October 15, 2020
Nowadays there are various types of microphones to pick from, which can make it difficult to pick the right one for recording your voice, instruments, and unique sound. Understanding the characteristics, technology and applications of different types of microphones can help ensure the best possible quality recording, giving your sound the unique touch that audiences are sure to love. This article will offer an in-depth explanation of the various types of microphones used in music production, so you can get the right gear to record the perfect track.
What is microphone bandwidth?
A microphone’s bandwidth refers to the lowest and highest range of sound it can capture. In recording we use the term ‘frequency response’ rather than bandwidth. Most standard audio equipment has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20KHz, as this captures the full range of your vocals and instruments while eliminating any potential noise interference from your recording.
But why should this matter for you, a recording artist? Well, it’s all about creating the right listening experience for your audience! For example, if you are recording a vocal track along with drums and guitars, then you’ll want the frequency response of each mic to match each instrument. This not only makes mixing your track easier, it also gives the instruments the right level of focus so your vocals don’t get swamped out. The incorrect frequency response can also leave recordings sounding dull and flat, something no artist wants…
What is a microphone diaphragm?
Understanding diaphragms and their role in recording audio is essential for picking the right microphones. A microphone diaphragm is a thin membrane that moves in response to changes in external sound pressure and impacts the quality of the sound being recorded.
Now you’ve got to grips with some of the core fundamentals, below are some examples of the mics you’re likely to encounter in recording sessions, and how they suit different artists and music types:
What are the different types of microphones?
If you want something dependable and adaptable, dynamic microphones are a good place to start. They capture sound efficiently, even at high sound pressure levels. As a result, they work well with louder sources such as live performances, vocals and even some percussion instruments.
These mics are affordable, long-lasting and sound amazing on the most common recording sources. Their capsules are less fragile than condenser microphones, making them ideal for use as portable vocal microphones when recording live performances. They are one of the most common microphones to use since they are robust and adaptable, making them a good general workhorse. Given their low cost and versatility, you should have at least one dynamic microphone in your arsenal.
Large diaphragm condenser microphones
When you think about professional studio recording microphones, Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) microphones are typically the first ones that come to mind. These are the best mics for achieving a big, warm sound. Their sensitivity makes them great for dynamic sources such as vocals, delivering that rich sound a lot of musicians want to achieve.
Small diaphragm microphones
Small Diaphragm Condensers (SDC), often known as pencil condensers, are the LDC’s smaller, less showy relative, usually with a diaphragm with a diameter of 12.7mm or less. Despite their diminutive size, SDCs are just as effective and are usually the best option if you want a very natural sound. This is because they can follow the sound waves from your vocals or instruments more accurately, they have the highest frequency response so they capture sound in the widest range of low and high tones. Finally, these microphones have a consistent pickup pattern, which means they capture sound accurately from every angle of the mic.
Ribbon technology has been around since the dawn of microphones. They’re ideal for taming excessive or harsh high-end sources like guitar amps, drum overheads, or brass without pulling in too much outside noise. They have a perfect figure eight polar pattern and respond exceedingly well to equalization. Keep in mind that, while today’s ribbon microphones aren’t as brittle as early designs, they’re still more easily damaged than dynamics or condensers so take special care when handling them.
While these microphones are no longer as prevalent, they were previously quite popular, particularly in the radio business. The light metal ribbon employed in these microphones allows them to detect air velocity (how quickly the sound waves from your vocals or instruments are hitting the mic) as well as air displacement (the release of the air pressure against the ribbon, for example, during gaps between words or drum beats). This improves the mics’ sensitivity to higher frequencies, allowing for the capture of higher notes to retain a warm vintage sound.
Pro Tip: Ribbon microphones have very low output, which means that they are not the best choice for recording softer or quieter sounds. This will require you to turn up the volume on the amplifier and gain a lot of noise in the recording – this is called the ‘signal to noise ratio’.
A boundary microphone is a small condenser microphone capsule that is placed close to or flush with a boundary, such as a wall or a floor. These types of microphones are often used with drums, small percussion instruments and pianos because they sit flat on either the instrument or the studio wall.
FX microphones are a bit of a wildcard in the business! In general, FX microphones have a really unique character and sound, so you’d use them if you wanted to record anything with high bandwidth, but not if you wanted it to sound like a professionally produced track. As a result, they are frequently used for recording things with limited bandwidth or instruments that distort. A crackly radio operator or a pilot on an intercom are two examples of this kind of sound.
Understanding microphone type according to use
In this section, we will look at the main purpose of each type of microphone. This is an excellent starting point, and as you become better acquainted with each type of microphone, you’ll discover new uses that work for you.
Because acoustic drum sets are naturally loud and punchy, dynamic microphones for the snare, bass, and toms are recommended. The subtleties of the hi-hat, ride, and cymbals may then be captured using small diaphragm microphones. There are also specialist microphones that are fine-tuned to accommodate the various frequencies and sound pressure levels of each component of a drum kit; you can buy them individually or in handy drum kit mic bundles. You may also use a boundary or ribbon microphone in the studio to add atmosphere to your percussion recordings.
Dynamic microphones are the ideal choice for live vocal performances when the stage level might grow loud and feedback suppression is vital. Vocal recording, on the other hand, is a different application that places greater emphasis on the singer’s nuances, so big diaphragm condensers tend to perform best. If you want a more vintage-sounding vocal recording, try ribbon microphones or good old dynamic microphones. Furthermore, small diaphragm and omnidirectional condenser microphones may be used to capture choirs and singing groups, and are especially beneficial when choirs perform in acoustically superior environments such as churches.
A dynamic microphone placed directly in front of the amp speaker is your best chance for electric guitars. Again, if you’re using many amps or want a warmer, more traditional sounding output, try setting a second condenser microphone or ribbon microphone either at the back of the recording space or in conjunction with another microphone to catch some of the room’s ambience.
Acoustic guitars provide a softer tone with immersive subtleties when not amplified. These instruments need the integrity and quality of small diaphragm condenser microphones. Depending on the scenario and noise level, you might also want to try using some well-placed ribbon microphones.
A bright pop sound may be achieved by placing your microphones inside the piano. This provides good isolation, which may be enhanced by lowering the piano lid. Ideally, place two flat or tube condenser microphones about 27cm above the strings, facing straight down.
You may also want to try placing a pair of microphones outside the instrument to generate a more authentic solo piano sound. Place one small condenser microphone three feet in front of the piano, five feet above the ground, and the other three feet to the left or right of the piano, also above ground. As the pianist performs, move about the studio to locate the best spot. Trust your ears since the area that sounds greatest to you will most likely also sound the best on the microphones.
Visit our London recording studio if you’re ready to start recording. We have a huge live area and two control rooms, each one offering a combination of high-end and vintage gear, including different mic types, all overseen by experienced recording professionals. If you’re interested in setting up a custom studio session, contact Kore Studios today.