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When you’re recording, microphones are probably among the first things that you think about buying. And that’s just right, considering that they are one of the most important components in your setup. Having the right microphone for the job will help you get the most out of your recordings.
There are different types of microphones, each one can do different things. To determine what kind of mic suits you, you need to know what kind of recording you’d do most frequently, a mic’s pick-up patterns, its connection options, and other features you require.
If that sounds like a lot, don’t fret. We can easily explain everything that you need to know on how to find the best microphones.
First Things First: The Pick-Up Patterns
When choosing the best microphones, the first thing that you should know is the pick-up pattern. Also called the polar pattern, this defines the area or angles that the microphone will “hear” and pick up sound from.
The type of recording you’ll do will influence the perfect microphone that you should use for that session. Depending on its polar pattern, a microphone can either record sounds from the front, from all over, or from opposite sides. The most common pick-up patterns that you can find on most microphones available today include:
This polar pattern just means that your microphone is most sensitive to sound made right in front of it. It can pick up sounds at 0 degrees, but it is less sensitive at 180 degrees.
For the most part, you will want a cardioid microphone for interviews, podcasts, or singing.
Like a cardioid microphone, these devices pick up the sounds that are directly in front of it. But it has a narrower angle so that it has more side rejection and is more sensitive to sound at the back of the microphone.
You can use a supercardioid microphone to record live concerts because of the high gain it offers before there is any feedback.
An omnidirectional microphone can pick up sound from any direction. As such, it’s good for roundtable discussions and any situation where you only have access to one microphone.
Omnidirectional microphones are also useful because of their excellent bass response. If you have a problem with wind noise or handling noise, then get an omni.
Time-based stereo recordings are made easier with this microphone, and it’s also perfect for those who have good-sounding rooms.
A figure-8 microphone will pick up sound both in front or at the rear of it. The mic is least sensitive at the sides.
Figure-8 mics have the highest side rejection among all polar patterns, so you can use it when you don’t want any sound coming from the side to get into your recording. Also, if you need to record sound in stereo, figure-8 microphones are for you.
However, figure-8 microphones can also pick up wind and handling noise the most.
If you put a cardioid and an omnidirectional microphone together, you’d get a wide cardioid polar pattern. With this polar pattern, you can record sounds from all around you, but more so at the front.
You can use a wide cardioid microphone to record a group of instruments, a choir, or to get a more natural vocal recording.
Making It Simple: The Polar Patterns
To make it easier for you to remember which polar pattern picks up sound from which direction, here is a side-by-side comparison:
|Polar Pattern||Picks Up||Best for|
|Cardioid||Front area, less at the sides and none from the rear||Most recording or speaking situations|
|Supercardioid||Similar to cardioid, but with a narrower pick-up angle||Live concerts and filmmaking|
|Omnidirectional||All directions||For roundtable discussions and for recording the most natural sounds|
|Figure-8||Front and back area, with no sound getting picked up from the sides||Stereo recording, two-person interview using only one microphone|
|Wide cardioid||From all sides, but more sensitive at 0 degrees||For getting a more natural recording than possible with a cardioid and for recording a group of vocals or instruments|
Additionally, this SAE Institute video will explain these polar patterns further:
Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones
Dynamic microphones use magnets to turn the sound waves it picks up into voltage. The soundwaves make the diaphragm vibrate, and the electricity that is created is sent to the output.
Meanwhile, condenser microphones make use of the phantom power that boosts the electricity created by the magnetic plate as the sound waves vibrate.
Between these two, you can use a dynamic microphone when you need a microphone that is less prone to damage. As such, dynamic microphones are often used in recording live music. You will probably want to use them when recording brass instruments, guitar amplifiers, drums, loud vocals, and keyboards.
Meanwhile, condenser microphones are more sensitive when it comes to audio signals. If the signal is too strong, you will get a lot of distortion. You can use this for vocals, acoustic guitars, bass drums, and piano.
In summary, you should choose a dynamic microphone for strong and loud sounds or to record a live concert. Condenser microphones are excellent if you want to record delicate audio and high frequencies.
A condenser microphone also needs a power source for you to hear the signals, while a dynamic microphone doesn’t.
Our Recommendations for Condenser Microphones
- Shure SM27-SC Cardioid Side-Address Condenser is an excellent choice for those who are penny-pinching. With a large diaphragm, this microphone is very durable and can work all day. It has a cardioid pick-up pattern and comes with a low-cut filter.
- Lewitt Reference-Class Tube/FET Condenser Microphone (LCT-940) combines both tube and FET in one body. You can use this to shape sound and even switch between warmth and clarity.
- Neumann TLM 103. If you wanted to own a Neumann but have been hesitant because of the exorbitant price tag, the TLM 103 might be what you’re looking for. This affordable alternative to Neumann’s U 87 Ai comes in matte black and satin nickel.
Our Recommendations for Dynamic Microphones
- Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Instrument Microphone has a shaped frequency response that delivers naturally great sound quality for guitars and drums. It’s tough and can be used in any environment.
- Electro-Voice RE-20 is a professional quality microphone that performs similarly to a condenser. It is very solidly built using top-notch materials. It requires no proximity adjustments and offers several controls and filters.
- Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500 offers a frequency response of 50 hertz to 15 kilohertz. It can efficiently suppress feedback and comes with a shock mount system that can reduce handling noise. You can also rely on the pop filter to eliminate pop noises.
Diaphragms: Why They Matter
Diaphragms are an important part of every microphone. These work like small speakers made with a magnet, plastic, or coil.
Sound waves cause the diaphragm to vibrate. The vibration, in turn, will create voltage. Small diaphragms are great for catching higher frequencies.
These diaphragms can also maintain a reliable pick-up pattern. These microphones shine in recording snare drums, acoustic guitars, and pianos.
Bigger diaphragms give you a fuller and larger sound. This is great for recording vocals or bass drums. You’d also get a more vintage sound if you use microphones with huge diaphragms when recording live music.
The Cheat Sheet: Should You Choose a Dynamic or Condenser Microphone?
Because of its ability to capture big signals without having to worry that it will get damaged, get a dynamic microphone if you’re recording:
- Brass instruments
- Guitar amplifiers
- Loud vocals
- Snare drums and toms
Meanwhile, condenser microphones are sensitive to audio signals, so you will be more prone to distortion. As such, you should limit using condenser microphones in studios and for recording:
- Acoustic guitars
- Bass drums
- Room ambiance
- Softer or normal volume vocals
Another consideration when choosing the best microphone for your setup is the connection options. When it comes to microphones, you have a lot of choices, but the most common are:
- 3.5-mm jacks
But it all boils down to the kind of equipment you already have in your setup. The best microphone connection will allow you to connect directly to your interface, equipment, or computer.
Choose a microphone with a USB connector if you’re using a computer for your recordings. A USB connector will allow you to connect the microphone directly to your computer.
There are also some cost savings involved when you choose a USB microphone over one that has an XLR connector. You don’t need to buy interfaces such as an audio interface or mixer.
More than, when you have two similar microphones with either USB or XLR, you will find that the USB version is more affordable.
USB connectors are also a breeze to plug in.
XLR microphones have three-prong connectors. Professional equipment and interfaces will have an XLR connection port. XLR is for analog devices and instruments, and it is the standard connector for professional setups.
You are not limited to just using your computer. XLR is great for music recording and for that professional quality sound.
What’s more, XLR connectors mean that you can easily upgrade when you have more gear.
Between XLR and USB, you might find that USB is perfect for:
- Online meetings
- Digital music production
However, if you record professionally, do voiceovers, sing, or play instruments, an XLR connection will be great.
Apart from XLR and USB, there are also microphones with a 3.5-mm connector. Older computers might not have USB slots, so you may need these microphones and just insert the connector into an audio jack.
A 3.5-mm microphone can take full advantage of your sound card’s capabilities. Plus, there aren’t many latency problems, unlike with USB connectors. If you do Facebook Live or do videos with any other live streaming platform, you will have a better time with the crisp and clear sound that 3.5-mm microphones give you.
But these microphones are more expensive than the USB variety. There are also times when you hear a bit of a static when they’re plugged in, and you may also need an audio interface to connect these if your computer doesn’t have an audio jack.
Putting It All Together: The Different Types of Microphone Connectors
The easiest way for you to decide which type of connector your microphone should have is to look at the various inputs on the equipment you already own and would be using your microphone with.
If you are mostly into podcasting and Zoom meetings, you don’t have to spend too much; you can also just get a USB microphone. But for serious audio recordings, you might need to start with a 3.5-mm microphone or an XLR connector for capturing vocals and instruments.
Side-by-Side Comparison: Microphone Connectors
The Different Types of Microphones
Now that you are already familiar with polar patterns, connectors, and the differences between dynamic and condenser microphones, you should know the different types of microphones that you can buy:
- Internal microphones
- Directional microphones
- Shotgun microphones
- Stereo microphones
- Lavalier microphones
- Ribbon microphones
- Multi-use microphones
Several devices have built-in microphones. For instance, your smartphones and a GoPro camera have an internal microphone built in.
For the most part, you can use built-in microphones when you have no other choice. They can do the job, and they have reasonably good sound quality.
Directional microphones are also known as cardioid or unidirectional microphones. These microphones can record sound coming from a particular area.
Directional microphones have a pick-up pattern that can record sound strongly from the front. As such, it can help block unwanted background noise and focus on the speaker’s voice.
Microphones such as the Rode PodMic Cardioid Dynamic Podcasting Microphone are excellent for podcasts because it picks up sound only from the front, blocking out the background noise. On top of that, this microphone also has an internal pop filter and shock that helps to reduce vibration.
You can also use directional microphones when you’re interviewing in a noisy environment or for singing. The Singing Machine SMM-205 Unidirectional Dynamic Microphone can record the singer’s voice more clearly, while also helping you avoid feedback.
And if you’re not a fan of big microphones, or if you do mobile recordings, there are mini directional microphones that you can buy, such as the:
- Saramonic Professional Mini Plug Play Microphone for iOS devices
- Rode VideoMicPro Compact Directional On-Camera Microphone
If you like directional microphones, you will love the shotgun variety. These devices have a very narrow pick-up pattern, so it is extremely directional.
As a result, you can record very good audio from a small area. Shotgun microphones feature a long tube that usually measures between eight to 24 inches (20.3 to 61 centimeters).
Because of the way they are designed, these microphones can cancel out sounds coming from the rear while amplifying those coming from the front.
A longer tube on a shotgun microphone means that it’s more directional than those with a short tube. You can use a shotgun microphone to record sound while doing an interview or when you’re filming a movie.
You can choose the kind of shotgun microphone according to the audio quality you want. Prices will vary.
- Audio-Technica AT897 Line/Gradient Shotgun Condenser Microphone
- Deity S-Mic 2 Condenser Shotgun Microphone
- Movo VXR10 Universal Video Microphone
While we have been talking about different microphones based on their pick-up patterns, there’s also the stereo microphones. These devices record audio in stereo.
Because the microphone picks up sound from two channels and at different angles, the recorded audio will be similar to what we hear in person. So if you want the feeling of being there in a live concert or field recording, then a stereo microphone is a must.
The Audio-Technica AT2022 is a great entry-level stereo microphone as it has two directional capsules, and you can adjust the angles to either 90 or 120 degrees. Plus, it runs on batteries, so you can use it with any recording device in the field.
Or, if you want something handy and portable, you can get the Shure MV88 iOS Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone. You only have to plug it into your iPhone and start recording.
Lavalier microphones are those that you clip onto your shirt. You don’t have to hold it or stay in one place when you’re speaking.
These small microphones are attached to a speaker’s body or clothing. They can be wired or wireless and are lightweight and discrete.
Lavalier microphones can be omnidirectional or cardioid, but it only picks up sound coming from one source. For instance, the Rode SmartLav+ Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone can pick out sounds from every direction. You just plug it into your smartphone’s 3.5-mm audio jack and record professional-quality audio.
You can also check out the Sennheiser Pro Audio that allows you to keep your hands free while wearing an unobtrusive microphone. For even more flexibility and excellent audio recording, you can get the Sony ECMAW4 Wireless Microphone. You can capture sound even when you’re away from the receiver, as long as you stay within Bluetooth range.
Ribbon microphones are a type of dynamic microphone that uses a very thin metal strip that floats in a magnetic field. Ribbon microphones are very sensitive, so it is recommended that you only use them in a soundproof room.
These microphones are also excellent choices when you’re recording electric guitars, strings, drums, brass, woodwinds, and even stereo capture because of their bidirectional polar pattern.
The Cascade Microphones 98-G-A FAT HEAD Ribbon Microphone uses a hand-tuned ribbon that gives it an edge over other similar microphones. With a figure 8 pattern, you get a very balanced input signal from the front and back.
If you like the old-school look, you have the Golden Age Project R1 MKII Ribbon Microphone. This classic-looking ribbon microphone makes your desk look like a radio station right out of the 1950s. And it’s not all gimmickry, as the R1 MKII delivers warm tones, exceptional bass response, and very sophisticated high frequencies.
Microphones with Different Pick-Up Patterns
If you’re doing different types of recording, you should invest in microphones that can capture sound in various patterns. Having this will make it possible for you to perfectly capture excellent sound regardless of your location: in the recording studio, at live events, or on the streets.
The Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming has three capsules that deliver a clear and high-quality audio recording to make those YouTube and Twitch videos outstanding while also making Zoom and video conferences top-notch. You can even use this microphone to record music.
You can rely on Blue Yeti on a wide variety of recording needs as you can choose among four pick-up patterns:
So you can easily record a podcast using the directional pick-up pattern, outdoor scenes with the stereo pattern, a one-on-one interview with the bidirectional option. And lastly, a roundtable discussion with the omni-directional pattern.
This condenser microphone comes with a stand and USB connection. And it’s good enough for most semi-professionals and amateurs!
Another recommendation from us is the JLab Talk Go USB Microphone. This microphone is compact and lightweight but gives you a choice between cardioid or omnidirectional polar patterns.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Are there other microphone connectors that we should know about?
Answer: There are close to a dozen microphone connectors that you can buy right now. However, most of these are not that common.
• Mini XLR has three types of mini XLR connectors: TQG, TA3, and TA4. These are smaller than the typical XLR connectors.
• Tip-sleeve or TS connectors: can carry unbalanced sound signals and come in different sizes, including 1/4- and 1/8-inch sizes.
• Tip-ring-sleeve or TRS connectors are used to transmit balanced sound signals in some microphones. The tip handles the positive polarity while the ring takes care of the negative polarity of the audio signal.
• TRRS connectors are used when you have a microphone and headphones using the same connector. If the TS connector has one black band and the TRS has two, the TRRS has three. The tip, two rings, and the sleeve can carry the left and right audio signals, the ground, and the microphone signals.
• TA5 connector is most commonly seen in wireless microphones and lavalier types.
Other connectors such as the tube power supply, Nexus, Amphenol Tuchel, and Switch Craft 2501F are mostly outdated.
Question: What is an audio interface?
Answer: If you don’t have a lot of microphones, or you prefer to keep just one, you will need an audio interface to make sure that you can connect your microphone to your computer.
An audio interface offers several connectors, such as those for headphones, microphones, and even instruments. You can use it to:
• Connect microphones, instruments, MIDI, and headsets to your computer.
• Convert analog signals to digital signals and vice versa
• Provide phantom power
Some of the best audio interfaces you can buy right now include:
• Audient iD4 MKII USB-C Audio Interface
• SSL SSL2+ 2-In/4-Out USB-C Audio Interface
• Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 Two-Channel Audio Interface
Question: Are there any other properties or features that we should remember when choosing the best microphones?
Answer: Aside from keeping in mind what you’re going to use the microphone for, the polar patterns, the connector, and whether you’d want a dynamic or condenser microphone, there’s not much else that you should worry about.
Of course, the looks of the microphone will matter if you plan to use the microphone for your videos and it’s going to be seen. You might want to invest in a microphone that is photogenic and looks great on camera.
On another note, you might want to hide the microphone, which may mean that you should be using a smaller-sized one, or a lavalier microphone.
If mobility is important for you, choose a lighter microphone that you can easily connect to your smartphone or laptop.
Of course, there are some technical aspects that you might want to get into when you’re choosing the best microphones for your needs. Some of these include:
• Cartridge type, which will dictate the transducer used. The cartridge is responsible for converting sound pressure to electricity.
• Frequency response, or the range of frequencies that the microphone will pick up.
• On- and off-axis responses, or how the microphone would respond to sounds that are coming from the front and those that are outside of its polar pattern.
• Sensitivity, or how well the microphone can convert sound pressure to voltage
• Distortion at THD 1%, which will tell you at which sound pressure level the microphone’s total harmonic distortion will be affected
• Impedance, which should be lower than your preamp’s rated impedance
Of course, these are not every technical specifications that can tell you if a particular microphone brand is good or not. There’s a lot more, and to fully understand these specifications, you can watch this video.
Question: If you use an internal microphone, how can you improve on the sound quality?
Answer: According to Soundtrap, you can improve audio quality with a built-in microphone by:
• Recording in a quiet environment. Doing so will help you reduce background noise and echo. For instance, you can go inside a closet instead of staying inside a noisy room or get inside a quiet coffee shop rather than interviewing on the street.
• Perform a volume test to get the correct recording level. This will help reduce distortion and clipping.
• Have the interviewee speak directly into the microphone. Staying near the microphone will help capture more of the speaker’s voice and reduce background noise.
• Utilize a pop filter to reduce the pops produced by b, p, and other consonants. These pops happen when the speaker is very near the microphone.
How to Find the Best Microphones
If you regularly produce podcasts and audio recordings, you can easily get away with investing in a cardioid condenser mic with a USB connector. You can get the best podcast recordings with this microphone.
For everything else, however, there is no shortcut. There’s a polar pattern, microphone connector, and microphone type that is perfect for a variety of recording situations. But the good news is that there are now microphones that offer a variety of pick-up patterns, but these may be too expensive for your budget.
Reading through all of these will help you find the best microphone for any recording session you might have. To make it even easier for you, we even threw in some recommended microphones, as well as a list of the different products that you can buy today.
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