TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 5 Microphone Types

Sound shows itself as patterns in air pressure. Microphones convert the movements of the air into electrical current. How accurately that conversion is made depends on the quality and type of the microphone.

There are 3 basic types of microphones – condenser, dynamic and ribbon. And depending on how those microphones pick up the sounds (their polarity) determines how and where you would place them to record a voice or instrument.

If you’re interested in taking a look at some of the gear we use (including microphones) at our studio setup in Nashville, click here.

Condenser Mics

A condenser mic usually has a well-rounded pattern to its frequency response, produces a high quality audio signal and a fast response to transients eg. drums. There are two types – large and small diaphragm. Depending on placement though, they can take on a harshness if placed too close to the transient sound source.

They’re a very popular type of mic and in recent years have become quite affordable in price. Condenser mics require their own ‘phantom power’ (usually 48 volt). This power enables the mic to function properly and it usually comes from the mixer or preamp, but some mics have their own internal battery or power supply.

Dynamic Mics

Dynamic mics, generally, can take quite a lot of abuse. They can handle a lot of volume before feeding back. Which has made them popular with bands for use on drums, amps and strong rock vocals.

They tend not to have a uniform frequency response. And some are specifically designed to respond to specific frequency bands eg. AKG 112 for bass responses. Again, these mics can often be found at a reasonable price.

Ribbon Mics

Ribbon mics are quite fragile so need care when using them. They also have a relatively slow response time, tending to soften transients and have a more rounded tone to them due to them being less sensitive to the higher frequencies.

If you’re looking for an old or vintage sound to your recording you may want to check out this type of mic.

Microphone Polarity

Microphones can pick up sound from different directions. If a microphone is sensitive to sounds from all directions it is said to be omnidirectional. Cardioid mics (of which there are a few variations) pick up sounds mostly in front of them and bi-Directional or figure-8 mics can pick up sounds from the front and the back.

These three main polarity patterns exist in various different mics. Some condenser mics can even switch between different polarity patterns. So depending on what type of instrumentation you’re recording, certain mics will be better employed than others.

If for instance you want to record two backing vocalists at the same time you might want to use a figure-8 type. Positioning a vocalist on either side of the mic. Live bands use a lot of cardioid mics because they are directional and are good at picking up sounds from a specific direction without picking up other sound sources. Omnidirectional mics are used when you want to pick up the sound of the room as well as the source.

A decent microphone can cost less than £100 or up to several thousand. As with nearly all equipment these days the choice is huge and can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. So how do you choose?

It really depends upon the type of studio setup you are aiming for. But remember the recorded signal is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

If you’re recording for your own pleasure you may be able to get away with a relatively cheap collection of microphones. However, if you’re aiming to release your material or trying to get a record deal, make sure you get the best you can afford.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that, if you are trying to produce a professionally finished track, getting your music mastered by a specialist can make the difference between a good sounding track and a great sounding track. It’s very competitive out there, so anything you can do to improve your chances of your track being heard or played is worth it.

At TCM Mastering we take pride in every track we master and provide a professional, fast and affordable service to today’s musician.

Some mics to consider are:

Dynamic – Shure SM57/58 (rock vocal, amps and drums), Sennheiser MD421 (good for toms), e609 (amp or kick drum) and e602 (good bass response).

Condenser – Audio Technica AT2035 (cardioid), Neumann U87 (popular with professionals, 3 directional patterns, great, but expensive) and Shure Beta 98 (drums/toms).

Ribbon – MXL R144 (inexpensive, good for vocals), Avantone CR14 (vocal or drum overhead).

Mic placement and choice is crucial to a good recorded sound whether it’s a single vocal, acoustic guitar, flute, choir or orchestra. So experiment with mic positions until you get the sound you want. Now that we’ve covered microphone basics, next week we’ll discuss techniques for miking and recording instruments.

If your Home Music Studio is going to involve a lot of MIDI work requiring sequencing of instruments (that is programming the musical parts and getting your computer programme to play it for you), make sure you have a MIDI controller that can handle your needs. The subject of MIDI will be covered in a future blog.

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And if you have any specific questions regarding the recording or mastering process please feel free to contact us here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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  1. […] tcmmastering TCM Mastering blogsite provides up to date information on mastering and mixing projects as well as useful tips for musicians and songwriters. « MICROPHONE TYPES […]

  2. […] the last TCM Home Music Studio blog, we discussed the different types of microphones – condenser, dynamic and ribbon – and […]

  3. […] for vocals and other solo acoustic instruments. They both allow multiple polarity patterns (see earlier blog) and clearly reproduce the entire audible frequency range. At the lower price range there is the […]

  4. […] and vocalists, you will need a good selection of quality microphones, mic stands and cables. See this blog for more information on […]

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