Microphones - What are the Types, Patterns, and Shapes?

Choosing the right voice over microphone is a critical part of recording. This is because the right microphone will help create a professional sounding recording. Conversely, the wrong microphone can greatly degrade your quality. This article will walk you through the process of choosing the most appropriate microphone for you.

There are many, MANY microphone choices today. Unfortunately, most recording books and specialists will tell you which microphone is the best for you WITHOUT asking you important questions... questions that MUST be answered before determining which microphone is best for you.

You can always ask our office to schedule a private consultation with you, so that we can help you determine the most appropriate microphone for you.

DEFINITION:

A microphone (also known as a ‘mic’) is a transducer, which converts sound waves into electrical energy. Sound waves leave the mouth of the voice-over artist, are converted into electrical energy by the microphone, and then travel through a microphone cable (called an XLR cable) into the audio-recorder.

TYPES:

Different types of microphones have different characteristics, making each one appropriate for different recording applications. There are three general types:

  • condenser (also known as ‘electret condenser’) — Condenser microphones are the only microphones that are electrically powered. This allows them to respond quickly to sound transients and subsequently produce a very clear sound. While condenser microphones are more sensitive than other microphone types, they are also more fragile and expensive. Condenser microphones are generally used for vocal recordings, such as voice over and singing.
  • dynamic (also known as ‘moving coil’) — Dynamic microphones use magnets to generate electrical signal. Yet magnets are cumbersome and hinder the speed of the microphone, thus making this style microphone more appropriate for drums and guitars…not voice over. However their sturdiness and durability make them great for traveling (a portable home studio) and live recordings (concert recordings, etc.). Dynamic microphones are generally less expensive than condenser microphones.
  • Ribbon — Ribbon microphones use ribbons, similar to a rubber band, instead of magnets to convert electrical signal into energy. They are the most fragile type of microphone. Their most common application is recording sharp, smooth, and full sounds, such as horns (trumpet, saxophone, etc.), as well as live sounds in large open spaces, such as symphony orchestras. Ribbon microphones generally are medium priced and are rarely used for voice over recording.

PATTERN:

Microphones come with different pick-up patterns. Choosing the right one is most important when purchasing a microphone. Pick-up patterns control what direction the microphone picks up sound waves from. Some microphones have switchable patterns, allowing you to choose which pattern is appropriate for you. Other microphones are built with only one pattern. There are three general patterns:

  • directional A directional pick-up pattern means that the microphone only picks-up sound waves from the front of the microphone. This is ideal if only your voice needs to be recorded, and if there are unwanted noises behind and to the sides of the microphone, such as an air-conditioner unit humming, a computer humming, noise outside your window, and so forth. In the event that there is unwanted noise, face the microphone with its back to the unwanted sound source, so that you face the direction of the unwanted noise. With this set-up, the microphone will record more of you and less of the unwanted sound. There are three kinds of directional patterns: cardioid, super-cardioid, and hyper-cardioid. Each offers a slightly different control of the side and rear rejection. Cardioid is the most popular.
  • bi-directional (also known as ‘figure-8’) — A bi-directional pattern microphone picks-up sound from the front and back of the microphone, while rejecting sounds from the side. This pattern is used when two people are recording into one microphone (one person would be in front of the microphone, the other in back). Unless two people are being recorded simultaneously, this pattern is not ideal.
  • omni-directional. An omni pick-up pattern means the microphone picks-up sound waves emanating from every direction. Since this is how humans naturally hear, this pattern obtains the most realistic, natural sound. However, since the pattern picks-up sound from every direction, any noise in the room will be recorded. Therefore, this pattern should only be used when recording in a totally sound-proofed room. This pattern should also be used when a group of people record around a single microphone.

SHAPE:

The shape of a microphone is also a determining factor when choosing a microphone. There are two main shapes:

  • pencil shape. Pencil shaped microphones (similar in shape to a roll of quarters) have the pick-up screen at the very tip (front) of the microphone, allowing sound to enter from only one direction. Therefore facing the tip of the microphone records you while decreasing the pick-up of other unwanted sounds. This is ideal if recording in a room that has any reflections (echo, reverb, etc.) or that is not totally sound-proofed. Due to their shape, these microphones often capture a real ‘clean’ sound making them ideal for applications where clarity is a must, such as web and telephone audio.
  • open, round shape. Large, open diaphragm shaped microphones (like you often see singers singing into on MTV) tend to pick-up sound waves from different directions. Even when set to a directional pattern, they pick up sounds from other directions more than most pencil shaped microphones – therefore they should be used in totally sound-proofed rooms. Due to their large diaphragms, these microphones have a very natural sound, do not ‘pop’ easily, and often capture the bottom end (bass) very well…making them ideal for rich, resonant, deep voices.

YOUR VOICE and THE SCRIPTS YOU RECORD:

your voice and the type of voice over scripts you record have an influence on determining the most appropriate microphone for you. For example:

  • fat, resonant, deep, smooth voice. If your voice is big, fat, smooth, and or resonant, choose a microphone that enhances these characteristics, such as an open, round shaped microphone, or a ribbon microphone.
  • thin, crisp voice. If your voice is thin and crisp, use a microphone that highlights the clarity of your voice, such as a pencil shaped condenser.
  • telephone. If you record telephony, a thin, clear sound is generally more desirable, such as pencil shaped condenser.
  • promo. If you record powerful, deep promos and trailers, consider an open, round shaped microphone.

Final suggestion. When purchasing a microphone, be sure to also purchase a ‘popper-stopper.’ This is a piece of material, similar to a woman’s nylon, that is rapped around a disc and placed between the microphone and your mouth to prevent large bursts of air (from your mouth) from overloading and ‘distorting the microphone. If not for a popper-stopper, you may hear ‘pop’ sounds upon playback on words that begin with plosives (‘P’s and ‘B’s, such as ‘popcorn’ and ‘balloon’).

Date: 
March 11, 2009
Meta Description: 
Edge Studio will help you choose the most appropriate voice over microphone for you and your home studio.
Meta Keywords: 
Edge studio, voice over, mic, microphone, transducer, XLR cable, condenser mic, electric condenser, dynamic mic, moving coil, ribbon microphones, directional pick-up pattern, bi-directional, figure-8, omni-directional, sound-proofed room, pencil shape mic, open diaphragm mic, script, record, home studio, home recording, popper-stopper,

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