Understanding Microphone Vocabulary


Understanding how microphones work can be a very daunting task to the up and coming recording engineer. However, knowing the basics of microphone construction and understanding what is happening internally will ultimately lead to better microphone choices in the future for your studio. Below is a list of terms that will help you in your journey with the various microphones that you will inevitably purchase for your studio.


Directional Response


Various microphones respond to sound sources differently coming from different directions.  Usually determined by the casing, directional response represents the direction of sensitivity the microphone is mostly responsive to. Think of it as the area to which the microphone will be the most effective when selecting your microphone placement. Below are the 4 most common types of directional responses:


Cardioid: A microphone where most transient information will be picked up from the front of the mic. Sound information coming from the rear or sides of the microphone is not translated well through the microphone.


Hypercardioid: The frequency and transient information will be reproduced primarily in front of the microphone. The rear and sides of the microphone will even have less influence than in a cardioid pattern.


Omni-Directional: A pattern in which a microphone can pick up sound sources equally from all directions


Figure Eight or Bidirectional: This pattern equally pickups sound information from the front and rear of the microphone but little to no information on the sides


Proximity Effect


As you move the microphone farther or closer to a sound source you will notice an increase or decrease in certain frequencies. Typically, when a microphone is placed close to a sound source you will notice an increase in low end frequencies. This can be particularly useful in the studio when you are trying to enhance or find a particular sound for an instrument when recording.




Sensitivity is a measurement of the output signal and can typically be thought of as how loud a microphone can be. Various microphones react to sound pressure levels differently. For example, condenser microphones have a higher sensitivity than Ribbon microphones and thus need less gain from the preamp to pick up a sound source effectively.


Frequency Response


Determining a microphone’s frequency response will detail the particular frequencies that the microphone is sensitive to. Some microphones may have a slight boost in high end frequencies straight out of the box with no additional equalization needed. Some microphones strive to have a flat frequency response in which no particular frequencies are enhanced or decreased straight out of the box. You may come across the term “colored” in your career. This simply refers to those frequencies that have been enhanced for a particular microphone.


Noise Level


Noise level can be referred to as the internal noise that the microphone produces under normal operating conditions. Most modern-day microphones have such a low noise level that it may be almost impossible to hear unless really pushing the gain on the preamp.


Handling noise is simply the uncontrollable vibrations heard through your microphone. For example, the vibration caused by moving the microphone stand or the cord that is heard through the microphone. It usually sounds like a low rumble. This is just the result of the vibrations you create by moving the stand or cord being transmitted through the microphone. My advice is to set it and forget it.


Once you’ve found a sweet spot for your microphone, don’t move it unless necessary




Located inside the microphone, the diaphragm is the part of the microphone that is vibrated by sound waves coming from a sound source




Once the sound waves have hit the diaphragm, the transducer converts this energy into an electrical signal that is then sent out to a preamp




The casing is simply the housing of the microphone where the diaphragm and transducer is located in providing support and protection to the sensitive material inside.