for acoustic guitars, and you may want to set up a small diaphragm mic to capture the higher frequencies when recording too.
Electric guitars are loud and need a mic which can deal with that. A cardioid mic works well, just like it does for an acoustic guitar. Position it in front of the amp speaker, and have a second ribbon mic a little behind to pick up those higher frequencies.
Drums are also loud, and you might want to think about using multiple mics if you can, one for each drum or section.
Cardioid mics work well for the snare, bass, and toms. The hi-hat and symbols have a higher sound, so a small diaphragm mic will help to capture that range. Think about using an omni mic in conjunction with all of the other mics to capture anything which is lost.
The Big Finish
There are many mics out there, and it really is beneficial to select the right mic before you start recording. Even the subtlest difference can change the entire feel of a song. You want to be the best, right? Well, you need the best mic.
Take the time to select the best mic possible, and the one suited for your needs, and you will capture the beauty and magic of each of your songs.