Different Types of Microphones and Their Uses | The 4 Main Types

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By tracking a musical performance, we are essentially painting a picture. As we discuss the different types of microphones and their uses, let’s visualize each one as a different type of “paintbrush”. By using a variety of different microphones, you will have access to a “full palette” of colours to work with. Although we can’t actually “see” sound, you’ll notice that each microphone “colours” your tracks in a particular way. Like any professional artist, you will become accustomed to using these “various tools” for particular situations.

Technically speaking, you can use ANY microphone for ANY situation, BUT… Our goal as sound engineers is to control the outcome of every sound recording. We should KNOW what it’s going to sound like before we even press “record”. So today, we’re going to be outlining the 4 main types of microphones that you’ll be using in the recording studio. By following this guide, you’ll know exactly WHAT microphone to use and WHEN. Let’s get started, shall we?

Type 1 | Dynamic microphones (moving-coil)

Dynamic microphones are a staple for every recording studio, they are the most versatile microphones you will find on the market. If loudspeakers convert electrical signals into vibrations, then these microphones are reversed loudspeakers (they convert vibrations into electrical signals).

different types of microphones and their uses

If you need to record an amplifier, chances are you will be using a dynamic microphone to get the job done as they handle loudness the best. These microphones are also suitable for snare drums, toms, acoustic instruments and vocals.

Moving coil microphones such as these are amongst the most rugged so they can be used for live recording and studio recording. Dynamic microphones are also some of the most affordable microphones so chances are it will be the first addition to your collection.

  • Recording guitar & bass amplifiers
  • Recording snare drums & toms
  • Recording vocals (live & studio)
  • Recording acoustic instruments (guitar, strings, brass, woodwinds, etc…)

Examples: Shure SM57, Shure SM58, Shure SM7B, Electrovoice RE20, Sennheiser MD421 II, Sennheiser MD 441U

Type 2 | Dynamic microphones (ribbon)

Did you know that ribbon microphones are “technically” considered dynamic microphones? Contrary to popular belief, they WEREN’T the first commercially available microphones (they were the second).

ShinyBox 46MXC Ribbon Microphone LowSwing studio Berlin 2011 01 25 22 29 45

Vintage ribbon microphones can be quite fragile, but their contemporaries are much more rugged than we give them credit for.

They are an excellent choice for taming harsh high-end frequencies and providing a rich bottom-end.

However, ribbon microphones weren’t designed to track sound sources from up close; this increases your risk of damaging the ribbon element.

I have personally used them to track speaker cabinets in combination with a condenser and a dynamic (moving-coil) microphone.

  • Recording guitar & bass amplifiers
  • Recording drum kit overheads
  • Recording vocals (studio)
  • Recording acoustic instruments (guitar, strings, brass, woodwinds, etc…)

Examples: Royer 121, Avantone CR-14, Audio Technica AT4081, AEA R84, Royer 101 (pair), Royer SF-12, Beyerdynamic M160

Type 3 |Small-diaphragm condenser microphones

Small diaphragm condenser microphones (SDC) have also become quite common in the 21st century as they have advantages that their larger counterparts do not. For instance, they possess a better transient response, an extended high-frequency response and a consistent pickup pattern.

different types of microphones and their uses

Often bundled in pairs, SDC microphones are used to create realistic stereo images of acoustic spaces. For example, they can be used as overhead mics for a drum kit, to mic the full span of a piano and to mic an orchestra ensemble.

Smaller is not always better as these microphones emit a little bit more noise than LDCs, but with the advancements in technology, it is barely noticeable. These microphones are essential if you want to use stereo recording techniques in your productions, but can be on the pricier side as well.

  • Recording stereo piano
  • Recording cymbals
  • Recording orchestral ensembles

Examples: Rode NT5 (pair), Samson C02 (pair), Shure SM81, AKG Perception 170, Shure KSM141, Studio Projects C4 (pair)

Type 4 | Large-diaphragm condenser microphones

Large and small diaphragm condenser microphones (LDC & SDC) are also some of the most common types of microphones used in professional recording studios. Unlike dynamic microphones, condensers use a capacitor to convert vibrations into electrical signals.

different types of microphones and their uses

Sensitive microphones such as these are ideal for recording vocals and acoustic instruments since they provide more accuracy than dynamic microphones. Outputting such a loud signal, these microphones require an acoustically treated space with minimal ambient sound for the best results.

Condenser microphones also require external power (this means they are active) called 48V Phantom Power which means you will also need an audio interface that can provide this. Condenser microphones tend to be on the pricier side as they are very delicate and have been engineered with precision.

  • Recording vocals (studio)
  • Recording acoustic instruments (guitar)

Examples: Audio Technica AT2035, Studio Projects B1, Rode NT1-A, Blue Microphones Bluebird, sE Electronics 2200a II, AKG C214, Avantone Audio CV-12

Which microphone should you get first?

When I first started recording my own tracks, I had nothing but a simple USB microphone to work with (the one that came with the Rock Band video game). You can create works of art with ONE microphone if you know how to use it.

So what type of microphone should it be?

When I was getting started, I was recommended an EXCELLENT microphone that I still use to this day.

This microphone comes with EVERYTHING you need (except a microphone stand).

==> Read all about the best microphone for home studio recording <==

And believe it or not, you can record ALL YOUR TRACKS with this microphone (vocals, guitar, drums, etc…)

As a starter microphone, I wouldn’t recommend anything else if you’re looking for VERSATILITY.

However, if you simply want to track your speaker cabinets and nothing else, you’d be better off with a dynamic (moving-coil) microphone.

This type of microphone is also the most affordable.

So, which microphones do you have in your collection? Do you have any favourites? Let us know in the comments and feel free to share your personal recommendations.

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2 Responses

    1. Hey Amey!

      I personally don’t believe that ribbon microphones are worth it, especially if you’re just starting out. They can actually be more troublesome because some may require specific preamps to function optimally.

      I think dynamic (moving-coil) microphones are best for most situations. There’s no going wrong with one of them, especially for home recording!

      If you want an affordable ribbon microphone though, check out my review on the Avantone Pro CR-14. However, I personally use my AKG Perception P5S 99% of the time!

      Let me know if you have any further questions. Thanks for dropping by!

      – Stefan

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