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Tutorial: Microphone Types & Suggested Uses

By moosers on 09/07/2009 - (Anyone)
< All tips & tutorials

Introduction

In this tutorial I aim to give some pointers and tips about what microphones will work best in certain situations.  Of course these are just guidelines and experimentation is the name of the game when it comes to recording.  However, it is true that some mics work better than others for some applications, but please use this as a starting point only!

Step 1

Probably the most used microphone is the dynamic mic.  The dynamic mic is great for louder signals as they aren't all that sensitive and can handle loud sounds.  They are generally used for close micing drums, guitar amps, and things of that nature.  The most famous dynamic microphone and the most used one is probably the Shure SM57 and is the industry standard for recording snare drum.  It is also great for tom toms and for electric guitar amps.  Another great dynamic mic is the Sennhesier 421 which is also great for tom toms and electric guitar amps.  The main thing with dynamic mics is to keep in mind that they will work best for louder signals that don't require an incredible amount of detail...

Step 2

The most sensitive and probably the best sounding types of mics are condenser mics.  These are great for all sorts of applications that require as much detail as possible.  I generally use them for all acoustic instruments and vocals as these are applications that need extreme detail and are ones that I always want to hear as much of the true signal as possible.  If you are looking for detail, the only way to go is with a condenser mic.

Step 3

Some famous condenser microphones including the Neumann U87 and the U67 as well as pretty much all of the other Neumann mics.  I always use condenser microphones as drum overheads as well as for room mics as these are also applications that you want a lot of detail.  Condenser mics are the most used mics out there for recording and unless I am dealing with a loud signal, I usually end up using a condenser.

Step 4

Another type of condenser microphone that is used for slightly different situations is the tube condenser.  Generally you can use these in any situation that you would also use a condenser mic, but these have a much warmer sound.  I love using a mic like the Neumann M49 or M149 for vocals as the tube gives them a special type of sound that you can't achieve without one.  You can find some pretty cheap tube condenser mics that sound pretty good these days, but nothing like the big boys.  There is really nothing like the sound of a great tube condenser mic and I always love incorporating them into the mix.

Step 5

Of the three major types of mics, ribbon microphones are probably the rarest and least used but have the most interesting sound.  Ribbon microphones are also the most delicate ones as they really need to be taken care of because there is an actually ribbon inside of them that that can be easily broken if not handled properly.  You should also know that ribbon microphones can't be give phantom power as this will blow out the ribbon and ruin the mic.  Royer probably makes the best ribbon mics as the 121 and 122 are probably their most famous models.  Ribbon microphones can work in a variety of situations and can add a lot to a recording.

Conclusion

While these are pretty much all of the types of mics that are used for recording and these are generally what they are used for, any mic can be used in pretty much any situation.  However, keep in mind that some will work better in certain situations than in others.  Like I said before, the main thing with recording is to experiment with different mics in different situations as you never know what will sound good!
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