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Studio Microphones information
While there's some overlap, the microphones used in recording studios generally aren't the same microphones as artists use on stage. In the studio, there are much fewer concessions you're forced to make: there's no feedback, no audience and less actual microphone 'handling'. The kinds of microphones you'll find in studios include both large and small-diaphragm condenser microphones, dynamic microphones, and ribbon microphones.
Studio Condenser Microphones
Condenser microphones have an ultra-thin diaphragm that resonates in response to the tiniest vibration in the air. Since these microphones are so extremely sensitive, they cover a large frequency range which makes them flexible studio mikes. There are two types: large-diaphragm condenser microphones are a little less detailed and tend to add a bit of colour to the sound, which is by no means a bad thing. Large-diaphragm models are by the far the most popular studio microphones for capturing vocals, but they can also be used as drum overheads or to record acoustic guitars. Small-diaphragm condenser microphones deliver a more direct, true-to-life sound without missing any detail, which is why they're often used to record articulated acoustic instruments such as pianos and finger-picked acoustic guitars with maximum definition. Whether 'large' or 'small', condenser microphones require a power supply and usually run on phantom power fed from the mixer or audio interface they're hooked up to.
A dynamic microphone works kind of like the dynamo on your bike and features a copper coil fitted to a thin diaphragm that's rocked back and forth by the vibrations in the air. As the coil moves up and down a fitted magnet, electricity gets generated in the process. Dynamic vocal and instrument microphones are perfect for the stage because of their robust construction and innate ability to counter feedback. They also often feature a built-in pop filter and are widely used in studios, mainly for 'close-miking' louder sources such as kick drums, snares and toms as well as guitar amplifiers. Dynamic mikes don't require any phantom power supply but won’t necessarily break if they're accidentally fed phantom power.
Ribbon Microphones: Classic Studio Microphones
Ribbon microphones can be seen as the microphone archetype and a predecessor of the dynamic microphone. Back when condenser microphone didn't exist yet, most studio recordings were made using ribbon mikes which, instead of a copper coil, are equipped with an ultra-thin aluminium ribbon suspended between two magnets. While they're less popular than condenser microphones due to their fragility and low output, ribbon microphones and their soft yet rich sound can be a great solution when you want to record the bright or intense sound of something like cymbals and guitars amps thrown in overdrive. Just like dynamic microphones, classic ribbon microphones don't require phantom power. What's more, passive ribbon mikes can suffer serious damage if they're hooked up to a phantom power supply. Active ribbon microphones, on the other hand, are equipped with a preamp and do require a phantom power supply.
Studio Microphone Pickup Patterns
The pickup pattern determines from which direction a microphone captures sound. By going for the right microphone and setting it up in the optimal position, you can ensure it captures the least amount of ambient noise - even if you're recording multiple instruments in the same room.
Omnidirectional microphones capture sound coming from every direction and aren't exactly 'focussed'. The omnidirectional pickup pattern is the most natural-sounding pickup pattern, with a highly consistent frequency response regardless of the distance to the source.
Unidirectional pickup patterns encompass the various cardioid pickup patterns. Cardioid microphones are mainly designed to capture sound aimed at the front of the internal microphone capsule. Very little of the sound that hits the sides is registered, while sound coming from behind is left out pretty much altogether. Super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid microphones capture even less sound from the side, but more from the back. This effect is the strongest with hyper-cardioid models.
Figure-of-8 (or bidirectional) microphones are designed to capture sound from the front and back, so they're basically deaf on the left and right side. What's important to remember is that the back of the capsule inside bidirectional microphones has a reversed polarity in relation to the front.
Recording Using Studio Microphones
To route the sound of a microphone to your computer, you're going to need an audio interface equipped with one or more microphone inputs. These interfaces feature a built-in microphone preamp that lifts the relatively weak microphone signal up to 'line level', after which converters take over to turn the analogue signal into a digital signal. The final step involves the right software for your PC or Mac: a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Popular DAW packs include Pro Tools, Cubase, Studio One, Ableton Live and Reason.
USB Condenser Microphones for PC and Mac
The easiest way to record sound is by plugging a USB microphone into your computer. USB microphones feature a built-in audio interface and are great for anyone who never uses more than one mike at the same time. As such, they're very popular among gamers and podcasters.
Getting A Stand or Boom Arm for Your Studio Microphone
Arguably, microphone placement has even bigger impact on the quality of recording than the choice of microphone. In other words, don't skimp on microphone stands - they're definitely one of the most underestimated studio tools. Boom microphone stands are a widely used bit of kit available in various heights, while broadcast microphone stands are the better choice for radio and podcast studios since they can be set up on or clamped to a desk or table, and often feature a built-in microphone cable routing system.
Pop Filters, Shock Mounts and Reflection Screens
There are quite a few tools that can ease the recording process. When recording vocals, it's highly recommended to use a pop filter for instance, especially if you're using a condenser or ribbon microphone. Pop filters block the little puffs of air we create when we pronounce harsher consonants like P, B and F. Without a pop filter, these so-called plosive sounds can cause an unwanted overdrive effect. Shock mounts are another useful tool and are designed to keep a microphone suspended, so free of contact noise like nearby footsteps. Reflection screens, meanwhile, are great if the acoustics of the room aren't up to par, or if you're recording multiple instruments at the same time. A reflection screen is a half-round screen that you place around the microphone, shielding it against unwanted noise, reverb or crosstalk.
Frequency Asked Questions About Studio Microphones
What's a good professional studio mic?
Any decent professional studio microphone should be able to cover a solid frequency range without any huge peaks or dips. It's also important that the microphone offers a hefty dynamic range for a really low-noise response and isn't too eager to start clipping.
Which studio microphone should I buy?
Think 'opposites attract' here. If you want to record a bright-sounding instrument, go for a microphone with a darker sound, like a ribbon microphone. If you want to record an instrument that shapes a darker sound, get a bright-sounding mike, like a small-diaphragm condenser microphone.
What's the best studio microphone for vocals?
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are incredibly popular in the studio because of their extensive frequency range and ability to capture detailed vocals. If you're fine with slightly less subtle sound, go for a dynamic vocal microphone.
How much does a good studio microphone cost?
That depends on what you want to record. A solid microphone for a snare doesn't have to cost more than £100, but if you're looking for that first-class 'crooner'-sound for your vocals, the valve microphone you need can easily cost upwards of £3,000.