The basics: From bedroom to stage to studio—the types of mics and miking techniques that’ll help your audio creations shine.
Don’t know the differences between condenser microphones and dynamic microphones? You’ve arrived at the right place. If you’ve taken a gander at the huge microphone selection at Musician’s Friend, you may have been overwhelmed by all the features and specs. In this brief guide we’ll boil all those choices down to the essentials, helping you to form a short list of microphone to explore further that match your plans and budget.
While we don’t want to bog you down with a lot of technical talk, there are three microphone concepts that you should be familiar with:
Frequency Response - The frequency spectrum a microphone can capture and reproduce.
Transient Response - The microphone’s ability to capture rapid changes in the sound source.
Polar Pattern - The shape of a microphone’s field of sensitivity—the directions from which it accepts or ignores incoming sounds.
We’ll touch on how these specs affect mic performance below. But for the full meal, read our Microphone Buying Guide.
Dynamic versus Condenser Microphones
These are the two main types of mics you’ll find for sale. While there is considerable crossover in how dynamic microphones and condenser microphones are used onstage and in the studio, here are their basic characteristics.
These workhorses are very commonly used onstage due to their ruggedness, versatility and ability to handle loud sound sources. Most have internal shock mounting, making them ideal for hand-held use by singers. Their high-SPL (Sound Pressure Level) handling capability makes them a good choice for some drums as well as for miking guitar amplifiers. Generally speaking, with lots of exceptions, dynamic mics tend to be less costly than condensers.
The ultra-tough Shure SM58 is the choice of countless pro vocalists both onstage and in the studio.
Models such as the Shure SM58 and SM57, and the Sennheiser MD421 are used on everything from vocals to percussion. On snare drums, the somewhat slower transient response of a dynamic mic can be an advantage, reducing harshness in the drum’s attack through its natural compression of the signal.
Learn more about miking drums here.
While condenser mics have historically been more delicate and costly than their dynamic cousins, that is less true of many models today. There are lots of affordable condenser mic models and brands available these days that can also handle the rigors of live performance on a budget.
Condenser mics have two advantages over dynamic mics. They are able to better capture complex sound sources with their extended frequency response. They also have a faster transient response. Generally speaking, when you want to capture more tonal nuances or very fast instrumental attacks, a condenser mic serves best.
One disadvantage of condenser mics is their need for an external power source. However, practically all audio interfaces and mixers supply the so-called phantom power required.
The AKG C314 offers four polar patterns, making it very versatile in a wide range of applications.
To get started in your quest for the right mic, you need to answer a few questions:
What are you going to record?
The source—the thing you’re going to record—dictates the best mic choice. Miking an electric guitar speaker cabinet requires very different qualities from, say, recording a choir, or for that matter, an acoustic guitar. Look for the attributes that matter for your application. If you need a mic to deliver spoken presentations, for example, you may not need a broad frequency response range. But you do want a high degree of intelligibility.
Where are you going to record?
The polar pickup pattern of the mic is an important consideration. If you plan to record “found sounds” on the street, for example, you will want to consider the pickup area of the mic. Some mics offer switchable pickup patterns, making them very versatile. Musicians on a tight budget who need to cover a lot of situations with one mic should consider one of these.
What will you use to store, play back and/or edit recordings?
The answer for most people will be on some kind of computer and/or digital tablet or phone. Getting your recordings in and out of those devices is pretty easy these days. As mentioned, audio interfaces and mixers will do the job. But if you want to go straight from the microphone to your laptop, iPad or phone, shop from the selection of iOS-friendly and USB-powered microphones now available.
What's your budget?
Thanks to the many manufacturers who now build affordable microphones with amazing bang for the buck, this is no longer such a hard question. You’ll find mics that cost relatively little delivering performance not far removed from that of high-end studio mics costing many times more. That said, expect to pay more to coax out the most subtle audio nuances from your voice or acoustic guitar. Buy the best you can afford for now, and never settle for junk.
The Wireless Option
Performers and presenters who find mic cables are a drag should give wireless mic systems a look. Available in a broad range of prices, you’ll find both condenser and dynamic wireless microphone models to serve just about any need. Our Wireless Microphone System Buying Guide will help you hone in on the right gear.
Check out our expansive collection of wireless microphones here.
At Musician’s Friend We Make Mic Shopping Easier
Musician’s Friend makes it easy to sort out the literally hundreds of mics on the market. Dial in your preferences by brand, price, mic type, polar pattern, and many more factors to quickly get a short list of the most likely models to research further. Whether you’re looking for a recording microphone or a live sound stage mic, the selection at Musician’s Friend is unparalleled.
Our friendly, knowledgeable Gear Heads collectively have hundreds of years of experience making music with microphones. Give us a call at 800-449-9128 and we’ll help you find the right microphone to match your needs.