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Which microphone for which purpose?

Which microphone for which purpose?

Anyone who wants to begin recording instruments will ask themselves which microphone(s) they should buy. The overwhelming choice doesn’t help, either. We’d like to help you through the labyrinth with a short description of the different kinds of microphones, with their applications and directional properties.

Types of microphones

Dynamic microphone:
In a dynamic microphone a coil is moved within a magnetic field, inducing a current. This converts sound pressure into an electrical signal. There are two types of dynamic microphone.

  • Moving coil microphone: Its name comes from the technical arrangement of its elements, where the magnet coil “moves” within the magnetic field.
  • Ribbon microphone: The ribbon microphone uses a diaphragm of thin, corrugated aluminum placed between two magnets.

Condenser microphone
In a condenser microphone the capacitor comprises a diaphragm and a metal plate. Vibrations change the distance between the diaphragm and the plate, creating a capacity which is converted into an electrical signal. There are two types of condenser microphone.

  • Large diaphragm condenser: Has a diaphragm diameter that is larger than the standard 2.54 cm.
  • Small diaphragm condenser: Has a diaphragm diameter that is smaller than the standard 2.54 cm.

Applications + advantages and disadvantages

Dynamic microphones are robustly designed (apart form ribbon microphones) and thus are particularly suitable for live performances. They can sustain impacts and falls, but aren’t designed for low and soft signals because of their restricted sensitivity. They’re great for live vocals, guitar, snare, bass drum and brass. No external power supply is needed when using a dynamic microphone.

Large diaphragm condenser microphones are more sensitive and therefore ideal for studio use. They’re high-resolution and are used for vocals, guitar, flute and room sound. A power source known as phantom power is required for using this microphone.

Small diaphragm condenser microphones have a more neutral sound as a result of their smaller diaphragm and respond better to higher sound pressure. However, they have higher self-noise. These microphones are often used for strings, flute, acoustic guitar and as an overhead microphone for drums. They require phantom power.

Ribbon microphones belong to the dynamic microphone family, but are used less frequently in production, because they are very expensive and are very delicate because of their design, as described above. Fans of ribbon microphones enjoy using them for their soft, warm sound, ascribing a certain magic to their sound. Strings, wind instruments and guitar amps sound full and round. For the majority of recordings, these microphones don’t require phantom power.

Directional properties

Every microphone has its own directional properties. This describes the microphone’s sensitivity to sound depending on the direction it’s coming from. As this is an important criteria for use, it’s good to be informed about this before buying. The standard properties are briefly described here:

omnidirectional microphone Omnidirectional: Picks up sound evenly from all directions. Microphones with this property are not suitable for live performance because there is a high risk of feedback. Clip-type mics like those on talk shows are omnidirectional.
cardioid microophone Cardioid: Sound is picked up mostly from the front, and from the back to a much lesser extent. Because they’re less susceptible to feedback, they’re ideal for live applications.
supercardioid microphone Supercardioid: Sound is picked up even more precisely from the front. However, a supercardioid microphone also picks up sound from the rear, so take care to position the monitors in the right place.
Bidirectional microphone Bidirectional:Sound is picked up in equal measure from the front and back, but only minimally from the sides. Ribbon and large diaphragm condensers in particular have this sound pick-up pattern and can be used when two singers are facing each other or between two toms.

Here’s a sample of microphones according to application:

 

Dynamic mics

Large diaphragm condenser

mics

Small diaphragm condenser

mics

Ribbon mics

Vocals

Shure SM 58

Shure SM7B

Neumann TLM 49

Neumann U87

AKG C12

Rode NTK

t.bone SC450

Rode NT3

Royer Labs R121

Acoustic guitar

 

Neumann TLM 49

Neumann U87

AKG C12

Rode NTK

t.bone SC450

Rode NT3

Neumann KM184

 

Guitar amp

Shure SM58

Shure SM57

Sennheiser MD421

Neumann U87

t.bone SC4500

Neumann TLM49

AKG C12

Rode NTK

 

Royer Labs R121

Bass amp

Shure SM7B

Shure SM57

 

 

 

Bass drum

Shure Beta 52

 

 

 

Snare drum

Shure SM57

Sennheiser MD421

 

Neumann KM184

 

Toms

Shure SM57

Sennheiser MD421

 

Rode NT5

 

Overheads

 

 

Neumann KM184

 

This article has given you a quick overview of the different types of microphones. Got any tips or ideas of your own on this topic? Share them with us in the comments below!

Author

Basti is a freshman at MAGIX since 2015 and works in the Social Media team, mostly focussing on french communication. He is studying Music and Media and currently writing his Bachelor thesis on the origins of hip-hop. When he does not navigate the social media world, he loves to play piano and dance.

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