Blog Post

Microphone Tips: Which Type Mic to Choose

Don’t let your great performance be ruined by the wrong microphone.  There are many quality mics available today at reasonable prices, but the number of choices can be overwhelming.  By focusing on your needs, you can narrow down the options that are best for you.  However, as with many of the things related to the quality of your sound, you may need to experiment with different setups to see which works best.

Though there are many brands and microphones available, they all share a few common variations.  We’ll cover all the most common options below.

 

Transducer Type

The transducer is the microphone component which captures the sound vibrations and translates them into an electrical signal.

The two primary transducer types are: Condenser and Dynamic.

Condenser – Excellent sound quality, great at capturing soft sounds, but also less durable

  • Condenser mics have a lighter diaphragm which makes them easier to damage.
  • Two diaphragm sizes available
    • Small diaphragm – good for higher frequencies, cymbals & acoustic guitar
    • Large diaphragm – best for vocals
  • Condensers are active mics, which means they require a separate power supply.
  • Vulnerable to vibration and humidity, so they work best in controlled settings
  • Very sensitive to soft sounds, a pop filter may help for clearer vocals
  • Check out our featured Condenser Microphones

Dynamic – Durable, easy to use, best for low-to-mid frequencies

  • Heavier diaphragm makes them more durable and better suited for active stage performances
  • Passive, no need for external power
  • Less sensitive than condensers, but also fewer feedback issues
  • Work well with electric guitar cabinets, drums and louder stage vocals
  • Check out our featured Dynamic Microphones

 

Directionality

Different microphones are designed to pick up sounds from different directions.  Knowing which type to choose depends on the situation and how you plan to use the microphone.

Cardioid / Unidirectional – Directional microphone, they are designed to pick up sounds directly in front of the microphone

  • Great on a loud stage because they pick up less unwanted “outside” sounds/noise
  • More resistant to feedback than other types of mics
  • Also available in super-cardioid, which pick up sounds from an even smaller area
  • Check out our featured Cardioid Microphones
Cardioid Microphone Pattern

Cardioid Microphone Pattern

Omnidirectional – Designed to pick up sound equally from all angles around the microphone

  • Since they receive sounds from all around the microphone, they are able to pick up more ambiance.
  • Feedback is more likely to be an issue.
  • Bidirectional (Figure 8) mics are also available which pick up sound from the front and back only, not the sides.
Omnidirectional Microphone Pattern

Omnidirectional Microphone Pattern

 

Frequency Response

The frequency response of a microphone is the measure of how sensitive a microphone is along the range of frequencies.  It’s important to match the frequency response of your microphone to the sound you are trying to capture.

Microphones come in two frequency response varieties:  Flat and Tailored.

Flat – All frequencies have equal sensitivity and output level

  • Because all frequencies are equal, flat mics most accurately reproduce the original sound.
  • Often used for recording, but not ideal for vocals

Tailored/Shaped – Certain frequencies are accented over others

  • Work well for clearer vocals as they accentuate that particular frequency range
  • Also excludes or minimizes outer frequencies (low & high) which can lead to less unwanted noise

 

Wired or Wireless?

Wireless microphone systems are now relatively inexpensive, compared to wired mics, but aren’t always the better option.

Wired – Your basic setup: microphone plugs into your cord and cord plugs into your receiver

  • Simplicity is a big advantage of wired mics, fewer things to go wrong on stage.
  • Wired microphones are also less expensive than comparable wireless systems.
  • So long as you use a high-quality cable, wired is as close to pure sound as you can get.
  • Movement is limited to the length of your cable and you’re adding another cable on the stage to possibly trip over.

Wireless – Wireless microphones transmit a radio signal to a remote receiver.

  • Freedom of movement is the biggest advantage, no cable to worry about.
  • Interference can be an issue, if you’re running multiple mics.
  • Because they’re a more complex system, there are more things that can go wrong during a performance. Don’t go wireless unless you really need to.
  • Wireless mics also need a battery, so make sure it’s charged or have a few extra batteries ready.
  • Check out all our Wireless Microphones
Wireless Microphone System

Wireless Microphone System

 

There are also two main wireless transmission options:  VHF & UHF.  VHF operates in a lower radio frequency range than UHF.

VHF – Very High Frequency

  • Less expensive than UHF
  • Greater chance of interference from other mics or electronic equipment
  • Less range then UHF usually, must be nearer to receiver for optimal signal
  • Work best if not using a lot of mics or you’re in an area with little outside radio activity

UHF – Ultra High Frequency

  • More expensive than comparable VHF system
  • Less chance of interference from other mics and electronics
  • Some are line-of-sight systems, which means they may not work with obstacles between the microphone and receiver.
  • Works best if you’re using more than 5 mics or you’re in an area with extra radio activity

 

Where do you plan to use your microphone?

On Stage – If you’re playing a live show, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Dynamic mics have less feedback, work better with louder sounds, and are more durable.
  • Condenser mics can work well in a softer setting like acoustic guitar and vocals.
  • Cardioid is a good choice, especially for vocals, on a loud stage as they minimize the background noise picked up by the microphone.
  • When using a mic to pick up sound directly from a guitar amp, a cardioid mic placed near a single speaker is most common and has less risk of feedback.

 

In the Studio – If you’re in a controlled studio setting, here are a few tips:

  • Condenser mics can give you a more natural sound, especially when you don’t have to worry about feedback. Keep in mind, they do require an external power source.
  • Consider using a microphone acoustic shield or enclosure, if you want to minimize outside noise.
  • Omnidirectional mics capture more natural sound/ambiance of the room, but feedback must be managed.
  • If you’re recording multiple instruments/vocals at once, a cardioid for each instrument/band member may be best to avoid outside sounds and interference.
  • You can experiment by moving the microphone further from the sound source and see how it affects the sound. Another option is a two-mic system with one mic near the sound source and another further away to pick up more ambiance.

 

If you’re looking to mic your drum set, consider getting a all-in-one system, like the CAD Audio Set, pictured below.  Each component of your drum set may need a different type of microphone, so buying them in a set can save you some serious money.

CAD Audio Drum Mic Set

CAD Audio Drum Mic Set

 

If you’re thinking of buying a new microphone, be sure to carefully consider how you’ll be using it and match that with the mic variations, discussed above.  Once you get your microphone, test it out in various settings and setups and note how changes affect your sound.  Hopefully, with a little research and experimentation, you can find the perfect microphone to enhance your sound and make your next performance truly amazing.

Any questions?  Please contact us at sales@onstagemusicsupply.com!

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