The Different Types Of Mics And Their Uses

The Different Types Of Mics And Their Uses

Microphone Gear Guides

These guides explain what you need to consider when buying microphones and also show you which mics have the highest Gearank scores:

This article will help you understand what the main kinds of microphones are that are used in music production, both live and recording, and what each type of mic is typically used for.

Microphone Polar Patterns

Polar patterns describe how microphones pick up sound, showing specifically where mics 'listen' spatially and which positions are blocked. Having a good grasp of these polar patterns will help you select the right mics that capture the sound that you need while minimizing unwanted noise.

Cardioid Microphones

Cardioid polar pattern Cardioid mics capture everything in front and block everything else. This front-focused pattern will let you point the mic to a sound source and isolate it from unwanted ambient sound, making it ideal for live performance and other situations where noise reduction and feedback suppression are needed. Cardioid mics surpass other polar patterns by far in terms of popularity, used widely in live performances, from karaoke to big arena concerts. Other common uses include miking loud instruments like drum kits and guitar speakers. Note that these types of mics add subtle sound coloration when the source is off axis, which is why mic position when speaking and singing is very important.

Super/Hyper Cardioid Microphones

Supercardioid polar pattern Hypercardioid polar pattern These mics have the same front directionality, but have a narrower area of sensitivity compared to cardioids. This results in improved isolation and higher resistance to feedback. Because of their enhanced ability to reject noise, you can use these for loud sound sources, noisy stage environments or even for untreated recording rooms. On the flip side, back rejection is a bit compromised, so you will have to position unwanted sounds like stage monitors and drum kits on the dead spot sides.

Omnidirectional Microphones

Omnidirectional polar pattern These are microphones that capture sound from all angles. Because of their non-directional design and zero rejection, these mics capture nuances better, resulting in a more natural sound. You can use these mics in studios and other venues (like old churches) with great acoustics, and can also be used for live recording of multiple instruments, as long as the noise level is low. The obvious downside is that they lack background noise rejection and are prone to monitor feedback, which makes them unsuitable for loud and noisy venues.

Figure-8 Microphones

Figure-8 polar pattern The name of this pattern is derived from its graphical representation, which looks like the number 8. The long and short of it is that Figure-8 mics capture the sound of both the front and back, while rejecting the two sides. This front and back sensitivity makes them idea for stereo recording and for capturing two or more instruments. They are essentially like omni directional mics, but with sound rejection on two sides. Although not as popular as other polar patterns, the figure-8 is commonly used on ribbon mics and on some large diaphragm condenser microphones.

Shotgun Microphones

Figure-8 polar pattern Shotgun mics, also called Line and Gradient, feature a tube like design that make their polar pattern even more directional than hyper cardioids. The capsule is placed at the end of an interference tube, which eliminates sound from the sides via phase cancellation. This design results in a tighter polar pattern up front with longer pickup range. Although Shotgun mics are more commonly used for film and theatre, they also make great overhead mics for capturing things like singing groups, chorals, drum cymbals. .

Switchable/Multi-Pattern Microphones

These are microphones that can change between different polar patterns, allowing for versatile placement. Many of today's USB condenser microphones have this feature, letting you switch between multiple patterns by simply flicking a switch. Others provide the same flexibility through changing the mic head. The advantage that these mics offer is obvious, more positioning possibilities and more usage. Just remember to be careful when handling these mics, you don't want to accidentally damage the extra moving parts and circuitry that give them their versatility.

Diaphragm Sizes

Microphones pick up sounds through their diaphragm, a thin material that vibrates when it comes into contact with sound. This vibration converts sonic energy into electrical energy. While there is no actual standard unit of measurement, there are currently three main classifications for mic diaphragms, all of which are referring to the diaphragm's mass. The size of the diaphragm affects the microphone's sound pressure level handling, sensitivity, dynamic range and internal noise level.

Small Diaphragm

Small Diaphragm MicrophoneMics with small diaphragms are commonly called pencil mics because of their thin cylindrical shapes. Their compact design makes them lighter and easier to position, and interestingly, they are designed to be stiffer, to handle higher sound pressure levels and have wider dynamic range. You can use them on acoustic guitars, hi-hats, cymbals, and other instruments. Known limitations of this particular diaphragm type are increased internal noise, and low sensitivity.

Large Diaphragm

Large Diaphragm MicrophoneThe bigger the diaphragm, the more it can sense air vibrations, and the more vibrations are captured, more of the sonic details are faithfully reproduced. Unlike small diaphragms that are stiff, large diaphragms move easily, allowing them to detect even faint differences in sound pressure levels which result in a more transparent and natural sound. This affinity to fidelity has made large diaphragm mics a staple in recording studios, and they are now the most common configuration used on modern USB mics. You can use them to record just about anything, from vocals to guitars and other instruments, just make sure that you keep the volume in check because they can distort when the sound pressure level is increased.

Medium Diaphragm

Medium Diaphragm MicrophoneMedium Diaphragm mics are sometimes called hybrid because they combine the characteristics of small and large diaphragms. They tend to have a slightly fuller and warm sound similar to large diaphragms while retaining some of the high frequency content that small diaphragms could. These are modern microphones that are gaining reputation in both live and recording situations, but essentially, you can skip on these mics if you're setting up a small home studio or a small venue, especially if you already have large and small diaphragm mics to work with.

3 Types of Microphones used in Music

Here are the three types of microphones most commonly used in music, available with either XLR or USB connectivity. Note that USB powered versions don't require phantom power.

Dynamic

Dynamic MicIf you're looking for something reliable and versatile, then you ought to start with dynamic mics. Thanks to their moving coil magnetic diaphragm, these mics reliably capture sound and can do so even at high sound pressure levels. As such, you can use them for miking loud sound sources like bass and guitar amplifiers, and even drum kits without worrying about unwanted distortion or damage. Finally, they are not just for high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) applications because they work quite well in quieter settings.

Condenser

Condenser MicCondenser mics have a thin conductive diaphragm that sits close to a metal backplate. This configuration works like a capacitor wherein sound pressure vibrates the diaphragm which in turn changes the capacitance to produce the audio signal. Since they use capacitance instead of actual moving coils, fidelity and sound quality is improved, making these mics ideal for precision recording in the studio. Note that this method of sound capture requires power, so you'll need a mixer or direct box with phantom power (except in cases where batteries are used). Whatever instrument you are trying to record, condenser mics will get the job done so long as the sound pressure levels aren't too high. Just remember to handle them with care as they are not as sturdy as dynamic mics.

Ribbon

Ribbon MicWhile these mics are no longer as popular, Ribbon mics were once very successful particularly in the radio industry. The light metal ribbon used in these mics allows it to pickup the velocity of the air and not just air displacement. This allows for improved sensitive to higher frequencies, capturing higher notes without the harshness while retaining a warm vintage voicing. These days, interest for Ribbon mics have returned, especially since modern production ribbon mics are now sturdier and more reliable than their old counterparts, making them viable for live multi-instrument recording on venues where noise level is manageable. You can also use them for recording if you're looking for vintage vibe, or you can set it up in combination with dynamic or condenser mics for a more open sounding track.

Practical Microphone Applications in Music

Here we look at the main purpose each kind of microphone is typically used for. This is a good guide to get you started and once you gain experience with each mic type you'll find additional applications that work for you.

Vocals

Mic for VocalsFor live vocal performances where stage volume can get loud and feedback suppression is important, the best choice is to use cardioid mics - see our guide to the best microphones for singing live. Recording vocals on the other hand is a different undertaking that requires more attention to the singer's nuances, as such large diaphragm condensers work best. If you are going for a more vintage sounding vocal recording, use ribbon mics or go for good old dynamic mics instead. In addition, small diaphragm omnidirectional mics and shotgun mics can be used for capturing choirs and singing groups, and are especially useful when choirs perform in venues with great acoustics, like churches.

Drums

Mic kit for DrumsBecause acoustic drum kits are naturally loud and punchy, you'll want to go with dynamic cardioid mics for the snare, bass and toms. Small diaphragm microphones can then be used to capture the nuances of the hi-hat, ride and cymbals. For best results, there are specialized mics that are fine tuned to handle the different frequencies and SPLs of each part of a drum kit, you can either get them one by one or go for convenient drum kit mic bundles. In the studio, you can setup an Omnidirection or ribbon mic to blend in some ambience into your drum tracks.

Electric Guitar Amplifier

Mic for Electric Guitar AmpsClose mic'd guitar amplifiers are as loud, sometimes louder than drum kits, and as such they require mics that can handle high SPL. Your best bet is a cardioid or hyper cardioid dynamic mic that is well positioned in front of the amp speaker. Again a second condenser mic or ribbon mic, set back at a distance, can be used in case you are using multiple amps or if you want a warmer more classic sounding output, or in combination with a close mic to capture some of the room ambiance.

Acoustic Guitar

Mic for Acoustic GuitarAcoustic guitars when not amplified have a softer sound with immersive nuances. These type of instruments require the fidelity and quality of large diaphragm condenser mics. You can also go for a well placed Cardioid condenser mic or Figure-8 pattern ribbons depending on the situation and noise level. Finally, setting up an extra small diaphragm mic will work wonders in capturing the higher frequencies that sometimes get lost when acoustics are plugged in or miked directly up front.

Microphone Summary

We've talked about the main types of microphones you'll use in various situations, however as you gain experience you'll also learn how to break with convention. If there's anything more you would like to know about microphones then please feel free to ask in the comments below.

Comments

For recording podcasts

For recording podcasts indoors then a Condenser Mic is the best way to go. You can get a USB one so that you don't need an audio interface - just plug it directly into your computer or tablet.

If you're recording outside, such as interviewing people in public places, then it's generally best to go with a Dynamic Mic which can take the punishment of being carried around in bags and knocked a few times - you can find these in our Live Vocal Mic Guide.

I do a lot of narrating for

I do a lot of narrating for official functions and events and I am looking to purchase my own personal mic. What type of mic is the best for public speaking?

Would a dynamic or condenser mic be best for me? Also, if you do
recommend a condenser, what can I use to provide phantom power if the sound system they are using does not inherently have the capability to produce it?

I am looking for professional quality mic that I can take from event to event with me. I would be grateful for any recommendations or suggestions.

A dynamic mic is definitely a

A dynamic mic is definitely a better option for public speaking because they are more robust, simpler to operate and generally less expensive than condenser mics.

I would recommend the Shure SM58 or the wireless version Shure SLX24/SM58.

I hope this helps.

I want to know whether a

I want to know whether a microphone can be connected to the subwoofer of a home theatre System for homely uses ?

We don't provide advice on

We don't provide advice on home theater systems - we try to stick with the gear we understand at the pro audio end of the spectrum.

That said, it's quite an unusual idea you have there. If you can tell us exactly what it is your are trying to achieve then we may be able to steer you in the right direction.

I need a mic for my class

I need a mic for my class room, occasionally, to make my voice loud enough. So what kind of mic do I need? Thanks.

In a classroom setting you

In a classroom setting you need your hands free so the type of mic you're looking for is known variously as a Lapel or Lavalier microphone - and you'll want a wireless system.

These aren't typically used in music production so we don't have any specific guides on this website, however here is an old one at B&H that might help you.

I need a good mic for voice

I need a good mic for voice-over work. I bought a USB mic but was having issues with a "hiss". All attempts to get rid of it have been futile. So I've decided to get a new mic with an audio interface. I can't decide between a large or medium diaphram. A friend recommended the Scarlett Studio USB Recording Package (1st Gen). A little help please!

USB Mics are more convenient

USB Mics are more convenient and easy to setup making them ideal for voice-over work. But since you mentioned you were getting unwanted "hiss", have you tried moving to another spot in the house to rule out interference? Also have you tried at least two USB mics to rule out quality issues? I recommend giving USB mics another try, given the success that many are having with them. We have a gear guide that specifically discuses top rated USB mics if you want more information.

If your friend is specifically recommending the Scarlett Studio 2i2 Bundle, and you've decided to switch to an audio-interface setup, then I concur. Focusrite is well known for their home/mobile audio interfaces, and the Scarlett 2i2 is highly rated, so it's an easy recommendation.

Thanks so much for the help.

Thanks so much for the help. I have tried recording in many different locations including the sound proof recording studio at the radio station I work at. Still got the hiss. Unfortunately, I don't have another USB mic.

Thanks for the link. Most of them are "dream mics"! But I'm a little tight with budget for now. Hence, I'm opting for the Scarlett Studio 2i2 as it comes in a package which seems more cost effective.

Once again, many thanks for the help! It is much appreciated!

What mics are appropriate for

What mics are appropriate for vocals and instrumentation when you want to have a live recording of a concert?

Many have had success with

Many have had success with the industry standard Shure SM57 for capturing both vocals and instruments in live situations, and it is the easiest to recommend for those who are starting out.

Note that there are other instrument and vocal specific mics which can give you better results, but this will depend on the instruments that you're going to capture, the quality of the sound you want, and your budget.

What mic is best for

What mic is best for television stations and radio?

This question is a bit too

This question is a bit too broad to answer with confidence, but assuming you are talking specifically about mics for on air announcers then you'll want something that has a cardioid pickup pattern to reject any sounds that don't come from directly in front.

We don't provide any guides to professional TV or radio studio mics, but if you have a small setup then you might find our guide to USB mics for Recording & Podcasting useful.

i am a public speaker and

I am a public speaker and require a microphone that will be suspended on my lapel or tie and produce maximum quality as i move round a hall seating 1000 people.

Only vocal, drums and guitar

Only vocal, drums and guitar recommendations?? The world isn't only rock-n-roll!

Please write something about [acoustic] piano and wind instrument mics, I'd be really interested to read that.

At the moment we are

At the moment we are primarily focused on producing guides for rock/pop/folk/electronic music because that's what most of our readers want.

I'll add your suggestion to the list of microphone topics we will consider, but we already have several other mic topics on our publishing calendar that we'll cover first.

In the meantime you might find this guide from Sound on Sound very helpful for selecting and using mics on acoustic piano.

I play Congas/Bongos in a

I play Congas/Bongos in a loud environment. My dynamic mics are picking up other instruments and crowd noise. Which mics are best at isolating just what's in front of them? I've heard some folks say SM57 or Beta 57a, but I'm not clear as to which cardoid type is best for me.

I direct a group of theatre

I direct a group of theatre students who meet in a church. When the students are directly behind their microphones the sound is great. Or when using a lapel mic. I want to have a more fluid wash of sound. The stage is a hollow floor, too, so we have to be careful for footstep noise. I am thinking a ribbon, but not sure. What do you think? Thanks in advance.

Ribbon mics are generally

Ribbon mics are generally used for recording. For the theater you usually use wireless lapel mics for the leads and overheads for the chorus.

I've been miking a classical

I've been miking a classical guitar in a jazz combo with a Shure dynamic mic, but I've heard that condensers might be better for guitar. I'm having trouble being heard over the other musicians. Will the condenser give me increased volume? Or is it too sensitive? I'm either too quiet, or I have feedback issues.

Condenser mics are generally

Condenser mics are generally preferred for classical guitar, however that's mainly due to their frequency response and resulting tone rather than volume.

The best way to combat feedback issues is either with an acoustic preamp or specialized acoustic amps which have feedback detection or suppression systems.

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