Learn about these 11 different types of microphones with their best uses and expert recommendations before starting your best recording journey!
Understanding each type of microphone with proper practical knowledge can be a hectic task when there are too many types of microphones around. It can make anyone confused as there is so much untidy information to learn from.
That’s why we have come up with this article categorizing 11 types of microphones into 2 main categories and 9 sub-categories.
You will learn the definitions and best uses of each type with classic examples that will help you to have a clear understanding with practical knowledge in the mind of today’s available microphones in the market.
Types Of Studio Microphones
The 2 ‘’Umbrella’’ Categories
You can categorize all microphones into two major groups: condenser mics and dynamic mics.
1. Condenser Mics
Condenser microphones belong to the microphone type that has a high sensitivity to sound. These mics also have a greater frequency response than their dynamic counterparts. These particular attributes make them perfect for recording acoustic gear. The name condenser comes from the capacitors used in these microphones.
The capacitor transforms acoustic energy into an electric microphone signal. Previously, capacitors were known as condensers. Hence, these microphones are called condenser microphones. The capacitor sits inside the microphone capsule, and you can see it after taking off the microphone grill.
2. Dynamic Mics
If you have been wondering, then let us alleviate the confusion- dynamic mics are not associated with dynamic range. Instead of signal-to-noise ratio, dynamic mics get their name from the electrodynamic magnetic field that converts an analog signal into an electric one. There are two dynamic microphone variants-ribbon microphones and moving coil microphones.
Moving coil microphones are the simplest of the two, as they resemble the design of a loudspeaker. There is a coil wrapped around a magnet. Once electricity passes through the coil it creates an electromagnetic field. Ribbon microphones, on the other hand, have no coils. They have a thin sheet of aluminum foil instead.
Ribbon mics also create an electromagnetic field to generate an electric microphone signal. A ribbon microphone can pick up sound signals coming from the front or behind with equal effectiveness. That said, it is not an omnidirectional microphone since it can’t pick up sound from all directions.
The 9 ‘’Sub-Categories’’ Of Studio Microphones
Besides the two broad categories, you can also divide all microphones into 9 “sub-categories”. They are as follows:
1. Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones have become somewhat of a cinema cliché because of their overuse on the silver screen. These types of microphones are commonly seen in cinematic interpretations of a recording studio. These look very professional on the camera, and these are the standard mics for recording vocals.
Best Use: Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are mainly used for recording vocals. These mics can make the most faithful imitation of your voice in the record. The sound quality remains uncompromised even when the singer moves away from the mic. These are also used to record solo musical instruments.
Classic Example: Rode NT1A.
2. Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
You don’t need to be an expert to figure out that small diaphragm condenser microphones are professional condenser microphones that are smaller in appearance than large-diaphragm condenser microphones. The regular pickup patterns make them an excellent choice for stereo recording as well as working with acoustic instruments.
Best Use: Since these mics are good for capturing different acoustic instruments, you can use them as a vocal mic if you are a singer who plays an acoustic guitar simultaneously. Reproducing natural sound quality is the strong suit of these devices. So, you can use them for basically any recording purpose. These are perfect for classical music.
Classic Example: Shure SM81.
3. Dynamic “Utility” Microphone
Technically speaking, dynamic utility microphones do not constitute a separate category of microphones. But, their features are so unique and impressive that we believe they deserve a dedicated section in our discussion. A dynamic utility microphone is the go-to studio microphone to record electric guitars and recording vocals for rock albums.
Best Use: If you want to learn how to use a studio microphone to record rock music, then you must master the use of dynamic utility microphones. They are fantastic at recording low to midrange frequencies perfectly. Moreover, they can deal with high sound pressure levels, which makes them ideal for snare drum and electric guitar recording.
Classic Example: Sennheiser MD421
4. Bass Or Kick Drum Microphone
A random listener might not recognize the significance of bass, but if you are a true music aficionado, you would know how important it is to make a difference in the overall audio quality. While regular dynamic mics would get the job done, perfectionists prefer using specialized bass or kick drum mics to capture a wider range of bass sounds.
Best Use: You would need to use bass or kick drum mics to accurately record bass. You would find these devices more suitable to catch low-frequency sounds, which would go unnoticed in other microphones. Therefore, these are appropriate for any low-frequency instruments.
Classic Example: AKG D112.
5. Multi-Pattern Microphone (For Stereo Recording)
Multi-pattern microphones have been a common studio microphone choice, thanks to their brilliant capability of recording high-quality audio live sound. What makes them so exceptional is their dual-capsule design, which stores two different diaphragms in the same unit. These mics give you three polar patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid, and bidirectional.
Best Use: A multi-pattern microphone is a very powerful studio microphone to own. Because of its double diaphragm layout, it allows you greater frequency adjustment options to match the natural frequency of the source. It nullifies background noise and offers great stereo recording facilities.
Classic Example: sE 2200a II
6. Ribbon Microphones
We had discussed ribbon microphones briefly when we were talking about dynamic mics earlier on. These microphones are unique in the sense that they have a pencil-thin aluminum ribbon as their core microphone signal-generating part. A ribbon microphone is very expensive. Therefore, it is mainly used as a professional microphone.
Best Use: You can’t find a better option than ribbon microphones to maintain the ingenuity of the recording. It can pick up voice, acoustic instruments, and even the atmosphere of a room to perfection. The astonishing low-end sensitivity of these mics makes them mimic the human ears more than any other microphones.
Classic Example: Royer 121.
7. USB Microphones
A USB microphone is ideal for home studio setups because of its low-key nature and ease of use. You can easily connect a microphone with USB compatibility to a computer through a micro USB port. You can also connect it to other smart platforms using micro USB. These mics also offer headphone output and let you listen to the recorded sound without disturbing others.
Best Use: USB microphones are budget options, so you can’t expect the clarity of high-end condenser mics or dynamic mics. That said, it does more than a decent job in vocal recording for a podcast, doing voiceovers, etc. You can take these mics anywhere you go since they are very easy to carry around.
Classic Example: Rode NT USB.
8. Boundary Microphone
We can’t guarantee that you would see boundary mics upon walking into any recording studio. But, it is a smart investment to make if you need to record in a room with noticeable reverb. A boundary microphone is an ideal omnidirectional microphone. So, if you need to learn how to use a microphone to capture sound coming from multiple sources, try boundary mics.
Best Use: Boundary mics eliminate the need for using multiple mics in a place without proper acoustic treatment. These are particularly helpful in recording live concert sound. Besides omnidirectional, you can also use a boundary microphone as a cardioid microphone. You can use these mics for piano and vocal recording.
Classic Example: Shure Beta 91A.
9. Shotgun Microphone
A shotgun microphone is barely a studio microphone. You would see it more often outdoors, used by news broadcasters and film crews. These microphones are very effective in blocking out background noise and amplifying the target sound frequency. A shotgun microphone serves as a directional microphone that can dig out a particular sound from a noisy environment.
Best Use: As we have already said, you wouldn’t see a musician or a sound engineer using a shotgun microphone that often. These microphones are predominantly used for video recording. News, films, wildlife documentaries, and sports could be cited as some potential fields of application.
Classic Example: Rode NTG.
What is a microphone?
The microphone is a device that converts sound waves into an electrical signal for recording or amplification.
What are the main types of microphones?
The main types of microphones are dynamic, condenser, and ribbon microphones.
What is the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones?
Dynamic microphones work by using a coil and magnet to pick up sound waves and are great for high sound pressure level environments like live performances. On the other hand, condenser microphones use a capacitor to detect changes in electrical charge from sound waves and are ideal for recording acoustic instruments and vocals in a controlled environment with phantom power.
What is a ribbon microphone?
A ribbon microphone is a type of microphone that uses a thin aluminum ribbon suspended between two magnets to detect sound waves. Ribbon microphones are known for their smooth, natural sound and are often used for recording acoustic guitar and other instruments with detailed sound quality.
What is a cardioid polar pattern?
A cardioid polar pattern is a directional pattern in microphones that primarily picks up sound from the front while rejecting sound from the sides and rear. This makes it great for isolating vocals or instruments in a noisy environment.
What are some of the best uses for dynamic microphones?
Dynamic microphones are great for live performances, amplifying electric guitar cabinets, and recording snare drums and other loud instruments.
What are some of the best uses for condenser microphones?
Condenser microphones are perfect for recording vocals, acoustic guitar, and other acoustic instruments, and in a recording studio environment where you have control of the sound.
What is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone?
A large-diaphragm condenser microphone has a larger diaphragm than a small diaphragm condenser microphone and is known for its warm, full sound quality.
What is a small diaphragm condenser microphone?
A small diaphragm condenser microphone has a smaller diaphragm than a large
So, these are the 11 different types of microphones and their best uses you should be aware of before starting your best musical and recording journey. Now, as you know the best uses of each different microphone, you can do the best practice with ease!
For example, if you’re recording a podcast with multiple people, you can use a condenser microphone to capture all the voices in the room. If you’re recording vocals for a song, you might want to use a dynamic microphone to capture the nuances of the singer’s voice.
And if you’re recording a video, you can use a shotgun microphone to capture the sound of the actors and the environment. Remember to also take into consideration the room and the placement of the microphone.
Don’t forget to test the sound quality before starting the recording. With the right microphone and technique, you can achieve high-quality recordings that will enhance the overall production.
Steven P. Frizzell is from Kinston, NC. He's 37 years old and currently works as a recording gear expert at Instrument Insight. Steven has an amazing understanding of recording gears, and related equipment - their materials, build quality, and versatility. He also has an in-depth knowledge of the history and origins of various recording gear manufacturing brands. This makes him one of the most sought-after experts in the industry!