Different Types of Microphones - Everything You Need to Know

The Different Types Of Mics And Their Uses

We walk you through the different types of microphones and their common uses. Learn everything you need to get the right mics for your setup.

Different microphone types capture sound in specific ways. Some types are meant for specific instruments, vocal timbres, and other sound sources. Some mics have good noise rejection and directionality for live performance, while others are designed to capture sonic nuances that are needed in Recording Music.

This article will help you understand what the different types of mics are. And how each one is used on stage, in recording music, and in music production.

You'll also learn about the features and specifications of different microphone types. And know how to use them to your advantage. But first, let's answer the most basic question.

What are Microphones and How do they Work?

Microphones capture air pressure changes via a diaphragm, a tiny piece of material that vibrates in response to sound waves. These vibrations are then converted into electrical signals that correspond to the sound waves. These sound waves can then be amplified, recorded, and processed.

These components can be tweaked to capture specific types of sound sources. The variations result in the varying responses and characteristics of the different microphone types.

The Three Main Types of Microphones used in Music

The biggest distinction between microphone types is the transducers they use.

There's no one-size-fits all microphone type. Certain types of mics work better depending on the sound sources being captured. Ambient sound is also a factor in selection. Choosing the right microphone type for different situations will give you better results.

There are three main types of microphones based on transducers:

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic MicIf you're looking for something reliable and versatile, then start with dynamic mics.

Dynamic mics capture sound at high sound pressure levels. This is because of their moving coil magnetic diaphragm design.

You can use dynamic microphones on loud sound sources like bass and guitar amplifiers. Even drum kits can be captured without worrying about unwanted distortion or damage. With the right amount of gain, dynamic mics also work well in quieter settings. Compared to a condenser microphone, they are also great at recording vocals that are more on the aggressive side.

Click here to see which Dynamic Microphones we recommend.

Condenser Microphones

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. This changes the capacitance to convert sound waves into an electrical signal.

Condenser microphones use capacitance instead of moving coils. This way of capture increases fidelity and sound quality. This makes condenser mics ideal for a home studio setup.

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. Remember to handle them with care as they are not as sturdy as dynamic mics.

Click here to see which Condenser Microphones we recommend.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon MicRibbon Microphones were very popular in the radio industry. The light metal element used in ribbon microphones allows them to pick up both the velocity and displacement of the air. This allows for improved sensitivity to higher frequencies without harshness. Ribbon mics sound detailed despite the warmer sound signature.

Like dynamic microphones, they don't require phantom power. There are active ribbon microphones in the market that do need phantom power like condenser microphones. Do check if it's an active ribbon microphone before turning on the +48v on your interface or preamp.

Modern production ribbon mics are now sturdier than their old counterparts. They're viable for live multi-instrument recording on venues where noise level is manageable. You can also use ribbon microphones for recording if you're looking for vintage vibe. Combining ribbon microphones with dynamic or condenser mics opens new tonal possibilities.

We recommend the Royer R-121 Ribbon Microphone.

Microphone Polar Patterns

Polar Patterns describe how microphones pick up sound waves. They show which direction mics 'listen' and which positions have less sensitivity. Having a good grasp of polar patterns will help you select the right mics in different situations. Knowing the directionality of mics will help you minimize unwanted noise and bleed.

Cardioid Microphones

Cardioid polar patternWhat is a cardioid microphone? The Cardioid pattern (also called unidirectional) captures everything in front of the capsule. It is less sensitive from other angles. This front-focused pattern lets you isolate the sound source from unwanted ambient sound. It is ideal for situations where you need noise reduction and feedback suppression.

Dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 are known for their cardioid pattern.

Cardioid mics are the most popular type of microphone polar pattern. They are used 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. This 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.

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, they are ideal for loud sound sources. They are also good for noisy stage environments and untreated recording rooms. Mic directionality and improved noise rejection are its main advantages over cardioid mics.

On the flip side, back rejection is a bit compromised. You will have to position unwanted sounds like Stage Monitors and drum kits on the dead spot sides.

Omnidirectional Microphones

Omnidirectional polar patternThese are microphones that capture sound waves from all angles. Because of their non-directional design and zero rejection, these mics capture nuances better. And since it captures everything, it produces a more natural sound.

Condenser microphones with this pattern are used in studios and other venues (like old churches) with great acoustics. It 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 this is the key consideration when you're choosing between cardioid vs omnidirectional mics. They are also prone to monitor feedback, unsuitable for loud and noisy venues.

Figure-8 Microphones

Figure-8 polar pattern This polar pattern follows the "figure 8" shape. This means that it captures the sound of both the front and back while rejecting the two sides. Front and back sensitivity are ideal for stereo recording. They are also great for capturing two or more pre-positioned instruments.

Figure-8 microphones are similar to omnidirectional mics, but with sound rejection on two sides. This polar pattern is used on ribbon mics and some large diaphragm condenser microphones.

Shotgun Microphones

Figure-8 polar pattern Shotgun mics, also called Line and Gradient, has a tube like "gun-barrel" design. This makes their polar pattern even more directional than hyper cardioids. The capsule is at the end of an interference tube, which eliminates sound from the sides via phase cancellation.
This results in a tighter polar pattern up front with longer pickup range.

Shotgun mics are commonly used for film and theatre. They also make great overhead mics for capturing things like singing groups, choirs, and drum cymbals.

Switchable/Multi-Pattern Microphones

These are microphones that can change between different polar patterns. This allows for more positioning options.

Many of today's USB condenser microphones have this feature. They let you switch between patterns by simply flicking a switch. Others provide the same flexibility by changing the mic head.

The advantage that these mics offer is obvious, more positioning possibilities and versatile usage. The downside is that there are more parts that can breakdown. Just remember to be careful when handling these mics.

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.

Diaphragm size affects the microphone's performance. It impacts sound pressure level handling, sensitivity, dynamic range, and internal noise level.

There are three main classifications for mic diaphragms, based on the diaphragm's mass.

Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Small Diaphragm Microphone
Small diaphragm condenser microphones are commonly called pencil mics because of their thin cylindrical shapes. Their compact design makes them lighter and easier to position.

Interestingly, they are designed to be stiffer, handle higher sound pressure levels, and have wider dynamic range. Small diaphragm condensers in particular are great for acoustic guitars. Other uses of small diaphragm mics include miking hi-hats, cymbals, and other instruments. Known limitations of small diaphragm mics are increased internal noise, and low sensitivity.

Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Large Diaphragm MicrophoneThe bigger the diaphragm, the more it can sense air vibrations. More vibrations captured, means more of the sonic details are faithfully reproduced.

Unlike small diaphragms that are stiff, large diaphragms move easily. This allows them to detect even faint differences in sound pressure levels. The result is a more transparent and natural sound.

This affinity to High Fidelity has made large diaphragm mics a staple in recording studios. They are 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 sound pressure level is too high. Most mics used with USB and iPad Audio Interfaces are large diaphragm condenser mics.

Medium Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Medium Diaphragm MicrophoneMedium Diaphragm mics are sometimes called hybrid because they combine the characteristics of small and large diaphragms.

Medium Diaphragm mics combine the characteristics of small and large diaphragms. As such they are often considered hybrids.

They tend to have a fuller and warm sound similar to large diaphragms. But they can also retain some of the high frequency content that small diaphragms could.

These are modern microphones that are gaining reputation in both live and recording situations. You can skip these mics if you already have large and small diaphragm mics to work with.

How are Microphones Used 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.

Vocal Mics

Mic for VocalsFor live vocal performances, stage volume can get loud, making feedback suppression important. This is why the best microphone for vocals is a cardioid mic. See our guide to the best mic for singing live.

Recording vocals on the other hand is a different undertaking. It requires more attention to the singer's nuances, and post production processing like a Deesser. As such, the best mic to record singers would be a large diaphragm condenser microphone. If you are going for a more vintage sounding vocal recording, use ribbon mics or go for good old dynamic microphones instead.

Small diaphragm omnidirectional mics and shotgun mics can be used for capturing choirs and singing groups. They are especially useful when choirs perform in venues with great acoustics, like churches.

There are plenty to consider when it comes to vocal mics, including Dynamic vs Condenser Mic options.

Here are our vocal mic recommended lists:

Drum Mics

Mic kit for DrumsBecause acoustic drum kits are naturally loud and punchy, you'll want to go with dynamic microphones for the snare, bass, and toms. Small diaphragm microphones can then be used to capture the nuances of the hi-hat, ride, and cymbals.

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 set up an omni or ribbon mic to blend some ambiance into your drum tracks.

Here are the mics we recommend for drums:

Electric Guitar Amplifier Mics

Mic for Electric Guitar AmpsClose miked guitar amplifiers are as loud, sometimes louder than drum kits. 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.

It is worth noting that mic placement substantially changes the resulting sound. You can experiment with different positions until you find what you like. Or you can go with tried and tested positions that have worked for many live performances and recordings.

These dynamic mics are great for recording guitar amps.

Acoustic Guitar Mics

Mic for Acoustic Guitar Unamplified acoustic guitars have a softer sound with immersive nuances. These types of instruments need the fidelity and quality of large diaphragm condenser mics.

You can also go for a well-placed Cardioid condenser mic or Figure-8 pattern ribbon microphone. This will depend on the situation and ambient noise level. Setting up an extra small diaphragm mic will work wonders in capturing the higher frequencies of an acoustic guitar. Keep in mind that good guitar micing is a skill well worth developing.

See which mics we recommend for Acoustic Guitars.

Microphone Gear Guides

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

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.


There is no best one as

There is no best one as everyone's voice is different but the sm7b is popular in radio stations but it needs a lot of preamp gain.

I would say the Cousins ZX49J

I would say the Cousins ZX49J. I made this mic in my basement my very self and I am going on Shark Tank very soon, so if you want to be one of the first people with my mic, just reply to this comment and it will cost you $15, this is a very good deal because it may cost much more in the future.

Good Evening,

Good Evening,
Please send me your guide or list of Mikes for recording on USB,
& reharsal of songs or podcasting,
Many Thanks

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.