There are three main microphone types, dynamic, condenser and ribbon. All three has its own unique sound and application. But which microphone should you get and which instrument to use it on?
Microphones are the gateway to a great mix. When used correctly, a microphone can capture great sound, which can lead to great mixes.
But how do you decide which type of microphone to get and when to use it?
Dynamic Condenser or Ribbon Microphone
This post covers the three main types of microphones, dynamic, ribbon and condenser. How they work, the differences between each and how each mics sound.
Let’s start with dynamic microphones.
Dynamic microphones are the types of microphones that convert sound into an electrical signal using electromagnetism.
Moving coil dynamic microphones are the most common type of dynamic microphones.
Moving coil microphones are often preferred for use in sound reinforcement because of their robustness and are able to withstand very loud sound pressure level (SPL).
This is why moving-coil dynamic microphones are a popular choice for miking loud instruments such as drums, guitar and bass amps.
How does dynamic microphone work
If you understand how a loudspeaker works, it is easy to understand how a moving coil dynamic microphone works as they are built the same.
A diaphragm is attached to a conductive coil, which is surrounded by a magnetic structure.
When incoming sound waves hit the diaphragm, it moves back and forth moving the conductive coil with it.
When the conductive coil moves in a magnetic field, an electric voltage is induced, which is taken from the microphone via the electrical wires.
Should you get a dynamic microphone
Although dynamic microphones are used extensively in live sound, many studio applications require dynamic mics.
The large diaphragm of dynamic microphones needs a great amount of energy to get it moving, which means this type of mic handles high impact sounds well.
Therefore dynamic microphones are the best choice for miking the snare, kick and toms.
Distorted guitar and bass amp also produce very high energy sound, so dynamic microphone will work best.
Dynamic microphones aren’t the first choice for recording vocals (at least in studio applications), but there are many reasons why you would get one.
They are the cheapest type of microphones. So if you are on a budget, you may want to consider a dynamic mic.
Dynamic microphones are usually cardioid pattern, which means they pick up for the front rejecting sounds coming from the sides and rear.
And since dynamic microphone isn’t as sensitive as condenser or ribbon, makes them a better choice for uses in an environment that is not well treated.
Ribbon microphones are also dynamic. They work by the same principle of electromagnetic induction.
However, ribbon microphones are built and sound differently than a moving coil dynamic microphones.
They are a lot more fragile than a moving coil dynamic or condenser microphone, and so ribbon microphones must be handle with great care.
Unlike a moving coil dynamic, which uses a thick diaphragm attached to a copper coil, a ribbon microphone uses an extremely thin aluminium foil.
Because aluminium ribbon is so thin, it can not handle large amounts of energy as well as the diaphragm in a moving coil dynamic.
The thin aluminium ribbon is suspended between two magnetic poles. It acts as both the diaphragm and an electrical conductor.
When sound waves hit the microphone, it causes the ribbon strip to oscillates back and forth within the magnetic field.
This changing magnetic flux induces a small voltage across the ribbon, which is taken from the microphone via the electrical wire attached to the ribbon strip.
Should you get a ribbon microphone
Because the ribbon strip within the microphone is extremely thin, it vibrates more accurately to sound waves than dynamic and condenser. This accuracy results in a more detail sound.
For recordings that require accurate details, ribbon microphone is the best choice.
They are popular for miking acoustic guitars, violins, horns and wind instruments.
The figure-8 polar pattern of the ribbon means that the microphone captures sound from the front and rear equally while rejecting sound coming from the sides.
This makes the ribbon microphone more ideal for stereo miking technique, M/S miking technique or where you want to eliminate unwanted noise between two sources.
But a good quality ribbon microphone is not cheap, so if you are on a budget or this is your first and only microphone, I would suggest that you get a ribbon after you have already mastered the uses of a dynamic and condenser microphone.
Condenser microphones convert sound into an electrical signal using via an electrostatic principle, using two metal plates.
Of the two plates, one is movable (the diaphragm/front plate), and the other is stationary (the backplate), and together they form a capacitor.
There are two condenser microphone type, a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) and a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) microphone.
An LDC as the name suggests uses larger metal plates so they can handle all kinds of sources.
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are the main choice for recording vocals.
If you already have a condenser microphone or looking to get one, it’s like it LDC.
Small diaphragm condensers are small pencil-like microphones.
Even though they are not generally used to record vocals, they are great overhead mic and for recording acoustic instruments.
This is because they have an extended upper frequency response, great transient response and an even pickup pattern.
Condenser mics are more popular in recording studios than a dynamic or a ribbon microphone.
How does condenser microphone work
Condenser microphones use a capacitor to convert sound into electrical signals.
The capacitor consists of a thin gold coated diaphragm (front plate) suspended very close to a solid backplate.
To operate the capacitor requires an electrical charge (current). This is supplied either by a battery or by phantom power for more professional mics.
When sound waves hit the microphone, the diaphragm moves back and forth in motion with the soundwave.
Because the backplate is stationary, the movement of the diaphragm varies the distance between the two plates.
The change in the distance changes the amount of capacitance between the plates.
When the plates are closer together, capacitance increases and a charge current occurs.
When the plates are further apart, capacitance decreases and a discharge current occurs.
Due to condenser diaphragm being much thinner than dynamic’s, it pulsates to sound waves more accurately. As a result, condensers sound more natural and transparent.
The right microphone for you
The microphone will depend on your budget and needs.
Condenser microphone type is the most use in recording studios and possible the first microphone you will get.
It is the preferred choice for most engineers when recording vocals because condensers pick up more of the natural tone of a singer’s voice.
Because condenser microphones are so detail and transparent, they are also used to mic acoustic guitars and other percussive instruments.
Thinking about recording vocals or percussive instruments, then a condenser microphone may be right for you.
But a good quality condenser microphone can be expensive. If you are on a budget, you may want to consider a dynamic microphone.
Dynamic microphones are cheaper to make, which means you can find good quality dynamic mics without the big price tag.
If you are getting microphones for live performance, dynamics mics are your best choice. They are robust enough to handle the wear and tear of sound reinforcement.
Dynamic microphones aren’t just for live sound.
When recording instruments that produce high energy sound in a studio environment, you would use a dynamic microphone.
You don’t want to mic a kick drum or bass amp with your expensive condenser.
Dynamic microphones can also use to record vocals and other percussive instruments.
They won’t capture the bright tone you get from a condenser microphone.
Dynamic microphone has a warmer tone because they pick up more mid-range frequencies and less of the high.