Hello my name is Ed Malaker and I am a songwriter, guitar player, singer, blogger, and web designer, from Carbondale Pa, USA. Today, I want to talk about the different types of microphones used to record audio, and also talk about what situation each type of microphone is good for. The two most common types of microphones used in the recording studio are condenser microphones and dynamic microphones.

Dynamic Microphones – Dynamic microphones are very popular, and I believe that most people could recognize them easily. These are the microphones used by every singer on every stage, you see them at the bingo hall, at the school auditorium, etc.. The president of the United States uses dynamic microphones when giving speeches. Dynamic microphones are directional and are very good at rejecting sounds coming from angles that the microphone is not pointed at, making them great at isolating a single sound in a noisy environment like a singer in a live show. Dynamic microphones are also very rugged and are well suited to live performance where they can sustain considerable abuse. In the recording studio dynamic microphones are used a lot less often on vocals (though they do get used sometimes), instead they are often used to mic an amplifier, snare drum, toms, kick drum, etc., due to their ability to get really close to a very loud source without distorting. Dynamic microphones do not require an external power source, and they work almost exactly the same way as an ordinary house speaker, but in reverse. In fact, many people use a larger house speaker and sub-woofers as a mic to record things like a kick drum.


Shure SM58-CN Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone with Cable


Condenser Microphones – Condenser microphones are also very popular microphones, especially in the recording studio, because you get a clean clear sound from them across more frequencies than you do from a dynamic microphone. Their ability to pick up higher and lower frequencies than a dynamic microphone makes them very useful for recording vocals, cymbals, pianos, acoustic guitars, etc.. These microphones are very sensitive, and often require a shock mount to keep the vibrations at a minimum. Condenser microphones work by utilizing a charged capacitor to “pick up” a sound wave. This means that all condenser microphones will require phantom power to be supplied by an audio interface or a battery. A condenser microphone can come with different sized diaphragms for recording different situations, but a large diaphragm condenser is an essential piece of equipment for any home recording studio.


Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio Microphone


Ribbon Microphones – A Ribbon microphone works by suspending a thin metal ribbon between the poles of a magnet. Ribbon microphones sound a bit softer, or duller than condenser or dynamic microphones, but many people prefer the warm sound that it creates. Ribbon microphones are very useful for recording brass, orchestras, and drum overheads. Ribbon microphones were the standard microphone for recording film orchestras for many years and are still widely used in Hollywood movies. Ribbon microphones do not require power but they put out a very weak signal, and they are also very fragile. You can damage an old school ribbon microphone just by blowing on it. Because ribbon microphone are so fragile, have a duller sound, and require so much amplification, they were not very popular for many years. However, modern technology has done a lot to fix these things as well as get the cost down, so I think we will hear a lot more sounds recorded with ribbon microphones.


MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone


Boundary Microphones – The last type of microphone I am going to talk about is called a Boundary Microphone. This microphone is actually a type of condenser microphone that is designed to be placed on a large surface like a wall or a table, the boundary microphone then picks up sound waves that hit the wall or table. The great thing about boundary microphones is that there is no phase cancellation as there is with other types of microphones. Phase cancellation occurs because of sound reflections in a room arriving at a microphone at slightly different times causing some frequencies to be cancelled out. Phase cancellation results in a coloration of the source sound and can sometimes be quite dramatic especially as more microphones are added to the mix. With boundary mics this does not happen, they just pick up sound as it hits the surface that it is a attached to. These microphones are great for picking up the sound of a room, and because of this, they are widely used in conference rooms, but they are also great for drum overheads, groups of singers, and for adding a natural reverb.


Audio-Technica PRO44 Cardioid Condenser Boundary Microphone


Thank you for reading! I hope that I got you thinking about what types of microphones you will want to get for your recording studio. Before I started writing this I didn’t realize that there are so many different kinds of microphones available for each type. It really is a huge topic that could use a much bigger article.

Have a great day!
Ed Malaker

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