How Do I Know Which Mic to Buy?
By: Steve Bolanda
A Basic Guide to Picking the Right Mic From Stage To Studio
As musicians, mics are an important part of what we do. We depend on them to translate the sound of our voices and instruments in a clear and concise manner. But there are so many different mics out there, and all for different applications, how do you choose?
Of course, it depends on your musical situation. Vocal mics used for live stage performance are vastly different from what youd use in the recording studio. And if youre micing an instrument like drums or guitar, youd probably want something different than youre using for the vocals. Lets break it down to the basics.
Dynamic mics are versatile and ideal for vocals or instruments. They use a simple design with few moving parts, and they are relatively sturdy and resilient to rough handling. What most people dont consider is the mics directional property, meaning hows it picking up the sound?
Omnidirectional Mics capture sound equally from all directions. This is the most popular kind of vocal mic used in live stage performance. Youll recognize it by the silver mesh ball look. The Shure SM58 is an industry standard in this style of mic.
Unidirectional Mics are sensitive to sounds from only one direction. This is ideal for micing instruments (Drums, Acoustic Guitars) as well as amplifiers. These mics pick up exactly whats coming at them and reject noise from other directions. Youll recognize these by a more flat-top look.
Condenser microphones require power from an external source, most commonly referred to as Phantom Power. This makes the signal stronger than that of a dynamic mic. Condensers also tend to be more sensitive and responsive than dynamics, making them the preferred choice of most professional recording studios.
Condenser microphones are generally used only in studios because of their sensitivity to loud sounds and the fact that they're quite a bit more fragile than their dynamic counterparts. That being said, you will find some condensers on stage in orchestral or choral sound situations.
If youre buying a condenser for your home studio, there are two things to also consider. Make sure your mixer or interface has the Phantom Power mentioned earlier. Theres usually a button or switch that says 48V. Without this the mic will not work.
Also consider a pop filter for recording vocals. A pop-filter can reduce or eliminate 'popping' sounds caused by fast moving air on the microphone, as well as the p and s sounds in some word pronunciations. A typical pop-filter is composed of one or more layers of nylon stretched over a circular frame, and often include a clamp and a flexible mounting bracket so it sits in front of your condenser mic. This will save you lots of time in the mixdown process!!