Sound is a crucial element of producing a great recording. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of microphones and sound equipment available for many musicians and artists can be challenging to choose from since there are multiple brands, styles, and types available.
If you are a musician and looking to create an at-home recording, specific equipment is necessary to develop a professional-sounding master mix. Specific equipment involves mixing and audio software, as well as a decent microphone for recording. In other cases, such as being a member of a band where you will perform live, a microphone will be necessary to produce sound coming from each instrument and vocal.
Since the overarching production of sound from a recording is objective, it also creates a dilemma for musicians on which microphone they need to choose to make the sounds they want. There are two types of microphones: Condenser and Dynamic.
These terms describe the operating principle utilized within the microphone or how the microphone picks up sound and converts it into an electric signal - the transducer being the device that changes the energy from one form to another. These are the two most common types of microphones.
But which microphone is going to work best for your music or project?
Condenser and Dynamic microphones contain some differences that should be pointed out about each one and how they produce music. The characteristics involved for each type depend on the device's functionality and how it is constructed. Let’s explore these microphones so that you can discover which one will be your best choice.
Microphones are made to convert sound waves. That is the simplest way to put it. The sound created can come from anywhere, and a microphone’s job is to convert it into a form for a recording device, app, or software to understand and playback as a recording.
There are many types of microphones that exist, which can feel overwhelming for musicians. Hopefully, the focus on these two more largely utilized types will help you choose the best one for your needs. In addition, many microphones are reasonably simple to use - you just point one at the sound you want to broadcast, and that is all there is to it.
No matter where you are when needing to record, you usually utilize what is known as the “close-mic” technique. This action of close miking entails placing the microphone no more than 12 inches away from the sound source so that it can pick up sound more directly from the source and lessen noise from anything else in the surrounding area.
MICROPHONE SOUND PATTERNS
However, there are ways that you can use a microphone to change the sound that is picked up without changing the direction that the microphone is pointed, known as pickup patterns. Pickup patterns are typically focused on cardioid patterns.
What is a cardioid pattern? If a microphone does not allow you to change the way in how the sound is picked up, this is called cardioid - it is the most common pattern of sound. It picks up a wide field of sound in front of the mic but blocks any noise coming from behind it.
This pattern is proper for many singers and performers on stage. You wouldn’t want to hear the noise coming from behind the microphone, where the audience is, would you? The noises from the crowd would interfere with the noise that is produced on the stage.
Though audio software can help to manipulate the sound, the purest form of the sound that comes from the microphone will be your foundation. That is why it is vital to choose a proper microphone for your use.
The three basic sound patterns that are utilized are:
- Unidirectional - the microphone records sounds from the front
- Bidirectional - the microphone records sounds from two directions, front and back
- Omnidirectional - the microphone can cover picking up sounds from all the way around (full 360 degrees)
The most typical direction that sound patterns are created from microphones is unidirectional. It will mainly pick up its sound from the front but will still capture some sound coming from the sides, usually at a lesser volume.
The pickup patterns are sensitive, depending on the type of microphone you work with for your project or performance. You can get a feel for the patterns where the sounds are most effective at being picked up. Again, sound or music studio engineers do have the capability to change and optimize the sound during the mixing and mastering process.
THE Microphone DIAPHRAGM
Every microphone contains what is known as the diaphragm. And, much like the diaphragm that we use to gain energy for our breath support while singing, the diaphragm of a microphone is the small, thin speakers that vibrate and produce voltage.
Two types of diaphragms are found within condenser microphones:
SMALL DIAPHRAGM Microphones
The small-diaphragm microphones (also called “pencil” microphones) are made to pick up higher frequencies. These are primarily utilized for smaller rooms or on instruments like snare drums, acoustic guitars, or pianos. They are made to be more specific to one instrument or device. They are also very good at keeping consistent polar patterns due to their size and weight, which means that the sounds coming into it from various angles are picked up quite easily.
LARGE DIAPHRAGM MICROPHONES
The larger diaphragm microphones will have a less consistent polar pattern, but they can still capture and pick up varying sounds from all directions with clarity. These microphones have higher sensitivity, giving it a bigger sound, and are typically used for vocals or bass drums. You can damage the larger diaphragm or tube within a microphone by recording from a far too loud sound or dropping the microphone.
The job of a dynamic microphone is to work in reverse as a speaker does. These microphones rely on sound waves that vibrate the internal diaphragm and then create electricity through a magnet. A transformer will increase the electricity, and it will be sent to the microphone’s output, which puts out the sound.
Dynamic microphones use a diaphragm, voice coil, and magnet assembly. These features form the electrical generator. The voice coil is small and attaches to the end of the diaphragm so that it vibrates with it. It is surrounded by a magnetic field that generates the electrical signal in response to the sound picked up.
The dynamic microphones are considered the ‘plug and play’ since it doesn’t need to be powered. The industry-standard term is ‘phantom power.’ If you plug a dynamic microphone into an active speaker, it will automatically work. They use a diaphragm, voice coil, and magnet to pick up and convert sound waves into electrical signals.
Dynamic microphones are most typically utilized for:
- Amps (electric guitar/bass)
- Loud vocals
- Brass Instruments
The condenser microphones work by powering or charging it first before plugging it into a speaker for sound. The large-diaphragm condenser microphones are susceptible and able to pick up very detailed sounds. Used during the record sessions by the likes of Marmoset's music production studio, these are widely used with acoustic instruments. More and more artists are using condenser microphones for at-home recording sessions, thereby seeing an increase in the demand.
Condenser microphones are based on an electric-charged diaphragm and backplate assembly that forms the sound. Basically, these types of microphones work on a battery. The sound waves vibrate a very thin metal where the diaphragm is, which is right in front of the backplate and has the ability to store voltage. The electric field is generated between the two pieces, making the electrical signal corresponding to the sound.
The structure in which a condenser microphone is made includes the additional provision of holding and maintaining electrical voltage. An electric condenser microphone has the ability to hold a permanent charge with the material on the backplate or diaphragm. All condensers also have active circuits that allow electrical outputs to be used with microphone inputs. The power comes from either batteries or phantom (charging).
There are some limitations that condense microphones have due to the additional circuits. The first is that they typically produce a small amount of noise (have you ever noticed that “hum”?) And the second is that there is a limit to the max signal level for the electronics to handle. As a result, condenser microphones always have a maximum sound level, but you can still possess a broad, dynamic range of sound with a good design.
Condenser microphones are most typically used for:
- Voice recordings or live vocals
- Acoustic guitar
- Large Rooms/Conferences/Speaker Events
- Bass drums
Difference between dynamic and condenser Microphones
The fundamental difference between the two microphones is that dynamic microphones are utilized more for live recordings, such as concerts and gigs, or in any capacity where the sound needs to be reinforced, such as big conferences or rallies. On the other hand, the condenser microphones are used more for projects like films or studio recordings of music.
Another noticeable difference in the microphones is that condenser microphones are more complex in structure and features, so they tend to be more expensive than dynamic ones, which are relatively simple in their construction. Condenser microphones are also affected more by temperature changes, such as extreme colds and humidity, which can cause them to malfunction.
The benefit to a condenser microphone, on the other hand, is the high sensitivity so that you produce a more smooth and natural sound, even at high frequencies. They also can be made very small and portable.
Dynamic microphones also provide exceptional sound quality in many areas of performance. They can handle very high levels of sound. It is a challenge to actually overwhelm the level on a dynamic microphone, and they are unaffected by changes in temperature. For this reason, dynamic microphones tend to be used more widely in general.
An important tip, especially for musicians, is to pay attention to monitor your sound levels. Levels coming in need to be sure that you do not push up to the dreaded “red line” because it will manipulate the output sound. Preamplifiers that are found in certain software and equipment that you buy will be essential to the quality of your recordings.
It is crucial to adjust the volume of your microphone gains to the level that you desire for adequate sound. It may take some trial and error, but it is precisely what stage musicians do when they are “warming up” before they go live in their performance. Specialized equipment and knowledge of stage gains will come in handy, so take some time to review and do your research if you plan to perform on stage with microphones.
WHICH MICROPHONE TO CHOOSE?
The truth is that the microphone you choose will ultimately depend on what you need to use it for because based on the space allotted or the access to power, that may influence your decision. And because there are so many different tastes out there when it comes to sound, what is typically used for recording may not be what you desire, and vice versa.
You have to choose from many applications for your microphone so that you may require more than one type. The best thing you can do is experiment with both microphones and look into different brands and styles. It may be challenging to do this, but if there is any return policy on a microphone that you can try for an extended time, then take advantage of it and see if it works for you.
Once you have taken the time to test and experiment with the different sounds produced by the microphones, you can decide for yourself which microphone you prefer more for your projects going forward and which will best help you promote your music. Of course, the best decision is an informed one, so hopefully, you have gained some insight about microphones to help you in your quest.
Written by : Melissa Waltz