Where do you start with choosing the right microphone to record with?
How much should you spend? Why are they so expensive? Is this one no good because it only costs £200 and that one costs £500? WTF does a phantom powered omni-directional polar pattern capacitor with optional 50Hz rolloff mean?
That last one was cruel if you’re new to this, so here’s a technical primer on microphones to help you pick the right mic for you.
There are three different types of microphone, and there are only two that you’ll ever realistically need to know about in the world of podcasting — unless you’re doing a podcast about microphones.
They are dynamic and condenser, and each have key characteristics that you should know to make an informed decision about which to choose for you.
Dynamic microphones are the microphones you’ll see singers use on stage because they’re rugged and deal well with high sound pressure waves, aka
The most common are the Shure SM58 and SM57, with a top-of-the-range choice being the Shure SM7B. This post isn’t sponsored by Shure, I promise.
Dynamic microphones can stand a beating or two and still capture sound which makes them great for recording outside, live music, and in environments where the conditions can work against you.
Sometimes called capacitor microphones, these have one key difference between dynamic microphones in that they require a power source for usage. This is what’s know as phantom power which might sound spooky but is just 48V that is usually found as part of most portable recorders, and computer interfaces. A quick flick of a switch or push of a button and you’re good to go.
Conventional wisdom says that condenser microphones are far more sensitive to sound than their dynamics cousins. This can mean you’ll capture a wider frequency range and, what is often argued as, ‘better’ sound.
Nothing to do with ice caps, penguins, or bears, but instead refers to the direction that sound is recorded from and applies to all microphones.
These are three examples, and if you come across any others, they’ll be variations of these.
- Omni Directional quite simply means that it records equally from all directions. Whether you’re in front, behind, or at the side, the mic will record you just the same.
- Figure-of-Eight, or bidirectional, will record equally in front and behind but not so much from the side.
- Cardioid is a one-way street when it comes to recording. This makes them more resistant to room echo and extraneous sounds when recording due to the directional nature of the polar pattern.
Microphones are just one piece of the podcasting puzzle so don’t overthink or spend too much time on them.
A good microphone doesn’t have to break the bank, either. There are a good choice of microphones for under £100 that will still sound good, and it’s best to have one that you’re comfortable with and know how to use than to spend hundreds on a high-end model that you have no idea what to do with.
Remember, in the context of podcasting you’re likely to only be recording voices and so, as a general rule-of-thumb, if it sounds fine, then it’ll probably be fine.
A tool is only as good the person using it, applies to microphones, too. When it comes to recording, you’ll find that there are other factors that come into play beyond your microphone choice.
One more thing: never, ever, ever do this with a microphone