Microphone Types: How to Choose the Right Mic for Your Sound

Microphone Types

There is an awesome number of microphone types out there. Even choosing the best microphones is a pretty daunting task.

However, it does not have to be as dizzying as it seems. Though the number of microphones in production increases every year, there are only so many ways to capture sound waves in the air.

So if you know what microphone types you have to use, you will be able to narrow down your decisions and find the best tool for the job.

In this article, I will go through all of the 4 most common and helpful microphone types and what they do greatest.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic Mics are the workhorses of the microphone types.

They are low cost, durable and sound fantastic on some of the most common sources in a recording.

Utilizing a movable induction coil suspended in the field of a magnet, dynamic mics work like a speaker in reverse!

Dynamic mics are responsive to transients and handle high SPL very well. This makes them a natural selection for loud sources like drum kit close and bass cabs, mics, and guitar.

Given how affordable and versatile they’re, there should definitely be a dynamic mic or 2 in your collection.

And when you only have room for one, there is really only a single serious contender: the Shure SM57. The versatile SM57 is one of the most accessible instruments in the recording.

Of course, there is a range of great dynamic designs that work for a lot of studio situations including:

While all of those mics are great choices, none have the grand slam price-to-performance ratio of the SM57.

It is the go-to choice of many engineers for guitar cabs and snares drums—no home studio should be without!

Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Giant diaphragm condenser microphones are most likely the first thing that comes to mind once you think of studio recording mics.

They are the large, stylish and serious looking mics that you see in most professional recording studio situations.

Condenser mics work by utilizing a capacitor (or condenser) to convert acoustic vibrations into an electrical current. Meaning they need a power source like 48V phantom energy to operate.

It also means that they are much more sensitive than dynamic mics or ribbon mics and output a louder signal.

Their sensitivity makes them perfect for quiet or extremely dynamic sources—like vocals!

Giant diaphragm condensers exhibit a number of sonically pleasing qualities for voices. They help make that “larger than life” sound that we associate with professional studio vocals.

However, LDCs are effective on all types of sources. When you’re searching for one mic that could handle every task, consider a large diaphragm condenser.

Many modern LDCs provide selectable polar patterns making them incredibly versatile and helpful in tons of different recording situations and one of the best mics for building your studio around.

Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Small Diaphragm Condensers (generally known as pencil condensers) are the smaller, less flashy cousin of the LDC.

However, they are just as helpful, despite their small stature. Small diaphragm condensers have a great transient response, extended top end, and consistent pickup patterns.

This makes them nice for realistic stereo methods as well as acoustic tools. When you sat in on a classical music recording session, chances are you’d see mostly SDCs.

They usually come in pairs for stereo recording, so they’re particularly effective for creating accurate stereo photos of real acoustic spaces.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon technology dates back to the earliest days of microphones. Images from the golden age of broadcasting are filled with presenters speaking into classic ribbon mics.

Ribbon microphones use an ultra-thin (wait for it) ribbon of electroconductive material suspended between the poles of a magnet to generate their sign.

Early ribbon designs were incredibly fragile. Moving them improperly, or even subjecting them to high SPL can cause the ribbon to break.

However, their sound was worth the trade-off in durability. Ribbon mics are prized for their heat, vintage tone.

They are great for when you should tame excessive or harsh high-end: sources like drum overheads, guitar amps or brass.

Ribbon microphones naturally produce an awesome figure eight polar pattern and respond to EQ extremely well.

Hot Tip: Though today’s ribbon mics are not quite as fragile as the early designs, they are still simpler to damage than dynamics or condensers. Be careful while handling them!

The most important rule of ribbons is never EVER supplying 48V phantom power to ribbon mics. You risk electrocuting the ribbon itself!!!

Weapon of Microphone Choice

In a recording, microphone choice might be an important factor after the quality of the instrument itself.

Learn how to get it right by choosing the best microphone types and best mic for your needs.

Now that you know when to choose dynamics, ribbons or condensers get back to your music and mic something up!

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