At first glance, it seems quite simple. A microphone is used to pick up sound from something like vocals or from an instrument, and allow that sound to travel through electricity to either a speaker, an audio interface, a digital audio workstation, (I.E Ableton, Protools, FL Studio, etc..), or another Audio Recording source. BUT, not every Microphone works in the same way, is built the same, or is ideal in every scenario.
To start, there are 4 types of Microphones you will find yourself coming across:
2.Large Diaphragm Condenser
3.Small Diaphragm Condenser
Dynamic microphones are what you will typically come across when you first start getting into the music industry. This being due to the fact they are generally more affordable, durable, and can sound good enough in many different situations.
Ultimately, Dynamic Microphones do not require power to be used, unlike Condenser Microphones (which we will get into a bit later). So essentially, a dynamic Microphone can be plugged into your interface, or other source of recording input, and be used right away!
Dynamic Microphones are best used when recording things with a large volume output, such as live vocals, drum kits and guitar or bass cabs.
E.g,: Shure SM7B, Shure SM58, Electrovoice RE20
CONDENSER – Large and small
Condenser Microphones come in 2 “sizes”. Large Diaphragm, and Small Diaphragm. This refers to the size of the capsule that receives acoustic sound information from your voice, or instrument of choice.
Large Diaphragm Microphones will typically be the first thing you think of when you picture a vocalist doing their recording in a studio. This is due to the fact that Condenser Microphones are a lot more sensitive to sound than something like a Dynamic Microphone, and do a great job at picking up a clean, wide range of frequencies. Why are they more sensitive? Because they require power in order to be used! This power comes in the source of 48v (aka Phantom Power) and must be activated after the mic is plugged in for it to function. Condenser Mics require this power in order to activate a capacitor which sits inside. This capacitor will convert acoustic vibrations into an electrical current, resulting in a more refined sound, with the option for a louder sound output as compared to its counterparts.
Small Condenser Microphones work in the same way, but… smaller. This makes them the perfect choice to use two at a time to create a “stereo image” of a sound. They are very popular when Micing drum kits to get a sharp and larger than life sound!
E.g,: Neumann U87, Røde NT1, AKG C414
Ribbon Microphones are the oldest style of Microphone. DO NOT connect this one to phantom power, or you will electrocute the “ribbon”! What is the Ribbon? Well it is a fragile, ultra thin “ribbon” of electroconductive material that suspends between the poles of a magnet. The acoustic vibrations that the Ribbon picks up is what is then converted into your electrical signal.
So considering how fragile, and albeit, not the most conventional microphone nowadays, why would someone still want to use one? Well they are fantastic at receiving a warm, vintage-like tone that will automatically work to suppress any harsh high tones that are created from drum overheads, guitar cabs, or a voice with high frequencies in its tonality!
E.g,: Royer R121, APEX 210
At Nimbus, we keep a LARGE stock of all types of microphones! We do this because at the end of the day, every microphone has its purpose, and every brand, model, and design will be somewhat different! So that being said, it is important to us to provide our students with more options than they could have ever imagined.
Want to learn more about microphones and the whole recording process? Check out our upcoming 3 month Introduction to Engineering course starting May 1st, 2023!