All Types of Microphones Explained with their uses

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A microphone is a device that converts sound to an electrical signal. Microphones can capture sound in many ways. You can use it for recording different purposes like communications of all kinds, music, and public events. In the 1870s, David Edward Hughes invented the first carbon microphone in England.

When you are talking to a crowd or recording any sound, you need a microphone to make the quality of sound better. There are thousands of microphones available in the market. No mic could be considered as best for all situations.

Several types of microphones come under the two basic types: condenser mics and dynamic mics. We have explained all types in this article.

Types of microphones:

Let’s have a look at the detail of each microphone with their key points and potential usage.

1. Large-diaphragm condenser microphone:

Large-diaphragm condenser micLarge-diaphragm condenser microphones are best for recording vocals. When you would see it in real life, you would say,” Oh! I have seen this microphone many times on TV and in movies”. This microphone gives the feeling of “sounds like a record.” By using this microphone type, you can experience the voice as more adorable, bigger, engaging, and beautiful. It produces a better voice as compared to some other mics. Other than spoken words or vocals, these mics are used for operating solo instruments to record enhanced life music.

Key points:

  • Its low noise makes it an ideal microphone for recording guitars and other instruments.
  • It is best for both professional vocal recordings and home studio recording.
  • These mics are available in dynamic and stylish hardware.
  • It has an internal capsule shock mount.

2. Small diaphragm condenser microphone:

Small diaphragm microphoneThese mics are popular for recording high-frequency instruments like acoustic guitars and cymbals. Even smaller diaphragms are used in these mics. They are perfect to use in home studios for recording songs. As you start using them, you will come to know how versatile and useful they are. The users find these mics quite useful. These mics are a standard tool for recording but a bit expensive to buy for a home studio.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It provides maximum rejection of off-axis sounds.
  • It can be used for outdoor recordings.
  • It is useful in studio recordings and broadcasting.
  • It produces the same sound you hear while playing your instruments.

3. Bass microphone:

Bass micIf you want to record a low-end sound this is the best choice because it provides a boost to the low-end instruments. These mics are also known as “kick drum mic”. In-home studios, it is the best option to use. These mics use a large diaphragm. They are used for recording bass cabs, kick drums and other bass instruments. The built-in windscreen of these microphones stops popping. These mics are quite popular for use in live concerts as well as in studios.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It has a low-end boost.
  • It consists of a small scoop in the mid.
  • It works well with the low-frequency instruments.
  • It’s not too expensive to buy.
  • It rejects the off-axis sounds.

4. Multi-pattern mics:

Multi pattern microphoneThe structure of multi-pattern mics is combining two mics in one. It has a unique dual capsule design by which you can easily switch between the three common polar patterns: figure-8, omnidirectional, and cardioid. It is quite better in stereo recording and it is a versatile microphone. It is not the priority of the beginners but as they get familiar with the technicalities of sound recordings, then it’s the best option to use. It is a mic with a large diaphragm providing you with more sensitivity.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It is a versatile large-diaphragm mic providing multiple picks up patterns.
  • It provides low-frequency control.
  • Better to use for recording the different amounts of room sound and various instruments.
  • It is the mic with an integrated pop filter and shock mount.

5. Dynamic mics:

Dynamic MicDynamic mics are not an official category of mics, but we will consider it here. It is a category of mics with having some that are specific to perform one specific task, while some of them are so versatile that they can be used for any kind of recordings. Hence they are called the “classics.” Dynamic microphones of all renowned companies meet the industry standards for recording drums, rock vocals and electric guitars. So in home studios, that would be a spectacular addition to their collection of mics. Professional studios’ cabinets are filled with these mics because of their efficiency.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • Not expensive comparatively
  • Works better on stage and in the studio.
  • Better for recording vocals.
  • It has a built-in pop filter
  • Recommended for high professionals

6. Noise-canceling microphones:

Noise Canceling MicrophoneThe noise-canceling microphones usually used for achieving high directionality. These microphones consist of two ports; one is placed at the front while the other port is at the back.

The diaphragm lies between the two ports. The sound coming from the front of the microphone makes the diaphragm vibrate because it enters from the forepart only. While the noise comes from both front and the rear, that’s why the diaphragm doesn’t vibrate and rejects the noise from the recording.

The noise-canceling microphones are used in a variety of fields where directional voice is most required. These microphones are used in the headsets of call centers, shipboard communications, racing cars, video games, and helicopters.

Noise Cancelling mechanism of mic

Key points & potential benefits:

  • This microphone doesn’t lead noise to interrupt you in your particular tasks.
  • Accurately records sound from 1 -3 cm that is close to the microphone.
  • It riches and empowers the recorded sound from the front of the microphone.
  • It comes in different forms like standalone microphones and some kind of headsets.

7. Bidirectional (figure-8) microphones:

Bi means two, so the name itself is indicating that it is two-directional. The bidirectional microphones record sound from the front and rear of the microphone. While at the same time, it rejects the sounds coming from sides. So, the best situation for its use is the interviews, when the interviewer and the interviewee are sitting at the opposite ends of the table with one mic in between.

Bidirectional Microphone

The recording of sound by this microphone remains crisp and natural from a distance as well. With high frequencies, it becomes more directional. If you want to see the best example of the pressure-gradient principle even in a single diaphragm microphone, here it is.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • Records sound from front and rear.
  • Shows a significant quantity of proximity effect thus gives a bass boost to the recorded sound.
  • It provides natural sound from a bit distance from the sound source.
  • Rejects the off-axis sounds.

8. Boundary mics:

Boundary micThe boundary mic is a small omnidirectional condenser mic which is used by professionals and rarely in home studios. They are placed on the floor against a wall with no need for any stand to hold it. These are so helpful in conference rooms and theatres. It can be used in studios as a room mic and kick drum mic. It has a directional half-space pick-up pattern. It is also used in hockey board for body check sound effects.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • Useful for recording full room sound.
  • Produces natural sound with a flatter frequency response.
  • It has a directional polar pattern: cardioid or super-cardioid.
  • It prevents comb filtering by keeping phase interference above from the audio range.
  • It reduces the reflected sound delay.

9. USB microphone:

USB microphoneAround 2005, even USB mics didn’t exist but now it is the most popular mic. The reason is that it could be easily attached to your PC and tablets and it is ready to use. It is not used by professionals. If you have a low budget and want to record sound then it is a good option. It is considered effective for podcasting and bedroom studios. It doesn’t require any preamps or interfaces like standard mics. So it’s a better choice for all not trying to invest in a proper studio and record the sound in a low budget.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It is a portable mic with a high-quality recording facility.
  • It is easy to set up.
  • No additional equipment needed for recording.
  • It is better for recording both: vocals and instruments.
  • It has a cardioid polar pattern.

10. Ribbon mic:

Ribbon micIt is a unique type of mic that doesn’t belong to condenser mics or dynamic mics. It has its special category because of its “thin aluminum ribbon” used instead of the diaphragm.

And that is why it is called ribbon mic.it is a natural mic to record vocals, instruments, and even room sound. It is famous for its unique sound so it is the choice of professionals. And its standard sound makes it expensive and difficult to buy by home studio owners.

It gives a booming effect to instruments and makes the thin voice deeper and richer. It is also effective for vocals and instruments both that is the reason it the choice of many professionals.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It has a high-frequency roll-off similar to the human ear hears the sound.
  • It has a figure-8 polar pattern that means it can receive sound from front and back.
  • It has an incredible low-end pick-up.
  • It doesn’t pick up sound from the sides, so better for recording multiple instruments in the same room.
  • Best to use at radio stations.
  • It has more durability as compared to dynamic mics.
  • It has high-frequency sensitivity as compared to condenser mics.

11. Parabolic microphone:

Parabolic MicrophoneThis microphone has a parabolic reflector that focuses the sound from a large distance. It is highly sensitive to the sounds in the axis of the dish. The use of this microphone is more in fields like sports, recording bird sounds, and broadcasting.

The law enforcement agencies use it for eavesdropping on conversations of criminals. The parabolic microphone has a limitation, the low-frequency response is feeble.

Thus, for recording the sound around the human lower hearing capacity, this microphone will require the bigger dish than it possesses. Because with this dish it can’t capture the low frequency sound waves. But still is perfect at what it is doing.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It has excellent sensitivity for voices in one direction.
  • Can be used in the open air as well as in studios.
  • Record sounds from a long distance, even through the walls at which it is pointed.
  • Reduces the ambient voices.

12. Shotgun mics:

Shotgun microphoneShotgun microphones are not usually used as a recording instrument in studios because it is the right choice for outdoor audio recordings. It is considered best for wildlife documentaries and news reporting. And why this is mostly used for outdoor recordings? The answer is that it can isolate the sound. And when we are trying to record sounds of birds for a documentary, it gives higher results.

It has a design known as “interference Tube,” which allows it to reject off-axis noise. When you are a news reporter and you use this mic for your recordings, you’ll find it the best one because it records sound in a much noisier environment so accurately.

Why is it called a shotgun? Obviously, because of its shape like a shotgun. And secondly, it’s important to point it straight towards the source otherwise you can’t record the sound at its best.

If you intend to use it in a studio and you are not a professional, I would recommend you to postpone it till you spend some time in this field and learn more about them. Because only professionals can use it indoors at its fullest.

Shotgun microphones are available in short, medium, and long size tube mics. The difference in length refers to different pickup angles. If the tube is longer, the pickup angle is narrower and it’s almost 30 degrees. The medium-sized mic has the medium pickup angle with 50 degrees and the shorter-sized mic has a larger pickup angle of 70 degrees.

To get the better results of shotgun mics, you can place the mic in three positions to get the better sound. If it is used in news reporting and the reporter is trying to record his voice, the spot boy can place it either above the reporter or just in front of him or above him but with a distance. The shotgun mic would record the reporter’s voice and also the background sound that would give a natural effect.

  • It is made for professional use in TV, movies, videos, and production houses. They are less in weight so easy to handle. It has a high pass filter that prevents the low-end noise like the noise of traffic. Moreover, it is an ideal microphone for its full frequency response, audio transparency and low noise.
  • Its high pass filter to prevent extra sounds like air conditioners and traffic noise.
  • These mics have some accessories like windshield, zip case, and mic clip. These accessories are useful for using the mic for outdoor recordings.
  • It is also a good option for live stage performance. So if you are a singer and want to use it for your live performance, go ahead.
  • It is a unidirectional mic that catches the high beam of sound when placed in the right place. Otherwise, it picks up the worse sound if the source is moving to the sides or towards the back.
  • Shotgun microphones can be used in conferences, meetings, and lectures for its efficiency in recording the exact sound and reducing the unwanted sounds at the back. Moreover, the speaker has no worries about picking up the mic for the whole time he would speak. So if you don’t want to burden your hand with the mic, it’s better to use the shotgun mic.

Key points & potential benefits:

  • It has low noise circuitry.
  • It has a super-cardioid polar pattern.
  • High broadcast sound quality.
  • It is a beautifully designed mic with accessories.
  • It gives you a warranty of 10 years once registered your microphone.
  • It provides high-quality on-axis sound.
  • Records sound from a distance so they need to be so close to the subject.

Which type of microphone suits you?

As we put a glance at all the sub-types of microphones, so there is a clear picture of the functionality of all types. No mic is perfect for all uses so it’s better to use the mic according to the need. Like when you have a low budget, use the USB mic. Because it is available at a low price and needs no accessories and can be easily used with your computers. And if you want to record vocals and instruments either in your home studio or in a professional setting, you can use large and short diaphragm condenser mics. If you are concentrating on recording the low sounds of your instruments, use the bass mics.

Ribbon and dynamic mics are the choices of professionals. Dynamic mics are utilized in studios and live concerts. Boundary mics are available for recording room ambiance. They don’t need a handle and are placed with the wall.  Last but not least is the shotgun mics that are best for documentaries and news reporting mostly. It does not record the off-axis noise. So having a wide range of mics, you are over-burdened with the choice but now it is up to your need and choice which one you are going to buy!

by Harry Olson
I am audio engineer by profession and worked with many renowned brands. I spend most of my life in audio technology. Testing different microphones and doing research on them is my passion. I am here to spread my knowledge with readers.

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