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Types of Microphones – Which one to use for Specific Purpose?

Last updated on November 5th, 2022 at 12:21 pm

Finding the best microphone is all about the application and the type of environment they are being used in. Comparing your needs to the characteristics of the mic, you can easily choose the right type that offers the right features. 

What are Different Types of Microphones

Although, primarily there are 3 types of microphones that are dynamic, condenser and ribbon. There is quite an extensive range available.

Let’s have a look at different types of microphones for recording to narrow down your research for the best budget vocal mic. Listed below are the types of microphones.

  • Dynamic microphones

  • Condenser microphones

  • Ribbon microphones

  • USB Microphones

  • Wireless Microphones
  • Omnidirectional

  • Bidirectional

  • Cardioid

  • Super cardioid

 

Moving coil / dynamic microphone

How does it work:

A type of microphone that is designed to be used in live sound mixing. They are typically mounted on the left or right side of a speaker and can be placed in front or behind a speaker.

They have a better frequency response. This allows for less noise interference from other speakers and for better audio quality.

Dynamic microphones also have an advantage over condenser microphones because they do not require phantom power to operate, which means that they don’t need an external power supply and will work with any input signal.

Dynamic microphones are incorporated with an inductive coil that is connected to a diaphragm, which is placed within the field of a permanent magnet. When the diaphragm moves, the coil moves with it, varying the voltage produced by the coil. Subtle shifts in the coil vary the sound output.

Features:

  • They are widely used for stage vocals, PA use, etc. 
  • This microphone is capable of tolerating comparatively rough handling because of its sturdy construction. 
  • These mics can handle high SPL very well and are responsive to transients. 
  • Dynamic mics have a low output impedance and a relatively high output level. 
  • They do not require an internal pre-amplifier.
  • Dynamic mics are relatively cheaper as compared to other alternatives. 

Ideal for: 

Loud sound sources like guitar, bass cabs, and drum kits.

What are the Best Ways to Use Dynamic Microphones on a Budget and in the Studio?

Dynamic microphones can come in handy for capturing the nuances of a singer’s voice.

The best way to use dynamic microphones is to set them up in a stereo mic setup. This will help you capture both the vocalist and the band on one microphone. They are primarily focused on capturing the singer’s voice. Meanwhile avoiding distortions from other instruments and voices in the background.

Dynamic microphones can be used on a budget by using them in combination with a condenser microphone, which is more expensive but produces better sound quality than dynamic mics do by themselves.

Condenser / Capacitor microphone

What is a Condenser microphone and How does it work?

A condenser microphone is a type of microphone that converts sound into an electrical signal. It is the most common type of microphone and is used in professional recording studios, live concerts, and music recordings.

Condenser mics have a thin conductive diaphragm, which is located close to a metal plate, called a backplate, creating a capacitor. A small electric charge is supplied to the capacitor, either from a battery or from phantom power.

The distance between the diaphragm and the backplate is changed as per the pressure of the sound waves, causing the diaphragm to vibrate. These vibrations cause variations in the output voltage, which creates the mic’s electronic signal.

Condenser microphones are sensitive to sound pressure levels and require the use of a preamp or power amplifier to increase the signal voltage. The sound waves are converted into an electrical signal by a diaphragm that moves back and forth through an air gap.

Features 

  • Condenser microphones use an external power supply, internal batteries, or phantom power supplied by the mixer input. 
  • Most mixers have phantom power on mic inputs.
  • A condenser microphone is used for high-quality audio, both vocals and instrumentals. 
  • These mics are more sensitive to loud sounds.
  • They are not as sturdy as dynamic microphones. 
  • The output impedance of the condenser mic is generally low that enabling longer leads 
  • Prices for a good quality condenser mic is $100 to $200 to thousands of dollars depending on the model and brand. 
  • At some points, it may require an additional pop filter to reduce pops from plosive sounds. 

Ideal for:

A larger frequency range sounds with good transient response.

How to Choose Which Condenser Mic Fits

1) Check the frequency range.

2) Consider the sensitivity, impedance, and polar pattern.

3) Consider the size of the microphone capsule.

4) Consider noise rejection features such as pop filter and windscreen.

Ribbon microphone

A ribbon mic is actually a sub-type of a dynamic microphone. It is connected to an amplifier in a very similar way to the diaphragm of a dynamic microphone. However, it features an extremely thin strip of metal that acts as the diaphragm and is attracted by magnets.

The ribbon acts as the diaphragm and as a transducer element itself, providing the same kind of sensitivity & transient response you’d expect from a condenser but with a wholly different character.

How does it work:

Ribbon microphones work on the same principle as dynamic mics. Unlike dynamic microphones, instead of a diaphragm, they employ a thin ribbon that vibrates to varying voltage. 

Features:

  • Ribbon mics are used for recording voices and a broad range of instruments.
  • These mics are mostly used in studio setups.
  • Ribbon mics need a pre-amplifier because of their low output.
  • These mics have very low impedance.
  • They are relatively higher in price as compared to others.
  • Ribbon microphones are not as sturdy and durable as dynamic or condenser mics.

Ideal for:

Excessive or harsh high-end sound sources like guitar amps or drum overheads and brass.

USB microphones

How does it work:

These microphones have a built-in digital audio interface.

Features:

  • It connects directly to a USB outlet.
  • USB-powered mics offer plug ‘n’ play convenience. 
  • They are budget-friendly microphones.
  • These mics come in a variety of formats like handheld models and desktop models.
  • Most of the time they are compatible with mic stands. 
  • These microphones range from $100 to $200 and more as per the quality of the mic. 

Ideal for:

Sophisticated digital audio workstations (DAWs) and digital mixing boards.

Types of Wireless Microphones

How does it work:

These mics are similar to other wired microphones, speaking electronically. The electrical signal is passed through a transmitter that converts the signal into radio waves, which in turn are converted into electrical signals to pass to a sound system. 

Features:

  • These mics cannot be used with any receiver since the frequencies need to be matched for clear sound quality.
  • They vary in formats from hand-held models to clip-on lavalier mics, and head-worn mics with a headband. There are also plug-in transmitters that allow you to convert a standard wired mic to its wireless counterpart.
  • Wireless mics are cheaper in comparison to other alternatives in the market. 

Ideal for:

Broadcasting, public speaking, interviews and performances.

All of these types offer different kinds of sound results. Depending on the need and requirement, you can find different types of the best microphone under 100.

Polar Pattern of Microphones

omni, uni, bi-directional polar patterns

In simpler terms, a polar pattern is a term used to describe the directionality of the mic – how sensitive a mic is to the incoming sound waves from various directions or angles. It is also known as a pickup pattern of a mic. 

Every microphone from ribbon to condenser or dynamic has at least one polar pattern. Some of the microphones these days come with multiple polar patterns, depending on the type, model, and price of the mic.

Every polar pattern is responsible for a certain type of vocals, recording scenarios, and the instrument used. 

There are three basic types of polar patterns:

Omnidirectional

Unidirectional (Cardioid)

  • Super-Cardioid 
  • Hyper Cardioid 

Bi-directional (Figure-8)

Video demonstration of polar patterns

 

 

Omnidirectional

Omni directional polar pattern

Equally sensitive from a 360-degree angle. 

  • It captures sound evenly from all directions.
  • The sound does not have to be pointed in a particular direction.
  • Omnidirectional mics have less headroom for feedback.
  • They have the flattest frequency response along with the best bass response.
  • Omnidirectional microphones are least sensitive to both wind sounds and handling noise.
  • For studio recordings, these mics are the best. 

Vocal sample for OMNI-DIRECTIONAL microphone

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/media/2019/12/01_Voice-Omni.mp3

Unidirectional (Cardioid)

uni-directional (cardioid)

Most sensitive from the front and least sensitive from the back. 

  • Unidirectional mics are the most common.
  • It has a lower pick up from the sides.
  • Unidirectional mics are effective in eliminating ambient sound. 
  • In comparison to omnidirectional mics, unidirectional mics have increased resistance to feedback.
  • These mics are the best for vocals or if your target is focusing on highlighting a sound coming from a particular direction.

Vocal sample for CARDIOID microphone

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/media/2019/12/04_Voice-Cardioid.mp3

Cardioid Mic variations

Cardioid mics are further categorized in two different patterns that are less or more similar to the cardioid mic with varying sensitivity and pick up rating. 

Super-Cardioid 

Super cardioid

Speaking of the front, super-cardioid mics have a narrow pickup direction in comparison to cardioid microphones.

  • Narrow pickup direction eliminates unwanted background sound effectively.
  • In close proximity, there is a smaller amount of pickup at the back and the sides.
  • Aggressively resistant to feedback. 
  • These mics perfect isolate an individual source in a loud environment.

Hyper Cardioid 

Hyper cardioid

Hyper cardioid mics have an even narrower direction of pickup in comparison to super-cardioid microphones when we speak about the front.

  • Best rejection of unwanted background noise.
  • A smaller amount of pickup at the side and the rear.
  • They are equally effective in isolating a single source of sound in noisy live environments.
  • The hyper-cardioid mic is the most resistant to feedback.

Bi-directional (Figure-8)

Figure-8 (bidirectional)

Captures an equal amount of sound from the front and back of the mic.

  • These mics have zero pickups from the sides. 
  • It has the highest side rejection as compared to every other polar pattern.
  • Bi-directional mics are more responsive towards your source and the natural characteristics of your space.
  • These mics offer the least bass response.
  • Used for both mid-side stereo and Blumlein recording techniques.
  • These mics are more sensitive toward both handling and wind noise.

Vocal sample for FIGURE 8 microphone

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/media/2019/12/02_Voice-Fig_8.mp3

Here is a video demonstration of the Cardioid vs. Omni-directional vs. Figure-8 polar pattern microphones to make better choices as per your needs and requirements.

 

Multi-pattern types of microphones

Eliminating the need for a different mic for a different style of recording, there are multi-pattern mics that offer a variable range of polar patterns.

Simply by varying the output from different polar pattern mics, you can create any kind of pattern as per the need. 

For instance:

  • Cardioid + cardioid = omnidirectional
  • Cardioid + reversed polarity cardioid = Figure 8
  • Cardioid + cardioid (switched off) = cardioid pattern. 

Polar Patterns as per The Application  

Polar PatternApplication 
Cardioid 
  • Drum kit
  • Live performances
  • Untreated recording space
Omni-directional 
  • Wide sound range (choir, piano)
  • Moving sound source
  • Recording in stereo
Figure 8 (bi-directional)
  • Stereo recording
  • Maximum isolation

Understanding how the specifications of a mic can affect your sound directly, it becomes easier to make the right choice be it the best USB microphone for rapping or the best mics to record vocals

Here are some of the best microphone under 100 that offers the best features at the most affordable price range, without compromising the quality of the sound.

2 Types of microphone 

There are two major types that are widely used. You cannot say one type is better than the other as they are made to serve different purposes. Using the right mic for the right purpose gives the best results.

Tube microphones

Tube microphones are associated with warmth and roundness. These microphones require a stable source of high voltage. To achieve the right voltage, these mics are accompanied by external power supply units. 

  • Smooth out the sound of the instrument.
  • It rolls off the top-end of a source that offers a warm tone that is pleasing to the ears. 
  • It adds an element of depth and resonance, which makes instruments sound larger than life. 

FET microphones

FET mics are best known for fast transient response and accuracy.

  • These mics are best known for their transient response that helps in picking precise transients as compared to tube mics.
  • These are the best for louder sources of sound as the FET mic has less output.
  • They perfectly run off standard 48V phantom power that is supplied with the most common preamps. 
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