Microphones for Home Recording
The choice of microphones used can have a huge impact on the quality of sound recording that you can achieve. As a general rule, you should invest in the best microphones you can afford!
There are two basic kinds of microphone: dynamic and condenser:
Dynamic microphones operate like speakers in reverse. When the diaphragm of the microphone moves back and forth under the pressure of the sound waves hitting it, this is converted into an electrical signal. Dynamic microphones are used for instruments and are a good general purpose solution, particularly if budget is an issue. Dynamic microphones are not ideal for recording vocals.
If purchasing a Dynamic microphone, you should consider the following:
- Shure 58 : one of the most popular microphones for vocals and instruments
- Shure 57 : similar to Shure 58, but slightly better for instruments
Condenser microphones are more sensitive than Dynamic microphones. Condenser microphones use a more lightweight diaphragm and are better at picking up nuances of sound. "Large diaphragm" condenser microphones are more sensitive and more expensive than "small diaphragm" types. Hence, Condenser Microphones are the best solution for vocal recording. However, Condenser Microphones are more expensive than Dynamic Microphones (and professional quality Condensers can get very expensive).
In addition, Condenser microphones have some other drawbacks. They require powering (or "biasing") using an external power source. In addition, they are less rugged than Dynamic microphones and hence more susceptible to damage. (For this reason, gigging musicians often prefer Dynamic microphones.)
If purchasing a Condenser microphone, you should consider the following:
- AKG C1000S: a very popular and affordable small condenser microphone.
Microphone Pick Up Patterns
Microphones differ in their relative sensitivity of a microphone to sounds coming from the side. There are three basic pickup patterns:
- omnidirectional: picks up equally well in all directions
- unidirectional: picks up mostly from one direction
- cardioid: picks up in a heart-shaped pattern
Microphone Cables and Plugs
Cheaper microphones tend to have 1/4" plugs (i.e guitar cable plugs) or 1/8" (consumer microphones). However, the better microphones have XLR cables. XLR cables have plugs that lock in and hence don't pull out easily when tripped over. They are also resistant to picking up buzz, hum, etc. even for long cable lengths.
You should note that microphones with XLR plugs generally can't be plugged directly into a 1/4" jack on a 4-track or mixer, even with a properly wired adapter. Hence, you will need to get an adapter with an impedance matching transformer. (A better solution is to ensure that your USB audio sound card or input pre-amplifier has XLR inputs.)