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Certainly, each of us has held or used a microphone at a point or two in our lives. Some use microphones for a living, while others have only held a microphone when a situation would call for it. Nevertheless, microphones are a huge part of our lives. Most of the time, we just see microphones as objects that record audio or amplify sound. We don’t really think about how a microphone works or what are its components that make things work.
In this article, we’ll be diving deep into naming and defining the parts of a microphone. By knowing these basic parts and having a technical understanding of microphone anatomy, you’ll be able to produce quality audio and maybe even develop your own signature sound.
Before we get into it, let’s take a crash course into the history of microphones and the science of recording sounds. Back in the day, microphones did not use electronics or any of the sort. If you’ve ever been to college football games, you may have noticed that they usually use a megaphone. Just like non-electronic microphones in the past, megaphones amplify a voice by allowing the sound to reflect a number of times off the interior of the cone before eventually being amplified in a directional pattern.
Transducer devices are devices that convert one form of energy into another. Megaphones don’t make use of transducers. Microphones, on the other hand, do. As such, the modern definition of the microphone is a transducer that converts sound energy into an electronic audio signal. The first microphone with a transducer is something a lot of us are familiar with: two cans connected by a wire.
Sound waves enter one can and are converted into vibrations by the wire, and then converted again to sound with the next can. Decades later, the phonograph was invented. The phonograph makes use of a magnetically-charged membrane called a diaphragm to pick up sound and then convert it to vibration. The needle on the phonograph etches the vibration into a record, allowing it to be replayed. Modern microphones have taken one of their key parts from phonographs as most, if not all, use a diaphragm today.
Now that we’ve briefly talked about the beginnings of the microphone and its technology, it’s time to take it apart piece by piece and discuss them individually.
Different microphones have different technologies when it comes to their membranes and transducers. Dynamic and condenser microphones may look similar, but they’re very different in their technology, construction, audio signals, and the type of sound recording they’re suited for. They each have components unique to them but also, there are parts that they have in common. Let’s take a look at them.
A dynamic microphone is one of the most common types of microphones. When people hear the word ‘microphone,’ the first image that comes up in their mind is a dynamic mic, even if they’re not aware of it. Dynamic microphones have three vital parts inside that make them work.
All microphones have a diaphragm as this is the membrane of the microphone that is similar to our eardrums. This can be a thin piece of metal, plastic, or aluminum that vibrates when sound enters the microphone. This vibration is then turned into an electric signal by the microphone. The diaphragm is the aspect that matters the most in a microphone, especially when it comes to sound quality.
The coil is a part that is unique to dynamic microphones. This is attached to the diaphragm. When the diaphragm begins to vibrate, the coil vibrates as well, moving back and forth between a magnet. This back and forth movement between the magnetically-charged coil and the magnet is what creates the electric energy in the signal.
The magnetic core is another aspect that’s unique to dynamic microphones. The core creates a magnetic field for the coil, allowing the vibrations to create an electric signal.
Condenser microphones are the other most common microphone type. They differ from dynamic mics in the way that they are more sensitive and responsive. When it comes to microphone parts, a dynamic and a condenser both have a diaphragm in them. Aside from that though, condenser mics employ components to convert sound.
Just like dynamic mics, condenser microphones also contain a diaphragm in them. However, unlike dynamic mics, the diaphragm of condenser mics come in two sizes: large or small. Implied in their name, large-diaphragm microphones can capture more acoustic energy and have low self-noise. On the other hand, small-diaphragm microphones capture sound more accurately and have a very consistent pickup pattern.
Large-diaphragms are mostly used for vocals, spoken, or solo instruments to make them appear more rich and vibrant. Meanwhile, small-diaphragm condensers are best used for capturing natural and detailed sounds.
Inside condenser mics are capacitor plates. Essentially, these are two metal plates with a voltage between them. One of the plates is made of a very thin, light, flexible material and works like a diaphragm would, which is to pick up sound waves. When the thin plate is hit, the distance between the capacitor plates changes, and a voltage occurs.
A condenser microphone also has a unique aspect to it that can’t be found in a dynamic microphone. Condenser microphones require phantom power to work. This supply voltage is invisible to any microphone that doesn’t require its usage. This can be supplied directly from the mic input on a mixer or audio interface. Without it, a condenser mic won’t work.
Now that we’ve sorted out the different parts of the condenser and dynamic mics, it’s time to learn about other components that they share. These parts aren’t just exclusive to these two microphones, other types of microphones make use of them as well.
Of course, every microphone has to have a body. It has nothing to do with the quality of sound but the body of a microphone can determine if your device will last long. You can say it’s similar to the chassis of a car. Quality microphones have bodies that are robust and sturdy, with their electronics carefully assembled inside to handle bumps, drops, and other accidents that may happen.
Any microphone has an output which is where one would plug a cable into the mic. Most microphone outputs will accommodate an XLR cable, a three-pronged cable that sends a stereo signal. Cheaper microphones will usually come with a cable attached.
If you’ve held a mic before, you may have noticed that its top is covered with something that’s like a steel net, or perhaps a foam-like cover, or maybe, it’s covered with a furry material. Beneath these barriers is the capsule. On any mic, the capsule is where the sound transforms from vibration to an electric signal. Basically, this is the part of the mic that you speak into.
In dynamic mics, the coil and the core are separate from the capsule. In other kinds of mics such as ribbon microphones, the core, and the coil come together with the capsule. Some mics, such as condenser mics, require a separate source of power to operate the capsule while others don’t.
The ball on the top of a microphone is called a metal grille. Mic grilles can come in many shapes and sizes but the most common one, especially with handheld mics, is the spherical grille. Made of solid metal, this mesh grille is a protective layer around a microphone’s capsule. It’s designed to shelter the capsule from physical trauma, plosives, gusts of air, and moisture, all the while allowing sound to enter the mic capsule effectively. Some grilles are integrated into the body of the mic, while some can be removed.
Grilles can also act as a windscreen. The mesh-like design of grilles can effectively block out wind from entering the diaphragm, preventing it from creating unnecessary noise in the signal. Some mics have grilles that include an acoustic foam attached to their interior area to further dissipate gusts of air. For studio use or outdoor situations though, the grille itself may not be enough. An additional pop filter can help in reducing unwanted noises.
There you have it, the basic parts of a mic. They all may look different on the outside and may have some unique parts on the inside but a lot of them also have components that they share. Now that you know more about the different parts, you’ll be able to determine the right mic for your application.
If you’re interested in mics and need one for any purpose, you can check out our reviews to find the best microphone that suits your needs.
The answer to this question depends on what kind of application or situation you will use the mic for. If your aim is to use a mic in loud environments or use them for vocals, drums, guitar amps, and such, it’s ideal to use a dynamic mic. However, if you need a mic for studio recording, or you need to capture ambient noise, acoustic instrument sounds, and other detailed sounds, a condenser mic will be the best one to use.