Different Microphone Types Explained
Microphones are essential tools to recording external sound. Some do things well while others don’t. What types of microphones are there? Which mics do specific jobs better than others? For more information on specific brands of microphones check out our latest article on the best choices for microphones for recording specific instruments.
FOUR MAIN TYPES
There are four main types of mics: cardiod, super cardioid, omni, and figure 8. These names describe where and how much sound these mics picks up.
Imagine a protractor or a half-circle sticking out of the tip of a mic. That represents the sound range that a cardiod mic picks up. Unlike mics used in video cameras or smartphones, cardioid mics are good for recording close sound while omitting distant sound. (For instance, if you’re recording the sound of your voice six inches from this mic, it will capture your voice, but not the sound of your parents downstairs calling you for dinner.) Try vocal recording with this one. If you use electric instrument recording, point the mic towards an amp.
This type of mic has a tighter pick-up area than a cardiod mic. It doesn’t receive much noise from the sides.
“Omni” is short for omni-directional, meaning it picks up sound in many directions. These types of mics receive sound from nearly everywhere. Think of mics inserted into video cameras and smartphones. Everything within the video filmed on your camera or phone can be heard. (Including your parents calling you down for dinner when you’re recording your voice into one of these. Haha.)
What’s the sound a figure 8 mic picks up? If you put a mic in the center of the number 8, that’s a visual of the pattern it will receive. You won’t get much sound from the sides of the mic, or anything front and back. This type of mic is useful in rejecting sound you don’t want coming from the side.
FOUR BASIC CATEGORIES
Along with the four main types of mics, there are four basic categories: dynamic, condenser, ribbon, and multi-pattern.
Dynamic mics can be used on absolutely everything, but they work best when they are close to the source and not too distant from the sound. They aren’t good with anything that needs more “air,” ambiance, or room. They have a cardiod pattern with what they “hear.”
Dynamic utility mics are not an official category, but they are so versatile they work on almost anything, especially electric guitar, drums, and rock vocals. Pro studios carry tons of these types of mics in their lockers.
Dynamic bass mics capture that really LOW end, recommended for a kick drum or a bass. Most engineers prefer a this specific mic for this purpose.
Condenser mics use a smaller, lighter diaphragm to capture sound. There’s also a butter to power them. If these mics don’t have buttons, you’ll need a phantom power box in which to plug the mic.
Condenser mics work best on high frequency instruments, like acoustic guitar, cymbals, and piano.
Pencil condensers are great on acoustic instruments. Large diaphragm condenser mics are better with vocals, bass, and even guitar cabs.
A “studio vocalist” uses a large diaphragm condenser.
Condenser mics are $5,000-$10,000 a piece, while dynamic mics are about $400-$500 each. Yeowch!
Ribbon mics are neither dynamic nor condenser. No diaphragm is used to record sound. Instead, ribbon mics contain a thin ribbon to capture sound, and they also have a durability comparable to dynamic mics and high-frequency sensitivity comparable to condenser mics. These mics have a standard “figure 8” polar pattern. They are highly valued by professionals for their unique sound, but their high cost makes them rare in home studios.
Multi-pattern mics feature a unique, dual-capture design. With these, you can switch between the 3 common polar patterns, cardioid, omni-directional, and figure 8. Multi-pattern mics are highly versatile, especially for stereo recording.
WHICH MIC IS BEST?
No mic on the planet is better than another. Just use which one you think captures the best sound for whatever you’re trying to record. If you’re looking for some high quality recorded soundkits online, there’s no better place then our pre-recorded drum and kicks for your next project.
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