A Guide to Microphones

Without a microphone, you’re not going to get very far with your podcast. Indeed, the only real essential piece of equipment to start your very own podcast. However, the subject of microphones may seem to many as one that is shrouded in mystery. With a small amount of studio experience, you’ll soon learn that certain microphones are suited for certain tasks compared to others, and for recording particular instruments. A basic understanding of each type of microphone and their ideal suited uses should serve you well.


Types of Microphone

Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic microphones are typically known to be less responsive to the Shure_SM58surrounding/ambient noise around you thus requiring you to speak closer to the microphone. In many podcasting situations, they tend to be the preferred choice as they will filter out much of the unwanted noise that could possibly serve as a nuisance to your listeners. Furthermore, they tend to be less expensive and can typically take more “punishment”. This type of microphone will not only record vocals well, but also drums and electric guitars. On occasion, dynamic microphones may take a little getting used to, due to their short pickup pattern – the simple technique is to keep your mouth close to the front of the microphone at all times and to not allow your head to stray side to side or away from the microphone as this will create “dips” in the levels of your audio. Examples of dynamic microphones are the Shure SM58, Rode Procaster, Heil PR-40 and Electrovoice RE27.

View Dynamic Microphones here.

Condenser Microphone

Rode NT1-A MicThese microphones tend to have a better “frequency response”, meaning that they respond better to a wider range of noises and tones (known as frequencies), as such they are more sensitive to noise. Condenser microphones aren’t always the best choice, especially if you’re recording in a non-studio environment or in an area where ambient background noise may be an issue (think your dog wagging it’s tail as you’re recording or a door being closed in the hallway of your house). Condenser microphones also normally require additional power, otherwise known as phantom power. If you decide to use a condenser microphone, ensure the mixer you are wanting to use with it actually supports phantom power. It’s needed to both power the circuitry of the microphone and also polarise the microphone’s transducer element (the main part of the microphone that converts the sound you produce into the signals the mixer will receive to reproduce the noise it picks up). Examples of condenser microphones include the Samson CO1U, Behringer C-1, Rode NT1-A and the Blue Yeti microphone.

View condenser microphones here.

Ribbon Microphone

1032-2Now considered obsolete for many and used extensively in the golden days of radio, Ribbon microphones were the first successful directional microphones. Although they have an old heritage, they are known for their warm and clear reproduction of audio and give today’s offerings a healthy competition. It’s for such reasons that they’re enjoying a comeback. “Back in the day”, Ribbon microphones were extremely delicate due to their composition. Today however, they’re designed to withstand the daily beating that they’ll receive in a studio environment.

View ribbon microphones here.

 

 


Microphone “Polar Patterns”

Also known as “pickup patterns”, polar patterns are the areas of which a microphone will pick up audio/noise. The “tighter” the pickup pattern, the smaller the area the microphone will take audio in from.

cardioidCardioid 

Only accepts audio from the front of the microphone, rejecting audio from the back and to some extent the sides. This specific pattern is useful in situations where multiple microphones are used in close proximity, reducing the chance of feedback, echo or large amounts of ambient noise. View cardioid microphones here.

 

Polar_pattern_supercardioid

Super/Hyper Cardioid

This pattern is very similar to the cardioid, however the pattern is more directional than cardioid, with a tighter pickup pattern which exaggerates the pattern of the cardioid, which can make positioning them sometimes difficult to receive the ideal audio levels. View supercardioid microphones here.

 

Polar_pattern_omnidirectional

Omnidirectional

With a 360 degree pickup pattern, omnidirectional microphones are pretty self explanatory. They pick up sound from every angle; this makes it (for many setups) unideal compared to Cardioid alternatives as noise from surrounding environments will be picked up easily. Sometimes ideal in a ’roundtable’ setup. View omnidirectional microphones here.

 

Polar_pattern_figure_eight

Figure-8

This pattern picks up (and is equally sensitive) from the front and back, hence creating the figure ‘8’. This pattern is also known as bi-directional. Not the most popular option in the world of podcasting, however, there are certain situations when this pattern may be ideal (such as a recording where two hosts are sitting opposite each other, and want to use one microphone). View figure-8 microphones here.

It’s worth noting that there are other polar patterns (eg. shotgun, unidirectional, parabolic, PZM etc). However, these are not normally used for radio or podcast setups – with the above four being the more popular and easier to use options.


Connectivity

The type of connection a microphone uses is an important factor to consider before making the decision on which one to purchase. It’s important because it is the difference between needing other equipment, or not in some cases. Although a crucial factor, it’s not exactly a difficult one to make.

XLR

XLR Cable

 

XLR microphones typically tend to cost more than USB counterparts and also require an audio interface/mixer. However, they generally have more flexibility. This allows you to easily modify the volume and gain easily, as well as add equalisation to your audio to modify the sound produced.

 

USB

 

USB is a digital connection from the microphone to the computer and doesn’t require an ‘interface’ (such as a mixer) to connect it to a computer (whereas XLR does). USB microphones tend to be cheaper yet with less flexibility.

 

 

Essentially, the type of connectivity you want with a microphone falls down to some considerations, such as

  • Your budget
  • Any additional equipment you have/require
  • The exact recording setup you want to have
  • The type of sound you wish to produce
 
The above diagram gives a visual representation of the subtle, yet major difference between a USB and XLR microphone; (extracted from “The Ultimate Guide to Podcasting“).

Want a more detailed look at microphones? Get your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Podcasting today!