Types of Microphones & How to Choose The Right Mics

types of microphones

Microphones come in various designs, but design is only thing that distinguishes all these microphones. When they are taken apart, you’d find out that they are designed differently. In other words, there’s more to see other than eye-catching and average-looking microphones.

Choosing a mic is more than about good sound clarity. While it matters, the way every mic produces sound is unique. For instance, there are mics that have natural sound. There are also mics that add warmth to recordings. Before heading off to the store, make sure you know what to expect from a microphone.

Do you use it to pick up voice only or do you want to use it to record instruments as well?

This is crucial knowing mics work differently. Some are designed with low sensitivity, allowing them to focus on certain frequencies. Others are designed to pick as many details as possible, resulting in very intricate recordings. Such sensitive microphones are commonly used in studios.

Well, you can also use one for gaming, but don’t forget to level up the soundproofing because this type of mic tends to pick up ambient noise. Additionally, mics also vary in accessorizing. Some mics come with a scissor arm stand. Others have a short base, usually a 3-legged one to provide better stability.

With all differences, it makes sense to take time to select the most fitting mic. If you’re wondering about all types of microphones, please read the following information.

Microphones (Mics) by Type


Condenser microphones

A condenser microphone has a structure consisting of two charged plates. They move closer and further relative to each other depending on air pressure exerted against them. It follows the mechanism of a capacitor, only in this case, it responds to sound vibrations.

Of the two plates, one is constructed using flexible metal, which is then charged using a voltage source. The other plate is much sturdier in structure. As the flexible plate is hit by sound waves, there will be constant changes in gap between the two plates. As a result, the capacitance will also change, which leads to an electrical signal. Based on the diaphragm size, condenser mics are classified into two categories, small and large diaphragm microphones.

Diaphragm is considered large when it measures 1 inch or more in diameter. It’s considered small when the diameter is less than a half inch. By the way, you’ll come across these terms a lot during your search for a condenser mic.

How do they differ?

Large diaphragm mics actually came onto the scene first. To this day, they are still among people’s favorites because these mics are known for capturing acoustic energy very well. They also tend to sound less noisy compared to others, but all these properties don’t necessarily make large diaphragm mics the superior type.

The small ones can still stand out under the right circumstances. They have several advantages, like awesome transient response and good consistency in picking up sound.

Electret microphones

Electret mics are actually another type of condenser mics. The difference between the two lies in the use of an external power supply. In an electret microphone, there’s an electret made of a thin polymer film. This is the polarized part of the internal mechanics. In terms of sensitivity, both mics are similar.

The same goes for frequency response, linearity, and other parameters. There could be a slight difference, but that’s not too significant. Another thing that sets electret mics apart from the condenser type is the dynamic range is typically broader. Besides, the noise produced by the system is also lower.

Which one should you pick, then?

It should be tailored to the needs. If you need a mic that doesn’t rely on an external power supply, then an electret mic is the answer. It gives more flexibility in operation. But if you have your phantom power ready all the time, then a condenser mic should be great, too.

For your information, electret material is an integral part of an electret mic. It includes any dielectric material that has a unique characteristic of dipole polarization. What it does in the system is it charges the capacitor. The word electret itself is derived from two words, electrostatic and magnet.

Therefore, electrets are analogous to magnets in some respect. But, how do they keep providing electrical charge for so long? It’s made possible by the way they are designed. They have chemical stability that allows them to be functional for years.

Dynamic microphones

Dynamic mics can be used for anything, but they are great for picking up powerful vocals. Due to this unique trait, dynamic mics become a popular choice for live settings. They differ from condenser mics in a number of ways. For example, the output is generally lower than condensers, which has to do with the use of a wire coil to amplify the captured signal.

Dynamic mics are also known for being durable. They endure poor treatment way better than other mics although we still don’t suggest you drop them intentionally. Basically, the damage should be minimal especially compared to condensers.

Another thing that makes them popular is the reasonable price. There’s no denying that dynamic mics come in a range of prices, but if you need one that’s moderately priced, then choose this type. Additionally, these mics don’t rely on phantom power, not to mention that the upkeep isn’t too strenuous. If you wonder how they work, we’ll explain it a little bit.

When a coil of wire is situated close to a magnet, an electrical current will be produced within the wire. This rule applies to the mechanics of a dynamic mic. The interaction between the coil and magnet results in the formation of audio signal.

For those unaware, diaphragm exists in this mic just like that of a condenser mic. However, the placement is different. In a dynamic mic, the membrane is placed over the coil.

The constant movement of diaphragm due to changes in air pressure will move the coil. This eventually triggers a current, which then travels to another part through the wires.

Ribbon microphones

Ribbon mics fall under the umbrella of dynamic microphones. However, they have a unique structure themselves. Inside a dynamic microphone, there is a diaphragm connected to a coil that moves repeatedly and create audio signal.

In a ribbon mic, the role of the diaphragm is taken by a thin strip of metal. Not just that, it also doubles as the transducer, which helps increase sensitivity without sounding over the top. They’re up there with condenser mics in terms of sensitivity, but not to the point where they capture every sound.

Ambient noise that would easily strike into a condenser tends to be muffled by a ribbon mic. Another interesting thing about ribbon mics is their polar pattern. They pick up sound from opposite sides, making them ideal for talk shows where the interviewer and respondent face each other.

USB microphones

As the name suggests, a USB mic is a type of mic that requires a USB port for connection. They don’t differ much from other varieties. It’s the way they connect that makes them different. If you disassemble a USB mic, you’ll also see components like a diaphragm, a capsule, etc.

They offer some advantages. In terms of setup, they are fairly easy to use. If you’ve ever heard of plug-and-play mics, USB microphones usually follow this mechanism. You don’t need to install software or anything. As long as there’s a USB port ready, you can use the mic without a problem.

Moreover, they are also affordable, many cost less than $50. If you buy one that costs over $100, that should be top-notch quality.

Microphones (Mics) by Pickup Pattern


Unidirectional microphones

Mics that pick up sound from one side with reduced sensitivity in other areas are known as unidirectional mics. When you use this mic to talk, you have to get your mouth close to the mic or point it at the direction where you open your mouth. Otherwise, the sound won’t be heard clearly because it doesn’t get good gain.

This comes in handy when you want to focus on one sound source and ignore the rest. Since the sensitivity decreases in areas besides the voice side, the recording won’t be affected by feedback or reverb that much.

Due to this unique property, it makes a perfect choice for gaming knowing it’s done in a room which is prone to feedback.

Omnidirectional microphones

Omnidirectional mics pick up sound equally from all directions. The sounds produced on the back and sides will be picked up equally just like sound coming from the front. No matter which angle you point the mic at, the recording will sound busy if the surroundings are filled with sounds.

For this reason, they are less desirable for applications where only one sound source should be highlighted. But at the same time, they also offer several advantages. For example, these mics can handle the sound of wind better compared to unidirectional mics.

The latter picks up this sound to a greater extent, which may reduce the audio quality. With omnidirectionality, the noise is still captured, but equally from everywhere. You should be informed of the polar pattern before using this mic.

Bidirectional microphones

These mics sit between uni and omni in terms of sensitivity. If unidirectional mics focuses on one angle, this focuses on two, namely the front and back. Basically, sounds coming from the front and back are picked up with good gain, while noise from the sides is ignored due to reduced sensitivity.

In what settings can you put them to good use?

When you need to record from two opposite sides, this mic would do great. It’s more practical than using two unidirectional mics although this combination is necessary on some occasions.

Imagine you host a Q&A session with somebody and you sit facing each other. If the mic only picks up sound from one side, then interlocutor’s voice may not be heard. A bidirectional mic can solve this problem.

Shotgun microphones

Shotgun mics are suitable for outdoor use due to the narrow angle of acceptance. It picks up sound strictly from one side, while noise from the environment is cancelled to create a crystal clear recording.

They are divided into two, long and short mics. The long ones have the most optimum directionality, which means it picks up sound only from one direction. A slight change in position will interfere with the flow of sound.

Hence, when you use this mic to interview someone, make sure that it’s pointed at the right angle. Otherwise, his voice won’t be heard clearly.

As for short shotgun mics, what makes them different is the wider pickup pattern. Besides, they are more compact compared to the long varieties.

Cardioid microphones

Cardioid mics have some resemblance with shotgun mics. They both focus on one direction, but in cardioid mics, the angle is even wider, which gives them more flexibility.

Not only do they pick up voice from the front, ambient noise from the sides are also recorded to some degree, which results in a smoother flow especially when they are moved away from the main sound source. These mics are pretty much for everything.

One of the examples is musical performance. The mic can be pointed at the vocalist, which in turn picks up the vocalist’s voice and some of the instruments playing. Meanwhile, the sound of the audience in the back will be drowned out.

Microphones (Mics) by Purpose


1. Music recording

Condenser mics are the clear winner here. They are commonly used for professional recording due to having high sensitivity. They come in two variants, large and small diaphragm mics. The large ones are the type we often see in recording studios.

They are terrific for picking up vocals and instruments. If you need one to fill your new studio, this would make a great addition. That’s not to say that small diaphragm mics are of lesser quality.

Keep in mind that all mics are good in their own and have distinctions that make them irreplaceable. Small diaphragm microphones are best used for picking up the sound of instruments that have sharp transients.

2. Gaming

USB microphones are ideal for gaming sinc USB ports are in close proximity. As for features, you decide. If you want one with a suspension arm, then go for this model. If you prefer a mic that doesn’t take up much space, choose one with a short base.

In terms of directionality, it should be suited to the room arrangement. If it’s a small room where echoes are a problem, you can choose a cardioid mic or something that picks up only your voice.

As for quality, price will dictate that. The higher the price, the better the quality. If you care about clarity, crispness, and details, then invest in a more expensive model.

3. Streaming and podcasting

Several mics can fit into this. Cardioid mics, for instance, are awesome for podcasting. In fact, they are very common in such settings.

What about bidirectional mics?

Well, you can add one if you don’t want to purchase two cardioid mics. Bidirectional means two main pickup areas. With this mic, you can sit facing your respondent and both voices will be captured. If you choose a cardioid, only one voice will be heard unless both speakers have one.

An omnidirectional mic will also work in this setting, but due to the high sensitivity, the room needs to be free of ambient noise. Otherwise, the recording will sound so grainy.

FAQs


What is the best type of microphone?

There is precise answer to this, different strokes for different folks would be the best way to describe mics in general. Some mics are better in certain areas, while others stand out in other areas.

For example, there are settings where cardioid mics would do better than omnidirectional mics, and vice versa. For podcasting, cardioids are more reliable since they are focused on the side of the speaker’s mouth.

These, however, will come up short when used in settings where picking up sound from all directions is preferred.

Is dynamic microphone good for gaming?

Yes, absolutely. Dynamic microphones are arguably the most resilient type of mics. They endure poor treatment betters than others although this shouldn’t be done intentionally.

You can buy one and place it in your game room. As for the angle of acceptance, a cardioid would make sense especially if nobody else but you are using the room.

Is Samson G-Track Pro good for gaming?

It’s one of the uses of this microphone. According to reviews, the G-Track Pro is one of the best mics available on the market today.

The superb quality of this mic allows it to become versatile. It’s useful for gaming, live streaming, and even recording music.

What type of mic is best for vocals?

For vocals, large diaphragm condenser mics are the way to go. They can record anything and have high sensitivity to sound vibrations. Besides, they’re good for miking acoustic guitars and pianos.

Make sure it’s one with a large diaphragm because a small diaphragm mic has distinct audio quality. There are no rules here, though. It’s purely based on experiences people have with these mics.

Final Thoughts


As said before, there are no rules about how you should select a mic. Microphones come in so many variants that make it hard decide the best one. All types of microphones have unique qualities to them. Besides, they are also used for different applications.

You shouldn’t use a mic designed unidirectional to record the sound of nature because a lot of elements will be missing.

As opposed to that, an omnidirectional mic will do poorly when it’s used in an interview because all noise will be picked up, not just the speaker’s voice.

There are many other mics other than these two. Please scroll back up to read them.

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