So, you are confused. By searching on music equipment marketplaces for Recording Microphones and getting with tons of results, you are now confused about the right types of microphones for your studio.
“One wrong decision and you will lose your hard money and time as well”
Well, no more worries.
You are landed in the right place where you are going to read a comprehensive guide on choosing Microphones for recording.
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When I was starting out my audio recording journey, I had also faced this problem. At that time there was no online music marketplace available on the internet. So, you can imagine how confused I was in choosing the right gear for my home studio.
However, today there are tons of resources available on the internet but even there is no genuine guide which can help you in choosing the right types of microphones or other home recording studio essentials.
There are tons of misleadings stuff on the internet which can lead you to vest your hard money and time with a wrong mic selection.
So I realised that I should write a comprehensive guide on choosing studio microphones so that you won’t be confused when purchasing a new microphone for your home studio.
And the result is here.
In this guide, You will learn to choose microphones on the basis of,
- Types of Microphones
- Quality Factors
- Instruments they record
- Mic Brands
I am sure, after reading this guide, you will have all the knowledge that you need to sort the “best fits” for your home studio.
So, Let’s begin.
Types of Microphones
In general, there are 2 types of microphones which we listen to. Condenser mics and dynamic mics. We’ve been learned that all the mics fall under these 2 categories.
But there is another type of mic exists – Ribbon mics. However, most of the characteristics of ribbon mics are similar to its brother “dynamic mics”, there are some other factors which can differentiate it from them.
So, I have included it on this list.
- Condenser Mics
- Dynamic Mics
- Ribbon Mics
Condenser mics are very sensitive to sound signal.
Their diaphragm is designed to catch most of the frequencies in the human audible range (20Hz to 20kHz). The other benefit of condenser mics is, it is able to catch much lower sound signals than dynamic mics.
As the diaphragm of condenser mics are so sensitive, it is able to handle subtle sound signals, which is not possible in dynamic mics.
To achieve this goal, there is a special power source used in condenser mics called 48V Fantom Power. Also, there is a specially designed diaphragm is used in condenser mics for catching up the subtle sound changes.
Due to these advantages, we get untouched and unmodified sound which is recommended for a good mix.
But there is a downside of too much sensitivity. We can’t use condenser mics in live concerts. Using condenser mics on live concerts can create feedback effect and you get an annoying noise on the speakers. Condensers can catch outside noise along with your vocals as well. So it’s not a recommended mic for live concerts.
Do you know? In the old days, condensers were used in live concerts because there was no dynamics mic invented at that time. The First dynamic mic is introduced in 1926 which immediately acquired the PA, film and broadcast industry.
Dynamic mics are widely used in PA and broadcast industry.
However, a dynamic mic is not as sensitive as a condenser mic and is not able to catch subtle sound changes as well as all the human audible frequencies. But there are some advantages to using dynamic mics.
- They do not use 48V Fantom Power so you don’t need a special mixer featured with fantom power ability. Even you can directly use dynamic mics on the input of an amplifier.
- Dynamic mics are very handy. Generally, we use it by holding in our hands which is not possible with condenser mics as condensers can catch the rubbing noise created by holding them on your hand. Mic stands are recommended for condenser mics.
- The biggest advantage – Most of the dynamic mics are unidirectional as well as less sensitive to sound source so the feedback is much lower than any condenser mics. This advantage makes it the king of live concerts.
But even it performs well in live concerts, people don’t use it a much in recording studios because it’s poor in catching the sound signal as well as it modifies the signal and you don’t get the natural sound.
Most of the dynamic mics are boosted on mid-frequency range so when you record your vocals you would feel that the midrange is more prominent then lower and higher frequencies. To get a proper mix, we need natural sound signal hence dynamic mics are not suitable in recording studios.
However, exceptions are always there. Shure SM58 and SM57 are 2 legendary mics which are widely used in recording studios as well as in PA. These 2 mics are a great combination for recording instruments whether its a drum, guitar or any other instrument.
Even in certain genres like folk in many countries where the singer is not as much trained as to tackle condenser mics, SM 58 is used for vocals.
The 1 more category which I have added here is Ribbon mics.
According to Wikipedia – In Ribbon microphones a thin aluminium, duraluminum or nanofilm of an electrically conductive ribbon is used between the magnetic poles. Due to this process, electromagnetic induction occurs o the ribbon which produces voltage.
Generally, ribbon mics are bidirectional which means they can capture the sound signal from both directions.
The greatest benefit of using a ribbon mic is you get the highly detailed audio signal without getting over sensitive like condenser mics. Its ribbon makes it more sensitive to closer sources while remaining isolated from the outside noise.
As well as it’s not as much sense to off-axis sound signals, so you can easily record while sitting with other instruments etc.
Its an ideal mic for recording guitar cabinets and choirs because in these 2 applications a bi-directional mic works best. The figure 8 polarity helps it to catch the reflections of the sound source too.
The founder of AEA Microphones Wes Dooley says “Ribbon mics hear like your ears.” Which is pertially true.
While condenser and dynamic mics add some colour to the sound, ribbon mics remarkably capture the accurate and natural sound.
So, if you need a totally natural sound then it would be a great option for you.
These are the applications where you can use ribbon mics effectively.
- Electric guitar Cabs
- Woodwind and Brass
- 2-way interviews
- Stereo Miking
11 Quality Factors of Recording Microphones
Whether its a condenser mic, a dynamic mic or a ribbon mic, there are tons of variety and brands are available in the market. Choosing the best fit for your studio from those tons of variations is going to be a tough job if you don’t know “how to choose studio mics?”
So I have compiled a list of 11 quality factors which help you in choosing the best mic for your studio.
1. Frequency Response
When you are going for any recording gear, the frequency response is the most important thing to consider. In my article How To Choose Studio Monitors For Home Studio [Ultimate Guide], I have described how frequency response effect on the recording.
Feeling bored? Let’s have some fun.
Below, I’ve given 2 graphs. One of them is dynamic mic’s frequency response graph and the other is condenser mic’s. Tell me in the comment section below – which one is condenser mic’s graph and which one is dynamic mic’s graph.
Hint: Condenser mic covers a wide range of frequency while dynamic mic boosts a particular frequency region.
Here are some applications of both type of mics on the basis of the frequency response.
Condenser mics work best for
- Lead Vocals
- Acoustic guitars
Dynamic mics work best for
- Lead instruments
- PA applications
- Podcast and you-tubing
Some gurus say that condenser mics are more active in the higher frequency range. Partially it’s true but if you see the overall benefit of using condenser mics, using them gives you more room in your mix.
Condenser mics are equally active in most of the frequency spectrum so after recording you can play with the audio and shape it as per your need.
On the other hand, you don’t have much room in dynamic mic recordings as you already get a boosted signal on a particular region of the frequency spectrum, it’s not an ideal condition for a great mix. This is the main reason why dynamic mics are not prefered in recording studios?
However, if you know your dynamic mic’s frequency response then you can use it with the applications which produce their sound in the same frequency region where the mic is boosted. In that way, you can get a more prominent sound for that particular application.
Ribbon mics however a good choice if you want to do various applications in a noisy area. As I’ve told above they can capture the natural frequency of closer sound signals while not more sensitive about outside noise. So for noisy areas, a ribbon mic is the best option.
Uses of Ribbon mics as per frequency response
- Electric guitar Cabs
- Woodwind and Brass
- 2-way interviews
- Stereo Miking
2. Sensitivity Vs Noise
I have mentioned above that condenser mics are very sensitive to noise while dynamic mics are not much noise-sensitive. You must aware of that before buying your mics.
You also need to know that some condenser mics are more sensitive than others. I suggest, before buying your mics, do your homework on your needs otherwise you will lose your hard money choosing the wrong type of mics.
If your studio is not acoustically treated well, go for less sensitive condenser mic or better is to use dynamic mics such as Shure SM58 and Shure SM57.
Here ribbon mics are the winner as they are less noise sensitive than condenser mics as well as keep the naturality of sound.
3. Diaphragm Type & Size
Diapharm is the main internal part of a mic.
The frequency response of a mic is largely dependent on the diaphragm type. In condenser and ribbon mics, lightweight diaphragms are used Lightweight diaphragms resonates well with lower energy sounds too.
High-frequency sound contains less energy then low-frequency sound. Hence high-frequency sounds can’t be able to resonate the dynamic mic’s heavy diaphragms but they can easily resonate the lightweight condenser diaphragms.
That is the reason behind the misconception that condenser mics perform well in the higher frequency range.
Actually, apart from dynamic mics, condenser mic’s diaphragms are designed to capture the whole frequency spectrum equally without boosting a particular range and cutting off the others.
Ribbon mics are made of aluminium ribbon diaphragms which also respond well to the higher frequency range. The sound captured in ribbon mics is more natural then condenser and dynamic mics.
4. Polar Pattern (Especially For Condenser Mics)
Now, this is the term where a newbie can be overwhelmed. There are several polar patterns exists which can easily confuse you.
But if you know – what do you want from your mic, and have a better knowledge of polar patterns, these will become a great helper in choosing the right microphones for your home studio.
Here is an image containing the main polar patterns used in the audio recording world.
Dynamic mics have generally a unidirectional cardioid polar pattern where ribbon mics have figure-8 polar patterns. But in condenser mics, especially costly ones like AKG C414, you get several types of polar patterns to adjust with the application type.
Keep your applications in your mind while deciding polar patterns.
Here are some common uses of a different type of polar patterns.
- Cardioid – Vocals and lead instruments.
- Hyper-cardioid – Guitar cabinets.
- Super-Cardioid – Guitar and bass cabinets, drums, woodwinds
- Figure-8 – Lead instruments, Cabinets, chorus and stereo miking
- Ultra-directional – Chorus etc.
Condenser mics need 48V Phantom power. As to respond lower energy sounds its diaphragm needs more power than dynamic mics so it needs that Fantom power. However, with fantom power condenser mics are capable of capturing more subtle sound than dynamic mics.
As condenser mics are driven by an external power source, they also have a sophisticated internal circuitry which needs extra care.
On the other hand, dynamic mics circuitry is simpler then condenser mics so you don’t need to handle them with caution.
If you even drop a dynamic mic, probably the mic won’t be broken but if you drop a condenser mic, the chance is you will break it. So condenser mics are always suggested to handle with care.
Just like condensers, ribbon mics are also fragile so you must handle it with care.
7. Diaphragm Durability
Do you know, condenser mic diaphragms can be damaged due to high SPL (Sound pressure level)?
The lighter condenser mic diaphragms are more fragile than dynamic mics. If you use it an application which produces high SPL sounds, the chance is you would potentially damage the diaphragm of your condenser.
That is the reason, why in drums and other louder instruments dynamic mics are used.
The stronger diaphragm of the dynamic mic is more suitable for high SPL applications like drums.
However, ribbon mic’s aluminium diaphragms are not as much fragile as condenser mic’s lighter diaphragms but you must maintain the handle with care policy with the ribbon mics too.
6. Overall Durability
As you’ve seen you above, the sophisticated circuitry and fragile diaphragm and make condenser mics a “handle with care” device.
Not only circuitry and diaphragm but the overall design of a condenser mic make it more fragile.
If you drop it on the floor, the chance is you would be taking off a broken mic.
But dynamic mics are not as fragile as condensers. They are built with stronger diaphragm and body. If you drop them o the floor the survival chance is much more then condenser mics.
That is the reason why dynamic mics are widely used in stages and concerts.
- Dynamic mics – Very durable
- Ribbon mics – Medium
- Condenser mics – Fragile
8. Moisture Resistance
In a studio environment, where there is no extreme environmental change, you don’t need to worry about moisture. But when it comes to outside recording and live programs, the environment change is obvious.
Here dynamic mic is more capable of handling humidity factor. They are highly resistant to environmental moisture.
You can not use condenser and ribbon mics in extreme humid condition.
9. Feedback Vs Gain
That is feedback. In condenser mics, you don’t have to go close to speakers. As they are more sensitive then dynamic mics, feedback generates even the condenser is at a distance from the speakers.
That’s another reason why dynamic mics are more popular in live performances. Ribbon mics are also useful in these conditions. As they are less sensitive to the noise, feedback is less in ribbon mics too. But they can’t beat dynamic mics in stages.
10. Proximity Effect
Proximity effect is a special characteristic of a mic in which when the sounding object comes closer to the mic, the bass increases and when the object goes away from the mic the bass in sound decreases.
This effect helps singers to create depth in certain places of vocal.
Proximity effect presents in all 3 types of mics. However, in ribbon mics, this effect is not as prominent as condenser and dynamic.
Actually, the proximity effect depends on the quality of the mic. The more your mic’s quality means the more proximity effect you get in.
However, quality is directly proportional to the price of the product.
You have to pay a higher price if you want a good mic with better proximity effect, durability, more polar patterns in a single mic and a good quality diaphragm.
But dynamic mics are cheaper then condenser mics.
You will get
- a best dynamic mic under $400 to $500
- where a good condenser mic costs you minimum $500 to $1000
Looking for affordable mics?
Don’t worry I will show you all the budget options in this guide.
Just read on.
Which is Better in Studio Recording, Condenser, Dynamic or Ribbon Mics?
All mics are good and all mics are bad. It all depends on the application you’re using them in.
But it’s true. There is no mic available in the world which performs well in all studio and PA applications.
That’s the reason why recording studios use a wide range of mics for different applications.
So, we can’t squeeze us into those 3 main categories that I have described above.
We must divide them into subcategories to better categories for different tasks.
Here is the dedicated section on mic subcategories.
11 Subcategories of Microphones
We can divide condenser, dynamic and ribbon mics into 11 sub-categories.
- Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics
- Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics
- Single Pattern Condenser Mics
- Multi-Pattern Condenser Mics
- Dynamic Mics
- Bass Mics
- Ribbon Mics
- USB Mics
- Stereo Mics
- Boundary Mics
- Shotgun Mics
Let’s dig them deeply.
1. Large Diapharm Condenser Mics
What’s your very first application in your home studio?
Let me guess.
Is it Vocals?
Well, for vocals, you need those large diaphragm condenser mics.
Have you ever seen a vocal recording scene in the recording studio on Youtube or TV? If yes you have already seen that mic at the front of the singer.
Every recording studio, whether it’s a home studio or a professional one, must have large diaphragm condenser mics as they are not only good for vocals but for other applications too.
Here is the list of applications where you can use large diaphragm condenser microphones without hesitation.
- Acoustic guitar
- Soft woodwinds
- String instruments
- Other low SPL applications
Caution: Don’t use large diaphragm condenser mics with high SPL applications such as drums etc, otherwise you will damage the diaphragm.
Because of the usability, large diaphragm condenser mics are the 1st mics in a new recording studio’s shopping list.
2. Small Diapharm Condenser Mics
Small diaphragm condenser microphones are also called pencil microphones.
The best use of small diaphragm condenser mics is recording high-frequency instruments. In small diaphragm condensers, the diaphragm is small enough to capture the high-frequency sound of those specific instruments.
You can use small diaphragm condensers in these applications
- Acoustic guitars
- Other high-frequency woodwinds and stringed instruments
3. Single Pattern Mics
Most of the mics, especially dynamic mics are single pattern mics.
In most of the single pattern mics, a unidirectional cardioid pattern is used.
The best part of using single pattern mics is they are less sensitive to noise and records the object without any interference from other sides of mics.
Here are some uses of single pattern mics
- PA and stage applications
- Guitar and other small instruments
4. Multi-Pattern Mics
Multi-pattern is generally found in large diaphragm condenser mics.
In these mics, a dual capsule design is given to record omnidirectional and figure 8 along with the more common cardioid polar pattern.
But they are costly.
If you go with even more costly mics, you will also get other less common patterns like hyper cardioid, super cardioid and ultra direction.
It all depends on you that how much you want to invest.
However, as a beginner, you don’t need a multipattern mic.
At least today.
But with the course of time, when you will have a better understanding of the work of different polar patterns, stereo miking etc, you can then buy one for your studio.
For today you just need to know that multipattern mics are an essential part of a recording studio.
Recommended multipattern condenser mic
5. Dynamic Mics
Dynamic mics are most used mics in stages.
As they produce far less feedback in speakers, they are suitable for outside applications. But don’t misunderstand that they are not useful in recording studios.
Even if you have the reach to the lockers of best Hollywood studios, you can find a few dozens of awesome dynamic mics.
Dynamic mics are used in various applications in studios.
- Because of the heavy diaphragm, they are used in drums
- Also, they are good in woodwinds.
- Some peoples even use them with acoustic guitars for better mid range.
Here are two legendary dynamic mics by Shure which perform well in recording studios.
6. Bass Mics
Bass mics perform well in bass applications such as kick drum, bass cabinets.
They have that characteristic to get the low end very precisely. So they perform like a charm in low-frequency applications.
Here is the unique frequency response of bass mics which make them the 1st choice for bass cabinets and kick drum.
- Low-end boost
- Little mid boost
- And presence around 4kHz
This unique frequency response gives it the ability to record the low end as well as the attack that wee really need.
If you are planning to frequently record bass drums in your recording studio then I would suggest you own at least one piece of Bass mic.
Recommended bass mic
7. Ribbon Mics
I have already described ribbon mics above.
However, here are a few studio applications where you can use them frequently.
- Electric guitar Cabs
- Woodwind and Brass
- 2-way interviews
- Stereo Miking
Recommended Ribbon Mic
8. USB Mics
USB mics were not very popular 10 years back.
With the rise of youtube and podcasting, the need for a USB plug and play device which can record the “session on the go” was very necessary. As a result, USB mic was invented and today its very popular among Youtubers and podcasters.
The 1st advantage of a USB mic is, there is no need to get a separate audio interface for mic input. As from the name, you can use USB mics with just USB ports.
That’s the reason behind why its very handy mic. Even some models are Tablet compatible so you can use them with your iPad.
If you just want a mic to record your own voice then USB mics are the ideal choice. You can produce your songs just on your laptop with this.
Recommended USB Mic
9. Stereo Mics
Stereo imaging is used to create virtual playing environment of instruments. We use pan and other features to create a stereo environment.
In stereo, there are 2 tracks used to pan left and right the instruments and vocals.
There is a great tool called “stereo mics” used to record acoustic instruments even vocals. In stereo mics, the sound source is recorded in 2 simultaneous tracks for left and right.
After recording, we can create a stereo illusion in acoustic instruments.
That’s a great practice because today we hugely use mobile to listen to songs. The stereo feature works like a charm in earphones.
So, adopting stereo miking in some of your instruments is good.
Recommended Stereo Mic
10. Boundary Mics
Have you ever heard of boundary mics?
They are very rare. Most of the home recordists don’t know what is a boundary mic how is it works?
But in some professional studios, it has been using frequently for many applications.
Here’s how boundary mic works?
Boundary mics are mounted on walls to get the main sound as well as the reflected sounds without phase change. It is called comb filtering.
In regular mics, the direct sound and reflected sound cuts their phase. as a result, you don’t get a proper room reverb. Here boundary mics are used. They are able to record the room reverb along with direct sound, all without opposing phase.
Other applications of boundary mics
- Conference rooms
- Drum rooms
- Room reverb
Recommended boundary mic
11. Shotgun Mics
Shotgun mics are rarely used in recording studios.
They are widely used in TV serials, News channels, Interviews and movies.
The uniqueness of this mic makes it comfortable with these kinds of applications.
How do shotgun mics work?
An interference tube is used to isolate sound. The long tube is designed to reject the off-axis noise coming from the other angles so shotgun mics are very useful when you are recording in outdoor.
However, you don’t need them in your studio, knowing them is better for you.
Recommended Shotgun Mic
Recording Studio Microphone Applications
Till here we have seen the main type of mics and subcategories of mics. As well as I have covered a quick reference to the use of different type of mics.
Now we will see some popular applications of the recording studios and which mics are used in those applications?
Vocals are the most used application of a recording studio.
If you are starting out your home studio then the first mic you should buy is a vocal mic.
But a common problem every newbie’s faces in choosing them is – What is the best mic for recording vocals?
There are tons of mics for different vocal genres and choosing the right one is really a tough job for you.
However, I have an article handy for you which could help you choosing vocal mics as per your need.
Recommended Vocal Condenser Mic
After melody, rhythm is the 2nd most important gradients of music.
Without it a song is dead.
Drums are the most common rhythm instrument which we use and the sad part of that thing is that “recording drums” is the most complex process in the recording studio.
Especially when the resources are limited in your home studio.
However, a good number of homes studios want to avoid acoustic drum recording. Instead, they use electronic drum machines, Actopads, Drum VSTs.
But, the taste of an acoustic instrument is always missing in electronic instruments. So how you could be able to record acoustic drums in your home studio?
At least choosing the best mics for this application.
Here are some examples.
3. Acoustic Guitar
Acoustic guitar is the most common partner of a singer in recording studios. Even, it can play a role of entire band in songs.
Probably you may listen to the unplugged version of songs, which have the only acoustic guitar as a supporting instrument.
So, what’s the best mic for recording acoustic guitars?
There are many’s. But for now here is the best one.
4. Electric Guitar
The best practice to record an electric guitar is using cabinets.
The process is placing the mic in front of the guitar cabinet at a certain distance so that it could catch the attack as well as the sustain very well.
For recording guitar cabinets there are special mics are used, ranges from the dynamic, ribbon to the condenser.
All you need to know the right mic best suits guitar cabinets.
Here is a classic example which also suits your budget.
5. Kick Drums
For kick drums, a specially built mic is used called “Kick Drum mic”
I have discussed it earlier in this post. you can refer to that section for more details. These mics are not only used in kick drums but also in bass cabinets.
Sadly, there are no tons of options in this category. There are limited models of kick drum mics.
Here is a classic example.
Top Microphone Brands
Now another section I have categorised in this article is “Microphone Brands“
20 years before, there were no many brands in professional audio. But today they are countless.
However, the good brands which can be used in most recording studios are only a few. You can count them on your fingers. As deep you go into recording field as more you will know about the top mic brands.
Here are some top mic brands which you should check out.
Clicking to the links above will take you to the list of the top microphones from each brand.
So let me know which mics you have already in your home studio and which ones you are planning to buy in future?
All the best
Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.