Sound itself is a crucial element to production, and when it comes to recording equipment, the massive scale of available options can be daunting when you are first starting out. Depending on what your intentions are, different types of microphones may be necessary to provide you with the desired audio quality. The first step to getting involved in recording sound is to have a proper understanding of the different types of microphones, and with which kinds of sound, they work best with.
The Big Three
There are three main types of microphones that your decision should boil down to, Ribbon, dynamic, and condenser. Each of them has a different set of advantages and shortcomings all dependent on what you are seeking to do with them.
Starting with a classic, the ribbon mic is what you’ve most likely seen as a ‘vintage mic’ in any movie taking place in the 50s or 60s. The ribbon mic is probably the most expensive and fragile type of mic out there and for a good reason. With its fragility comes intense sensitivity which makes them perfect for softer sounds such as string instruments or light vocals to ensure that even the most delicate and minuscule nuances are captured.
Ribbon mics are bidirectional which means that they capture sound coming from in front and behind while canceling out sounds coming from either side. Because of this, it is highly recommended that these are used in a studio where the environment is more controlled as opposed to at home where surfaces with significant reverb can interfere.
If you're a beginner, the ribbon mic might be a bit too complex, but a dynamic microphone is perfect for learning the fundamentals. While you are sure to handle your sound equipment with the utmost care, accidents are always inevitable, which is why dynamic mics are built to take a beating and are inexpensive. Unlike their sensitive predecessor, dynamic microphones are designed for much louder sounds which make them ideal for audio sources such as guitar amps.
Another aspect that makes dynamic microphones so accessible to beginners is their unidirectional pattern. They take sound from directly where they are aimed at and cancel out all noise from behind. Majority of people won’t have access to a studio when starting out. Therefore, these mics are excellent for home use where your environment may not be best for sound recording as it allows you to control what is and isn’t captured.
The condenser mic falls somewhere between the ribbon and the dynamic microphone. Requiring an intermediate knowledge of the equipment to handle correctly, but offers unique benefits. They are more fragile and expensive than dynamic mics. Condenser mics are the go-to for a clearer and more balanced sound which makes them incredibly powerful when used in a studio setting.
While ribbon and dynamic microphones have bidirectional and unidirectional patterns, condensers have the added benefit of switches that allow them to toggle between various patterns such as unidirectional, bidirectional, and omnidirectional. Unlike the previously discussed two patterns, omnidirectional mics offer zero noise cancelation and pick up everything. You can use these various patterns in creative ways to achieve the perfect sound capture of your design.
The Right Mic for the Right Job
When it comes to audio equipment, the microphone is one of the most vital components, and a poor understanding of the functions and capabilities can be detrimental to your sound recording. Understanding the different types of mics will make your job more comfortable as you achieve the ideal sound. Don’t hesitate and invest in quality sound equipment today!