Learn how to select the perfect microphone for recording vocals, guitars, pianos, and drums. Discover what factors to consider for each instrument in this guide.
Are you a musician or music producer looking to record high-quality vocals, guitars, pianos, or drums? One of the most crucial factors that determine the quality of your music production is selecting the right microphone. With so many types and brands of microphones on the market, it can be overwhelming to know which one is best suited for your needs.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss what to look for in a microphone when recording different musical instruments. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional, this guide will help you make an informed decision and achieve optimal results in your music recordings.
What Is a Microphone?
A microphone, commonly referred to as a mic, is an indispensable acoustic device that converts sound waves into electrical signals, enabling amplification, recording, or broadcasting of these signals. Essentially, a microphone acts as a transducer by transforming one form of energy (sound waves) into another (electrical signals).
There are various types of microphones, with condenser microphones being one of the most common and widely used due to their excellent sound quality, sensitivity, and accuracy in capturing acoustic sounds. These microphones feature a diaphragm, which is a thin and delicate piece of material, often made of mylar or other lightweight materials, that vibrates in response to incoming sound waves.
The diaphragm is positioned close to a stationary backplate, thereby generating capacitance, which is electronically amplified and transformed into a proportional electrical signal. The principle of operation of a condenser microphone hinges on the changes in distance between the diaphragm and the backplate as the diaphragm vibrates when struck by sound waves. This change in distance results in a change in capacitance (the ability to store an electric charge), which is then converted into an electrical signal.
The diaphragm’s design, material, and size significantly impact the microphone’s frequency response, sensitivity, and overall sound quality, with thinner and larger diaphragms often providing optimum sound reproduction. Microphones are widely used for various applications, including live performances, studio recording, broadcasting, and telecommunications, where capturing and reproducing acoustic sounds are of critical importance.
While different microphone types are specifically designed for distinct purposes and environments, their core function remains the same – to faithfully and accurately capture sound waves and convert them into electrical signals. Through continuous technological advancements, microphones have become an integral part of modern acoustic solutions, enabling us to record and share sounds in ways that were once unimaginable.
What Do You Need a Microphone For?
A microphone is an indispensable tool for capturing audio in various scenarios, from recording music and live performance to podcasting and video conferencing. Microphones, commonly referred to as mics, are used to record instruments such as guitars, pianos, and a myriad of other acoustic and electronic instruments in studio and live settings.
For instance, when recording a guitar, a guitar amp might be used along with a microphone to record the amplified instrument sounds. Besides, in recording an acoustic piano, one may need dynamic mics or condenser mics to capture the instrument’s full range and bandwidth. Choosing the right type of microphone is crucial.
Dynamic mics are usually preferred for live performance and capturing loud sources, such as guitar amps and drums, due to their ruggedness and ability to handle high sound pressure levels. Condenser mics, on the other hand, offer increased sensitivity, making them an excellent choice for recording vocals and acoustic guitars in a studio setting. Both types of microphones use the XLR interface for connecting to audio hardware, such as audio interfaces, preamps, or mixing boards.
In addition to XLR microphones, USB microphones have also become increasingly popular for recording and streaming applications. A USB microphone connects directly to a computer or device, eliminating the need for additional audio hardware. These mics provide a plug-and-play solution for users looking for an easy and convenient way to capture audio, whether for online meetings, amateur podcasting, or bedroom music production.
Ultimately, selecting the appropriate microphone significantly impacts the audio quality and the overall experience of the listener.
Which Microphone is Right for Me?
Choosing the right microphone is essential in capturing an accurate and clear representation of your vocal or instrumental sound, including guitar, bass, and piano. There are different types of microphones to consider: condenser, dynamic, and dynamic mic. Your choice should depend on the performance, polar pattern, and frequency response desired.
A dynamic mic is generally more suitable for live sound settings, where durability and handling noise are crucial. On the other hand, a condenser mic tends to have a higher sensitivity and more detailed frequency response, making it ideal for capturing subtle nuances in vocals and instruments such as guitar and piano in a studio environment.
The cardioid polar pattern is also an essential factor when choosing the right mic. This pattern picks up sound from the front and rejects noise from the sides and rear, providing a focused and direct capture of your source. A condenser mic with a cardioid pattern is an excellent option for vocal recordings, while a dynamic mic with a cardioid pattern can be beneficial for miking loud instruments like bass and guitar amps.
Ultimately, the decision depends on the specific needs of your performance, whether it’s for live sound or studio recording. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each microphone type, from the condenser to dynamic, as well as their frequency response and polar pattern, will help guide your choice in selecting the right mic for you.
Now, let’s dive a bit deep into different scenarios:
What To Look For In A Microphone For Recording Vocals?
USB or XLR?
Microphones vary in two different categories when it comes to connecting ports: USB and XLR. Micro USB mics are easy to use and carry. But, these are not capable of delivering professional studio-quality sound. USB mics are better suited to record podcasts, lectures, etc. These are also limited in terms of connectivity, as you can’t attach one mic to multiple devices.
XLR mics offer more flexibility. These microphones are used in professional studio setups and trump USB mics in performance. You would need an XLR cable to plug it into an audio interface. To serve your musical pursuits, XLR mics are an absolute necessity. But, if you don’t need professional-grade audio, spending more XLR would make no sense.
Dynamic Or Condenser?
Shure SM58 has become almost synonymous with vocal recording. But, is it the ultimate option for recording vocals? Dynamic microphones like Shure SM58 or its famous predecessor Shure SM57, do not require phantom power. Moreover, they can tweak voice defects and can last for years.
Condenser microphones offer more diversity in dynamic range. The big diaphragm enables a smooth, natural capture of vocal tone. These are not as forgiving to background noise as dynamic mics, but in an ideal arrangement, you would get a crispier sound that feels more original.
The diaphragm size of the microphone would determine how the mic would receive the sound wave. In larger diaphragms, it can lay hold of all perceptible sound waves the same way. The sensitivity is so marvelous in these mics that you would need minimal post-recording treatment to make it sound natural.
Smaller diaphragm sizes give microphones more adaptability to low-mid to high-frequency sounds. If you need to complete a recording phase with high sound pressure, a small diaphragm mic like the Rode VideoMic would be more convenient for you. These mics fare well in rooms with poor acoustics and are perfect for recording sounds as loud as 120 dB.
In simple terms, the polar pattern is a term that defines the operating region of a microphone. It shows us the direction and location of the sound corresponding to the placement of the microphone. Cardioid microphones are the most popular choice for vocal recording because of their sole concentration on the sound source in front of the microphone.
Cardioid microphones do not pick up on any sound that comes from the back. This particular attribute makes it easier for a sound engineer to record a specific audio source. Omnidirectional and Figure 8 mics allow for more noise ambiance, which makes them more effective in recording a group of sounds together like a band or an orchestra.
The frequency response charts how a microphone would react to a certain frequency of sound. The ideal frequency response number varies across vocalists. If you have a low-pitched voice, then aim for microphones with less than 200Hz of frequency response. For a high pitch voice, higher frequency response numbers would be more apt.
- Designed for critical home/project/professional studio applications and live performance
- The cardioid polar pattern reduces the pickup of sounds from the sides and rear, improving the isolation of the desired sound source
- Large diaphragm for smooth, natural sound and low noise
- High SPL handling and wide dynamic range provide excellent versatility
- Custom shock mount provides superior isolation
- Features switchable 80 Hertz high pass filter and 10 dB pad
- Condenser Microphone
- Premium Quality Output
- For Professionals
- Exeptional vocal performance - the sm58-lc delivers high-quality vocal reproduction, thanks to its t
- Industry standard - the first choice for performers around the globe, the sm58 dynamic vocal microph
- Clarity & care - the uniform cardioid polar pattern reproduces every note as it was intended, delive
- Leave background noise behind - the sm58 has a spherical mesh grille and built-in pop filter to keep
- Drop the mic - the durable construction and break-resistant stand adapter makes the sm58 the perfect
- Versatile - the sm58 can hold its own live onstage as well as in the studio, isolating between vocal
- Whats in the box - shure sm58 dynamic vocal microphone, 1 - a25d swivel stand adapter, 1 - 95a2313 s
What To Look For In A Microphone For Recording Acoustic Guitars?
Condenser Or Dynamic?
Again, understanding the differences between a condenser and a dynamic microphone is pivotal to choosing the right microphone to meet your recording needs. The higher sensitivity of condenser mics makes them a better pick over dynamic ones in recording high-end as well as cheap, tight budget, and budget acoustic guitars. That said, some dynamic microphones are also used for acoustic guitar recording.
Larger diaphragm microphones capture the sound comprehensively. Hence, these microphones do a marvelous job of recording acoustic instruments and vocals. Smaller diaphragm-size microphones can also be equally useful in this regard if you place them close to the guitar. So, you need to make your decision depending on the recording situation.
Fundamentally, the frequency response of an acoustic guitar lies somewhere between 100Hz to 500Hz. But, it is possible to extend this range to the 20,000Hz threshold if you use a pick for strumming the cords. You have to choose a microphone that resonates with the frequency level you intend to record.
Cardioid microphones are the mics you should be plugging into your audio interface to record an acoustic guitar with the utmost clarity. But, this is only true for solo acoustic guitar sessions. If you want to record acoustic guitar and throw some room ambiance into it, omnidirectional is the path to take.
Shure SM81, Rode NT2A, Shure SM58.
What To Look For In A Microphone Recording Electric Guitars?
Condenser Or Dynamic?
The terms condenser and dynamic have popped up numerous times already in this piece, and we will hear them more as we proceed. Dynamic mics have sturdier construction, but they will not give you perfect precision. Still, some dynamic mics are excellent for this purpose. Powered by an audio interface, a condenser mic can record electric guitar sound in greater detail.
Sound Pressure Level
Electric guitars are louder than their acoustic counterparts, so sound pressure level is an important aspect to take into consideration while choosing a mic for a low-end, budget, or intermediate-level electric guitar. Beyond the maximum pressure level, the microphone input will translate to distortion. So, higher sound pressure levels are always an advantage.
Cardioid would be the obvious choice if you want room ambiance to play no part in the recording. Omnidirectional and Figure 8 will expand the captured territory of the mic.
A larger diaphragm size will be of help when you are recording a more elaborate arrangement. A smaller diaphragm size would be beneficial when you are taking a more closed-in approach. In both cases, you can pick up fine sound details.
The studio microphone must be able to pick up the sweet spot of electric guitars in the frequency response chart. In standard tuning, an electric guitar can produce 80Hz-1200Hz at different points of your recording phase. The microphone frequency response has to be up to mark to cope with your recording demands.
Shure SM58, AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS, Sennheiser MD 421-II.
What To Look For In A Microphone For Recording Bass Guitars?
Dynamic Or Compound?
For recording bass, dynamic microphones are our recommended mics. Dynamic microphones are superior in capturing low-frequency sound, which flies mostly under the radar of condenser microphones.
Sound Pressure Level
At 50% capacity, an average bass guitar can generate 125dB of sound. So, the maximum sound pressure level of your microphone should be above this point at least.
We would suggest cardioid microphones because of their ability to obtain natural sound from an audio source sitting in front of the mic. Other polar patterns could also prove useful in different scenarios.
The microphone frequency response needs to be suitable for picking up low-frequency bass sounds. Ideally, the microphone should have the ability to process frequencies as low as 30 dB.
Shure Beta52A, Sennheiser e902, AKG D112.
What To Look For In A Microphone for Recording Pianos?
Condenser Or Dynamic?
While some professionals do use dynamic mics in their studios for recording pianos, it is not the mainstream choice for pianos. Pianos emit high-frequency notes, which dynamic microphones struggle to replicate accurately. These microphones also find it difficult to keep track of the transients. Condenser mics are purposefully made to deal with such delicate sounds.
Pianos can deliver a wide range of sound waves and disperse them in multiple directions. This makes the use of omnidirectional mics necessary in piano recording. Pianos are recorded best in off-axis orientation, so you can’t expect to have decent piano recordings using a run-of-the-mill studio microphone. Omnidirectional mics also minimize the proximity effect.
MXL 770, Rode NT5, AKG Pro Audio C414 XLX.
What To Look For In Microphone Recording Drums?
A drum kit is made of several components. We need to look at each of the parts individually to pinpoint the microphone for recording that particular drum sound. In this section, we will only discuss overhead mics, which you could use for recording the entire kit.
Sound Pressure Level
The maximum sound pressure level of the microphone has to be higher than the sound your drum kits produce. A complete drum set generally fluctuates between 90dB and 130 dB. So, the overhead mics should have an SPL rating above 130dB.
Decibel pads mellow the intensity of the microphone signal before it enters the audio interface. These pads protect your preamp from getting overburdened.
If you have a small room and don’t have the ideal acoustics, then cardioid mics will work best for overhead mics. For larger spaces and rooms with better sound quality, you can use the omnidirectional Figure 8 mics.
Neumann KM 184, Rode M5-MP Matched, AKG Matched C214 Paired Stereo Set.
What To Look For In A Microphone Recording Kick Drums?
This choice strictly depends on your playing environment. In a solo session, cardioid mics would be the best. In-band recordings or concerts, you would have to use omnidirectional or figure 8 mics.
Dynamic Or Condenser?
Dynamic microphones would be more efficient in recording the low-frequency sound coming from kick drums. So, dynamic mics would be better as kick drum mics than condenser mics.
The microphone frequency response needs to be sufficient to detect and fully capture and catch up on the sound.
Sound Pressure Level
Kick mics should have SPL ratings above 130dB. The higher it is, the better.
Shure Beta 52A Dynamic, Sennheiser e602 ii Dynamic, Sennheiser e902.
What Are the Three Different Types of Studio Mics?
There are three different types of studio mics: dynamic mics, condenser mics, and large diaphragm condenser mics. Dynamic mics are great for capturing loud sounds, while condenser mics are good for picking up subtle nuances in quieter recordings. Cardioid is the most common polar pattern for studio mics, providing directional pickup, while omnidirectional mics capture sound from all directions. Large-diaphragm condenser mics are often used for vocals and acoustic instruments.
Are Condenser Mics Good For Guitar?
Condenser microphones can be great for recording guitar, whether it’s acoustic or electric. Their frequency response is usually more detailed than dynamic mics, and their polar pattern captures sound in a wider range. However, they can be more sensitive to sound pressure levels, which can be an issue if you’re using them for live performance. Overall, it depends on your specific needs and preferences.
To sum it up, choosing the right microphone is key to achieving professional-quality recordings of vocals, guitars, piano, and drums. By identifying the sound characteristics of each instrument and understanding the technical specifications of microphones, you can make an informed decision about which microphone will be best suited for your needs.
Remember to consider factors such as frequency response, polar pattern, and sensitivity when selecting a microphone for recording different instruments. With these tips in mind and a bit of experimentation in your recording process, you’ll be on your way to creating high-quality music productions that impress even the most discerning listeners!