What is the best studio microphone for me?
If you're in the market for a studio microphone for making vocal or instrument recordings, then you've probably discovered there are many different kinds to choose from. Every microphone has its pros and cons, and in this guide, we'll help you take advantage of the pros and avoid the cons. If your question isn't listed below, please don't hesitate to contact us!
Basically, any microphone is suitable for use in the studio. Below is a list of the most popular types and their applications:
Condenser microphones: these are very sensitive microphones with a neutral sound. They require phantom power, which is usually supplied by the recording device, but some models have their own battery-powered supply. As long as the volume level doesn't get too high, condenser microphones can be used for just about anything. (See question 2)
Dynamic microphones: these are robust and tend to have a very outspoken character that makes them sound less neutral than condenser microphones. Dynamic mics don't require extra power to function and can handle a very high sound pressure level (SPL). Dynamic mics are particularly suitable for amplifying sound sources at a close distance.
Ribbon microphones: these are dynamic microphones the provide a warm, natural sound. They always have a bidirectional ('figure 8') pickup pattern (see question 7) and are suitable for vocals, drums and guitar amps.
Boundary microphones: these are basically condenser microphones with a flat chassis that can be placed on a table or floor. They're ideal for piano and theatre performances and certain types are commonly used for bass drums.
A condenser microphone is designed to provide a natural, clear sound, which is why it's a good choice for recording things like vocals, voice-overs or other forms of voice and speech. A large-diaphragm model is the best choice for vocal recordings. Please note: because condenser microphones are so sensitive, they also tend to pick up background noises. If you want to prevent this, you may want to use a less sensitive dynamic microphone instead (see question 1). This type of microphone has a contoured frequency response that makes your vocals sounds less natural, but it will help them cut through the mix.
The rule of thumb is: the smaller the diaphragm, the faster it will vibrate. Small-diaphragm microphones are therefore more equipped to register percussive details like ticks on a hi-hat or the plucking of guitar strings. Large-diaphragm condenser microphones tend to react more slowly and round off details, resulting in a fuller sound. Microphones with a large diaphragm are usually used to capture instruments that produce unwanted sharp accents and also vocals.
You can prevent capturing unwanted static by moving the microphone closer to your sound source. This way, you don't have to turn the gain control up as high on your audio interface or mixer to get the right recording level. If you use a dynamic microphone, then it might not be sensitive enough. Condenser microphones generally have a more powerful audio signal so static is less of an issue.
Background noise can often be prevented by directing the microphone away from the source of the unwanted noise and moving it closer to the desired sound source. For a really clean recording, you can also use acoustic absorption panels or a reflection filter. You can also try using a less sensitive microphone, such as a dynamic model (see questions 1 and 2). It's also important to pay attention to the microphone's pickup pattern (see question 7).
By using a pop filter or a windshield, you can prevent air displacement caused by sounds like ‘B’, ‘P’, ‘F’, ‘T’, ‘D’ and ‘S’ from reaching your microphone. These sharp gusts of air can cause distortion and clipping in your recording and can even cause damage to your condenser microphone.
By suspending your microphone in a shock mount, you can effectively prevent vibrations from reaching the diaphragm via the microphone stand. It's vital to use a shock mount that is compatible with your microphone. If in doubt, please contact our customer service team.
Cardioid: with this pattern, the front is the most sensitive part of the diaphragm and the rear is the least sensitive. By aiming the microphone properly, you can make clean recordings without picking up much background noise.
Supercardioid and hypercardioid: these patterns are both more focused than cardioid, less sensitive to sound coming in from the rear and least sensitive to sound coming in diagonally from the rear. This pickup pattern is ideal for capturing a snare drum, for instance, without picking up too much from the hi-hat.
Bidirectional ('Figure 8'): both the front and rear of a bidirectional pickup pattern are equally sensitive while barely anything is captured from above, below, or from the sides. A singer-songwriter who only wants to capture their vocals could attach a bidrectional microphone to their guitar at a right angle for optimal results.
Omnidirectional: this pickup pattern is non-directional, meaning it captures sound from all angles. In reality, sound from above, below, or from the sides will be slightly muffled. This type of pickup pattern is suitable for capturing solo vocals as well as groups such as choirs, orchestras and drum kits. It ensures a balanced sound, regardless of distance.
Tip: a 'multi pattern' microphone is equipped with multiple pickup patterns that you can switch between for optimal results depending on your circumstances.
Cardioid large-diaphragm microphones
Supercardioid large-diaphragm microphones
Hypercardioid large-diaphragm microphones
Bidirectional large-diaphragm microphones
Omnidirectional large-diaphragm microphones
Multi pattern large-diaphragm microphones
Condenser microphones require power, and in many cases, the audio interface or mixer supplies the power they need. This is known as phantom power (48 volts), which needs to be switched on before use. Please note: do not connect a condenser microphone if phantom power has already been switched on. Also, never remove the cable from your microphone, interface or mixer if phantom power is still on. If the device your microphone is connected to does not provide phantom power, you will need an external phantom power supply unit.
To connect your microphone to a computer, you will need an audio interface with a mic input and an XLR cable. An audio interface is a device that plugs into your computer's USB port (some interfaces work via Thunderbolt or Firewire). An audio interface captures the analogue signal from your microphone and converts it into a digital signal. If your microphone requires phantom power (see question 8), make sure the audio interface is equipped to provide it.
You can also use a USB microphone, which has an audio interface built in. This type of microphone can be plugged directly into the USB port of your computer.
There are also audio interfaces and microphones that connect to your tablet or smartphone so you can make studio recordings with your mobile device.
Yes, condenser microphones have a paper-thin diaphragm that can distort if exposed to extremely high volume levels. Use a condenser microphone for drums or (bass)guitar amps only if the user manual explicitly indicates that it is equipped to handle sound sources of this calibre. Some condenser mics have an attenuator you can switch on to counter distortion but this doesn't necessarily prevent damage. (See question 6)
Dynamic microphones are less likely to sustain damage from high volume levels.
Every microphone has its own maximum sound pressure level (SPL) that indicates in dB at which level the mic is likely to experience distortion.
All studio microphones
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones
Small-diaphragm condenser microphones
Dynamic vocal microphones
Dynamic instrument microphones
Microphone reflection filters
Acoustic absorption panels
Microphone pop filters
Microphone shock mounts
Phantom power supply units
Audio interfaces for mobile devices
Microphones for mobile devices