Types of Microphones for Singers and Musicians

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)

There are tons of microphones sold on the market from various manufacturers to date. Hence why choosing the best receiver to invest in can be quite challenging. However, picking the right microphone shouldn’t be as crucial as it may seem. 

Although microphone production increases year by year, it is a given that there are various ways to pick up sound waves in one’s surroundings. 

To narrow down your options, you must have a comprehensive knowledge as to what type of microphone is needed for your task. 

Microphone Types Classified By Polar Patterns

Polar patterns illustrate how microphones gather sound, point out where the mic specifically listens spatially, and determines the blocked positions. Once you can get the knack of these polar patterns, you will get a better idea of what types of microphones are best. You will be able to identify which one can pick up the sound you need with minimal undesirable noise. 

1) Cardioid Microphones

Cardioid microphones work by picking up everything in front and blocking everything else. The primary purpose of having a front-focused pattern is to let the user direct the microphone to a sound source and cut off the unwanted sound. This type of microphone is ideal for tasks that need feedback suppression and noise reduction, such as a live performance. Cardioid mics beat other polar patterns in terms of being a top choice for karaoke, live performances, and big concerts. 

These types of microphones are also commonly used for miking blaring instruments such as guitar speakers and drum sets. Moreover, remember that these types of microphones add subtle sound blend when the point of supply is off-axis, hence why microphone positioning when singing or speaking is crucial. 

2) Hyper/Super Cardioid Microphones

 This type of mics has similar front-directionality but compared to cardioids, it has a smaller range of sensitivity. This results in improved feedback resistance and better isolation. Similarly, due to its capability of reducing noise, this type of mics can be used for noisy environments, boisterous sound sources, or even in underdone recording rooms. 

On the other hand, this type of mics has a back rejection that’s a bit compromised. Thus, you will need to position undesired sounds such as drum kits and stage monitors on the non-working sides. 

3) Omnidirectional Microphones

 This type of microphone can gather sound from every angle. Due to their non-directional style and zero rejection, these microphones can capture gradations better, therefore, deriving a more natural sound. These mics are best used in studios, churches, and other venues with excellent acoustics. 

Additionally, these can also be used for recording multiple musical instruments live, considering that the noise level is relatively low. However, the apparent downside of these mics is their inadequate background noise elimination and their susceptibility to monitor feedback. These demerits make them incompatible with noisy and loud environments.

4) Figure-8 Microphones

 The term “figure-8” came from this pattern’s graphical representation, which mimics the number 8. Figure-8 microphones capture both the front and back sounds while at the same time rejecting both sides. The front and rear sensitivity make these mics ideal for capturing multiple instruments or for stereo recording. This type of mics is similar to omnidirectional ones, but the difference is each side has sound rejection. Despite being not as popular as the other polar patterns, Figure-8 microphones are widely used with ribbon microphones and other condenser mics with a large diaphragm.

5) Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun mics or also referred to as the Line and Gradient, offer a tube-like design, which results in a more directional polar pattern compared with hyper cardioids. The capsule is situated at the edge of an interference tube that gets rid of sounds coming from the sides through phase cancellation. This design brings out a more compact polar pattern forthright with an extended pickup range. Moreover, even though Shotgun mics are commonly used in films and theatres. They can also be used as excellent overhead microphones for capturing sounds of chorals, singing groups, or drum cymbals. 


The 3 Main Types of Microphones According to Diaphragm Sizes:

• Dynamic Microphones

• Condenser Microphones (Small and Large Diaphragm)

• Ribbon Microphones

This article will break down the 4 top common and most commonly used types of microphones and what they are best used. 

1) Dynamic Microphones

 In the microphone industry, Dynamic Mics are considered as workhorses. These mics are affordable, durable, and delivers excellent sound on some of the top familiar recording sources.

Dynamic mics will act as a reverse speaker when used with a portable induction coil that is suspended in the magnet’s field. 

They respond very well to transients, and they also administer high SPL excellently. This makes these mics a natural option for loud sound sources such as drum kits, bass cabs, guitar, and close mics. 

Considering how versatile and affordable these mics are, you should invest in a couple of dynamic mics to include in your collection. 

The two most common dynamic microphone types are the Shure SM58 and Shure SM57.

Dynamic mics are excellent all-rounder mics that are best used in recording drums, guitar amplifiers, and even for vocals.

• It does not require a power supply.

• They are relatively low-priced. 

• The two most common dynamic mic types are Shure SM57 and Shure SM58. 

In conclusion, a dynamic mic is a durable and highly reliable microphone choice. Especially for those who record guitars or vocals at a higher level, and it is also excellent to use for live performances. Additionally, a dynamic mic is also a practical choice for those who swing their mics or run around the stage, given that they are sturdy and won’t be damaged when dropped. 

Moreover, these mics can stand an enormous amount of noise before starting to distort. Thus, if you have an aggressive vocal or use heavy guitars in a live setting, dynamic mics are an excellent choice for you. On the technical side, these mics use a movable magnetic coil diaphragm to deliver audio signals and manage high SPL (Sound Pressure Levels). 

2) Condenser Microphones

Condenser mics are highly sensitive because they utilize a conductive diaphragm that works by vibrating with sound pressure and by using capacitance to produce an audio signal. These mics are highly susceptible to distortion at high levels. Thus, they are not recommended for recording guitar amplifiers up close. 

Often, you will see a condenser mic that has a proper stopper or also known as a pop filter. This filter is placed in front of the mic whenever someone is recording vocals using it. A pop filter helps reduce the air pressure that is vibrating the mic. Given that they are susceptible, you are likely to get a more precise and natural recording result with a condenser mic. 

• Excellent for recording acoustic guitars or vocals.

• Great for accurate recording and picking up subtle nuances on acoustic guitars or pianos.

• It requires a power source to operate.

• Highly sensitive to popping and breathing.

i) Large-Diaphragm Condensers

A Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic is most likely the first to come to mind when talking about studio recording microphones. They are typically large, have a more sophisticated style, and are professional-looking mics, which you commonly see in pro recording studio events. 

Generally, condenser microphones operate by using a condenser or capacitor to convert the acoustic vibration into electric current. These mics need a power supply like a 48-volt phantom power to operate. 

Condenser mics have much higher sensitivity compared to dynamic or ribbon mics and produce a louder signal output. The sensitivity of these mics makes them excellent for highly dynamic or quiet sources such as vocals. 

Large-diaphragm mic condensers include several qualities that are sonically pleasing for voices. They help in creating a “larger than life” kind of sound that is often associated with professional studio vocals. 

On the other hand, LDCs are efficient in all different source types. If you are looking for a microphone that can carry out every task, consider getting an LDC.

Many modern LDCs feature adaptable polar patterns, which make them incredibly versatile and advantageous in various recording situations. Additionally, LDCs are also one of the best microphones for putting up your recording studio around.

ii) Small-Diaphragm Condensers

Small-Diaphragm Condensers or sometimes referred to as pencil condensers, are the smaller and less tacky brother of LDCs. However, these mics are also just as useful regardless of their small size. SDCs offer an excellent transient response, expanded top end, and steady pickup patterns. 

This makes these mics great to use on authentic stereo techniques and acoustic instruments. If you happen to watch a recording session of classical music, you might mostly see SDCs. 

SDCs commonly come as a pair when used in a stereo recording. Thus, they are relatively useful for producing precise stereo images of actual acoustic spaces.

3. Ribbon Microphones

The ribbon technology has been introduced in the earliest days of the microphone industry. You can even see photos taken from the golden age of media wherein presenters are speaking into vintage ribbon mics. 

Ribbon microphones are best for the recording buffs and for those who have a bit more money to spare. Similarly, ribbon mics are also often collected by people who want their recordings to have a more classic-sounding vibe. 

These mics have an astonishing ability to capture the sounds of an entire room exquisitely, accurately record high notes related to strings or woodwind, and deliver a more ambient sound. These features are what make these mics extremely popular to people who want to record a broader range of acoustic instruments efficiently. 

Ribbon mics use an ultra-thin electro-conductive ribbon material, which is suspended in between the magnet poles to generate a signal. 

The new designs of ribbon mics were highly fragile. Moving them or carelessly or exposing them to high Sound Pressure Levels could cause these mics to break. However, their sound is undeniably worth its price regardless of durability. 

Ribbon microphones are well-renowned for their classic and warm tones. Furthermore, they are excellent in recording situations wherein you need to manage excessive or rough high-ends on sources like drum overheads or guitar amps. 

This type of mics naturally delivers a perfect figure-8 polar pattern, and they also respond very well to EQ. 

• Highly sensitive microphone.

• Excellent for vocals, piano, choirs, woodwind, and strings.

• Great for recording multiple instruments in one room.

• Commonly known for its vintage vibe.

• It can be quite pricey.

Reminder: Although ribbon mics sold on the market nowadays are not as fragile as the older versions, they are still easily damaged compared to condenser and dynamic microphones. Therefore, handle them properly. Moreover, do also remember NEVER to supply ribbon mics with a 48-volt phantom power as you will electrocute the microphone. 


Other Sub-Category Microphones 

1) Multi-Pattern Microphones

Multi-pattern microphones are typically in the form of an LDC. These mics feature an exclusive dual-capsule style which allows you to alter between the three main polar patterns, which are:

• Cardioid

• Omnidirectional

• Figure-8

Multi-pattern microphones are highly versatile and useful mainly for stereo recording. Although this type of mics are not the best for beginners, once you become adept with multi-pattern microphones, polar mic patterns, as well as stereo recording, your recordings overall will then improve. 

2) USB Microphones

USB mics did not exist up until 2005. This type of mics is also not often seen in professional recording studios before. However, with the current rise of podcasting and bedroom studios, USB mics are now widely used.

In comparison to standard microphones that require interfaces, preamps, etc., USB mics can be plugged straight into a computer without the need for any additional gear. Additionally, some USB mics even work very well with tablets.

Due to its ease-of-use, USB mics are ideal for people who are looking to try out home recording without having to put up a professional recording studio.

3) Shotgun Microphones

 Although they are not commonplace in recording studios, shotgun microphones are often seen in TV and movies, and a lot of people are confused about their purpose. Similarly, these mics are also typically used in outdoor tasks such as wildlife documentation and news reporting. 

 Shotgun mics are well-renowned for their exceptional ability to filter sound. These mics use a design called an interference tube, which includes a series of channels that are designed to dismiss off-axis noise. Moreover, a longer tube means a more limited pickup angle. Through the use of this mic, you will be able to record farther from the source of the sound. It also works in an environment with so much noise. 

Lastly, although leading sound engineers may use them in recording studios, sometimes, the majority of us will not. 


How To Choose The Right Microphone

When it comes to recording, choosing the right microphone is one of the most vital factors you should consider right after the quality of the tool itself. To pick the best mic for you, you need to have a better knowledge of microphones. 

Now that you have an idea of how dynamics, condensers, and ribbons work, you should already know which one best fits your recording needs. 

Related Posts:

Leave a Comment