Microphone Buying Guide
(Microphones | Posted 2008-12-04)
So you’re shopping for a microphone? Hopefully with some of the information and tips below you will be able to make an informed purchasing decision and be able to get lots of use and enjoyment out of whichever model you choose. So what are some of the things you should consider?
Microphone Application: What are you buying a microphone for? Are you looking for a good all purpose microphone for a PA or live sound rig? Something for a vocalist? Or something to mic an acoustic guitar? Are you looking for a condenser mic for recording vocals for a home recording studio, or are you just trying to capture some sounds to create loops with? Are you miking drums? Understanding the range of applications that you will be using your new microphone in is critical to buying the right unit.
Microphone Price: Know your budget. Are you looking to spend fifty bucks or several hundred? There is a wide range of applications and multiple brands and models within each at various price points. Understanding what you need involves knowing what you can spend. Set a number to ease your search.
Type of Microphone: Understanding your application will help you determine the type of microphone you need. Do you want a condenser mic, or do you need a dynamic microphone? How about a USB mic? This would be ideal if you are looking to plug your mic directly into a PC or other digital recording solution. What are the differences? Read on.
A condenser microphone has a thin diaphragm and uses phantom power to help capture even the most detailed sounds from the lowest lows to the highest highs. Condenser microphones can be quite expensive also and are usually used for recording purposes. You’d never really want to take a condenser microphone into a live situation.
A USB microphone is really no different than a condenser microphone and contains a lot of the same elements with the addition of a analog to digital converter, and a preamp to help pump the signal before dumping into the device you are using to record with. They are especially popular in home and project studios.
A dynamic microphone, like the class Shure SM57 and SM58, are tough road-worth microphones that can take a lot of abuse and high sound pressure levels. Dynamic mics are generally less expensive, but can get pricey depending on quality.
Microphone Frequency Response: It’s important to know the range needed for the microphone you are looking to buy. If you know the application you will be using the microphone for, you will be able to choose just the right unit to cover the necessary frequencies, and perhaps save some money in the process. For instance, if you are recording an acoustic guitar, there are only a certain range of frequencies you will need to cover. You can easily cover these ranges with a dynamic microphone, as opposed to a condenser microphone. However, little sounds you may not consider such as your finger sliding along the strings, harmonics, and little tweaks and pops may not be picked up as well with a dynamic microphone so you may want to move to a condenser with a wider frequency response depending on how you plan to use it.
Microphone Polar Patterns: There are certain patterns of arrangement that describe the pickups inside the microphone. Among those are cardioids, Supercardioid, hypercardioid, omnidirectional, and figure 8. Each of these patterns has to do with how well the microphone can pick up sound around itself. For instance, with cardioid microphones, most of the sounds captured will be from the front with some from the sides, but hardly any from the rear. These are good microphones to use whenever you must have several of them on stage or in your environment. For instance, miking drums would probably be a good application for a cardioid microphone.
Microphone Diaphragms: While most people seem to think that small diaphragm microphones are better at high frequencies and large diaphragm microphones are better at lower tones, a good microphone with either size diaphragm can usually do a great job at each and you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Still, this may factor into your decision based again on the application that you are planning to employ the microphone in.
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