There are very many different types of mics out there. There are so many that it can sometimes get intimidating to keep up with them.
However, if we break all of them down into purpose-based groups, it’ll all start to make perfect sense and generally click. With that said, most folks only ever handle 3 types of mics.
These are often the leading options in most broadcasting and recording scenarios. Their diaphragms are where they all differ.
The diaphragm is the feature that transforms sound into electrical signals, which can then be recorded onto a computer’s memory or magnetic tape.
Due to the different diaphragm constructions, each microphone has different tonal characteristics and sensitivity levels, something we’ve explained further in the article.
If you’ve used the first three types of mics, we’ve discussed them in this article. Then you probably have an idea of what each of them can do.
Other than the big three, we’ve also explored few other popular microphone types in the market, even though you may never need to use any of them. Following are the main types of microphones:
- Condenser Microphones
- Dynamic Microphones
- Ribbon Microphones
There are two main types of condenser microphones. These are; the small diaphragm condenser microphones and the large diaphragm condenser microphones. The difference is in their names.
Each shines in its unique way. Condenser microphones are ideal for recording in the studio where there’s the presence of a controlled environment with great acoustics and no noise, meaning sound will not bounce off the walls and ceilings and back into the microphone.
The main reason why many people go this route is that this type of mic is incredibly sensitive and can collect a lot of detail that other mics can’t.
That’s why they’re ideally suitable environments that have perfect acoustics because they’ll pick up all the other unwanted sounds and noises too.
Many people choose condenser mics for their vocals and instruments, and generally, anything that does not produce signals that have unwanted subtleties and are too loud.
You can cause diaphragm damage if you put the mic through excessive sound pressure levels. Big diaphragm condenser microphones are ideal for recording vocals, while the more miniature condenser mics are better suited for instruments, like violins or guitars.
You’d be just fine if you decided to stick to big diaphragm mics only.
In studio environments with low noise levels to record vocals and high-frequency instruments. It captures subtle details and has a very loud sound source.
Usually, when most people want to record a vocalist or instrument that’s very loud or has a wide amplitude (volume) range, they’ll go for dynamic microphones.
These mics can handle high sound pressure levels without producing internal distortion or sustain damage.
Because these mics aren’t as sensitive as their counterparts, they’re typically what most people want to use in live scenarios where there is an audience like a news interview in the field, music concert, or a press conference.
They don’t pick up unwanted ambient sounds and noises.
Even if you’re recording, these mics are still ideal for recording the loud, high-pitched vocals from rock or heavy-metal singers, drums, or guitar amplifiers.
Many rappers use dynamic microphones, too, partially because of their proximity effects. It gives the rappers a bass boost when they place the mic close to their mouths.
Dynamic microphones don’t need phantom power and have passive electronics. Accidentally feeding the microphone this power won’t hurt this particular type of mic.
In noisy or live situations or on stage. You can also use it to record loud sound signals, guitar amplifiers, and rock and rap vocals.
Ribbon mics are the last commonly used kinds of microphones. The ribbon microphone is in its category because of its unique diaphragm. They usually look like a long, thin ribbon, hence the name.
These microphones are what many people used to have access to a long time ago. Yes, they’re making a comeback; however, they’re still relatively rare.
They’re adored because they give you more detail than their condenser mic counterparts. The only problem with them is that they’re way more fragile.
If the flimsy ribbon gets damaged in any way, this will completely ruin the whole mic. In addition to this, they’re still considerably expensive.
Even today, you can fry them if you run phantom power of 48Volts. Dropping the microphone can break it all together as well.
The truth is, these mics don’t have a lot of value in today’s market because there are way more durable and equally good alternatives.
In studio environments with vintage and warm sound. These microphones are expensive, fragile, and rear. You might want to go for condenser microphones instead.
Other Types Of Microphones
The mics on this list are either dynamic or condenser microphones, but what makes them different is their unique design purposes. They’re built to do something specific; hence, they have their sub-categories.
Not very many people know, but almost all mics the cardioid pick-up pattern. The cardioid pattern blocks everything to the sides and in front of it. It does this while rejecting sounds and noises that come from behind it as well.
It is a handy pick-up pattern, especially since most people record everything and place it on its track so that they can mix later.
However, there are numerous other pick-up patterns out there that you might want to use. It is where multi-pattern microphones come in.
These mics have switches that you can use to switch through different pick-up patterns.
Some of these include patterns such as omnidirectional, shotgun, figure-8, hyper-cardioid, and super-cardioid.
These mics essentially give you the option to record in tight laser focus patterns, 360-degrees, and in-front and behind patterns.
When you want to record ambient noises and sounds, harmonies/vocal duets or bluegrass groups or groups or vocalists.
That said, a lot of the time, it’s better to go with a condenser mic that has a cardioid pick-up pattern.
Bass microphones are specifically designed instruments that have very deep frequency spectrums.
It includes the cello, kick drum, bass guitar, etc. They often have a tag like ‘kick drum mic.’ However, that’s just one application.
Their frequency responses are what makes these mics unique. They’re specifically designed to record bass nuances, but that’s not all.
They have low-end boost capability and a slight scoop in the mids.
The scoop in the mids is good because most bass instruments typically sound boomy and muddy in small rooms.
To record a cello, bass guitar, kick drum, or any other musical instrument with deep frequency sounds. Not ideal for bass vocals.
Shotgun microphones have two main characteristics. They’re tiny diaphragm condenser mics that have shotgun pick-up patterns. It means that they reject sound from all sides except the focused area you’re aiming the mic at.
They typically have a long interference tube that filters sound from the sides. They have this shotgun barrel look, hence their name. The tube is there because its pick-up pattern will still pick up noises and sounds from the sides.
It doesn’t look like there’s any way around this. The best thing you can do is use the acoustic shield tube to hide the diaphragm.
It produces great vocal recordings and works amazingly well. You may have people holding fuzzy, long microphones over the top of a set or scene. These are usually shotgun microphones.
To record actors on a television or film set and sound effects in loud areas.
USB microphones were first introduced to the market in the 2000s. When they first came out, not everyone liked them.
Most of them didn’t perform that well, but that’s in large part because manufacturers were making them cheaply to see whether people would still want them.
It seems people still wanted them either way, and that’s why their quality has been steadily rising. These mics solely exist for those of you who record music as a hobby and not professionally.
It’s also ideal for people who want to podcast or narrate audiobooks. They feature analog-to-dialog converters and tiny preamplifiers.
They use a USB cable to spit out digital signals to capture with your computer for recording. It’s an affordable way to start recording, but you can’t expect high-quality recordings from them.
With that said, at least it allows you to avoid getting a separate audio interface and mic preamplifier. All in all, you’re trading cost and convenience for quality.
If all you take out of this article is why dynamic and condenser microphones exist and what they’re used for, then you already know more than enough about the types of microphones out there.
You only need to know about the first three mics we highlighted at the beginning of the article. The rest are a version of them. Hopefully, now you know the different types of mics in the market.