Technically, a microphone is a device that captures audio by converting sound waves into electric signals. The signal can be amplified as an analog signal, which is what happens when you speak through a microphone attached to a sound system or speaking through a PA system. The electric signal can also be converted to a digital signal, which can be processed by a computer or a digital audio device. This is usually the case when doing an audio recording. Advances in digital recording have made it possible to put your music on a tape, CD or any audio storage medium at the comfort of your home studio. One of the most important hardware when starting a home studio is the microphone, so choosing a mic that is versatile, has a high quality voice capturing and durable should be top priority.
Identify and Choose Between Mic Types
While microphones provide the same basic function and fundamentally work the same way, they have different ways of capturing audio. Thus, different classes of microphones exist, but are categorized into three types:
- Dynamic microphones: These microphones have a simple design that includes a magnet wrapped with a metal coil. A thin sheet or diaphragm is placed at the front end of the magnet and transmits vibrations from sound waves to the coil. The coil then transfers these vibrations to electrical wires that transmit sound as an electrical signal. The simple design makes dynamic microphones sturdy to last prolonged use, which makes them the recording tool of choice for musicians. Plus, dynamic mics do not require electrical power, so it is easy to use.
- Condenser microphones: Condenser microphones are commonly used for audio recording purposes due to its better sensitivity and responsiveness in the audio signal and production of stronger audio signal than the dynamic microphone. Instead of a wire coil, condenser microphones have two capacitor plates that require power from an external source (phantom power). This current may be provided by an internal battery, most often provided by an external preamp or mixing console.
- Ribbon microphones: These mics are known for their high fidelity. Technically a ribbon mics work like dynamic ones, but instead of a wire coil, they contain a thin ribbon made of aluminum, duralumin or nanofilm, which vibrates from direct contact with sound waves. These are very hard to find and very fragile due to their thin ribbons. These are also very expensive, with prices starting from $1000 above.
Directionality describes how a microphone picks up sound from various directions. Victor Bailey emphasized the importance of directionality when it comes to a microphone’s ability to effectively pick up vocals. For an in-depth discussion of the specifications that make a great home studio microphone, read more at victorbailey.com. Knowing this mic requirement in conjunction with other specs can be a great factor when it comes to recording vocals and isolating background noise and making the best possible audio recording.
Some microphones have only one pattern of audio capture, while others have switches that allow you to change and select patterns for a specific recording job. Some of the most common patterns are:
- Cardioid – a heart shaped pattern that captures audio from the front where the microphone is pointing, as well as a little from the sides. This is most commonly used to pick up vocals and cardioid mics are mostly used for recording music.
- Bidirectional – a figure 8 pattern that captures audio from two separate directions. It can be used to record audio from two different sources or to capture reverberation.
- Omnidirectional – a circular pattern that captures audio from all directions. This is often used to capture groups of vocalists or ambient sounds.
This refers to a microphone’s receptiveness to AC current or audio signal. Low impedance mics (600Ω or lower) are better at retaining audio quality when using cables longer than 5 meters. Watch out for high impedance, as it may signify that a microphone’s other components are of low quality.
Microphones can do basic to studio-quality voice capturing depending on the type of microphone you choose and the purpose of using the mic. The aforementioned factors are important in determining how good a mic can capture your voice and sounds, and the quality of the converted output from the microphone. If your budget can allow you, look for the type of microphone that has all the features you need. Consider buying a microphone as an investment if you are starting a home studio. After all, the microphone is the hardware that has the most impact on sound quality.