The Different Types of Microphones Explained

This guide will help you understand the different types of microphones and how they are typically used. Microphone Shopping for a new microphone can often become a daunting task because of the wide variety of mic types and features associated with the hundreds of available models. To help you find the right mic to meet your needs, we worked up a guide that covers many of the characteristics associated with the different microphone types and models.

Understanding Polar Patterns

Polar patterns describe a microphones field of sensitivity and how each type picks up sound. It’s important to know where a mic ‘listens’ spatially and which positions are blocked. Having a good grasp of these polar patterns will help you select the right mic that captures the sound you need while minimizing unwanted noise. Below are the most common types of polar patterns.

Cardioid Microphones

 

Microphones
Cardioid mics capture sound from the front and reject everything else from the rear and sides. This front-focused pattern allows you to point the mic to a sound source and isolate it from unwanted ambient sound, making it ideal for live performance and other situations where noise reduction and feedback suppression are needed. Cardioid mics are the most common type used for a wide variety of applications from live performances to miking instruments. Be aware that these types of mics add subtle sound coloration in bass frequencies when the sound source is close, so mic position is important.

Supercardioid and Hypercardioid Microphones

 

microphones
These two types of mics are more directional than cardioid and have a narrower area of sensitivity. These mics provide improved isolation and higher resistance to feedback. Their enhanced ability to reject noise makes them ideal to use for loud sound sources, noisy stage environments or even for untreated recording rooms. However, these polar patterns have sensitive rear lobes making them difficult to position when trying to reject unwanted sounds like stage monitors and drum kits.

Omnidirectional Microphones

 

Microphones
Omnidirectional microphones capture sound equally from all directions. This type of mic has a more natural sound because of their non-directional design that eliminates any rejection. Omnis are excellent for capturing room sound in studios and other venues with great acoustics. They can also be used for recording multiple instruments, as long as the noise level is low. However, the downside is that they lack background noise rejection and are prone to monitor feedback, which makes them unsuitable for loud and noisy spaces.

Figure-8 Microphones

 

Microphones
Figure-8 mics capture sound from both the front and back but rejects sounds coming from the sides. This type of mic produces a polar pattern that looks like a “figure-8.” This pattern is also known as bi-directional. The front and back sensitivity make them ideal for stereo recording or for capturing multiple instruments.

Shotgun Microphones

 

Microphones
Shotgun mics have a very narrow and extended polar pattern that is even more directional than hypercardioids. They feature a tube like design that has a longer pickup range. These type of mics are often used for broadcasts such as sporting events because they excel at isolating sounds in higher noise environments from a distance. They are also used as overhead mics for capturing sounds in a room. However, shotgun mics often have very poor sound quality.

Switchable/Multi-Pattern Microphones

 

Microphones
Multiple pattern microphones allow you to switch between different polar patterns. Many of today’s USB condenser microphones have a feature that provides the option to select a polar pattern that meets your needs with a simple flick of a switch. Other types provide the same flexibility through changing the mic head. These mics offer more positioning possibilities and more usage.

 

Diaphragm Sizes

Microphones pick up sounds through their diaphragm, which is a thin material that vibrates when it comes into contact with a sound source. The size of the diaphragm affects the microphone’s sound pressure level handling, sensitivity, dynamic range, and internal noise level. There are three standard mic diaphragms classifications, small, medium, and large.

Small Diaphragm

 

Microphones
Small Diaphragm are commonly called pencil mics because of their thin cylindrical shapes. Their compact design makes them lighter, easier to position, and ultra-responsive. These type of mics are great for capturing acoustic guitars, hi-hats, cymbals, and other instruments with sharp transients.

Medium Diaphragm

 

Microphones
Medium Diaphragm mics are more modern and often combine the characteristics of small and large diaphragms. They tend to have a slightly fuller and warm sound similar to large diaphragms while retaining some of the high-frequency content that small diaphragms are known for capturing.

Large Diaphragm

 

Microphones
Large diaphragm microphones are a studio staple often used to capture everything from vocals to all types of instruments, room spaces, and more. The larger diaphragm is capable of capturing sounds in great detail making them the prime choice for high fidelity recording. These mics almost always require external power and suspension mounting to isolate them from external vibrations.

 

Types of Microphones

There are four types of microphones most commonly used for music, available with either XLR or USB connectivity. When shopping for a new mic, you will typically come across Dynamic, Condenser, Ribbon, and USB models.

Dynamic Microphones

 

Microphones
Dynamic microphones are known to be reliable and extremely versatile. The audio signal generated by a moving coil within a magnetic field makes this type of mic less sensitive to sound pressure levels and high frequencies which means they can take more punishment. They are often used to capture loud sound sources like guitar amplifiers and drum kits. They also tend to be less expensive.

Condenser Microphones

 

Microphones
Condenser microphones are the most responsive and the best choice for high fidelity recording. They feature a thin conductive diaphragm that sits close to a metal backplate. This configuration works like a capacitor where sound pressure vibrates the diaphragm which creates an electrical charge to produce the audio signal output. The use of capacitance instead of actual moving coils makes these mics ideal for precision recording in the studio. However, condenser microphones are generally more expensive than dynamic microphones and require the use of an external power supply, internal batteries, or phantom power supplied by a mixer.

Ribbon Microphones

 

Microphones
Ribbon microphones were commonly used in the golden age of radio but are making a comeback with more modern production designs. Instead of using a diaphragm, they employ a thin metal ribbon allowing them to pick up the velocity of the air and not just air displacement. This design makes them more sensitive to higher frequencies but retains a warm vintage voicing. Newer models work well for live multi-instrument recording in venues where the noise level is not loud. They also work great for getting that vintage vibe when recording.

USB Microphones

 

Microphones
USB Microphones are becoming a popular choice for many applications. Their design contains all the elements of traditional microphones except they include an onboard preamp and an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter. The preamp eliminates the need to be connected to a mixer or external mic preamp while the A/D converter changes the mic’s output from analog (voltage) to digital (data), so it can be plugged directly into a computer. This ability makes USB mics ideal for mobile digital recording with DAW software or other recording software.

 


Mixing and Mastering Program

Transform rough ideas and basic compositions into dance floor bangers and sonically pleasing commercial quality masters. Learn the well-kept industry secrets of EQ, compression, panning, level balancing, reverb and special effects.

Mixing and MasteringAbout This Program

This program gives you everything you need to refine tracks into a clear commercial quality release, including special mixing and mastering techniques for dubstep, techno, house, trance, downtempo, hip-hop, and the gamut of electronically-produced music. You will learn to mix and master your tracks using the same plugins that top industry engineers use every day, including plugins by Izotope, Soundtoys, Sonnox, Altiverb, and more.

What’s Included

  • Mixing & Mastering Level 1: Mix
  • Mixing & Mastering Level 2: Modify
  • Mixing & Mastering Level 3: Master

Additional Information

Visit the Mixing and Mastering course page for detailed information on this program here. If you have questions, please call 877.DUBSPOT or send us a message.

0