Microphones for home recording

Selecting the right microphone for your home recording setup is a tricky thing. Here are a few notes to help point you in the right direction:

Microphone Types

If you’re looking for a microphone, you’ll find there are two types that you’ll need to choose between: Dynamic and Condenser. Here are the key differences:

Dynamic Microphones: These are physically more durable than Condenser mics, and most commonly used for vocal work. As they can take some abuse, you’ll see them used at music venues, outside recording outside, clubs and karaoke bars. You’ll also find dynamic microphones in things like PC headset microphones. They have their uses, and have the advantage that they can plug straight into a computer’s soundcard Mic socket. In general though, they’re not the best type of mic for the home studio environment – you’ll be looking for a Condenser.

Shure SM58

Shure SM58. Around £100. The industry-standard Dynamic mic

Condenser Microphones: The key differences with these microphones are that they a) require power, and b) are more sensitive. They’re also the microphone type that will most suit the home studio. In general, condenser mics have a greater frequency response, so will capture more detail in vocal work, and are also well suited to recording instruments in a studio. They are typically powered via a mixer (‘phantom power’), or may have a battery built-in.  Condenser mics are in general more delicate, and are very sensitive to loud sounds (making them unsuitable at music venues with loud music / vocals).

Microphone ‘Patterns’

When selecting a microphone, you may see reference to the type of “polar pattern”, which effectively dictates what the mic is intended to be used to record.

Microphone Patterns

Some Microphone Patterns

Here are the common microphone polar pattern types:

  • Unidirectional: Point the mic in that direction, and it will record whatever you’re pointing at
  • Cardioid: This is a member of the Unidirectional family, and as you’ll see from the image above, has a heart-shaped pattern. Cardioid microphones are good at recording what’s in front of them, whilst rejecting what’s behind them. This makes them normally the best choice for recording a solo voice
  • Omnidirectional: It will record everything it hears, regardless of direction
  • Bidirectional: Records what’s in front of the mic and behind the mic, but not off to the sides – Typically used in face-to-face voice interviews or two-presenter podcasts
  • Stereo: Made up of two microphones in one, and to record a stereo sound. Handy for location recording

Pictured below is one of our favourite microphones, the Blue Yeti. This is a USB condenser microphone, which connects to a PC. It has a switch on the back to let you select Cardioid, Stereo, Onmidirectional and Bidirectional patterns, making it a very flexible microphone for home voice recording and podcasting.

Yeti USB Microphone

The Yeti USB Microphone, from Blue

Microphone Connections

When choosing a microphone, there are three main connections, and you need to make you buy a mic that can connect to your recorder / computer / mixer. Here are the three types of connector:

XLR ConnectorXLR Connector Jack PlugJack Plug USB ConnectorUSB (Computer) Connector

 

  • XLR Connector: These are “balanced”, which means they use three connectors and the cable is good at rejecting electrical interference. Typically used where a long cable run is needed, or where there is lots of electrical ‘noise’
  • Jack Connector: Two sizes, 1/4″ jack or 3.5mm jack. The smaller 3.5mm jack is typically found on small portable recorders, as well as the input for a mic on a computer soundcard
  • USB Connector: If you’re looking at recording a solo voice on a computer, then a USB Microphone is well worth considering, as you don’t need a mixer, and will get better results than a direct connection via the computer soundcard.

That’s the basics – the key things you need to know about buying a microphone for your home recording studio. If you have any questions, please let us know, and help us to expand our site with more information.

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