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The Microphone Demystified
by Joe Schlicht

Check, check... testing 1, 2... check... is this thing on?

When choosing microphones for your home recording studio there are a couple things you need to know.

  1. Microphone Types and
  2. Polar Patterns.

The 2 most common types of mics are -

  • Dynamic and
  • Condenser

Dynamic mics are standard workhorse mics that are fairly inexpensive compared to condenser mics and are robust. For this reason they are often used during live performances or for micing drums where the drummer may accidentally hit the mic while playing.

An example of a staple would be the Shure SM57. This is one of the industry standards for micing guitar amps and snare drums, and even pretty good for vocals if you don't have a decent condenser to work with.

Condenser mics on the other hand need to be powered by an external source or with a battery. Most condenser mics are powered by Phantom Power, which is 48 volts of electrical current sent from a source usually built into your mixing board, preamp, or audio interface that travels through your mic cable to power your mic.

Condenser mics in general pick up a wider frequency range and more transients than dynamics do, and for this reason they are a good choice for recording in the studio.

Also with condenser mics you have some with large diaphragms and some with small diaphragms. Large diaphragm condensers have lower self noise and are more sensitive than small diaphragm mics, but the smaller diaphragm condensers can handle higher SPLs (sound pressure levels) and have less of an influence on the sound field due to it's smaller diaphragm size.

For inexpensive small diaphragm condensers I have used and recommend a pair of Behringer B5s. For about $80 each they represent a great value and they sound excellent for our recordings of choirs, drum overheads and I even use them on my guitar amp and they sound great. Are they the best mic out there? Nope, but for the price they are hard to beat for the quality they produce.

For large diaphragm condensers I recommend the Audio Technica 400 series, particularly the 4033. This mic works great for just about everything - vocals, guitar amps, drum overheads, you name it.

Note: So you have tried hooking up your first condenser and you get no sound. Don't forget to turn on the phantom power. Also it is OK to have phantom power on with a dynamic mic plugged into it, with the exception of Ribbon mics.

Next, I'm going to talk about the different type of polar patterns, also known as pickup patterns.

next session

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