Whether you’re performing live on stage or recording in a studio, a suitable microphone is a key element to your rendition. It produces superior-quality sound and enhances your performance by converting the sound waves into audio signals and controlling the frequencies according to your needs. However, the tricky part is that not all microphones are the same.
There are various types of microphones that covert sound differently into electrical signals. They also contrast on the basis of directionality, diaphragm size and transducer or capsule. That’s why it’s important to choose the right type according to your purpose.
But the question is, how do you determine which one will be suitable for your performance? Fear not, RTC Electronics, a well-known electronics store in Mississauga, has compiled a guide that explains the different types of microphones to help you buy the right one.
Directionality or Polar Pattern
The polar pattern of a microphone is the direction in which the device will pick up the sound. Devices that are more sensitive to sound arriving from a particular direction, block the sound from other angles or positions. Understanding the polar pattern of a mic is crucial to catch the required sound and eliminate the unwanted noise. Some of the popular versions are listed below:
1) Omnidirectional Mics
Microphones with an omnidirectional polar pattern can pick up sound within a 360° radius. They can be represented with a perfect circle or sphere. Their design enables them to efficiently capture nuances and produce a more natural sound. This type of mic is ideal for recording acoustic instruments or when recording sound in an open space such as a choir or orchestra. The only problem with these microphones is that they lack noise rejection, which makes them unsuitable for loud and noisy venues.
2) Cardioid Mics
Cardioid microphones are commonly used by professionals. They have a heart-shaped polar pattern and are more sensitive in the front part. These front-focused mics allow you to record the sound from a single sound source while isolating it from the unnecessary ambient sounds. They are suitable for both live performances and studio recordings as they are good at noise reduction. However, these mics become less sensitive and pick up less sound when the object or source moves around.
3) Hyper-Cardioid and Super-Cardioid Mics
Mics with super-cardioid polar pattern and hyper-cardioid polar pattern are variations of a cardioid shape. However, they are more directional than the cardioid mics. Apart from picking sound from the front, they are also sensitive to sound from the rear and sides. The only difference between super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid is that the rear directionality or pick-up area of the former is narrower than the latter. The directionality of these mics helps them provide higher-resistance to feedback and enhanced noise rejection. They are the go-to choice for noisy stage performances and untreated recording rooms.
4) Figure-8 Mics
Figure-8 mics get the name from the graphical representation of their polar pattern which looks like the number 8. They are equally sensitive to sound from the front and the rear, but have a high rejection to sound coming from the two sides. With these mics, you can record two voices at the same time by placing sources at opposite ends of the device. They are also ideal for stereo recording.
The diaphragm is an important component of a microphone. It is a thin and flexible material that vibrates when sound waves strike it. The design, material, thickness and diameter of the diaphragm plays a vital role in determining the sensitivity, internal noise level, pressure level handling and dynamic range of the device. Therefore, mics are also classified based on their diaphragm’s size.
1) Small Diaphragm Mics
These microphones have stiffer diaphragms that enable them to handle higher pressure levels and have wider frequency range. They also have low sensitivity and increased internal noise. Their compact design (pencil-shaped) makes them easier to carry and position, and are recommended for acoustic instruments such as guitar, cymbals and hi-hats.
2) Large Diaphragm Mics
Microphones with large diaphragms are more sensitive to sound because of an increased surface area. These mics have large and flexible diaphragms that are capable of detecting even faint differences in sound. However, they have a limited frequency response because the diaphragm is larger and the sound waves need to move more mass. They are most commonly used as modern USB microphones as they produce more transparent and natural sound.
3) Medium Diaphragm Mics
These microphones combine the features of their small and large counterparts. They catch high-frequency sound like a small diaphragm and produce fuller and warmer sound like a large diaphragm. They are not as popular as other microphones but do a decent job in both live performances and studio recordings.
Transducer Type (Capsule)
A transducer, also known as a capsule, is a device or sensor in a mic that detects an audio signal and converts it into an electrical signal. A microphone can have different types of transducers, which can be classified into the following:
1) Dynamic Mics
Dynamic microphones are one of the most commonly used varieties because of their versatility, durability, inexpensiveness and less sensitivity to ambient sound. They have a simple, sturdy structure and don’t need a power supply. These mics have a moving coil magnetic diaphragm that catches high sound pressure levels. They’re an ideal choice for recording sound from loud instruments such as electronic guitar and drum kits. Dynamic mics are great for both live performances and studio recordings as they eliminate unwanted distortion while recording loud sounds.
2) Condenser Mics
Condenser mics have a thin conductive diaphragm placed near a metal backplate. In this arrangement, the condenser is charged with electrical currents to create sensitivity. Instead of moving coils, these mics use capacitance to create audio signals, which improves the sound quality. As they are very sensitive to breathing and popping, they pick up a lot more details compared to dynamic mics. That’s why they are perfect for precision recording and capturing subtle sounds such as acoustic guitars and pianos. Due to their high sensitivity, they are an inappropriate choice for high-level sound. If you’re using a condenser mic for recording vocals, a popper stopper or pop shield is required to stop the excess air pressure from vibrating the microphone.
3) Ribbon Mics
Ribbon microphones are not as popular as the above-mentioned types, but they’re the most fragile. They have a delicate design that features a very thin ribbon element in a magnetic field within the capsule. This ribbon vibrates and converts sound waves into electrical signals by magnetic induction. These expensive mics are great to pick up the nuances of intricate sound sources. The extreme sensitivity of these microphones make them ideal for vocals, piano, choirs and string instruments.
The world of microphones is unique and diverse. There are several varieties of microphones that are divided on the basis of polar pattern, diaphragm size and the type of transducer. Hopefully, the above-mentioned guide will help you understand the different types of microphones and choose a suitable one according to your needs.