Recording Microphones

Professional Recording Microphones

How to Choose a Great Studio Recording Microphone

Your output can only be as good as your input and your input starts at the microphone. This makes a great studio microphone arguably the most important piece of gear in any studio setup. This is why it's important to choose the best microphone for your application. Recording studios typically use condenser style mics because of their better ability to pickup subtleties in both vocal and instruments. But the real truth is that there is no single mic that is the best choice for every situation. You will likely end up with a microphone collection to cover the situations specific to your needs.

There are a number of types of microphones designed for studio use and sometimes the jargon and options can seem overwhelming. You can always rely on Performance Audio for good microphone advice and we welcome conversations by email or phone, but here are some basics about the types of studio microphones out there to get you started in selecting the perfect microphone for you.

Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics

The standard mic choice for recording studio vocals, large diaphragm recording microphones are usually cardioid pattern and feature side address design. The cardioid pattern refers to the shape of the microphones listening area. Cardioid patterns listen best straight in front and helps reduce surrounding noise from other directions. This results in a cleaner recording and a lot less work in post. Because of their increased sensitivity, when using a condenser mic you should also consider both a pop screen and a shock mount.

Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics

Small diaphragm or pencil condenser recording microphones usually offer an even tighter supercardioid pattern and a more neutral sound. The capsule is also facing the end of the microphone so you point them where they need to listen. Small diaphragm microphones are often a great choice for instrument or orchestra overhead recording and are often sold in pairs.

Dynamic Recording Mics

While not the first thought for most when thinking of a recording microphone, dynamic recording microphones are often the microphone of choice for broadcasting and podcasting applications. Dynamic microphones can withstand high sound levels and add clarity and presence to vocals and instruments. Unlike condenser or ribbon microphones, dynamic mics do not require batteries or an external power supply. This can make them a more versatile or simple choice for your setup.

Ribbon Mics

A ribbon microphone is a unique type of dynamic microphone. Rather than the standard moving coil attached to a diaphragm, ribbon mics utilize a thin strip of corrugated aluminum suspended loosely between two magnets. Ribbon mics are the most natural sounding microphones that you can use when capturing the sound of an instrument, a voice, or even the ambience of a room. Thanks to their figure-8 pattern, massive low-end pick-up, and natural high-frequency roll-off, ribbon mics can really hear more like your ears than other microphone types.

Tube Mics

Tube microphones excel in studio use. When used properly not many microphones can come close to the exquisite sound that can be captured by a tube microphone. Tube recording mics are generally characterised by their warmth, natural compression and added harmonics. Vocals sound amazing when captured by a tube mic due to the nuances they are able to pick up. Tube microphones will usually have an accompanying power supply and require some setup, but are worth the effort.

USB Mics

USB recording microphones are a great choice for interviews, podcasting, voiceovers or quick recordings. USB microphones are characterised by their simple plug-and-play convenience. They offer a great solution when you need to record on the go and don't have the room for all the bulky equipment that can accompany a studio setup.

Recording & Studio Microphones for Every Budget

A recording or studio microphone is typically a large diaphragm condenser microphone with high sensitivity and high quality. A studio mic is typically designed around studio recording or use in a home studio. Recording microphones and accessories are designed to make sure you can record the cleanest tracks possible.

Analog or Digital

Recording mics are available as analog with XLR connectors or as digital USB microphones. We normally recommend using analog microphones with an audio interface for recording. A computer can usually only record from one interface at a time. You have more options when using an audio interface with analog microphones.

Condenser or Dynamic

Recording condenser microphones use phantom power to operate and usually more sensitive to sound. This makes them a better choice for recording than a dynamic microphone. Dynamic microphones are usually a better choice for live performances. But, as with anything, sound is personal preference and different solutions work for different people.

Choosing Your Vocal Recording Microphone

For most budget is king, but selecting the best type of studio microphone for your vocal recordings will really be the key here. Here are a few of our favorite "microphone types" specifically designed for vocal recording applications.

Condenser microphones: This is the most popular type of mic for recording vocals, for recording anything, really. The reason condenser mics are so great is because of their quality and accuracy. Construction quality and of any kind song or spoken word. Condenser mics are also built very well and have polar patterns that aid in sound isolation for only recording what's directly in front of it, as opposed to some other microphones designed for recording everything in the area.

Tube microphones: While still technically considered a 'condenser' microphone, tube mics are sometimes associated with "the old days". Really it's a warmth that is added. "Old" sound can even sound better than some digital based sound these days (of course it depends on who you ask).

Basically, tube mics are built differently than normal condensers, and they have 'tubes' that handle your audio as opposed to transistors. The result is a different 'sound', very subject to and really depending on both the listener and recorder. We recommend giving tube microphones a listen to hear for yourself. This can help decide whether you want a tube microphone or a regular condenser microphone.

USB microphones: Not really considered a 'type' and still technically 'condenser mics' as well. We would still like to keep USB microphones separate for a few reasons. They are a lot easier to use and are mostly for beginner vocalists. USB microphones are plug & play, you simply plug them into your computer and they're powered up and ready to use.

USB microphones are usually more affordable than some professional condenser microphones out there. However, their quality is not as high as standard condenser mics. Also, you lose the ability to hook them up to a preamp or audio interface for flexibility in your recording settings.

Recording Microphones for Instruments

Microphones for instrument music recording are a personal choice. There are some brands, makes and models that always work well to capture the sound any instrument. There are also microphones designed with specific instruments in mind.

Whether recording a piano; acoustic guitar or other stringed instruments; drums, percussion, cymbals or overheads; or woodwinds and brass of many types, there is a recording mic that will be perfect for you.

For instruments, you can't go wrong with any Neumann "U" series mic, Electro-Voice RE20, Sennheiser MD 421 and AKG's C414 multi-pattern condenser. These are just a few of the superb instrument microphones we offer and are good additions to any microphone kit.

Instrument microphones should have a broader range of frequency response and should be very flat and faithful to the sounds they are hearing.

Microphone Stand

Recording microphones of any kind should be mounted on some kind of stand. Desktop scissor-type microphone boom stands are popular for vocals. Mobile studio boom stands are also really popular as are all the other standard microphone stands out there.

Mounting your microphone on a stand will prevent handling noise and help isolate the microphone from sounds and vibrations in the room.

Pop Filter

A good pop filter is a must for recording vocals and a valuable addition to your recording tools. If you have a microphone with someone speaking, singing, or screaming into it, please put a pop filter between the sound source and the microphone.

Pop filters can reduce or eliminate popping or plosive sounds caused by fast-moving air on the microphone which happens during speech and singing. Also a bonus, a pop filter can protect against the accumulation of spittle or saliva on the mic element. Salt in saliva is both gross and corrosive; therefore, use of a pop filter may help improve the lifespan of your recording microphone.

Microphone Cable

Sometimes the cable you use is an overlooked yet important choice in outfitting your studio toolbox. Make sure to use high quality XLR cables with durable connectors and wire. The cable can be a weak link in your audio route. Getting the right cable doesn't have to be expensive, check out the NM1 series XLR cables from Horizon, or our own Performance Audio professional XLR cables built right here in our custom cable shop.