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Are you a content creator who is stuck with the question “what kind of microphone do I need?”
The important part of content creation is making sure your audio is crystal clear. Whether it’s a short film, a podcast, or a music track, owning a microphone with superb sound is essential for your projects. However, there are so many types of microphones to choose from. Most of the time we find ourselves buying any type of mic, and feel unsatisfied because it doesn’t deliver the kind of output we expect it to do.
To add more difficulty, there is a lot of technical jargon which can be difficult to distinguish from the relevant information you only need. Salespeople also assume that you already know a lot about mics when purchasing one, and it doesn’t help if you only want a condenser mic but were given a dynamic microphone.
To start your content creation journey, here are six things to consider if you want a good microphone to go with a short video, launching a YouTube channel, or upgrading your podcast set-up.
Before rushing to the nearby store and frantically deciding what type of mic to buy, you must first decide how you’ll use it.
It’s been a long-standing issue for both beginners and professionals to think more about the purpose of needing a microphone before figuring out all the technicalities about the different microphone types. What you can do is to sit down for a while and think carefully about the reason why you need a microphone in the first place.
You can start by analyzing the place and situation where the microphone will be used. If you’re aiming to record an audio track or voice-over, then you need a condenser mic that captures the sound in your room to an acceptable frequency. The logic is also similar if you’re doing live performances or recordings for your online community. On the other hand, recording outside is an entirely different beast.
If you’re planning to do live performances, you need to consider a dynamic mic that can deliver top-quality sound despite moving around the stage. Performers, like rock bands, like to interact with their fans or throw their microphones on the ground or onto the crowd. You have to consider a mic that can cover every area in the event and is not susceptible to immediate malfunctions.
Moreover, the important key to remember when thinking about your purpose of wanting a microphone is the kind of task you’re expecting it to do.
The next stage is to know the different technicalities of all microphone types. Most people are familiar with dynamic mics since it’s the easiest to use and most accessible to the public. But the functionalities of dynamic mics are different from the others. While it’s true that microphones exist in different sizes, these also reflect the purpose it is intended for. You have to be knowledgeable enough to determine the different purposes of every mic and how these can fit your projects.
To give you a kickstart about microphones, here are a few things you should know about their functions and purpose.
When buying a microphone, you have to always check the type of polar pattern it has. It is the level of sensitivity that all microphone types have when you use them. It can be unidirectional, omnidirectional, bidirectional, cardioid, and shotgun. Remember that sound waves can come from all places, whether you’re in a close room or surrounded by a crowd. You have to ensure that your mic is capable of capturing and rejecting sound frequency from the direction you only want it to record.
An audio interface is only needed if you bought a mic that has an XLR connection. This device is capable of immediately converting the sound waves from your mic to a digital copy your computer or software can recognize. In most cases, it also has the phantom power that condenser microphones require.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need it if you’re not doing an off-site recording. Audio interfaces are sometimes bulky and quite a hassle to carry around. Always make sure that your microphone has most of the features you need for a project before deciding to buy one.
When we talk about the proximity effect, the buzzing sound you hear from speakers every time a phone is ringing is a good example. It is most commonly felt when making phone calls, but it can affect any microphone type.
To account for the proximity effect, you have to check the mic’s frequency range. Low-frequency noises are magnified as you talk closer to a microphone, especially a cheap one. In order to prevent this from happening, you should make sure to check the polar pattern of your mic. In most cases, you need to stand at least six inches in front of the microphone to ensure the proximity effect is at bay.
Diaphragms are those thin criss-cross metals that wrap the head of microphones. The design was specifically made to be thin because it allows the sound waves to vibrate its surface, and simultaneously converts it to electricity. Of course, the size of the diaphragms influences sounds pressure levels, handling and sensitivity, dynamic range, and internal noise.
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones shape the sound in a nice way. Because it can capture more sound waves, it makes the sound rich and bright especially during live performances. Thus, many musicians prefer using a mic with a large diaphragm for solo performances.
However, if you desire to record pure, genuine sound without any added flavors, small-diaphragm condensers are the best option. Because of their neutral tone, tiny diaphragms are more sensitive in recording the sound in your studio or in a closed area.
One of the earliest versions of mics that made its way to the public is a dynamic microphone. This is a handheld device that can easily broadcast the sound you produce to the crowd. Most often than not, you can see your favorite musicians use this type of mic when they perform on the stage. That’s because dynamic mics are good for live performances.
A dynamic mic can perform admirably even in loud conditions. On the inside, there’s a little coil that responds to sound waves. Sound waves are then converted to electrical signals when it vibrates the coiled wire inside the diaphragm. Moreover, dynamic microphones are more appropriate for concerts, events, and other live performances.
Another fan favorite is the condenser microphone. What makes this microphone well-known is its ability to pick up subtleties in sounds. Because it uses capacitor plates, it is more sensitive to minor vibrations than dynamic mics. Hence, this makes it good for recording a podcast, a vocalist, and instruments.
Condenser microphones are usually cardioid mics. They require an external voltage source to function, so investing in an audio interface is needed to provide phantom power to your mic. To put it simply, phantom power is the ability of a mic to send +48V of electricity through the cord of the microphone when it is plugged from an external power source.
However, unlike condenser mics, a shotgun mic is an exception because this is huge and is commonly used in movie sets. A shotgun microphone has a frequency response that is more sensitive to softer sounds, hence it can record everything the actor or actress says.
Ribbon mics are less common because not everyone uses this type of microphone. A ribbon mic has a conductive coil designed like actual ribbons, hence it’s named after its prior art. However, due to its small design, it became susceptible to damage. A conductive ribbon is sandwiched between two electromagnetic poles, which detects the sound source. But this mechanic is for old ribbon mics.
Newer ribbon microphones are more durable than older ones. These ribbon mics are built with stronger nanomaterials but it’s not advisable to use them in amp guitars unless there’s a manufacturer note saying it’s okay. A ribbon mic usually has a bidirectional polar pattern, which works well in capturing and controlling loudness differences in a pinch from either face of the mic. Due to this, ribbon microphones are much more efficient to use as vocal mics for broadcasting or even podcasting.
In the advent that condenser mics don’t work for you, especially in your podcast, an XLR mic is a way to go. The only downside of XLR mics is its expensive price, but other than that, it delivers the quality sound you hope it would. Like most condenser microphones, it requires an audio interface to function.
However, if you still want good-quality mics but don’t have the budget for them, a USB microphone should be on your shopping list. Furthermore, a USB mic is extremely portable. Its convenient design makes it easier to carry around and do impromptu recording, voice acting, or even filming without the need of carrying bulky equipment.
On the other hand, lavalier microphones are often known as lapel microphones or clip-on microphones. These are small wired microphones that are common in film making, vlogging, reporting to a camera, interviewing, and other variety of settings. Its unobtrusive design makes it convenient to record your audio-visual content without the need to expose the mic or carry it around everywhere. Lavalier mics are usually stuck on the neck or on the back of a person to record their voices without much of a hassle.
A key component for all microphone types is their polar patterns. This often determines the sound quality of the mic, from its audio signal capability. Depending on the type of microphone polar patterns, the mic records sounds differently.
For instance, a shotgun microphone has a sensitive frequency range. It can record soft sounds from almost all directions. Sound quality can also be determined by the mic’s frequency response or its audio signal. The frequency response of something refers to how well the components of the microphone can duplicate the signals it is picking up.
There are many different types of microphones, and each has a specific polar pattern and frequency response. It depends on your demands, whether you should buy a dynamic microphone or a condenser microphone. In most cases, you would account for a microphone that can multitask. However, special cases require specific mics in order to capture high-quality audio and performance.
Dynamic microphones are used by live artists for reasons such as they’re durable, inexpensive, and can withstand a lot of loud noise. However, overhead mics like pencil condensers are also popular for musicians playing instruments like violins and drums, because it’s small and can easily be adjusted to capture the sound they produce.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stick it in front of a guitar amp. The frequency response of pencil condensers is much better in duplicating the sound of instruments than a dynamic microphone.
A condenser microphone is ideal for studio recordings because of its sensitive frequency range. While external power, such as phantom power or a preamp, is required, your recordings will benefit from a shock mount and pop filter because of their high sensitivity.
Shotgun mics are exceptions to every rule because these work well on TV and movie sets. Shotgun mics or lavalier mics are utilized to capture all dialogue, without compromising the scene during a shoot. Mics with a cardioid pickup pattern can record the sound from its front and side. This makes it a good choice for duets or choirs.
Locked down individuals who want to sound better over Zoom or do good in recording voices, increased the market for mics exponentially. If you’re new to working from home, you’ve definitely realized the need to upgrade your microphone. While it’s true that there are different microphone types, you don’t really need to buy everything.
For work from home folks, we recommend the USB microphones if you want something that can improve your voice modulation and voice records greatly. Its frequency range is already good if you’re not really aiming for recording as your profession. Condenser mics are also good, especially pencil condensers with a cardioid polar pattern. As discussed, polar patterns are important because they will determine the quality of sound your mic can produce. A pencil condenser mic is good to use at home since it can capture soft sounds.