In a home studio, mobile, pro, or makeshift recording environment, there is no best microphone.
There are many different microphone types, each catering to specific uses. The best microphone to use is the best mic for the individual job. The chronological sequence of steps you should follow in order to select the right microphone for the job are:
- The right mic type for a specific application
- Proceeded by a proper assessment of your budget/resources
- And finally your individual stylistic preferences based on the sound characteristics you are trying to produce.
This article will uncover microphone types and uses for home recording and music production.
Mic selection is a learned process of understanding the sound and characteristics of the microphone, as well as its suitable applications. Given proper mic placement and recording techniques, one can be tastefully selected by an experienced producer who understands the strengths and weaknesses of the different microphones in his arsenal to compliment the source or style of the recording.
The 3 Categories of Microphones Used in Music Production and the Home Studio Are:
Dynamic Mics: The dynamic microphone capsule uses a coil of wire; which is suspended in a magnetic field. The coil is disrupted by sonic vibrations, which generate an electrical signal.
Saving some techno babble, dynamic microphones are reliable, flexible, durable, inexpensive (in most cases) microphones used in stage performance, and home and pro recording studio’s of all sizes. Their low noise ratio, and attractive price-tag, (compared to the mid–> high end condenser mics’ price point) make them ideal for use in less than optimized acoustic spaces, home recording rooms, and project studios.
Dynamic mics are often seen on stage, as they are ‘generally preferred for stage performance for many of the aforementioned qualities and characteristics. For example, weighing in at about $90 u.s.d. (yes, less than $100!) The Shure SM57 has long been the worlds most popular and widely used microphone. It is an infamous staple of reliability and durability; and a commonly used “go-to-mic” for recording/live sound engineers on a number of sources including guitar amps/cabs, snare drums, and vocals.
Condenser/ Capacitor Mic: A condenser mic is a capacitor microphone that uses a conductive threshold (a.k.a diaphragm) which is set in front of a metal back-plate. Both pieces are charged with static electricity. When sound waves touch the threshold, (diaphragm) it vibrates and transmits an electrical signal representative of the audio.
Condenser mic’s are generally preferred in recording studio’s because they can capture very distinct details and nuances of a performance, as well as add varying supplementary characteristics to the source they’re recording. Condenser microphones come in all shapes and sizes, price and prestige, as well as diversity of tone, timbre & texture.
Typically large diaphragm mics are used for recording vocals, because their is a larger capsule and that helps to produce a deeper sound. Be sure to use a pop filter with these types of capacitor microphones.
Small diaphragm mics are better for sources and instruments where a more even balance, and a wider tone is desired. These types of microphone are great at capturing signals with fast transient response such as stringed instruments.
*It is important to know that condenser microphones require phantom power to operate. Ribbon and dynamic microphones do not.
Ribbon Mic: A very thin (wafer-like) piece of metal foil, also known as a ribbon, is suspended in a magnetic field. When sound waves hit the ribbon, the vibrations send an electrical signal to it’s next audio source.
Ribbon Microphones offer a rich, natural sound, that can sound very warm and pleasing. They are extremely fragile, even to blowing into them. BE WERY WERY CAREFUL!
Especially for home recording on a budget, and for those just getting their feet wet and learning about microphones and music production in general… I think it”s safe to say that ribbon mic’s are more of a specialty microphone. I’d recommend investing in a dynamic and/or a budget condenser first.
Just buy one microphone first. Get to know it. It will be your FIRST microphone!
My recommendation would be to start off with a large diaphragm cardioid condenser (Budget LDC microphone), or a dynamic microphone. There are a slew of great budget mic’s in the $50-$300 range, that can offer satisfying results as you grow in knowledge and technique.
Microphones are obviously an integral part of your front end recording chain… don’t sweat the selection process too intensely, but do your homework to find out what will work for what you will be recording primarily at this point in your home recording journey. (recording vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, etc.)
Budget (large diaphragm) Condenser Mics can be had for a couple hundred, and can be used to produce very professional results.
Once you know and understand microphone types and uses you can select the right type of microphone, but are of course still going to have to discern between the individual characteristics of two large diaphragm condenser mics, for example.
So then, the best microphone for recording comes down to three things.
what is the application?
what are your resources?
what sonic characteristics are you shooting for?
-You can learn about how to start laying down tracks in the next lesson on “Recording with microphones.”