Discovering the different types of microphones

 

Purchasing microphones for your studio can be one of the most exciting parts of studio ownership. From the intense research that leads you to make your purchases. To the anticipation of plugging in your microphone for the first time. Microphone selection will play one of the most important roles in your studio from the very beginning. Learning and understanding the variety of microphones available in the market will lead to better and more informed purchases for your studio. Below we will review the 3 most used microphone types and their functionalities.

 

Dynamic Microphones

 

A dynamic microphone will probably be one of your first purchases when you own your own personal studio. Because costs can be relatively low for users when purchasing dynamic microphones, they tend to be a large part of a studio’s “mic locker.” Dynamic microphones are often very durable with the ability to handle high transient, loud, information very easily. Some of the dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 and Sennheiser MD421 have been used for almost 15 years on every studio session since our studio’s inception.

 

A good rule of thumb with loud sound sources is to use a dynamic microphone up close. The ability to handle high sound pressure levels make these microphones the perfect choice for loud, up close applications.

 

A downside to dynamic microphones can be found in their high frequency responses. You may see a lack of information when hovering around the 10kHz and higher area of the frequency range. However, this lack of clarity can often be resolved by using an EQ boost with your preamp or within your DAW.

 

Condenser Microphones

 

When working with condenser microphones you often hear the term “phantom power.” This is because condenser microphones require a small charge, 48-volt DC power, to run properly. You will find a vacuum tube or transistor requiring power built into the microphone when you look inside.

 

Condenser microphones are often used on sensitive or delicate sound sources like the human voice or acoustic guitar because of their amazing ability to capture the high-end frequency information. Most professional studios will almost always use condenser microphones to capture and record a vocal performance. Because the condenser microphone is powered by an external source, it requires less gain from the preamp to be effective in capturing transient information. This makes it a go to in the studio when dealing with dynamic sound sources like vocals, drums, acoustic guitar and other instruments with large peaks and valleys in their sound source.

 

Many higher end condenser microphones offer multiple polar patterns lending themselves to a variety of recording application in the studio making them extremely useful and worth the investment.

 

Condenser microphones often have a great frequency response across the frequency range. This especially useful when you are trying to capture the exact representation of a sound source or the room it’s in. Basically, what you hear is what you get with condenser microphones.

 

Because of its sensitive internal mechanical workings though, be careful when handling condenser microphones. They can often be very delicate, and their sound reproduction can change if handled improperly.

 

Ribbon Microphones

 

Ribbon microphones consist of a very thin aluminum foil, ribbon, that responds to sound pressure. The molecules in the air cause the vibrations through the aluminum foil or ribbon. The electrical signal generated by this movement is really slow and needs a huge boost from a preamp to get an acceptable microphone signal. You will find yourself pushing the gain knob on your preamp almost all the way when using ribbon microphones.

 

Ribbon microphones have a relatively flat frequency response making them ideal in capturing the true essence of an instrument or sound source. This is great when considering how the mix process will be in terms of EQ’ing as your ribbon microphone will respond very well to external equalization, allowing you to shape your sound very easily.

 

I often found that the low end was really well translated with ribbon microphones. With the ability to capture the low end very easily from a sound source, we often use this microphone in conjunction with others to shape our sound prior to mixing.

 

On drums for example, we use ribbon microphones to capture the low end of the room we are in. We often place ribbon microphones close to the floor or in corners where low end frequencies build up.

 

On guitar cabs, we will often use a ribbon microphone on the outer cone or rear of the cabinet where there is a good low end tone with a dynamic microphone directly in the center of the cone where all the highs are located then blend them in the control room to shape our perfect sound.

 

One thing to consider when purchasing ribbon microphones is that they may be moderately expensive and fragile when handling. Be careful with these types of microphones because any sudden shift or movement can damage the ribbon leading to a degradation in sound.

 

 

 

Microphone EQ Response Typical Price Range Common Brands
Dynamic Microphone Mid-range $20 –  $500 Shure, Sennheiser
Condenser Microphone High end $100 – $5000 Rodes, Neumann
Ribbon Microphone Flat with excellent low-end response $400 – $5000 Royer, Cascade

 

Conclusion:

 

As you can see, the 3 common microphones used in studios will pretty much cover any type of recording situation you may come across. When used in conjunction with each other, employing the qualities that make each microphone unique, you can truly craft unique sounds in the studio that will not only satisfy your clients but the listener as well.