While considering any kind of recording set up, microphones play an indispensable role in determining the quality and texture of sound that you will ultimately have to work with. Considering the fact that microphones are as diverse as the various purposes that they’re used to serve, it is crucial to understand what exactly you will be needing to fulfil your requirements. In this month’s edition of “Beginner’s Guide” , we’ll be looking into the different kinds of microphones, their workings and how you can decide on which microphone to pick based on your requirements as well as budget.
Microphones can be broadly classified into condenser mics, dynamic mics, ribbon mics and USB mics based on their working. Condenser mics, unlike dynamic mics, need to be powered by phantom power (48V). Based on the size of their diaphragms, they can be classified into large diaphragm and small diaphragm microphones . Large diaphragm mics are ideal for recording vocals in a studio environment while small diaphragm mics specialize in recording instruments that are rich high frequency detail like cymbals and acoustic guitars. Dynamic mics on the other hand employ the use of heavier diaphragms. As a result, condenser mics are preferred to capture the low intensity high frequency sounds because the heavier diaphragms of dynamic mics are far less responsive to them. But in the case of high Sound Pressure Level (SPL) sources (such as drums) , dynamics mics are ideal as their diaphragms are way more durable. Dynamic microphones are generally preferred over condensers for on-stage purposes because they allow for higher gain before feedback since they’re less sensitive, they have a pretty high resistance to moisture and humidity and their overall design and build allows them to be handled more roughly.
Ribbon microphones are distinctly different from condenser and dynamic mics because rather than using a diaphragm, they use a thin aluminium ribbon to capture sound. These microphones have a “figure of 8” polar pattern which basically means that they only pick up sound information from the front and the back of the mic. These mics are usually pretty expensive because of their unique sound and isn’t a very common accessory in most home studios. Maintaining a ribbon mic is also very important because the ribbon is quite fragile and can get damaged quite easily if not handled with care.
With the rise of bedroom studios and podcasting, USB microphones have become extremely popular. Unlike the rest of the microphones mentioned above, USB microphones do not function through an XLR connection but are powered by a USB connection. Since they do not need pre-amps, an interface or any other equipment other than the laptop to record, they have become an ideal option for anyone looking to dabble in home recording without having to invest in a lot of equipment. Most sound engineers though will frown upon the use of USB mics because the digitizing of the signal happens in the microphone itself, which isn’t as good when compared to the quality of digitizing done by an audio interface.
We will also be addressing a few microphones that cater to a more specific purpose. Shotgun microphones are known for their unique ability to isolate sound. They do so, using a design known as an interference tube, which features a series of slots designed to reject off-axis noise which results in a narrow pickup angle. Using these mics, you can record further from the sound source, in much noisier environments. These mics are often used for outdoor tasks such as news reporting and wildlife documentation. Boundary mics, rather than using a mic stand, mount against a flat surface in the room, such as the floor or wall. While other mics suffer from comb filtering (occurs when direct and reflected sound combines out-of-phase to amplify or attenuate the signal), boundary mics are less susceptible because of their design. Outside the studio, they’re used in conference rooms or theatre performances by laying it on the stage or on a table. They’re also used as room mics by mounting it on a wall and most as a kick drum “in” mic by laying it inside the shell in studios as well as on stage. While an average dynamic mic does okay on bass instruments, to capture those sub frequencies most engineers prefer a specific kind of mic designed for just that purpose, known as a bass or a kick drum mic. These microphones work beautifully in capturing the full weight of a kick drum’s sound as they have a low end boost, a small scoop in the mids and usually a presence boost around 4k. They can be used just as well on bass cabinets as well as other instruments that have a lot of low end information.
After you get more accustomed to using each of these microphones for different purposes and get more familiar with polar patterns, you might be interested in getting your hands on a multi-pattern mic. “Polar pattern” refers to a microphone’s directionality or pickup pattern, i.e the three dimensional space surrounding the capsule where it is most sensitive to sound. Multi-patterns allow you to switch between the three most common polar patterns, cardioid, omni-directional and “figure of 8”.
Let’s jump right into what your options might be, based on your budget and the kind of instrument or environment you would that you’d be applying your microphone in.
Audio Technica 2020
This microphone is a classic in the home studio/podcasting world because of the warm, clean sound that it provides for an amazingly affordable price. This mic is ideal for recording vocals and for singer-songwriters that would want to record an acoustic guitar as well.
This is arguably the most “bang for the buck” microphone out there. It works beautifully on vocals as well as on drum overheads.
The Shure SM57 is a classic microphone whether it be the studio or on stage. This dynamic microphone can be used on drums, guitar amps and is great for aggressive or loud vocals. It’s durability and reliability makes it the perfect microphone to use in on-stage scenarios.
Shure Beta 52A
This supercardioid dynamic mic is perfect for miking up a kick drum or a bass cabinet. the supercardioid pick-up pattern limits interference from other on-stage sound sources and allows high gain before feedback and has a frequency response of 20Hz-10kHz with a presence boost at 4kHz for the kick to cut through the mix.
Shure Beta 91A
The Beta 91A is a half cardioid boundary microphone. This mic is placed inside the shell of the drum as it is specifically tailored for the attack and punch of the kick drum. Combined with the 52A placed outside the kick drum, you can get an amazing full kick sound with plenty of low end.
Another standard microphone, the Rode NT1A is a cardioid condenser that is ideal for recording vocals, as it captures the warmth with its extended frequency response, high SPL capabilities and low self-noise level of only 5dBA.
This supercardioid condenser mic is ideal for drum overheads with a frequency respose of 40Hz-20kHz and high SPL capability.
This article was featured in our November 2017 issue: http://bit.ly/2AaBm9G