Microphone Buying Guide
Types of Microphones
Microphone Buying Tips:
• Consider compatibility with your other hardware and software components
• Research the microphone preferences of artists in your genre to gain insights
• Explore online forums to read user reviews and recommendations
• Listen to captured audio samples online
Polar Pattern +
A microphone’s polar pattern refers to how it picks up or rejects sounds coming from different directions. The most common polar pattern is the cardioid pattern, which offers good pickup from the front, less from the sides, and almost total rejection from the rear. This makes them well-suited to live recording, and most other situations where the acoustics are good, but not perfect. Supercardioid and hypercardioid microphones take the concept a step further and work especially well for on-stage vocals and live recording in far-away or difficult acoustic situations. An omnidirectional microphone picks up sound equally well from 360 degrees and work well good acoustic environments, or in a recording situation where an open, natural sound is desired. Omnidirectional microphones are not advised for live sound as they are prone to feedback when amplified.
Generally speaking there are two microphone body types — wireless and wired. For live performances, your microphone selection will likely be limited to two or three types of microphones, and for the most part, wired via an XLR cable that plugs into the bottom of the mic’s shaft. Wireless mics are a popular option for many live vocal performers, and feature a wireless transmitter built into the microphone’s body which sends a signal from the wireless mic to a receiver connected to the PA system or mixer. While wireless mics are a good option on stage, they are not recommended for studio use, as they can lose their signal.
Frequency Response +
Measured in hertz, the frequency of a microphone is the range of frequencies — from low to high — that a microphone will hear and pick up. Most vocal mics have a frequency response range of approximately 80 Hz to 15 kHz. When miking drums like snares and toms, it’s best to use a model with a lower frequency response than vocal mics, or around 50 Hz. For bass drums you’ll want a mic with a frequency range between 30 and 40 Hz.
Different microphones pick up different levels of sound. This is known as the mic’s sensitivity, and is expressed by a number. In general, the lower the sensitivity number the more sensitive the microphone. The SPL, or Sound Pressure Level, is a measure of the maximum sound level a microphone can handle. SPL is most often monitored when miking loud instruments like drums in live-performance settings where volumes range up to 130 decibels.
Proximity Effect +
Microphones with a strong proximity effect will be very sensitive to the movement and distance of sound sources, particularly when tracking vocals. Bass tones are the most greatly affected by proximity. Singers who sing at a consistent distance from a mic will see a level bass tone range, whereas singers who move in and out, or who “work the mic”, will notice a fluctuation in the bass range, spiking as they approach, and dipping as they back off.
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Care & Maintenance Tips:
• Never lay a microphone down on any surface: it can pick up fine particles of iron which will impair performance or damage the mic
• Never blow into your microphones to test them
• Protect your microphones during outdoor use with a semi-closed cell foam windscreen
• Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for care and maintenance