While there are many signal processing devices available to enhance your sound, adding a good quality microphone may be the best way to improve the sound of vocals and acoustic instruments in your recording or live performance. Signal processing, amplifiers, mixers, and recording equipment can only enhance what was captured by your microphones in the first place, so make sure to get the best mics you can afford.
When deciding on which type of microphone to use for recording, remember that there are no hard set rules regarding how they are used. They all basically do the same thing, and that is to convert sound waves into electrical voltage. But how each design makes that happen helps us determine which applications are most suitable. Of all microphone designs the two most common, dynamic and condenser, will handle a majority of your recording needs.
Dynamic Microphones vs. Condenser Microphones
Dynamic microphones are the versatile, rugged workhorse of a musician's microphone tool box. Their tailored frequency response and ability to handle high-volumes, allows them to be used for most recording applications, from live handheld vocals and broadcast, to miked-up guitar amps and percussion. Don’t worry about the previous performer “eating” the mic or spilling a drink, dynamic mics are naturally resistant to moisture and typically feature an internal shock mount and pop filter for added durability.
Although more expensive than their dynamic counterpart, the most common microphone found in studios are condenser microphones. These mics come in two basic flavors, small and large-diaphragm. Common design elements include high sensitivity, a greater frequency response, and additional voltage requirements from either phantom power, batteries or USB ports on your computer. But this is where the similarities end.
Large-diaphragm mics are the standard choice for studio vocals, reproducing an overall deeper “warm” tone throughout the frequency spectrum. Remember to pick up a pop-filter when recording with these mics as their sensitive nature makes them prone to “Puh” and “Shh” sounds, resulting in unwanted distortion.
Also known as “pencil condensers,” small-diaphragm microphones consistently reproduce sound more evenly than their large-diaphragm brothers. They benefit greatly from faster transient response times resulting in superior detail and focus of direct and overhead recordings of instruments like pianos, cymbals and even choirs. Additionally, there are more durable handheld versions available for live use and “matched pairs,” which offer maximum flexibility for stereo recordings of individual instruments or live performance venues.
Live Microphones vs. Recording Microphones
Again, there are no hard rules regarding recording, only techniques. For live sound applications too much sensitivity can be a problem. An overly sensitive mic can pick up sound from your speakers, causing feedback. It can also, pick up handling noise which is a problem for a handheld mic. Therefore, a live sound microphone, whether condenser or dynamic, needs to reject unwanted sounds and handling noise and stand up to the punishment of performance.
Modern manufacturing has greatly improved microphone performance in recent years, providing high-quality sound at a relatively low cost. There are great condenser mics designed for live performance and great dynamic mics that can enhance your recordings. Sam Ash has a large selection of both dynamic and condenser microphones for most any application.