When you decide that you want to start recording your own music one of the first hurdles you face is trying to decide what kind of microphone you need. Finding the right microphone to create a professional sounding recording can be a daunting task. There are so many different types of microphones out there that it’s not as simple as picking a certain brand, style, or price range. You need to understand everything that is available to you and what it is best used for. The best microphone for singing is not the best microphone for acoustic guitar. The best microphone for your drum kit is not what you want to record a podcast.
There is a huge variety of microphone technology out there and I am going to do my best to give you the details on when you should pick which type of microphone.
Before I get into the details of the differences, here is a handy breakdown of the common microphone types:
|Ribbon Microphones||Condenser Microphones||Dynamic Microphones|
|Price for Quality||>$1000||$200 – $300||$100 – $200|
|Best Use||Unique, classic recording||Accurate studio recording||Live performances|
|Durability||NOT Durable||Fairly Durable||Very Durable|
|Recommendation||Blue Woodpecker Microphone||Rode NT1A Microphone||Shure SM58 Microphone|
Ribbon Microphone Definition
Ribbon microphones also go by the name ribbon velocity microphones. They get the name because ribbon mics use a very thin strip, or ribbon, of aluminum or some other metal to conductive electricity between two poles of a magnet when vibrated by sound. This makes a voltage using electromagnetic induction. Ribbon mics are usually bi-directional. This means that they can pick up sounds from both sides of the microphone. Older ribbon mics can not be used with phantom power, but newer ones typically need it.
These are a classic and were the primary choice in the 1940’s to 60’s. They produce a very warm even while picking up very high-frequency details. If you’re having trouble getting an instrument to sound good on a recording even though it sounds great in the studio room, using a ribbon microphone might just solve the issue.
Until recent technological advances ribbon microphones were prohibitively expensive for personal use outside of an official studio. They also tended to be fairly fragile and difficult to take care of. Luckily the prices have fallen to reasonable levels and their durability has improved.
Though they are sturdier than their grandparents, extra care is still needed compared to dynamic microphones. You need to be sure they are getting consistant, clean power and properly wired with balanced XLR cables. You also need to be extra careful about not dropping them as you can damage the ribbon. It’s also a good idea avoid testing if the mic is hot by tapping or blowing into it.
What Is A Ribbon Microphone Used For?
As I mentioned earlier, ribbon microphones can get a lot of detail out of high-frequencies without sounding too aggressive and harsh like a condenser microphone can. They give you a very warm sound with a lot of roundness in the mid-frequencies. It really is a unique sound that is difficult to reproduce in any other type of microphone.
Due to the frailness of the original ribbon mics, they weren’t typically used during stage work or excessively loud performances like hard rock. These days those concerns are gone and they can handle even the loudest music beautifully.
They are typically configured to be bi-directional, but you can have them set-up to be omni-directional or use cardioid or hypercardiod patterns. The typical bi-directional configuration means that if you are using a ribbon mic on stage, you will very likely be picking up the audience noise along with your voice. Also because of the large figure 8 pattern they have, you will need to be careful of the mics positioning in relation to other singers or any instruments.
General guidelines of when to use a ribbon microphone:
Guidelines on when NOT to use a ribbon microphone:
Recommended Ribbon Microphones:
Best Ribbon Microphone for:
- Less than $1000 – Blue Woodpecker Microphone
- Less than $500 – Cascade C77 Microphone
- Less than $200 – Cascade Fat Head Microphone
- Less than $100 – MXL R144 Microphone
What Is A Condenser Microphone
Condenser Microphone Definition
Condenser microphones, also called capacitor or electrostatic microphones, basically work by sound waves vibrating a small plate next to a matching plate. The difference in capacitance between the plates as they move is measured to capture the sound.
Condenser mics are extremely popular and are found as cheapo karaoke mics all the way to super high end studio equipment. They are used in phones and in laboratories. While you there are certainly cheap condenser microphones available, any one that will actually get you a professionally sounding recording tend to be $200 or more. These mics tend to be more durable than ribbon mics and can generally survive being dropped once or twice, though they are not as durable as dynamic microphones.
You need to provide power to condenser mics for them to work. This is usually done with “phantom power” for traditional XLR connected mics via a mixer board or external power supply, over a USB cord, or via a battery pack.
It is possible to get a condenser microphone that uses any traditional wave pattern, or even one whose pattern is continually changing.
What Is A Condenser Microphone Used For?
Condenser microphones are the best microphone for singing in a studio setting as opposed to a live concert or stage setting. This is due to the fact that they are very sensitive to loud sounds.
This sensitivity is really their greatest feature. It allows the microphone to capture incredible detail from even the quietest sounds. The transient response rate is much faster than dynamic or ribbon, and the better the transient response rate the better the microphone is able to pick up quick details like hitting a snare drum or the picking of an acoustic guitar string. Condenser microphones are generally thought to have the best detail and most color.
There are two types of condenser microphones. Large diaphragm microphones and small diaphragm microphones:
Large diaphragm microphones are the best microphones for singing in a studio setting, and when you want a “deeper” sounding recording with any type of instrument. They tend give the sound a warming effect. If you use a large diaphragm for any type of vocal work you will need to get a pop screen for it. These mics are very sensitive to transient sound, so “SH” and “P” sounds you make when singing or talking will create distortion in the recording.
I hope you have a better understanding of the different types of microphones available for you today and feel more confident about choosing the right one for your needs. Keep in mind that I only provided the general use of each kind of the microphone types, and it is not a concrete or exhaustive list of their uses or abilities.
If you have any questions about what I have written, or would like to add to the discussion, I hope you leave me a comment below!
If you prefer to watch a video describing the differences between Condenser Microphones vs Dynamic Microphones, then you may enjoy this: