How to choose a microphone?

Do not get confused when choosing a microphone. These are the characteristics that microphones usually have so that you know which one to choose.

how to choose a microphone

Juanma Aranda

To know how to choose a microphone, the first thing you should be clear about is what you are going to use it for and in what environment You will, because depending on this you will have to choose one microphone or another.

For example, the microphone used by a rock singer in a live concert will not be the same as the microphone used by the announcer of a radio program in a conditioned and soundproofed studio.

When you are looking for a microphone in any online store, you get a lot of features that sound like Mandarin Chinese, such as the type of microphone, pattern, frequency, SPL, type of connection ... and in the end you get overwhelmed and you are guided more by the price and its aesthetic appearance than by its features.

Then, when you have the microphone in your hands and you try it on your equipment, you realize that you didn't choose it well and it's not what you needed.

In this article I explain what all these features are, so you know how to choose a microphone without dying trying.

Operation of a microphone

In general, a microphone converts sound into an electrical signal. To do this, it uses a sound transducer element, such as a diaphragm, metal ribbon or moving coil, which vibrates when sound is produced. These vibrations are converted into an electrical signal through a physical or electromagnetic process.

Once the electrical signal has been generated, it is amplified and transmitted via a cable or wirelessly to an amplifier or audio system. The amplifier or audio system boosts the electrical signal and converts it into audible sound through a loudspeaker or headphones.

Microphones also typically have a frequency response, which is the range of sound frequencies they can pick up. Some microphones have a wider frequency response and can pick up a wider range of frequencies, while others have a more limited frequency response and can only pick up certain frequencies. This can affect the quality of the sound picked up and the versatility of the microphone in different applications.

Microphone types

All microphones pick up sound and convert it into an electrical signal, which is then amplified and transmitted through an audio system to produce audible sound.

But each type of microphone does it in a different way. The most common are the following:

Large diaphragm microphone

A large diaphragm microphone is a type of microphone that uses a large diaphragm in its sound transducer.

The diaphragm is the part of the microphone that vibrates when sound is produced, and the electrical signal generated by those vibrations is then amplified and transmitted.

A large diaphragm microphone has a larger diaphragm size than other types of microphones, which means it is more sensitive to sound and can pick up a wider range of frequencies.

This makes them ideal to record music and vocals with a great deal of detail and clarity. They are also suitable for recording studio and live broadcast applications, as they can provide exceptionally crisp and clear sound quality.

Condenser microphone

condenser microphone is a type of microphone that uses a thin diaphragm and an electrically charged metal plate called the condenser capsule to convert sound into an electrical signal.

When sound comes in contact with the diaphragm, the sound vibrations cause changes in the distance between the diaphragm and the condenser capsule, which in turn causes changes in the capacitance (electrical capacitance) of the capsule. These changes in capacitance are converted into an electrical signal that can be amplified and transmitted.

Condenser microphones are known for their high sensitivity and ability to pick up subtle details in sound. In addition, they can pick up a wider range of frequencies than other types of microphones.

This makes them ideal for recording studio and live broadcast applicationsThey can provide exceptionally crisp and clear sound quality.

A clear example of a condenser microphone (with USB connection) is this one

However, they are also more sensitive to noise and electromagnetic interference, so they are often used with an external power supply (such as a phantom power supply) to minimize these problems.

Dynamic microphone

A dynamic microphone is a type of microphone that uses a voice coil and a magnet to convert sound into an electrical signal. The voice coil is located in a magnetic field generated by the magnet and is connected to a metal or plastic diaphragm.

When sound comes in contact with the diaphragm, the sound vibrations cause the coil to move within the magnetic field. This produces an electrical signal that can be amplified and transmitted.

Dynamic microphones are known for their resistance to high sound pressure levels (such as those occurring at rock concerts), which makes them ideal for live applications.

They are also less sensitive to noise and electromagnetic interference than condenser microphones, which makes them less sensitive to noise and electromagnetic interference than condenser microphones. suitable for situations where there may be a lot of ambient noise or electromagnetic interference.

A very clear and current example of a dynamic microphone, would be this one

However, they have a more limited frequency response and may not be as accurate in capturing subtle details in sound as condenser microphones.

Ribbon microphone

A ribbon microphone is a type of microphone that uses a metal ribbon instead of a diaphragm to convert sound into an electrical signal.

The tape is a conductive element that is sandwiched between two magnets and moves when sound is produced. This generates an electrical signal that can be amplified and transmitted.

Ribbon microphones are known for their ability to pick up low-frequency sounds very accurately. In addition, they have a linear frequency response and minimal distortion, making them ideal for recording studio and live broadcast applications.

However, they are less sensitive than other types of microphones and may have a more limited frequency response, which may limit their versatility in some applications. They can also be larger and heavier than other types of microphones.

Capture pattern

The pickup pattern of a microphone is the way the microphone picks up sound depending on the direction from which it is coming and can affect the quality of the sound picked up and the versatility of the microphone in different applications.

Therefore, it is important to choose the right catchment pattern for the specific needs of each situation.

Cardioid

A cardioid pattern microphone is a type of microphone that has a heart-shaped pickup pattern. This means that picks up sound mainly from the front from the microphone, but it can also pick up a smaller amount of sound coming from the sides.

Cardioid pattern microphones are ideal for applications where you want to pick up sound primarily from one specific direction, such as in a interview or in a presentation.

They can also be useful in music recording situations, as they can provide good clarity and separation between sound sources.

However, due to their wider pickup pattern, they may be less accurate than other types of microphones in situations where sound from other directions needs to be blocked.

Omnidirectional

An omnidirectional pattern microphone is a type of microphone that picks up sound equally in all directions. This means that it has no defined pickup pattern and can pick up sound from any direction with the same sensitivity.

Omnidirectional pattern microphones are ideal for situations where you want to pick up sound from several directions at the same time, such as on a conference or at a meeting.

For example, this microphone is very versatile and allows you to switch, by means of a wheel, between 4 pickup patterns

They can also be useful in music recording situations, as they can provide good clarity and separation between sound sources.

They are also not advisable if you need to block sound coming from other directions.

Bidirectional

A bidirectional pattern microphone (also known as a figure-8 pattern) is a type of microphone that picks up sound primarily from the two microphone tips, but blocks sound coming from the sides. This means that it can pick up the sound from two opposite directionsbut blocks sound coming from other directions.

Bidirectional pattern microphones are ideal for applications where you want to pick up sound from two opposing directions, such as in a conversation between two people.

They can also be useful in music recording situations, as they can provide good clarity and separation between sound sources.

However, due to their narrower pickup pattern, they may be less versatile than other types of microphones.

Supercardioid

A supercardioid pattern microphone is a type of microphone that has a narrower pickup pattern than a cardioid microphone. This means that it picks up sound mainly from the front of the microphone, but blocks a greater amount of sound coming from the sides compared to a cardioid microphone.

Supercardioid pattern microphones are ideal for applications where you want to pick up sound primarily from a specific direction, but need to block sound coming from other directions. For example, they may be useful in interviews or presentations where you want to pick up sound from other directions. sound mainly from the speakerThe sound is not blocked out, but ambient noise or sound coming from other sources needs to be blocked out.

Supercardioid pattern microphones can also be useful in music recording situations, as they can provide greater clarity and separation between sound sources.

A clear example of a supercardioid microphone would be this one

However, due to their narrower pickup pattern, they may be less versatile than other types of microphones in situations where sound needs to be picked up from several directions at the same time.

Frequency range

The frequency range is another important aspect to consider when choosing a microphone, as it indicates the range of sound frequencies it can pick up.

Sound frequencies are measured in hertz (Hz) and range from the lowest frequencies (such as the bass sound of a bass drum) to the highest frequencies (such as the high-pitched sound of a flute).

The frequency range of a microphone can vary depending on the type and model of microphone. Some microphones have a wider frequency range and can pick up a wider range of frequencies, while others have a more limited frequency range and can only pick up certain frequencies.

The frequency range of a microphone can affect the quality of the sound picked up and the versatility of the microphone in different applications.

For example, a microphone with a wider frequency range may be more suitable for situations where you want to pick up a wide variety of sounds, while a microphone with a more limited frequency range may be more suitable for situations where you only want to pick up sounds from a specific frequency range.

Sound pressure level

Sound pressure level (also known as sound pressure level or SPL) is a measure of the loudness of a sound. It is measured in decibels (dB) and is used to measure the loudness of a sound relative to a standard reference.

In a microphone, the sound pressure level is the amount of sound pressure the microphone can withstand. before distortion or damage. Microphones have different maximum sound pressure levels, depending on their design and the way they are constructed.

It is important to consider the sound pressure level of a microphone in situations where the microphone is expected to withstand high sound pressure levels, such as at rock concerts or sporting events. Exceeding the microphone's maximum SPL may result in distortion or damage to the microphone.

Therefore, it is important to choose a microphone that has a sound pressure level suitable for the specific needs of each situation.

Connectivity

Microphones can have different types of connectivity, depending on how they are connected to an audio system or recording device.

It is important to consider the type of connectivity a microphone offers and ensure that it is compatible with the audio system or recording device to be used.

Some common types of microphone connectivity include:

Wired connectivity

Many microphones are connected to an audio system or recording device via a cable.

Microphones with cable connectivity can have different types of connectors, such as XLR connectors or TRS connectors.

Wireless connectivity

Some microphones connect to an audio system or recording device wirelessly, using technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This can be useful in situations where you do not want to use a cable or need greater mobility.

However, it is also true that they may receive interference from other devices and the sound may become choppy on a regular basis.

USB connectivity

Some microphones have USB connectivity and can be connected directly to a computer or recording device via a USB port.

This can be useful in situations when recording voice or music on the computer.

Microphones recommended for each type

DynamicCondenser
USBSamson Q9U
Shure MV7
Elgato Wave:3
RØDE NT-USB
Blue Yeti 
XLRElgato Wave DX
RØDE PodMic
Shure SM7B
Shure SM57 LCE
Audio-Technica AT2010

Conclusion

Knowing all the aspects that influence the sound a microphone picks up is vital to knowing how to choose a microphone.

To sum it up a lot, if you are looking for a microphone for streaming or recording your voice (in a video or a podcast), I would advise you to get a cardioid microphone or supercardioid.

Also, if you are going to use it in a room where other noises may enter, try to make it dynamic.

If you can invest a little more in a audio interfaceIf you are using a microphone with an XLR connection, choose a microphone with an XLR connection (if not, opt for a USB one). I would never buy a microphone with a jack connection.

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