For those of you who wish to get into music production, a microphone will be necessary.
This is important if you plan to record vocals or instruments.
Now there are many microphones you can find out there. From condenser microphones to even USB mics, how will you know which is the “right” one?
While every mic will excel in different scenarios, here are some features you can look for when choosing your microphone.
Different Types of Microphones
The first thing to discuss is the different types of microphones used in music production.
There are a lot of microphones available in the market. Dynamic and condenser microphones are the two most common and well-known ones.
I’ll get into more details when we reach the features portion of the article, but here’s a brief description of these two microphones.
Condenser microphones use a capacitor to convert acoustic energy (the sound being recorded) into electric energy. They are powered by an external source compared to other microphones that can fare on their own.
Luckily, this source is accessible through phantom power, which is found in audio interfaces.
Dynamic microphones use a magnet and coil to create a signal. When sound hits the diaphragm, it creates an up-and-down motion that travels wherever the microphone is connected.
Dynamic microphones are used more for live events, whereas condenser microphones are used in recording studios.
The polar pattern refers to the direction the microphone picks up sound.
There are three types of patterns present in a microphone.
A microphone with a cardioid pattern picks up sound from the front and blocks sound from everywhere else.
This is perfect for recording vocals and individual instruments. This pattern is found in dynamic and condenser microphones, which you use to record such sounds.
A microphone with a bidirectional pattern picks up sound from the front and the back while blocking sound from the side.
This pattern is found in ribbon microphones.
The microphone picks up sound in all directions.
This is ideal for recording areas with little to no noise present.
Which pattern to go for?
So when it comes to choosing microphones based on polar patterns, it will depend on your set-up and what you wish to record.
As mentioned earlier, a cardioid pattern is best for recording individual vocal takes since you only want to capture the sound of the voice you are recording.
Note: Condenser microphones will still pick up outside noise if it comes from the front. Treat your room or point it at a place where the only sound it will capture is the voice.
How about a microphone with a bidirectional or omnidirectional pattern?
If the place you are recording is more treated and you wish to create a “surround-sound” type of atmosphere, those microphones will do you wonders. Such an example would be a certain section found in an orchestra.
The next feature that microphones have is frequency response. This refers to what frequencies a microphone can closely replicate an incoming signal digitally.
Different microphones have varying degrees of frequency response. What matters more is how good it is at handling those frequencies and replicating them to whatever it is you are using the signal for.
A typical frequency range is 20hz to 20Khz.
Note: Hz stands for hertz
Certain microphones have specific ranges that they specialize in.
When buying a microphone, think about what you want to record to get your money’s worth.
If you wish to record drums or bass, get a microphone with a better response to lower frequencies. A dynamic microphone is an example of a microphone for this situation.
Another reason a condenser microphone is used for recording vocals is that it can perform well in the middle to higher frequencies. This is the frequency range found in vocals.
Impedance refers to the microphone’s receptiveness to the AC signal.
So what is a good level of impedance? The lower, the better.
Lower impedance levels are good for long cables. They are able to retain the audio quality while it travels along the cable to wherever you connect your microphone (i.e., the audio interface).
When you buy a microphone, they usually come with an XLR cable. These XLR cables are usually very long. This is where impedance matters as some quality can be lost as it travels to the interface.
This is why condenser microphones have lower impedance.
Microphone sensitivity rating talks about the microphone’s output signal strength measured over sound pressure.
In short, it is the loudness of the signal a microphone is able to record without adding gain.
Gain is added to microphones with low sensitivity in order to get the microphone to line level.
So should we get a microphone with high sensitivity?
Just like with the other features and characteristics, it is on a case by case basis.
There are advantages to having higher sensitive microphones and lower sensitive microphones.
Condenser microphones have high sensitive ratings, making them ideal for vocals and recordings in soundproof rooms.
Dynamic microphones have lower sensitive ratings, making them the go-to choice for recording loud instruments and rooms that aren’t soundproof.
It will mostly boil down to what you want to record and if your recording space is treated to handle microphones with higher sensitivity without picking up outside noise.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is buying a ribbon microphone ideal for music production?
In a typical recording studio, both professional and home, most go for microphones with a cardioid polar pattern. These are condenser and dynamic microphones.
This is because you only want to capture one sound at a time, be it vocals, guitars, bass, or drums.
If you want to record sounds that don’t just come from the front source, then yes.
Can I still use a condenser microphone in my “not professionally treated” home studio?
You still can. It is recommended to get a condenser microphone for recording vocals.
However, you will still need to be more attentive to the sound that can be heard outside your room.
There are simpler and less costly methods of soundproofing your room that you can go to.
XLR or USB?
This wasn’t discussed, but you probably have this question in mind.
There are advantages to both. However, choose a microphone with an XLR connection if you are looking into music production.
Apart from the audio interfaces being important in music production, microphones with XLR connections are built for this certain craft.
There are many qualities present in a microphone that are important to understand. Not to mention, different microphones have different levels regarding those qualities.
Hopefully, this helped untangle the complex nature of these microphone features into simpler terms. So the next time you come across microphones, you will have a better idea of choosing the one for your music production.